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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Nothing Wasted, 11: Addiction Problems

“Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron” (Psalm 107:15‭-‬16, NIV).

Addictions come in all shapes and sizes, but the one common denominator is the addiction to self-desires and self-will. People have become addicted to doing what they want to do regardless of what they know is right or wrong. Yes, there are those who struggle in ways that are beyond the struggle of others, but everyone who comes to that fateful “door” of “do not enter,” has the same choice in choosing between right and wrong. Once that door is opened, all bets are off. THIS was the story of the Israelites. They knew what to do and chose not to do it. They had encountered great success with God, but they had experienced great pleasure without God. They became addicted to their own will. They became blind in the moments of their pleasure what consequences their choices would render. They walked through doors that appeared as entrances into a domain of even greater pleasure, only to discover them as the gateway into a prison of their own consequence. 

“Let them give thanks…for He breaks down gates…and cuts through bars…” There had come a time when the weight of the chains caused them to open their eyes and see the reality of their existence, and they cried out to God. God heard the cry and the life and opportunity that had seemed to be all but wasted, was now an opportunity for thanksgiving and praise. What they had been through was now the testimony of their break-through. What had been their stain had now become their story. What the enemy tried to use to keep them bound and imprisoned, was now their open door into the lives of others to tell the story of God’s grace, His love, and His power. Their repentance and recognition of their own state gave God the access He had always wanted into their prison to break the chains that bound them from living the destiny for which He had created them.

I have never struggled with addictions to drugs and alcohol, or most of the other “big ones” you hear discussed. But I have struggled with an addiction to my own pride, my own secrets, and my own way of doing things. I have sat in the prison of shame and regret, feeling bound and restricted by an unseen force, not knowing how to change how I feel. But one thing I have discovered, is that when I continue to stay humble before God and cry out to Him, I am rising above everything I have allowed to weigh me down. There really IS power in the Name of Jesus…TO BREAK EVERY CHAIN. Every chain that is broken is another “Nothing Wasted” opportunity in my life to shout out what God has done in delivering me from all that was holding or has held me back. My addictions to self, sin, and shame are broken. I will not sit and meditate on past mistakes because there is nothing I can do to change them. I will call out to Him who is listening, who is able, and who is never changing! I will give thanks for how He has broken chains in the past, because I know that He is the unchanging God. If He broke them THEN, He can still break them NOW. I will live to tell others who struggle that there is a God who lives and who can break every chain that would hold them back from the life of destiny and deliverance He has designed them to live. What has been my stain will be my story. I am not ashamed and will live the testimony of Jesus’ work in me.

Father God, THANK YOU for hearing my cry. Even when I didn’t realize I was praying, You heard the cry of my life. You heard my desperate plea for something to change. You knew what I deserved, but desired to give me the grace that was needed to see the focus of my life changed. I thank You, Lord, for the change You have spoken and performed in me. I know that I am nothing without You and can DO NOTHING  apart from You. Lord Jesus, help me to recognize Your presence in the everyday of my life. Help me to NOT become distracted by the things that I cannot change. Help me not to look back and dwell upon that which is past. Open my eyes to the opportunities that you have preordained for me to share the story of the sounds of chains breaking so that others will know that there is POWER in YOUR NAME to BREAK EVERY CHAIN in their lives, too. I thank You for all of these things in the NAME that is ABOVE EVERY other name. JESUS. Amen.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Nothing Wasted, 10: Hopelesness Problems.

How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand— when I awake, I am still with you” (Psalm 139:17‭-‬18, NIV).

David’s father never thought he counted when the prophet Samuel asked to see “all” his sons as he was preparing to anoint one of them for something special of God. David’s brother did not thing very well or very much of him when he came out to the battlefield bringing food and news from home during Israel’s conflict with the Philistines. King saw didn’t see much or think much of David when he was brought before him with a determination to what everyone else was intimidated to consider in facing the giant who dared to defy the God and the armies of the God of Israel. The giant, Goliath, certainly had no positive thoughts in regards to David, but perceived nothing more than a little boy coming to face a man on the battlefield, meeting him with insults and mockery. 

The list is even longer of those whose thoughts of David were bent more towards his demise and his destruction, underestimating his value, and dismissing him as useless. Yet, David had learned in the loneliness of the pasture that the God of all grace and hope was with him, and had always been with him. There would be many in his life that would speak against him, think ill against him, and even attempt evil against him. Any of these could work to produce a sense or feeling of hopelessness in the heart and the life of David. David, however, in a moment of “nothing wasted,” chose to see himself through the eyes of God. “How precious to me are your thoughts, God!”

It wouldn’t be too hard for me to allow my overactive imagination to go the way of imagining what others might think of me, about me, or towards me. If I allow my mind to go to such a place where balance doesn’t exist, there will be a greater potential for hopelessness to take over my focus on Jesus and HIM as the hope of my life. The fact is, there will always be people whose thoughts of me are not aligned with the thoughts that God has for me. That is ok. I do not live my life with the thoughts of others, good or bad, as my motivation or my standard. Thoughts and opinions about me, what I do, how I am, what I dream, how I respond to life, will change, because I change, and because people change. I will keep my eyes on Jesus who never changes. I will keep my mind focused on the hope-filled thoughts He has for my life, because they, too, will never change. 

I will stay reminded of all the many times David was overlooked and underestimated by the thoughts of actions of those in his life, yet remained focused on the One who called him forward. My hope is not for sale to those whose thoughts are not for my good. It is God’s thoughts for me that will contribute to me living in the hope of God’s destiny for my life. When faced with discouragement or hopelessness in regards to the thoughts of others, I will keep my thoughts on HIM who is thinking HOPE over me.

Lord God, I thank You for the HOPE I have in You. Your thoughts of my life and the purpose you have for my life are so great and numerous I could never live enough days to count them. Forgive me for all the times I have wasted dwelling on, becoming worried in, reacting to, and losing hope over thoughts, whether projected or perceived by others in my life. I will focus on You, for it is YOU who have created me. It is YOU who have called me. I thank You for the strength I have in Your hope. Continue to remind me when I am in situations where I am tempted to wander off on paths led by my imagination. Call me back so that I may return to the path of Your thoughts for my destiny. I thank You Jesus that in You, I have the mind of Christ. I thank You that in You, I can take captive every thought and imagination that would try to lift itself up over the knowledge of who You are, and who I am in YOU. The hope I have in this life is because of You. Help me to live out each moment of everyday remembering that hope and living out my response to that hope. I ask and pray all of this in YOUR NAME, JESUS. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How Love Leads.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you" (Psalm 32:8).

The key to leadership is not the loudest voice or the best idea. It is a heart that is focused beyond a person and beyond a moment. Many influential leaders have often quoted the phrase, “You teach what you know. You reproduce who you are.” Leadership is the influence within you to see a change around you become more than just an ideal, but real. 

David’s heart was to see care and to see people grow in the potential of the influence that had been divinely placed within them. He was a product of someone seeing in him what no one seemed to see or cared to see. He was overlooked by his size as a boy and his status as a shepherd. God, through the prophet Samuel, saw something different. Samuel saw a heart that was teachable with a potential that would be unstoppable. David saw something very similar in the lives of 400 outcasts that infamously became known as “David’s Mighty Men.” They were the rejects of society and yet were instrumental in the conquests of Israel’s greatest king before Jesus. 

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go.” David cared about the subject of his writing. He saw the potential, but he also saw the problem. The solution to the problem was guidance and leadership. Someone needed to be willing to speak like, speak truth, and help show the way. David couldn’t expect someone else to know what he knew unless he was willing to reproduce that knowledge in them. So often, we become frustrated with others for their performance, or their lack of performance, in an area, but we fail to see the opportunity for the disappointment. Take time to teach what you know and reproduce who you are in the lives of those around you who are desperate for leadership. It’s easy to complain, but God has called you to counsel. It is quicker to disparage, but God has called you to disciple. 

Think for a moment. Who are the people in your life that are products of God’s divine placement? Where are they going? What lack do you see in their life that God has given you insight from experiences in YOUR life? Be willing to share it. Be open to being a voice and an ear in their life. Be willing to speak, but also to listen. Talking is good, but when words are spoken without really hearing the heart of someone’s reality, those words are either misfired or misplaced. Be humble. Let them see the imperfect humanity that lives in the same need of the grace of God. 

“I will counsel with my loving eye on you.” David chose a loving eye rather than a sharp tongue or an iron fist. In a world where people are quick to feel judged, be focused on letting them know the life-changing power of God’s love in you and through you. Yes, truth still needs to be shared, but truth without love is not truth at all. Love is defined as patient, kind, never rude or selfish, forgiving, hopeful, persevering, and never failing. Determine to speak into people’s lives with this heart. “…with my loving eye on you…” Look for the best, not just expecting the worst. Speak as though you see the best, just as in Christ, God saw the best in you. Romans 5:8 reminds us that “…while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” While we were the worst, His love saw the best. Live to reproduce in others what Christ desires to reproduce in you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

These Things.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me - put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you" (Philippians 4:8-9).

Imprisoned when he wrote this line in a letter to the Philippian church, Paul’s message couldn’t be any clearer. He was a man who had experienced much, but refused to allow his experience to change his reality. Prison wasn’t his reality. Jesus was his reality. Prison was only his situation. He had been beaten and bruised with his personal freedoms violated and removed. After having served God faithfully and without complaint for many years, he was being treated and presented as one of the deviants of society. If anyone had had a justifiable cause to become bitter, angry, or even resentful, Paul would have been a prime candidate.

“Think on these things…” Paul wrote that each individual, especially those who have surrendered their souls, their minds, hearts, wills, and emotions, to Jesus, had a choice in HOW they faced or responded to what they experienced. As a man who had become more than familiar with the pains of injustice still chose to think on things that were pure, true, noble, and the like. He wasn’t about to allow a soldier or a sacrilegious Pharisee distract his focus on all God was or had been in his life. Jesus was still on the throne and his thoughts were top evidence to that truth. If he had allowed it, he could have easily complained, protested, stirred up much emotion, and called for a revolution. He had gripes to air, bones to pick, and scores to settle, and yet he encouraged every reader that would ever set their eyes on this letter to consider the greater truth. 

You have a choice in everything you face. Even when all freedom is taken away, how you respond in your mind will always be a choice that only you can make. Paul continued, even in the midst of his own persecution, to discover any and every aspect of his life that would bring honor to God, rather than focusing on the negative. What you focus on will always be reproduced in your attitude. Paul didn’t ignore what he was facing, he only chose not to allow it the power to control how he faced it. He chose to honor Jesus and to trust God in every situation. He showed that by how he responded. 

Trusting God in every circumstance will be evident in your life by how you respond when things go against the grain of your expectations. Are you easily riled up? Do you have to fix everything that seems, at least in your mind, to be wrong? Are you quicker to jump to assumptions and conclusions than you are to pray, release it, and see the best in those around you? Is it easier for your to point out all that is wrong rather than to see anything that is right? If the answer is yes, then your definition of trusting God is less than compatible with the example shown by the imprisoned Paul. 

When faced today with any situation that would try to wrangle your focus onto something that serve as the battle cry to your emotional responses, choose to set your mind fully on Jesus. Let His word of truth be guide that leads you. If Paul could find the positive in the worst of situations around him, isn’t it possible to see the best in what you’re facing? Never allow the enemy to take away a peace and a joy that God has given you, especially with those people He has divinely placed in your life. There will be things that you cannot change, but don’t let them change you. Let God use those things to bring about a change in you that reflects His love, His grace, and His presence. Think on THESE things.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

‘Be It’ Before ‘Do It.’

"For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the LORD, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel" (Ezra 7:10).

Parenting has taught me a lot about life! Many of the lessons I have learned have been through at least as many mistakes as success, if not more! I remember one day in particular when I had an overwhelming encounter of conviction with the Holy Spirit. One of the areas we have always battled as parents in insuring that our kids have kept their rooms clean. “Is your room clean?” would always be the question when they wanted to run off and do something of their own choosing. “Yes, Daddy!” would come a pretty rapid reply. “Is it “Daddy clean?” was my response to insure that a rush job wasn’t being used to achieve the “technical” requirement of my question. “Daddy clean.” Hmmm. Well, that got me one day. By “Daddy clean,” they understood that to mean ‘thorough, complete, and almost perfect.’ The Holy Spirit spoke to me during one of those “clean your room’ exchanges. “Is YOUR room ‘Daddy clean?’” I was stunned and stopped in my own tracks. I had been expecting something I was not emulating. What credibility do I have as a dad to parent what I’m not producing? Needless to say, that day began a renewed discipline in my own life. No matter how busy I am or think I am, picking up after myself, and contributing to my own room being ‘Daddy clean’ became a priority as I modeled to my children the importance of BEING before DOING.

Ezra was a priest and a scribe, a man God had used to live and to tell the story of redemption and restoration. The temple was to be rebuilt in a city that had been destroyed because its inhabitants had been more focused on DOING the people of God rather than BEING the people of God. They had DONE the actions without having BECOME intimately connected with the God in whom they actions had been dedicated. Their actions were a result of OBLIGATION, not TRANSFORMATION. Ezra refused to allow history to repeat itself through his life. He “devoted himself” to the BEING of the work of God more than the DOING of the work of God. His desire was for everything he would DO to be an overflow out of all that he would BE.

“…to the study…” Ezra wanted to know God. He didn’t want to rely on what he had heard, but he wanted to hear it for himself. He wanted to hear the same voice of the same God who had tried to speak to so many with deaf ears. He wanted to learn from the mistakes of his relatives before him. He wanted to know the God that others had chosen not to know. You will never BE who you were intended to be if you do not KNOW the God who always was, is and will be. He created you. He formed you and crafted an original purpose for your life. Study. Get to know Him for who He is. Go to church and be a part of community, but never rely on a once or twice encounter with a preacher or a teacher to be the extent to which you are exposed to the reality of God. Let God be the start and the greatest part of your everyday life. Who you are will become much more clear to you when you discover more and more who He has always been.

“…and observance of the Law of the LORD…” Knowing would never be enough for Ezra. He knew the great failures of the past had to do with knowing what to do and what was right, but neglecting the application. Without application, information will never lead to transformation. Ezra didn’t just study it, he practiced it. He allowed what he studied to transform who he was. He meditated on it. He let it have more than just headspace, but heart space. God desires to move and work in your life well beyond the shout of an ‘amen.’ Do it. Allow Him to transform the being so that you live that transformation through the doing. Do what you say you believe. If DOING it doesn’t follow the SAYING it, it will be unbelievable that you are BEING it. Let the credibility of your integrity be evident in how you apply what you say you know.

“…and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” What Ezra studied and practiced, he also taught. What he required had been exemplified and modeled in his own life. His greatest and most believable lessons were taught out of the pages of his own examples. He taught what he lived, because he lived what he believed. Anyone might have argued Ezra’s theology, but they could never effectively argue his “life-ology.” He learned it. He lived it. He let it be known through his own life. When you have been changed by the power of God and who He is, you want others to know the same. If you aren’t passionate about seeing others changed by the power of God, the question becomes “have you really been changed?” Has YOUR being been changed? 

The most effecting DOING will always be a result of a transformation in the BEING. Start there. Ask God to change you from the inside-out. When God grabs hold of a surrendered being, what He does is more than unbelievable. It is undeniable. 

When Pride Rises.

"Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel" (1 Chronicles 21:1).

Trusting God can feel like a pretty easy thing to do when we are at a place of desperation and know that we incapable of doing anything without Him. But what happens when we start feeling good about ourselves, overly comfortable with our own abilities, and start listening more to the compliments and accolades of those around us than to the voice of God? David was a man who had learned to listen to God. He had cultivated an incredible intimacy with Him while in the pasture overseeing the sheep. Think about it. Sheep didn’t talk to him. They didn’t tell him how good he was. They didn’t ask him about anything. They didn’t verbalize any care for him at all. He had to find his security and purpose in something greater than what he did. He found it in God. He knew who he was and what he could because he had grown close to God in the exile of the pasture. But THAT is where he discovered that he was never alone.

After years of struggle and then years of success, David’s desperation for the Lord began to recede and be replaced by his security in himself and his own accomplishments. He began to look at what he had done more than what God had done in his search for confidence and assurance. He dispatched his general to gather a census of all the fighting men. David’s action was not the sin, but rather the motivation of the action. “Satan rose up…and incited David…” Satan had observed the potential pride in David’s life, the insecurities and buried inadequacies that had not been fully surrendered to the Lord. He exploited the hidden secrets within David’s heart and lured him into making a decision that would replace God’s protection with his pride.

There is not a person alive who has not struggled in some way with the potential destructive patterns of unfettered pride. As God is watching to protect you, the eyes of the enemy are also on you with the intention to exploit you. He is looking for some area of insecurity, inadequacy, or inferiority that has not been identified and surrendered. He is looking to breathe upon those embers of self-pride so that your actions will be cause you to step outside of the shadow of the Almighty and into the open exposure of your own self-centeredness. Recognize where that potential lies in you and refuse to allow Satan and his minions to enjoy the satisfaction of tripping you up and those who follow you. Surrender those areas to God and allow Him to work His humility in and through your life. 

Humility is one of the greatest evidences that God is at work in your life. When someone sees pride, they see you. When they see humility, they see Jesus. Pride never dies easy and when it does, its many nasty relatives come out of the woodwork to come and try to take its place. Be on your guard. Once you think you’ve licked it and it’s over, you might be close to being licked yourself. Stay on guard and keep your eyes on Jesus in all you do and in every response. Let humility be what redirects the focus off of you and onto Jesus.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Hope is Your Miracle.

"Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD" (Psalm 31:24).

The power of hope is very much a phenomena of unexplainable proportion. It is what can drive someone who is at the end of their rope to go one more mile. The absence of it will drive another to throw in the towel. Hope is the miracle that gives those who depend on it strength & courage when the odds appear stacked against them. David was a shepherd boy turned mighty warrior turned famous king who was keenly aware of the life-giving power and miraculous intervention of hope. 

Hope kept David believing in the calling and anointing that God had placed on his life. One can only imagine how difficult it must have been for one so young to believe he would actually be king when so many people seemed against him. His family didn't seem to be in his corner. The king had tried to kill him. Mutiny was attempted in him several times once he became king. His kids tried to have him killed. Yet, hope was what kept him alive and moving forward even when he was trapped in a cave of darkness, isolation, and many questions. Hope was the miracle that reminded him that his purpose was never in how he felt, what he saw, or what others thought. His hope was in the One who had spoken purpose over his life and over his future. That purpose gave him hope. That hope gave him life. That life gave him legacy.

"Be strong..." The prophet Isaiah would later pen the words that have become the anthem of hope and the support that has held many a person who has travelled and travailed through the "impossible" seasons of life. "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings as eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." When strength seems to fail you, hope is there to lift you. Be strong. You are not done. You are not finished. Satan wants you to believe that there is a vacuum of hope and that what you are going through is no longer worth it. If he can blind you to the hope, he can blind you to the purpose. Be strong. Remember who the Lord God is. He will never leave you. He will never forsake you. What you are feeling right now may be very, very real, but there is nothing in this world that is greater in size, power, or purpose than God. He is your strength. His purpose is your strength. The hope you have in Him is your strength. You will mount up on wings as the eagles, whose feathers are ready to meet the winds that can destroy, yet use them to climb high. Be strong and climb high.

"...and take heart..." In other words, take courage. Hope and courage go hand in hand. Hope is the "what you have," while courage is "how you will keep it." The phrase "take heart," which translates to courage, literally means to hold onto or to continue. It is to be firmly established in such a way that no matter what comes your way, you are not letting go of what God has given you to hold. In fact, He has given Himself through Jesus. Your courage comes from not only you holding onto Him, but from the awareness that He is actually holding onto you. Satan wants you to believe that you are doing all of the work of holding on. If you believe that, then it is easy to feel the fatigue setting in when the weariness of holing on begins to overwhelm. But when you begin to see that your holding on isn't why your staying up, because it is HE who is holding onto you, strength from within begins to rise up. That is the power of hope. You CAN do this. You can stay even longer. You can go even farther. You may feel as though you can't hold on any more, but you are not the reason you are still up. Rest in the arms that are holding you. 

"...all you who hope in the Lord." None of this is possible merely because you can muster up the inner-will to keep going. That might take you a bit farther, but you will find the same result. True hope comes from the One who was there before the beginning and will continue after the "end." The One who is the author of all life is also the keeper and giver of all hope. The word "hope" is a word that means "to trust in, to wait on, and to expect." It's not a "wishful thinking" concept, but one that is built on something very real. If you are believer in the love of God, in which Jesus came to not only die for your sins, but to BE your hope for all that you will ever face, then you can KNOW that you will make it beyond where you are right now. Your hope in Him is your trust in Him. It means you are willing to put the entire weight of who you are, what you're going through, and who you care about in His hands and at His feet. It means that you are ready to wait as long as it takes to see Him do what He has promised to do, even if it looks much different from what you had imagined or thought. Your love for Him is bigger than your control for things to be done in a way that meets your own feelings or desires. It means that you have a faithful expectation that is unshakeable to believe even when you don't see or feel. When your focus is on the LORD, the One who always was, is, and will be, He WILL BE the hope that gives you strength and sustains your courage.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Responding to Fear.

"The Lord is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid?" (Psalm 27:1).

There is a story once told of a young boy who was terrified of dark and lonely places. He refused to walk into a room without having the light turned on before he made his entrance. One day, his mother needed something from the food pantry and asked her son to go and retrieve it. The food pantry was a small closet-type room with a light that had recently burned out and had not yet been replaced. Seeing her son's anxiety begin to quickly rise, but still needing the item and hoping to help him to overcome his fear said, "Don't worry son, you can do it. Jesus is already in there waiting for you." To this her son responded with hopeful confidence as he opened the door to the pantry, "Jesus, since you're in there, would you please hand me the box of spaghetti?"

Fear can be overwhelming, intimidating, and halting. The fear doesn't even have to be real or make sense. It just has to be imagined, perceived, felt, or believed. David, whose meteoric rise from shepherd to warrior king, was never immune to fear-provoking possibilities. Before he faced a giant named Goliath, he had to overcome a giant named "youngest brother," "runt," "overlooked," and "shut up, no one wants to listen to you." Each one of these have been powerful enough to stop many a man or woman from daring to advance beyond such a moment. David faced many giants after Goliath. He faced rejection, other people's insecurities, people who didn't believe in him, his own children trying to take his throne away, and nations who conspired against him. Left unchecked, fear would have sidelined his warrior spirit and his royal destiny. Yet, David responded with faith responses that led him to  overcome any fear.

SHOW ME. "The Lord is my light..." Jesus would later declare Himself the Light of the World. David had already received and would share in psalm that very revelation. Aware of the dark days he would live and the dark paths he would travel, David acknowledge "the Lord is my light." In essence, he was saying, "show me Lord..." "Show me the way." "Show me how." When you acknowledge that God is not just the "Light of the World," but that He is also, and desires to be, YOUR LIGHT, you will be able to see as you have never seen before. You will undoubtedly face scenes and seasons that will appear dark, feel dark, and attempt to overwhelm you in the dark. But when He is YOUR LIGHT, He will show you the way through. He will show you purpose. He will show you Himself. He will reveal truth to you in the intimacy of the dark season. The enemy will attempt to convince you that the darkness is intimidating, but when you know that the God who spoke light into existence is right there with you, it is no longer intimidating. It is intimate.

SAVE ME. "...and my salvation..." With every giant, with every cave, and with every enemy army, David saw God as his way out. His salvation came from the Lord. Before the concept of Christ coming and purchasing our salvation, David understood the word in its most basic and literal sense. Salvation meant rescue, deliverance, to live to see another day. With every opposition David had faced, he had lived to see another day. When he tried to get himself through it or out of it, he only found himself more stuck in it. When he trusted God as the One who saves, he lived the truth of the Lord being his salvation. There's not a person alive who hasn't tried at one point or another to author their own escape plan from something they were facing. The fact is, it is God, through Jesus Christ, who is the ONLY ONE who can do for you what you will live your life unsuccessfully trying to do for yourself. "Save me" is not a cry of the weak, but response of those who recognize from where real strength originates. You may be good at recognizing all that is against you, but begin the practice of turning your eyes to the One that is FOR you. That is wherein your salvation lies. Turn to Him for your rescue. But when you do, remember that if He needed your help to write the plans for your rescue, you would have no need to be rescued in the first place. Trust Him.

SUSTAIN ME. "The Lord is the stronghold of my life..." David wanted more from God than just to see and to be saved. He wasn't ready to settle for an easy fix by way of some "get out of trial free card." He wanted God to sustain Him in the success that He would give him. He wasn't willing to accept short-term rescue, but sustainable salvation. He wasn't fooled into thinking he wouldn't face another struggle or coup, but that his eyes would continue to be on the One who would sustain him, build him, and keep him through everything he would face. There are too many people who go from church to church, book to book, and conference to conference looking for the quick fix and the easy answer. They will never find it. You will never find it. What you WILL find, however, is a God who will show you what you need to see, save you from what seeks to destroy you, and will work a process in your life by which He will sustain you. Victory isn't just in a moment, but it is beyond the moment. It is every moment, regardless of how things look or feel. It is knowing that you are more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus. It is knowing from where your strength comes from, no matter what it is you are facing. Know that He will sustain you, not just in the physical realm. He will sustain your mind while you face every thought that seeks to convince you that you are less than who God has created you to be. You are not defeated. You are held in the hollow of the very hands who formed you and breathed HIS breath into your being. Let Him sustain you.

Nothing Wasted, 9: Lonely Problems

"'My son,' the father said, 'you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found'" (Luke 15:31-32).

The story of the prodigal son is one that has been told, preached, written, sung, and retold by many to many in circles of both sacred and secular. It is the story of betrayal and forgiveness. It is the saga of one man's battle with his own significance and acceptance, as the real battle surrounds his own loneliness. He searches for what he thinks will fulfill, only to find his loneliness continues to persevere. The story climaxes with his returning home to be nothing more than a servant, only to discover that his loneliness was never real in the eyes of his father, whose acceptance was finally realized. 

But what can be easily dismissed or overlooked is the reality of the loneliness that is found in the underestimated supporting character of the older brother. Though he had 'everything,' he remained insecure in regards to his own identity and purpose. His own loneliness robbed him of the opportunity to celebrate the restoration of his brother who had made himself 'dead' to the entire family. He couldn't see the point because of his own pain. The father, however, uses the story of the younger son to minister love and renewal to the older son. He reminds him that he, the older brother, has never been alone. He has always had the father. He has always had the acceptance. He has always had the access. He has been faithful and that faithfulness had not been unnoticed. The celebration of the younger brother was not an indictment nor rejection of the older. It can be difficult for some to celebrate the breakthrough of another when that same bondage still exists inside of them. The father redeemed the "nothing wasted" story of the younger brother reinforce the reality of his love to the older brother. 

Loneliness can be a very dark and debilitating emotion. It is used by the enemy to bring isolation and self-deprecation. It is used to confirm every negative opinion and perception that I can have about myself. Loneliness is a lie that reinvents the definition and reality of God. Loneliness demands that no one, not even God is there with me. But I know that God is omnipresent. He is there always. I know that His Word is truth and that He has promised that He will never leave me nor forsake me. I know that there is no where that I can go or be where He is not already there. When I feel lonely, I will be reminded of the truth that God is there. I also know that God can call me to be alone. It is in the alone times that I can step back from what I'm facing so that I can see a perspective from God's view that I wasn't able to see from being too up close and personal. 

God will use the alone times for me to see the reality of what's going on. God will use the alone times to work freedom in the bondage areas of my life, so that I can celebrate in the breakthrough moments of others. The alone times allow me to see God in ways that loneliness never will. The alone times allow healing. The alone times make space for worship. The alone times help me to see me the way the Father always has. I will celebrate the alone times. I will allow God to use the alone times. The loneliness I have faced is nothing wasted as I allow Him to transform the lie of loneliness into the truth of being alone with Him.

Lord Jesus. You were the master of "alone time." You set the example by withdrawing from time to time in order to meet with the Father. You got alone and drew strength from Your connection with the One who was always and is always there. Even in the darkest moments of Your time on earth, You found strength in the presence of the Father. I thank You for the alone times that You allow in my life. I thank You for the strength and the courage that comes from You that empowers me to stand during those seasons. I renounce every moment where loneliness has been given power over my mind which would seek to infect my knowledge and my faith to believe that You are always there. You are God and I know that You never change! You are here. Where You have called me, You have already gone before me. You are with me, and You are behind me. You hem me in and surround me. I am never lonely, though I may be alone. I will worship You in the presence of Your holiness and in the reality of Your existence. Thank You Jesus for all that You are and have always been. I pray this now in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Discipline & Correction.

"Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray" (Proverbs 10:17).

One lesson that life has always taught and will continue to teach is that even the best and most beneficial lessons that are learned are not always learned easily or with great comfort or ease. Discipline is a word the Bible uses in various contexts but always with the intention of leading one forward towards a certain cause. You discipline yourself to maintain that direction. You are disciplined by others or God when you stray from that direction. The habits you adopt that insure greater stability for keeping you focused on that direction are called disciplines. A disciple is one who employs such disciplines as they determine to learn from one who teaches the disciplines.

"Whoever heeds discipline..." To live a life of discipline wars against the human nature of instant gratification. Self-control is a great phrase to talk about, but is one element in humanity that will seek to stand in the way of any goal. At times, there's not one of us on this journey of life that doesn't step off track just a bit for one reason or another. It's not so much the stepping off-track that will derail the destination of the journey, but how you respond to the disciplining process that God will give. Discipline is God's way of saying, "I love you'" "I have a plan for you that I don't want to see you miss." "What I'm offering you doesn't seem enjoyable, but if you trust me, you will see that it is both essential and beneficial to restoring you to the path of your destiny for my purpose for you." To 'heed' is to pay attention to and to take advantage of. Discipline is always a choice. As a parent, I have learned that the difference between discipline and punishment for something done wrong is decided in the heart of the parent. Punishment deals with "right now." Discipline deals with both "now and later." God's discipline is His heart for your "now and later."

"...shows the way to life..." How you respond to God's discipline and correction will be a determining factor to how He uses you in the future. God will use your failures, mistakes, and mishaps as a means of showing life, restoration, and forward motion to those around you. You are the example of God's redemption. God will use people in your life to bring correction. Don't allow pride to lead you astray down the path of self-denial and defensive responses. Listen to what is being said. Take it to prayer if you're not sure of its accuracy. Let God show you the truth about you. There is LIFE on the other side of discipline. 

"...but whoever ignores correction..." Let's face it, there are many, and I know that I have been included in that "many," who will feel absolute that they are in the "right" when they are being confronted as wrong. Ignoring correction is a manner of self-exaltation. We rise up on a false pedestal that we are the only ones that can confront, but we cannot be confronted. Whether or not you agree with what is being said isn't the litmus test on its truth factor. Ignoring the correction that God may be speaking to you through another will cause you to miss the benefit He knows you need to be restored to the path He has for you. 

"...leads others astray." Pride is a leader, because pride is an influence. It will lead others to adopt your response, or it will lead others away from you because of your response. Pride is not so much the opposite of humility, but rather the absence of it. It is masked in elements that would be noted as honorable character like confidence and perseverance, yet is void of humility and a pure focus on Jesus. Where you lead is where others will follow. If the destination of your direction is pointed back to you, you are going nowhere sustainable and taking others with you. 

Discipline doesn't always feel good in the moment, but what it produces in a heart of humility and purpose IS good. Let God work that good in you through His discipline and correction. God's love for you is greater than the reason you need correction. It's because of His great love that He offers discipline, because He already knows the difference between the destination of both choices. Let discipline lead you and those who follow you.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Connection Check.

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).

"Daddy, I'm trying to play the Xbox, but the other game system sound is coming through the TV, but there's no picture to either one of them," my son could be heard saying as he was lost in a web of tangled cords between an old box television set and the wall. "Check the connection," I said, to which he quickly replied that he had many times. I looked back and quickly discovered that the RGB cables for the 'wrong' system were plugged in, thus giving it sound, as it was also plugged in and turned on. That's a whole other issue we're working on in our house! But the problem was that the Xbox wasn't plugged into the wall or to the TV. We plugged into the wall and inserted the HDMI into the back of the oversized antique of a television and the Madden football tournament commenced once again.

Being plugged into the right sources is essential. The outlets give access to the power source and the right receptors, in this instance a TV, represent the results we're hoping to see. Jesus spoke to His core group of followers, men who had given the last few years of their lives to listen and to learn. They had to unplug from their own successes, their own ways of doing things, and from their own leadership so that they could be discipled into the life-changing, world-altering leaders God had purposed them to be. Jesus knew that if they plugged into the source of their own way of thinking, they would short circuit, because they would be overtaxing a source that was never created to give the output that they need. 

"I am the vine, you are the branches..." was not His way of demeaning them, devaluing them, or overlooking their potential. It was His way of helping them to see the best way that their value and potential could be discovered, harnessed, and released with the most effectiveness. "Apart from me you can do nothing." Jesus was speaking in terms of sustainable effectiveness and eternal significance. On their own, they would be able to accomplish much, but nothing that would long outlast the moments of their efforts. 

God's intention for you is to get the most out of the life that He has created for you to live. He designed You to succeed, but His design for your success doesn't include a scenario that doesn't include Him. Yes, you have gifts, talents, and are capable of so many things. Yes, your ideas may be top-notch and others should definitely listen. Be careful not to tap into the source of your own creation. Keep plugged into Jesus and the influences He has placed in your life. You get the right results when you are connected to the right source. Don't short-circuit because you've allowed the stresses of delayed expectations to overwhelm you. Stay plugged into Jesus. Continue to receive His wisdom, His direction, and His truth. Enjoy His presence during the time of waiting. Trust Him to work out the kinks in those around you, but also those within you. As you remain plugged into the life-giving and life-thriving source of Jesus, you will gain much and produce much. It's all in the connection.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Time Travel.

"In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:16, NIV).

Being a dad is amazing! It is something I never really had directly, yet something & someone I always wanted to be. The role of fatherhood has taught me many lessons of the highest importance that continue to shape the everyday of my life. For starters, it has taught me, or reminded me, that I really don't know ANYTHING! It's true and I admit it. What I think I knew or know can appear to be irrelevant when it comes to same strategies with different kids or different situations. The big lesson, is that I never stop being a student. Another concept that I am learning is that parenting has shown me that time-travel really does exist. Sounds shocking, doesn't it? In my kids, there are times that I am able to look back through the tunnels of time and see me. I can see the struggle, remember the feeling, and even reconnect with the pain of a particular situation they may encounter. 

Once, one of my kids became overly anxious over the reality that 'friends' can be unfriendly, and that relationships change depending on what one is willing to stand up for comply to tolerate. My son wanted so desperately bad to switch schools or join the home school movement all to escape this feeling of rejection or separation. My son is a Christian and is growing in his own personal faith, but he is also a boy who longs for friends, belonging, and acceptance. One incident has a way of becoming bigger in the mind than reality actually defines. This is where the time-travel comes into focus. Seeing him now reminds me of the pain of wanting to belong but never fitting in during that season of life. It was unbearable at times to see the camaraderie but never feeling included in the glue that seemed to hold them all together. I focused more on what I didn't have than I did on who I was. I was a boy who knew Jesus but gave more attention to what I wanted than to what He wanted for me.

The benefit this version of time-travel has taught me and has prepared me to teach my children, is that everyday is a day God has given us to know Him. Knowing Him doesn't mean that we don't want to know others or that we don't need friends or relationships in our lives. It doesn't mean that it doesn't hurt when we feel overlooked or not included. The fact is, people can be cruel. It is a reality. But what God HAS given is opportunity to live each day in a way that reflects something so much greater than that which we feel we don't have. We have Jesus. So, live Jesus. Reflect Jesus. Let them see Jesus. Be defined by Jesus. Live as though you know that you are accepted, invited, included, and befriended by Jesus. It really does change everything. One of the lessons that I learned from what I did NOT do, but can benefit my son now, is to focus more on BEING a friend than HAVING a friend. When your focus is having a friend, you might compromise who you are in order to achieve the goal. If you focus on being a friend, you let others see who you really are, see Jesus in you, and that your friendship is real.

Jesus called you the Light of the World. It's dark out there and so many of us have wasted so much time trying to shine off of the dimness of others when Jesus has called us to reflect the Light that shines brighter than the day. So go ahead. Shine. Be the Light of the World. Let others see that who you are is never contingent on how they see you, but on how you see Jesus. It may not always feel good, but it is a much better feeling at the end of the day to know who you are in Jesus. Because that will never change no matter how much or how often people and 'friends' do.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Nothing Wasted, 8: Prison Problems

"Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, 'These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.' She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, 'In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!' At the moment the spirit left her" (Acts 16:16-18).

Prison moments in people's lives are many times experienced on the outside of prison walls. Paul and Silas, who would soon encounter one of the greatest prison-breaks recorded in Biblical history, would first encounter the prison of another. On their way to engage with God and others in worship and prayer, a slave girl attached herself to their entourage. She exclaimed the "right" things, but there was a spirit and a motivation about her that she could not understand, but was causing a holy disruption in the reality of what God was doing. For   days, Paul and Silas maintained their focus on the ministry so as not to disturb was God was doing in the lives of others, but after several days, enough was enough. Paul spoke the woman who was bound in a prison controlled by an evil spirit and called it out in the Name of Jesus. He cancelled the curse it had on her life and on the ministry calling God had placed on his and those with him. The break-out of her prison only then opened the door for him and Silas to enter theirs. Because they dealt with what needed to be dealt with in the power and authority of the Name of Jesus, they were now being ushered into a prison that would seek to shut them up by shutting them down. But in that prison, God would again make it known loud and clear that NOTHING IS WASTED. This time, not only would THEY break free by the power of prayer, praise, and worship, but all those around them, and the inner-prison of the jailor would be rendered useless and ineffective, both for him and his family.

Being called to do the right things will not always be easy. I have learned and am still continuing to learn that trying to be a man of God that stands for seeing freedom in and for the lives of others can sometimes serve as the front door to what feels like a prison experience for myself. Doing the right thing doesn't mean that everything is going to always feel right at the moment of first encounter. But I know that as long as I keep my eyes on Jesus, respond always in the like-mindedness of His humility, that prison front door will actually be the access to a greater prison break that will not only serve to benefit me, but so many others around me. I can never look at what I am facing as just how it effects me, but on how God can use this for the breakthrough freedom of others. When I feel as though I am in that prison, I will not stop praying, not stop praising, and not stop worshiping Jesus. He is still God no matter where I am and no matter what it is that I'm facing in any moment. He does not change, so neither will my focus on Him. I know that there is power when I call on His Name. I know that there is power when praise come from my heart and out of my mouth. I know that there is power in the humility and sincerity of bowing down and worshiping Him. Where there is power there is freedom. I will continue to trust that God will use everything that He allows for me to face. I will not fear. I will not cower. I will not give into the feelings that seem stronger than me. I will look to Him and know that He allows ALL THINGS for reasons that are sometimes beyond my understanding, but never beyond His ability to use them. I know that in Jesus, there is NOTHING WASTED.

Lord Jesus, You know that there is nothing I desire more than You, more than being in Your will, more than be used for Your work. Lord Jesus, I thank You for times where everything seems to be going so amazingly great. But Lord, I thank You for the times when the word "prison" would be better used to describe reality. I know that You work ALL THINGS for Your purpose. I pray that in those times You will show me what I cannot see, whether about me, about others, or about how You will use it in me and through me. I lay my life down at Your feet. I ask for Your strength that I will never lay down at the feet of my feelings, comfort, or convenience, but that I will stand in Your grace, in humility, and reflect the patience and the love of Almighty God. Lord, thank You for the prison moments in my life. Thank You for using what the enemy thought would be used to shut me up by shutting me down, only to use it as a microphone to tell the story of who You are and what You've done! Thank You, Jesus. Words will never be enough to express my love. It's in Your Name, Amen.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Nothing Wasted, 7: Health Problems

"They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. 'He put mud on my eyes,' the man replied, 'and I washed, and now I see'" (John 9:13-15).

Blindness or any apparent handicap was seen as a sort of curse from God. The blind man that John writes of in his gospel had been blind from birth. He had lived his life in the darkness of his condition. He had never seen the light of the day until the day he encountered the Light of the world. Jesus stooped down and gathered the dirt that caked and dirtied every foot and sandal that had journeyed those roads. Jesus took the very thing that was targeted by ceremonial washing to cleanse and purify and spat on it. He took "bad" and made it "worse." What religious leaders would do in Jesus' face, he applied to the dirt and used it as a salve. He placed the dirt and the spit, the wandering and the shame, onto the closed eyes of a man born blind. 

The man then had the responsibility of washing his own eyes. When he washed, he could see. Jesus had set him up for a healing breakthrough, but the faith of the man, partnered with obedience, allowed him to see what he had never seen before. When brought before the religious leaders who were dead-set at proving Jesus as a fraud and a heretic, the man once blind saw that what had been his ailment was turned into his access to share his story. What he had faced, where he had wandered, and the shame he had encountered, would not be wasted. He would tell his story that would pierce the hearts of many who would listen. 

I have always grown up in churches that, for the most part, believe in divine healing. Divine healing is the belief that God can heal beyond the intervention of traditional medicine. Where my faith has been challenged at many crossroads in my life, is when I don't see the answer to the prayers that have been prayed for healing to occur. Whether it be for myself and the ailments I have encountered, or it be for the emergency room visits with my son because of a potentially fatal allergic reaction, I have had opportunity to see God use what I could not understand. Every sickness, every injury, every surgery has been a time God has used in my life to show Himself in a way that I had not seen the same way before. It has been in those moments that I have become more aware of His ability to use the dirt and the spit in my life. He uses the dirt of my wanderings, my confusion, my lack of understanding, my striving for answers to make sense out of what doesn't make sense. He uses the spit of my shame, the feelings of inadequacy or weak faith when my prayers do not meet immediate answers or answers in the way that I had held expectation. He combines the two and places them on the very spot where I have needed it the most. 

He allows bad to appear worse and then gives me the responsibility of the next step. That is where I have found that I see Him the clearest! I will continue to trust Him beyond the dirt and the spit. He is Creator God, the author of every inch of my being, inside and out. He knows what ails, and has the power to heal immediately or to use that as access to show me more of Him so that I can show more of Him to others. There is nothing wasted when it comes to an encounter with Jesus. 

Lord Jesus, You came to take the pain, the sickness, and the shame from me and on yourself while being nailed to the cross. The curse of sickness has been broken. I thank You that You are the healer of my body and the healer of my soul. I thank You for this reminder that You are not limited in the ways in which You respond to prayers You knew about before they were ever prayed. I have faith that You can heal and I have faith in You when I don't see that healing in the timing I expect. I trust You beyond what I can see. And I thank You for the opportunity to use every moment of being "down and out" as a time to encounter You in ways I may not have recognized before. Thank You for using the dirt and the spit of my wandering and my shame. Thank You for partnering that which has caused confusion and doubt as part of my story of how You work all things together for my good and for Your glory. Help me to always see You at work when the process seems to go from bad to worse. Give me the strength to hold on, because I know that You are never letting go. Thank You Jesus for Your love, Your grace, and Your strength. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Nothing Wasted, 6: Mind Problems

"So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed" (Mark 5:20, NIV).

Jesus led his disciples to cross an ocean of water and through a storm to encounter and engage one man. The man was an outcast and found his only refuge in the death and decay of the graveyard. The only place this refuse of society found the closest thing to peace when in the land of people who "used" to be, but no longer were. His mind was gone, along with hope, purpose, peace, and acceptance. He lived as a madman without care to what he did to himself or how he was perceived by others. He lived as he had been labeled. But Jesus crossed-over into a territory that wasn't familiar to Jews in practice or in proper.

Jesus saw the man for who he really was, not for how he acted, what he had done, or how he was perceived by others. Jesus refused to look at the man through man's own perception of himself. He asked his name. He cared about the man behind the madness. The power of the love of Jesus to see beyond was power enough to bring him beyond. When Jesus left the area, he dispatched the man who once spoke venomously and violently to go and proclaim victoriously what God had done in him. Society dealt with a problem. Jesus dealt with a purpose. What the man had been through was not wasted. What had been his madness was now his message!

I have been misunderstood by what people saw on the surface of who I am, only to be perceived by what they assumed was beyond the surface. I have felt like the madman who was judged and outcast. But I also know the power of the voice of Jesus to speak to my purpose not just to my problem. I know the freedom of His restorative touch in my life. This passage is no longer for me about what I have been through, but on how God uses the "nothing wasted" story in my life in the lives of others. More than anything, I want to see people with the patients and the grace in which the eyes of Jesus has seen me. I want God to use what has been my madness as a message that speaks to message beyond the madness in others. I want others to know that what they have done, how others see them, and even how they perceive themselves is not the final answer on who God purposed them to be.

Therefore, I know that there has to be more beneath the surface of the emotions I face in others. I will depend upon God for the strength to look beyond the madness and see the face of one who has a name, who has a purpose, and who has a story. I will not be used by my own emotions to reinforce the lie the enemy is already speaking. I will live the grace and the truth, even in the tough things, so that others will know that the battles lost and the battles fought in the mind are never wasted. 

Lord, You are the "Great I Am." I know that You are bigger than every failure, every fault, and every fear. I thank You that with every mountain You have brought me over, You continue to show Your strength, Your love, and Your calling for my life. Lord, I know that I cannot do this by myself. I am so inadequate, but I know that your strength is made perfect in my weakness. I know that my purpose is made sure in Your promise for me. I thank You God. Lord I depend on You. I need Your eyes to see the things in me that I can't see. I need Your eyes to see others in a way that is beyond what is natural for me to see. I need Your eyes that I may only see as You do. Lord, help me to be speak with Your voice of restoration and hope into those who see themselves lots in the struggles and in the battles of their own minds. Lord, I know that You have promised me that I have the mind of Christ. Help me to live that message for myself and to others. I thank You for all of the battles in my own mind that are not wasted, but are being used to speak restoration and renewal to others. Thank You, Jesus. It's in YOUR NAME. Amen.