Thursday, February 26, 2015

Scaling Mountains

Imagine yourself the side of a mountain.  You’ve come with a group of guys (and gals) to do some hiking and camping in the mountains.  You get dropped off overlooking a valley.  Above is the snowy, rocky summit.  But then your party disperses.  One guy heads off down the valley by himself.  Another heads in a different direction down into the valley.  Your friend stays with you and you have a choice to make.  Do you ascend the summit?  Or do you descend into the green valley?

The summit would be an extreme challenge but the valley would be a much easier.  Much more smooth and peaceful.  But, the summit.  Going up would be hard, but the reward would be great.      

In the Bible, a mountain can symbolize a challenge or obstacle that needs to be overcome by faith (Matt. 17:20, 21:21).  It is a symbol of the eternal kingdom of God, Mt. Zion (Heb. 12:22).  Mountains are also places of great significance.  In Psalm 24, it says, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?... The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (vs. 3, 4).

Sometimes, I think, we want an easy Christianity.  But walking with God is not easy.  God never said it would.  It is challenging, sometimes difficult.  Sometimes, to walk with God is to be stretched, baffled, bewildered, and strained beyond what we may have felt we could ever possibly handle.  But the reward is great!  I Peter 1:4 says we have an inheritance kept for us in heaven, which “never perish, spoil or fade.”  Hebrews 10:35 says we should not throw away our confidence, “it will be richly rewarded.”  We know that Jesus has promised that he is preparing a place for us in heaven (John 14:2-3).

In 2008, Alex and Bret Harris wrote a book called, “Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations.”  I’ve never read the book, and don’t know much about it.  Nevertheless, I like the idea.  God hasn’t called us to do easy things.  Walking with God, like scaling a summit, can be an extreme challenge.  It’s not for the faint of heart.  But God does promise us strength for the journey.  He promises to walk with us. 

Is there a problem in your life you need to overcome?  Be strong in the Lord (Eph. 6:10).  You can do it!  Is there something you believe God has called you to?  Walk by faith and embrace the challenge!  With God’s help, you can scale that mountain!  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Learning to Love Like God

When I was a kid my mom and I visited a rummage sale.  My memory is sketchy, but most likely mom was looking for used clothing for us.  Several years ago I felt the Lord reminded me of the rummage sale to instruct me regarding love in marriage.  I felt the Lord say to me, “Love her like you loved that rummage sale.” 
Mom rummaged through the clothes searching for something of value, something worth her children wearing.  Likewise, in marriage, sometimes we have to look past the “junk” in our spouse and see the eternal value of the person God created.   
We all bring a certain amount of problems into marriage.  We bring sin issues, weaknesses, and fears.  We may have brought deep pain from childhood wounds into the relationship.  We may bring in problems like anger, deep insecurity, unresolved bitterness, or sinful attitudes.  Things we may have thought had been resolved rear their ugly heads. 
Marriage is a great opportunity to learn unconditional love.  I am certainly very far from perfect.  Leslie has imperfections too.  But we love each other and we are committed to each other no matter what.  I am thankful that Leslie sees past my “junk” and sees my potential in Christ. 
Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  When we were lost in sin, God loved us.  Even now, when we are hurting, broken, or in sin, He sees that within us that is of eternal value.  And He redeems our pain, He heals the brokenhearted.  He sees our potential.  He draws the best out of us.  He does not look at us based on what we are; He looks at us based on the spirit inside of us that Jesus died to redeem. 
Likewise, in marriage, it is my responsibility as a husband to draw out the best in my wife.  It’s my job to look at her and see her potential.  I’m called to love her as Christ loved the church, to love her unconditionally.  When I look at her, I must see her eternal value, God’s eternal purpose for her life.  God is expanding the capacity of my heart to love as He loves.  I’m not there yet, but I am learning.
Will you take the challenge, to look past any “junk” in your spouse (or any other person) and, with God’s help to learn to love as He does? 

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her…”
Ephesians 5:25-26

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

God is Your Judge

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “He’s his own worst critic.”  There are those of us who tend to judge ourselves too harshly.  We’re hard on ourselves!  We know it.  But it’s so hard to change it.  Some people don’t feel good unless they feel bad, know what I mean?  On the flip side, there are those who, perhaps, don’t judge themselves enough.  It’s not that I think they should inflict harsh condemnation upon themselves; it’s just they ought to give a little more thought to how they treat others or the words they speak.  At the end, ultimately, God is our judge.  He is the one we have to stand before some day and give account.  

There have been times in my life where I have beaten up on myself for nothing.  I’m thankful for good friends, and my pastor, who help lift that weight off of my shoulders. 

The Apostle Paul writes, “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (I Cor. 4:2)  As Christians, we want to do right.  We want to be faithful.  We want to honor and please God.  Yet, we’re also all too aware of our sin, our failures, and our struggles.  But we want to prove faithful.  We want to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

Paul goes on to writes, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.  My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.” (vs. 3-4)

I am aware that my conscience can be clear, yet, I may have done something wrong.  Perhaps I really hurt someone, but I don’t even know it.  Even when I think I’m walking right, I know I may not be completely innocent.  On the other hand, it’s an incredible burden to bear if you walk around in life constantly thinking you’ve done something wrong. 

There are things in my life I have to leave in God’s hands.  God is my judge.  There is freedom in this, when I free myself from the opinions of others, and live my life to please the Master.  His opinion is the opinion which matters the most.  And, often, when He speaks to me, I hear that He thinks much better of me than I often think of myself.      

Paul says, “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” (vs. 5)

God sees past our mistakes and sees our hearts.  Certainly, He cares about our behavior, our attitudes, our thoughts, and our character, and is in the process of working on these things.  At the same time, He sees our potential.  We may see the person of the flesh, but God sees the person of the Spirit (Remember Gideon?).  He sees beyond the season of life we are in right now, even if this season is hard.  He sees not just what we are, but what we can be in Him.  So, don’t be too hard on yourself!  Keep pressing on.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Simple, Pure Devotion

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”
-II Cor. 11:3

After graduating from high school, I moved out on my own.  I rented a room in a house with some college guys, but I had my own, private room.  During the fall of that year, I worked at Burger King, the night shift.  I’d come home around 5 o’clock in the morning.  There were mornings I’d spend with the Lord, praying, worshiping, being quiet.  I earnestly wanted to hear His voice and know His direction for my life.  The world was dark and quiet, and it was just God and me.  I look back at that time in my life and remember such sweet fellowship with the Lord. 

Since those days I have had some awesome moments with God.  The Lord has touched my life in profound ways.  God has promoted me spiritually, I believe, elevating me to greater levels in Him.  At times I’ve stepped out in faith and seen Him use my life for His kingdom.  And He’s taken me through some severe testing (or at least it feels that way to me!).  Dark valleys have tried my faith, and hopefully refined my character too.  My prayer life has rarely been as consistent as I’d like it to be.  Yet, at the end of the day, I want to walk closely with the Lord. 

In a dream I had several years ago, a pastor of mine was standing on the platform at the church I attended in Michigan.  All of a sudden, he completely disappeared.  I was standing in the back of the church.  While everyone sat in the pews, I walked to the front.  I picked up the microphone and declared to the congregation, “Enoch walked with God, and he was no more.”  That pastor was a man I had really admired, someone who, in my view, walked closely with the Lord.  When I think of that dream, I feel challenged to walk closely with God. 

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “to know Him and make Him known.”  That about sums it up at the pearl of simplicity, doesn’t it?  Or, as Jesus put it, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37, 39, quoting the Old Testament).  When we walk with Him, we’re able to love others better.  When we love Him first, in purity and simplicity of devotion, His love, grace and peace beings to flow.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Only Two Talents

“And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.”
Matthew 25:15

The teacher in one of my classes today shared a devotional about the Parable of the Talents, drawing our attention to the guy who got 2 talents.  His devotional prompted some thoughts in my mind.  Sometimes it seems that our culture wants to place everyone on the same level.  But the fact is, though we are all equally valued in Christ, we do not all have equal talents.  No one person is better than any other person, but some people have been given more talents than others.  Some have been given a larger sphere of influence.  Some have been given greater responsibilities.  The question is not, how much do you have?  The question is:  What are you doing with what God has given you?

We do not all have equal talents, but likewise, we are talented in different ways.  My wife can teach elementary school.  That’s a job I would never want to have.  It’s not my talent.  I have a friend who is an auto mechanic.  That’s not my talent either.  But perhaps my friend would not make a good law student? 

Allow me to draw an analogy from football.  Not every quarterback in the National Football League is a Hall-of-Fame quarterback.  Someone has to be the back-up.  It’s not a glamorous job.  The guy rarely gets to play, unless the starter is hurt.  Nevertheless, his job is important (and he still gets paid pretty good!).  Many guys that are back-ups are good, but just not good enough to be a starter.  The back-up may work just as hard as the starter.  Yet, as a back-up, he may be maximizing his talents.

How many talents has God given you?  Maybe you feel like you only have two.  Cherish those talents.  Work at them.  Maximize them to their absolute fullest potential.

It’s easy to compare what we have to what someone else has.  But God has called each of us, as individuals, to run our own unique individual race.  When we live grateful for what God has given us, and live to our potential, one day we will hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matt. 25:23).

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Morning Star

I see the morning star rising in the east
the darkness is over and love is in the air
with the breaking of the dawn
my heart is breaking
the pain is fleeing
the fountain is flowing deep and wide within my soul
my hope is in heaven
the home which awaits me there
though I long for that place, where all pain will flee away
I know I must be here

I see people sitting and waiting
and wonder what thoughts are being pondered
what feelings are swimming in their souls
I can hear their cries, rising, rising
rising up to heaven
and with a tear I ponder
what hope they have and if each one knows

the lustrous colors of the city
jump out and swirl in anxious seeking
each color cries…
don’t leave me to wander in demitint obscurity
don’t leave me alone
please don’t abandon me, without a home
but let me fly to heaven
let me break forth in freedom
let my spirit flutter like a butterfly in the wind
soar like an eagle in the firmament

break me Lord, break my heart
break my heart for what breaks yours

mi amor
may we find peace and solace
with every fervent sunset
with every morning that, with passion, breaks forth
may there always be a fire burning in the evening
may there always be a glowing of the heart
may every morning bring glory
and when the journey ends
we will have known Him
and made Him known
in every way we can

bright and morning Star
offspring of David
You’ve given us a prophetic word so sure
yet darkness covers us
and sometimes we cannot see
You said, the night was over
but sometimes we wonder if we’ll ever pass into the light
confirm Your promise with Holy manifestation
make the morning star arise in our hearts
we want to see You
we long to see You
to see Your bright and shining face
replace our shadows and make us free
burst forth from our hearts
mighty wind, remove the clouds
so we can see the Morning Star

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Way of the Master

In my experience, sometimes God’s voice is clear but His leading does not always make complete sense.  At times I look back on God’s leading in my life and wonder why He has led as He has.  Yet, I cannot say that His leading has ever been bad.  Circumstances have not always been the way I wanted them to be, but God has been good.  Following the Master is worth it.
Sure, God has led me into some difficult situations which tested my faith.  I’ve not always had the best attitude.  But, I have followed and God has been faithful.  Some things have not always turned out the way that I thought they would or the way I would have liked them to.  Nevertheless, today, I believe I am in the place God ordained for me to be. 
Isaiah 55, verses 8 & 9, says,

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.

In 2006 God began to stir my heart for missions.  Four years earlier, in 2002, I had graduated from Christ for the Nations Institute (CFNI), certainly a school that, among other things, has a focus on missions.  Yet, during my time at CFNI, I cannot say that God significantly stirred my heart for missions.  He waited until 2006.  Between 2006 & 2008 I went on 4 different trips to Central America with a wonderful ministry, Light of Life International.  Those were great times, both challenging and exciting.  God gave me a passion for missions.  It became something that I wanted to do with the rest of my life.  I even had hopes of going into full-time ministry with a mission organization.  I hoped, perhaps, that it would be with Light of Life. 
God had made it clear to me that part of His plan for my life was to travel overseas, preaching the gospel.  I wanted to go on the next trip.  But things didn’t seem to be working out for me to go.  I was certainly ready, so I thought, to go all-out for God.  I wanted to travel for Jesus however He wanted to make that happen.  But, for some reason, God drew me back. 
That same year a guest minister at our church gave me a prophetic word.  Part of his message to me was that God was restraining me from going out on the mission field.  That was not what I wanted to hear!  (There were some other goods parts that I did want to hear).  I knew God had spoken to me about missions.  I knew that was part of God’s plan for my life.  Yet, at that time, God was restraining me. 
After the trip in 2008, until 2011, I didn’t go on any trips.  God simply would not allow me to go.  There was nothing I could do about it.  I could have tried to go, but, I wouldn’t have been following God.  It wasn’t that God’s plan for my life had changed.  His plan was still the same; His timing was just not my timing.  His ways were not my ways. 
And then, in 2011, my church decided to take a group on a mission trip with Light of Life.  Lord, is it okay if I go now?   I felt the Lord say it was okay for me to go.  So for the next 3 years I went on 3 more trips.  The last trip was a very fulfilling experience for me because I got to lead one of the outreach teams. 
I can’t really explain why sometimes God directs us in the ways that He does.  But I have learned that the best thing to do is to follow Him.  When we follow Him we will be tested, we will be stretched.  It may not always make sense.  But it is good. 
When you have big dreams for God, of course, you want to fulfill those dreams.  You want to get in the game.  It’s hard sometimes to sit on the sidelines, or on the bench, and wait your turn.  Sometimes it’s hard to watch others when they seem to be walking more fully in their calling.  Though you may be doing some things for the Lord, it feels like you’re waiting to really live your dreams. 
At the end of the day, I think the most important thing is to love God and follow Him.  When you love God, of course, it’s natural to want to do something great for Him.  Sometimes we have to wait on our ideas of doing those “great” things and simply be faithful in the place God has called us to be.
Certainly, I think a big part in following God is fulfilling His purpose for our lives.  And, there is always something God has called us to do.  He hasn’t called us to just sit on the sofa and watch TV all day long (though I certainly enjoy watching TV).  
If God has promised us something, I believe He is faithful to His word and He will do what He says He will do, in His time.  If He has called us to do something, given us a vision for our lives, He will not ultimately restrain us from following His purpose.  But we need to walk in step with the Lord.  We don’t want to fall behind, but we also don’t want to run ahead.  We want to be bold and courageous, yet, steadfast and patient.
I am reminded of the passage in John Chapter 21.  Jesus had just had a special moment with Peter.  Peter was forgiven, restored, and his sense of calling renewed (“Feed my sheep”).  Peter sees the disciple John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the one who “had leaned on His [Jesus] breast at the supper...”  Peter asks Jesus, “But Lord, what about this man?”  Jesus said to him, If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” (see vs. 20-22)
No one can run our race for us.  And we each have our own individual, unique race to run.  We have to follow God ourselves.  Every day.  As we obey God’s voice, following the leading of us Spirit, and living our lives by His word, we will reach our destination.  We’ll reach every destination God has for us along the way.  Sometimes we have to move forward confidently in faith.  And sometimes we have to wait patiently.  In all things we walk before our Master, sensitive to the Master’s voice.  He is our Captain.  We live for Him.  And He knows what He is doing.  In His time, we will fulfill our purpose and destiny.  And one day we’ll hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant…” (Matthew 25:21)