Remembering to Look Back

Today I read Jeremiah 45-47, Psalm 105, & John 21. There are times in life when we need to spend the time looking back. In our fast paced society we are always looking forward. We look to the future and worry about retirement. We look forward the next new toy that is coming out. We look forward to the weekends or to our next vacation. We hope that our future leads us to a legacy where our lives have had one kind of impact. We are so worried about the future that we don’t spend enough time seeing what has already happened in the past and what is happening now in the present. We forget all of the things God has done for us so we worry about what will happen in the future. Remembering the past and learning from it is not something we can afford to forget.

In the Old Testament times, the Israelites where constantly forgetting the things God told them. Rather than trusting God and serving him, they had to create their own idols and look for other sources of security outside of him. They relied on Egypt instead of God. They forgot all the incredible things God did for them and ended up doing what was evil in God’s sight. God was constantly sending prophets to remind the people to remember but they refused to do so, instead looking to a future that they hoped they could control. So God took away all of their security, causing Egypt to fall and then their own world and security to crumble around them to the point where they were captives in a foreign land.

Peter and the disciples also forgot the call Jesus had put on their lives. Instead of going out and spreading the gospel, they chose to go back to fishing. Jesus appeared to them on the seashore and asked Peter three times if he loved him. Three times he told him to feed his sheep. Jesus was reminding Peter of the call he had placed on his life.

I think about how little I spend in reflecting. I do reflect in these journals and at times when things are going a little crazy, but I know I need to do it more often. Reflecting grounds you in the reality of what you are experiencing now. It lets you know if you have been on this road you are on now and reminds you of how to navigate it so you don’t go off into a ditch. Looking back shows you how far you have come when all you can see is how far you need to go. It shows you a track record of how God has shown up in your life and becomes the antidote to worry and anxiety. Looking back is a vital part of keeping our memory of events fresh and keeps us going in the right direction.

Lord, thank you for the way you have guided me in my life. I look back and see your hand on my life every step of the way. I know I forget often and end up retracing steps I have already had. Please continue to bring me back to yourself and give me the memory I need to look back, reflect, and focus on where I am going based on what I know from the past. Amen.


The Respectability of Honest Weakness

I haven't posted any of my journal devotionals in a while so I thought I would post today's. I wrote this today in my sacred space (or Starbucks to other people) at my regular time early this morning. Hope you enjoy it!

Today I read Exodus 3-5 and Luke 22. It is interesting that God chooses people who are not perfect to serve him. You would think the God of the universe could choose people who have no flaws or very little flaws. Or, at least, you would think he would not talk about their flaws in the Bible. Especially the flaws of leaders that he chose and established.

In our society we think that perfection or the appearance of it is something we should strive for. Heaven forbid that anyone ever know that we failed at anything. So we go about life trying to look as perfect as possible. We all know that perfection is not really possible so we admit to a few flaws that we are pretty sure everyone else struggles with or ones that are socially acceptable. Somewhere along the line we bought into the lie that true respect comes from being as close to flawless as possible.

The reality is that people really don't respect those who pretend to be perfect. Most of the reason for this is that we can see the flaws of another person better than that person can see it in themselves. So it is like having a person who says they never make mistakes make one right in front of you and still hold onto the belief that they don't make mistakes. We don't really respect people like that even if we are polite to them and don't point out those flaws. The people that we most respect are those who make mistakes but are able to admit them, make amends and move on. There is something very attractive about authenticity and humility. We want to support those kind of people and root for them to do well.

God knew this when he chose people he knew were flawed and had weaknesses. He saw their strength of character behind the image that others had of them and he chose them even when they didn't think they were worthy of being chosen. Take Moses. Here is a man who God used in mighty ways and became famous enough that most people in our society today know who he is. But Moses was flawed. He had a temper problem that lead him to kill a man. He had stage fright so much so that he argued with God over whether he was the right guy to send because he couldn't speak in front of people. Yet God still chose this short-fused-stage-fright of a leader to lead his people Israel out of Egypt on one of the most miraculous and important journey's of their lives.

Take Peter. Here was a guy who was a fisherman by trade who had no problem talking, so much so that he kept putting his foot in his mouth. Peter was not educated, he was not well spoken, he was a wild card that you never knew what he would say or do and most times he would probably embarrass you. This same guy who with one breath committed to dying with Jesus, chose to deny that he even knew Jesus when the true prospect of losing his life was presented to him. God chose this man to be God's spokesman at the start of the church and before government officials.

Each of these guys had weaknesses but each of these guys also did mighty things for God. They both had in common the commitment and loyalty needed to see something through and the faith to follow God's commands no matter where they led. Their weaknesses make them human to us and easy to relate to. Their admission of their weaknesses and how they handled their failures shows us what authenticity looks like. Their weaknesses give us hope for our own lives as we seek to follow God.

*Lord, thank you for using ordinary people to do extraordinary things for you. It gives me great hope in my own life to know that you can use flawed people for perfect purposes. Please help me to be a man of faith who has the steadfastness to see my calling through. Amen.*


The Consequence of Character

Today I read 1 Chronicles 3-5. The history of our life is usually determined by our actions and the impression we leave on the people we leave behind. How we choose to live our life not only has consequences for the present, but for our future and the future of the generations that follow us. We tend to have a short term view when it comes to the choices and decisions we make today. That perspective can cause us to think about what we think will make us happy now only to find out the downside is worse than any kind of happiness we may have gotten in the moment.

In the lineage of the tribes of Israel and Judah, each descendant is named in each of the tribes. The tribe of Reuben is mentioned not as the great tribe of the first born son of Jesse, but rather as the tribe that should have been the first born but was no longer considered that because Reuben lost his birthright to Joseph because he chose to sleep with his father’s concubine. So in a moment of passion that probably felt right to him (or he was able to rationalize away why it was wrong) he sinned and that sin which he probably felt was done in secret became a permanent mark on not only him, but on his family lineage as well.

When I think about the choices I have made in life that were based on how I felt in the moment instead of doing what I knew was right, those choices have had consequences, some obvious and some not. There is something to be said for consistency and building into our lives things that keep us from going the wrong path or doing the wrong thing. Having regular contact with God and not living in the dark or hiding small parts of ourselves is one way to build into our lives things that keep us on the right path. When I choose to do something else or let my mind be occupied with distractions, those things keep me from doing what I need to do to stay consistent. Sometimes apathy or doing what I feel instead of what I know I should do can be things that start me on the path towards sin. I must always keep in front of my mind what happens when people compromise or when they get lazy. Finishing well is not so much about what you have accomplished in life. Rather finishing well is about how you accomplished the huge task of living a life of character no matter what your accomplishments or achievements.

Lord, please help me to be a man of character. I would rather be steady in who I am and end this life as a man of integrity than to become famous and sought after and lose my integrity along the way. Please keep me sensitive to what I do and the impact it has on others. Amen.


Recognizing Who is in Your Boat

Today I read Exodus 39-40 and Mark 4:35-41. There is something incredible about the majesty and wonder of God. When we are in the presence of God and see him work in the situations in our lives, it silences all of our complaints and wonderings about why thing work the way they do. We need to spend more time in God’s presence so we experience more of his work in our lives.

I think its human nature to want to take short cuts. We want to find the easy way around things and look for the easiest way to get there. In our walk with God we want to experience his presence but we don’t want to do any of the work to make it happen even if the only work we have to do is spend time with him. We know it is a good thing to do but we want the miracles without any of the relationship. I think about the disciples who spent their whole lives with Jesus. They were constantly seeing miracles and hearing him teach. They saw him in his downtime and how he handled the stress of life. You would think at some point they would come to expect miracles out of Jesus. But again human nature gets the best of us and here they are in a boat in a storm. Jesus is sleeping peacefully and they are panicked over the waves and wind. I can only imagine what was going through their minds as they thought they might die on one hand and on the other, there was Jesus sleeping as if nothing was happening. I wonder if it ever crossed their minds that he knew something they didn’t or if they were just upset with him for not helping them do all they could to save their lives. Of course, then you have the other side with Jesus probably wondering, “When are these guys ever going to get it? They have been with me all this time and they still don’t get who I am. Can’t they even believe I have power over the wind?” I can picture their reaction after Jesus calms the wind. They were in awe, the novelty of having miracles happen in front of them never gets old. They may even have felt a little embarrassed over their panic and lack of faith.

In our lives we too struggle with the faith thing. We want to be near Jesus and now him well, but something in us doesn’t quite get it. We get caught up in the busyness of our lives and are focused on the waves and the wind that life brings our way and seem to forget we have Jesus in our boat quietly waiting for us to recognize he is there. When he does do miracles in our lives, we are in awe and thankful but we quickly forget when the next set of waves comes our way. We say we believe and know who Jesus is, yet we live as if we really don’t believe that. What does it cost to spend a little time with him everyday? A half hour more sleep in the morning? A little less TV at night? What is a relationship with him worth?

Lord, thank you for your presence in our lives. Forgive me for the times when I forget you are in my boat. Help me to live out my faith and do more than just say I believe. Please help my family through the current storm we are facing with Tyler and please free his mind. Amen.


Advent Day 8: Giving to Others

Read: Matthew 25:31-46

How aware are you of the needs of those around you? On any given day it could be the more obvious needs that we usually try to ignore like the guy on the street with a sign asking for food or money. Or the woman pushing a shopping cart with all her possessions in it. But there are also the more subtle ones that are easy for us to miss not because we are trying to ignore them, but rather because we are too busy doing our own thing to actually notice. The woman who is struggling with two kids and grocery bags trying to get to her car. The person sitting in the corner of a coffee shop quietly sobbing over news he just got on his cell phone. The person who has come by your office several times bothering you with simple questions that don’t make sense who really wants to talk about some issues in his life but doesn’t know how to break the ice to start the conversation.

There are people all around us who need our care. As Jesus said in Matthew there are people who are thirsty and need a cup of water, hungry and need food, or cold and need clothing. He tells us that when we take care of these needs that people have and give to others it is as if we are doing it to him. How do we get to the place where we see others as Jesus does? Or even see Jesus in others so we pay attention and respond to them as we would to him? There is such a tendency to be so busy doing good things that we don’t even see the most important things in this world. I want to have the eyes of Christ this Christmas and beyond to see the needs around me and respond to them as he would if he were me. If the God of the universe could give our world the gift of his presence as a baby and ultimately his death as a man, the least I can do as an act of gratitude and worship to him is to serve those he came to die for.

Lord, help me to see others with your eyes. Make me aware of the needs around me and give me the means to respond to those needs. Amen.

Advent Day 5: The Light of the World

Read: Matthew 4:12-17, Isaiah 9:1-3, Matthew 5:14-16

In my advent reflection this morning I read about Jesus being the light of the world who came into a world of darkness to show us the way. It is interesting to think about the fact that the bible uses light as a symbol of who Christ is and was when he came to this earth. Light illuminates the things around it and makes it easier to move about and function in a dark space. Light keeps us from hurting ourselves or from grabbing the wrong thing when we can only base our decision on what we feel. Light allows us to see things for what they really are instead of guessing at what we think something is and hoping we are right.

Light is a perfect example of who Jesus is. He came to bring us the truth and embodied that truth in his life here on the earth. He lived the life that God always intended for us to live, not because God loves rules or wants to spoil our fun. As the author and designer of life, he knows how he created us and what he intended for us that we would experience joy in living. Because we thought we knew best and wanted to do our own thing we went in the direction of darkness and are merely settling for a cheap substitute for joy so we are constantly trying to manufacture it instead of experiencing it through living the way God intended. He sent Jesus to show us the way to live and to understand how thinks were designed to work in this world. Through the life of Christ and his lighting the way for us we are able to see things for what they really are, move around in this world with intention and purpose and no longer have only our feelings on which we base decisions. Living the way God intended, in the light, is the source of purpose and joy because we are living as our creator intended.

I pray that this Christmas I would continue to do everything I can to live in the light instead of hiding in the darkness. The more I am who I am in every situation in life and don’t try to play a role or look good for others, the more I am relaxed and can live in the moment and enjoy the life I have been given. The more I live for other’s perceptions the more I stumble around and am captive to those perceptions. I want my life to shine as a light as Jesus’ life was a light to this world.

Father, thank you for sending Jesus to this earth to show me how to live. Help me to walk in the light that you have shown me and live my life in the fullness you desire for me. Amen.

The Myth of Private Sin

Today I read Ezra 7-10. We would like to think that the things we do wrong in life are only between us and God and are just a private affair. After all, how I live my life should be no one’s business. Besides, if I do anything wrong I am only harming myself. If I do something directly against someone else, like stealing or murder, sure I should be busted for that. But the other subtle things in life that I do are just personal sins that I have to deal with. So we go about life thinking there are only consequences for us and down play any impact those things might have on others.

In Ezra’s day, many in the remnant of Jews who returned to rebuild the temple had gone against God’s commands to not intermarry with the people of the land. I am sure they thought that their disobedience was a small thing. What harm could it be to the overall scheme of things? Besides, it was their decision and didn’t involve anyone else from the community. The reality was, however, that everyone in that community was effected by the sins of the people who chose to disobey God in this area. Part of the command had to do with whether or not the community would be blessed by God or not and whether his hand would be on them. Their personal sin had implications for an entire community.

There are very few sins in this life that are not social or at least have secondary effects on those around us. The decision to take up an addiction, something that seems private, has devastating effects on relationships and the people who know the addict. The decision to love money more than God causes a person to use people and love money instead of loving people and using money. The list could go on and on. When we buy the lie that says it is only hurting ourselves, we get defensive when it is even hinted that our personal life is having a negative impact on the lives of others. But the reality is, there are few sins that don’t had social implications.

The community in Ezra’s day handled their sin in a public way by mourning over what they had done wrong and seeking to put things right according to the laws of their day. Even in the way they needed to put things right had negative consequences for the wives and children they had taken against the commands of the Lord as they were sent away from the community. It is important for us today to realize how much our actions effect others and change our perspective on how private our private lives really are. We need to confess the things we have done wrong to God and seek to make amends and live in the way God set up in the first place. Only then will we understand and live in a way that our lifestyle is one in which we truly love our neighbors as ourselves.

Lord, help me to live my life according to the way you have set before me to live. May the things I say and do not bring harm to those around me. Make me a man of integrity. Amen.

The Situations of Life

Today I read Jeremiah 30-31 and the next chapter in Soulful Spirituality. How we handle situations in life have dramatic impacts on our own spiritual development and the spiritual development of others. What we perceive to be movements of God or words of wisdom from him can sometimes be nothing more than our attempts to speak into being something we desperately want to happen or in some ways to rescue God from what we perceive as bad PR. We long so much for change to happen, especially in times where life feels like it is not working right, that cause ourselves to hear a voice that we quickly qualify as the voice of God.

In Jeremiah’s day the people were living in despair over their captivity to Babylon. They couldn’t understand how this could be anything close to God’s will and their souls which had been far away from God up to that point did not have the capacity to view the situation from his perspective because they had little perspective on their own lives and how they had failed to live up to what God had commanded. So various “prophets” started speaking for God on things they perceived would happen which all related to quick and early relief from their present sufferings. As you would suspect this message was popular among the people and they chose to listen to these men instead of listening to the minority voice which was really the only voice from God (Jeremiah) who was speaking about long term suffering with a great long term outcome.

Somehow we don’t do well dealing with what we perceive is bad news in life. We tend to think that true spirituality and connection to God should equal spiritual ecstasy and for lack of a better term, good luck, when it comes to how we experience life. Most of us like to live in the world of cause and effect where we feel that certain things we do for God should have certain positive effects in our lives. The reality is, real life, authentic living, happens not only in the spiritual highs of life but in the spiritual lows as well. Our character and our sense of being fully alive in this world is the balance between these two things. In Benner’s book he talks about the spirit being the transcendent fire in our belly that drives us forward and gives us a spiritual high of sorts while the soul is the container that brings a sense of reality and grounding to life that allows us to grow in and through difficult times in life. Have spirit at the expense of soul and you have people consumed by their longings and desires that causes them to flame out or live reckless lives. Have soul at the expense of spirit and you have a life of despair, depression, and melancholy that causes them to live a lifeless and drab life. Our lives are meant to be lived in the balance between the two. Where we live life with passion but do so with a full understanding and embrace of the realities that face us everyday. This allows us to accept both good and bad from God and see both as opportunities to grow spiritually. When this happens cause and effect are not as important as how we live in the midst of life’s circumstances and how they grow our character. It allows us to be at home in our own skin and develop a depth that anchors us to God regardless of the circumstances of life. That kind of grounding allows us to deal with the reality of a message like Jeremiah delivered with a sense of hope and perspective that allows us to function within that reality.

Lord, help me to live an authentic life that balances my spirit and soul in such a way that I am rooted and anchored in you. Help me to take things as they come and strive to constantly hear your true voice in the midst of life’s circumstances. Amen.

The Trap of Boredom and Complacency

Today I read Deuteronomy 5-7. This book is Moses’ final farewell message to the people of Israel before they enter the promised land. In this passage he reminds them of the ten commandments God gave them and tells them to obey everything God commanded them to do. He also gives instructions for how they should conduct themselves once they enter the promised land, everything from completely destroying all the people and their idols to remembering all the things the Lord has done for them and to serve him only. Knowing how the rest of the story goes it is hard to understand sometimes when reading a passage which goes by quickly yet covers many years to understand why the people would forget and do their own thing. How could they forget all that God had done for them especially when they could hear his voice and see his presence with them?

Even as I think about these things it reminds me how true this is for me and other followers of Christ today. We have this encounter with Christ that sets us on fire. We feel different and start devouring the scriptures and sharing our faith all over the place. Then we start to settle into what it means to be a follower of Christ as a marathon instead of a sprint. We mature a bit and develop habits that help us to stay focused on him and we begin to integrate everything in our lives around our faith. Then we have to work harder to stay connected. The world pulls at us and the reality of life creeps in and begins to distract us and steal our joy. Eventually we get to a place where it is a struggle to stay consistent in our walk with God. Just as the Israelites forgot God and when their own way, we do the same thing today and we have the Holy Spirit living in us.

I think the main enemies we face related to our walk are complacency and boredom. We become complacent with how our life is going and tend to live for excitement which generally ends up being something new or a new event in our lives. Outside of that, we take everything for granted and start coasting through life. As things become more and more predictable and we settle for less, we become bored and find our time with God to be dry and more of a chore than a life giving time with an eternal God. So we give up and look for other things to bring us the joy that can only come from a relationship with God. Rather than pursue the source of true joy we manufacture joy in the things of the world. I have seen this over and over again in my own life and the lives others. When they get going in their time with God and stay consistent in pursuing him, their attitude changes and their whole sense of purpose and connection causes them to feel more fulfilled. But over time they get complacent with it and start to cut corners and tell themselves they are too busy on this day to have their quiet time and one day becomes two, three, until eventually the quit all together. In the middle of their quitting they start to get bored with God and with their lives and either get angry and cranky or they seek joy in other things or events. It is a predictable cycle that if we choose to fight through it, we can find life and fulfillment on the other side.

Lord, help me not get complacent or bored with my life and my pursuit of you. Please help me to always stay focused on what is important and always be sensitive to your quiet voice in my life. Give me a sense of purpose and meaning and help me to use this life you have given me to it’s ultimate fullness. Amen.

The Daily Sacrifice

Today I read Numbers 28-30. The Lord gave all kinds of times and seasons to sacrifice to him and to celebrate certain events in the lives of the Israelites. They had daily offerings they were supposed to do both in the morning and evening. Then they had certain festivals that they had to celebrate which went on for a week or more that related to seasons or certain things that happened to them in the past. The Lord was very specific on what they were to do and not do on those days. We all need to have regular times of remembering the Lord and his work in our lives. I can see the logic in having these daily times of offering and the special celebrations. It was a part of how they did life and it was one way that they could keep the Lord in front of them and always experience and remember his presence. Given to our own devices we quickly forget his presence in our lives and start to live as if he is not near. It is so easy to get caught up in the little details of our lives that we forget the God of the universe who created all things. It is kind of ironic and sad at the same time that we who were created can so easily forget our creator. But God knowing this was the case created these times of having the people remember him.

In my life one of those times is in the morning. I enjoy spending time reading the word and letting God speak to me and then write it down so I remember it. This time of meeting with him and writing like this are my regular sacrifice to him as the Israelites would have to do. The difference is that I do it because I want to and because of my desire to pursue him with all my heart. I am sure there were Israelites who did sacrifice to pursue God but whenever something is made mandatory there is always a part of us as humans that causes us to fight it. I am so thankful and grateful for the Spirit who lives within me and the time I can have learning and growing in Him.

Lord, thank you so much for the time you give to me every moment of my life and this special time daily to connect with you. I pray that I will always have the passion and desire to connect with you. Please help me to live out the things I learn from you and please give me wisdom beyond my natural abilities. Help me apply it well to my life. Amen.

Passing On Leadership

Today I read Numbers 26-27. As the children of Israel prepare to enter the promised land, God sets up ahead of time how much land each tribe will get based on their size. He then takes Moses to the top of the mountain to show him the land he is giving to the children of Israel (Moses can’t go in because of his sin). At the twilight of his life Moses asks God for a successor that could lead the people so God tells him to pass his authority on to Joshua who will lead them and hear from God through casting lots with the priest. The passing on of the torch of leadership and lessons learned in life is an important one. It happens in every form of ministry and industry in the world. Usually the gains of someone who was highly successful are not repeated by the successor because he is following in the leaders footsteps. It is interesting that Joshua does turn out to be an incredible leader conquering the land that God had given them yet he is not allowed to talk with God as Moses had before. When it comes to legacy and transfer of leadership, we need to do a better job of this in the church at large.

Usually in church life we wait until the last minute to pass on leadership to the next guy. Rarely does a pastor have a successor in the ranks of the church that he grooms and mentors into the role. Joshua was will Moses the whole time. He saw how he handled difficult situations. He learned from Moses’ mistakes as well as his successes. He was immersed in the culture of the nation and was able to carry forward the culture that was passed on to him. This helped to produce a smoother transition and continued the success that Moses had. If only we would do that more in the church, we would not have as many highly successful churches slowly erode to mediocrity once the founder leaves. I don’t know what it is that keeps this from happening. Is it the ego of the leader? Is it the ego of the successor? Are there no guys who are willing to sit under a great leader and learn? Are there no great leaders who want to take the time to groom younger leaders?

Lord, I pray for the church and the leaders that are to come in the future. Please help there to be leaders who take the time to mentor the younger generation. I pray also that there would be more young leaders who would take the time to learn from those who have come before them. Help me to do a good job of grooming my own boys to be good leaders and not shrink away from responsibility or quit when things get hard. Please prepare both me and them to receive what you want us to do. Amen.

The Problem of a Short Term View

Today I read Numbers 11-13. The fear of not thinking you are getting everything you should in life can lead to many problems. In the passages I read today, the people of Israel had many choices before them in how they perceived their lives were going. They could have been thankful that God was personally leading them and trusted him to take care of all their needs. That sense of gratitude could have carried them to early success in the long term view of their lives and their character and integrity would have been talked about forever. Instead they chose to focus on what they didn’t have and allow short term delays to turn into resentments which led them to question God and those who were leading them. They complained about the food thinking they were missing out and even willing to go back into slavery to get it! Looking back I can’t imagine getting to that place but it might not have been food for me that would have caused me to complain. Then Miriam complains against Moses because he married a Cushite woman. So here is a humble leader who hears directly from God and she chose to rip his reputation up behind his back over either her jealousy or false sense of justice. She may have been saying “poor me. He gets to do whatever he wants and I have to follow the rules.” That type of thinking always leads to cynicism. Finally, you have the spies sent into the land God promised who would rather let their fear cause them to spread that same fear to the people instead of just reporting the facts and trusting God for the outcome. So they basically manipulated the people to respond as they had in fear to keep them from having to face those fears.

It is easy to read these passages now and criticize how the people responded and their short sightedness. But the reality is, I end up doing things like this all the time in a day when I have the Holy Spirit living within me while the children of Israel did not. I find that I can feel like I am not getting enough breaks to get paid more like others do. I can feel like I am being blocked while other people get to do things I always wanted to. I can get cynical about how I feel leaders in my life are handling things and if I don’t guard my heart I could talk about those things behind their backs. It is very easy to take everyday things and twist them into some kind of injustice issue that would cause me to get all fired up.

Instead I work hard to choose to be grateful for what the Lord has provided and trust that he will continue to do so. I know that if I can keep a grateful heart and outlook I will protect myself from feeling I am missing out on something or not getting what I feel I deserve. It is a difficult struggle, especially in a social setting where everyone is trying to keep up with the Joneses, but I know that I need to have a long term view, trust the Lord, and let him determine the outcome.

Lord, please help me to stay focused on the things you have done for me and that long term view of what you will do in the future. Keep me from a mentality of what I don’t have or think I deserve and help me to focus on you and where you are leading me. Help me to be a good husband and father and to grow as a man of God. Amen.

Complete Obedience or Negotiated Compliance?

Today I read Numbers 8-10. Obedience is always in the details and how we obey completely not whether we obey in part. In Numbers God sets up the rules which the Israelites should follow in how they set up the tabernacle, consecrate the priests, handle the passover, and move from place to place. Each of these instructions had very specific things that could and couldn’t be done with consequences for each action that was not followed. For instance, if someone was deemed unclean for doing something like touching a dead body, they could not celebrate Passover with everyone else on the appointed time but had to wait a month to do it. To touch the ark of the covenant would mean instant death. While all of these rules had meaning beyond the rules themselves, it was also a test of obedience for the people of Israel who had to follow them.

Obedience is a word that many people do not like today. For many it is too authoritarian which in a postmodern society means someone is being marginalized and someone’s voice is not being heard. Sometimes I wonder how a postmodern thinker would have done in his/her conversation with God! As a result of our philosophy on life and errosion of authority through concepts like situational ethics, people prefer to pick and choose what they obey and what they do not. Most people see situations where obedience is necessary as opportunities to negotiate. If I can negotiate the terms I will obey you. This is kind of like what I experience with my kids. They want to obey the things that they deem easy and negotiate why they shouldn’t have to do the rest. Or if they know they are not going to win the negotiation they try to get me to give them something as motivation for doing something they should be doing in the first place. As a good parent, I can’t allow my boys to set terms or negotiate with me or they will grow up thinking they only have to do the right thing or submit to authorities if they feel like it and my life with them would be miserable. Instead, because I love them, I have to set up boundaries and rules that they must obey so they can learn appropriate boundaries and respect for authority.

Now I know some will think that something like that prevents them from being independent thinkers but it really doesn’t. It helps them to know the limits of what they can and can’t do and actually makes them more creative. Ask a child to build a sand castle on a beach and he goes wild trying to figure out how to make it happen because of all the space. Tell him to build a sand castle in a sand box and he suddenly has the appropriate boundaries to thrive. In our lives we need boundaries as adults just as our kids do. God puts boundaries in place in our lives because he loves us and knows what is best just as I as a parent put boundaries on my kids because I love them. When we obey completely without negotiation we should our love for him and our complete trust that he has our best interests at heart. When we choose to negotiate or partially obey we show that we really don’t trust God and we think we know better in some areas of life. How does your current obedience show your trust in God?

Lord, help me to trust you in everything in my life. I want to hear you and obey you because I know your way is better than anything I could dream up. Please help me to walk in step with you not negotiate, partially obey, or walk ahead of you. Amen.

Living with Holy Urgency

Today I read Leviticus 22-23. Reading about the various rules God gave on how to sacrifice and when to celebrate and remember it strikes me how we have forgotten to takes those times enough to gain some kind of rhythm in life when it comes to our faith. More and more people are trying to fit God in instead of fitting their schedule in around God. I notice this in my own life and I am convicted again about the importance of setting the stage for God’s presence in our lives. Sure we go to church on the weekends and have small group during the week which is a good rhythm to have. I pray with the boys at night and we all spend time in the word with our own quiet times and even journal about it. But there is still something about a holy assembly, anticipated times that are marked out to rest and focus on God.

This weekend at the 9am service, Matt Carter spoke about living with a holy urgency and seeing our lives as but a brief moment in the scheme of eternity and living every moment as if it was our last. This really spoke to me because I struggle with whether my life is having the impact it should with the gifts and abilities the Lord has given me. I know I am in a historic church and place so the potential for big impact is huge. I feel like there are some things the Lord has put on my heart are important and I need to find a way to help the kingdom in the way I feel God is calling me to do. I really was inspired by thinking about my life as a vapor, as something that I need to give every moment my best effort and full attention. I know if I do that and fully establish a rhythm to life that saturates my mind and soul in the things of the Lord I will last the long haul and my family will be blessed as a result as well.

Lord, I want to serve you with all of my energy. I want to give you my best in all that I do and run hard with the life you have given me remembering the rhythm to life that you established from the beginning. Please help me to leave it all on the field for the kingdom and use me to have an impact around the world. Amen.

Meeting God

Today I read Exodus 1-3. The places where God meets us in our lives are always times where we are surprised and when God sets our lives in motion in a certain direction. There is something about how God works with us that he is always guiding us to the place he wants us to be but the path to get there is as important sometimes as the outcome itself. Here was Moses, a man who had grown up in a foreign culture, knowing little of his Hebrew background, yet still called by God to be the leader of his people as they left their captivity in Egypt. Moses had to be a strong man based on his killing of the Egyptian who was beating a slave and his chasing off the men who were harassing the women at the well in Midian. He also had a lack of confidence since he was concerned about how the people would receive him and having to have backing by knowing God’s name, etc. It took a conversation with God through a burning bush to call Moses to the job God had for him that he would invest in for the rest of his life.

I think about my own life and the burning bush experiences I have had. The last thing I ever wanted to do was be a Pastor. I felt unworthy to handle the task so God sends me to Promise Keepers in Oakland to hear Kenneth Ulmer talk about all the guys in the Bible God used who had problems that made them seem unworthy. I tried to meet God half way by getting my counseling degree so he sent pain from a kidney stone and my hearing the words Jesus gave to Peter when he went back to fishing instead of doing the work of the church, “feed my sheep” to tell me I should pursue ministry. I used my wife as an excuse and when the bill for what seminary would cost came in she told me to send the bill in faith instead of telling me there was no way we could do it. When money became an issue he sent help through my great uncle who paid for the rest of my seminary. Time and time again God has shown up in my life and given me personal burning bush experiences to help keep me on track and moving in the direction he wants me to go. It seems at times like he is moving really slow or all my dreams keep getting put on hold or may never come to fruition. Yet in all of this I am constantly learning that I just need to remain faithful and keep walking one step at at time. As I do this, I learn more and more about the life God has for me and I see how my character needs to continually grow as I seek to become more like Christ.

Lord, please help me to remain faithful to you. I don’t want to leave my first love or go off the path. I want to be a man who finishes strong and finishes well. Please give me wisdom beyond my years as I asked for so long ago as a kid. Thanks for your presence in my life. Amen.

The Two Sides of Faith

Today I read Genesis 12-15. The story of Abram and the covenant God made with him is a great story. Here you have a guy that God chose to be the father of a nation through whom the Messiah would come. Abram wasn’t particularly special. He certainly wasn’t perfect as evidenced by his willingness to put his wife out there to save his own neck from the Pharaoh. He didn’t have any kind of status and was more of a wanderer and stranger in a strange land. He was one of the most unlikely people to be the father of a great nation since he didn’t have a son even in his old age.

Despite all the things that were against Abram being a great father of a great nation, the one thing Abram did have was faith. He had enough faith to start walking when God told him to move but didn’t tell him where he was going. He had enough faith to trust that God would take care of the issues between he and Lot by letting Lot take the best land. He had enough faith to not take all the possessions he had captured back in getting Lot and his family back and gave those things back to the King of Sodom knowing that God would take care of him and not wanting anyone else to get the credit. And he ultimately had faith to believe that God would somehow make him the father of a great nation despite all that was against him and God counted him righteous for doing so. What an incredible man he was.

Yet in the midst of all of that, our strengths can sometimes be the source of our sins in life. Here is this great man of faith who didn’t have enough faith that God could spare him from Pharaoh so he lies about his wife being his sister for fear of his own life. Crazy when you think about it. This was probably the easiest thing for God to do of all the things Abram believed yet he struggled to have faith in God’s protection in this one thing. This thing not only put his wife in jeopardy and who knows what happened if Pharaoh took her as his wife, it also probably caused deep pain and in their marriage. What is it about us that our source of greatest strength can sometimes be the source of our greatest weakness?

Lord, help me to be a man of faith like Abraham. You know I struggle at times with waiting for the plan to develop and in that struggle I can doubt and over think and process things. I am your servant Lord. Everything I have and everything I am is yours and I pray that my life will count for eternity. Please help me not to waste my life. Amen.

What's the Right Answer?

Today I read Job 40-42. The end of the book of Job is an interesting study in what it means to speak correctly about God and the danger of trying to figure out His motives. Here you have God putting Job in his place. Job has been asserting that he was innocent and this shouldn’t be happening to him. While he was right, even without knowing the conversation that God had with Satan behind the scenes, the issue God had with Job was not that assertion but the assertion that somehow God had made a mistake. It is dangerous ground to tread on when we try to figure out God’s motives and try to put him in the box of our own making that helps to make us comfortable with what he is doing. God spends time educating Job on how powerful he is and that Job doesn’t know enough to question Him. Job of course responds with repentance and new found realization of who God is in relation to who he (Job) is. Then in an unexpected turn of events God turns to Job’s friends and says that they had it all wrong in how they spoke about Him and that if it wasn’t for the sacrifice they were about to give and Job’s prayer on their behalf he would punish them. How did his friends speak wrong of God? Where did they go wrong?

As I shared earlier in my journal on putting God in a box I think Job’s friends relied more on their theology and systems of thought in explaining an unexplainable action of God. Their comfort was not in trusting God’s character and his ways but in their ability to come up with sound explanations that they could trust in. There is a subtle turn that any one of us can take when we make our answers as important as our faith and trust in God. This event was unexplainable so to speak. God had allowed injustice to happen to test Job’s faith and resolve. There was no debate over the fairness of that test. There was not really an explanation as to why God felt it necessary to prove Satan wrong by putting an innocent man like Job through this. Only in the mind of God is there an answer and He wasn’t giving it. Our attempts at coming to terms with the unexplainable things in life show where our faith and trust truly is. Sometimes the only answer is to wait and renew our faith and trust in God.

As I think about all the things I have seen and gone through in life, none of them is as horrific as what we see in the life of Job. Yes some are as painful and do include loss, but not at the magnitude that Job endured. I think of how I have handled some of the situations in a God honoring way with my faith in Him being my only strength. I can also think of situations that I handled terribly and trusted my surroundings, or my own understanding, or my own theology and ended showing how weak I really am and how my faith is very frail. Faith really is a tricky thing because it is a moment by moment thing and just when you think your faith is strong something will happen and your reaction to it shows just how weak that faith really is. I want to be a man whose faith is the mark of who he is. That people are inspired to trust God more instead of look for more answers that make them feel better.

Lord, please strengthen my faith. I want to be strong in my faith and trust in you but I fall so short. Please make a me a man after your own heart and help me to model for my boys and those around me what it looks like to walk moment by moment with you. Amen.

Putting God in a Box

Today I read Job 14-16. I find it interesting how our good intentions to help can many times end up being a disaster. Here you have Job who is going through misery in just about every aspect of his life. He lost his kids, his house, his servants, his health. He has his wife tell him he should just curse God and die. He is going through every loss imaginable and now his friends are stepping in to set him straight on his theology. I almost wonder if they were doing it out of concern for him or in an effort to convince themselves that the right answers still applied given all that Job had gone through. On the surface there was no reason Job should have gone through what he did. He was righteous and lived the life God commanded in every way. Yet even with that, Job experiences all of these losses and pain. The formula didn’t add up. It shouldn’t have been that way. God should have been blessing this guy or at a bear minimum protecting him. Yet here sat Job the guy whose life circumstance couldn’t be answered easily with the standard lines of reason.

To make matters worse, this guy starts challenging the pat answers and points out the seeming injustice of the whole situation. When your world is built on your ability to understand it and have answers for all the anomalies the last thing you want is someone to challenge those answers. What if they are found wrong? How will you explain life? The problem was his friends put their faith and ability to navigate life in their answers not in God. This is a very dangerous place to live because putting your faith in your own understanding and having the right answers makes your faith vulnerable because it only takes one circumstance that you can’t explain to cause you to doubt and ditch your faith. This is what I see all the time in people who want to debate and fight over theological systems of thought. There is a desperation and anger in many cases with anyone who threatens the system. We have seen it though the centuries as men have murdered others over cries of heresy or fiercely ruined reputations and fortunes because the ideas that were shared were threatening. I believe that our faith should be in God and him alone. Our understanding does come from his Word and can be understood and applied. But when it comes to understanding God’s reasons for allowing things or working miracles, that is the realm we can’t enter because there is no way to fathom God’s thoughts. When our understanding of God’s reasons and our answers become more important that simply trusting God’s heart, we have wandered to a place of living under our own control dressed up in theological reasons and answers. There is value in having some answers or thoughts on why things happen but when those thoughts HAVE to apply in all cases, we put God in a box of our own creation, a box he refuses to stay in.

Lord, help me not to put you in a box. I want to be in awe of you every step of my life. Please help me to let go of my attempts to explain everything you do and trust you more. Let me faith be evident in my life and please help me to seek you every step of the way. I want to follow you with all I’ve got. Amen.

Leaving a Legacy

Today I read Deuteronomy 32-34, 1 Corinthians 2, and Love Dare day 2. I have been thinking a lot lately about what legacy I will leave behind for my boys and whether or not they will have a passion for the Lord and have a deep insight into who he is that I feel I have gotten over the years and inherited from my parents. This deep desire has been fueled not only by my love for my boys and for the Lord but also by my own guilt for not being as intentional as I think I should be. Here in Deuteronomy we read about Moses’ blessing to each of the tribes of Israel. In particular he blesses the Levites who where the pastors in many ways for being more loyal to God than they were their own relatives. These were the guys who kept true to God’s word and commands and carried out everything he commanded them to do. Being a pastor I would love to have that on my own epitaph. To have others say that I was more loyal to God than anything else would be the way I would want to be remembered, not just on the outside so people could have been fooled by my behavior but in my heart and soul as well. Those are the places that only God knows so most importantly I would want to have him say that to me on the other side of eternity. That kind of legacy to pass on to my boys so they see it and hopefully have the same passion for it would be my prayer.

Yet in so many ways I feel I fall short just like the Israelites did and even Moses himself. Moses was a man who the scriptures say no one had a relationship with God face to face like Moses. What an honor and incredible responsibility that must have been for him. Yet I have the Holy Spirit living in me so my face to face relationship with God, while not visible physically, is ongoing and intimate. I want to live according to God’s wisdom which the world says is foolish, instead of by my own wisdom or that of the world. If I can live in such a way that my boys see my passion for God not only in my words or the things I do as a pastor but in our home, in my marriage to their mom, in the way I treat them and seek to reconcile when I have blown it, and in the way I bring the Lord up in everyday conversations, I know they will be miles ahead in their pursuit of God for themselves. A legacy is not something that we decree but rather is the body of work that our lives leave behind for others to follow.

Lord, help me to leave a legacy for my boys that is easy for them to follow and instills in them a passion for You and Your Word. Keep me from being lazy and seeing my home time as my down time. Help me not to give everything I have to those who I minister to but to save the best for my family. Help me to a man like you talked about of the Levites who is more loyal to you than to my own relatives. Amen.

God is Thinking About Me Now

Today I read Deuteronomy 30-31, Psalm 40, 1 Corinthians 1, and Day 1 of the Love Dare. I have many things rolling around in my mind today. One of those is my feelings of closeness to the Lord. Right now I feel a tug of war in my soul between giving everything to the Lord and a passion for Him and the pull of daily details and relational issues. In today’s reading, Moses gives the recipe to the children of Israel on how to stay close to the Lord by reading his commands frequently and obeying them and passing them on to your kids. He also predicted through what God told him that the people would rebel and would forget to do those things, which we know from history lead them back into exile. This flopping around between commitment and “being in the zone” and being pulled to other concerns where God is not central is the defining struggle of the Christian life. Even now I can feel my heart wane and commit moment by moment and I have the Holy Spirit which the Israelites did not have.

The same issue was present in the Corinthian church where they had the Holy Spirit and the many gifts he gave the church, yet they had quarrels and disputes among them that caused all kinds of problems in the church. This is what I have seen over and over again. Even in my own life I have had problems with people that I did not handle well or talked about behind their backs to make me feel better about it. That is a completely wrong approach and the cowards way of dealing with issues. I need to be consistent in going to the person I am struggling with so we can resolve it together and be reconciled and move forward in unity which is vital in the church. Again, this is a heart waning/commitment issue.

Yet in the midst of all of this, the Psalmist states in verse 17, “As for me I am poor and needy, but the Lord is thinking about me right now.” That just blew my mind this morning and is something I have to continually dwell on and remember. That despite my circumstances, God is thinking about me right now. Even when I am not thinking about him and going my own way. Still God is thinking about me and loves me and is waiting for me to come back to Him. What an incredible gift God has given me! I want to be a man who lives up to this thought and stays obedient to God’s call on my life. In the Love Dare it talked about being patient instead of angry and to not lash out against your spouse when things go wrong to but be patient and process the situation. That is one way today I can live out the fact that God is thinking about me, by being like Him which is patient for sure!

Lord, help me to think of you as often as you think of me. Help me to walk in step with your Holy Spirit instead of going on and off the trail. I want to live my life to its fullest in all that you would have for me. Please help me to have your vision for my life instead of my own. Amen.

Faith Versus Sight

Today I read Deuteronomy 16-18, Psalm 38, and Galatians 2. The themes of these three passages seemed to blend together this morning. In Deuteronomy, Moses is giving the people the rules on how they should live in the land that God has given them. He talks about the sacrifices, the festivals they are to observe, etc. Then he mentions two things that I don’t remember seeing before. First, he sets them up for their own desire to eventually want a king. Even though God is to be their king, he knows that they will want one leader who is their king like the other nations and so Moses lays out how they find the king and how the king should live. The king was not to have a bunch of wives and he was to write down word for word the words of the law so he wouldn't forget it and would govern by it. I found this interesting because Solomon was said to have many wives and it did seem to take him down a bad a path at one time from what I remember. But this focus on the law and remembering it and forcing the king to remember it by writing it down is an interesting concept. Kind of like a quiet time with God on steroidsHappy.

Then Moses told them that God was going to send prophets to them who would speak for him since the children of Israel asked that they never have to deal with God directly again because of their experience on Mount Sinai which they felt almost killed them. So God honored his promise by sending a prophet to speak for him who they had to listen to and could test by seeing if what he said came true. In a day where we have people saying things like, “If God wold show himself to me I would believe,” we have people who said don’t show him to me because he scares me and they still waffled back and forth from belief to unbelief even when having God’s presence with them in a very tangible way. For all of those who say they need God to show himself to them before they will believe, There is a whole nation who saw him and didn’t continue to believe and follow him regularly. I am sure the same would be true today where people would want “on-demand” demonstrations that he is still there to hold their belief in check. I can see why God went the route of faith without seeing.

In Galatians Paul talks about how Christ fulfilled the law and that our relationship with God is finally made right through belief instead of trying to keep the law perfectly which was impossible to do from the start. So it is by grace through faith in Christ that we are finally able to have relationship with God and actually have the Holy Spirit living within us to guide and direct us. What an incredible gift especially in light of how it was before Christ came. I am not grateful enough for all this means for me especially in light of the fact that all of the prophets and those who loved God who came before us, longed to see the day in which I live.

Lord, thank you for what you did for me in the life, work, death, and resurrection of your Son. Please help me to live in such a way that I am at least displaying in some imperfect way, the love you have for others. Make me a man that others can point to and say at least he is trying. Amen.

God's Guide for Avoiding Recession

Today I read Deuteronomy 13-15 and Galatians 1. As I reflect on what I just read I am struck by the rules that God put in place to really take care of everyone. He put in place the idea of a year of jubilee, that every seven years debts where forgiven and slaves were allowed to go free. Also, people were to give the first tenth of all that they owned to God and every three years to give a portion to the Levites who had not inheritance of their own because they served God. He also commanded them to look out for the poor, even the poor in the land that were not their own to take care of them and give them what they needed. In the “rules” God was establishing, he was making sure everyone was taken care of and no one would go without and the people would be blessed in doing this as long as they continued to serve God and follow what he commanded.

I think about my own day in relation to what God established in Israel and I can see why those rules were so important. People of their own natural accord will only look out for themselves and not just for what they need to survive but for everything they can get to build up some false sense of security. Even if they have tons of money there is always greed for more “just in case.” So people will forget those who are in need because they have their own survival instinct and greed that leads them to turn a blind eye to anyone around them. So God established rules in these three chapters that dealt with the people’s source of security, he gave rules for how they relied on God instead of other gods, gave their money to God and others instead of hoarding it for themselves, and forgave debts and slaves every seven years instead of lording it over people who owed them and keeping people in perpetual debt in order to build their own wealth off of their backs. Today in an economy that is going very bad and things that are sinking fast, people are in a sense of helplessness and striving for anything that has a sense of stability. This whole mess was brought on by people violating the commands God gave to the nation of Israel way back then. People have been worshiping the gods of materialism and doing whatever it takes to get ahead, even if it was unethical and in some cases illegal. They have forgot that everything they have comes from God and began to believe that they could do anything and money would roll in. They also, exploited people and put them into mortgages and other debts that they could never afford in order to make money for themselves all the while setting those people up for a hard fall.

What God established way back then is so applicable today and was only further explained in the New Testament. I a need to make sure I have no other god that gets in the way of my relationship with Jesus Christ. It is only because of him that I have life and breath in my lungs and his principles are eternal. Money and possessions need to be a distant fourth in my life compared to what God has called me to do. I know he has sustained me thus far and he will continue to do so as I seek to follow his guidelines for living.

Lord, help me to be a man who is dependent on you and you alone. Help me to avoid the trap that money and possessions can create in my life. Help me to see that everything I have and all that I am comes from you. Amen.

Faith Versus Fear

Today I read Deuteronomy 1-2 and Mark 12. Both passages this morning have to do with faith and trust. In Deuteronomy, Moses is recounting the history of the children of Israel as he delivers to them his final speech before dying. He reminds them of how God rescued them from the Egyptians and how even though he had been faithful to them, they lacked faith when it counted the most. They were too afraid to enter the land that God had told them to conquer because they were looking at it from their own strength and began to complain and look at the impossibilities instead of the possibilities. This paralyzed them and, as a result, God did not allow that entire generation to get into the promised land. Then in a fit of regret they decided to go and do what God had told them to do in the first place, this time again, against what God said they should do and they were defeated heavily.

As I think about the lack of faith of the Israelites it is interesting to note that not only did they face the huge consequences of their lack of belief by not getting to go into the land, but their children also suffered for 40 years while they literally waited for their parents to die off so they could have a permanent home that God had arranged for them. 40 years is a long time for anyone no matter how long you may live and here were kids who probably had the conversation with their parents about why they didn’t believe God.

I don’t think I have linked non belief with consequences to myself and others before. Sure I could see how I might suffer by not getting to experience all God has for me and wasting portions of my life and the talent God has given me all because I allowed my fear and the thoughts that go with it to drown out my trust in God and the possibilities that go along with serving a God for whom nothing is impossible. But when that lack of faith is translated to others and how they might suffer from my lack of faith, I find that this is even more serious than the consequence I would self inflict. How might others suffer? Well what if there were many people who needed whatever it was I felt God was calling me to do but I felt, for whatever reason, that I couldn’t make it happen? I know God could work out other arrangements but how would he respond to a conversation with him about not only letting Him and myself down, but also the others for whom my actions would have an impact?

That just weighs very heavy on my heart right now and I can see where I have lived both in faith and fear even in the recent past. I lived in fear of starting this couples ministry because I didn’t know what was the best way to do it, I didn’t want to fail, and I felt a lot of pressure to make sure this worked to prove I was the guy who could lead it. I then lived in faith when I stuck to my guns and did it the way I thought God had placed on my hear to make it happen and it has resulted in a great resource to the couples in our church and in other places. In both situations I experienced a great amount of pressure and naysayers, yet in the case of stepping out in faith, I am now able to see the results of that faith in the lives of those who are being touched. It is important that I walk by faith and not by fear and obey God when I feel him calling me to do something.

Lord, help me to be a man who hears your voice and responds in faith. Keep me from allowing my fears to keep me from doing what I know is right even if it may be an uncomfortable road to getting there. Amen.

Seeing the Possibilities Instead of the Obstacles

Today I read Numbers 32-33 and Mark 10. As I sit here reflecting on what God is saying to me in these passages, I am drawn to the idea of what a legacy is made of. In Numbers we see the legacy of the generation before which was wandering in the wilderness because of their lack of faith in God. So they wandered for 40 years until every person 20 years old and older was no longer living before they were allowed to enter the promised land. There is a long list of the places they went during that 40 year period. It must have been something to realize that you were wasting time waiting to die so the next generation could inherit the land you were too afraid to take.

I think about my own life and the things I have been either too scared to do or too lazy to try for the Lord. How much of my lack of action was due to my own fears or doubts? Are there any areas God wants me to take that I have not moved forward and claimed because I doubted my own ability or the success of the thing before I ever put the effort forward? I am a cautious person by nature so I tend to move slowly on things that I perceive as a risk. God has been working with me over the past several years in this area and I can honestly say that I am better at taking risks than I have ever been in my life previous to this. I have had both successes and failures and in each I have learned new things about God’s presence in my life and who I am as His child. I am still alive and nothing catastrophic has happened yet so I know that I am in the palm of his hand. The more I realize that I am serving his purposes and his kingdom, the more I know I can step out in faith because the outcome is up to him.

Lord, help me to be a man of faith who is ready to charge the hill instead of analyzing all the things that could go wrong. I want to be a man who sees the possibilities instead of the obstacles. Thank you for your presence in my life and calling to ministry. Amen.

Greatness & Significance

Today I read Numbers 17-18, Psalm 29, Mark 4 and the last chapter in Refuel. Several things struck me this morning as I read. The first was the way in which God set up a system to take care of the priests and Levites in Israel’s time. The people brought their gifts and offering and their tithes. The priests and Levites then took a portion of what was brought for themselves. They took the tithe that was given and gave a tithe of a tithe back to God. Very similar to how it works today being a pastor in ministry. People tithe of their income and I tithe from what I receive as a salary. Interesting stuff.

The thing that I am kicking around in my head right now is this concept of God designing us for greatness that Doug talks about in his book. As I look at the disciples who we would say today lived a great life and lived it all out for the Gospel of Jesus Christ were really pretty ordinary guys. No, they were actually below average by the worlds standards. Yet God used them and they became the founders of the Church. Each man had his own flaws and things he seemed to stumble at. Peter was impulsive, James and John sought position, Matthew was a tax collector, etc. Yet it was the miracle of God that he could use these ordinary men for greatness. I think about my own life and how God is using me. So many times I strive for more and forget to look at what God has done and is doing now. I forget the fact that he used me to start a college ministry at my home church when I was still in college. I even led a houseboat trip and did all the teaching at that retreat! I forget that he used me as a spiritual advisor and counselor of sorts at the insurance company I worked at. I forget that he called me to ministry in a series of very clear messages that I can now hang onto when times get tough. I forget that he had me help develop the care system at my former church and come on staff and do various aspects of ministry. I forget he had me be a part of an awesome online community that explored life and faith in a postmodern world, a group that really set in motion much of what young generation people doing today. I forget that he called me to Saddleback Church and had me develop materials that are being used by small groups all over the world. Or that He brought me to Trinidad to help spark some small groups there and set up a life long friendship with a pastor and his family. I forget that He helped me to develop a marriage process that is now helping couples in their marriages. Those are just the career type of things he has done in my life not to mention the miracles of my wife and I getting together, married, and fighting through conflict. Or my twin boys who were miracles as we thought we were infertile and who came through a scare that they may have had physical issues.

When I think back on all the things God has done in my life I am so filled with a sense of joy and purpose. I don’t reflect enough on what he has already done in my life so that I don’t move forward aimlessly but with passion. I know we will never know what actions in this world will be celebrated in heaven but I do know that my life has been full and fulfilling when I choose to follow the Lord.

Father, continue to work in my life and make me your man. Use me for ministry to the people in the church and outside. Help me to be bold in how I approach life knowing that you are guiding my steps. Help me to be sensitive to your Spirit’s leading in my life. Amen.

Faith & Focus

Today I read Numbers 14-16 and Mark 3. I found it interesting to see how the Israelites responded to the scouts intel on their new land and attempted mutiny that happened as a result. All but two of the spies came back discouraged because they could not see the potential because all they saw was the obstacles. Their lack of faith poisoned the whole community so that they even wanted to go back to the place of misery they had left in Egypt instead of taking a risk and having faith in God. As a result God would not allow any of them to enter the promise land and sentenced them to death in the wilderness (which would have been instant death had Moses and Aaron not interceded).

Then after being allowed to live despite the fact that God should have wiped them out, there was a mutiny by the Levites who wanted to be priests. So they attempted to overthrow the existing priesthood to get a better and more important job for themselves. They got 250 people to go along with their attempted overthrow. But in the end they all died because of their rebellion (the leaders were swallowed up by the earth and the others destroyed by fire).

As I think about all of this this morning I can see how powerful our perceptions and interpretations are of the things God is calling me to as a Pastor. The spies could have come back and held back their own fears and insecurities and shared only the good piece for the sake of the people. As leaders it was important that they followed God no matter how great their doubts were. Had they not shared their own fears and chosen to focus on the greatness of God, the people would have been prepared to enter whatever God brought their way. I too need to do this more in my own life and ministry. I have a tendency to process out loud with people. Now doing that does lead at times to sharing my own doubts or concerns which could cause others to lose faith if I am not careful. So I try (not always successfully) to share my own faith in God in those circumstances so people know that I am moving forward in faith not shrinking back in my own doubt. How I frame things for people is vital to their own spiritual health.

The second thing is the politics that happen in any organization, the church included. The guys who wanted to overthrow the priests and have status themselves probably believed that what they were doing was for the best. It is obvious they felt they had a good case because 250 people went along with them. Yet the problem is that many people in ministry can feel overlooked, under appreciated, and have a huge desire for impact. When you give your life to something that you feel will have great impact and you are a people person, there is a desire for affirmation that sneaks in and a sense of entitlement. Pastors can start to compare themselves to other Pastors and believe that they can do what that person can and better. Mixed up in this jealousy and desire to be recognized is a competitiveness and comparison that can creep up that leads us down the wrong path. All it takes is to ignite these two things and get buy in and support from others around us to begin to believe that we MUST take action and get others to go along with our idea. When that happens we are not in a place where we will do whatever it takes to subvert whoever is ahead of us to elevate ourselves. The difficulty in ministry is you have the same people politics mixed together with a spiritual “calling” from God.

My prayer is that I will not get caught up in the politics around me, that I would move forward in faith and concentrate on the outcome not the obstacles, and try to stay away from competition and comparison with others.

Lord, help me to step out in faith in the areas you are calling me. Help me to see the potential instead of pitfalls. Keep me from my own desires for recognition and sense of importance and help me to stay focused on your call and see that same call in the lives of others so they become friends not people to compete against. Amen.

Replacing Despair & Frustration

Today I read Numbers 3-4, Acts 25 and My Utmost for His Highest. Despair and frustration are a couple of things that I personally struggle with from time to time. In reading about Paul this morning and his circumstances, he had every reason to despair. He had the Jewish religious leaders wanting him dead, he was kept in prison even though there was no reasonable charge brought against him, and he had to appeal to Caesar just to save his own life. As I think about his situation it definitely is unfair. How is it fair that these guys could have him held hostage and kept from his mission by making false accusations that everyone in the government at the time even knew were false and not punishable by death? How did Paul keep from feeling a deep sense of frustration and despair?

The one thing that strikes me in all of this is Paul’s sense of greater purpose and direction. He was in the game for the ride. He didn’t really care where the train was headed just that he was on the train and that God was in it. He didn’t stress over the details (that we know of) or get depressed and down. We don’t see him dwelling on what he was gonna say to get back at those guys or how he would “confront” them. He just saw every step of the journey as one more thing that God had for him to go through and he would take each thing in stride and assume it was all a part of the plan.

In my own life I don’t think I trust God enough to see everything as part of His bigger plan. I see the humanness around me and the bad decisions and selfish things that I and others do and I get upset and my own sense of fairness leads me to a place of despair and frustration when I can’t seem to solve or help fix the problem. I rehearse in my head how I am going to respond to the issue or person and that sometimes drives me to a deeper place of frustration because I know at some level my conversation will not change the situation around me. Yet in the midst of all of this, as Oswald Chambers says, Jesus is there telling me to move on and not let the past keep me from doing what he has for me in the present. Even when I fail and miss an opportunity, instead of dwelling on it, I am to pick myself up and keep moving in step with His Spirit. What an encouragement it is to know that my Lord loves me that much!

Lord, help me not to be a man who dwells on the past with its hurts and failures, but rather looks to the future with hope and continues to walk with you. Because of the gift you have given me for empathy and relationships I have a tendency to want to fix things instead of rolling with them. Help me to roll with life depending on you and not my gifts. I love you Lord. Amen.

The Incredible Atonement

Today I read Leviticus 15-17 and Acts 18. It is fascinating to think about all the Jewish people had to do to approach God and to atone for their sins. Reading through all the things the priests had to do in order to go to God and to be clean and holy before him makes me so thankful right now for all that Jesus has done for me. All the blood that had to be spilled to make people clean before God is incredible. Over and over again God said that that life of any creature is in the blood and it was that blood that made people holy. Being a pastor and hearing what the priest had to do in slaughtering animals and sprinkling blood on the ark of the covenant and doing that day in and day out as your “job” in the community is a crazy think to think about. Today we have direct access to God and can talk with him anytime. Not only that but the holy of holies that only the priest could enter is now found in our hearts as the Holy Spirit dwells within us. What an incredible gift we have that those who have gone before us never had!

I also was struck by the lamb or goat on whom was placed the sin of the people who was then taken out into the wilderness and set free as an example of the people’s sins being placed far from them and literally taken away. I don’t allow my sins to be taken away like that often enough. There are times I hang onto them as some kind of remembrance of how bad I am and I sulk over them when in reality those sins are already carried away just like they were on that goat. As I shared with a friend a couple weeks ago, our sins do not define us. Sure we need to confess and stop doing them and distance ourselves from them, but they do not define who we are as we are new creatures in Christ Jesus. We no longer have to carry that label but instead carry the title of children of the King. This is something that no one deserves yet because of Christ Jesus our Lord it is bestowed upon us. What a blessing that is to me this morning.

Lord, help me to be a man who sees his identity in you and lives up to that identity. Lord, I want to leave it all on the field so that I can stand before you and say I did my best for you. Please forgive me for the sins I have committed even in the last 24 hours. Help me to see more clearly the path you have laid out for me so I don’t go the wrong way. Thank you for atoning for my sins once and for all so that I no longer have to sacrifice animals to connect with you. Amen.

Method versus Message

Today I read Leviticus 13-14 and Acts 17. In reading about Paul’s journey to Athens and what he said on Mars Hill, it got me thinking about how certain Christians would have “critiqued” his sermon. In watching what happens to Rick every time he speaks and the ways in which he is type cast and criticized for every little thing he says or doesn’t say to the liking of these groups, I wondered how these same people would have critiqued and criticized Paul for not going far enough in what he said to the people of Athens. Here is what I think they would say:

First, Paul starts out by validating their religious nature without ever condemning them for worshipping the wrong God. Not only does he not condemn them, he actually says the unknown God, which was an idol or statue set up to “hedge their bets,” he basically says he knows who that God is. Doesn’t that mean that Paul would be allowing them to pray to another God? How could he do that?

Second, Paul never mentions the name of Jesus. Sure he alludes to who he is when he says that God sent someone to die who was resurrected. But he never actually says Jesus’ name. What is he ashamed of? He definitely was trying to play up the crowd in some kind of “seeker sensitive” way. The gospel was not clear so he was preaching another gospel.

Though this was a humorous post today it is actually reality when it comes to how Christians, especially in the blog world lately, critique and criticize other believers. Their own standards of judging who is true to the gospel and their obsession with exegeting what other Pastors who do not go along with their brand of Christianity have caused them to be modern day Pharisees who are more concerned with conformity to a set of rules that were never intended or set up in the scriptures. The anger and venom that are spewed in the name of “contending for the faith” looks nothing like the love and healing brought by Christ. Yes obedience is important. Yes we need to guard against false teaching. But to major on the minors and fail to see that there are times to put our faith in context so others outside the faith can begin to relate to and understand it is wrong. When did Jesus expect people to have to understand his language and come to him on his terms? Jesus used parables and other methods to help people who had no understanding of what he was saying to begin to gain understanding. He adjusted the method to fit the person. Yet this group of people will say that there needs to be no adjustment because their failure to understand shows that they really don’t want to know. That is where you have ridiculous commentary criticizing Rick for using the Muslim term “isa” for Jesus, saying he was praying to a false god. Give me a break. If these people ever got out into the mission field they would probably use the same term to say “this issa that you admire is really the messiah, the true son of God.” Why do we limit God?

Lord, help me to not be so caught up in my methods. Help me to understand that the message is what stays consistent not the method or approach to sharing it. Give me wisdom to discern when something is truly off versus my holding on to my method. Amen.

The Honor of Obedience

Today I read Leviticus 10-12, Acts 16, and chapter 4 in Refuel. There are a couple of things that stood out this morning and have me thinking. The first is the story of Aaron’s son’s who did not do all of what God asked them to do. They used a strange fire in sacrificing to God. Basically, they did their own thing and did not obey what God said they had to do as his priests. As a result, they were dragged outside the city and burned. Aaron was commanded not to mourn for them in the customary way. So these guys blew it in a huge way. Then a couple of verses later their cousins did not follow the rules of sacrificing properly. So Moses was about to punish them until Aaron stepped in and explained how they were in a tough spot based on back to back sacrifices they had to perform and Moses was ok with that.

As I look at these two circumstances it seems to me the heart was the biggest issue that was being judged. The first two were obviously doing their own thing in disregard for what God had asked them to do. They were prideful and were actually stating by their actions that they knew better than God. I know in my life I may not say this but what I fail to realize many times is my disobedience of what God has asked me to do is, in essence, saying the same thing. We don’t have recorded that these guys ever said that, but their actions were enough. I am so grateful that God has given me his grace in the gift of His Son and the Holy Spirit so I don’t get the punishment I deserve. Instead I can confess and repent of my sin and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, make changes in my life that, hopefully, make me more like Christ. I am free from sacrifices and immediate death penalties and uncertainty about my eternity. I am so blessed because of what Christ has done for me. The more I reflect on that, the more I want to make sure I am obeying all that God has commanded to show His place in my life, my trust in His ways, and my gratitude for His love and grace. What a blessing that my sins no longer define me!

I had the privilege last night to go to service with my wife and 3 boys together at the Fuse (our 20-30’s service). I was so filled with joy to see my three boys worshipping God together with Cheryl and I. We sat at the very top this week because the boys really liked the idea. During Doug Field’s talk, Dylan was taking notes on his card. He was so excited to do what I was doing. He wrote down each point and kept showing me what he was doing. He would grab my paper and tilt it so he could copy it. I could see in his eyes and feel his little heart that he wanted to please me and wanted to be like me. I can’t explain the emotion that brings up in my soul. To have my son want to honor me and honor God in that way blows my mind. There are so many things I have done wrong as a parent that I don’t deserve that level of love. Yet there he was excited to be in big church. That is a moment I will always remember and hope to experience on a regular basis. I love all my boys so much and I am so proud to be their dad. Again, I am blessed beyond what I deserve!

Lord, help me to always remember your presence in my life and what you did for me on the cross. What a blessing I have in you! Give me the strength to obey and the discipline to listen to your Spirit. Guide me today. Amen.

The Power of Prayer

Today I read Exodus 39-40, Psalm 15, and Acts 12. One phrase that is sticking with me this morning was in Acts. James is killed and Peter is taken to prison to eventually be killed after the Passover. Right after these facts are laid out, the passage says, “but the believers were praying (loose paraphrase)...” This was not saying they were hoping something would happen or they prayed as a normal fact of life as a follower of Jesus Christ. It said “but” which means that even though Herod had plans he wanted to execute, prayer was there to foil his plans. Prayer is something that has impact and God works in and through prayer as a way to show his mighty power. In this passage he really showed his power by having an angel show up and walk Peter right out of prison. He goes to the house where the believers are praying and when they are told Peter is at the front door, they don’t believe it.

Several things strike me here. First that prayer has power. There are things that God chooses to do through prayer as we petition Him and seek His face. That means prayer changes things and is something we should do on a regular basis. It should be the first thing we think of when we encounter trials and issues and need wisdom to make decisions. Second, we need to believe that our prayers can actually have an impact and believe that God can and does work through our prayers.

So often I think we don’t really believe that prayer is worthwhile or that it really works. I think many people think prayer is just a way to calm us down and distract us from the thoughts and feelings that flood us when we are in trouble or need help. And even if we believe that prayer has some effect on circumstances, we don’t really believe it will happen for us and our prayers will be answered.

I struggle with prayer in my own life partly due to thinking I don’t have a lot of time and partly because I feel like prayer is about making sure I cover everyone and that can take forever. Now I know that those things are not true. I have time for prayer or more importantly I can and need to make time. I also know that I don’t have to cover everything because God already knows what is going on. But I need to make sure that I am talking with God not only to intercede for myself and others, but also to connect with Him and to hear from Him in ways that reading scripture alone won’t do. As I have said in other places, this journal is a way for me to pray and process what the Holy Spirit is doing in my heart and life. It is such a blessing to have my schedule set in such a way that spending time with God starts my day at least 4 days of my work week.

Lord, help me to see prayer as having the power I need to make it through the day. Help me to have the passion and desire to pray so that I will automatically think of prayer when I am facing the various circumstances of life. Amen.

Walking in Step with the Spirit

Today I read Exodus 35-36 and Acts 10. In Exodus the people are to bring their offerings to God to build the temple of the Lord. God chooses a guy who he fills with all wisdom, knowledge and the Holy Spirit to oversee the project to make sure it meets all the requirements God has. So this guy was given skills that far exceeded his own in order to do the task. In Acts, the Holy Spirit gives Peter a vision and then, when he visits Cornelius the Holy Spirit fills he and his family as Gentiles. It is fascinating how important a role the Holy Spirit plays throughout Scripture and how often we forget about Him and/or take Him for granted.

I know in my own life the Holy Spirit speaks to me more through impressions and thoughts than verbally. I know in my call to ministry I could feel the Holy Spirit’s lead the whole time and I spent a lot of energy trying to run and negotiate so that I could stay in charge of my plan for my life. It was through a series of events, my own fleeces that I threw down that were answered, and impressions that guided me to where I am today in ministry. It is so easy to ignore or stop listening to the Holy Spirit in my life but no matter what I might try, He always seems to get my attention. I need to figure out how to better listen and obey what I know the Spirit is asking me to do and to seek guidance on a more regular basis so that I am not fooling myself into thinking I am doing what God wants me to do when I am really wasting time or doing my own agenda. Why is it so difficult to just listen?

Lord, help me to listen to your Spirit more in my life. Help me to move forward only after I have spent time in prayer and listening. Help me to develop a sensitive spirit that can sense your moving in my heart and life. I want to walk in step with you. Amen.

The Power and Importance of Prayer

Today I read Exodus 33-34, Psalm 16, Acts 9, and chapter 1 of “With Christ” by Murray. The theme this morning is prayer and the importance and power of prayer in my life. Prayer is something I struggle with a lot. I think it is because I don’t slow down enough just to focus on the Lord and also because I don’t always see immediate results to I can tend to want to act instead of seeing prayer as the act. Moses spent a lot of time talking to God. As the passage says Moses talked with God like someone would talk to a friend. He got to go into the tent of meeting, up to Mount Sinai, and he even got to see the back of God (he couldn’t see his face or he would die). In everything he did he sought the Lord’s guidance. In chapter 34 he pleaded with God to go with them when God was thinking of abandoning them and letting them figure it out on their won because they were so stubborn. Every time Moses met with God there was evidence of it because his face would glow and they would have to cover him up with a veil because the people were so afraid. Then in Acts, Peter goes into the room of a dead woman and prays and she is brought back to life. So prayer has incredible power in life that I miss by not doing it on a more consistent basis.

I have found that when I pray regularly (and when I say regularly it is like I am having a continual conversation with God throughout the day) my entire outlook and attitude changes and I have more faith in the Lord to take care of things instead of taking care of them myself. This then shows to others because of my attitude (if my face glows it is because I have a sunburn!). At the Men’s Conference this weekend I spent a lot of time in prayer for my talk on marriage and for my friend who was struggling with his worthiness to serve in light of his struggle with sin. Those prayers lead to great benefits in both areas and keep my eye on what the Lord wanted me to focus on instead of myself and my own insecurities. So I believe there is power in prayer, I just forget so often that I don’t pray nearly enough. These journal pages are in some ways a prayer time for me as I allow the Lord to speak to me as I process on this computer the things I read in scripture. I need to sit at the feet of the Master and make prayer a big piece of my life.

Lord, help me to be a man of prayer. Teach me to pray like you taught the disciples. Help me to see prayer as an important work and stay connected to you so my steps are guided by you. I want to serve you with everything I’ve got. Amen.

Seeing the Future in Light of the Past

Today I read Exodus 12-14, Acts 2, and chapter 3 in Refuel. I think this morning my mind is processing a number of things. Last night I listened to my Pastor Rick Warren do a sermon on the prayer he gave at the Presidential Inauguration. His talk was very powerful and inspiring. I love how Rick does everything for a purpose and his boldness in going where ever God wants him to. He talked about how his prayer was built around 6 steps to renewal and revival and it was challenging and energizing to think about my own life and the things I need to do in my own life to move down the path of renewal.

So with that in the back of my mind, I read about the Israelites and their exodus from Egypt and a couple of things stand out to me. The first is God’s command to practice passover forever. God knows us better than we know ourselves and he knew that the Jews would forget the impact of what he had done for them as time wore on. When God does a miracle in our lives if we don’t find some way to remember it or memorialize it on a regular basis we start to question the event and it loses the impact it once had in our lives. So He tells the Jewish people to practice passover every year the same way so their sons and daughters will ask why they are doing that and the parents will be able to explain the symbolism behind what they are doing and what that meant to them as a Jewish people when God intervened in a miraculous way. I have frequently talked about memorial markers in my own life as a way to remember places I have met God. I need to figure out a better way to display these things so I see them and then remember. My call to ministry had a number of huge God moments that I need to memorialize and reflect on frequently to keep me in the game and focused.

The other thing that struck me was the fact that even in the midst of being led out of Egypt, having the Egyptians hand them their choice treasures, being led by a pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night, at the first sign of problems, the people began to long for what they had before which was terrible at best. What is it about us that causes us to shy away from difficult situations and forget all that God has done in the tough times? Instead of praying to God and asking for His help or just trusting his heart and direction, we panic and look for ways that we can solve the problem or complain when things don’t go our way. We are very fickle with God and that fickleness causes us to be very inconsistent in our walks with God. I know that I can many times go with my feelings instead of what I know. So rather than trust and stay consistent I can have a tendency to panic and freak out when things seem to be going wrong. Despite all the things God has done in my life that I can point back to, I can forget and wonder if God really cares now. I’ve got to get focused on Him an what’s important realizing that He doesn’t need me to accomplish what he wants but He loves me so much, He allows me to experience the joy of ministering to others and serving Him. Just yesterday I lamented helping someone in my neighborhood who had a friend who needed counsel because it messed up my plans. Yet after going over and listening and sharing what God had given me, that person felt better about a tough situation and I too felt used by God to help someone else. I need to get beyond my feelings and plans to align with God’s no matter what comes my way!

Lord, help me to always remember what you have done for me and allow the things of the past to serve as my strength and resolve for the future. Don’t let me wallow in my own emotions or plans but help me to enjoy the journey and the surprises around the corner knowing you are there and always the same no matter what I face. Amen.

Resisting God

Today I read Exodus 3-5 and Luke 22. I was reminded today how much God chooses to work in and through our humanness instead of choosing perfect people who always respond the right way. Here is Moses who God saved from death by the Egyptians who appears to him in a talking burning bush, who then goes on to resist what God wants to do in his life. I know plenty of people today who would love to have God speak to them directly and tell them exactly what to do in their lives. But here was Moses who had all of that he still resisted God’s call on his life. He didn’t just give a weak “no” and then give in when God replied back. No, he pushed God pretty hard to choose someone else and that he was not worthy and that he could not talk well. This morning for some reason it felt even more uncomfortable reading this because of the number of times and even the way in which he told God no. Here God is doing all these miraculous signs for him (like the voice and burning bush were not enough) and still he says go find someone else. The funny thing is, God was not asking him a question. He was telling him specifically what he had to do.

As I read this I think about all the small ways I say no to God. It might be in times when I feel the spirit asking me to talk to someone, or do something on the spot. Times when I know I should take time out to do something He wants me to do and I procrastinate or put it off or refuse to take a risk for a number of “reasonable” excuses. When I really think about it I am no different than Moses in many ways when God is asking me to do something. I bet if someone read my story some time and saw the ways I have resisted they would be uncomfortable. What is it about human nature that causes us to resist what God has for us?

The great part of this story is that Moses did eventually follow what God asked him to do and even though he met a lot of resistance, at least he followed through. You can even see in the story how his confidence increased the more he trusted God until he eventually became one of the greatest leaders of Israel. I love the fact that God has patience with us and wants to develop us instead of just tossing us aside at the first sign of weakness. What a loving and awesome God I serve!

Lord, help me to be a man who fights through his apprehensions and insecurities to follow you where ever you may lead me. Help me not to give up or be discouraged but to keep plugging along and listening to your quiet voice. Use me however you want for your honor and glory. Amen.

Seeing God in the Wilderness

Today I read Exodus 1-2, Psalm 88, Luke 21, and Refuel. I am struck this morning by God’s hand in every detail of life. Even in the bleakest moments, God is present and working in and through the circumstances we face. The Israelites went from being taken care of in Egypt to becoming slaves. They cried out to God who heard them and he saved a baby boy from dying a the hands of the Egyptians to raise him in the very house of the people he would overthrow. Yet in the midst of all of that Moses didn’t even know God was preparing him to rescue his people. In fact he was exiled as a murderer and living in the wilderness tending sheep.

In Luke, Jesus gives his disciples a warning about the destruction of the temple and persecution they would face for their faith. The disciples wanted to know when and rather than giving a date (which I think is what they really wanted) he gave them signs to look for. Even with all of that information, they probably still did not know when it would happen and only recognized it looking back.

There is something about this whole notion of trusting God in the wilderness times and letting him prepare us in those dry tough times for what he may have for us in the future. Even though those times are very difficult, there is a peace that settles in that says God’s timing is always perfect so why fight where I am right now? Why not wait and see what he will do in the future? Instead I find I complain many times and don’t keep my focus where it should be. I figure the circumstances are useless and a waste of time and so much more could be done if things would speed up. In those times I only expose my own impatience and my tendency to skim instead of dig deep into the recesses of my heart and soul. Most of the spiritual breakthroughs in my life have come after times in the wilderness and times of waiting. In those times my character is refined to help me grow and be ready for the next plateau. Do I trust God enough to see him in those times?

Lord, help me to see you in the details of life and enjoy your work in my life. Make me your man and guide all my steps. Amen.

God's Timing, God's Plan

Today I read Genesis 47-48, Psalm 10, Luke 19, and Chapter 1 of Refuel. It is amazing how God’s timing and plan never seem to fit what we think it should be or how it is going to happen. In the life of Joseph he never would have thought that it was God’s plan for him to be sold into slavery, spend some time as a servant, get wrongfully accused of a crime, spend time in a dungeon, become the greatest person in Egypt next to the Pharaoh, save his family from the famine, and then have the wrong kid (the younger) get the best blessing from his father Jacob. What an incredible life that he never could have scripted and wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t waited on the Lord and relied on Him and His plan. Even when he tried to orchestrate the older son to get the better blessing, Jacob crosses his hands and gives it to the younger. God doing the unexpected at the unexpected time seemed to be a theme.

Then take Jesus who does the unthinkable by choosing to dine in the house of Zaccheus a known thief of a tax collector and hated by all the people because of his sins of cheating and getting rich off the backs of his fellow Jews and selling out to the Romans. Then Jesus has to teach a parable to help people to see that what they thought about the Kingdom of God was all wrong and they would actually face destruction of Israel before things would ever get better. Again the unexpected and something that did not fit the people’s timing.

Yet in all these things from simple misunderstanding to outright disaster, God brings great results in all cases. Because of Joseph’s situation, God saves his people that he promised to bless and multiply from the death they would have faced in the famine. God uses Ephraim’s line to be the line from which the Messiah comes. Zaccheus ends up changing his life and giving money back with great interest to those he had wronged. Jesus dies on a cross but through is death salvation comes to all people.

I think about my own life and God’s timing. There have been so many times when I have wanted to speed up God. He takes too long in my mind sometimes. I think about this whole marriage thing and wondering when it would be “discovered” by Rick and the rest of the leadership. Event with huge numbers of people in attendance and stories of marriages that had been helped, it seemed like it was unnoticed or seen as my “hobby.” Yet in God’s infinite wisdom, certain things needed to take place first before it was ready to be on the radar. Now to hear Rick say in a meeting of all of the pastors that I am pastor to couples and I would have a space on his new Purpose Driven website to reach out to couples around the world is staggering and beyond what I thought possible. Funny how now I am reeling a bit because that was not what I expected. I was hoping just for some recognition and maybe some pulpit push every once in a while. But now to have the potential of global influence in this area is staggering and quite frankly a little scary for me. I feel like I may not be ready now (I always do that though) at the same time I have a strange sense of God’s leading in all of this. One thing I know for sure is that I need to wait and go along for the ride. God’s timing and plan is always better than my own and my rest, trust and obedience are what I can offer as I go on this ride.

Lord, thank you for watching out for me and giving me the peace that comes from knowing you are in control. When I think of all the things you have done in my life to bring me to this place right now, no matter where it goes, I am humbled and in awe of how you work. Help me to stay dependent on you because I know I can do nothing apart from you. Help me to abide. Amen.

Managing Expectations

Today I read Genesis 33-36 and Luke 18. Jesus in talking with the Pharisees tries to get them to see how they are trapped by the their own rules and ideas on how things should go and as a result are missing what they truly long for, the Messiah’s coming, who is right in front of them. Jesus asks them if it is OK to work on the Sabbath and goes on to remind them that they would help one of their own cattle out of a ditch because it is the right thing to do. He also tells the parable of a guy who invites his friends to a wedding feast and they all have excuses for why they won’t come and so he invites everyone and anyone who will come (the poor, blind, people on the street, etc.).

As I think about this I can see where in my own life I can have certain expectations of how things should go that keep me from seeing what is right in front of me. I think about my work with couples ministry. Conventional wisdom would have said I needed to be the point person for couples stuff and I should run point with the other couples guys. That way with position comes authority. Now I always felt uncomfortable with that anyway but I remember feeling like I was on my own in making it all happen. Then when we got things off the ground, there was the feeling again that it was hidden and under the radar even when I felt it was time to be on the radar. Yet one of the things I have learned in ministry from those who I consider mentors is that you just do what you are called to do and let the Lord work out the details in His time. Well that happened yesterday for me when Rick announced some of the plans for this year which included him telling me I need to build the best ministry to couples I can and that there would be presence on the new site he is building to go along with the Purpose magazine. It was a great time of affirmation but at the same time it showed again that God’s timing is perfect. I needed to wait on him and let what I thought should happen and my sense of timing melt into His.

Funny thing is I am kind of intimidated by the whole thing. I never started out doing this to be on the radar or anything. I really wanted to help couples and was asked to take a role in making that happen. I have mixed emotions about running something with this big of a potential but I also know that God has been with me so far and he will continue to guide my steps as long as I am faithful to Him. This is another lesson in His timing and I just have to wait on Him to see what will happen in the future.

Lord, help me to live up to the calling you have placed on my life. Help me to stay in place of wonder, awe, and grounding that I would remind myself that this is all your doing and I am just along for the ride. Amen.

Growth in Tough Circumstances

Today I read Genesis 31-33. Here is Jacob who goes to a foreign land, works for his uncle for 7 years for one wife, is tricked into marrying the wrong woman, works another 7 years for the one he intended on marrying the first time, then works another 6 years to get a flock for himself. All the while his own uncle is trying to double cross him and take the best possessions for himself, his wives are fighting over who is having more kids, they each have him marry their servants to have more kids, and when he tries to leave his uncle is upset and calls him a thief. There was enough in those 20 years to make many people give up or want to escape all the drama. I can’t imagine the problems he faced and the mental anguish he must have gone through all the while staying honest and faithful to his uncle, his wives, and God.

Yet in the midst of those 20 or so years, God blessed everything he did, growing his flock despite his uncle’s sabotage, growing his family despite his wives arguments, and preparing him for the day he would leave to go back to Canaan. He even had a wrestling match with God who messed up his hip and was able to reconcile with both his uncle and his brother Esau. Despite what seemed to be a messed up situation, God was using it to grow and prepare Jacob for all that he had for him. Jacob’s character and faithfulness are a testament to his character and having gone through all of that, he was ready for what God wanted to bring his way.

Reflecting on my own life it makes the problems and situations I face seem so small in comparison. I don’t have the uncle problem, the brother rift, or wife problems that he had. I have problems with ministry situations not going the way I want them to, waiting for decisions to be made and even having to go along with one’s I don’t agree with. I have issues with my boys and their medical issues and the other challenges that come with raising children. But those are nothing compared to what Jacob faced. Yet I find that I complain about these things from time to time instead of seeing them as challenges to face and character builders that will continue to refine and prepare me for all that God has for me. I need to move beyond cynicism and complaining to staying faithful and displaying character in those situations. I may not agree with everything and even feel stifled by decisions made or directions taken by the team but that does not mean I have to complain or check out. I need to engage and work as hard as if I had put the strategies in place myself. Sure it is difficult to go with certain decisions when I am not passionate with the direction or outcomes, but there are times when I lead and times when I follow and in these cases I am the one who needs to follow.

Lord, help me to be a man of faith and character. Help me to see situations that don’t go my way as opportunities to grow in my faith and character, knowing you are continually preparing me for what you have ahead of me. Help me to move forward in all I do with passion knowing that I am serving you not other people. Amen.

Risk and Growth

Today I read Genesis 29-31, Luke 12, and chapter 11 in the book Integrity. Growth and risk are two themes that keep recurring to me this morning. Jacob took a risk working for Laban because he had the goal of marrying his daughter Rachel. He worked 7 years for the right to marry her. He was focused and motivated and because of that motivation the scriptures say it only felt like a short period of time. He was driven by the outcome and his view of the future. Even when he was tricked into marrying Leah instead, he still committed to working another 7 years for the right to marry Rachel. He loved her so much that he would give his time and efforts to be with her. Sounds like the makings of a great love story!

Now the story is not without its problems. He gets caught in a child bearing competition between the two sisters that ends in him having 13 kids and 4 wives (each sister had him marry their servants so they could have kids through them). As we see later in scripture this caused some problems between the children which eventually ends up in Joseph getting sold into slavery to Egypt. So we have a guy who was not successful in everything he tried but he still ventured out and took some risks and had faith that God would sustain him. When it came to getting some compensation from Laban, he asked for the sheep that were blemished (spotted) and even though Laban tried to trick him again by taking those sheep and hiding them. Still Jacob was able to breed sheep that were stronger than Laban’s and increased his wealth.

This story combined with what I read in the Integrity book has me thinking about my own growth and willingness to risk. I have learned a lot about risk over the past couple of years and what risk does to shape my faith and help me to grow as a person and follower of Christ. But I really need to think through how I am growing and developing so I don’t just sit back and cruise. I want to continue to grow and develop and what I find is there are times that I wait for others to catch up or to give the ok before I try new things or stretch myself. I want to be the kind of person who has great faith in the Lord and is only worried about what God thinks about me. That way I can move forward with passion instead of waiting for approval to “know” that something is good or moving in the right direction. I need to trust my convictions and intuition more. That doesn’t mean I don’t listen to wise counsel or seek others out, but it does mean that I don’t use others or my need for approval as an excuse for not moving ahead and growing.

I want to give this idea more thought and look for ways to further develop the passions God has placed in my heart.

Lord, help me to be a man of faith who takes risks for you. Help me not to get too comfortable or too rigid to make the changes that need to happen in life and ministry. Amen.

Don't Let Failures Define You

Today I read Genesis 20-22, Luke 8, and finished chapter 10 in Integrity. As I reflect on the things I read today I am realizing how important it is to separate who I am as a person from the failures I might have in life. Too often I will want others to like me or I will fear failure so I will beat myself up when I do something wrong or make a mistake. When I do that I am saying that who I am as a person is based on what I do in life. Now of course some of who I am is reflected in what I do, but I am not the sum of all my actions or otherwise I would be a failure one minute and a success the next. That kind of roller coaster is not something I want to be on.

As I look at the life of Abraham I am relieved to see a guy who was not perfect and made mistakes. In my reading this morning the guy went and made the same mistake he had made earlier in the book of Genesis by lying to king Abimilech about his wife Sarah by again saying she was his sister. He did this before and got caught and kicked out and the same thing happens here. It is so close to what happened before it almost looks like the author of Genesis forgot he already told that story and ended up telling it again! So that king takes Sarah as his wife and would have slept with her if God had not intervened and told the king in a dream the truth. Besides all the other marital issues I am sure this situation caused, it was major failure that could have caused Abraham to beat himself up mentally. He could have said to himself things like, “what an idiot I am! I can’t believe I made the same mistake again. Lot never seems to make any mistakes. I guess I will always be a loser.” This could have paralyzed him and kept him from being a leader of his household and family.

What happens instead is he moves on and continues to listen and follow God and in fact has his son Isaac and then has one of his greatest faith moments right after this major failure (his obedience to sacrifice Isaac). I wonder what happened in between the time of his failure and his success. Obviously Abraham did not dwell on it for too long. I wonder if he owned his mistake and apologized to this wife and did what it took to make it right with God and then moved on. Moving on is such an important thing to do after a failure. You need to clean up the mess and seek reconciliation but you also need to move beyond it or that failure will begin to consume your life. There have been times in life where I have dwelled on my own failures too long and others where I didn’t take responsibility for my own failures and moved on too quickly. Integrity is the ability to admit failure, make amends, and once the issue is settled move on instead of letting it define you. In all of this is a big faith in a great God of grace that allows me to know that no matter how bad I fail he loves me just the same and there to help pick me up and take the next step in my spiritual growth. What an incredible God I serve!

Lord, help me to be a man of character who owns his mistakes, takes care of the fall out, and then moves on. Don’t let me define myself by what I do but by who I am in you. help me to be a man of deep integrity who represents you to world in a way that honors you and compels them to seek you. Amen.

Don't Hurry God

Today I read Genesis 15-17 and Luke 6. I love reading about the biblical characters in the Old Testament and seeing how they lived their lives in the face of all the challenges they faced and with God interacting with them directly. Watching how Abraham responds to God’s covenant and telling Abraham that he will be the father of many nations and that he will have children who will produce a nation at his advanced age is fascinating. I wonder how I might have responded if God told me that kind of news. The thing that really struck me this morning was his wife Sarah’s reaction. She thought she would help the process along by having Abraham marry and sleep with her servant Hagar. It is always easy to play arm chair quarterback and judge how poor a decision she made by not waiting on God and believing that he could and would do what he promised. But I know in my own life there are plenty of times I have tried to speed up God’s plan in the name of ministry or doing what I think is God’s will. I have this problem of not liking to wait. I want to take on a project or task and get it done right away. I am the type of person who needs to keep moving to feel like I am being productive and to keep myself focused and in the game. Because of this, I have the tendency to want to speed up the process and not spend a lot of time waiting. After all if it makes logical sense why not give it a try?

Yet what I have learned over and over again is that God’s timing is perfect. If He truly is in control and believe he is God, then he really doesn’t need my help to make it happen. He sees the whole picture while I only see a small part. It is usually when I try to speed things up or get ahead of God that things don’t go well. I know this and have experienced this yet old habits die hard and I find that I still get impatient or worked up if things don’t proceed on my timetable. As a result I will make mistakes or cause stress to other people I am serving with or dump my frustration on them which then colors their perception of how things are going. I so wish I could be more content and less restless on things like this. I am learning but I know I have a long way to go.

Lord, help me to develop the discipline of waiting on you more. I want to make sure I act when you want me to act and wait when you want me to wait. I want my faith to extend beyond my salvation into the very details of life. Help me to be ok with waiting on you. Amen.

Struggle and Faith

Today I read Genesis 12-14, Luke 5, and part of chapter 10 in Integrity. In Genesis we have Abram a man that God chose because of his great faith and trust in God. God tells him that he is going to bless him and make him the father of many nations. He has him look around at all the land as far as he can see and that he will give it all to him. Abram builds an altar to God and has this great moment of vision as God lays out the future for him. Later on he has great integrity in allowing his nephew to pick the best land for himself, and even rescues his nephew from invaders and refuses to take the plunder because he doesn’t want anyone to say they made him rich. All because he had faith in God. If that was all I read this morning it would almost make Abram untouchable or mythical in some way because of his seeming perfection in how he responded to life’s circumstances. Now Abram did have great faith but he was human as well. Right in the middle of these great things he has an incident in Egypt that shows he was human. He basically tells his wife Sarai to put herself at risk to save his neck. He asks her to pretend to be his sister because he knows they will want to take her for themselves because of her beauty. She most likely would be taken into a harem and who knows what else. So this great man of faith had his own faith fail him right in the middle of these passages.

The fact that Abram was human and struggled with his faith is refreshing to me because there are times I struggle with trusting God myself. In one breath I say I trust him and have faith in his leading in my life. In the next breath I am upset with things not going my way and I have anger and fear over what might happen or the timing of things. It can be so frustrating sometimes to not have things go my way or to have to wait on God. Yet I have found over and over again that his timing is perfect and if things has happened my way in my time that they would not have gone well. I don’t know why I do this and why I keep learning the same thing over and over again, but it is refreshing to see a great man of faith’s own struggle to let me know that I am not a hopeless case.

In the integrity book he uses a phrase he saw at a company he worked with: No problems, No profit. That really speaks to me today as I look at facing the new year with all the challenges I know are in front of me. I will struggle with my faith, but I know that struggle is what strengthens my faith. I will struggle with the direction of things not always going my way, but I know that struggle always leads to better solutions. I will struggle to be a good parent and make mistakes, but I know that being real and honest about my struggles with my kids will shows them what real life if like. I will struggle a husband to Cheryl, but I know that working through that struggle will only lead to deeper intimacy. Faith and struggle or problems seem to go hand in hand and have the effect, if I work through the struggle to strengthen my faith in the Lord.

Lord, help me to have the integrity to work through the problems and issues in life and not shrink away from them. Please help the inevitable problems I will face to further strengthen my faith and character so I can be more like Christ. Give me your eyes to see the issues in life. Amen.

Fearing God More Than People

Today I read John 12-14 and chapter 9 in Integrity. As I read the chapters in John there were two things that are rolling through my brain right now. First was the statement John made that there were Pharisees who believed that Jesus was who he said he was and yet they would never admit it for fear of the other Pharisees who would throw them out of the temple. Then he goes on to say they feared the praise of man more than the praise of God. I can understand how these guys felt. If they admitted they believed Jesus they would be marked by their own group as heretics or deceived and if they didn’t get reconvinced that the Pharisees way was the right way, they would be cast out and used as an example of what happens when you get “weak” or let the “world corrupt you.” Groups and organizations are powerful things in our lives. No one likes to be on the outside and the topic of negative discussion. These guys probably knew how it would go and knew how the other guys would talk about them because they had been parts of those conversations many times in the past. I have seen this happen with the christian “watchdog” groups. We had a guy come to Saddleback who saw that what he was writing about was off and that we did do things to grow people and presented the gospel. He quickly realized that he could not go back and say what he saw or he would be chastised just as he had chastised others over his years in this group. So, sadly, he went back and continues his ministry of bashing churches. Why do we all sacrifice our character for the sake of staying connected to our group?

Part of integrity is knowing when something is not right or working and being willing to change your mind to fit your new reality. It is a strength of character that gives you conviction and confidence without being arrogant or narcissistic. That type of person does not worry about who people think he/she is but rather is concerned with being true to who they were created to be. I really want to strive to have that kind of character in my life. Where what you see is what you get. Where failure is just a means to growth and moving towards the right thing. Where my reputation is not build on others perceptions but on the truth of my character and transparency. That is the only way not to get caught up in the “politics” of any one group and to be free to think and respond from a place of truth. That can be hard at times in ministry because people don’t always want the boat rocked or they have their own plans and desires that might not include yours, etc. Yet I have found that when I am true to who the Lord created me to be and not try to aspire to something I am not, I feel the most alive and passionate because I am living into my strengths and I am enjoying what I am doing now instead of wishing for something different in the future.

Lord, help me to maintain my character not matter what others think. I don’t want to shrink back on what I know is true for fear of how others will respond. Help me to be governed by the Holy Spirit and the conscience you have given me. Don’t let me fall into the trap of please people and judging my mood by how others feel about me. Amen.

The Gospel in Real Life

Today I read John 2-4 and chapter 9 in Integrity. I am always fascinated how Jesus talked to people about life and faith. He always had a way of first understanding who the person was and then framing their world in light of the gospel. With Nicodemus who as a Pharisee, he talks with him about the more technical aspects of faith by talking about being born again or born of the Spirit in order to have eternal life. I am sure Nicodemus felt very comfortable talking on that level due to his own knowledge and understanding. Yet he was uncomfortable in that he could not come to grips with it and understand how being born a second time could work. So even though Christ talked with him in his language and based on his circumstances as a spiritual leader, he still challenged him to think in light of faith instead of in light of all he had known.

Then Jesus has his conversation with the Samaritan woman. With her he deals with her past and lays out for her the main issue in her life of trying to find life in men. That was what she needed to help her in her faith. He then goes on to explain what it means to have water that quenches our true thirst. She then goes on to tell others what she heard and saw and that she believed Jesus was the Messiah. In both cases he uses analogies to help people understand complex truths in a way that made sense to the person he was speaking with.

In each case Jesus met people where they were instead of asking them to catch up to where he was. I think about all the ways we have attempted to share the gospel as the church at large. As I sit here right now writing this in 2008, almost 2009, the church at large tends to demand that people catch up to our understanding of the gospel. There are certain things that people have to say or they are not presenting the “true” gospel. It is almost like a secret handshake or some special formula. Any attempt at contextualizing the gospel is met with suspicion or harsh critique and criticism. There is almost the thought that because God’s word is timeless, anyone should be able to understand the truth as it was presented years ago. The problem with this school of thought is first, everyone who does not speak or understand greek has gotten an interpretation of the gospel as every translation is an interpretation. Second, the gospel has been contextualized throughout the life of the church. There is no problem with looking to new analogies to explain the gospel to many who, in our time, have never even cracked the bible or gone to any church. I like the fact that Jesus first started with the person and then explained the gospel in light of who they were. If the gospel is timeless, then it should stand up to the test of the changing language and lives of people. Besides, if the Holy Spirit is the one who does the calling and convicting my role is simply to listen, share, and testify.

Lord, help me to be quick to listen to others and understand their lives so I can share my faith with them. Give me your eyes to see the opportunities to minister to others and allow you to use me however you see fit. Thank you for the example you have given me in your word. Amen.

Being Content in Faith

Today I read 2 Peter, John 1, and half of chapter 9 in Integrity. Todays theme is one of judgement and redemption. It is kind of fitting today as I write this it is pouring outside. The thing that struck me most was how easy it can be for people to go astray and have their faith weakened and then return to sin or see their faith as a means to an end instead of an end in itself and then use their faith to make money or to get people to follow them so they feel like they have worth and power. Peter points these issues out and talks about how serious it is not to play around with our faith like that. He refers to it as a dog returning to his vomit. It is so easy for me to get lazy in my faith or to allow my mood or circumstances to dictate how close I feel to God. In those times I am very vulnerable to temptation or to checking out when it comes to my faith not realizing as Peter says in other places that testing is what builds my faith and should not be something that destroys it. With my responsibilities as a pastor I have to be even more conscious of the ways in which I can make ministry my God and people’s responses to what I do in ministry my slave master. With my tendency at times to want people to like me and feel good in my presence I can tend to avoid the hard topics or see ministry as successful or a failure based on how people respond. If I do that then I am not holding to my integrity and my view on the world and ministry gets skewed. The best I can do is create the potential for maturity to happen. The Holy Spirit is the one who does the work. I always have to remember that. Who I am is not determined by what I do, I am who God created me to be and what I do should flow from who I am. People’s responses are up to them and the impact is up to God. It is so freeing when I really embrace that fact!

Lord, help me to be a man who bases his faith on you not my circumstances. I pray that I never lead anyone astray and that I don’t bank who I am into what I do. Please make me as effective as you need me to be. I am your servant and I want to use the gifts you have given me in the way you need them used. Give me patience when things don’t go my way. Give me strength to resist turning back to sin. Give me character to be who I am not matter what others think. Lord I want to be your man. Amen.

Communicating the Gospel with my Lifestyle

Today I read all of 1 Peter and Chapter 8 in the book Integrity. It is awesome sometimes reading a whole book of the bible in context to get the big themes of the book. In Peter, his central message is living a life that represents the gospel. We are to live holy lives that cause others to notice and inquire instead of a non-holy one where they dismiss and accuse us of being hypocrites. Peter spend a lot of time explaining what that life looks like and includes things like how we work with others, how we live in this world, our respect of the government, how we treat our bosses (slave masters in this case), how we treat our spouses, how we live together, etc. In all of this he points out that God is the judge not us and we need to live at peace with everyone as much as possible.

What is fascinating about this is that it is so relevant to today. In the world of blogs and instant news reports, people are definitely watching to see if our lifestyle lives us to what we say we believe. The media loves to build people up and then look for ways to tear them down in order to build sensational news stories. There are bloggers who dissect every word that is said and how we live our lives is written about and displayed for all the world to see. As I sit here in Starbucks writing this I am thinking about my own life and what people would say my lifestyle says about my faith. What areas would they find to quibble with? Where does my walk not match my talk? What a convicting concept. When you think about Peter is literally saying that how I live could effect someone’s picture of Christ and their desire to pursue or ignore him. That is why I really believe that there are two aspects of discipleship, an individual aspect which relates to my walk with God and the personal spiritual disciplines, beliefs, etc. and lifestyle discipleship which includes how I live at work, home, with my wife, my kids, etc. These two things should go hand in hand which is what I think was James’ point from yesterday.

I see so many people who have no level of self awareness and just go about life destroying the name of Christ in the name of defending the faith. These people have so compartmentalized their faith down to a narrow set of rules and what should be said that they evaluate everything from that perspective without realizing the attack and angry style they use to convey those “truths” gives away their blindness to the lifestyle piece. They can’t see how angry they have become and how the issues have become more important than people. Still others just compartmentalize their faith period. They figure that God is one part of their lives and the rest is their to do with as they wish. They have no way to tell that their behavior is not matching what they say they believe. So the world looks at them and figures that God really only impacts one’s schedule and they don’t need another meeting in their lives. They are doing just as good with their lives as this person who claims to be a follower of Jesus Christ. What a convicting thought when you really think about it. My prayer is that my lifestyle line up with what I say I believe and whom I serve. I don’t want to bring shame on the name of Christ by how I live. I know I fail over and over again at this but I also know that I need to admit my failure, confess it and learn from it. Then I will represent the grace and forgiveness that Christ has given me. Be honest about who I am and live my message of the gospel instead of just talking about it, that is what I need to focus on today.

Lord, help me to be a living example of the gospel to others in this world. Help me not to shrink back from talking about my faith but also help me not to fall into the trap of thinking evangelism is all about talking or arguing a point. Help me not to compartmentalize my life but rather be who I am in all situations. Give me greater self awareness. Amen.

Faith and Works

Today I read James 1-5 and the next chapter in Integrity. Reading the whole book of James, there are many things floating through my mind right now. One of the themes that stood out loud and clear was the idea of having integrity in your faith, that your actions should match what you claim your faith to be. Over and over again, James makes it clear that our faith cannot just be a pronouncement or right belief. Rather our faith must be displayed or followed or shown in and through our good works. I know there are many who rightly emphasize grace in the process of salvation. It is true there is nothing that we can do to earn salvation or God’s favor. It is truly by his grace, a grace I don’t deserve, that he saved me and called me to himself. I was not more loveable than others, or more valuable. It was purely an act of love and grace.

That being said, far too many feel like grace gives them license to be whoever they want to be just so long as they have faith and the right doctrine. As a result we see so many Christians who wear the label and talk a good fight, but when it comes to examining their lives, they look no different than those in the world who have no faith. This comes to mind right now when I think of the religious police we have on the internet who have a very narrow determination of who is saved and who is not and spend their lives harshly criticizing anyone who does not use the right words or says things from quotes that seem off. These same people who profess to have it all together and have “true” faith show some of the most discourteous behavior and attack people who are fellow believers whom they deem are not “true” believers. They label, insult, and look down on these people claiming they are false teachers while they themselves are displaying behavior that does not fit their profession of faith.

As I take all of this in, I want to make sure I am always dealing with reality in my own life. Where am I really at? How am I fooling myself? Where are my actions or thoughts not in line with the faith I profess? How do I act like those who are the judge and jury of others? Can I truly get into another person’s shoes and understand them? These are big questions because it is so easy for me to want to reason away people who don't agree with me as if I have all the answers and I am always right. I have to be very careful that I don't let pride slip in the back door under the guise of input or feedback or ideas. I need to humble myself and continue to realize it is by grace that I stand today and that grace should be reflected in how I act if I truly believe in Christ and have faith that he will take care of things in this world.

Lord, help me to be a man of integrity whose actions line up with the faith I profess. May people not only hear the gospel from me but may they see it in how I act. Help my life to be as big of a witness as my words. Amen.

Cultivating Faith

Today I read Philemon, Hebrews 1-4, and the next chapter in Integrity on being in touch with reality. There are several things floating through my head this morning from what I read. The first is the importance of cultivating and reinforcing faith in our lives. In Hebrews he talks about the Israelites who were saved from Egypt, saw the miracle of God and all the things he did to rescue them from the Egyptians. Yet with all of those miraculous things, they still did not trust or believe God. They complained about the conditions and even said on numerous occasions that they wanted to go back to Egypt. As a result, God told them they would not see the promised land and waited for that whole generation to die before he fulfilled his promise. The author of Hebrews then goes on to say that we must continually remind one another of our faith and renew it on a regular basis so we don’t go down the same path the Israelites went, even though they physically saw things that we haven’t.

I know in my own life, there are times where I doubt or float in and out of trusting God and trusting myself. Faith is not something I did at one time like an event or signing a contract. It is a very real thing that must be embraced and grown as I walk through the ups and downs of life on this planet. I have seen God do so many things in this world but just like the Israelites there are times I doubt if it was God or try to think of other explanations. I want to stay connected to Christ and cling to him because I don’t trust myself to stay consistent. What a wonderful advantage I have though as follower of Christ because I have the Holy Spirit guiding me. What a wonderful gift God has given me!

Lord, help me to grow my faith instead of trying to trust my own ideas or logic. Help me to be in touch with reality instead of trying to create my own or lie to myself and refuse to confront the truth. Make me a man after your own heart. Amen.

Giving Up My Plans for God's Plans

I had to write a devotional for the small group blog at Saddleback on Luke 1:26-38. I did this for my devotional this morning and here is what I wrote:

In this passage the angel comes to Mary to tell her that she will become pregnant and give birth to the Messiah that the entire nation of Israel had been waiting for, a man they expected would over throw the Romans and set up an earthy kingdom and re-establish Israel as a sovereign nation again. Now I am sure it was overwhelming enough to have an angel show up at all, but to be the mother of the Messiah? I’m sure there were a ton of feelings and questions going on in her mind like, why me? Are you sure you have the right Mary? My cousin Martha is really wanting to be pregnant right now and I am just trying to get married, wouldn’t she be a better choice? Yet Mary’s first question was not about why but how. She asked how it would happen since she was a virgin. We don’t know why she asked that question but I wonder if she was concerned she would not be married to Joseph because God had someone else in mind to be the father. Or, maybe she thought that someone had started a rumor that got back to God that she and Joseph had slept together before their marriage. We really don’t know what was going through her mind but her response to God changing the plan for her life is an incredible example to us.

She could have been concerned with what the neighbors might think and could have asked for a little more time so they could get married first so she wouldn't have to deal with all the grief she would get from other people. Knowing that her reputation could be at stake makes her reply even more incredible. Instead of negotiating with God, she said, “I am the Lord’s servant and I am willing to accept whatever he wants. May everything you have said come true.” What an incredible servants heart to give up the life she had planned to submit to what God had for her, even when God’s plan messed up her own plans. I wonder how often we miss the miracles that God has for us because God’s plan does not line up with our own. I think many of us are afraid to tell God we will go and do anything he wants us to do for fear that God will mess up our plans. We tell God later, or I will do what you want after I get this job, or get to this place in my career, or have enough money to retire and serve full time, or until I get married, or have children or... We have a lot to learn from Mary this Christmas season on what it means to trust God with our very lives knowing that his plan may not be clear to us and we may not understand how he is able to make things work in our current circumstances but we know God’s love and heart for us and his plan is way beyond any plan we could devise or think up. As you think about your own life circumstances, here are some things to consider:

1. How have I tried to negotiate with God to get him to go along with my plan?
2. How willing am I to accept whatever God wants for my life?
3. What are the things that I refuse to surrender to God?
4. In what ways do you feel God has messed up your plans?
5. Do you really trust that God has your best interests at heart?

Living an Integrated Life

Today I read 1 Timothy 5-6, Titus 1-3, and chapter 6 in Integrity. As I read this morning one of the things that struck me was the importance of relationships and making sure you are leading from a place of integration instead of compartmentalization. In both Timothy and Titus, Paul is laying out the importance of choosing leaders who lives model what a follower of Jesus Christ should look like. He talked not only about their personal spiritual lives, which is very important, he also talked about their home lives and the importance of running the home as a representation of what it means to run a church. If you can’t run your home, then your ministry will reflect that inability. Not only that, but you will constantly be distracted by the problems of home and, as is the case for many men, you will probably spend more time with the ministry and neglect your home because that is where you feel the most respect and sense of accomplishment. With those distractions it is only a matter of time before a leader will burn out or crash and burn in their personal life.

Then Paul goes on to model this concern with living and integrated life and seeing how you would normally live your life through the lens of our faith by sending Onesimus back to them who was a run away slave. He tells them to treat him like they would treat Paul himself. Paul recognizes that he was problem for them in the past, but lets them know about this man’s changed life and that he needs to be respected as a brother and in Christ and given a chance. Paul stands up for this guy even in the debts he owes his masters by telling them that he will repay Onesimus’s debts himself and then reminds them that they owe Paul their very souls due to the ministry he did there among them.

What struck me about this was the way in which Paul was a man worthy to follow. Not only did he come and lay down the agenda for the church and lead a very aggressive church planting ministry, he also was real and vulnerable with people and showed that he loved them and would step up to the plate for them if they needed it. Here was a slave who deserved to be punished harshly and have fines levied against him for his disobedience and Paul, one of the apostles, goes to bat for him and puts his own reputation on the line for him. I bet this slave felt so loved, supported, and validated there was no way he was going to do anything to let Paul down and I bet he lived an inspired life as a result of that support. I pray that I am a man who inspires people that way and lives and integrated life where people know my weaknesses and know that I have their backs and will support them when they need it. As the Integrity book said, the balance of strength and vulnerability those are the traits of someone with integrity. I pray that my home life and every other aspect of my life will always be integrated to the person people follow as Pastor is the same person at home and everywhere else in his life. There is true freedom and trust in having no hidden issues or hiding how you feel at various points in your life as long as those things do not burden or distract others from the mission and call (appropriate vulnerability).

Lord, please help me to be a man whose life models the gospel no matter what snapshot people see. May even my failures be evidence of grace that points others to you. I know I can do nothing apart from you even though I try to sometimes. Please help me to depend and rely on you more. Help me to be a man of integrity. Amen.


Today I read Ephesians 1-4 and chapter 5 in Integrity. There is a huge theme of grace running through my mind right now. The fact that Christ came to secure for me a future that I could not secure for myself and one that I didn’t deserve is the ultimate expression of grace. Jesus looked out for me even when he didn’t have to and I wasn’t asking him to. He did so as a humble servant who showed me his love in the ultimate expression of his grace to me. Not only did he do this for his people the Jews but he did it for us Gentiles as well showing that his grace and love had no bounds. The Lord is trustworthy and it makes me think about my own trustworthiness.

In the Integrity book Cloud talks about this grace that builds trust with others and looks out for others needs regardless of whether or not they deserve it or are even thinking about it themselves. This type of trustworthiness and grace solidifies relationships and lets others know that you are in their corner and you will look out for them even when they are not looking and even when you don’t have to. That allows people to have great relationships together because they ultimately know you have their back. Reflecting on this in light of several situations I am dealing with right now I can see places where I do have grace and look out for people and I also see times when I have not done as good of a job as I should do. In my current situation I am struggling with someone who will do a great job validating people verbally but then goes on to block the things that were validated if the person does not understand or it is not going in the direction this person thought it should go. That sets the tone for the rest of the group and causes people not to respond as they normally would. I have another situation with a person that I know would never have my back when I am not there unless it was a benefit to that person. The person will get things done and even help at times but if push comes to shove, that person is only going to look out for their personal interests.

Thinking about this, the reading this morning on grace really strikes home. Grace looks out for the other person even when they are not grateful, are spiteful, take you for granted, etc. There are no real conditions on true grace, it just flows out from out character when it is present. I really want to be a person of grace on a consistent basis. It is easy for me to have empathy for others and to figure out how they are feeling as I engage with them as long as I am focusing on understanding instead of making a point. If I am focused on making a point or debating, it is easy for me to miss the things that would give me clues into what the other person is feeling. If I don’t empathize, I end up invalidating what they think or how they feel and that just leads to a bad outcome where I will have to apologize later. I really want think about this more in light of the people I know above and my own responses to others when things are not going my way.

Lord, help me to be a man of grace who gives unmerited favor others. I want to be someone who is trustworthy and who models the grace that I have received from you and receive from others. Give me your eyes to see what is happening for others so I can respond with grace. Amen.

The Power of Faith

Today I read Romans 9-12 and finished chapter 4 in Integrity. When it comes to the life I have been given the joy I have in my faith in the Lord I know that I am extremely grateful that God called me to himself at the age of 5 and has continued to hold on to me through the ups and downs of my life. It is so easy sometimes to be complacent about my faith and live for the next spiritual high or even get distracted by the things in this world to the extent that I even put my faith on the back burner. Yet I know deep down that God is using me in ways I don’t imagine or probably wouldn’t even count from my perspective on this side of eternity. In Romans Paul talks about the importance of faith in our relationship with God and that we are not just born into the family of God as the Jews had assumed based on their heritage. He goes on to explain how God chose to bless all nations through Abraham and that he has grafted the Gentiles into his family because the Jews rejected his way and stumbled over their own sense of nationalism and attempts to obey the law in order to make themselves right with God.

As I think more about this I realize that I too struggle at times with trying to obey God and use my own litmus test for whether I am following God well or not by what I do. Now obedience is important and I am called by God to serve him with my life instead of just taking up space and resources, but that obedience is not what sustains me or even saves me. It is my faith that drives, sustains and saves me. It is faith that I must lean on when things do not make sense to me or I am feeling distant from God. It is faith that comforts me in times of distress or no answers. It is faith that allows me not to continually beat myself up for my mistakes knowing that God is still in control and he can work through the messes I make in life. It is faith that gives me a sense of calmness and contentment in the midst of the storm.

This is a big deal for me right now because I have been feeling like I am not as close to God as a should be or even want to be and I have been trying different things to generate that feeling of closeness. When I think something is missing or out of place then I feel a level of apathy and anxiety at the same time that colors everything else I am trying to do. But now I realize it is faith that brings a sense of perspective and keeps me from spinning my wheels trying to come up with my own plan or explanation for everything that seems out of place. What a wonderful gift God has given us!

Lord, help me to realize on a minute by minute basis the depth of the faith that you have given me. Help me to lean on my faith in you in the times where I don’t understand what is going on and I want to give up. Help me to live by faith so I am more aware and responsive to your Spirit’s presence and movement in my life. Amen.


Today I read Romans 5-8 and another section from the book Integrity. As I reflect on what I learned today it strikes me how much God empathized with us and loved us that he would send his own son to take care of our sin. He didn’t wait until we cleaned up or act or obeyed all his laws but instead came while we were still sinning and disobeying him. Instead of a response of judgement and justice which I know is part of God’s character, he understood the struggle I was having with sin and he came down to earth and lived with us and with our sin and empathized with us and understands and then proceeded to die the death we should have died and deserve to die. As I reflect on all the things Jesus did as he interacted with people he always empathized with the person first, did a miracle in their lives (or in the case of the religious leaders pointed out their true motives which is also a form of empathy), and then told them to go and sin no more. Far too often we want people to experience the agony of their sin and convince them they are sinners until we are satisfied that they “get it” and then we present the gospel to them because we feel like they cannot understand their need for a savior unless they truly understand their sinful state. The problem with that as I look at it now is the fact that we get things out of order and never do we empathize with people and seek to understand who they are and where they are coming from. Yes understanding sin is important but to lead off with that or even push it hard as if we are the judge of when they actually understand it shows that we tend to want to play the role of judge instead of loving people and understanding their situation. I thank God that Jesus did not come to this earth wielding a scepter demanding we get our acts together and deeply understand our sin. Instead he came carrying a towel and modeling for us what it means to serve others and to empathize with others situations which then allows us to speak into one another’s lives when it comes to things like sin.

The integrity book focused on empathy today as well and the importance of putting yourself into another person’s shoes and then communicating to them you understand and the power that has in the lives of those you lead. This is something that I feel God has gifted me with. I have a way of putting myself in someone’s shoes and understanding how they feel. The problem I have is that I can also get so busy and wrapped up in what I am doing that I don’t take the time to use this gift. So I can be unempathetic if I am not conscious of the other person and really focused on understanding. When I do focus on this, however, it leads to great connection with others and I find that I can help others in deeper ways which in turn builds a friendship and relationship with them. I really want to be a better leader who not only leads and helps set direction, but does so in an environment of team, friendship, and understanding.

Lord, thank you so much for your love and empathy for me. I am so thankful that you did not send Jesus to condemn me but to show you loved me and wanted to save me. Words cannot express what that means to me but you know the gratitude in my heart which I wish was not so fleeting when I am not focused on you. Help me to be a leader who has empathy for others first. Make me a man who shows others the love I have experienced from you. Amen.

Trusting God or My System

Today I read Matthew 1-4 and part of chapter 4 in Integrity. There are several things that stood out this morning in my readings. First was the fulfillment of prophesy we see in the life of Christ. Matthew is very careful to document all the places that Jesus fulfilled prophesy about the Messiah. Looking at teach of those passages, I can see where people who studied prophesy must have been confused on how all of this would fit together and whether these passages really were a part of the Messiah coming or something else. Jesus was to be born in Bethlehem, called a Nazarene, children would be killed, etc. I don’t know a lot about Jewish writings on the Messiah, but I am sure they had sophisticated systems of thought on these prophetic passages that probably made a lot of sense with charts and drawings. Yet with all that study, wisdom and longing for the Messiah to appear, they missed him because everything did not fulfill their own expectations of how it should go down. They didn’t see the angle that the kingdom of God would be in their hearts and they certainly did not grasp the idea that the Messiah would be the ultimate sin offering that would complete and get rid of the sacrificial system that was in place at the time.

As I think about that in light of our own times I can’t help but think in many ways we are like the Jews in those days. We have our systems of end times prophesy complete with charts and verses to support our view. There are many different views out there all of which have some holes or things that just don’t quite click with sophisticated explanations for those holes. There are many who hold their views as the only correct view and even hint that those who do not agree are heretics at worst, deceived at best. Some are so certain of their system, that I wonder if they too will miss the things that God has laid out for the future and his reasons for putting those things in the scriptures. For too many we trust our view of future events and our ability to prepare for them more than we do God Himself. One of my favorite examples of this was the whole y2k event where people were afraid the computers wouldn’t be able to handle the change over to the year 2000 and we are so dependent on computers that it would shut everything down. Instead of trusting in the Lord, many Christians stockpiled gas and dried food to get ready for the event. Some even packed up and moved to remote locations where they could be self sufficient and live off the land. As I thought that through I realized that for many of us we are far more concerned about our well being than we are what God’s best is and it is in times that are trying that our true source of trust and dependency shows itself.

Lord, help me not to be so caught up in having the right answers or preserving what I have that I miss you in the midst of it all. I know that my very soul is in your hands so I pray that as hard times come I can live as if that is the case. Help my life to point others to you and trust that in the end knowing and trusting you have a plan is where I want my heart to rest. Amen.

The Pull to Be Famous

Today I read Psalm 124, 2 Corinthians 11-13, and the start of chapter 4 in Integrity. One of the things that is bouncing around in my head this morning is the need to be trustworthy and connect with people. In Corinthians, Paul is defending his position as an apostle and chastising the Corinthians for believing those who came along wanting to be “famous” and trying to undercut Paul and his colleagues in an attempt to raise their own status and position. As a result, Paul has to go on and on about his own qualifications and remind them of all the ways he helped lead them to Christ and how he never tried to build a name for himself or make money off of them. He continually apologizes for what seems like boasting by saying he was acting like a fool because he didn’t want it to look like he was doing the same thing those other teachers were doing.

As I think about this I am wondering, at what point does our desire to serve God in ministry become something we use to become famous or well known or a “global ministry?” I can remember early in my 20’s wanting to be someone famous. I thought I could be like a Gary Smalley and do relationship seminars or be like other famous guys and make a mark in the world. But as time went by I began to realize that those kind of roles in the kingdom of God are God’s to assign or take away. If I pursued those things and all that came with it, recognition, money, books, etc. then I would be selling the kingdom for personal gain instead of doing the work to which God called me for his benefit alone. Rick is such a great example of that because he has made sure that he doesn’t let the fame and money change him too much which I am watching and greatly respect. It doesn’t mean he will be perfect at it, but just knowing his heart and desire makes me proud to be on his team. I know there are others in the church who struggle with this desire to make a name for themselves and want to get their hands in everything hoping at some point one of those things will stick and be a ticket to recognition and fame. I pray for those guys that God would keep their hearts close to himself and that they would not see the ministry and people as a means to their own end. No one ever starts out that way but if left to our own devices and the right opportunity, we could get to that point. I want to be a guy who others can trust because who I am is who you see so you will never have to wonder what I am really thinking or whether I am playing some kind of game behind the scenes. I want to have integrity and integration in every aspect of my life.

Lord, help me to be more enamored by you instead of the things that can be gained through ministry. I want to more concerned about your reputation and the ministry of the kingdom than building my own reputation or kingdom. Help me not be naïve but also not territorial. Help me to discern the higher things of the kingdom so I don’t get taken off course. Amen.

Discerning Truth

Today I read 2 Corinthians 7-10 and chapter 3 in the book Integrity. One of the things running through my head right now is the need to honest and up front in relationships and not being manipulated or fooled by others but being willing to speak the truth. In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians he refers to his first letter which was basically a letter to discipline them for the ways they had gotten off track and needed to be brought back. He states in his second letter that he was glad he did it even thought it was hard for him to write and hard for them to hear because they were better off as a result of having received that letter. They got back on track and they too were thankful for the discipline.

This ties into what I read in the book on integrity today. Integrity is not just moral character, though that is a part of it. Rather it is the integration of the whole person and includes things like:

Connecting Authentically (building trust)
Being oriented towards the truth (operating in reality)
Getting results and finishing well (reaching goals)
Dealing with the negative (ending problems & transforming them)
Oriented towards growth(leading to increase)
Being transcendent (enlarging the big picture)

Again I see on this list the idea of dealing with the negative and the truth so that you are not taken advantage of or get caught in a loop of solving problems all the time. I have a situation in my life right now where I am trying to figure out the motives of another person and want to make sure I am not being taken advantage of or being led to think one thing only to be blindsided down the road. My initial response is to give the benefit of the doubt and just move forward on the assumption of trust but there are some things that are sending up warning flags that I need to think through. Motives are such a hard thing to get a handle on and understand and I have been taken advantage of in the past and don’t want that to happen again, not so much because of me but more importantly because of the cause and all the elements that go along with it. I guess I have to pray about this and decide whether and how this thing would be addressed.

Lord, help me to be able to discern the truth and motives in the situations I face. Please help me to be a person of integrity who is able to use the gifts and passions you have given me to further the kingdom. I don’t want to be closed off or selfish so please align my heart and eyes with yours Lord. Amen.

Knowing Myself

Today I read Job 39-40, 1 Corinthians 13-14, and Chapter 2 in the book Integrity. Knowing who we are in relationship to the people and situations around us is so important. I find that having that awareness is the difference maker in relationships and in living out the roles we play in life. The most obvious place this is important is in our relationship with God. I find far too many times that I get to a place where I either forget God in my everyday life or I ask Him to go along with my agenda instead of trying to get in line with His. Job was in that place where he complained about God’s plan in his own life and all the suffering he was going through. If you looked at Job’s life from a cause and effect perspective I would definitely say he was getting a raw deal. Yet when we try to figure out God’s reasons and even critique Him, we are on dangerous ground because we can never even begin to understand Him. So Job had to go through a lesson in who was wiser and who should be telling who how things should go. When you really think about it I am glad I am not in control of all the details of life as I would only mess them up and end up hurting a bunch of people. So even when we don’t understand why or what God is doing, we have to trust his heart and his love for us. So, I definitely need to make sure my relationship with the Lord is such that I am the follower and He is the leader and I decide to do whatever it takes to make Him first place in my life. Very hard to do with a sinful heart like mine.

The other thing that really spoke to me today was Cloud’s analogy of the wake in his book on integrity. What wake do you leave behind you when it comes to what you accomplish and the relationships with people around you. While performance is important it is only one piece of the equation. How we deal with relationships and whether or not people like being around us and feel honored as our co-workers is just as important as getting the task done. This is such a huge concept in so many places especially in ministry. It is very easy to get caught up in task and to allow relationships to go by the wayside. After all, even in ministry we are judged by what we produce or what we have done lately for the kingdom. As a result there are some people who are very task driven but at the same time don’t look out for relationships or see relationships as a means to an end. Did the people they served with want to serve with that person again? That is a huge question.

So I want to strive to be a man who leaves a great wake behind him. Who knows and continually strives to put God in first place and bring my awareness to a place where I know he is always in charge and his ways are always well above and beyond my ability to understand them. I also want to be a man who people say they would serve again with me in a heartbeat with no hesitation because I loved them and looked out for them ahead of myself.

Lord, help me to be a man who leaves a good wake. Help me to have the character and live a righteous life like Job did. There are so many things at stake in the life that I live that I pray you would guide and direct my path and help me to be so in tune with your Spirit that I respond to the situations of life like you would Lord. Amen.


Today I read Job 35-36, 1 Corinthians 7-8, and Integrity chapter 1. One of the things that has been on my mind lately is how to maneuver in an organization where there is so much going on that many of the great innovations in the church are missed. I wrestle with how to address the issue and talk through how we could get better at this as a church, especially from the point of view of someone who is lower in the leadership hierarchy. So today I read in Job about a well intentioned friend who takes to scolding his friend in the name of protecting God. Many of the things he said about God would be seen as true and even good theology, yet they missed the mark in this situation because the friend couldn’t possibly have known all the things that happened behind the scenes like God allowing Satan to do what he did to a righteous man. It is a dangerous thing to speak for God and try to defend him as if we really know all that was going on in his head at the time something happened. Yet we do that sort of thing all the time. One of the lessons I learned this morning was that there are some things that need to be left unsaid even if you think you have every angle covered. Sometimes it is good to say nothing or keep your thoughts to yourself for the sake of the person you are ministering to.

There is also the issue of freedom underlying all of this. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians talks about our freedom to marry or not marry and the advantages and disadvantages of each. While I thought it was kind of funny to hear Paul talk about marriage as a single guy and down play it a bit, he did make it clear where he was speaking from his own opinion or wisdom as opposed to speaking the very word of God in everything he said. It is important for me to remember the same thing when I am talking to others. I need to make sure that I am ok with being wrong or even having my ideas rejected knowing that the ultimate outcome of all of these things is in God’s hands. Also, it is important to have a huge awareness of others so that I don’t push my freedom on those who may not see it or experience it like I do. As Paul says about the food sacrificed to idols, if anything causes another Christian the potential of stumbling then I will steer clear of those things. Far too often we try to make a point to other people and push our freedom on them as if they are somehow judging us if they don’t quite agree or can’t partake in whatever it is because they know they will stumble. That is an abuse of freedom and is a selfish way of viewing it. I want to make sure I am aware enough that everything I do points people to the Lord instead of towards temptation.

Finally, Cloud talks about integrity as that intangible thing that some people have that causes them to live up to their full potential. I am fascinated by that because I have known people who don’t seem to have integrity and yet still lived up to their potential at least as far as success was concerned. I look forward to exploring this more as I read the book.

When it comes to this issue at work I know I need to pray about it and think through the best way to get the word out and figure out ways to get innovations on the radar. I know I need to know when to speak and when to keep silent. I also know that I can’t push this agenda or try to prove some kind of point. Rather I need to understand the situation and the people involved and look for the way they might hear it best while keeping my own emotions and potential cynicism out of it. I am confident that it will all work out because I serve with such an awesome group of people!

Lord, help me to be a man of integrity who leads from a place of authenticity and awareness of others. Please help me not to ever push my own agenda or freedom to the place where I cause others to stumble in anyway. Don’t allow me to get cynical when things are going slowly or not going the way I think they should. Help me to be the man you want me to be Lord and use me in whatever way you want. Amen.

Do Others Feel the Love?

Today I read Job 26-27, Mark 15-16, and RPJ Chapter 40. Relationships and how we treat other people says a lot about our faith and where we put our trust. Many times we may be well intentioned in what we are doing but we put the task or the principle in front of the person/people we are interacting with. When we do that, we end up hurting or using people to get to the end we have in mind. I think about Job who had to defend his own innocence to his friends who should have been comforting him instead of defending their perception of God. For some reason they felt his theology was off and felt they should spend their time correcting him instead of just being with him and supporting and praying him through the process of pain he was in. The Pharisees were more concerned about their position and maintaining all they had built up than they were with Jesus as a person. Their demand that he be crucified showed the extent people will go to in order to defend their own status or what they feel are their rights. Right in the book of Mark it says that Pilate knew that they wanted him dead because of their envy. It was obvious to everyone but them. In fact I bet they felt they had good theological grounds for demanding his death. Why do we get so caught up in ourselves that we forget to love others as Jesus commanded us to? Why can’t we seem to think of the other person before we respond?

This why it is such a powerful statement that Jesus makes that they will know we are his followers by our love. Do I love others enough for them to see the gospel in my interactions with them? Or, do they sense when I feel like they are interrupting what I really want to accomplish at the moment? Something as simple as loving others, which sounds too simple when we hear it, is one of the most difficult and profound things we could ever take on. And I know that I cannot be that person on a consistent basis without being so in tune with the Holy Spirit that I actually see the other person as God sees him/her. On this election day there are many Christians who have placed their hope and trust in the political system and they will be devastated if things don’t go their way today. Just as Israel put their trust in being rescued by Egypt in the Old Testament it feels like God is saying to us as he said to them, I am your only salvation. You are to put your faith, trust, and love only in me. When I do that I am free to love others as God loves them and begin to see the world through his eyes realizing that all of this stuff is temporary and my role is to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ whether times are good or bad. That sharing starts with my life. Do they know I am a follower of Jesus Christ by my love? Or, do they know only because I told them?

Lord, help me to see others through your eyes. Make me a person of love who sees people as a priority not as an interruption. Please help me to harness my good intentions especially if those intentions are put in front of loving others. I want people to know I am your follower by the way I love them. Amen.

Remembering the Cross

Today I read Job 25, Mark 13-14, and RPJ chapter 39. The story of the Last Supper, Jesus’ betrayal, and Peter’s denial leave me with thoughts about my own life. Jesus predicts his own death and talks about the horrible circumstances that will happen in the future. The disciples want to know when these things will happen and rather than a date, which is what I am sure they had in mind, he gives them signs to look for and stays only the Father knows. Then Jesus redefines the passover for them by stating the bread is his body broken for them and the wine, the blood of the new covenant.

I wonder what these guys where thinking when Jesus taught all this stuff. First he talks about the end of the world which I am sure caused a lot of anxiety for them, then he talks about a new covenant. What I find fascinating is we have no record of them asking him what he was talking about. Either they already understood (highly unlikely based on their surprise at his actual death) or they were so confused and concerned about his earlier talk about the end of things and the bomb he dropped on them that one of them would betray him. Part of me wonders if any of them were really listening after he told them that! In this midst of this confusion Jesus models one of the most incredible ordinance of the church that we celebrate today. The new covenant with God in which Christ’s death is remembered as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins, replacing the former sacrificial system and giving us the Holy Spirit and access to God without the need of a human priest. The disciples could not have even imagined exactly what Jesus meant by what he was doing at the time. The idea that the temples system as it was then would change was mind blowing, not only that but the fact that the Gentiles would be let in on it was not even on their radar.

As I reflect on all of this I am overwhelmed right now with a sense of gratitude. The fact that the God of the universe loved me enough to die for me even while I was still sinning and blowing him off. God did not wait for the ideal circumstances to be in place before he loved me and took care of the problem my sins had caused. Instead he came down into real life, lived a real life, and died a real death for people who rejected him and could care less. In Tom’s book he talks about not waiting for ideal circumstances to love but to love in our everyday messy lives. We need to get rid of unrealistic expectations. I know there are times I have very unrealistic expectations of how things should go in our family. When they don’t work out the way I envisioned them I can get mad and sulk or get discouraged and feel like a failure. There are so many things I have wanted to do but for one reason or another, they have not come to reality. It is frustrating. I was just beating myself up last night for not having a consistent time in the Word with my boys. Of course I imagine all kinds of problems they could face in the future when it comes to their faith and I started to get mad at myself. Now as I think about it, I am doing a lot of things to build faith into their lives in the everyday circumstances that come their way. So I am not as bad as I thought I was (though I am still badHappy. I need to remember the grace that God has given me in what he did for me on the cross, a kind of daily communion, and allow that grace to move me in loving others and having integrity in the way I live life.

Lord, thank you for your love for me. That you would die for me a sinner is humbling and reminds me that I need to love others in the same way, especially in the messiness of life. Please help me to remember you in the midst of my everyday life and especially when it comes to raising the boys you have entrusted to my care. Help them to become great men of faith who embody the love and sacrifice you have given to us. Amen.

The Risk of Faith

Today I read Job 21, Mark 5-6, and RPJ Chapter 38. The theme today throughout my reading is faith. I often struggle with this issue of faith because I want to be in control of all of the things that happen in my life and I am not big on surprises. Yet in all these readings today it is faith that carries people in and through difficult circumstances. Job argues with his friends over God’s fairness in how he deals with people. The wicked do not always get punished for their sins and lack of faith. Instead they seem to prosper and live peaceful lives and enjoy all that life appears to offer. Job laments that they never seem to feel the punishment from God for their wickedness and yet her he was a righteous man going through hell in his own life. From that perspective it does seem like God is unfair. Yet in the midst of all of Job’s questions and his assertions about the fairness of God he still had faith that God would work this out somehow and he still recognized that while things looked bad from his perspective, God was ultimately in control and he could trust Him.

In Mark, everywhere Jesus went there were demonstrations of faith and a realization of Jesus’ authority. People brought the sick to him to be healed, Jarius came to him to come heal his daughter (who ended up dying but Jesus brought her back to life), the woman with a hemorrhage touched his robe and was healed because of her faith, etc. Yet in the midst of all of this those closest to him wrestled with their own faith. The very men who saw all of these miracles pile up and heard Jesus say over and over again in different ways, “your faith has made you well” didn’t get how he did those things and still had hard hearts according to Mark. How could they have hard hearts and not understand the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on water and calming the storm?

It is easy for me to throw stones on this side of the story. I have a narrator telling me what is happening and what people where thinking. When it comes to real life, I don’t have that luxury. I too struggle with my own faith in God from time to time when things get rough or they are not going the way I think they should. I have struggled over and over again with having enough faith in what I feel God is calling me to do to step out and take a risk. For me sometimes it is like diving off a high dive that has been proven is safe for me, I know how to do it, on the ground I was confident I could do it, but when I get to the top and look down I am suddenly flooded with all the reasons why I shouldn't do this and I begin to doubt all the things I know to be true. Risk is not always something I am good at taking for various reasons. In some cases, I lack confidence. In others, I am afraid to fail. In others, I feel I am unworthy to do something that big or I fear the change it would bring about.

Yet deep down I know that my Savior and Lord loves me. I have seen him come through time and time again on things that I thought would never happen. I have closed my eyes and jumped off the diving board only to find that the exhilaration of taking the risk and trusting God gave me more a sense of life than walking back down that ladder and playing it safe ever would. I find that my faith grows more every time I step out for the Lord but there are many areas of my life and circumstances where I can learn faith more and the more I explore that faith, the more I see how great and awesome my God is. So I will continue to challenge myself in my walk with God to risk more, surrender more and allow my faith to move me.

Lord, help me to be a man who trusts you enough to take risks. May my faith be expressed as much as it is believed. The life and ministry you have given me are yours. Please use me how you see fit and help me to stay away from the games and pulls of significance, recognition and territorialism in ministry. Amen.

What is My Motive?

Today I read Job 20, Mark 3-4, and RPJ chapter 37. The theme this morning is motivation. It is so hard sometimes to get a grip on where my heart is. There are many times I think I am doing something for the right reasons only to get angry later when it didn’t go my way or someone didn’t respond the way I thought they should. There are other times when I see the right thing to do and can see how we could get there but I get blocked by someone else which causes me to try to figure out a way to get them to agree with me which then basically causes me to bypass the true relational piece in exchange for getting agreement. I then am tempted to process my frustration with others which, when I have failed, is gossip.

So here in these passages I read about the Pharisees and their desire to “get the truth about Jesus” out in the open so they could convict him and get rid of him since he was an obstacle to their plans. Now I don't think the Pharisees where demons disguised in human skin. They actually were human, and as such had plans that they probably felt where the best thing for the nation of Israel to do to fulfill God’s plan for them. They probably started out with great motives and a desire to obey the law and the prophets. The problem came in when they put their plans above the people and they tied their entire reputation and status to the fulfillment of that plan. At that point it became a matter of pride that drove them and with the new guy in town stealing all their thunder and saying he had a “new plan” they just couldn’t let that happen. So twice in this passage they try to get something on Jesus so they can discredit him. They saw healing on the Sabbath as work which would violate the Sabbath. Jesus confronted them and did it anyway. They attributed his work of casting out demons to him being guided by the power of Satan himself. Jesus pointed out the flaw in their logic in front of everyone.

In those passages it said they wanted to kill him. So how did these guys go from being pastor types to becoming the mafia? I think it all goes back to their motives and getting wrapped up in who they were based on what they did (of course prophesy played a role too). I think of my own situation in ministry. The more I base who I am on what I do, what I produce, how much I am recognized for what I produce, or “making a mark on the world,” the more I am concerned with getting people to go along with my “plan.” The more I don't care who gets the credit or how we get to the best for the people in the church, the more I am able to be real in my relationships with others and actually live life in all its fullness. Motives are so tricky sometimes that I find I fluctuate sometimes and find I am more wounded by things that should be no big deal. Ultimately I just want to be where God wants me, doing what he wants me to do, and enjoying where he placed me moment by moment. As one of the other pastors on staff told me yesterday, “I don’t need to have big dreams because today has enough excitement for me.”

Lord, help my motives to be pure in serving you. Don’t let me go off the path to a place where I am so wrapped up in the ministry that I will defend an idea or program to the “death.” Keep me in a place where relationships are the most important and being real in those relationships and with you is my primary goal. Amen.

Relationships are the Ministry

Today I read Job 18, Mark 1-2, and RPJ chapter 36. The theme for today is relationships. It seems like everything we struggle with in life is linked to or comes from relationships with other people. Job struggled with his relationship with God, wondering why God was punishing him, and his relationship with his friends who seemed to want to convict him to “solve” his problem and get him back on the right track. As Jesus performs various miracles in the book of Mark, he has people who are coming to see him just to get their needs met. He has others, the Pharisees and religious leaders, who are challenging his every move because he is braking all the “rules.” What is it in our approach to relationships that gets us all mixed up and causes the worst in us to come out at times?

Tom in his book talks about all the rules we set up for relationships that we use to get what we want instead of following the “Golden rule” and realizing that I won’t truly get my needs met unless I choose to meet the needs of others. I have come across so many situations lately where people don’t want to have relationships with others. Instead they want to use others to further whatever agenda they have at the time. It is as if people where objects to be manipulated instead of people to be loved. We see it in Job’s friends who couldn’t have their paradigm of how God works rocked so they attacked their friend Job instead of just sitting in silence and being there for him in the midst of his extreme pain and loss. The Pharisees couldn’t have anyone challenge the rules they had set up for how people should “behave” to make sure they were spiritual so the Messiah would come back sooner. Not only that, but their status as religious leaders and the authority that came with it was being challenged every time Jesus broke one of the religious rules they had set up. They were so concerned with protecting those things that they missed the very Messiah they were hoping would come soon. Just yesterday I talked with someone about a wife who is so used to getting what she wants that she is able to manipulate her husband. When he refuses to be manipulated she shouts him down and criticizes him. He gets angry and she starts sharing he could be emotionally abusive not realizing her own selfish desires are causing the problems in the relationship and her putting down her husband in front of her son is having a negative impact on him.

As I think about my own life, I can see many places where I blow it relationally. I can get so wrapped up in what I am working on or the stress of some situations in my life that relationships in my life take a back seat. The furthest thing from my mind in those moments is meeting anyone’s needs. Instead I am concerned with me. Other times I get upset when people don’t do what I think they should especially when it inconveniences my life. In those moments I don’t put myself in their shoes to understand why they are acting that way or maybe even if there are other things going on that I don’t understand. I hate it when I do that because I really want to empathize with people and love being around them. Today is a good reminder to see people as my ministry. That way relationships will never feel like an interruption to the real work, they are the real workHappy.

Lord, please help me to be a man who is able to empathize with the needs of others and to see people through your eyes. Help me to not have hidden agendas or look for ways to manipulate or control others. Please help me to make people more important than things, goals, or rules. Amen.

Faith That Leads to Faithfulness

Today I read Job 18, Psalm 114, Acts 27-28, and RLJ chapter 34. I am struck this morning with the sense of faith and confidence displayed in the lives of the people I read about this morning. You have Paul whose tremendous faith allowed him to stay calm no matter what the circumstances. Here he is a prisoner, knows the ship he is on will be ship wrecked, but has the faith that God will do what the angel told him and everyone will survive. In the midst of the story he calmly tells the sailors to eat and that as long as they stay on the boat they will be safe. I am sure they were pretty amazed as his sense of calm, but it was that calm that displayed his faith. In the midst of the storm, his life was a beacon of hope which was based on his faith in God. Not only that, but God then uses him to show his might to the people on the island through the snake bite and his healing of the people on the island. I can only imagine how incredible that must have been for them. Then Paul goes into Jerusalem and holds a meeting with the leading priests to talk about Christ, knowing many of them would not believe, yet his faith in Christ made him faithful to the Gospel.

As I think of my own life I can see where my faith in God shapes how I respond to the challenges that come my way in ministry. When I am spending time with God and talking to him in prayer and actually in a place where I make Him the priority in my life, my vision and passion changes and I step out in faith more and I am able to see the beauty in the small things in ministry instead of complaining over what appears to be large problems. In those moments I have a sense of anticipation and a willingness to do whatever it takes for the cause of the kingdom regardless of whether everything else lines up or not. The sense of the realness of my faith in those moments, motivates and drives me to be faithful. When I am not in place of experiencing my faith and my time with God is more a thing of going through the motions, I find I am more cynical and the obstacles and concerns are the things that stand out more than the opportunities and the little ways God is working.

I want to be a man who literally walks by faith, so much so that my vision is consistently in line with God’s. Because I know that vision is what will cause me to be a man of impact for the kingdom and faithful to my calling. If I don’t, the results are damaging not only to myself, but to the kingdom and those around me.

Lord, help me to be a man who walks by faith. Help me to live a life that is characterized by faithfulness. Give me your vision for the ministry you have called me to and help me to see the beauty of your hand working in and through the circumstances of life. Amen.