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.*


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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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 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.

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.