For those suffocating in stress

Life has a way of exposing our limits. It probes our frustrations and pokes at our fears. Like a shark sensing blood is drawn to more aggression, so does stress. As they say, “when it rains, it pours”. David understands. On a day that his integrity is called into question and he is sent home in shame, he finds worse. He and the men of his army discover that their wives and children are kidnapped and their homes are burning. That’s a bad day.

1 Samuel 13:6
“And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.”

As David sits in the shadow of rejection, his most loyal men are posting death threats and his loved ones are victims of human trafficking. That is enough for anyone to cash it all in. David is “greatly distressed”. The pressure of anxiety is suffocating. As he sits alone with no human help in sight, his faith kicks in. His mind revisits the mountain tops of God’s power in his past. He thinks back to…

  • …ripping apart a lion with his hands.
  • …slaughtering a bear with no weapon.
  •  …conquering Goliath with a stone.

In God’s universe, David’s horrendous storm is simply a passing cloud. The same God empowering David to win in the past is positioned to do it all again. God’s power is not drained and His concern is not calloused. God never changes. No matter how dark the clouds or how big the enemy, He is almighty.
In just moments of meditation David is dancing through the goodness of God to him. It didn’t take long for his dejection to dissipate. The victories of the past becomes our fuel for the future. “David encouraged himself in the Lord”

David lived his life in the realms of God’s ability. He distanced himself from the safety of a faithless existence. To this day in focus he has chosen to live each moment where only God could get credit. He built a library of faith stories that became his encouragement. When anxiety kicked in, David reached for a volume. What follows is David and his men rescuing their families and eliminating their enemies.

In the end, it’s not just talking ourselves up, it’s uplifting the King. David didn’t just encourage himself with himself– he encouraged himself in “his God”!

We need to build our own library of “God-stories” that will scatter our doubts and worries. The protective shade that we have today comes from the trees planted decades ago. God is good. God is big. God is the same today as He “is” in David’s day.

blind

Diminishing Opportunities

The Probability of Diminishing Opportunities

Life gets by us quickly. What we hope to do usually falls victim to what we have to do. Before we know it, days turn into years, and years into decades and so much is left undone. The important things of relationships, time with God, or giving the gospel to a neighbor, form a pile of regrets and missed opportunities. Time spent is forever gone. There is an arresting verse in the OT.  Isaiah 55:6 Establishes that we must, “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found,call ye upon him while he is near”.

A couple clear conclusions can be drawn:

1. There are more obvious times that God is close and is drawing us near.

2. God is not always close to draw near to.

 

We must make the most of the times God is speaking, or our pile of regrets will mount. Such was the curse of the town and region of Bethsaida.

Bethsaida had it’s chances. Philip, Andrew, and Peter were from this quiet area around the northern shores of Galilee (John 1:44), and it appears that the feeding of the 5,000 happened in it’s outskirts (Luke 9:10). They had plenty exposure to truth and the wonder of God.  But it seems God was not impressed with their responses to these moments of glory. He boldly scolded them later in Luke 10:13.

Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon, which have been done in you, they had a great while ago repented, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.

Jesus concluded that they had plenty of chances to respond to His exhibition of truth. Oswald Smith said it this way:

 “No one has the right to hear the gospel twice, while there remains someone who has not heard it once.”

 This sad truth brings us to the final mention of the people of this quaint town. One of  their own was blind, and looking for healing. Here is how Mark penned it:

 And he cometh to Bethsaida; and they bring a blind man unto him, and besought him to touch him. (Mark 8:22).

 Nothing out of the ordinary. Jesus encountered lots of people with ailments. To most, He was a walking hospital clinic. It wasn’t the man, or those that brought him, that acted suspicious. Actually is was Jesus. Look what He did.

And he took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him… (Mark 8:23).

 A miracle was about to take place. Jesus was preparing to reveal His power and glory in this situation. But not everyone would get a front row seat. Especially those in Bethsaida who still refused to respond appropriately to the previous opportunities. So Jesus led the blind man to a secluded place for his personal miracle. His faith was about to have an energy boost. Had the town seen it, they may have believed more in Jesus. Jesus even told the man after he was healed to not tell anyone in the town.

 And he sent him away to his house, saying, Neither go into the town, nor tell it to any in the town. (Mark 8:26).

 Bethsaida had a pile of regrets. If they could go back, they would have taken time to listen more, ask more questions, and stay in the presence of Jesus longer. It may have saved their lives and their eternities. But not on this day. Maybe never.

 Oh that I would learn a lesson from Bethsaida!

 

Closing thoughts:

1. Listen when I know God is speaking. He may be quiet for a while.

2. Make the most of what is really important in life.

3. Pray for faith! (“Help thou my unbelief”)

 

 

 

 

First Reponders

I want to be a first responder. Not in the sense of being a paramedic or firefighter, but one that immediately turns to God as situations arise. Notoriously, I am one that works to figure out a solution, run for a second opinion, get advice, or just be distracted with worry. Imagine how different things would be if my first response was running to God.

2 Kings‬ ‭19‬:‭14-16
And Hezekiah received the letter of the hand of the messengers, and read it: and Hezekiah went up into the house of the Lord, and spread it before the Lord. And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord, and said, O Lord God of Israel, which dwellest between the cherubims, thou art the God, even thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; thou hast made heaven and earth. Lord, bow down thine ear, and hear: open, Lord, thine eyes, and see: and hear the words of Sennacherib, which hath sent him to reproach the living God.

Kings have counselors. At his disposal are the wisest and the smartest strategist and thinkers. Yet Hezekiah, when receiving the threatening news, skipped the “war room” and went right to the prayer closet. The real intriguing part of his prayer is that it was not one for protection or mercy, but it was notably one of worship. Hezekiah chose to sit in the shadow of the Almighty. His first response was not typical, as a matter of a fact, it was odd for a king. But in the end, the strategists of the kingdom enjoyed another day of life because the king ignored their expertise.

Oh to be a first responder like Hezekiah. This makes me think of an old hymn..

What a Friend we have in Jesus
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged;
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
take it to the Lord in prayer.

Closing Thoughts:
1. Learn to skip by the war room and make way to the throne room .
2. Learn to do more than ask and beg. Take time to worship.
3. God loves to respond to someone that recognizes His power and ability.

Enough of God

We all like the benefits of a relationship with God, especially when it’s convenient. Truth be told, we would prefer buffet discipleship.

We volunteer for the peace, protection, joy, prosperity, and companionship. Then we willingly pass up on the cross, difficulties, persecution, discomfort, and discipline. Maybe if our mouth spoke what our heart secretly believes we would say something like:

Give me enough of God to make me comfortable, but not too much so as to interrupt my schedule

2 Kings 17:33
They feared the Lord, and served their own gods, after the manner of the nations whom they carried away from thence
.

Like Israel of old, we have added God to our shelf of other gods. Gods of pleasure, health, technology, happiness, money, and a stack of other favorites. We often act like a kid with a new baseball card. We show God off and then stick Him in a box with all the other run of the mill player cards we have.

Our consumer brand of being a Christ-follower convinces us that God is ultimately concerned with our happiness. So we add to our lives whatever we believe will fulfill that. Before we know it, God is overcrowded in our lives with stuff. The reality is, God is less concerned with our happiness than we imagined. He is actually concerned foremost for our holiness.

Wilbur Reese said it this way…

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.

Closing Thoughts:
1. God refuses to share the shelf with our gods of choice.
2. God already set the guidelines to discipleship, and it’s family style eating, not a buffet.
3. Gods offer of being a Christ-follower is an all or nothing deal.

The Holy Huddle

The Holy Huddle usually has a negative connotation to it.. But hear me out..

All parents have probably experienced it before. I give advice that was solid. I actually impress myself a little. The response of my kids though shows they are less than convinced. Then one day they come through the door with a bit of excitement. They figured out the obvious solution to their problem. After asking a few questions it is discovered that the solution they got from the outside source was almost word for word what I had said days before. I stand there wondering if my kids are deaf at home but find perfect hearing when they walk out the front door. (this has only happened once ever :))

The truth is, there are times that advice is often more clear and convincing when it comes from someone other than dad and mom.

Outside encouragement can end up being the life-changing input our kids need. By the way, this very issue found its way onto my prayer list for my girls. I long for the right people to speak into their lives. God's timeless Word promotes this concept. Solomon penned it pretty clearly in Proverbs.

Proverbs 11:14 Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.

It would be lunacy to assume that the writer was talking of having just a group of random people giving input. For this to be a positive experience, these must be good, wise counselors. Godly people. Holy followers of God. People with experience. More than likely, people that are at least 5 years older than our kids. Better yet, an interested, truthful, alert adult. Cool doesn't hurt either.

Proverbs 15:22 Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.

Truth is important. People that “prove” truth to be real to young moldable minds is immeasurably powerful. No amount of money can purchase the power of the God-story of a veteran believer in the lives of our children. And this input cannot be left to chance. Wisdom demands that we plan for it, not hope for it. Here is a scary truth— if we don't proactively encircle ourselves and our children with good people, they will get default counselors. This could be the most destructive miscalculation ever made.

Whether by grand design or by God's grace alone, we learned this early on in the lives of our girls. For each of them, we invited a young, more spiritually mature girl to “disciple” them. I would drive them weekly to a location where they could hang out together and let life meet life. Questions were asked and answered. Laughs were share. Prayers were prayed. This decision by my wife and me remains some of our wisest. As I write this, my youngest is spending a week in Indiana with her “discipler”. She met Tiffany when she worked camp this last summer. She was a dorm mother to Alyssa that quickly turned to much more than that. Over the eight weeks together, a bond was developed and God has not only directed Alyssa in outward ways, but changed her heart. I would give my bank account for this! (although right now that is not very much :)) The relationship has been so powerful that Alyssa saved up $250 to make the journey on her own from airport to airport to see Tiffany.

While discipleship of our families lays squarely on the shoulders of us as parents, parents should be proactive in surrounding their kids with a solid circle of counselors. One of the wisest decisions you can make is to build a team of counselors that can link arms with you in loving your son or daughter to the Savior!

 

Silent Gospel

 

Forgotten. That one word would terrify most of us. While there are many longings of the human heart, the ones of being needed and important reign supreme. The fact is that we all desperately want to leave a legacy, an imprint on those around us. We want to leave one that is so deep that if we were gone, we would be the topic of everyone's conversation. We would be trending on twitter. There is obviously many mega themes throughout the Scriptures, but one that will make that wanted imprint indelible is to humbly love the needy and helpless. Actually, this one issue is a measuring stick of whether we are genuine God-followers or just coldly religious.

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:27)

One book that has greatly challenged my perspective and my heart on this theme is a one called,“The Hole in our Gospel” by Richard Stearns. In the book Stearns explores Jesus' call to love our neighbors and shows us how to use our time, talents, and money to heal a broken world. While there are countless ‘stop and check your heart’ quotes, I will highlight just a few in this post. (found in red)

1. “When we say we want to be His disciple, yet attach a list of conditions, Jesus refuses to accept our terms. His terms involve total surrender”.

Ouch. This goes contrary to the current culture of ‘me first’. The call of Jesus goes beyond what is comfortable, easy, and humanly possible for us. God wants us to live above all that or else we are attempting to steal glory from Him.

2. “Don't fail to do something just because you can't do everything… If you think you are too small to make a difference, try spending the night in a closed room with a mosquito.”

3. “The probability that we may fail in the struggle ought not to deter us from the support of a cause we believe to be just” Abraham Lincoln

There is no kindness too menial, and no gift too small in reaching out to those marginalized by a life of tough knocks. A giant bank account is nice, but God never calls us to save all we have for a possible future need. Whatever we have right now is what He is asking for us to use. If it is small, then it is still sufficient.

4. “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic [malicious] words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people”

5. “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” Martin Luther King Jr.

6. “the rich man did not abuse Lazarus, didn't beat him or mistreat him; He simply ignored him, passing by him, day by day, with indifference… he was aware of the beggars plight, had the power to relieve his suffering– yet chose to do nothing… all too many [in the church] have been.. more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stain-glass windows.”

The biggest travesty of the church may not be that we did too little, but that we did nothing. Too many of us have so drown ourselves in technology, debt, and frivolous possessions that if a starving person was laying in our path to work, we would have to pat him on the back and tell him that help is on the way. And it is not just a resource problem, it boils down to a cold heart issue. Honestly we just don’t care. Try saying that out loud where you are right now. Go ahead. ‘I don’t care’. It is almost as difficult as saying ‘I am sorry’ right? Sometimes the truth hurts.

“I'd like to ask God why He allows hunger.. Injustice when He could do something about it.. But I'm afraid He'll ask me the same thing”

Oh boy. Is that not the truth? While we may wonder how a God of love could stand aside while people die of hunger and disease, we are walking on paper-thin ice. Everyday we could do something for someone in need. We would not have to venture on a plane trip to Africa or Papua New Guinea. We could go on a simple 15-20 minute ride to our closest town or city. We are so insulated that we think we only see such needs on the Nightly News or in National Geographic. God must wonder how we could see the need, and simply do nothing. And in doing nothing, we make the gospel a little more distant to those looking for love and God.

One last quote from the book. It is how I want to close. It stings me because I am guilty. I want to see people come to Jesus. I never want to be a cause of someone not coming to Christ. The distaste of our lack of compassion can really sting. This is how Mohandas Gandhi said it. “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Maybe we just need to slow down enough to be able to notice the most obvious needs of people.. Maybe its not a homeless man, or a starving orphan. It could be a co-worker, a neighbor, or a person that sat in your pew last Sunday. In being more aware, we give the gospel some context in their life.

Join me on www.goodreads.com to find what your friends are reading and what the a book is all about!

 

The prayer that could save your life.

The infamous easy button. This popular yet fictional red button solved the many difficult office needs many executives face in daily management. The commercials were humorous and the ploy of that one office supply store being the answer to our problems was great for sales. Many people actually purchased the button just as a funny paper weight. There sits a big red with large white letter that read, “EASY”. The sad part is that it can do no more to make life easy than any other paper weight!

There is more alluring button I wish we had access to. A REWIND button.

If life had such a button, the symbol would be worn off. There are so many regretful words spoken in the heat of an argument that we would all erase. There are countless situations that we would skip by had we a second chance. And how about those moments of temptation that we would all love a second chance at? Those moments when we knew what was right, but chose to ignore God's gentle warning of imminent danger.

This life saving Rewind button will have to stay in the 'wish we had' file for another life. It is not a possibility even for the most ingenious inventors. But There is another option that could net similar, if not better results.. One that is not only available, but recommended by Jesus in the pages of Scripture.

It's was the night of the betrayal. Jesus took His men for a last walk to their favorite resort at the edge of Jerusalem. Making their way through the darkened garden, they arrived at a place that was often used by them for prayer with their Discipler. Knowing the dramatic and terrifying events about to unfold, Jesus looked at His disciples like a father fearful for the safety of his children, and gave them a recommendation that we should also live! Here is how I read it Matthew 26:41:

Pray so that you don't enter into temptation. Your spirit wants to do what is right, but your flesh will fail you every time!

Wow. Better than the rewind button is the ability to request a pass from the Creator on a possible life-altering temptation. What? Why would we not wear the symbol off of that button? Why would we not be obnoxiously praying that one request morning, noon, and night?

Could It be that we don't see the danger of temptation the way God does? Are we naive like the simple man in Proverbs 7 that didn't realize the temptation he faced was “for his life”?

On any given day, there could be that one temptation that we did not adequately prepare for that will rock our integrity, our family, and our very life. We are walking a field of active sin mines.

Temptation is not a kitty licking our hand, it's a lion chasing us down as a needed meal.

Let's beg God for a pass. Let's wear out the path to our prayer closet asking for guard rails that keep us on the straight path of holiness.

“Father, you said there are temptations that are unnecessary for me to experience. Would you rearrange my schedule so I can miss those dangerous moments today? Based on your Word, and the recommendation of Jesus, would you steer me away from that person, that conversation, that website, or that thought of my own heart that could spiritually wreck me? Allow your grace to rescue me from what is not necessary. Deny my enemy the permission he is requesting to rattle my cage.”

Don't get me wrong, God never promised to remove every possible temptation in our future, but He does say that if we ask there is great possibility to get that much needed pass! Remember, we never know until we ask, and we many times we don't receive because we fail to ask for it.

Better than a Rewind Button, we have access to the God that directs our daily path. Let us by all means beg for a pass!