Monday, October 31, 2011

Surface Level

We can come into a church each week looking pretty on the outside. We can make sure that our outfit looks just right, our hair is done in just the right way, and that there are no glaringly obvious blemishes. Parents reprimand their children to act appropriately so that no one notices that things are actually out of alignment in our lives. Couples act as if everything is just fine so issues won't be brought up. We plaster a smile on our faces even when it doesn't reflect what is truly going on in our hearts and minds.

We convince ourselves to hide the disease, brokenness, and fatal wounds that are infecting us because we don't want to admit they are there. They fester within us and damage relationships as a result of the venom they end up spewing out of that hurt or because of the walls that we throw up in the misguided notion that it protects us. Until we recognize these symptoms and admit our need for help nothing will get better. 

God's Church is a place of healing and grace-we don't always do it perfectly, but I firmly believe that is what we still are-and we need to reach out to the harassed and helpless. True healing also requires a transparent humbling of ourselves to see that we all share that need for God's healing touch.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Right Name

When we pray we close our prayers with the phrase, "In Jesus name, amen." There is power in that statement, but it doesn't come from merely reciting words. Scripture tells us that whatever we ask for in Jesus' name we will receive, but it is less about the verbiage and more about the heart behind it.

Praying in the name of Jesus is more about the humble attitude that we take into this spiritual conversation. It is seeking His direction and blessing in our own lives and in His church and opening ourselves up to following His leading. It is a prayer that thrives in humility and asking God what His will is instead of dictating what our will is to Him. When we pray selfish prayers that seek to satisfy our imperfect longings we can't tag the name of Jesus on the end of it and expect it to be pleasing to God's ears.

The power of the name of Christ will be reflected in the heart of the person praying and will bring answers that reveal God's desire to bless His children.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Gotta See It

I am a visually oriented & stimulated person (as my wife vigorously affirms.) I tend to be very observant of changes in people and my environment. I look for small details in things and appreciate them for the unique perspective they bring. I tend to write a lot of things down so that I can see them. I use a 4' x 8' whiteboard mounted on the wall of my office (see pic below) for ideas, planning & sermon writing. Even though I am well-versed in technology, I still use a Franklin planner to write everything down. It helps me to be able to physically visualize things as I process thoughts.

This can create hardships however when talking about faith. Since faith is clearly defined as what I cannot see, I sometimes struggle with interpreting God's messages for my own life. Being so visually oriented can make it difficult to lean firmly on faith for direction and guidance and can sometimes lead to hesitance to take action on other signals from God.

I am constantly asking God to increase my faith and to give me signs of what He has next for me. It is a sign of His strength meeting my weaknesses when I am able to hear His voice and take action on it.

If I could just get Him to write things out on a whiteboard for me it would be so much easier.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Too Far Gone

We don't like for other people to lie to us and yet we believe in the lies that we tell ourselves far too often. These may be the words that echo in our own mind or have been ingrained by those close to us, but we have allowed them to masquerade as truth. It is a common trap that satan uses to paralyze people. These lies attack common areas:
  • We haven't communicated in years & our marriage isn't salvageable
  • My finances are in such disarray that I will never get out from underneath it
  • We have done such a poor job of parenting and now it's too late to do anything about it
  • My past relationships define my self-esteem & all my future relationships will suffer from it
  • The sins of my past are greater than anyone can ever know-I can't possibly be forgiven for them
  • I never lived up to my parents' expectations for me and don't measure up now
  • I've made so many mistakes & hurt those around me-I don't think I can change who I am now
  • I'm too far gone for God to do anything with me
Grace is a gift from God that is not just intended for forgiveness. It is about His power to negate the lies of satan and change us from the inside out. We refute the effectiveness of grace when we allow ourselves to be enslaved to lies that are in opposition to the truth God freely offers. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I wrote this blog in my head this morning while getting things ready for worship services at Northridge. I found myself thinking about and praying for the people that were going to be filling the halls later that day. I knew they would be coming in with emotional baggage, expectations, frustrations, joyfulness, and a longing for something meaningful. My prayers turned towards God providing exactly what they needed and being faithful as church staff & leadership to do our best to let God work through everything that was going to take place.

The thought resonated with me that we need to have an eager anticipation for our churches to be filled and for God to do His work through our faithful obedience. We never know what each day will hold-I can assure that I could not have predicted all that today would bring-and we need to be ready to do our part as agents filled with the Holy Spirit.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Then You Will Know

I am reading through the book of Ezekiel and there is a lot of it that isn't pretty. God is more than a little ticked off at His people who are not following Him and is predicting the exile and destruction that is on the way. As He prophesies through Ezekiel, He continually uses the phrase, "And they will know that I am the Lord." It is as if the people have forgotten who God is and what He has done for them. They have turned their backs on Him to focus on other passions and objects of worship. It has reached a point where the alternative in front of them is unpleasant.

Even today God will do what is necessary to get our attention. He doesn't do this because He is vindictive, but out of the purity of His nature and the truth that He is what is best for us. He actually reveals Himself to us in many different ways each day-through creation, divine appointments, moments of worship, His Word, quality time with our families, and the kindness of others. When we miss the message or become calloused to it then He will use other methods to pull our focus back to Him. Those methods are not always comfortable or pleasant, but God's desired objective is to remind us that He is the Lord. It is only in following Him that our paths are made clear and our worship made true and complete.

I would prefer to acknowledge His Lordship on my own instead of needing a Jethro Gibbs head slap from God to make it known.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


The practice of self-discipline isn't always easy to maintain. It can apply to multiple areas of our life: healthy eating habits, an exercise regimen, wise financial practices, or spiritual disciplines. Being able to stay focused on those things that we have decided are important to us requires more than a cursory glance once a week. It has to be something that we strive to ingrain as part of our character and not just an item to be checked off on our to-do list. It requires a vision for our lives of what kind of man/woman we want to be, setting the goals to achieve it and the discipline to work to make it happen. The phrase that I read this week that embodies it for me is "ruthless self-management".

I have that written on one of the whiteboards in my office so that I am reminded of the need to be intensely focused on where God is leading me. It is a reminder that this journey of refinement will not always be pleasant, but the results of God's great work and my faithful obedience will be worth any sacrifices along the way. I won't accidentally end up closer to God's vision for life, family and ministry. It will take an intentional effort on my part to actively practice the disciplines that lead me into intimacy with Him.

1 Corinthians 9:27 (MSG)  I'm staying alert and in top condition. I'm not going to 
get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it and then missing out myself.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Good Reason

When people go through difficult times a common phrase that is repeated to bring comfort is, "Everything happens for a reason." I agree with this in principle, but the motivation behind this platitude is usually to attribute our current circumstances to something that God has done. There are certainly things that are beyond our understanding that God has orchestrated to bring Himself glory and to fulfill His ultimate plan. When we hide behind that phrase however, we sometimes forget the role that our decisions have played in creating our present situation.

God has given us the ability to make choices each day that will determine the path our lives will follow. Not all of those choices will lead us to where we anticipated and they don't always produce our intended results. I am living proof that God will work His sovereign will in the midst of my own stupidity, but He still allows me the leeway to choose to be stupid. It is in our mistakes and sin that He reveals His perfect power to work above and through our flawed decision-making.

Everything in our lives does happen for a reason and many times it is simply because of our own poor choices and lack of foresight. I am grateful for a King that is able to redeem those circumstances and bring a greater reason & purpose to the free will that He has allowed us to have.

Monday, October 17, 2011

What Did You Expect?

When people are feeling the tension between where they are now and the impatient urgency of where they feel God is leading them next, I tell them to ask Him one question-"What am I supposed to be learning now?" It is a query that should open us up to the refining that God wants to do in us before He reveals the next step in our faith. Always keeping that question in mind will make us more aware of the situations surrounding us and what we can glean from the trials that we go through.

I have been feeling that tension in my own life lately-from what is here now and where He is guiding me next. God recently told me "Not Yet" in response to my prayers, so I then asked the old faithful question of what I was supposed to be learning in the interim. I was then confronted last week with some uncomfortable truths about myself-things that I didn't necessarily love to hear, but after a few days of processing were made more clear. 

It was while mowing my yard on Friday (and talking with God in the process) that it hit me between the eyes. I had asked God what I needed to learn next and He had revealed it to me. It wasn't a skill I needed to acquire or some new leadership/management technique. He needs to refine some things inside of me before He reveals the next part of His vision for my life. 

I asked and God answered. Just because it didn't come in the format I expected doesn't mean the response wasn't true or necessary.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Just Do It

Andrew Murray (South African minister) wrote in his book, Working for God that "True action is born of contemplation." It is a short statement filled with complexity and challenge and brings attention to the need for thought and follow through.

There is a link between the need to carefully think things through and the need to pull the trigger and step into action. I would wager that the difficulties we have in personal growth, spiritual disciplines, and life change stem from our inability to work in both ends of that equation. My experience has been that we will talk and think about the things we want to happen in our lives (i.e. getting in better shape, becoming a better spouse, practicing financial responsibility, growing closer to God) but it stops in the talk phase. We may contemplate the person that we desire to be, but we never follow through on it.

There are also the times when we exert no mental energy, but simply jump into what seems/feels right in that moment. This leads to a short-sighted decision that might bring immediate, temporary gratification, but short-changes the potential for our future and isn't the most beneficial for us in the long run.

I believe that the value of "thinking" is underrated, but there also has to be a call to take action. It is in the gestation phase of prayerful, considerate thought that the birth of godly action is prepared. To see the greatest impact on our lives we must be ready to work through both.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Opportunity Cost

In a simple explanation, opportunity cost is the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen. Choosing to forego an expensive vacation to put a larger down-payment on a car brings a loss of relaxation time, but a benefit in a lower monthly payment. Choosing to work late might curry favor with your boss, but will cost you time with your family. Some of the decisions are simple, but others are more complex because of the long-term impact they will have on us and our circle of influence.

Each of us have to evaluate the opportunity cost of life on a daily basis. There is a value that we place on the decision to follow Christ over the influences of the world around us. Some of those choices will be difficult to make and that is why Christ told us that we would need to die to ourselves. It is an active decision to live a life that is worth far more than the temporary, immediate gratification that we often see in front of us.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It's Up to You

I remember reading the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books when I was younger. You would make a decision based on the current circumstances and then turn to the appropriate page to see what happened next. There were many times that the choice did not lead to a desirable outcome, but then you could just go back and change your choice to create an adventure with a better ending.

We still have the power of choice in our lives, but we don't have the safety net of going back when things don't work out like we intended. If we act rashly or without forethought, we may find that we are in a predicament of our own making that is less than satisfactory. This doesn't negate the ability of God to work in the circumstances of our own creation, but it should make us prayerfully consider the options in front of us before we make a decision.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sense of Urgency

I have a statement written on the whiteboard in my office-"Vision + Urgency = Growth." It is referring to the growth of a church, but my thoughts this morning are focused on its impact on my overall life.

I don't know that a lot of people (myself included) live each day with a sense of urgency. We tend to keep up with the pace of life as dictated by our calendars, but busyness is not the same as urgency. Fervent attention to a vision for our lives and the disciplined obedience it takes to see it fulfilled lead us to a level of growth that is absent otherwise. It is our failure to seek vision from God and adhere to it that leads to complacency. We can easily become people who simply go through the motions of life.

I am not comfortable with that and I believe that is why there has been unrest in my soul these past few weeks. I need to recapture the vision that God has for me as His son, for my family, and for my calling as a pastor. Each day must then be directed by diligent faithfulness to see the growth that He intends.

Imagine the difference in the church and in our communities if we operated with that focus. We haven't even imagined the metric to measure the growth that God has waiting for us if we do.

Friday, October 7, 2011

In the Right Hands

In Jeremiah 18, the prophet is sent to the house of the potter so that God can teach him something significant. Jeremiah sees the potter working with a piece of clay that is flawed so he shaped it into something else as it seemed best to him.

This obviously describes each of us and our relationship with God. The flaws in the clay are not a result of God's design however-they are a result of our choices and of those around us. We have short-circuited relationships, worshiped at the gods of reputation and prestige, allowed our emotions to control our mouth and actions, and wallowed in destructive patterns of behavior that have marred who we are today. God is able (and willing) to work through all of that and still shape something that will bring Him honor and fulfill our purpose. He will work with our flawed nature to create something beautiful-perhaps not what we imagined or hoped for initially, but sometimes our own decisions have limited certain future options for us.

The next step of growth for us is to willingly surrender to the creativity of the Potter. God's purpose will be done on earth regardless of our submission, but the journey is much sweeter when we acquiesce to the work of His hands in us. I am thankful for a loving Creator that will take me in my flawed nature and work to shape what He knows is best.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Circumstantial Living

It is easy to let the circumstances of life dictate your emotional and spiritual health. When things are going well we get along with people, we feel close and connected with God, and there is stability in our emotions. When the status quo changes however, we no longer exhibit the same even temperament and our confidence in God and His relationship with us dwindles. It can be quite frustrating especially when you realize that you are allowing your current circumstances to define your mood and mindset.

That is not the desire that God has for any of us. He doesn't want our overall health to fluctuate based on the temporary nature of our current situation. He knows that a truly fulfilled life with the right perspective is based in Him and our belief in His ability to provide for us in ways we cannot see. A person with their roots in God will live with quiet confidence in the King's power to guide His people.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 "But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Sound of Silence

I pray about a lot of things. I'm not attempting to sound holier-than-thou or like a braggart, but I find myself in multiple conversations with God throughout the day about a number of things. Some of them are very focused prayers with a specific intent and others are a reflective time between God and me. When praying for other people I will often hear the answer through them as they communicate what God has done. There are times when the answer is quite visible (i.e. improved finances, a new house to move into, someone showing up in church or making a decision, etc.) I also have periods of prayer about something specific where God doesn't seem to say anything at all. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero.

Even though this "silence" can cause me to carefully examine my heart and motivation for the prayer, many times the lack of an answer is an answer in itself. When looking for direction from God I have discovered that His silence often means that I need to continue to trust and be faithful in the direction that He is currently moving me. It is His message to me that He will make it known when that direction changes as long as I keep in continual communication with Him.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Unfailing Love

I was reading in Romans this morning and was reminded again about the powerful, unrelenting love that God has for us. God shares the truth in Romans 8 that we are never separated from the love that He has for us through Jesus Christ. Our circumstances may try to fool us into believing otherwise, but the truth still stands. Satan may try to convince us that we are unlovable, but God continues to declare His passion for us every day. This is a message the world is dying to hear.

If we accept even a morsel of this love it will radically change our outlook on our daily lives as well as provide an enduring motivation for the choices we make and the attitude in our hearts. I know that I need constant reminders of it and that when I dwell in this love it drowns out all other messages that are contrary to His truth.