Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Against God

Recognizing that you have sinned is not comfortable. There is a realization that you have done something (or not done something) that is clearly outside of God's plan for you. The results of our sin can also damage other people around us-family, friends, co-workers, and people in our church. The regret that we feel is often a result of the fallout of those transgressions in our lives. We don't want other people to think badly of us and become focused on seeking forgiveness from those we have wounded. We repeatedly plead with people for their forgiveness, but spend cursory moments asking God to wipe away these blemishes.

True repentance & forgiveness can only begin when we understand that our greatest sin is not against the people in our lives, but against God. While this does not diminish the outcomes in this physical world it does help us gain perspective on our relationship with our King. Any sin in our lives separates us from Him and must be recognized for what it is-a rebellion against the leadership of the Holy Spirit in us. When we genuinely confess our sin to God and become overwhelmed at how we have worked against Him, we begin a transformation process in our hearts. This will lead us into a deeper walk with God that will change us more into His likeness and allow us to eventually overcome the hurt we have caused to those we care about.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Father, May I?

I remember playing the game, "Mother, may I?" when I was a kid. There was nothing fancy to it, but simply a matter of requesting permission to move from the "boss" of the game, and them telling you how many baby or giant steps you could take. Your objective was to get to the leader before everyone else did.

I was reading this morning in Numbers about the Israelites in the desert after fleeing from Egypt. They were moving towards the Promised Land, but did so on God's timetable and not on their own. When the Cloud that represented God's presence rested on the Tent of Dwelling they didn't go anywhere. When that Cloud lifted they would march to wherever God led them. Scripture tells us that it didn't matter if the Cloud hovered over the dwelling for two days, a month, or a year-as long as it stayed they didn't move. When the Cloud went up, they got up and marched.

It's a simple matter of obedience to God's leading and a reflection of our trust in Him. There are times when He is ready for us to move forward and times when we need to rest, meditate, and prepare.

It doesn't have to be about leaving your physical area, but allowing God to stretch you spiritually in your current location. New ventures in faith require that God leads the way and that we choose to follow. Our eyes have to be constantly fixed on our Father so that we see when He is moving us into new areas and when He wants us to rest in Him.

They camped at God's command and they marched at God's command. They lived obediently by God's orders as delivered by Moses. Numbers 9:23

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Living Generously

I've been blessed by the generosity of so many people in my life. I couldn't even begin to name all of them and would have a hard time just giving honor to those from this past year. Our lives have been drastically improved and blessed by friends, family, and strangers who have shown us kindness.

True generous living is more than just an act or an infrequent occurrence, it's a philosophy of existence. Most people tend to think of giving generously and how it applies to their finances. While this is an important part of it, a truly benevolent lifestyle involves other aspects of our lives. When we truly are motivated by the desire to bless others we will do so with our time, prayers, compassion, energy, and service as well. It is marked by a genuine concern for others and the realization that all of our resources, tangible and intangible, are given to us by God and intended to be used for His glory.

With that realization in mind, I question myself frequently about how I am stewarding what God has given to me. I believe that He strategically positions us where we are to make the most impact with our gifts. The willingness to be generous in our current time & place is a mark of obedience and a revealing of God's will for our lives.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Actively Disengaged

God is relentlessly working to draw people to Him through any means necessary. If someone claims that they can't find God, they just aren't looking or responding. He does not decrease, fall asleep, lose power, become ineffective, or cease to be ever-present. The potential for power in worship, teaching, and serving is always simmering and ready to be released as soon as people accept what God is offering.

Flowing with the current of life and ignoring what God is doing is not a passive act. It takes an active, intentional (and perhaps subconscious) effort from us to miss it. I have seen far too many people start to move closer to God and then decide to step away from the potential of a Christ-like life. My heart is broken for the crowds of children, youth and adults that have made the active choice of removing themselves from the direct influence of God in their lives. I posit that it takes just as much effort to ignore God as it does to choose to experience His hope.

We are all faced with the daily choice to intentionally seek God and His Kingdom or to actively disengage and follow our own path that can only lead to dissatisfaction, damage, and ultimately death.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


In Ephesians 5:18-20 we are told to be filled with the Holy Spirit and that the result of that intimate relationship will be worship. The phrase that hit me this past weekend was in verse 20-"giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

As I sat in our worship service, I had to ask myself a big question. Am I grateful always and for everything? I don't doubt that I am grateful for my physical blessings, my family, good friends, and the church. My consistency wavers however, when it comes to expressing gratitude when things are not going as anticipated. I would wager that most people are in the same predicament. 

Can we truly be grateful when we struggle with tension in our lives, emotional hurts, woundedness and brokenness, disappointment, physical illness, marital strife, financial stresses, or weariness? God didn't tell us to show gratitude only when the sun is shining, but also in the darkest of nights. It is an indication of our hearts and our belief that God is the King of all times and not just a rabbit's foot that gets credit for good luck. It is the difference between a vapor-like faith that can be blown away by changing circumstances, and a confidence in God's love and provision that is built on a foundation of rock that withstands all this life has to offer. 

Our response doesn't only reveal our hearts, but leads to a life of joyful worship that helps us persevere through tough times and reach our community for Christ at the same time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


I've always found it interesting when the Olympics roll around and several American professional athletes end up playing on another nation's teams. With some athletes I am sure they realize they would not make our national teams so they find ways to gain dual citizenship and play for another nation's glory. Others choose to leverage their family's heritage so that they have an opportunity to take part in the Olympics when that would not be an option otherwise.

Choosing to follow Christ means that we are aliens & foreigners in this world and that even though we live here now, it is not the banner we are called to live under. We create tension and dissatisfaction in our lives when we act as if we want dual citizenship-to gain the blessings from God that He promises His people, and yet experience  all the things this world has to offer. It is the habitual and sinful pattern of the lukewarm Christian to use whichever nationality brings the greatest advantage in that particular moment.

God's plan for growth and maturity doesn't include us changing our loyalties based on our current circumstances. A true Christian patriot will declare unwavering allegiance to God's Kingdom and demonstrate that commitment in the daily choices they make.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Eyes Wide Open

I pray for many things, but three words seem to frequently find their way onto my prayer list: wisdom, vision, and clarity. I know that I never have enough of them and that God is the ultimate, pure source of all three. It's a desire on my part to gain the most blessing & direction in my personal life as well as in ministry. It is a reflection of the urgency I feel in my life as I don't want to miss any opportunities that God provides.

These can be as simple as a divine appointment at Starbucks that I drift past without noticing, an opportunity to reach out to our community that needs to be seized, a moment that should be spent in prayer, a desire to know the future for my family, or simply spending precious dwindling minutes with my daughters. God presents these openings for us to step into His will on a regular basis. Whether we seize them, waltz by unknowingly, or blatantly disregard them is a reflection of our attention to God and the wisdom, clarity, and vision He provides. When we stumble in these areas it is not God that knocks us down, but it is a result of the self-centered focus we have shifted to instead.

The solution is to consistently and faithfully ask God and keep our vision securely focused on Him as we await the answers.

If I keep my eyes on God, I won't trip over my own feet.  Psalm 25:15 (The Message)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Becoming Obese

I love to eat. This really isn't a surprise to anyone who has spent in-depth time with me. I can get ear-deep in a plate of meatloaf & mashed potatoes quicker than most people. I love to eat different foods and have a hard time pushing away from the table even if I really am full. When someone asks me what my favorite food is I usually respond with "free buffet." The negative impact of this style of eating is only magnified when I am not exercising in some way. Obviously, this type of behavior can come with a multitude of health problems and complications and requires some discipline to overcome.

I've seen too many people fall into the same pattern in their spiritual life. They want more Bible studies, devotionals, worship services, and prayer meetings, but won't volunteer in the church or community. Their mantra becomes, "I just need to be fed right now." While I firmly believe in the need to spend quiet time with God in meditation and prayer, that doesn't negate the calling on the Church to be active. When we sit and continually absorb and refuse to step up due to misguided and selfish notions of what is right, we deny God's work in our lives and the need for us to utilize what we experience for the betterment of the Kingdom.

In a physical sense, ingesting large amounts of calories and not exercising will certainly lead to obesity. From a spiritual perspective, I don't believe that you can experience God through scripture, prayer, and teaching for purely selfish purposes and grow. Choosing to ignore God's command to be active won't lead to spiritual obesity, but will instead create a spiritually emaciated person who is too weak to care for themselves or make a godly impact on anyone else.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Stick with It

After making a lot of progress in the health & wellness department in the first half of last year, I found myself fading away from the good disciplines I had started. Needless to say it left me feeling quite unhealthy by the end of 2011 and like most people I entered 2012 with a renewed commitment to regaining a healthy status.

I have discovered (not that it wasn't previously obvious) that there is no quick fix. It is painful & difficult at the beginning of the health-gaining process. The food choices you make require more discipline and the exercise regimen is not easy as muscles protest. Even though I may not want to do some of these things, I know that I feel better about making the right choice when it's over. I am looking forward to the time when these habits are simply part of my normal routine-a choice that I make that requires less discipline because it is simply part of who I am.

The same thing applies to us spiritually. It is easy to let ourselves drift away from an intentional relationship with God. Our schedules can get busy, the demands of life increase, and we just get lazy in our attention and devotion  to God. For us to succeed we need to see that we want to be in better spiritual shape than we are right now, and then commit to making the daily choices that will lead us there. It won't be easy at the beginning, but over time we will find that it simply becomes part of who we are.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

If You Say So

In Exodus 19:8, the Israelites tell Moses, "Everything God says, we will do." We know from reading the rest of the Bible that this statement is not consistently fulfilled, but it doesn't change the heart behind it. It reveals the desire of God's people to place their ultimate, unwavering trust in Him. It requires obedience in searching out His direction through prayer, studying the Bible, worship, and engaging in life with others. It means that we have a fear of life without God and a reverential fear of life with Him.

I don't know that I have enough faith to make the same bold statement the Hebrews of the Old Testament did. Moving beyond the repetition of the words to actively living them out is a difficult transition, but God doesn't expect us to always get that right either. He intends for us to make it the desire of our heart so that His Holy Spirit can have access to our motives, ambitions, and actions.

Making that verse a mantra for our lives and churches will start a chain reaction that will create greater impact than we can currently imagine. The change in our own attitudes, thoughts, and actions will be evident and the reformation in our communities will be powerful. We will start to see barriers between people knocked down, forgiveness freely given & received, physical & spiritual needs met, our reputation become one of grace & mercy, and for hope to replace hopelessness as the currency of broken people.

The powerful simplicity of this statement reinforces the desire of God to work in the willing obedience of His people. We will not perfect it, but there is no other choice before us if we truly desire to see God's will done on earth as it is in heaven.

Monday, January 16, 2012

In Honor

Great men are confident in God's ability to work through and in them, and are passionately committed to seeing His will fulfilled no matter what the personal cost might be.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

But God

One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Genesis 50:20 and it contains two powerful words that I find myself meditating on quite often. Joseph has survived the plan of his brothers to bring him harm and has saved his family through his position in Egypt. When his brothers become afraid of what Joseph might now do to them they approach him and try to make sure they will be safe. Joseph's response is one built on an understanding of who God is and how He works through all circumstances. He simply tells them that they intended to do him harm, but God (emphasis mine) intended it for good.

There is power in recognizing that God has greater plans than our current circumstances. I find comfort in knowing that God can work beyond my own shortcomings and sin to bring His plan to completion. I can gain strength in the knowledge that nothing that is done to me through the choices of others can supersede the divine plans of the King. There is peace for my own anxious soul when I dwell on the words "but God" and know that if I obediently trust Him my path will be made straight.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Season of Change

In my experience, people spend more time in prayer when things are not going well as opposed to when everything seems to be acceptable. It could be a prayer for health, improved relationships, better finances, or specific needs, but there is no doubt that they increase when we need things changed. We know that God is capable of doing all things and that nothing is impossible for Him. There is no need that is greater than His ability to provide. Far too often, however, we can eagerly seek God's answer to our prayers and then see our own prayer life fade away until the next crisis/need.

Perhaps we would have a greater connection to God and see His work in each facet of our lives if we changed the focus of our prayers. Instead of seeking His power to change the circumstances we are facing, why don't we ask God to change our hearts instead? Not only would that radically redefine our perspective on what is temporal, I would wager it would influence our communities in a way that would open a pathway to communicate the true redeeming power of the Holy Spirit.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bright Light

One of the toughest leadership lessons that I have taught (and had to learn as well) is that a leader will have to learn to be a follower as well. We can't always be the one who is steering the ship and determining our course, but we can have great impact by following the one that God has placed in that role.

Several years ago I was leading one of the annual trips to the American Indian Christian Mission in Show Low, Arizona with a group of high schoolers from Florida. I look at these trips as a chance to bless those that we go to minister to, but to also use the opportunity to invest in our team members. One afternoon we were engaged in a leadership game that required them to figure out a task. I had used this multiple times in different settings and the task usually took about 15 minutes to complete. On this particular trip, however, we had at least 10 very strong leaders (and several other quiet ones) which made the task much more difficult than it had to be. I offered no suggestions, but simply watched as this simple task was still not complete one hour later. While their frustrations were mounting I simply sat back and watched. When I realized we had reached a breaking point, I stepped in to tell them one of the toughest leadership lessons: lead by following. I then picked one of our quietest leaders and told them to take charge and that no one else was allowed to speak. They finished their task in under 10 minutes and the point was made.

Even though I feel that I have a better grasp on this concept than I once did, I still struggle with making this happen. Some very wise people who have invested in my life over the years have helped me to see the truth of not always having to speak the answer to situations or direct people exactly where everything should go. It is a difference of wanting to get things done or investing in the people around you so that everybody grows as a result.

This was all brought home to be today through a blog by Seth Godin where he wrote, "One option is to struggle to be heard whenever you're in the room. Another option is to be the sort of person who is missed when you're not. The first involves making noise. The second involves making a difference."

I have made a lot of noise in my life. I am working hard every day in prayer, study, and action to make a difference.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Good Enough for Now

It's easy to become a slave to seeking what is next. While I am a firm believer in searching for God's vision for life, I think that we can sometimes get caught looking too far ahead and forget about what is happening around us in the present. It's an interesting tension to manage. As a leader I believe that we are called to actively seek out God's will for our futures. We must also trust in His ability to provide for this moment and to take time to revel in each day as He gifts it to us.

We should not stop asking God for more wisdom, direction, blessing, and opportunity. There is a certain peace that can be found in being content with where He has us in life now, and dwelling in the midst of the work that He is already doing in each of us. It's a constant reminder that God's plan will always prevail and that as we mature and are obedient He will reveal it in His timing.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Building Project

A home is only as strong as its foundation. You can build whatever you want on a poor structure and the entire thing will collapse at some point. When we choose to follow Christ our foundation is built, but not by us. It is a gift from the King and is secure and reliable.

A foundation, though, is not a complete building, but is the anticipation of one. We trust in God initially to provide the firm basis for us to begin with, but we must then get to work to construct the rest. It is done through God's power in & through us, but requires sweat and spiritual equity on our part. It takes a vision of what we want to look like and humility to let God tweak the design as His perfect will sees fit to do. When we are striving to work with God in the midst of this, it is a symbiotic relationship that develops a structure that will withstand anything this world throws at us and will bring about confident fulfillment as we eagerly take part in seeing God's design in each of us.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mental Stretching

While I am a creature of habit and routine, I also need to vary that structure on occasion or I find myself falling into a rut that leads to a desperate lack of creativity. One of my favorite authors, Mark Batterson, says it best: change of pace + change of place = change of perspective. I used to make sure that this happened on a regular basis when I was working in Florida, but have not done nearly as well here in Georgia. When I do manage to shake things up I am almost always rewarded with stimulating thoughts and dialogue.

I managed to escape from the church office this afternoon and planned on having about an hour to read and think over coffee at Starbucks. I was there about 30 minutes alone before a good friend and colleague came in to meet someone else. The three of us ended up talking for about an hour about vision, strengths, leadership, reading, and our futures. It was an extremely rewarding time for me and reminds me of the need to seek out divine appointments on a regular basis. It is also affirmation of one of my strengths-investing in people-and the fulfillment that I gain when I can operate within that strength.

I have been reminded lately (especially today) of the need to invest in my strengths. There are things that have to be done in ministry (or in any leadership position) that require us to work outside of our naturally gifted areas. I would wager that we will be the most fulfilled and most effective, however, when we can spend time sharpening the gifts that God has given to each of us.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Get the Message

As I read through the Bible this year, I have decided to read from The Message. I have used this version many different times in preaching and enjoy the different perspective it brings for me. As I started this morning, I read an essay by Andrew Peterson (author of this version) that shared the concept of Read, Think, Pray, Live. This isn't the first time that I have heard this from him, but it is something I have been meditating on all day long. 

I strongly believe in the authoritative power of God's Word for our lives. I have no doubt in my mind at all about its complete accuracy and the ability of that Word to create a tension that can only be resolved through the power of the Holy Spirit. In spite of my confidence in the veracity of the Word and God's ability to reveal His true nature through it, I sometimes struggle with maintaining my firm commitment to reading & applying it. I find myself getting distracted or even (dare I say it?) bored as I read through the year. It can lead to periods of time when I am reading for the sake of reading and no life transformation or powerful revelation seems to occur. 

Dwelling on Peterson's challenge of Read, Think, Pray, Live narrows my focus to what is important and is something that can be encouraging to anyone. We don't necessarily have to figure it all out as we sit there. There doesn't have to be a resounding chorus of angels singing as we read it. What will happen as we follow those four words is that we will be striving to put into practice (in our flawed & mistake-filled fashion) what we read, and trusting God to guide us as we trust Him. Those four actions will identify us as Christ followers who are committed to studying the Scriptures, letting our mind work around them, seeking God's wisdom, and then taking action. 

I'd like to see what would happen when a local church is filled with people committed to doing just that.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Magic Telescope

As silly as it sounds, (and since I have daughters with incredible imaginations and goofiness galore I feel that I am an expert on silly) I often find myself wishing that I had a device that would let me look into the future and then take me to it even quicker. I wish that I had something that would allow me to see how the decisions that I make today will affect my family in the near and distant future. I would love to be able to see how difficult things are going to work out (or not work out) to relieve anxiety. Who wouldn't love to have the ability to see the exact results of what they are doing now or where they will be in five years and be able to jump right to those improvements?

Instead I am faced with the daily choice of trusting God and putting my faith in His providence. I am learning to be content with knowing that if I desire to change my position and my character that I must make a choice to be that person. Nothing will be handed to me without my contributing effort and faithful perseverance. I must envision the man that I want to be at the end of this year and then choose each day to be that man. If I want to be a more faithful follower of Christ then I will pray, read, and serve like a more faithful follower. If my desire is to be a better husband and father then I will start today to speak the words, meditate on the thoughts, and form the habits of that man. When I feel that God is leading me to be a stronger and more positive leader, I will begin to act today as if that is already the true nature of who I am.

In actuality, my confidence in God's vision for my life and my disciplined obedience in seeing it fulfilled is a magic telescope of its own. It won't bring any shortcuts to my future, but in choosing to actively follow Christ each day I can be confident that I will arrive at the destination that God has set out before me.