Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Just another year?

   Well, it's that time of year again. You know the drill. We all look at the calendar, watching as yet another year comes to a close, looking hopefully toward the year to come.

   If you're anything like me, you'll usually spend a good amount of time between Christmas and New Year's Eve thinking about what you'd like to do differently this year. You'll look at the bad habits you'd like to break, and you'll look at some good habits you'd like to do more of.

   They say that most of the health club memberships that are purchased in this country are sold between late December and early January. While I'm a firm believer in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, I would guess that the vast majority of those memberships fall by the wayside before mid-February. How do I know this? I've purchased a few myself.

   The craziest part is that, as months passed and I wasn't going to the gym at all, I refused to cancel my membership for at least the remainder of the year. Why? Because, in my own twisted little form of self-motivation, I assumed that having to pay every month would eventually frustrate me to the point that I'd return to the gym. Maybe my logic was even more twisted than that. Maybe there were times when I believed that paying the membership fee every month while receiving no benefit from it was the exact punishment I deserved for breaking my New Year's resolution.

   Those of you who are laughing the hardest after reading the previous paragraph are clearly guilty of the same.

   Regardless of whether it's health club memberships, or diet plans, or savings plans, or whatever we see as the most pressing issue in need of being resolved in our lives, our view is usually very narrow. We see a problem, and we want to fix it. We know what the "fix" is, and we resolve to do that very thing.

   More often than not, we make a valiant effort to succeed. We'll usually last for a period of time, and do well with it while the determination remains. But for most of us, we'll eventually fall into the same bad habits we've had before.

   When you think of a resolution you'd like to make this year, what would it be? What's your number one concern heading into the new year? What has been your number one concern heading into previous years?

   Last year at this time, I made a relatively vague, but extremely important New Year's resolution. After experiencing all that I've been through over the past year, I have no choice but to look back and see it as being the starting point.

   I resolved that, last year, I would do everything within my power to move as close to God as I possibly could. I resolved that I would no longer make any excuses for myself, but would instead seek Him out in every aspect of my life.

   Funny thing about making resolutions like that...God hears you when you do.

   What followed for me was an absolute whirlwind of a year, breaking me free from a commonplace, day to day life that wasn't truly living, but which was instead merely existing. I was literally ripped from my comfortable, uneventful, boring little world I had created for myself, and was thrown into a world where nothing was certain, nothing was familiar, and nothing was the same.

   I was brought to a place where - in the very midst of my own confusion, frustration and uncertainty of a life that had seemingly been thrown up for grabs - I was actually being led to accomplish a number of things I had previously believed were nearly impossible.

   What I learned - not merely from head knowledge, but from practical experience - is that, with God, nothing is impossible.

   The only way that I can rightly describe it would be to say that the Lord Himself reached down, picked me up by the scruff of the neck, and then sat me down face to face with Him, showing me in great detail where I was going wrong, what I needed to correct, and in the end, how much He loved me.

   There are two very distinct truths that one realizes when God draws them that close. First, no matter how good, moral, beautiful, intelligent, or talented we may believe we are, we are absolutely nothing without God. Secondly, when we have too high of an opinion of ourselves just before coming face to face with Him, we would be wise to humble ourselves first. If we don't, He has no problem humbling us.

   The man I am today is a completely different man than the one who sat here one year ago. Why? Because it's absolutely impossible to come that close to God without being changed forever.

   Do you want to make a New Year's resolution that will forever change the course of your life? Resolve to move closer to the Lord, to seek Him with far greater determination than ever before, and then wake up every morning, praying desperately to ask Him to show you how. Ask Him to show you His presence in your life, and prepare to be amazed.

   If you do these things, remaining determined to draw more near to God to the best of your ability each day, I can absolutely guarantee that you'll find yourself sitting here at this time next year, being absolutely blown away by the year you have just experienced.

   I don't say these things lightly. Experiencing this type of closeness with God can be terrifying. It can strip us down to absolute nothing. It can bring about changes that we never would've expected, and quite possibly never would've wanted. But in the end, when the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared, we reach a place where see more than ever before, understand more than ever before, and can be blessed by God in way we've never imagined possible.

    For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?  And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life?  And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin,  yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!  Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."  - Matthew 6:25-33


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Good things in small packages

    "But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people;  for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

Glory to God in the highest,And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”" Luke 2:10-14
   And with that, the history of mankind would be changed forever.
   The Lord; Creator of all things from the beginning of time, would give a sign to the people, declaring to them the greatest news mankind would ever be given. And what was this sign?
   A baby...in a manger...in a barn. 
   If you're anything like me, it's hard for you to wrap your mind around how the smallest of things - when done the way that God is able to use them - can develop into moments that forever change the course of human history.
   Those were some very dark times in Israel's history. They were occupied by a brutal Roman regime that, not long after this event, had every male child under two years of age brutally murdered in an effort to kill Jesus before he could ever be referred to as "King."
   I'm quite certain that many of those who were devoted to God during that time prayed regularly, asking Him to destroy this evil empire that was oppressing them. From what had been written in the scriptures, they believed that the "Messiah" who was to come would be a mighty warrior who would destroy the enemies of Israel and lead their nation into greatness once again.
   They, like most of us, had an extremely limited vision of what God had in mind for His people. Since the Romans were the enemy that was currently oppressing them, they saw their deliverance from Roman rule and authority as being the very highest priority, and they believed that surely this is what the prophecies spoke of when describing this "One" who was to come.
   But He didn't come onto the scene as a warrior. He came as a baby...in a manger...in a barn.
   And He didn't come to free them from the Romans, but instead from a far greater enemy; one who would oppress and attack every single person on the planet throughout the history of mankind, doing everything within his power to keep us from knowing the magnificence and beauty of being given a life that can be used by the Lord Himself to change the world around us in ways we never dreamed possible.
   We can get lost sometimes looking at the biggest problems we seem to be facing at the moment, can't we? The problems we face within our own lives can completely destroy our ability to step back and look at the big picture. They can leave us feeling absolutely hopeless at times, entirely drained of the joy we're supposed to be experiencing from our walk of faith.
   During those times, when you're feeling as though everything seems to be crashing down around you, how do you look for God? How do you expect to find Him?
   I'll be the first to confess that I sometimes have a very hard time waiting upon God. I become impatient when I can't seem to see any progress. I'll read verses like Isaiah 40:31:
"Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary."
   ...and I'll say to myself; "Alright...well...I've been waiting for...like...five hours. Nothing has happened. I need to strap these wings on myself and jump off of this cliff already."
   Maybe it's not five hours. Maybe it's five weeks, or five months, of even five years, and still, nothing has changed. What then?
   It's then that I need to step back and look for God in the small things.
   It's then that I need to just take the next step, making sure that step is the right one. After that, I'll take another. Do I know which one of my steps is the one that the Lord will use in ways I never imagined possible? Do I know how He is weaving all of those seemingly meaningless steps into a glorious tapestry I never would've imagined? No.
   All that I know is this:
   He changed the entire course of human history with a baby...in a manger...in a barn.
   Wherever you are in your life, don't lose hope. After all, God often works through the little things, and not one little thing you do in following Him goes unnoticed by Him. Our God is the God of miracles. Take one more step of faith. Believe for one more year, one more month, one more week, one more day, or even just one more hour. Take the next step, whatever you believe is the right step to take, and then take another one. Only God knows where all of those steps will eventually lead.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What's in a Christmas carol?

   Of all the Christmas carols I've heard throughout the course of my life, I believe that "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is one of my favorites. I've never known why, other than I've always thought it was a beautiful song.

    As I looked at the song more carefully, what I found were the words of a man who was calling upon his God to draw near, while at the same time, encouraging his people that they have not been forgotten by that same God. It not only looks back to the very birth of Jesus Christ, but also looks forward to His eventual return. For those of you who aren't aware, the name "Emmanuel" is translated "God with us."

"O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice ! Rejoice !
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny ;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.
Rejoice ! Rejoice ! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel."

   Is there a depth of emotion and meaning behind these words which is far deeper than you had imagined?

   Looking at the remainder of the lyrics, it is a soulful cry of a man who's looking out at the world around him, and sees a very deep need for God to move within it - first bringing salvation to the individual, and second to free the world from the evil we find within it.

   When we look at the world around us, do we not see the very same thing? We're being told that we're becoming so much more "enlightened," and yet - at the same time - the vast majority of us would agree that world as a whole seems to be spinning completely out of control. Evil - however you care to describe it - seems to be increasing - not decreasing as one might expect to find with the world becoming more and more enlightened.

   As Christians, we believe that the only way this world will be set right again and find real, genuine, lasting peace, will be when Jesus Christ Himself returns to set it right. We believe this will occur, and we don't apologize for that belief. We look forward to it. We yearn for it.

   I fully understand how someone who doesn't share those beliefs would have the impression that any group of people who are sitting around waiting for some mysterious God to appear and make things right again must be delusional at best.

   I would ask those who have that opinion one question: When you look out at all of the chaos, mayhem, and evil going on in the world right now - When you look at all of the hunger, starvation, sickness, and disease - When you see all of the war, bloodshed, and injustice that surrounds us, wouldn't you love to believe that there really was a God who's plan was to return someday and make all things right again?

   So, if we do believe that Jesus will return at some point in order to set things right, what should we do in the meantime? Are we to sit on our hands, shaking our heads and pouting over how bad things appear to be? No.

   As Christians, we are to do what we were called to do from the very beginning. We are to be the light of the world. We are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless. We are to love those around us. We are to forgive. We are to offer hope to the hopeless. We are - in short - to be the reflection of the very image of Christ in the midst of a very dark, dangerous world.

   When Jesus walked the earth, the crowds flocked to him. They came from miles away to hear him speak, to be taught by him, to be healed, and to be freed from whatever might have been oppressing them.

   What if we - while waiting for His return - became that very same thing to the people around us? What if we - like the writer of this song did - called upon our God to make His presence known in the lives of others, while at the same time reassuring them that they have not been forgotten?

   What if we - in the midst of all of the madness - were able to bring comfort to those around us by simply reminding them of the words spoken to them by Jesus Himself?

  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

O come, O come Emmanuel.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What we don't know...

      Can you think of anything being a greater test of a child's desire to be good rather than bad than being asked to go to bed on the night before Christmas, and to then stay there through the entire night, not climbing out of bed to take a quick peek under the tree and maybe peel the corner of the wrapping paper off of one or two gifts?

      Worse yet, how do the early risers among us resist the temptation to start opening their gifts before anyone else is awake? I say that a purer form of self-control does not exist anywhere on the planet.

      If any of you were like me as a child, you became pretty crafty within the month of December, looking in closets, under beds, and anywhere else you thought that your gifts might be hidden before being wrapped. And if you were anything like me, you also remember how different opening those gifts felt if you had already somehow discovered what they were. Sure, you may still have been happy about what you had received, but the vast majority of the excitement was gone. At that point, tearing off the paper became more of simply going through the motions than anything else.

      Again, if any of you are like me, you'd have to admit that you sometimes approach your walk of faith much the same way as you would a pile of presents, stacked neatly under the tree on Christmas morning.

      You see, we sometimes like to have our walk of faith - and the events that will occur within that walk - to be stacked neatly in front of us. We want to know what all of them are before they are opened, and we want to open them in the order we believe they should be opened. We want all of them tied up in neat, tightly wrapped packages with a bow upon them. We don't want to see any loose ends. We don't want to see any messy packages. Most of all, we want every one of them to make us feel happy, joyful, and blessed as we open them.

      In Luke 1, we read the story of Mary being met by the angel Gabriel to inform her of the Lord's plan for Jesus to be born of her. At that very moment in time, it was as though an enormous pile of gifts were placed before her, all of which were to be opened at the appropriate time. While a few of the major details were explained, there was far more that she simply didn't know. Some of what she would be asked to open would cause her more pain and heartache than most of us have ever experienced. Her faith being what it was, she accepted all of it as the good and acceptable will of God, and was then obedient in all she was told to do.

      While it can only be mere speculation on my part to do so, I can't help but to wonder if she would've still agreed had she been informed of the incredible heartache she would experience 33 years later.

      As I think about the many different stops of faith my own walk has led me through, I wonder how many of those packages I would've joyfully ripped into had I known what I would find inside. Had I been allowed to peel the corner of the paper back before the time had arrived for me to open some of those packages, would I still have opened them, or would I have tried to hide them under the tree, or changed the name tag so somebody else would be forced to open them?

      Speaking for myself, I can look back over the course of my life and see many "packages" I was eager and excited to open, only to be badly hurt or disappointed by what I found inside. I can also look back and see many packages I would've wanted no part of, but which were ultimately used by God to change for the better who I was as a follower of Christ.

      To some extent, I believe that we all want to know how many of the events we'll face in life will turn out before we decide whether or not we want to open those packages. But more often than not, the beauty can only be found when we don't know - when we open what's been placed before us with great expectation and excitement, because we know that all we've been given comes from the Lord, and whether we can see it now or not, "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  - Romans 8:28

      You see, as much as we'd like to peek into the future, it's almost always better that we simply don't know, because it's only then that we can walk in genuine faith, and as we were intended to do so, one day at a time, being obedient in our walk, and fully trusting the Lord with the final outcome.

Monday, July 7, 2014

When God Breaks Our Hearts

   Have you ever found yourself in a place where you are hurting so badly you can't even stand? When the emotional pain you are feeling is so deep and intense you find it hard to even breathe? When the tears flow from your eyes so vigorously, regularly and endlessly that you wonder if they'll ever cease? When you find yourself doubled over, your gut wrenching uncontrollably, crying out to God and begging him to make the pain go away? When you feel as though you'd rather have your life here on earth be over with so that you could get on with spending eternity in heaven instead of living through one more day with the pain you're feeling?

   Maybe you've been there in the past. Maybe you're there now. Maybe you're about to go through an experience such as this in the future. If you are there now, my heart goes out to you, and it's my hope that the words I'm about to write will bring you some comfort in your difficult time.

   If it helps you at all, I will begin by saying that I experienced this very recently, and now that the dust has settled and the smoke has cleared, I can see the lessons that God was showing me through the pain. They were very difficult lessons that needed to be learned, and the only way I could've learned them was to be brought to my knees, seeking the Lord desperately. Did I enjoy the pain? Not in the least. Did it make me question everything? Absolutely. Did it make me wonder at times if God was even there? Yes.

   Here's what I learned through this experience: God's number one priority for our lives is that we seek him above all things, that we love him with all of our hearts, all of our minds, and all of our strength. That we put nothing, and nobody, before him.

   That may sound cold, uncaring and legalistic - especially in the midst of our profoundly deep pain, when all we want is for that pain to go away - but it's not. In fact, it's the exact opposite. You see, the Lord knows that the most beautiful life we can ever experience begins with our seeking him first, above all things.

   People love to quote Jeremiah 29:11 to friends who are suffering.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

   While these words are absolutely true, and while they can definitely encourage those who are hurting, people usually don't mention the context within which those words were written. The Lord had just exiled the people of Israel to Babylon. They had lost everything - their homes, their loved ones, and their possessions. Why did he bring this upon them? Because their hearts had turned from him. They had placed their hope and their confidence in the blessings that God had given them as opposed to putting their hope in their God. They had worshipped many idols. They had grown to love the gifts more than the Giver. The Lord was not their "first love."

   This might not be the case in your life, but it was the case in mine. Regardless of what may have been true to your experience, the bottom line is this: Your relationship with the Lord is his number one priority, and if he has allowed intense emotional pain to enter your life, it is being used by him in an effort to draw you deeper into that relationship. It is being used to help you long for his presence. It is being used to deepen your knowledge of him, and to deepen your love for him. It is the basis behind Jesus' first words on the Sermon on the Mount.

   "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."

   There is nothing on earth that will drive us to a place of mourning or poorness of spirit more than to experience having our hearts broken by God. When God breaks our hearts, he does so thoroughly and completely. If in the midst of this excruciating pain we seek him with all of our hearts, then end result will always be one of repentance, followed by restoration, followed by a far greater understanding of his love for us as well as the grace he offers us. You see, he does not do this to be cruel or sadistic. He's not a cold, uncaring God just waiting for us to screw up so he can drop the hammer on us. He's a loving, gracious, kind, life-giving, caring God who wants us to fully experience the limitless blessings he wants to bestow upon us.

   It is only when we feel the full weight of our own sinfulness that we can fully appreciate the grace of God, and the only way we can hope to experience his grace and restoration is by first repenting of the sins that have caused distance between he and us. There are times in all of our lives when we begin to place our hope in people, places, or things. God always wants us to find all of our hope in him alone. Sometimes he will remove the very things we believed were the most precious to us, or which have given us our greatest sense of security, because it is the only way we will reach the place where our relationship with him and love for him becomes the most precious thing to us. If we have placed our hope, faith, or security in anything or anyone other than him, we have sinned.

   "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." - Matthew 6:33

   If God is breaking your heart, please, draw near to him with all of your heart, with all of your mind, and with all of your strength. Trust him through the pain, even if it makes no sense to you right now. He will show you things you've never seen before. He will speak to you in truth, in love, and in words of lovingkindness. And please hold on to this hope: The life he is leading you into through this pain is far more beautiful than any life you could ever hope to experience.  


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What is Heaven Like?

     There can be no doubt about it, this is a fascinating question. We've all seen many pictures, movies, paintings, etc., designed to give us some type of glimpse into the afterlife, and what we might be able to expect upon our arrival.

    Having never been there myself, it would be quite difficult for me to offer a detailed description. Sure, I could send you to bible verses which would give you a general idea of what heaven is like, but that really wouldn't help very much. Why? Well, have you ever gone somewhere exceptionally beautiful for a vacation, then returned and tried to explain what it looked like to someone who had never been there? It's impossible, isn't it? Even if you have the ability to pull out 100's of photographs to show them what you had seen, the conversation always ends the same way, doesn't it? You realize that they're not really 'getting it,' so you say something like "You'd really have to see it for yourself to appreciate it."

   If that's the case when trying to describe some relatively meaningless vacation destination, how much more would that apply to the place none of us have seen, but which was created specifically for us so that we might enjoy spending eternity there in the presence of God?

   So, why would I write a blog asking "What is Heaven Like?, and then offer no description of heaven within it?

   Because eternal perspective is an incredibly powerful thing, and the first answer that comes to mind when you ask yourself that question is already having a major impact upon the life you choose to lead here on earth. Think I'm wrong? Consider the following:

   If you have no belief that heaven exists; that it's all just a fairytale, you will live a life that is completely void of any need to live in ways that are pleasing to God. You may be an honest, law-abiding citizen. You may help the needy and feed the hungry. You might be a great neighbor. But you will not feel any desire whatsoever to know who God is.

   If you believe that heaven is a wonderful place where all of us go (Unless you're Charlie Manson or John Wayne Gacy) then you will feel no need to explore a deeper relationship with Christ, because after all, you haven't killed anyone, right?

   These are both lies thrown at the world by the enemy himself, and both will lead to an eternity far from the heaven you might be seeking. But there's another danger I've been seeing in recent years. It's very subtle, but it's a natural conclusion drawn from what we've all been told about who we are as people over the past few decades. I've watched as it has woven itself into nearly every aspect of the church world, and through the mindset of many believers within the church.

   It's all about us.

   When asked the question "What is Heaven like?" how many of you immediately had thoughts about what you would do there, or who you would see, or how you would feel? How many of you thought about what your new body would look like? If your old pets would be there?

   Here's the thing, friends: Heaven isn't about us. It's all about God. It's about spending eternity in His presence, not because we did wonderful things that were deserving of such a great honor, but by the grace of God himself.

   That's what the entire bible is about, from cover to cover. God is the most holy, powerful, and magnificent God. He, not us, has every right to decide who will spend eternity with him, and who will not.

   The incredibly loving, compassionate side of God can also be found here, because he didn't set up some kind of 'survival of the fittest' competition to determine who will be there and who won't. He only asks these things of us: That we know him and love him with all of our heart, all of our mind, and all of our strength. That we would believe in Jesus Christ - who was God in the flesh, and who died as a perfect sacrifice for every sin we might ever commit - and that we would give him his rightful place as Lord of our lives.

   If we truly believe all of these things, we will spend eternity in a place far more beautiful than anything we've ever seen, and in the presence of a God who loves us more than we could ever imagine. Not because we deserve to be there due to anything we've done, but because he extended his grace to us, allowing us to join him there in spite of all we've done. And what's more, we are also given the great honor of being guided, directed, protected, and used by him here on earth in ways we never dreamed possible.

   So tell me, if that is what you believe heaven is like, what would that change about how you live today?





Friday, May 30, 2014

No Fear

   My father was, by all human standards, an enormous man, standing 6'4" and weighing in at around 260 lbs. He was very much "old school," as we like to say. He spent a good amount of his adult life working as a bartender, and during that time had bounced a good number of angry men out of them.

   The one thing that everyone who knew him well would say is that, when his temper flared up, the best thing anyone could do would be to simply get out of his way. He was one of those men who, once he decided it was time to put somebody in their place, there would be no stopping him.

   I understood this about him for as long as I can remember. I can recall being just 5 years old, looking at this monster of a man towering over me, and knowing full well that if he wanted to remove me from this planet, there would be nothing I could do to stop him from doing so.

   From my perspective, the thing that balanced out this very real fear of him was the knowledge that he loved me, as well as the love I had for him. There were a number of times within an angry episode that I truly believed he was very close to running over me like a freight train, but he never did. He was completely capable of doing so, and there were times when he would've had every right to, given my behavior at the time, but he stopped himself. Why did he stop? It was because of 2 reasons........love and grace. It's not that he wasn't extremely angry, or that my actions weren't deserving of severe punishment. It was that, somewhere deep inside of him, he loved me enough to show the kind of restraint that he would never show a grown man who was acting the fool in a bar where he was working. I was his son, so I was shown mercy and grace in the midst of my failures.

   With all of that being said, I never felt as though it would be wise to rub that in his face. I never once felt the urge to question his authority or ignore his warnings. Why didn't I? It was entirely due to the fear I had of what he was capable of doing to me had he chosen to act upon his anger. I knew that openly rebelling against him would lead to my rapid demise, and whether I agreed with him or not, I knew that my wisest course of action would be to show him the respect he deserved as my father.

   There are countless bible verses that refer to God as our Father, and while it may seem impossible to compare my imperfect father with our heavenly Father, the relationship itself is very much the same. That being taken into consideration, I look around the world these days and I'm finding myself increasingly terrified by what I'm seeing.

   God is still God, but just as a foolish, rebellious son would step into the face of his father with an immature sense of arrogance and a belief that he has far more control over the situation than he really does, I see a great number of people in this country and across the globe who are shaking their fists in the face of God, almost daring him to act. I see God being openly mocked in the media, on social networks, and in the public squares. I see sinful lifestyles being not only accepted, but also being celebrated as something worthy of respect and admiration.

   I'm hearing no talk of sin, guilt, or repentance.

   I'm hearing no talk of how God is a God who is to be loved, respected, honored and feared. Yes......feared.

   We, as a nation, have decided that God has no place in our schools, in our courthouses, in our government, or in our laws. There are those who will even go as far as to boldly proclaim that there is no God, and that those who believe that he exists are uneducated, bigoted, ignorant believers of fairy tales.

   But God is still God.

   This may be something that causes some of you to become very angry, but I'm compelled to speak the truth. If any of you believe for one second that God is either incapable or uninterested in bringing this country to it's knees in judgment due to our arrogance toward him and our continual and consistent disrespect of his laws, think again. Even the most basic review of the history of Israel will show you a very different truth.

   Am I saying that I believe that God may be on the very brink of bringing this nation to it's knees? As I look around, I believe that he's already begun to do so. Our economy is in shambles, our schools are failing miserably, our children are becoming increasingly disrespectful, our families are falling apart, our reputation in the eyes of the rest of the world is at it's lowest point in the past 100 years, and every generation of political leaders we're given the choice of electing is more inept and corrupt than the preceding one.

   So, what is the answer? There is only one.

   ".......... if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." 2 Chronicles 7:14

   Many of us have heard that promise, and we've found great comfort in that, but what is rarely taught are the verses that follow:

   “But if you turn away and forsake the decrees and commands I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot Israel from my land, which I have given them, and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name. I will make it a byword and an object of ridicule among all peoples. This temple will become a heap of rubble. All who pass by will be appalled and say, ‘Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this temple?’  People will answer, ‘Because they have forsaken the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who brought them out of Egypt, and have embraced other gods, worshiping and serving them—that is why he brought all this disaster on them.’”

   If we read on about what actually occurred in the history of Israel following these writings, we will find that they turned away from God and yes, he completely destroyed them as a nation. Yes, he loved them, but this God we like to see as being our buddy, our pal, and our friend is also a Most Holy God who demands our respect. His mercy and grace can never be seen as weakness or indifference toward our sins. He is the creator of all things, and the sustainer of all things. He will not be mocked, and if he has allowed us to exist as the greatest, wealthiest, most powerful country in the history of the world, he has done so because it was his will to do so. But at any given moment, if his mercy and grace toward us reaches it's limit, we're done, and there will be nothing we can do to stop it.

   So I have to ask, where do we see this nation going? Are we a nation that's willing and able to humble ourselves and pray? I surely hope so.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

What Does God Want From Us?

   When we look around us and begin to narrow things down to their most basic level, what are the things that appear to be most important to us?

   Sure, our priorities can change from time to time due to our circumstances. If we're ill, we might feel as though getting healthy again is our #1 priority. If we're struggling to make ends meet, finding a better job or career might be the first thing that comes to mind. If we're in school, making it through the current semester with a reasonably good GPA might be it.

   But as we look back over the course of our lives, or when we look at what we'd most like to have in the future, what would be the one thing we'd most like see evidence of above anything else?

   Wouldn't it be to know that we are truly and deeply loved by those who are closest to us? I mean, when the chips are down and everything seems to be falling apart, what is the one thing that can carry us through the hard times? Isn't it love?

   Feeling a strong, deep, profound sense of love toward one another - and from one another - is the only thing that will cause us to make multiple and continual choices that can forever change the course of our lives. When we think about everything we'd be willing to endure due to the love we feel for our children, our spouses, or our friends, it's absolutely clear that love is the most driving motivational force we'll ever experience.

   On the flip side, if we're not feeling a true sense of deep, profound, unconditional love from others, the longing we all have to experience it can cause us to make absolutely horrible choices in an effort to obtain it.

   Since I'm fairly convinced that you're all in agreement with the above, I'd like to now point out something that - if we can truly wrap our minds about it - can forever alter the course of our lives.

   Back in Genesis, during the creation story, what was said about the creation of man and woman?

   "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness........" Genesis 1:26

   As we read this, wouldn't it be reasonable to conclude that if we truly were made in the image of God, and in his likeness, then God must also love us very deeply and wants to know that we love him as he loves us? If that seems like a bit of a stretch to you, listen to Jesus' words when he was asked what the most important commandment was.

    "One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." Matthew 22:35-37

   Here's where most people who want no part of Christianity get completely lost: They tend to believe that God puts this long list of do's and don'ts in front of us, and then tells us that if we don't live up to his standard of living, we can never be worthy of heaven and are therefore condemned.

   But consider this for just a moment: If we first believe that God is real, that he loved us so much that he sent his only son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins so that we may be forgiven and have our relationship restored with him, and then love him in return because he first loved us more than we could possibly comprehend, that list of do's and don'ts doesn't become some overwhelming standard of living that we could never possibly live up to. In fact, it instead begins to resemble very closely the things we naturally do when we love our children, our spouses, or our friends. The way we begin to think about the decisions we make on a daily basis - in relation to how those decisions might impact the people we love - just naturally changes from one of serving our own self-interests to one of self-sacrifice.

   Think that through for a moment. When you first met the man or woman you fell madly in love with, how many things changed for you in relation to how you wanted to live and act from that point forward? If you're a parent, how did holding your child for the very first time forever change the way you looked at the priorities in your life? You can't possibly deny the fact that feeling such a deep sense of love changed you forever.

   Just as is true with our closest of relationships, our relationship with Jesus Christ should forever change the way that we view our priorities in life. We don't avoid doing or saying certain things because we want to gain his love, we do so simply because we love him and we would never want to do or say anything that would harm the relationship we already have with him.

   So, what does God want from us? It's very simple. He wants us to love him. If we can do that, everything else just simply falls into place.



Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How much are you worth?

   I can remember when I was 18.......Way back in the stone age.....When we used to have to write letters with chisels on stone tablets.

   I had just enlisted in the Navy, and I was leaving for boot camp. I was feeling many mixed emotions at the time. I was a little frightened by what I might experience in the whole boot camp environment. After all, I had heard many horror stories about such things. But there was no turning back at this point. I had already signed all of the paperwork, and for all intents and purposes, the government would own me for the next 4 years.

   What drove me to enlist was a number of different factors, but the bottom line was that I simply didn't feel loved, appreciated, or important to anyone where I was. I felt as though my family had discarded me, some of my closest friends wanted nothing to do with me, and worst of all, I had just split up with a girlfriend who I was madly in love with. I needed to get away and start again somewhere new, and the Navy offered me the opportunity to "see the world" as they put it.

   I made it through boot camp, through my schooling, and was assigned to my ship, the U.S.S. McKee, stationed in San Diego, California. I worked very hard to get there, being near the top of my classes, and once I arrived, I quickly gained the favor of those who were in command of my shop. They realized that I was a hard worker, willing to do whatever they asked of me, so they assigned me to their best Petty Officers to assist them in completing some of the more difficult, important jobs we were given to do.

   While there, I began to feel a sense of value and purpose that I had never felt before. I wasn't being told that I was lazy and useless, as my father had told me far too many times. I was valuable to them, and they treated me accordingly. That felt very good, but it was very short-lived. In time, I came to realize that - in reality - I wasn't any more valuable than the next guy. I was, in their eyes, a very replaceable part amid hundreds of other replaceable parts.

   I was in a better place than where I came from, but it still felt empty. I didn't feel truly valuable anymore.

   As the years went by, I found myself attempting to find the value in myself that had always eluded me. I looked for it in relationships, friendships, various jobs, as a father, etc.. I excelled in the workplace, I excelled as a musician, playing in various bands. But in the end, none of this ever made me feel truly valuable.

   It wasn't until I was 47 years old that I finally found it. Due to a number of various circumstances that couldn't possibly be explained away as coincidence, I began to feel as though God was reaching out to me. I began to pray about this, and started the journey of seeking him out. My two greatest passions throughout my entire life had been writing and playing music, and God began to use my talents and abilities in those areas within my church. Doors began to open for me that had never been opened before, and I stepped through them in faith, asking God to lead me, direct me, and empower the gifts and abilities he had given with his Spirit.

   The results were incredible, and like nothing I had ever experienced before. I found myself on a stage in front of my church, playing my guitar while watching a large group of people singing their hearts out to Jesus, tears in their eyes. To be a part of creating an environment where people were so incredibly moved and passionate about what they were feeling was the most moving experience I had ever felt. I knew that I'd rather experience that than to play at Madison Square Garden.

   I then began to write this blog, which has now been viewed over 6,000 times, in 36 different countries, across all 6 continents.

   I had been writing throughout my entire life, and I had been playing music throughout my entire life, and I had never experienced anything even close to what I was seeing happen since giving those gifts to God and asking him to empower them through his Spirit.

   Without that empowerment, these were merely hobbies, but with that empowerment, they became tools in the hand of God, and I began to see the beautiful work only he could do through them.

   So, what did this give me? Value. The value I had never felt at anytime in my life before this. After all, there is nothing that can make any of us feel more valuable than knowing that the Creator of all things loves us, hears us, responds to us, empowers us, and is then more than eager to use us in ways that we never dreamed possible so that he and he alone might receive the glory. It's not about the value I see in myself. It is about the value God sees in me.

   You see, life is not about us. Life is about Christ. This is not about our weakness, this is about his strength. This is not about our past failures, it is about his grace, forgiveness, and lovingkindness.

   No job, relationship, or level of success we experience will ever come close to making us feel as valuable as when we come to the realization that this is God's world, not ours, and that within his world, he has chosen us as his children, and then empowered us to do his work. So, what gifts, talents, and abilities do you have? What are the things that have always seemed to just come naturally to you while others struggle in those areas?

   Bring those things to the Lord. Ask him to empower them with his Spirit, to use them in ways that bless his people, and to give you opportunities to use them. You'll be astonished by what you'll see.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

How's that desert view?

   If you were to sit quietly, reflecting upon how you view God and honestly evaluating the impact he has upon your life, what conclusions would you come to? Can you sense him working through you in ways that are not only changing who you once were, but which also have an immediate, profound impact on those around you? Are you now in a place where you can look back and see where he has worked in you and through you in the past, but haven't felt that in quite some time? Or would you shrug your shoulders and come up with nothing? Are you someone who lifts up a short prayer every now and then, believing that there is a God out there somewhere, but can't point to any specific time where you truly felt him moving in your life?

   Wherever you find yourself on that scale is a very personal thing. We all view God from varying points of view, and we have all seen something of him at some point in our lives, be it merely a quick thought of "Maybe this was God" up to knowing beyond a doubt that what you just experienced was nothing short of a miracle of his doing.

   Throughout the course of my life, I've found myself living on both ends of that scale. After all, faith is not a one time decision; it's a lifelong process filled with countless decisions and experiences, some very beautiful and some very painful. Some very right and some very wrong.

   Most of us have seen the movie "The Ten Commandments." It's the story of Moses being led by God to go to Egypt and demand that Pharaoh release God's people. We watched as God performed miracle after miracle, eventually leading to the greatest miracle in the movie - the parting of the Red Sea. A few minutes later we watch the Israelites walk through the sea on dry land, and then watch as it closes back in on the Egyptian army who were in hot pursuit.

   It's very difficult to watch that movie without feeling a sense of awe about the power of God, while also feeling a sense that we would love to see God's power show up in our lives in such ways. What the movie doesn't show is what happened next, on their way to the Promised Land, and how they were forced to wander in the desert for 40 years due to their disobedience and lack of faith. It doesn't show how that entire generation of adults perished in the desert, never seeing the Promised Land.

   If we read the rest of the story, we see clear evidence that what God expected from them in return was to walk closely with him, honor him, obey him, and love him with all of their hearts, all of their minds, and all of their strength. If they did so, he gave them the promise that he would never leave them. He would be their God, and they would be his people. He would dwell with them forever, and his presence among them would be obvious to the entire world.

   Sounds like a no-brainer, right? But they failed him time and time again, walking away from him to pursue other, far less important things. Why? Because they, just like us, were very much human. They struggled with the very same sins in their lives that we also struggle with, and just like us, they ignored the presence of God in their lives to pursue these things. But once they made the decision to honor, obey, and trust him, they were led to the Promised Land.

   What's not being taught in many churches is that their story was written for us. Their story is our story. Their faith - or lack thereof - is also ours.

   Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are offered the very same things they were offered. We are offered the incredible miracle of having his Spirit living within us, guiding us, directing us, teaching us, and loving us.

   But how would we define this faith? How do we know that we have it? If you reread the very first paragraph of this blog, you'll know immediately whether you have it or not. You'll know if you had it one time, but have somehow lost it. You'll know if you've never had it.

   But here's the good news; If you've never experienced the sense that God is truly working in very powerful ways in your life, that can all change right now. All it takes is for you to speak to God humbly, respectfully, and graciously, admitting that you have sinned by rejecting his presence in your life, thanking him for sending his son to die for you so that you might have this close, beautiful, loving relationship with him, and asking him to be your God as you promise to be his people. If you do this, he will take you by the hand and lead you into our "Promised Land." which is a life filled with his presence, and an eternity with him. If you've walked closely with him in the past, but aren't now, why not make today the day you leave the desert and return to the Promised Land?

   What will be required of you from that moment forward will be that you seek him with all your heart, and in all things. That may sound like a lot of work, but trust me, it's not. Because as you begin to seek him in all things, he will begin to show himself to you in all things, and that, my friends, is just as powerful a miracle as anything you've ever seen in any movie.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Does God want you to be happy?

   What is the very first thought that comes to mind for you when asked the question "Does God want you to be happy?" I'm sure that some of you would answer with an emphatic "Yes!!!" I'm also quite certain that others would have a far more negative response; something along the lines of "If God wanted me to be happy, why would he keep throwing all of this hard luck my way?"

   A ton of churches across this country are teaching that God wants us to be happy, healthy and wealthy, while entirely missing the main purpose of why we're here in the first place. It's a very popular teaching, as can be seen by the size of some of these churches where thousands of people attend every week. But is it the truth?

   Why are we here, and what is God's main concern for our lives? Are we here to merely pursue happiness? To increase our wealth? To find ourselves in a place where we skip through fields of lilies with smiles on our faces, gleefully dancing toward some beautiful future we have the right to enjoy?

   The answer to these questions can only be found by answering another question first. Who is God?

   I have news for you. God is not your buddy. He's not your pal. He is the most high, most powerful, almighty God. He is the one who literally spoke all of creation into existence. If any of us were to find ourselves face to face with him, our only response would be to fall on our faces with fear and trembling, in awe of his magnificent glory, strength and power, suddenly being made painfully aware of how flawed and unworthy we are to even be in his presence.

   I was shown this staggering truth just recently. I have a confession to make. For the past 3 years or so, I had lost my respect for God. This wasn't an intentional act on my part, nor was it something I was even thinking about. It just happened gradually without my even being aware of it.

   At one point, I truly believed that I was walking very close with Jesus. He was showing me things, teaching me things, blessing me in various ways. But over the course of just a few years, my attitude of gratitude and thankfulness for how he was speaking to me turned into one of arrogance and careless disregard toward him. I began to speak to him as if he was my buddy, throwing up careless prayer after careless prayer. I wasn't asking him what he wanted from me. I was instead asking him to give me what I wanted. In addition to this, the sins in my life were no big deal to me. After all, God knows I'm human, he'd forgive me.

   My attitude was one of believing that my life was all about me. It was all about my plans, my hopes, my desires. I would pray to God from the perspective of believing that he would continue to bless me and protect me no matter what I said or did.

   His response was to literally strip me down to nothing. To meet me face to face and show me how arrogant it was for me to speak to him the way I had been speaking. He showed me that the sins in my life - which I so carelessly disregarded as being nothing - were continual, habitual, intentional acts of disobedience that he was not merely overlooking because I was human. He showed me very clearly and painfully that HE was God, not me. He wasn't here to act according to my plans. I was here to act according to his. If I truly wanted to experience a life that was blessed by him, then my life could not possibly be my life. It would be HIS life to do with whatever he pleased, and I could either humbly, graciously and thankfully accept that, or I could keep on fighting against it until he absolutely crushed me.

   Does God love those who love him? Absolutely. Does he want to draw us near to him, walk with us, teach us, guide us and direct us, give us an abundant life filled with joy? There's no doubt. But he is still the most high, holy God. He will not be disrespected. He will not be disregarded. He will lead us exactly where HE wants us to go. His overall plan for our lives is to mold us and shape us into the image of Christ, and to then send us out into the world as his ambassadors so that others might see Christ in us and be drawn to him in the process. Funny thing about being "molded and shaped." It can be very painful. Sometimes - to bring us to a place where we can truly experience this abundant, joyful life he has for us - he has to first strip away everything we view as being more important than him. That rarely makes us happy when it's happening.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Matchmaker, Matchmaker......

   Online dating has become quite popular over the past few years. We've all seen the ads, promising all of the lonely single people of the world that becoming a member of their site will lead them directly to the man or woman they have been searching for all of their life.

   "Looking for your soul mate? They're right here waiting for you!!" They boldly exclaim.

   Some of these sites are more thorough than others in their effort to find the perfect match for their customers, asking them to fill out very detailed questionnaires about their personality traits, likes, dislikes, religious beliefs, hobbies, you name it.

   I don't know how successful these sites are, but I would imagine that having all of the details about who we are as individuals sorted through and matched with those who are most like us would be a more successful approach than sitting in a bar waiting for that perfect man or woman to walk into our lives.

   What I do know is that it's very big business. In 2012, an estimated $1.7 billion was brought in by these sites. Yes, that's "billion" with a "b."

   Why are these sites so very profitable? The answer is an easy one. Nobody likes to be alone. The vast majority of single people out there would love to find that one person they can be comfortable with. Someone to share their lives with. Someone they can love deeply and who will also love them. It's an enormous draw that seems to be hardwired into us.

   I wrote last week about the creation story, and how apparent God's love for us is due to the way He created everything we see just for us, but if we look closely, we can see a subtle change in how He spoke about His creation after creating man and woman and placing them in the midst of it.

   In Genesis 1:3, 10, 12, 18, 21, & 25, we see God creating everything in the universe. After creating each item, He reviewed His handiwork and then exclaimed that "It was good."

   He then created man and woman. In Genesis 1:31, we read that He once again sat back and reviewed all that He had made, but this time He doesn't call it "good." He calls it "very good."

   After He had created all things, He created us, and we were the crowning jewels of His creation. He could've created us in a way that procreation would have been accomplished by a simple act with no emotional connection, but He didn't. He created man and woman in a way that the differences between the sexes - when celebrated and encouraged - makes the unity of the two far greater than the sum of their parts. He created us in a way that made us long for that close, intimate relationship.

   This was His gift to us. He loved us, and He desired that we love each other.

   The person we choose to spend the rest of our lives with will have a more significant impact upon us than any other relationship we'll ever know. This impact can be positive or negative depending upon who we choose to be with, but there can be no denying the power of such a relationship.

   If that was all there was, it would still be amazing. But there's far more to it than that. As history continues from that point, God then tells us that the relationship between a man and a woman is symbolic of how our relationship must be with Him.

   In Luke 10:26. Jesus was asked what the greatest of all the commandments was.

   "He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’"

   If you have been given the gift of having somebody in your life who you love like no other, or if you're single and would truly love to find that "soul mate," Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment we've ever been given is to love God even more than we love that other person.

   Why? Because that's how much He loves us. That's how much He loved us before we even knew Him. That's how much He will always love us.

   It's not a natural thing to love a God you can't see in that way. It's difficult to truly grasp that. We can't do it on our own. But if we pray, asking God to teach us how to do that, He will. It is His ultimate desire for us, and unlike most human relationships, it is a love that will never disappoint us, never fail us, never leave us, never abuse us, and never leave us regretting the pursuit of such a love.

Monday, April 21, 2014

It's a Boy!......And a Girl!

   A young woman sits in her doctor's office awaiting his return. Her mind races as she wonders what news he will bring. She and her husband had been trying for a number of months, and due to some changes she had noticed in her body recently, she suspected that she might finally be pregnant.

   "Good news, Mrs. Jones!" The doctor announced with a smile as he re-entered the room. "You're gonna be a mom!"

   Filled with excitement, she leaps from her chair, gives her doctor a big hug, and rushes home to tell her husband the news. He too is thrilled beyond words, and they immediately begin to plan out the room they'll prepare for their new family member.

   Over the next 8 months, they find great joy in picking out various items for the baby's room. They want it to be perfect. They want their baby to be safe, warm, and comfortable. They buy a crib, a changing table, blankets, and colorful items to hang on the walls. Once they learn the sex of the baby, they begin to buy baby clothes and paint for the walls.

   Every single action they take is filled with absolute love, hope, joy, and expectancy.

   Finally, the day arrives. The baby is delivered at the local hospital, and after a couple days of recovery, they bring their little bundle of joy home, lay him in his bed, and allow him to rest in the perfect environment they had created for him.

   The love they feel for this child cannot possibly be described in words, and for as long as they both live, they will always love him. They will always be there for him. They will always cherish him, protect him, and nurture him.

   When I read the creation story in Genesis 1, I see God doing the very same thing for us.

   He perfectly created the heavens and the earth, the sun, the moon, and the stars. He filled the earth with plant life, fruits and vegetables. He filled the seas with fish. He covered the land with livestock. He filled the air with birds.

   He did all of this with one thing in mind........us. He created an entire universe, perfectly designed so that it might sustain us.

   After all of this work had been done, He created man and woman, and set them in the midst of this beautiful, perfect world He had created for them. Furthermore, He didn't just drop them there and leave them. He walked with them in the garden. He lovingly showed them everything he had created for them.

   I can only assume that He felt the same sense of love, hope, joy, and expectancy when He was creating all of these things for us that new parents feel as they decorate their baby's room knowing that the baby's arrival is coming soon.

   So how should we respond to this? With a profound sense of gratitude, love, and thankfulness toward our loving God who provides all we will ever need.

   Every time we eat a meal, watch a sunrise, take a walk in the woods, or breathe in fresh air, we should see God's presence. We should acknowledge the fact that it is His love for us that makes all of these things possible.

   Of course, the best part is this: He still walks with us wherever we may go. He still shows us everything He has given us. He is always there for us. All we have to do is reach out to Him.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Beautifully Broken

   The carpenter gets out of his truck and gazes at the building before him. He knows that his task will be a daunting one, restoring an old building that had suffered from decades of neglect. Most of the locals viewed this building as nothing more than an eyesore, a long ago abandoned pile of rubble incapable of being transformed into anything beautiful. But the carpenter sees something very different as he looks once again at the blueprints of it's original construction. He had spent a great deal of time researching the history of the old building. More than that, he can also see how the years of neglect had weathered the materials that remained intact in a beautiful way.

   He steps inside and stands still for a moment, allowing his eyes to take everything in. Within a few minutes, he begins to see the magnificence of how this building was originally created, and how he can build upon that original foundation to create something far more beautiful than any casual observer could possibly imagine.

   He is, after all, a master of restoration.

   He begins the job with a clear vision in mind of how it will look once the work has been completed. He brings in a crew of contractors, each one an expert in their field. Excitement builds within his soul as he sees the progress that's being made from day to day.

   Before long, the locals begin to notice a change in the old building. The reaction is very mixed. Some are thrilled to see something being made of this old landmark, while others openly mock him for believing that this heap of rubble could ever become something beautiful. The carpenter pays little attention to them. He simply continues his work.

   The seasons pass, each one bringing it's own set of complications, but the work continues.

   Finally, the work is completed, and the carpenter finds himself standing in a building that is beautiful beyond words. He admires the way the old, weathered elements blend so beautifully with the new, creating a complete picture far more beautiful than the original construction. At the same time, the older elements give it a beauty that could never be created using only modern construction methods.

   This is what happens to us when we reach a point in our lives when we come to Jesus Christ for the first time, giving Him His rightful place of Lord over our lives, asking Him to speak to us, guide us, and direct our lives in the way that He would have us go.

    "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." 2 Corinthians 5:17

   Of course, while we have become these new creations, we still maintain many of the elements of who we have always been. We were, after all, created in such a way as to be perfectly capable of doing the work that God created us to do. In other words, the elements of our original construction remain, but Jesus, the master carpenter, builds upon these elements in ways that are far too beautiful to describe. He sends other contractors into our lives from time to time - brothers, sisters, friends, pastors, etc. - to assist us in this new construction.

   Seasons pass, and people notice a dramatic change in us. Some will see these changes as being something very beautiful. Others will mock and ridicule us, claiming that nothing beautiful could ever possibly become of the mess our lives once were.

   What we need to be keenly aware of during this process is what we believe about who we are in God's eyes. Will we continue to see ourselves as piles of rubble incapable of ever becoming anything beautiful, or will we see ourselves as being beautifully broken in ways that were absolutely necessary to complete the final masterpiece that God wants to create in us?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Living Outside The Box

   I've recently found myself in a peculiar situation. I had spent a good amount of time and effort decorating the home I had been living in, and was then allowed to sit back and enjoy the fruits of my labor. While some of you may have chosen a different décor, I was very happy with how everything looked. But as a little bit of time had passed, I was finding myself far less impressed with all of it.
   Don't get me wrong, my tastes had not changed. I didn't suddenly feel as though I needed to start over from scratch with an entirely different décor. I simply began to realize that as nice as it was, it brought me no true sense of happiness whatsoever.

   During the preceding months, I had been giving a great deal of thought to the complete and total emptiness of "The American Dream." My generation was taught that our main goal in life was to work hard, buy a home, fill that home with nice things, raise a family, and if we found that we had accumulated too many nice things to fit within our homes, we should then buy a bigger, nicer home.

   Within all of this, I couldn't ignore a profound truth that had been rising up within me like a tidal wave. It was all meaningless. None of these "things" were adding anything to my life or the enjoyment of it. In fact, I was experiencing quite the opposite. In reality, it had actually been taking away from my quality of life due to the stress of having to keep it all nice, clean, and safe.

   As I considered these things, the following verses continued to ring through my mind:

 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Matthew 6:19-21

   This explained where I was, and why everything began to feel so empty. My heart was wrapped up in my treasure, and my treasure was here on earth.

   Feeling completely overwhelmed by the weight of trying to maintain this status-quo, I finally prayed, asking God to please release me from all of it. Within 48 hours, somebody offered to buy my home. They wanted to be in it within 30 days, giving me very little time to decide what to do with all of my "treasures."

   My final decision was to simply give all of it away to those who were in need of it. I do not say this to pat myself on the back or to give any of you a false belief that I'm some incredibly generous man of God. It simply was the only path that made any sense to me. It was the only path that gave me peace.

   I took what I felt as though I needed, and moved these belongings into my sister's home, who along with her husband had graciously offered to let me stay with them until I feel a true sense of where God might lead me next. Since arriving here, I've all but disconnected myself from the massive media onslaught of television and internet. I'm praying, studying, and asking God for His guidance on where the next step may lead. Then sense of peace and calm I now feel can't truly be described in words.

   I write these things for one reason alone: To show you a living example of the truth of scripture. There are countless bible verses that speak of how the pursuit of God will bring more peace and comfort into our lives than anything else we'll ever know, and how the pursuit of material possession will bring nothing but emptiness, stress, discouragement, and disappointment. I'm not suggesting that all of you need to give away all of your earthly possession in order to truly seek God. I only know that, for me personally, it had to be done. And having done so, I'm truly experiencing the truth found in these words:

    "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Phillipians 4:6-7

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." Matthew 6:25-34
   I have no idea where all of this will lead. I don't expect that I'll do everything perfectly or make all of the right decisions. All that I know for certain is that, for now, I'm exactly where God wants me to be, and nothing could possibly be more valuable.