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 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.