Are You Truly Alive?

What makes you feel alive? Is it the thrill of racing 100mph on the backroads of a small town? Risking it all (or at least your lunch) by riding the rides at the fair? There is something about having a brush with death that truly makes us feel alive. Could the reason be that if we want to really live we have to die?

1 Corinthians 15:35-38 (NLT) But someone may ask, “How will the dead be raised? What kind of bodies will they have?” 36 What a foolish question! When you put a seed into the ground, it doesn’t grow into a plant unless it dies first. 37 And what you put in the ground is not the plant that will grow, but only a bare seed of wheat or whatever you are planting. 38 Then God gives it the new body he wants it to have. A different plant grows from each kind of seed.

Of course, here Paul is talking about the new bodies we will have in Heaven and that is a very important lesson. We love to tell adrenaline laced stories of moments that got out heart racing, but there is more to life than simply the beat of your heart. The question of life isn’t whether or not your heart is beating and if you have a story to tell, it’s will you still be around to tell your story still in eternity.

As Paul continues to write I believe he reveals a powerful principle that not only echoes into eternity, but also has significant meaning for us today.

1 Corinthians 15:45-46 (NLT) The Scriptures tell us, “The first man, Adam, became a living person.” But the last Adam—that is, Christ—is a life-giving Spirit. 46 What comes first is the natural body, then the spiritual body comes later.

In order for the spiritual to have life, the natural has to die. Before those with active minds run away from me, (sorry I know it’s too late for some of you) let me clarify. I am NOT suggesting a literal death to your physical body, but a death to your sinful passions and thought patterns. As we learn to live in the Spirit we must put to death who we used to be. It is this surrender that allows us to experience all that God has for us.

I’m one of those crazy people who fully believes that life should be AWESOME. That we should have exciting stories to tell and I believe that God is wanting to empower us to live in such a way that we always have an amazing story to tell! I believe in the supernatural power of God, healings, words of knowledge and He longs to demonstrate it for the purpose of building His Kingdom and reconciling the lost with their Heavenly Father.

It starts when we surrender our natural lives and exchange them for His supernatural life. We must remember that we have victory in Jesus and are empowered to be fully surrendered to Him. We have victory!

1 Corinthians 15:55-58 (NLT) O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.

My closing question for you today is what are you doing for the Lord? The question for some of you might be what should you be doing for the Lord? I believe the one thing we all should be doing is bringing people to Jesus. There is nothing we should be more enthusiastic about than showing people the love of the Savior who laid down His life so that sinners might be saved.

Let’s die to the natural so that we might be fully alive in the spiritual! Let’s shake off the chains of sin. Let’s put on the boldness of lions. Let us believe that God’s word is true and let’s share the good news! Let’s seek God for miracles. Let’s trust that He is faithful to His Word. Our lives can be a threat to the darkness of sin,  depression and disease. When we let go of our natural lives and embrace the super natural, we will have a story to tell.

What’s your story?

Rules Vs Relationship

Likely, we are all familiar with the expression, “Christianity is not about rules, but a relationship.” It rings true, but why is it true? What is the difference between following a set of rules and having a relationship with God? I started thinking about this when I read the following scripture.

2 Corinthians 3:6 (NLT) He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life.

In case you’re not familiar, the Bible is made up of  two covenants (or Testaments) God made with man. The Old covenant was between and God and Israel when they left Egypt, the second between Jesus and all humanity. The old Covenant is often referred to as the covenant of law and the new covenant is the covenant of grace. The question that haunts me is, “Did God always intend for the old covenant to be so filled with rules?”

Exodus 29:45-46 (NLT) Then I will live among the people of Israel and be their God, 46 and they will know that I am the Lord their God. I am the one who brought them out of the land of Egypt so that I could live among them. I am the Lord their God.

This scripture reveals that God brought them out of Egypt with the intention that He Himself would live among them and He did. However, those who could come into His presence were limited by the law. Only those from the tribe of Levi were permitted to come into the Holy of Holies.  This wasn’t His intention. In fact, in Exodus 19 God reveals Himself to all of Israel.

He instructed them to prepare and gather around Mt. Sinai and in one glorious moment, He reveals Himself to them in a cloud filled with thunder and lightning. The Lord descended in the form of fire and smoke billowed into the sky.  The whole mountain shook violently! It was scary. Still, it is important to note God’s first instinct was to reveal Himself to His people. He wanted relationship with them and they rejected Him.

Exodus 20:18-19 (NLT) When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast of the ram’s horn, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.

19 And they said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will die!”

It was once the people made it clear they did not want direct contact with God that Moses went to the mountain and the Lord began to give him a very complex set of rules for which the people would be governed. If they would obey all the regulations contained in the law they would be right with God, but of course, no one could ever do that. It was not possible. So God instituted a sacrificial system by which to be made right with God.

Then when the time was right God sent Jesus. The divine Son of God stepped down from Heaven into humanity. He fulfilled every requirement of the law. He knew no sin. The people rejected Him, called Him a blasphemer and called for His death. They nailed an innocent man to a block of wood. As He hung there, this man who had fulfilled the law and knew no sin suddenly too upon Himself the sins of all mankind. He paid the price for our salvation and through Him, a new covenant was forged, not of rules, but of relationship with God through Jesus.

God no longer is hidden and we are no longer cut off from Him. He has restored our relationship with Him and He once again dwells among His people.

1 Corinthians 3:16 (NLT) Don’t you realize that all of you together are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?

Why is this important? We sometimes still focus so much on rules that we forget about relationship. We condemn ourselves when we fall short and we love to throw stones at the faults of others. I’m not saying we should abandon rules, I’m saying if we would get our relationship right then the rules wouldn’t be necessary. Out of love for Jesus, we would begin to instinctively live the way He desires. Rules become a mandate only when there is a lack of relationship.

Today, I just encourage you to focus on building a strong relationship with God. Take your focus off yourself, your faults and your shortcomings. Find joy in glorious relationship with the creator of the universe.

Do You Love God?

Do you love God? That’s an interesting question. Growing up in church the natural response is, “Of course I love God!” Still, I feel this question deserves more probing than our initial positive response. It’s ok to ask ourselves, “Do I really love God?” Or “Does the way I live my life reflect my love for God?” Let’s look at love in the context of human relationship.

Imagine a husband and wife relationship in which the wife works hard to take care of the kids and meet every single need within the house, but never spends any time with her husband? A different couple spends several weeks together, inseparable, completely devoted to each other, but once a month they go and sleep with other people. I’m not suggesting that you are so directly guilty of these things, however, I find that these two scenarios occur within the church context all too often.

Many of us are very focused on the ministry of God’s house, being sure to provide for all the needs of the church. We are faithful to fulfill our ministry roles, going above and beyond the call of duty. Sometimes we are so busy with our work and ministry that we neglect our very relationship with Jesus. Our prayer life declines and we never have time to really study God’s word. God is always first and foremost concerned with your relationship with Him than He is your service to Him.

In the same way, many Christians are faithful to God most of the time, but every now and then they take a personal day to live however they want. Sometimes it’s intentional, sometimes they just grow tired and become weak. However, if we are the bride of Christ we should be His bride all the time, not only when it is convenient. I want to look at love through the context of 1 Corinthians 13.

This is a very common portion of scripture, read by Christians and non-Christians alike at wedding ceremonies. It’s a beautiful depiction of love. Let’s be sure not only to read it in the context of relationships but in the context of our love for God, God’s love for us and God’s love for all of humanity.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)  Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Do you love God like that? It’s easy to be wowed by the simple fact that love like that can exist. It’s incredible to think God loves me that way! But How am I doing at loving others that way? Do I love God with a love that doesn’t demand its own way? Does my love for the Lord never give up or lose faith? I can’t say that is always the case.

This scripture is the standard we should strive to hit when it comes to loving people. This is real love, not just how a marriage should look, but friendship and ministry as well. We must grow in love for people if we hope to lead them to the truth of Jesus. In order to accomplish that we must grow in a love for God.

I have long believed that a mark of maturity in the life of a believer is growing in love for people. I am convinced that as we truly grow in love for the Lord, He puts within us a supernatural love for others. Love is the natural byproduct of spending time in the presence of Jesus and that love is reflected in the way we live.

True love for the Lord is evidenced in our ability to obey His commands. Again I ask the question, “Does the way I live my life reflect my love for God?” In my weakest moment do my actions still reflect my love for Christ? I’ve had some weak moments lately. Some of them have reflected Jesus and some of them have not. When we find faults within us, we should run into His presence and learn anew to love Him with an undivided heart.

The world is constantly threatening to pull our affections away from the Lord and when it begins to happen we will see disobedience and sins slipping into our lives. We shouldn’t be ashamed, but we should be quick to identify it and repent. Let us bring our lives into the light of Jesus and through His sacrifice on the cross turn from sin and truly live in love for Him!

Camp Experience Vs Real Life Experience

I recently took a group of students to summer camp. It was an incredible week as they were all engaged completely from night one. Each student had God do a work in their life. Even for myself, it was a powerful week. Now that it’s behind me I can’t help but reflect on something so many of us have encountered and witnessed many times.

We go to a camp, conference or some kind of powerful service. We feel as though our lives have been transformed and we leave determined to live out a new life filled with supernatural power. Fast forward a few weeks and nothing in our life has really changed. Sometimes we fall back into old sin habits.  Other times we are just discouraged because we don’t feel His presence like we did at camp. What went wrong?

I’ve pondered that a lot this week and this is where I’ve landed. What if nothing went wrong? I’m not saying it’s ok to fall back into old habits, but we do sometimes have the wrong expectation that every day for the rest of our life will be exactly like that camp experience. That’s not real life. Do we sometimes have unexpected powerful encounters with God in our daily devotional life? Absolutely, yes! However, that doesn’t mean there are not seasons that feel so completely dry you wonder if God has forgotten you.

What do we do? How do we sustain the life transformation we felt at our “camp experience” and maintain a passionate relationship with God? The first thing I would recommend is to evaluate if what you experienced was God’s transforming power or His revelation. There are moments when He absolutely heals hurts, brings freedom from addictions and does a true transforming work in our lives. However, there are many other times where we have a powerful encounter with His presence and what He did was reveal areas in our lives we need to surrender and live out the change.

The responsibility many times relies on us to recognize what the Lord spoke to us and dedicate our lives to living out the truth of His word. The camp experience is fast, filled with emotional charge and clarity of God’s voice. Real life often moves much slower, doesn’t see instant results and often depends upon self-discipline rather than a driving emotional force.

Another thing that makes real life more challenging to live our than our camp experience is that many times we come home from camp to find even though we felt change wihin us, our home life and our life circumstances have not changed. At camp we are taken out of our usual routine, associations and assignements. We are completely set apart to pursue God. When we go home all of that is still there. Our families are still a mess. Our financial situation hasn’t changed. Our social status isn’t suddenly elavated. The same temptations we faced before are still there.

It’s easy to pursue God whole heartedly when we remove all distractions, but once we are back in our routines it’s all to easy to fall into the same old lifestyle we lived before. We have to intentionally purpose in our hearts to make actual changes to help us keep a godly mindset. We may have to change how we spend our time. We must make time to spend with Jesus and maybe decrease our video game, tv, entertainment time. We may need to distance ourselves from friends who influence us to do wrong. We may need to work harder to live in peace with our parents. We may need to work to change our negative attitudes into positive attitudes.

1 Peter 1:15-16 (NLT) But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

When we come to know Jesus the Bible says we are set apart as holy. That doesn’t just mean we sepearate ourselves from the world. Anyone can do that. I could could go find a cave to live in, cut off all tv and interenet and avoid everyone. You wouldn’t call that holy, you’d call that crazy. To be holy is to seperate yourselves unto the Lord for His purposes.

We need the camp experience. We need seasons where we get away and just chase the Lord free of distraction. We also need to learn what it means to truly pursue the Lord within the context of our daily routines. True life change doesn’t happen in one glorious moment. It is a daily decision to continue living out the change we experienced. Too often our eyes are opened and after a few weeks we close them again. It’s easier to ignore our shortcomings than to try and change them.

My prayer for you today is that you would honestly evaluate times in your life where you  had a camp experience and it didn’t last. What do you think went wrong? Let’s purpose in our hearts to seek the Lord wholeheartedly!

A Step of Obedience

“I can’t do everything!” This is true. Often during the busy seasons of life, we must pick and choose what we are able to do and what we are not. Sometimes we select out of our own convenience rather than out of obedience to God.

Recently in my life, I made such a decision. I stopped writing because my schedule was so eaten up I didn’t feel like I had the time, so I stopped for a season. The season lasted longer than I intended. It’s been a difficult season too.

Whenever there is disobedience in your life, spiritually things seem off. This is the Lord communicating that you need to search your life and evaluate if you are walking in full obedience. For me writing these devotionals wasn’t my idea, it was something I felt the Lord asked me to do and He didn’t ask me to take a break. That was my idea.

Psalm 32:8 (NLT) The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.

I love that the scripture says the Lord will advise us! The issue with anyone who gives us advice is that the choice to listen depends upon us. We must listen to the Lord when He gives us His advice because He knows us not as a friend, but as Creator. He created our very lives and He created the very paths that we walk upon. He knows exactly what path we should follow.

Still, we sometimes veer off course onto paths that we thought would be beneficial to us, even though we later realize we were mistaken. In Nehemiah, there is a beautiful prayer recounting all the times the people of Israel went their own way and God continually showed mercy to them, these two verses particularly stood out to me.

Nehemiah 9:30-31 (NLT) In your love, you were patient with them for many years. You sent your Spirit, who warned them through the prophets. But still they wouldn’t listen! So once again you allowed the peoples of the land to conquer them. 31 But in your great mercy, you did not destroy them completely or abandon them forever. What a gracious and merciful God you are!

God is not only patient with us, He sends warnings when we begin to wander. We must learn to recognize the warnings. We must be attentive to His presence and listen intently for His voice so that we may walk in His perfect and pleasing will. Most of us do not intentionally choose disobedience, yet there will be moments when you realize you have stepped into it. Do not despair. God has not abandoned you.

The moment of realization followed by a moment of repentance is the moment of restoration. God will gently guide you back onto the right path! Of course, it’s important to remember, God is the one guiding. We are the ones doing the walking. We have to take that first step of change. For me, today that means writing this devotion and tomorrow doing the same thing.

What does it mean for you? What is the step God is asking you to take as He leads you down His paths? Perhaps it is a difficult conversation you’ve been putting off. Perhaps it is dusting off the book you stopped reading. Maybe you need to clean out your cabinets and get rid of some stuff. It could be examining how you’ve been handling your finances. Maybe it’s as simple as making more time for prayer.

Whatever step you need to take, as you begin to take it I pray you will enter into a new season of encountering the presence of the Lord and that He will use you to impact this world for His Kingdom.