Afraid of the Dark

Remember as a child being afraid of the dark? It was always worse when my closet was left half way open. I could kind of see in, but I couldn’t see clearly. Just shadows and shapes combined with my imagination and I was certain there was a beast ready to devour my soul. In those times I would go wake up my Mom, not my Dad, so I could sleep on the floor next to their bed. I knew I was safe next to my parents. If I woke up my Dad he would take me back to my room, pray with me and leave me to the darkness. I liked Mom’s way more, but his solution was probably the better one.

I think there are times in our Christian faith where we need to retreat into the shadow of our Mighty God and there are other times where we need to recognize the light He’s placed within us and face the surrounding darkness!

Ephesians 5:8-13 (NLT) For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.

10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,

“Awake, O sleeper,
    rise up from the dead,
    and Christ will give you light.”

I love that it says we should carefully determine what pleases the Lord. What a marvelous thing to consider. Our decisions are not our own to simply make as we please, but to prayerfully consider if He is pleased. Light does not join with the darkness, rather it exposes what lies in the darkness. It’s a scary thing when the lines between the churchgoer and the nonbeliever are blurred.

What’s so great about light is that you absolutely cannot hide it. Light always stands out in the darkness and that makes people uncomfortable. Ever been in a room and suddenly a bright light appears? You instinctively squint.

I remember being in a really nice room that had great soft lighting. One day someone turned on the big lights instead of the atmospheric lights and the room changed. The floors were dingy and the walls were pretty scratched up. None of that was noticeable before.

We are sometimes afraid to go into the dark for those very reasons. When people are exposed to your light they may give you some funny looks. They may also see aspects of their lives in a less satisfying way, but that doesn’t mean you dim your brightness. Light absolutely exposes flaws, but until things are seen they can’t be challenged. We must shine so they can see Jesus all the more clearly.

Ephesians 5:15-20 (NLT) So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. 16 Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. 17 Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. 18 Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit, 19 singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, and making music to the Lord in your hearts. 20 And give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The question then becomes how visible is your light? Is it blinding or is it dimming? The scripture clearly instructs us to make the most of every opportunity. Rather than acting thoughtlessly, we are to operate in wisdom and understanding of the Lord’s plans. That only comes from carefully studying His Word and choosing to invest your time in the presence of the Lord. Do you fill your life up with worldly things or with the Holy Spirit?

There are many things that can dim our light. Participating in sinful deeds clearly diminishes our light to the point of being barley visible, but there are other things that can make our light less attractive. Negative attitudes and complaining will quickly turn people away from whatever truth you have to offer. Constantly being consumed with worry and fear will make people wonder why they should trust God when you clearly don’t.

So often the solution for some of these things is exactly what is prescribed in the Scripture. Singing songs and giving thanks to the Lord. Remembering all we have to be thankful for diminishes our focus on negativity and complaining. Reminding ourselves of all the Lord has done reestablishes our trust in Him that He will continue to be faithful.

We are not called to hide from the dark, but to courageously charge in sharing the light of Jesus with the world. This is a call to all Christians to stop hiding from the darkness, but to boldly shine bright so the world can see the fullness and beauty of Jesus.

A God Kind of Love

When you were young did you ever find yourself imitating your parents? It’s funny sometimes how kids will want to be just like their parents. Sometimes they admit it, other times they don’t realize it, or if they do they try to hide it. I remember once I was with my Dad at a friends house watching the Seminole/Gator game, yea it’s a big deal cause he’s a HUGE Noles fan. I was just casually sitting there with my hands behind my head and I looked over and saw my Dad sitting the exact same way! Naturally, I changed positions. I’m pretty sure my Dad called me out on that, “Caught yourself sitting like your Dad huh?”

We all have someone we look up to and want to be like. Hopefully, the One you most greatly want to imitate is God!

Ephesians 5:1-2 (NLT) Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.

This scripture instructs us to imitate our Heavenly Father! It then immediately tells us to live a life of love. Why is the Bible so insistent that we love one another? Have you ever noticed how often it mentions that we are to love each other?

Ephesians 4:2 (NLT)  Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)  Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

John 13:34-35 (ESV)  A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

There are plenty of other examples, but it is clear God wants us to love each other! It actually says in the last verse that our LOVE will by how the world knows we belong to Jesus. I think a non-believer would be offended by that because let’s be honest, there are a lot of great communities of people out there that show love. Truthfully, there are some groups that are better at loving and more accepting than many churches. We don’t have a reputation for love, we have a reputation for rejection.

I’ve never been one to care about reputation. What I care about is obeying scripture and I’m called to love people. Not only that but Jesus said to love each other “Just as I have loved you”. Ephesians 5:1 told us not only to live a life filled with love, but a love that follows the example of Christ who loved us and gave His life as a sacrifice.

The love of the Christian should stand out because it isn’t just a warm feeling, but a love that will drive us to a lifestyle of self-sacrifice. Within the church, that might mean laying down your opinion or preferences for the sake of being unified in mission. I assure you when the world looks at a church divided and full of conflict they want no part.

Outside of the church, it means reaching out and demonstrating love to all people, even when it is inconvenient. We can’t just live our lives in tiny boxes and say that this time is for evangelism and this time is just for me. We must be open at all times because we never know when divine opportunity will strike.

It is wrong to say we love sinners if we never do anything to demonstrate our love for them. Love not acted upon is just words and words alone have never changed the world. It’s time we rise up with a God kind of love. The kind of love that boldly and unashamedly laid down His very life for the sake of humanity. I’m not suggesting we should make ourselves martyrs, only that we think a little less of ourselves and our own satisfaction and consider the needs of our community. Those we sit across from at Starbucks. What needs might our coworkers have that they’ve kept to themselves because you weren’t interested enough to ask?

Love is the very thing that identifies us as Christ follower.

Today I encourage you to ask yourself, “What can I do to demonstrate Christ’s love to the world?”

An Exercise In Trust

For those who don’t know, I live in Spring Hill, Florida. It is about 40 minutes north of Tampa. As Hurricane Irma continues to barrel down on the Peninsula, it seems more and more likely that the center of the storm is headed directly for us. People are scared. Stores are depleted of resources and many don’t know what to expect. Today we begin last minute prep, for me that means bagging ice, filling up empty bottles of V8 splash with water and freezing them, filling the bathtub with water, doing all my laundry and smelling my unlit candles.

I spent a little more time on Facebook than usual today and one thing is clear. Fear, worry and panic are the predominant feelings being put out into the world of social media. I can’t help but wonder why more people aren’t emphasizing their trust in the Lord. I’m not suggesting that we should not be fearful, rather that we should use that fear to drive us to prepare. Once we’ve done all we can do it’s time to stop focusing on all the things we can’t control.

This means we stop feeding our mind a constant stream of fear and panic. Turn off the weather channel except for occasional reports to stay updated. Don’t keep staring at social media, fueling the worry. Turn it off and focus on what truly matters. Spend time with your family. You don’t have to wait until the power goes out to come together and start playing games. Pray together and remember what the scripture says.

Philppians 4:6-7 (NLT) Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

Isaish 26:3 (NLT) You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!

2 Thessalonians 3:16 (NLT) Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all.

Isaiah 41:10 (NLT) Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

Psalm 55:11 (NLT) But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them sing joyful praises forever. Spread your protection over them, that all who love your name may be filled with joy.

I truly believe God is bigger than this 600 mile storm. Even if the worst of it comes our way, is our trust in the power of the storm or the power of our God? He can and will protect His people. Even if disaster does strike and we suffer great loss, that doesn’t diminish the power and presence of God in our lives. He is still good and He will provide. Let us remember His word and trust in Him this weekend. Let us pray and ask for His peace to come. Let us trust in His protection. Let us walk in the confidence of His word. We are God’s children and therefore we must walk in His peace.

Matthew 5:9 (NLT) God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.

Ephesians 6:15 (NLT) For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.

My prayer is that through this crisis we will demonstrate the power, peace and protection of God to a world in desperate need of the love of Jesus. Let us clothe ourselves with His peace so that we can be a beacon of light and hope to those around us filled with fear. I pray that through the example of our lives they will come to find faith in God.

More Than a Moment

Moments are powerful. At any given moment we are full of emotions, our mind consumed with events, people, concerns, fights, worry, conflict, pain. In the heat of these moments, we often make decisions that satisfy our emotions. Turns out they’re not always the best decisions. Though they feel good for a moment, many times they don’t help our situation. In fact, they can sometimes prolong conflict.

Maturing is learning that life is more than this moment. The choices we make NOW actually affect far beyond what we think. Every decision we make has a consequence in tomorrow. Often we think one small choice won’t affect that much, but those same small choices made over and over again are what determine who we are, our character and who we will become.

It is imperative we learn to look beyond the now. How will our choices affect our friendships 3 months from now? How will the way we are talking to our family affect things 3 years from now? As Christians, we even have to think about the eternal consequences. Our choices could impact someone’s eternal decision to live for Jesus.

Brian thought Johnny was annoying. He went out of his way to avoid Johnny whenever he could, but somehow Johnny always tracked him down to tell him about the most minute development in his life. They had gone to school together for 5 years and other than being in the same class, much of the time they never really hung out. Johnny was quirky and often the brunt of jokes from other kids. Brian saw him as an inconvenience. He was too nice to just brush Johnny off, but he didn’t make any great effort to befriend him. He never asked Johnny any questions or invited him to church. Brian just tolerated him.

Johnny had a hard life. He knew he was different and that people didn’t want to be around him, even his own family seemed to hate him. Johnny felt as though he only had one friend, Brian. One day Johnny gave Brian a note that changed everything. It wasn’t a big moment, just a simple comment. The simply note read,

“Thanks for being my friend. I don’t have many. Your friendship probably saved my life.”

Brian had only ever seen Johnny as someone he tolerated. It never occurred to him that Johnny really saw him as a friend.  Brian began to realize that what he saw as an inconvenience was actually an opportunity for influence. As his perspective began to change Brian invited Johnny to church where he quickly became a faithful lover of Jesus.  Johnny eventually became a Pastor with a big heart to reach those who feel unloved.

Many times our greatest opportunities come disguised as an inconvenience. It wasn’t in our plans to help that person. We had other things we would rather be doing. Spending time with that person might damage our reputation. Too often we pray for opportunities to impact people for Jesus and when they come we miss them because it meant changing our plans. We aren’t always prepared to accommodate God’s plans.

Philippians 3:18-20 (NLT)  For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.

Today I encourage you to look beyond how things will affect you in the moment and look to eternity. We should be much more consumed with the eternal consequences of each moment for those the Lord brings into our path than we should our lunch plans. We are citizens of Heaven, everything we do represents Jesus.

Colossians 4:5-6 (NLT) Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.

I’ve heard many times growing up that the opportunity of a lifetime must be seized within the lifetime of the opportunity. We need to always be ready let go of our plans and embrace divine opportunities. 

One Decision Away

It was the end of the day and I was trying to sleep. I rolled over an hour later eyes wide with realization. I hadn’t finished laundry. The clothes were still in the dryer. Aggravated, I got out of bed to put my clothes away. As I worked I began to reflect on how I’d used my time throughout the day. I could’ve used my time more wisel  actually, I’d wasted most of the day. Which would explain why even though I started laundry at 8am it was 11 o’clock at night and I was just finishing. Suddenly I felt these words crash into my mind.

TODAY WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

I wasted it. If I’m being honest, at the time of writing, this isn’t a moment in the distant past, but right now. (I usually write these devotions 2 weeks or so in advance.) Still  I am encouraged because I know tomorrow is a new day. So I write these words to myself and also to you.

Today will never happen again. You only have one chance to live this day. When you look back will you be happy with how you spent it? Or will you wish you had done something different? Maybe you’ll wish you had worked harder. You might wish you had spent less time on yourself and a little more time with family or reaching out to those in need. The best thing to realize is that while yesterday is gone and never coming back, today isn’t over yet. You can make it anything you want.

If you could accomplish anything or become a better person would you? Greatness of character and accomplishment never happens over night, but you are only one decision away from beginning the journey. The issue many run into is that while it is only one decision, you will have to make it many many times. Daily in fact.

It’s the same decision I have to make every morning. Will I get out of bed and spend time with Jesus, praying and seeking His will for my life, allowing Him to transform me through His Word and deeper study? Or will I choose, like I did so many times in the past, to lay in bed until I have to get up if I want to make it work on time. The decision to step into a deeper relationship with God is one powerful decision, but it has to be made every day.

The scriptures tell us that, in the scheme of eternity, our entire life is nothing more than a mist or a vapor.

James 4:14 (ESV) What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.

We sometimes have this idea in our head that we have plenty of time to get to where we want so we put off doing the things we really need to be doing. How wrong we are. Time is not unlimited. It is actually in very short supply. We must use the time given to us wisely because once it is gone it can never be brought back.

The great news is that the Lord supplies us with all we need to accomplish His purposes for our life.

Ephesians 3:16-20 (NLT) I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Our scope is so limited, but God is so big! His resources are available to us if we would just ask. I join Paul in his prayer that our roots would grow deep in God’s love and keep us strong. What I love about that metaphor is growth takes time. I know I just got through telling you that time is in short supply, but that doesn’t mean we have to be in a hurry. All we have to do is daily make up our mind to use our time for His glory. Some days we may not feel much growth, but over weeks, months and years we will see the Lord has done amazing things within us.

God is able to do more than we can even ask our think!

All it takes is one decision.

I pray you will have the courage to make that decision today and the strength to keep making it tomorrow and every day.

God Isn’t Stuck With You

I never get to be team captain. Who doesn’t want to be captain? The captains get to pick the teams! I didn’t get that opportunity, not today. I was in the huddle waiting to get picked. That awkward mix of anticipation, hope, and fear threatening to give my twelve-year-old brain a panic attack. Each time someone else is picked a dark cloud of impending doom grows over my head. I know I’m not the most athletically skilled. I knew I wouldn’t be picked first, second or even third. Standing here now, among the thinning crowd my heart is pounding and one thought screams through my flesh, “Just not last, please don’t let me be the last one picked.”

This isn’t an experience relegated only to sporting events. There are many moments in life we fear we won’t get chosen. Significant moments such as relationships, career opportunities, social events, we all want to stand out and we all want to be special, seen as something more than the last pick, the leftover. We don’t want to feel chosen by default. There is an innate and undeniable desire for someone to say, “I want you.” All too often we feel like they say, “I’m stuck with you.”

We carry that same fear over to our relationship with God. We feel like we have to walk that line of perfection and one wrong step will cause Him to look upon us with regret, to pass us over and pick a more qualified candidate for His approval and blessing. After all, that’s been our life experience so why would the Creator of the universe be any different? Too often our view of God is shaped by our own tragic experiences and view of humanity, but in doing so we create an image of God that is false.

God isn’t stuck with you because all the cool kids were too busy having lives. God doesn’t look down on you with your flaws wishing someone else would step up and take your place. He chose you, yes He specifically chose YOU. God picked you intentionally. He created you with value and purpose that we too often don’t see because we form our self-image through our own experiences rather than through the lens of God’s Word.

Ephesians 1:3-5 (NLT) All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

This scripture fills me with such great joy and makes me want exclaim the goodness of God to all who will listen! God loves and chose ME. He chose YOU. Even before He made the world He had you in His mind. He was thinking of you and waiting with great desire for the day you would be born. He delights in you so much that even with the knowledge that you would make many mistakes He set in motion a plan to adopt you as His very own child. In fact, He sent His very own son Jesus to suffer, die and be raised to life so that you could be called a son or daughter of God.

I celebrate because the adoption is complete! God is my Daddy and I am His son. Not only are you His child, but this scripture tells us how He sees us. He looks down and He doesn’t focus on our imperfections. Through the eyes of God, we are holy and without fault. We need to stop glaring in disgust at the things we think mar us and make us unqualified. We need to view ourselves through the eyes of the Lord.

How amazing that He offers to us every spiritual blessing. God withholds no good thing from His children. We are the inheritors of the promise! We are chosen to enter into covenant with God. We are united with Christ and as such are spiritual royalty.

We don’t have to fear being rejected by man for we have already been chosen by One who is far greater. We can walk with unparalleled confidence for we belong to Christ. Today I challenge you to hold your head up high! Remember your spiritual identity and boldly walk into every room secure in who God has declared you to be. Carry out His purposes with joy, celebrating the good news brought by Christ. Tell the world! The moment of their adoption has arrived!

Going On The Offensive

The Adventurer is ready to set out into the darkness of the cave. He does not know what foes lie in the shadow, only that beyond the mouth of the cave lie the unknown. For a moment he is afraid. Around his neck is a small glass diamond and within the diamond is a soft light. Not enough to bring any clarity to the darkness, but enough for him to remember he is not alone. He swallows his fear and begins his journey into the abyss.

As the adventurer is swallowed by the darkness, those on the outside of the cave think he has lost his mind. What would drive a man into the dark depths of the cave? Insanity that’s what! What they don’t know is the adventurer is driven by a dream. While he sleeps he can hear the screams of the inhabitants of the cave. Dwellers of the darkness. Why do they scream? Perhaps because they have never seen the light.

Hours pass as he delves deeper into the cave. He’s now deep, deep in the darkness. A sound stops the adventurer in his tracks. Footsteps. He is not alone. A low growl fills his ears. It doesn’t sound human. He breathes in deep. This is the moment he was born for. He’s not afraid to fight. He grabs the light around his neck, eyes frantic, searching the darkness for any sign of the creature. The light shimmers off of red eyes.

He reaches to his side for his weapon. The dread starts in his chest and slowly moves toward his stomach. There in the depths of dark despair, face to face with something that surely wants his blood, he has no weapon.

Perhaps this was for the best. If the adventurer had his weapon that day, he may have mistakenly used it on the very ones he had entered the cave to save.

Ephesians 6:10-12 (NLT) A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. 

Ephesians 6:17 (NLT) …take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

As believers, it is so vital that we recognize our enemy is not flesh and blood, but spirit. I was thinking the other day how cool it would be if at the moment of salvation we gave everyone a sword. I would use that as an evangelism tool, “Come meet Jesus and get a sweet sword!” The problem, of course, is that it sends the wrong message. “You love Jesus? Now go cut people!”

I recognize that is ridiculous, but sometimes it feels as if that’s exactly what we do. We take the Word of God and use it to tear people apart. We have to remember our enemy is not the sinner, politicians or other Christians. Our enemy is the devil and the powers of hell. Tragically, we too often use the Word of God as a source to try and force people to see our perspective instead of simply demonstrating the love of Jesus.

Too often people feel beat up by Christians using scripture to condemn their lifestyle. How many times have the drug addict, the sexually immoral or the gay person felt unloved and unwelcome? How many times have they heard scripture after scripture telling them they have to change. I don’t believe we are called to use the sharpness of God’s Word to tear people down, but to build people up. We know we are called to speak the truth in love, but do they know we love them?

We have to remember the lost person is not our enemy, but our mission! We must use the Word of God, not to fight against them, but to fight for them!

Proverbs 18:21 (NLT) The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.

Today is the perfect day to evaluate how you are using your words. Are they declaring life or death in your family? Your parents? Your siblings? Your friends? Your classmates? Your coworkers? Your teacher? Your boss? We must use our voice to declare God’s word and speak the life giving power of God into every situation.

We must use our voice to cut through the lies of the enemy! Break the lie of insufficiency, that voice that says you’re not good enough. You were created by God and He doesn’t make junk! Break the lie of brokenness with the revelation of God’s healing. Break the lie of valuelessness with the reality of your adoption as a child of God! So many people believe they aren’t worth anything, but God sees you as so valuable He sent Jesus to die so you could have life

We are called to go on the offensive! We must not be afraid to speak out and to use our words to unleash Heaven’s power and build the Kingdom of God! Let’s just be sure we are fighting against the right enemy.

Today I challenge you, pick up your weapon, let God’s Word become your voice. Step into the darkness and bring forth light!