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.

The Struggle To Forgive

The biggest hurdle we face in life is the hurdle of forgiveness. Many carry around hurts so deep and memories so painful that the idea of letting their offender off the hook is unbearable. The idea of that person being someone loved by God, deserving of salvation is almost offensive.

We all struggle to forgive. I think part of that reason is that we think that forgiveness means letting the one who hurt us off the hook, waiving all responsibility for the pain he caused. Forgiveness does not remove consequences to wrongful action and it does not let your offender off the hook.

At its core forgiveness isn’t even about the person who hurt you, it’s about you. Forgiveness is about letting yourself move past pain, into healing. If we want to fulfill the call of God in our lives we must move past the hurts of yesterday and let Jesus heal those wounds.

Forgiveness is an act of surrender. It’s letting go of your offense and trusting the Lord take your brokenness and make you whole again. Forgiveness is letting go of your right to justice and trusting that God is a just God who is in complete control of everything.

One obstacle that causes many to be hesitant about offering forgiveness is they don’t want to ever again interact with the one who caused them such pain. They can’t imagine reconciling that relationship. We must remember that forgiveness is not the same thing as reconciliation and reconciliation is not always a requirement for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is an inner work within yourself while reconciliation is an outward work between you and your offender. Sometimes God will work in you and lead you to reconciliation, other times not. I would urge you, through prayer, choose to forgive unconcerned with reconciliation. Lower your defenses and allow God work in your heart to heal your wounds.

Mark 11:24-25 (NLT) I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too

The enemy wants this generation to be bound and unable to forgive by deep wounds because this prevents the work of God from being completed in our lives. We must forgive. The call of God is too great upon this generation to remain locked in a cage of bitterness. We must learn that surrendering to God means every part of us, even our hidden wounds. When we turn them over to God. He not only heals them, but He gives them purpose.

When we begin to operate in forgiveness we realize that our past no longer holds power over us. Furthermore, we are now empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring healing to others. When the world sees someone who should be broken and bitter walking in healing and hope it is a great testimony to the power of God.

Colossians 3:12-13 (ESV) Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

We are eager to receive the forgiveness of the Lord, but it is still hard to extend that forgiveness to others. However, as we submit to the Lord, allowing Him to work in our life, it is a true sign of our transformation when we begin offering forgiveness to those who do not deserve it. Maybe they’re not even sorry. I am so grateful that Jesus didn’t wait for me to be sorry before He laid down His life and offered me the forgiveness I so gladly accepted.

Today let us seek to be like Jesus. Let us lay down our defenses in surrender to God. Let us allow His healing hand to work in our lives. It is possible to walk in forgiveness and full healing from your past. When you do, you will be amazed at how God will begin to use you for His glory.

Prove It!

Have you ever heard a story so fantastic that you just couldn’t believe it? I remember as a kid hearing many such stories and there was always someone who shouted out, “Prove it!” Many times on the internet I’ve stumbled across someone saying “pics or it didn’t happen.” We are naturally skeptical and the bigger or more fantastic the story, the less inclined we are to believe it at face value.

I’ve known many children who come home boasting about getting a high grade on an exam or in a class, and a good parent will usually ask to see the test or the report card. In a courtroom, we demand evidence to prove the accused is guilty. When we first get our drivers license we are quick to whip it out and prove our accomplishment. Yes, we expect evidence for almost everything in life, but when it comes to our faith we wouldn’t dare ask someone to prove it!

“You’re a Christian? Prove it!” It sounds weird. It sounds offensive and we probably shouldn’t word it like that. However, over time for someone truly pursuing a deepening relationship with Christ, there will be evidence. As a family who cares about each other, we should be looking for that evidence.

Acts 26:20 (NLT) I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do.

The apostle Paul taught new believers to repent from their sins and to turn to God. This is wonderful! When we come to Christ we should stop sinning. There should be a change in our lives! There should be evidence of our conversion. We should exchange sinful deeds for good deeds. As our love for Jesus grows, our love for people grows and it should be evident in our lives.

But Pastor Chris, what about the Bible! It says not to Judge!

Matthew 7:1 (NLT) “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged…”

Very good! We shouldn’t judge sinful people for sinning. We shouldn’t treat anyone in a non-loving manner because of their sin. However, many struggling Christians will throw that up as a defense to avoid accountability when we are absolutely called to help our fellow believers in their pursuit of Christ.

Galatians 6:1 (NLT) Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself.

In fact, later in that same chapter where is says do not judge it says this:

Matthew 7:17-20 (NLT)  A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 19 So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. 20 Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.

It is not our place to judge the unbeliever, but we are absolutely called to inspect the fruit of the believer. It is wisdom and beneficial to check in on the spiritual progress of those we are helping to follow Jesus. This is what discipleship looks like.

We know if we are connected to the vine we will produce the fruit of the vine. If we are not producing the fruit of the vine then we are not connected to the vine. Our job is to lovingly come beside those that are struggling and ask why is there not fruit. Maybe there is unforgiveness, maybe they’re harboring hurts, maybe there is a sin that they haven’t let go of.

Investigating the fruit is about removing the hindrances that are stopping spiritual progress so that they might grow and become a healthy spiritual child of God. It is not judgement to encourage another believer to let go of sin, and to be fully committed to Christ. It is not judgement to examine the fruit we are producing in our lives, in fact it is something we all need. I hope my life is producing fruit, and if there is an area where I am lacking spiritual progress I hope even more that someone comes alongside me to help me.

Let us all be open to correction. A life submitted to God and transformed by His power will have a clear and undeniable difference. The evidence will be clearly visible. Let us boldly live out the change so that no one ever has to come up to us and say, “prove it.”

How to Play the Game of Life 

Have you ever tried to play a game, but you did not know the rules? I have a feeling it probably did not work out so well for you. Better yet, have you ever flat out ignored the rules? It was probably a fun experience even though it likely ticked off the person you were playing against and go figure, you still didn’t win the game.

Imagine you were playing a game with the person who created it sitting right behind you, whispering in your ear, telling you exactly which moves you should make. Would you listen? I would hope so. No one understands how to make you successful at the game more than the person who created the game.

In a recent lesson, I brought in a bag of chocolate chips and asked all my students to write down a recipe to make chocolate chip cookies from scratch. Most of the recipes would’ve been pretty awful. One for sure would’ve made rocks rather than cookies. I asked them which recipe they would prefer making, theirs or the one on the bag? We all agreed the one on the bag would be better because that recipe comes from the people who know how to make chocolate chip cookies.

In the same way, God is the one who gave us life. God is the one who created us spirit, soul and body. He also gave us scripture to instruct us on how we are supposed to live the life He gave us. Think about it, our souls come from the Lord. Is there anyone better to tell us what we need to do in order to have complete, fulfilled and satisfied souls?

I think I would like to take my cues on how to live life, from the one who created life.

2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT) All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.

God gave us His word to reveal to us what is right and what is true. When we neglect to study His word, or even worse to obey His word, we are in effect telling God, “I know you  created life, but I think I know how to run my life better than you do.” We need to rely on His word to teach us, instruct us and correct us.

John 8:31-32 (NLT) Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. 32 And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Often we think of God’s word as restricting us, but the truth is when we follow His ways we find freedom. When God is asking us to refrain from something we enjoy, it isn’t to rob us of happiness. God knows that we enjoy many things that offer temporary pleasure, but ultimately leave us unfulfilled. However, when we line our lives up with His instruction we find true satisfaction in Him.

From the outside, it might look like restriction, but from the inside, you know that you have more freedom than you’ve ever had.  Listen to the teachings of Jesus, they are truth. Follow His ways and let the one who created life give you true life.

Let’s conclude today by looking at a great portion of Scripture. The Lord sets before His people two choices, life and death. Life is to obey God’s ways, death is to abandon them. It seems like an easy decision, He even gives us the answer at the end. “Choose LIFE!” Yet sadly, many will go on to choose death. I hope that you will join me in choosing life.

Deuteronomy 30:15-19 (ESV) “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live,

Learning To Love Learning

Children love learning! Most children anyway. They enjoy when you point to your face and they finally have mastered that the weird shape in the middle is called a nose. Most children look forward to the first day of school with an anxious anticipation. That doesn’t last. Maybe it goes away when they realize they have to go EVERY DAY for the next TWELVE YEARS. Maybe they have negative a social interaction that zaps their joy for education. Maybe they realize it isn’t cool to enjoy school.

I don’t really know what it is that steals our desire for learning, but the older we get the more work it is for our brains to acquire new knowledge. I remember when I finished school, there was a part of me that was like, “I’m done! I never have to learn again.” How foolish I was.

Proverbs 18:15 (NLT) Intelligent people are always ready to learn. Their ears are open for knowledge.

Smart people love learning. That seems obvious, they’re smart so of course, they like learning. It’s easy for them. That isn’t necessarily true though. I believe everyone can enjoy learning, but it requires discipline. Being ready to learn isn’t about your level of enjoyment, but your level of commitment. Determine in your heart, “I’m gonna never stop learning” and seek out knowledge. This is the only requirement for gaining intelligence.

Proverbs 12:1 (ESV) Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

Discipline is the key component to gaining knowledge. We must subject ourselves to tasks we might not foremost enjoy, but in doing so we gain knowledge and over time we eventually gain an appetite for it. Along with a willingness to learn means a willingness to be taught, or to receive correction. In fact, the verse above in the NLT says “it is stupid to hate correction.” I get a small pleasure from that because I wasn’t allowed to say stupid as a kid. Sorry, mom, it’s in the Bible.

Let’s be real though, we don’t always like correction, but sometimes we are wrong. We must never be so rigid and set in our ways that reject criticism and correction, especially from those with more wisdom than us. Next time you’re being corrected and that voice of objection rises up inside you, just remember the Bible says it is stupid to hate correction. I don’t wanna be called stupid by anyone, especially the Word of God.

Proverbs 1:7 (ESV) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Growing up I always heard two quotes, both of which suggest we should never stop learning. “Leaders are learners” and “Leaders are readers”. I was never the BIGGEST fan of reading though. I felt it required too much time.

My thoughts on that have changed. So has my approach to reading. I don’t try to take on a whole book at once. I don’t even try to take on a whole chapter at once. My only goal is five pages a day. Sometimes a page more, if I’m really enjoying it. You could read five pages a day right? When I reach five pages I stop. Even if I’m mid sentence. OK, my OCD wouldn’t let me do that, I usually try to finish the thought. I usually spend no more than 15 minutes a day in a single book and I’m usually reading two different books, totaling 10 pages and half an hour each morning or evening.

That is simple. And in doing that I have read about 15 books in the past nine months. I don’t say this to brag, but to show you that it is possible to change and we must change. We must hunger after the Word of God. We must long to become more like Christ, but if we do not truly LEARN who He is then we will never meet that goal.

Maybe you see yourself as an intelligent person, maybe you don’t. Either way, I want you to know that the most important thing is always being ready to learn. We have the Holy Spirit who is ready and willing to teach us, but we must put ourselves in a mindset where we are willing to listen. I believe God is speaking to us each day, but often we aren’t really listening. When you go to pray and read your Bible today, go with pen and paper in hand ready to listen to whatever the Lord may speak.

Always be ready to learn and over time you will learn to love learning.

Jesus, Our Supply

I wish we could just eliminate bad days. No matter the effort we put in, there are still days when everything seems to go wrong. It’s unavoidable. There are seasons in life where struggle prevails. I am grateful for the seasons of growth and the seasons of harvest, but why must we also have seasons of loss and seasons of drought?

We cannot always control what season of life we are in. The weather changes regardless of our actions, however, our actions are not determined by the weather. In the midst of bitter cold, I can put on my warmest jacket and head out to work. If I don’t then I’ll likely lose my job. In the same way no matter the season of life you find yourself in, you can choose to keep spending time in prayer and in the Word of God.

Psalm 1:1-3 (ESV) Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;  but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Often when faced with adversity and challenge we tire of the drudgery of devotion. It is not uncommon in those seasons to feel as if God is distant. Suddenly prayer seems a chore and our motivation wanes. When we are not seeing the fruit of our prayer efforts, we want to quit praying.

That is a choice we sometimes make, but it is the wrong choice. We must continue sowing the seed of prayer, especially during the difficult seasons. We must water our prayers with tears before the Lord and earnestly pray for His purpose to take root in our hearts. As we remain steadfast in our pursuits, allowing His Word to consume our hearts and minds, even in the drought we are being fed like a tree planted by the stream.  We can be confident that fruit will be produced in its proper time.

We feel each season. We dance during seasons of joy and produce. We weep during seasons of heartache and pain. We endure seasons of frustration and dryness. Yet, the work of the Lord continues within us, so long as we stay rooted in His word the waters of His Spirit are preparing us for a new season of produce.

I wish I could tell you that it was all sunshine and that we would never endure hard times, but the Bible ensures us that hard times will come. However, we are also assured that even through such great challenges our God stands with us. He is on our side. He is fighting our battles. We are not abandoned to survive on our own. He is our strength and our shield, our place of refuge.

Let us never abandon the good fight, but when difficult times come let our resolve become ever stronger, fueled by the very presence of God. We are not among the weak that we may give in and cease our pursuit. No, we are among the strong, the relentless ones who charge forward knowing that God is on our side and no weapon can stop us.

So long as we stay rooted in His word, His presence and His church there is no season we will encounter that He has not supplied the strength to survive. If you are going through a hard time today, I encourage you do not despair. Look to His provision. Open His word and read. Do not tire in praying. Reach out to a fellow believer to join you in the fight. Pray together. Let God be your supply. In all seasons, He is our source of strength. Our source of endurance. Our very source of life. Every victory comes from Him alone.

You are not forgotten, this season will end.

Trust in God.

 

Words Hurt

Words hurt. We all agree with that because more likely than not you’ve experienced a moment in your life where someones words caused you heartache. For some, family members have left them with deep scars from verbal assaults. Others have strong insecurities rooted in words from friends. Recently I’ve encountered a couple of situations that reminded me of the pain our own words can cause, even when it is unintentional.

There are moments when I like to make a quick remark, sometimes they are funny, sometimes they are not. Often my comments are in good fun and most people know me so they don’t take it personally. Every now and then a comment goes too far. When this happens, I usually know it, or at least I hope I do. Not too long ago I made such a comment. It was both truthful and funny, but it also insulting (because of its truthfulness) and didn’t need to be said.

Thankfully, the individual didn’t hear me and no harm was caused. How often do we say things in jest, but it really hurts the other perso? Jokes at the expense of someone else can be funny, but we never really know how the other person will receive it. They might laugh now and  later go home and cry.

Am I suggesting we shouldn’t joke? No! But we should make every effort to choose our words with care, and maybe consider if it needs to be said. Always consider other people. Will the conversation we are having leave them feeling built up or torn down?

Another way words can unintentionally hurt is when we pass along information. We love hearing new information about people. We are genuinely interested in the lives of others and when something monumental happens good or bad we like to talk about it. We know it is harmful when it is bad, but we sometimes do it anyway. However, even passing along good news can be hurtful. Sometimes what you heard isn’t true.

I don’t know how non-truths get passed around. Maybe someone intentionally started the rumor with a lie. Perhaps someone read into a situation and passed on what they thought was happening. Either way I think we have a responsibility to find out if something is true before spreading it around. Or ya know, not spread it around.

There are times we assume that people don’t mind and if that’s the case then it’s ok I guess, as long as you know from the source the correct information and that they are for sure ok with you telling people. And if we have to go through all that before passing on the information, most of the time we would just not bother. Maybe that’s my point.

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

We must remember that words have the power to hurt. Our words are never just words. They have the power to build up and they have the power to destroy. We must never forget to think before we speak.

Proverbs 15:28 (NLT) The heart of the godly thinks carefully before speaking; the mouth of the wicked overflows with evil words.

Our words are not just here one minute and gone the next minute. They can stay with the hearer for a very long time. Beyond that, our words even echo into eternity.

Matthew 12:36 (NLT) And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak.

The part that sticks out to me is IDLE WORDS. The things we say when we aren’t really thinking about what we are saying. Sometimes they can be the most devastating. We don’t always have bad intentions, but that doesn’t mean our words are without consequences. Our words matter, always.