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!

Facing The Fog

There’s something eerie about driving down the back roads after midnight. Especially on those nights when the fog hovers low, blanketing the road ahead. This is an image used often in horror movies to evoke a specific aboding atmosphere. With your vision obscured, fear naturally emerges deep in the recesses of your mind.
When was the last time you were completely overcome by fear? I don’t mean you saw a snake, panicked and took off running. I’m talking about a moment when the world finally stopped moving, in bed hoping to sleep, yet hundreds of unanswered questions flood the mind. No answers in sight. Only one thing is certain. I’m so scared.

Many people to find themselves frozen in a fog of fear. It appears without warning clouding our mind and smothering our confidence. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring and when fear grabs our focus it can be overwhelming. We remember past mistakes and fear repeating them. We are aware of our many flaws and worry we’re not good enough. What if we just flat out fail? 

What do you do when the face the fog? How do you overcome it? The answer to that question is both devastating and yet uplifting. As long as you are trying to answer the unanswerable questions of tomorrow, you will never overcome the fear. Too often we find ourselves looking within ourselves to clear the fog when the solution to fear comes from a shifting perspective that has nothing to do with you. We must upward lift our eyes and remember, we are not the source of our own strength.

Part of what makes the Christian life such an adventure is who we are in covenant with. We serve the King of kings, the God of all creation. We get to spend time every day in the presence of God! Try explaining that next time your friends are boasting of their big weekend exploits. “Oh, yea? I spent time with Creator of life, He spoke to me. No biggie.”

God created everything out of nothing and He is on our side! Why do we fear? He can certainly take our past and use it for our good. Our primary problem is that too often we make God in our own image, and we make Him far, far too small. Today, let us remind ourselves of WHO GOD IS!

Isaiah 40:12, 15, 22, 26, 28 (NLT)12 Who else has held the oceans in his hand? Who has measured off the heavens with his fingers?

15 For all the nations of the world are but a drop in the bucket. They are nothing more than dust on the scales. He picks up the whole earth as though it were a grain of sand.

22 God sits above the circle of the earth. The people below seem like grasshoppers to him!

26 Look up into the heavens. Who created all the stars? He brings them out like an army, one after another, calling each by its name. Because of his great power and incomparable strength, not a single one is missing.

28 Have you never heard? Have you never understood? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of his understanding.

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.

Romans 8:31 (ESV) If God is for us, who can be against us?

Romans 8:28 (ESV) And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Psalm 56:11 (ESV) In God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?

God is so much bigger than our minds are capable of imagining, let along comprehend. Furthermore, we are the apex of His creation and His love for us is unfathomable. He is on our side. He is our strength. What have we to fear? 

Next time the fog threatens to tear you away from the threshold of opportunity, put away the questions and remember how BIG God truly is. You might be facing the fog today, but have enough trust to let His light guide you. You may only be able to see a few feet in front of you, but God sees it all and He will not lead you astray. Be bold, move forward with confidence and unwavering trust in our mighty God!

The Adventurer

Recently I asked some of my students to tell me about their greatest adventure. Stories ranged from riding insane and unsafe thrill rides to a close encounter with a bear. Every story they told had one element in common. RISK. A life without risk is a life without adventure and a person who lives such a life is a person with no stories to tell. Tragically, too many Christians live such a life.

When people hear the word “Christian” it conjures up different meanings. Some people think of a loving Savior. Some think of delusion. Others think of Hypocrisy. There are many, even in the church, who simply think, boring. Is Christianity supposed to be boring? Were the disciples bored? Was the Apostle Paul bored? Why would people think Christianity is boring?

Ok I know, we’ve all been to a boring church service before, but beyond that, I believe people think Christianity is boring because so many Christians live boring lives. We are content and comfortable with the mundane. We lack a deep desperation for the miraculous.

There are moments when it feels like, we know we’re saved and so we clutch our one-way ticket to Heaven, keep our head down and desperately try to make sure we don’t lose it. One of my students reminded me that we are supposed to be the army of the Lord. If an army spends all their time hiding in the trenches then it is largely ineffective and will be defeated. We aren’t called just to try and avoid hell. We are called to march out and make an impact. We are called to build the Kingdom God

Matthew 16:18 (ESV) And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

The church isn’t supposed to be on defense, but offense! We know this because it says the GATES of hell can’t prevail against us. A gate is defensive, therefore we as the church should be on the move. If we truly lived understanding our mission, life would be an adventure.

What does an adventure look like? Here’s what I’ve learned. An adventure should be fun and often involves the unexpected. Our lives should be full of unexpected moments of God’s presence and leading. Moments where He shows up unannounced to spend time with us. Times where He shows up speak to us and lead us to reach out to someone in need. We miss this one many times because another word for unexpected is inconvenient. He sometimes shows up at a time when we have other plans and He interrupts our lives for His purposes. We can go about our business, or we can live on the edge and let Him interrupt and maybe catch a glimpse of the miraculous!

An adventure should involve risk and many times will have a great cost. The problem is many times we are afraid of the risk and we aren’t willing to pay the cost. We already know it will risk being inconvenienced, but there is also the risk of embarrassment. The risk of failure. The risk of losing friends. Ultimately it comes down to this: Do we trust the Lord enough to take the plunge and risk it all? Because I promise you, when we risk it all for His purposes it is always worth the risk. It is always worth the cost, no matter how great.

The final thing I’ve learned about adventure is that it always leaves you with a story to tell. Once you set out on this lifetime adventure and begin to live a life of risk, the story becomes an important part of it. First, your story will encourage other people to step out in faith and walk in greater obedience to the Lord. Second, your story changes the game on witnessing. You begin to develop an arsenal of personal experience to share with the lost. You not only have your story of salvation and what God is done in your life, you also have stories of how God has used you to pray for the sick and bring healing. Stories of times God gave you a word of knowledge and led a stranger in the grocery store to Jesus. Stories of the time you prayed for a waitress and she burst into tears and the Lord brought healing to her heart.

Are you ready to step out in faith and live a lifestyle of risk? Are you tired of the mundane and ready to step into the miraculous? If so the time of waiting is over. Begin to ask the Lord to give you opportunities and then spend each day looking for those opportunities to step out and live the life of an adventurer.