endurance

In Too Deep

The radiant spring morning beautifully illuminated the world, yet my three-year-old daughter stood unusually still. It was a delightful day to say the least, and Alethea and I had walked out on our back porch to savor the sun. We lived in a pleasant neighborhood (contrary to the opinion of many), and for a young family braving the world, we had no fear—life was good.

My daughter, Olathe, squirmed restlessly in my arms, as she often did, wriggling for her independence. She was apparently having a hard time saying, “No, thank you,” to the earth’s invitation to a backyard exploration. So I lovingly let her down. She waddled down the wooden steps, across the slab of cement, and ran into our backyard. So much joy, so much life—I can still feel her contagious exhilaration as if it were our own.

Then, something changed. With her back facing us, she stopped abruptly. With an unsure twinge of horror, she slowly turned her head and looked at us unleashing a panicked cry. Instinctively, Alethea and I ran to her and scooped her up. Her little spring-loaded arms tightened around my neck as if something we couldn’t see desired to swallow her whole. I was able to maneuver her around just enough to check her feet for cuts, thorns, snake bites—anything that could have induced such terror. Nada.

Buckets of tears melted my heart. Daddy’s are protectors, so had I known there was something lurking out there, waiting to inflict fear upon my little princess, I would have warned her, stopped her, or enticed her to stay inside with some Cheerios. But the world is a beautiful place. And although there are things in it that may make her cry, should I keep her from the great adventures that beckon her curious soul?

I’ve been wrestling of late with the fine line between fear and love and how these two emotions influence our decisions. My decisions. You see, fear is a powerful emotion. It can keep us bound to the ground when we, or the ones we love, long to fly. It deceives us into thinking we are safe. Secure. In control. But in reality, fear is just a scared dictator fighting for self-preservation at all costs—chaining us to the porch with links of Cheerios.

Opposite of fear stands love. Fear rages against freedom under the guise of safety, whereas love safely wraps freedom in a comfortable, warm quilt. When we trust in love (whether human or divine), we are free to face our fears, experience life, even make mistakes. Why? Because even in our failings we know love will never fail. It will always find a way to scoop us up when our exhilaration or curiosity takes us in too deep.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him… There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” —1 John 4:16,18 (ESV)

“It was the grass. She doesn’t like the feeling of grass on her feet.”

I looked at my wife as this revelation graciously fell from her lips as drops rain on the dry ground of my perplexity. After a brief pause, we burst into compassionate laughter and held our daughter close.

We will all experience itchy ankles—times we get ahead of ourselves and realize we aren’t quite comfortable where we find ourselves. In those moments, let’s remember it is love that gave us the courage and freedom to explore an unsafe world. And that no matter how far we run in life, what fears we will face, when the world makes us cry, we (she) can be secure knowing that we will always… always… have a loving Father who through the wonder, fear, joy, and pain in life, is present and delights in us. Love never fails.

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Jesus Wants You to Stop Resisting Sin

Resist
Christians should stop resisting sin. A bit controversial I know, but frankly I’m tired of seeing the people I care about wrestle with the intense and forceful temptations that claw for their soul. From the fall of Adam sin has been in our nature. Where was sin just before Cain killed his brother? At the door—knocking… pounding… anxious to come inside (Gen 4:7). Resisting sin makes the noise in our head and the angst in our soul echo all the louder. Why? Because when there is a vacuum in our souls the emptiness yearns to be filled.

Smoking can be a difficult habit to break. Although nicotine cravings only physically stay within the body for about five days, the random urge to smoke can last a lifetime. The reason for this is that it’s a habit set into motion by a trigger—like a time you would typically take a short break from work, stress, or anxiety. A friend of mine told me how he quit smoking: “Instead of lighting a cigarette, I would suck on a blow pop. It tasted better… AND I got gum at the end.” Fairly insightful, no?

Jesus said it this way…

When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, searching for rest. But when it finds none, it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds that its former home is all swept and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. —Luke 11:24-26 (NLT)

Many Christians are losing the battle against sin and temptation because they are trying to resist while they still have a vacuum inside. The Bible tells us to resist the devil and he will flee… but not before we submit to God (James 4:7). We are to be filled with the Spirit which, in turn, leaves no room for the enemy.. even if he makes a good case to enter our lives.

Imagine an airplane packed to capacity and someone runs up and says they need to get on the plane because it would make everyone on the plane feel better or less stressed. Considering they were telling the truth… would that really be such a bad thing considering the handful of sweaty first-time flyers nervously talking to the person trying to read next to them?!

“I need to get on the plane so everyone can relax.”

“Sorry, sir, there’s no more room.”

“Please… please let me on. It will make people feel better.”

“Nope… no room.”

“LET. ME. ON!”

“Sorry. Go home now.”

When the vacuum of the human soul is filled with the presence, peace, and love of God, even if we desperately want to give in, we can’t. There is simply no room for the devil. The only way sin can creep in is if we leave the door open, unlocked, or unattended (something I will expound on in another blog).

So, Christian, my advice is this: stop resisting and start replacing. Let your life be so full of God that there’s no room for sin. Go to church, get involved, do daily devotions, listen to music that brings glory to God, think on the cross, meditate on God’s goodness, memorize scripture, nurture healthy relationships, fill the void that the enemy wants to fill. When you start replacing your sinful habits with Godly ones, God will begin to fight your battles for you. You’ll still need to keep your guard up (Eph 5:13, Prov 4:23), but when you turn your energy towards the things of God, He will exponentially multiply your resistance.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. —Galatians 5:16 (NLT)

For further study, read and meditate on Galatians 5.

I love to hear feedback from my readers. If you agree, disagree, or can add to this topic in any way, I want to invite you to share your thoughts in the comment section below. If it has been a beneficial read, would you consider sharing it with others on your social network?

*Photo credit by Bahi P under CC License. Title added.

Wise guy advice

Last night at Bible study we looked at the story of the wise men recorded in Matthew 2. We had a wonderful time exploring the connections and difficulties of how they worshiped Jesus despite what their expectations of the Messiah might have been. They had no trouble bowing before the king of the Jews even though at the time was a small child. The wise men acted by faith, not by sight.  They saw God in an unlikely place and circumstance.

On the side, we also looked at King Herod and his attitude towards the Christ child. He was greatly threatened by the possibility of this king of the Jews and did everything in his power to thwart God’s plan.

Often in our lives we can be threatened by Jesus as well. We get scared that Jesus might take away our control, power, dreams, and ability to do the things WE WANT and so we fight against him instead of worshipping him. When Jesus steps onto the scene of our lives, we are forced to look closely at who is really on the throne of our heart in ALL circumstances. Will we bow down when situations aren’t quite what we expect or will we struggle to keep control of our lives?

Psalm 111:10, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,”

Ephesians 5:15-17, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”

These wise men understood that God was in control no matter what they saw with their natural eyes and rejoiced and worshipped according to that faith. What a wonderful testimony to us today! Today, let us walk in the same wisdom and knowledge of the Lord, understanding His will in all the circumstances we face, not just in the times of blessing. He is still all powerful and holds us in the palm of his hand.

Phil 1:6, “…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

When people bark | Part 1

Whenever I walk by the fence that borders my drive and the neighbors yard, their little Chihuahua sneaks up on me and begins to bark like crazy—swirling in circles and trying to look all tough. For about a year the little rodent made me jump and get what I call “hot nerves” because he always seemed to come out of nowhere and startle me. He really knew how to tick me off.

However, about two months ago something strange happened. Pulling into the drive, I noticed the lil’ noisemaker crouched in the corner of the neighbors yard. Slowly I turned the car off and watched as he stalked closer and closer like a cougar ready to pounce on its’ prey. Cautiously I stepped out from the car and without notice he charged and began his notorious bark-swirls.

Oddly enough, that was the moment I realized that this dog actually likes me.

Sometimes in similar fashion people come at us all the wrong way. For whatever reason, they bark, swirl and continuously catch us off guard. They might try to intimidate us or cause us to react in a negative way. It’s almost as if they find enjoyment in this like the small dog that can make a grown man jump.

The dilemma for us arises when we interpret their “bark” as an attack and defensively react in a negative way. Reacting in a negative way or out of emotion is never a good thing. But how can we react positively if someone is constantly coming at us?

The answer lies in our perspective of the situation.

What we might not realize is that most of the time these people are just lonely and trying to seek attention in all the wrong ways. It’s almost as if causing a reaction from someone (even negative) brings some sort of significance to their life. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that this is right or acceptable behavior, but as the recipient of such behavior we must learn to deal with negatives in a positive way as to maintain our own good character.

In the case of lil’ Cujo, I chose to see the barking, swirling and intimidation as his way of playing a game with me. As he tries to scare me, I bring enjoyment to his day. This perspective changed our daily meeting in a dramatic way. No longer do I dread the noisy barks from this taco bell dog, but rather look forward to seeing him because I know deep down, in a twisted way, he loves our time together. If he catches me off guard and makes me jump—he wins. If I spot him sneaking up on me—I win. This perspective might not be based in reality, but it helps me to love the little monster. Sounds weird, I know, but it helps my attitude anyway.

The fact is our perspective matters and makes all the difference! As we challenge ourselves to look for something positive in negative situations or people, we will inevitably change how we react to their barks and swirls. By lightening up and reacting in a more positive way, we can reduce stress and enjoy the interactions with others that we previously dreaded the most.

Proverbs 25:21-22, “If you see your enemy hungry, go buy him lunch; if he’s thirsty, bring him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness, and God will look after you.” (The Message)

If someone barks at you today, maybe just smile and compliment them some way in return. I would love to hear your experiences and/or feedback on this. Part 2 of this post will deal with some specific examples of how I changed my perspective in real life situations. Stay tuned….

Discovery Changes Everything

I have been thinking a lot lately about the art of discovering. Discovery is when you realize the existence or potential of something that already existed. It might be that old song a person recently heard for the first time and now plays over and over again on their iPod. It might be that book that was pulled out from the shelf that just can’t be put down. It could simply be discovering the joy in the loving arms of your child, parent or spouse.

On a greater scale, when we discover the divine in the natural we can rest in the bigger picture that God is in control. Take for example the inspiration of Scriptures. The inspired Word of God wasn’t declared inspired by man or a committee… it just is what it is – INSPIRED. We can only discover or recognize that fact. When we do, the inspired Word of God comes alive to us because our perspective has changed. We now realize it is more than just a book of stories – it is God’s communication with man. This changes everything. God is in the details.

As a Christian, I am learning to discover that God has created, ordained and purposed things around and in me long before I choose to recognize them.

This happens all the time in our relationships. Sometimes, as Christians, in the midst of disagreement with a spouse or when the kids act up, it is easy to forget that they are a gift from God. When we do this, we sew strife. We take the gifts that God has given us for granted as they get lost under busy schedules or selfish ambitions. However, as we begin to rediscover God at work in our relationships, our perspective changes and we find joy and wonder in those we are close to. This changes everything. God is in the details.

Lastly, we can discover God in the midst of confusion, pain, or frustrating circumstances. He has been there all along, but maybe we haven’t taken the time to notice because it seems so crazy.

Isaac prayed to the LORD on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The LORD answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD. The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.” When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. -Genesis 25:21-24

Rebekah’s pregnancy was a result of Isaac’s fervent prayer. God answered this prayer, and I am sure this fact was greatly rejoiced over at first. After a season, though, Rebekah felt the strain and the stress of something that wasn’t quite right. I wonder if she was thinking to herself, “If this is an answer from God… what the heck is going on?”

During the strain of a situation it can become easy to forget all that God has done. For Rebekah that moment was pivotal to her endurance in faith. She could have chosen to become bitter at God, forgetting that her situation was an answer to prayer. But, in grand style, the scripture says she went to inquire of the Lord. She knew God was in it and if she could only discover what was going on she could rest in the Lord. God did in fact answer her and she endured this stressful pregnancy until the 9-month season was over.

God is in the details. The art of discovering God and His will can be likened to that book that has been sitting on your shelf for ages. Often you’ve looked past it, sometimes even despised that it takes up so much space. Then, one day you decide to open it and discover a story that invites you on an incredible journey. You grab a latte and sink into that big, comfy chair by the fire. No matter where this story takes you, you are captured. Though conflict arises, you read on knowing that the author is taking you somewhere and this changes everything.

All the while you wonder, “Why didn’t I discover this book a long time ago?”

The Present

The smell of “grandma’s” house, the sight of a previously owned home, the voice of an old friend. These things can bring a person back to a place in the distant past and rip it open like a present (no pun intended).

Now that “present of past” could be wanted such as the new iPhone or unwanted like finding out you just experienced identity theft for the third time. When the emotional floodgates open though, how will you fare? Will it sweep you away or will you be grounded with a strong foundation?

Today I had a chance to look back over the past year. I realized I am essentially in the same place that I was one year ago… sort of. Let me explain…

One year ago…
I lived in Kansas City, I was making plans to move, house was for sale, and I was on the verge of starting a church as soon as we moved.

Today….
I live in Chicago, I moved from Kansas City when our home sold, and the church opened its’ doors in January 2007 through a home bible study we began.

Although time has past and much has transpired, and things have changed – I find myself anxious at the gate again, waiting on God. You see, a year ago things were not going as planned. Our house was on the market for over two years. Two separate times we had contracts fall through (not on our side). Once the house sold, I couldn’t seem to find employment in Chicago. I think the distance made it difficult to interview. After a few months of living with someone else, I secured a job and was whisked off without having a chance to officially say goodbye to any friends because we were under the assumption that we would shortly return for a weekend that never happened for one reason or another. Having arrived a few months later than anticipated in Chicago, the weather was extremely cold which made church planting efforts really slow. The contacts that we had previously made prior to moving (you know, the “call me when you get there” people) never came through. About half of the mailer we sent out to people in the community came back a few months later as undeliverable (I’ve heard Chicago mail is the worst in the nation). We, by the grace of God, have some really great college students that have joined our church community, but have gone back to their homes for the summer leaving our living room quite empty. We recently started an outreach campaign and are anxiously awaiting the fruit.

So here I am. Waiting on God. Depending on God. Maybe things haven’t always gone as planned, but I know God is with me. Maybe the point is not what God is going to do, but what is God doing. I know he’s building the man I am to be, a man of patience and endurance, a man that can trust God when things don’t go according to plan, a man after God’s heart not his own, a man God can use.

Maybe waiting is actually “the present” from God (no pun intended) and “the present” is something I should enjoy because it’s from God. Enjoy the wait… the payoff is worth it.