I followed the others into the large room and took a seat with them. I sighed as I sat down, my body aching from another week of skirmishes; my emotions ragged from the continuing attacks. I wondered how much longer our small platoon could hold on.

For the moment we took refuge here, assembled together as one. I glanced around at the group. So many like me who had been fighting this battle for years. So many who bore the scars of relentless attacks from the enemy. I could see the fatigue in their eyes, yet I also saw their determination to press on. Together we were still a formidable force for the enemy to contend with despite our weaknesses.

In this moment together we sang praises; we shared our struggles; we prayed together; we joined together to find strength and renewal. We meditated on our mission and why we were placed here for this battle. We were told victory is ours. Each Sunday there is hope in the assembled faithful.

I left the church still feeling the fatigue and emotional trauma, but ready to take on the enemy for another week. This group of seasoned faithful, believers who deeply care, helped give me hope to carry on. Once again the enemy would try to break us this week because he feared us the most, God’s faithful warriors banded together as the church.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NIV)

“He rescues me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.” Psalm 55:18 (NIV)

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published June 4, 2010.

Living a life for Christ means building the character of God inside of you, letter by letter, word by word, page by page. As Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you. (Eph 4:22-24 MSG). As you grow in Christ, your life changes from a collection of misspelled words that don’t make sense to characters that spell out a holy life in Christ. When you break down the word Holy into its individual letters H-O-L-Y, it shows the characters you need to bring glory to God instead of yourself:

H: Honor

The tendency of the world is to bring honor to self instead of Jesus. When we follow Christ, we seek to bring honor to God. John writes in 12:26 “If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, My Father will honor.” (NKJV) It is by God’s will that you were created and it is He that deserves honor by living your life for Christ. Remind yourself each day that God is worthy of honor and praise with Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power. For You created all things and by Your will they exist and were created.”

O: Offer

Do you offer what you do each day to God, or is it all about you? When we act on our faith and offer our time and resources to Christ, we are working to build his kingdom instead of riches in this temporal world. “You also, as living stones, are being built up into a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:5).” It is a life that replaces self with service to others for Christ. “Yes, and if I am being poured out as a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all (Phil. 2:17).”

L: Love

“Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength (Mark 12:30).” When the love of Christ permeates your entire life, he becomes the focal point, not your selfish desires. Love for Him gives you the ability to do things you could not do on your own. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you (Matt. 5:43).” The love of God is shown through you and your love of Christ. “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35).”

Y: Yearning

With Christ as the love of your life, you yearn for others to know Him; you yearn for fellowship with God. Before Jesus was crucified, he said to his disciples, “With fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer (Luke 22:15).” Paul repeatedly expressed a yearning to spread the gospel. “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us (1 Thess. 2:8).” In Romans 10:1 he says, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved.”

By bringing honor to God, offering your life to Him, loving God and yearning for fellowship with Him, you will have the character to live a holy life.

My old push lawnmower is nearing the end of it’s useful life, but for now it is still getting the job done. It needs a little oil added each time I fuel it up and it coughs white smoke when I start it up, but it still runs. I can see that a new mower might be in my future.

In preparation for that fateful day, I started to research replacement mowers to look for the best deal. I also researched electric versus gasoline powered mowers, studying up on the advantages of both. I had done my homework and I was prepared to make a wise choice when I needed a new mower. Problem is that I left God out of the whole process.

It never occurred to me to lift my situation to God in prayer. “Surely he can’t be bothered with something as small as a mower and the need to keep my lawn trimmed,” I thought. Apparently I had forgotten Matt. 10:30 that told me God knows the number of hairs on my head, that I am worth more than sparrows. But does he care whether I have a working mower? Apparently he does.

A few weeks ago we came across a mower outside a garage with a “free” sign on it. We were walking to church with some friends and I decided I would take it home after church if it was still there. “Certainly somebody needed it more than I did,” I thought. After church we walked back home and the mower was still there. God had provided a deal that surpassed all my research. I wheeled the mower home and started it up. It was a vast improvement over my old mower.

This was a good lesson for me to take everything to God in prayer. No matter how small or insignificant our needs may seem, we should lift everything up to God. By praying to God for our needs we take ourselves out of the equation and rely on his wisdom instead of our own. This week as I mowed the lawn with my new mower I praised God not just for his provision, but also for the lesson to take everything to the Lord in prayer.

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” – Matt 6:8 (NIV)

“And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” – Matt. 10:30 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published May 22, 2010.

In today’s world, there’s no shortage of words. A recent article in Wired cites a University of California at San Diego study that reports Americans consume about 100,500 written words each day. Then there are the thousands of words we hear each day. Add to that the thousands of words we speak on a daily basis and it quickly becomes apparent that we are surrounded by a hurricane of information.

So what exactly are we saying to each other with all those words? What are you saying? Is the Gospel of Jesus Christ getting through or is it getting lost in the massive number of conversations swirling around us? If you are not careful, you’ll get caught up in trivial

Does Jesus dominate your daily conversation?

debates that leave Jesus in the background. Paul cautioned Timothy about getting caught up in worldly discussions. “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Timothy 2:23)

Jesus cautioned his disciples in Mark 13:5 “Watch out so no one deceives you.” He goes on to warn them of many who will come to try to deceive with their words. When we focus on the Word of God each day – immersed in prayer and conversation with Him — we are filled with words that endure and stand up to the test of time.  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:31 NIV).

Just as important as what you are saying, consider the words you are consuming each day. Are they nourishing your soul or are they distracting you from Christ? ”For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:16)

When we fill our lives with the Gospel, we anchor our lives in God’s wisdom. That makes it easier to displace the trivial words of this world with the enduring Words of God.

I have often found it a challenge to put into practice 1 Thessalonians 5:16: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (NIV).” As much as I want to, I just can’t seem to maintain a constant state of rejoicing and prayer. I began to wonder if it was even possible until last week when I ran into Sandy, a woman I have know for years.

Sandy is a giving person who has served on a village council for more than 10 years. When she first joined the council, their small village was depressed and not very prosperous. One person described it as being stuck in the 1950s, but she persevered with a grateful heart. Over the years she worked to implement one positive change after another. A mural here, an improvement to a park there, a repaved street here and there. Before long a positive momentum emerged as people saw the town change for the better.

I remarked to Sandy about all the good things happening in her village. “We are so blessed,” she exclaimed to me. Then she listed all the good things going on just this year. “I don’t have all the answers, but I keep praying for our town, our businesses and our people.” I smiled as I realized she is an example of 1 Thessalonians 5:16. In essence she bathed everything in prayer, rejoiced always and was thankful for everything.

Then she told me what really mattered to her. “Oh but what we really need is Jesus,” she said to me with a smile. “Now you know my real passion.” She had shown me that I had 1 Thessalonians 5:16 backwards. Her optimism wasn’t just out of her efforts to have a positive attitude about everything, it was a joy born out of her love for Jesus and her deep desire for others to have that same joy.

For too long I focused on the first part of the verse, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances,” as this challenge to be joyful about everything; to lift up everything to God in prayer. I was treating it almost as a chore, keeping track of how many times I failed to pray or be thankful about something. What Sandy taught me is that the second part of this verse is really the answer: “for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

It is God’s will that in Jesus Christ we can rejoice always in continual prayer. Through Jesus we can find the ability and the will to gives thanks in all things. We can see God at work in all things. When our optimism is born of the Spirit of God through our faith in Jesus Christ, we are aligned with God’s plan and his will. It is having a passion to serve Christ Jesus, to bring Jesus to others, that makes us want to constantly rejoice, to constantly pray, to continually thank God.

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. – Colossians 4:2 (NIV)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. – Philippians 4:6 (NIV)

And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people – Ephesians 6:18 (NIV)

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published May 14, 2010.

There was Simon at Lake Gennesaret, wrapping up another night of fishing like he had done so many times before with his partners. All night long they plunged their nets into the lake and each time they came back out empty. They repeated the same process over and over and each time they came up with empty nets. They had nothing to show for their work when they returned to shore.

By the time Jesus comes on the scene (Luke 5:1-11) Simon is with the other fisherman cleaning their nets after an exhausting night of work. That’s when Jesus steps into Simon’s boat and his life. He asks him to push-off from shore so he can address the crowd. There in Simon’s boat, in his life, something happens. Jesus shows him and his partners James and John how to trade their empty nets and emptiness for a life full of meaning.

They are astonished at what they see. “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will catch men,” Jesus tells them ( NKJV). With that, they ditch their boats on shore and follow Jesus. They leave behind their life work, the family business, to start a new career showing others how to trade their emptiness with fullness in Christ.

What about you? Do you find yourself on an all too familiar lake fishing for something big in your life but only finding emptiness day after day? There at the end of your day, exhausted and with nothing to show for your work, Jesus steps into your life and asks you to ride with him for a moment. Do you grudgingly agree like you do each Sunday when you agree to go to church?

Yet there he is in your boat, right in the middle of your life. He’s teaching to the crowds but it seems he’s speaking directly to you. In the same places you’ve fished all your life for meaning, he has you cast your nets. Knowing the routine, you protest but give in. But this time they come up with the fullness of Christ. He shows you how much fuller your life will be following him. When you see a direct comparison of a full life with Jesus compared to the emptiness of your old ways, why wouldn’t you drop everything and follow him?

“Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” (John 4:14 NKJV)

Wednesday Walk Through the Bible, John 11:1-45, particularly verses 29-45 (NIV)

#WednesdayWalk, an exploration of what unknown people might have seen or felt when they witnessed the events in the Bible. This post is from the perspective of a person who went to mourn with Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus.

I arrived at the house to help console Mary and Martha about the loss of their brother Lazarus. A somber mood greeted me as I entered the crowded home. As I made my way through the front room, I tried to locate Mary and Martha. A few minutes later I spotted Mary near the doorway and watched as she quickly left the house. The room emptied out as everyone followed Mary. It appeared she was going to the tomb where her brother was buried.

I followed the crowd for a ways when suddenly everyone stopped. That’s when I spotted Mary bowing at the feet of a man. I asked the person next to me who Mary was bowing to and was told the man was Jesus. I had heard about this man and his miracles, but had never seen him in person.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” I heard Mary say to Jesus. She began to weep. Indeed, if it was true he could heal the sick, he could have prevented the death of Lazarus. But now it was too late for him to do anything. Tears welled up in my eyes as I saw the pain on Mary’s face. “Where have you laid him,” I heard Jesus say with a troubled look on his face. There was murmuring in the crowd as some responded, “Come and see, Lord.”

For a moment we all stood stood still, silent as we watched the tears stream down the face of Jesus as he wept with Mary. It was obvious that he loved Lazarus. Some people in the crowd were saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” I thought the same thing, but now there was nothing he could do. Who could overcome death?

A moment later we made our way to the tomb. I noticed it was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. That’s when I heard Jesus say something that shocked us all. “Take away the stone,” he said. Martha being the practical one advised Jesus, “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” To which Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

What did he mean, “if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” Then, to my surprise, against Martha’s advice, they actually took away the stone. I held my nose as I watched it roll away, prepared for a strong stench. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

For a brief moment we all stared at the open tomb. I would not have believed what happened next if I had not seen it myself. To my amazement Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” Then the dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. I stood frozen as Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” I could see it was indeed Lazarus as the cloth was removed from his face.

I whispered to myself the words Jesus said only moments ago, “that they may believe that you sent me.” Could this be the Son of God as some people had told me before this day. How could I not believe in him after seeing him raise Lazarus from the dead?

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published May 1, 2010.

A Global Positioning System or GPS is a great tool to help you find your way in an unknown area. But it is only as helpful as the information you put into it. If you give it the wrong starting point or destination you will be just as lost as when you began your journey.

Life is the same way. You travel into an unknown future surrounded by a lot of misinformation about your starting point and where you are going. It can be easy to get distracted from Christ and to start relying on a GPS of another type – Globally Positioning Self. When this happens we begin to focus more on selfish desires in this world instead of Christ. As Paul reminds us in Romans 8:7, “Focusing on the self is the opposite of focusing on God. Anyone completely absorbed in self ignores God, ends up thinking more about self than God. That person ignores who God is and what he is doing.” (MSG)

That’s why you need a true GPS – God’s Positioning System. When you trust Christ to direct your life, you will always know you are heading in the right direction. Even if you think you are traveling down the wrong road, you can trust that this GPS will help prevent you from becoming lost. “Point out the road I must travel, I’m all ears, all eyes before you.” (Psalm 143:8 MSG)

Like Abraham, there will be times that God will tell you to go a certain direction. “Now the Lord had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.’ So Abram departed as the Lord had spoken to him, and Lot went with him.” (Gen. 12:1 & 4 NKJV) Hebrews 11:8-10 tells us that Abraham traveled by faith “to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going. By an act of faith he lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents.”

In the same way, we must travel by faith, following our Spiritual GPS. Our purpose becomes helping others see the correct path in life is to follow Christ. We cannot get too comfortable in this foreign land because we know this is not our true home. Like Abraham, we live as strangers in temporary homes, relying on God to guide us. The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see. (Heb. 11:1 MSG)

Have you ever planned all the details of a trip and then nothing goes as planned the moment you start the trip? First you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the airport; then you get a flat tire; then you miss your flight because you’re late arriving at the airport. Road block after road block seems to stop you at every move. It’s aggravating when things don’t go as we planned, but do we look at these delays as God trying to get our attention?

This is what I thought about when I read Numbers 22:1-35. In this passage Balak, the king of Moab, summoned Balaam to put a curse on Israel to stop them from conquering his country. Balaam refused to go per God’s command. Then Balak tried to summon him a second time and this time God instructed Balaam to go with Balak’s officials. However, on his way to Moab, Balaam’s donkey stopped him from traveling three separate times. Balaam snapped and resorted to beating his donkey for delaying him. In the midst of this the donkey spoke and suddenly Balaam realized the angel of the Lord was in the middle of the road ready to strike him down.

The angel told Balaam, “Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before me.” Suddenly Balaam paid attention to God. Embarrassed by his angry outburst over these simple delays, he admitted his sin and offered to turnaround. But the angel told him, “Go with the men, but speak only what I tell you.” Balaam is about to be tempted with many riches to curse Israel so God reinforced to Balaam the importance of not making snap decisions and only speaking the word of God.

How many times do we proceed recklessly with our lives and our own interpretation of what God wants us to do? We saddle up our donkey and press on toward the destination where God is leading us with our own ideas, ill-prepared for trials that await us. Then we get angry when things occur that stop us from moving forward. Instead of recognizing God is trying to get our attention, we lash out until suddenly our eyes are opened so we clearly see God. In those moments we need do as Balaam did and recognize our sinful behavior and our need for full submission to God; to lay down our selfish pride and recognize that we need to wait patiently and only do what God instructs us to do.

#ThrowbackThursday — This post originally published April 26, 2010

The morning news told it all. Tornadoes suddenly ripped through the south tearing apart several communities. The pictures show the aftermath with homes and businesses ripped open or leveled, their contents spread all over the landscape for everyone to see. The tearful survivors move through the rubble, picking up the pieces.

Adversity has the same effect on us. It rips through our life with little warning, tearing apart everything that held us together. The contents of our life is strewn everywhere for all to see. Our faith in Christ is laid bare. Our emotions are raw. We move through the rubble of our lives full of tears while those around us ask, “Where is your God now?” (Psalm 42:3)

As we pick up the pieces after the storms of life hit, we know that one thing never changes – Jesus Christ. Amidst the rubble, he is there lifting us up, strengthening us, helping us to rely on His Spirit instead of our selfish desires. Christ is what enables us to see trials as pure joy, to “know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (James 1:2-4)

When we rebuild with Christ after the storms of life, we rebuild with more of Him and less of ourselves. Jesus gives us the ability to rejoice in the midst of grief and all kinds of trials “so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though it is refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

In the aftermath of the storms of life, when others ask where God is, you can respond as the Psalmist did in Psalm 42:11: “Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God— soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.” (The Message)

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