I can only imagine how the disciples and the extended family of Christ followers felt sitting in a poorly lit room 7 weeks after Jesus ascended into Heaven. They probably felt defeated and completely drained of all hope. When you think about it, the only instruction they had was to “go back to Jerusalem” and pray. This would have naturally seemed counterproductive, but then again they have seen amazing things happen because of time spent in desperate prayer. But…Jesus was gone now…and it seemed unlikely that anything memorable was going to happen.
They remembered the good ‘ol days when just 12 disciples and their supernaturally gifted rabbi healed, preached, and interacted with individuals with the obvious power and authority of Yahweh. 12 followers grew into thousands of families who longed to be affected by this man who seemed to fulfill all the requirements of the long-awaited Messiah.
The remnant of followers reorganized themselves and scraped together the last set of believers to pray as instructed. Then, something amazing happened. The Holy Spirit came and empowered this marginally talented bunch of commoners and the masses came to faith in Jesus. They simply prayed and then were faithful to what God led them to do. Each person had a role and a small amount of people impacted the world. The events of Pentecost in Acts 2, created a domino effect that has changed the course of history. God’s power was shown and people repented of their sin. The world was beginning to reconcile with the Creator; one person at a time.
There have been 2 movies lately that have impacted my view of God’s call on my life. They have been used as an illustration for my divine purpose.
The first movie is Schindler’s List. If you have ever seen that movie, you know that the main character, Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1,200 Jews during the brutal reign on Adolf Hitler in World War II. He spent all of his wealth to employ these men, women, and children from death at the hands of the Nazi party. At the end of the movie, Schindler was stricken with grief because he realized there were still things he could have sold to have the money to rescue more Jews. He could have sold his car, his gold lapel pin, etc.
The second movie is a newer one; Hacksaw Ridge. In this movie, Desmond Doss (who was a conscientious objector in World War II) was a medic who saved many men who were injured on the battle field. He single handedly dragged these men and lowered them down a cliff face to safety. Some estimate that he saved over 100 people (true story). While his hands, back, and arms ached heavily as he lowered them to where they needed to be, Doss kept repeating a simple prayer to help him gain strength. “Lord, just one more”, he said over and over. He wanted to save people so desperately, and he knew he didn’t have the strength to do it on his own. He wanted to rescue “just one more”.
There is a theme running through these scenarios. God has shown me that my purpose in life is not to put more butts in church seats, but to help create a traffic jam at the gates of Heaven. I have fervently prayed that God will give me “just one more” person to minister to, and impact for the gospel of Jesus Christ. My heart’s desire is to see people transformed by Jesus. I know I can’t do this on my own, but I can do what I have been told to do.
Can you pray that prayer with me? Can you pray that God will continue to put people in my path to love, serve, and grow with?
If you follow Jesus…I will pray the same for you.
Love you all.
What happened to the practice of a father blessing his children? When I say “bless”, I don’t mean the act of bestowing material goods. I mean blessing in a similar sense that we use the word “anoint” in the biblical context.
In the Bible, we see several instances where a father gives his children a blessing, and this would include an affirmation of who they are and what the father is praying they will become.
Today, we live in a society that would reject this concept on many levels. The current prevailing conversation about the growth of a child centers on the child exploring who they are and forming their own identity. There is nothing wrong with allowing a child to grow and discover what occupation they want to be involved in, but this is not the same as the concept of identity. This task can be confusing and even discouraging for a young person. Perhaps, they are not supposed to do this alone.
The biblical imagery of the father’s blessing shows that the father is instrumental in calling the spiritual identity out of the child as if they were calling upon a militia in hiding to join the battle. A father or father figure’s affirmation in this area is vital, because he is the one who is tasked with recognizing what is not easily seen in this young life.
Today, I want to make known the blessings I have for my children in the form of short letters:
Your name means, “God Heals”. You have such a competitive, and powerful spirit and I have recognized that you also have a compassionate heart. You are my boy, and I love you. Heal the broken. Clothe the naked. Feed the less fortunate. Become a hero to the hurting. You were made, just like the king in scripture who also bears your name, to bring people back to God. You have a huge job ahead of you, and I bless you in the name of Jesus. Grow into who you were made to be. I am so proud of who you already are and how you are a champion for the less fortunate. Fall in love with God’s word. Continue to fight for what is right. Serve the church. Give generously. Share your testimony of how God will show you His miracles. Never stop doing good.
You are my little princess. You were made to glorify God with your body, mind, and spirit. You are too gorgeous for your own good, and this fact will give you great power and impact on the world around you. Always remember that you are perfect. Reject the devil’s lies. He doesn’t stand a chance against you as long as you remain in Christ. I have recognized in you the power you possess in your prayers. So, I am calling out this gift in you. In the name of Jesus, I am blessing you in this area. Continue to grow as a mighty prayer warrior. Someday, you will be sought out for this quality and people will specifically ask you to intercede for them. Your words, and your connection to God will change the outcome of lives that are represented on your prayer list. People will sense God’s presence when they are around you. Even though you are little, you have impressed me with your desire to be nurturing, kind, and loving. Don’t forget who you are and, most of all, whose you are. Daddy loves you.
Kids need direction and affirmation for who they are. They are brand new explorers of this world, and without a tour guide, they will become lost. If you are reading this today, will you allow me to bless you too?
In the name of Jesus, I am calling out the spirit that made you who you are and who God wants you to be. Love each other. Stand for what is right. Pray for your enemies. Remember your value. Don’t forget who you are and whose you are…
That’s all I got…
Love you all.
As I write this today, I am sitting outside enjoying the afternoon breeze. The sun is shining, the grass is green, and the gentleman no more than 15 feet away from me puffs nervously on his cigarette. His vice is one that I can not rightly pass judgement on because I imagine people look at me the same way when I am at my prime at a local all-you-can-eat Asian food establishment. I have learned to understand that whatever we consider an idol involves an attitude of sin. Sin that separates us from God. Regardless, I am still enjoying the beautiful flowers. They are perfect.
Jesus talks about sinners in scripture. Many times in fact. He doesn’t condone it. Quite the opposite actually. Often, when He approaches those in sin, Jesus takes it much more seriously than I do. In the “Parable of the Weeds” He compares those living in sin as figurative weeds in a garden or a pasture. Jesus says that God will not remove the “weeds” because this would have negative consequences for the “good plants”. So, when reading that throughout my life, I have always been on alert. “Weeds (sinners) are all around me…I need to be on guard”, I have always thought. For a long time, I developed an attitude of defense when it came to these dangerous sinners. The idea was that I should not get too close or the evil darkness of their hearts will infect my pure, innocent soul.
I thought this until my brother taught me a little about landscaping. My interpretation expanded a bit. He taught me something he did not intend to be spiritual, but now guides my ministry thought process. It also gave me deep insight on the parable mentioned above.
My brother owns a small farm and understanding the needs of the land is a massive passion of his. He raises chickens, grows vegetables, and takes pleasure in God’s creation. Every time I visit the farm, we walk together and talk about things like ministry, work, and parenting. A few weeks ago, I presented him with a question I had been saving up for a few weeks. The question had to do with how to get rid of the ugly weeds in my front yard. So, I asked. The answer somewhat surprised me.
“Don’t be mad at the weeds”, he said. “The presence of weeds simply tells you what the greatest need is.” I stared at him with a puzzling look. He knew I didn’t understand so he expounded. “When you have weeds in your yard, many times it means there is some nutrient that is lacking…the weeds tell you your needs.” He went on to describe scenerios pertaining to more and less nitrogen, chemical balance, and other things that brought about certain families of pesky flora. I learned more than I cared to know in that instance. At the time, I really didn’t want a long explanation…I just wanted to get rid of them. I wanted to avoid them.
When we read the “Parable of the Weeds” in scripture and we begin to think of “weeds equal bad” and “no weeds equal good” I think we miss the point. The presence of weeds tell us the needs. So, we can think of it this way…God calls us to look at the sinners around us through His eyes. These are people with needs. Not just stubborn folks with no moral compass and lacking in wisdom. The need is food. The need is relationships. The need is healing and hope. The need is Jesus. How can we really judge, when God is trying to open our eyes to the great need?
Pray for God’s eyes today. Let’s attack sin.
I felt like Bruce was preparing us for boot camp. It was as if we were going to be running an obstacle course with spikes, fire, and mythical creatures involved. I laughed it off, but Bruce was not laughing. He was serious.
“It is possible that this will be the hardest thing you have done, or ever will do in your life. We are in the demon killing business and this is no time to be afraid.”
My family and I had been dealing with a demon for several years at this point. My brother in law had been struggling with a drug addiction and it had taken over his life. There was no getting away from it. It consumed everything. We had already gone through periods of hope, wishful thinking, and even anger. Now, our prayers had dried up. We couldn’t pray in faith anymore because we thought there was nothing left to pray. This was a job even too big for God.
Bruce was a professional counselor who specialized in drug interventions. If you don’t know what an intervention is, let me explain. An intervention is a group ambush on a person that is so lost in their addiction that they are now defending and feeding it regularly. It is a conversation defined by structured confrontation, and serious ultimatums.
That’s not me. I am a pastor. Until that point, I was content with side stepping hard truth with “more comfortably presented” versions of truth. I was a people pleaser.
After years of his struggle with hard drugs, stealing, and running away from God, our last ditch effort to bring him back was this awkward time of confrontation. Family came from out of state. The army was mobilizing.
The day the intervention was planned was the same day I planned to walk across the stage and receive my Master’s degree. A great day; ruined.
The evening before this event we met with the counselor and went through a rehearsal of sorts, and he gave us an outline guiding us on how to write our speeches. Also, he laid down ground rules. We were to be steadfast, and unwavering. We were not supposed to take “no” for an answer. The idea was to confront my brother in law with our concern for him and tell him he needs to get help…and…if he doesn’t…we would be forced to push him away. No contact. No support. No enabling. Nothing. He would also be forced to live on the street. Sometimes love is stupid.
We rehearsed the night before, and the next day we met at McDonald’s beforehand to go through final procedures and pray. As a united front, we drove to the house, and woke my brother in law up for the battle. We passionately pleaded our case and Ryan (brother in law) sat there listening politely even though he was visibly shaken by being ambushed. The conversation seemed to last an eternity. Crying was involved. Yelling was included.
In the end, Ryan refused to go to treatment. It was heartbreaking. God had let us down. The counselor said that most people change their mind within 90 days. Ryan didn’t. God was still not answering our prayers.
After losing all hope, and feeling that God was saying “no” to our plea, something miraculous happened. Ryan, who had refused to enter into the battle of recovery, decided to enter a facility to get help. 9 months later, our prayers (that we had gotten tired of praying), were answered. God did a miracle in His timing….even if it felt too late in our hearts and minds.
We found out later that he was being told lies when he spent his time with people on the streets. He was told that “no one” had ever recovered from the addiction that he had, and that he might as well give up. He tried so hard to fix it on his own, but those lies were burned into his brain.
The facility he went to for help refused to let him in. Apparently there were no beds available. Ryan became angry and would not take “no” for an answer. The caseworker looked at Ryan with a sly grin, and enrolled him. They wanted to see his fight and stubbornness. They wanted to see his anger with his current situation.
They lied. It was a holy lie…if those exist.
Also, the caseworker informed him that he was a byproduct of this place, and he once struggled with the same addiction.
There was hope again.
Today, 5 years after that intervention. Ryan is an incredible, transformed, passionate brother. He loves his family, and is generous with the money that he has. Recovery is not easy, but daily he is getting stronger and goes to meetings multiple times a week. He is an advocate for change and recovery.
That day revolutionized who I was as a pastor. I was given a new perspective about pain and suffering. Also, I became a better leader who is intentional about truth.
I am so proud of him. I am also so thankful that God’s timing is perfect. God listens even when we think it is too late.
Don’t give up.
My son loves when I tell him a story before he goes to bed. I like to think it is because he thinks I am an excellent story teller, but the truth is he simply knows that he can stay up for those last few minutes if I tell him one.
Sometimes, it is a story from his Children’s Bible, and other times it is more of a biographical tale of something that happened when I was a child. Lately, I have made up children’s stories. They usually have a hidden lesson. He loves it when I make them up.
Two nights ago, I made up a story that was loosely based on another story I heard when I was young. You may have heard a similar version, but the story was about a man who prayed and asked God to make him strong. This man prayed and prayed because he was a weak man who really wanted supernatural strength. He desired to be a superhero (my boy loved that prayer). Everyday, God told this man to go outside and push on the same large boulder. This boulder was immovable, and each day this man became more and more frustrated because he could not move it. He questioned what the point was if it could not be moved. He was also frustrated because he had to walk a long way through the woods to get to this boulder. Daily, his body would ache as he attempted to push this rock. He would wake up every morning sore and dreading the next attempt. He continued to obey, though.
After 3 months of this strenuous routine, this man became angry with God and decided to stop praying for this transformation. He believed God was good, and that He could do anything…he was just tired of praying. He pledged to God, however, that he would do it one more time. So, he began his trek through the woods to find the large boulder.
He was halfway to his destination when he heard a weak cry for help. He moved around to see where the cry was coming from and he noticed it became louder near a large hole in the ground. He looked in the hole and saw a little boy who had fell and was hurt. The man reached down and easily pulled the boy to safety. The man soon realized that his months of pushing made him stronger than he ever was. God had answered his prayer. He was a hero.
Sometimes we feel so helpless that we forget that God is working in our lives. We focus on our inadequacies. It is His strength, mercy, and power that matter…not our might or understanding.
Never stop praying. Even when it seems like the object in front of you seems immovable. Perhaps God is changing you while you are praying for the situation to change. Keep pushing.
Love you all.
It was 101 degrees and the building had no air conditioning. Instead, the attempted remedy for this minor inconvenience was one that would not have been my first choice. Those in charge decided to open every door leading to the outside so that the wind could circulate around the room. It didn’t work. I was sweaty, tired, and somewhat hungry.
I was a teenager on a mission trip in the middle of a Navajo reservation, so I decided to take these discomforts in stride and accept the experience for what it was. It was different…and it was their way of doing things.
First…a little background: I was raised in an amazing church. One that was (and still is) known for its thriving ministries, wonderful preaching, and inspiring music. Everything was polished and perfect. No distractions other than the occasional baby crying, but no one minds for the most part. People lined the altars on a regular basis to give their heart to the Lord, and no one doubted the anointing in that place. You could (and still can) feel the Holy Spirit thick and active in that place. I have become accustomed to a certain type of experience.
The church I was sitting in on this particular Sunday morning was different. The moment I sat down, I was uncomfortable. Hot. Sticky. Tired. We were there early, so not many had arrived. To be honest, I really wanted to go to a big church; one with better programs, great music, and a dynamic preacher. I suppose, however it was only one Sunday morning, so I could survive this little church (that could only seat about 40-50 people at the most) for one Sunday.
Ten minutes before the church service started, a few more people trickled into the tiny worship space. It wasn’t until about 2 minutes before the beginning that, we as a group of teenagers, got to see the true commitment of the worshippers dedicated to that church. We saw it alright. A space that would feel full with 50 people sitting in it was packed with over 100 attendees. People were on the floor, sitting on the back benches, and standing in the doorways. There were people everywhere.
The pastor walked up to a podium. He looked like what Colonel Sanders would look like if KFC were a biker club. What he said next blew my mind (because there were so many people there)…He looked to the left and the right and asked if anyone knew how to play the piano. They needed a piano player to play the hymns for the day. One of our teens knew how to peck out a few tunes and had taken some lessons, so she was the one chosen. No other musicians were in attendance. The songs were old too…really old, but the members sang at the top of their lungs. Our poor piano player tried to keep up.
The offering plate was passed, the announcements were made, and pastor prayed a prayer. He then stood up to preach, but was less seasoned in the art of preaching than I had hoped. I started to grade his performance and delivery. Meanwhile, I couldn’t hear some of the message because so many were “amen-ing” every word he said. It was bizarre. This one room church, that could not hold many people, was overflowing with people eager to experience the love of God through worship. Then, something even more powerful happened. The pastor called the congregation to a special time of prayer. This was a time of requests, confession, and praise. The power was palpable. There were some on their knees. Others were sitting with their head bowed. A few were standing while holding their fussy babies. All were praying out loud.
At the time, my mind could not compute what I was experiencing. The music was not planned out well, the preaching was not amazing, kids were running in and out of the sanctuary, and the building was unattractive. In fact, the sign in front of the church was old and rusted so you know that this church was not heavy into marketing. There were other churches in town, too.
I realized the presence of God does not favor the polished, put together, and the talented. The presence of God favors (for lack of a better word) things like desperation, desire, and dedication.
That small, Navajo church taught me something I have never learned in any church growth book. God must be present if real impacting growth is to happen. As a pastor, I can manufacture excitement, and manipulate people to fill the seats in many different ways. I have studied enough psychology. What church, though is really worth being at if God’s spirit is not there? There must be power.
That day changed the way I look at church. It is not about an incredible experience or impressive marketing campaign. If God is real, then he can take the preparation that we are able to give, the heart we sacrifice, and the attitude that we offer, and use that to change hearts. His spirit works.
Love you all.
Just accept it now. On all of your checks, occupational paperwork, and other important documentation, you are going to write 2015 for approximately 4 weeks. If you are lucky, you will cease this trend before February, but let’s just all agree that there is grace for those who do this. Don’t worry. You will learn to correct this mistake.
You will also go to the gym religiously until February 19th and then life will make it harder to commit. Okay, so I may not be giving humanity enough credit, but whatever our fate may be in 2016, it is vital to look back on the previous year to reflect on the lessons that we learned. For me, there could be a hundred pages filled with nuggets of wisdom I have gained. Today, I want to talk about just 7 of them.
These are 7 Lessons I learned in 2015:
I don’t have to understand God’s plan
This lesson is a hard one for many believers to accept. We often think that, in order for God’s plan to be holy, beneficial, and redemptive then it has to pass through our mental and emotional filter. The fact is God has an amazing and powerful plan for each one of us, and the more we fight Him on this, the less joy we get out of the process. We must learn to trust even when it doesn’t make sense.
God is not my helper
When I see the bumper sticker, “God is my co-pilot”, I have want to ask why. The reason for this popular cliché is probably because humanity has a tendency to want to be in control. Scripture tells us that God does not belong in the passenger’s seat, or even in the driver’s seat (sorry Carrie Underwood), but He is the road, the signs, the car, the engine and the fuel. My prayer life has changed from, “God, please help” to, “Lord, please guide”. I have learned that God desires for me to be ready for His will not impose mine upon Him.
People don’t want to just hear about Jesus…
I could be the best preacher in the country, but if my spiritual walk does not match the words that are coming out of my mouth then I am a fraud. People don’t want to just hear about Jesus; they want to see Him in action. This is not only in my life that is lived outside of the church doors, but also in the life I live in private.
I can’t do life on my own
When we feel hurt, afraid, or disappointed it is easy to tell ourselves the lie that we can do better on our own. We think the remedy for alleviating all hurt is isolation. When this line of thinking is embraced, we see things like addiction, self abuse, and depression talk full hold. God made us for His glory, but His glory can be seen in the context of community and pouring into the lives of others…or allowing others to pour into us.
Often we are the only obstacle in our spiritual growth
I can’t tell you how many people I have ministered to that had no desire to grow, but only the desire to be served. This may seem harsh but there has to come a point where we start to own our mistakes, faults, and the scars of our past and seek to overcome the hurdles. Sure, there is grace and mercy available for all, and there are none that lack a certain level of brokenness, but we can’t stay there. As a Christ-following community we must understand what it means to love, and serve, but to also allow people to be stretched in their faith. Pain can be our biggest catalyst for growth. In my experience, I have realized that sometimes I don’t allow myself to grow, because what I am doing is still Godly, and it is also comfortable. I stand in my own way.
Prayer works even when it doesn’t work
I am fortunate enough to have been born into a legacy of believers that has seen the power of prayer. This doesn’t mean, however, that I do not become discouraged when God does not answer when I expect Him to. What if God plans to answer our prayer, but it is not imperative that we have a hand in it? Think about Moses. Moses’ prayer was that his people would be set free, and given their own homeland just as God promised. The Lord honored this prayer in His timing, and the people inherited a land that was fertile, rich, and accommodating. Moses, though, did not get to experience it. It may be hard to hear, and maybe you will see the answer, but God’s plans are bigger than your wants, fears, and even dreams. It could also be that God is waiting for you to let go of the outcome. Keep praying, but surrender to whatever the answer may be. Don’t let your feelings dictate your prayers.
My contentment is my responsibility
I cannot rely on other people, situations, or outcomes to control my level of contentment. This posture is one that stems from a decision in my own heart and mind. As Christians, this lesson can be a tempting one to disregard. Sometimes, when something looks discouraging, we tend to equate that with “God’s leading” and thus avoid any more hurt. In all actuality, He could have a completely different purpose for allowing you to go through it. Personal growth, of course is the goal when faced with difficulty, but perhaps the goal is also the growth of someone else.
Trust God’s agenda.
As you anticipate what 2016 will bring, look for lessons you can reflect on. Don’t just survive.
Love you all