Discovering Your Place

Do you like trying new things?  Honestly…I don’t.  I know I know…that sounds boring.  But I just have to face the facts; I can be a boring person.  I’m not sure why I don’t like to try new things.  I guess it’s partly because I’ve always had a fear of the unknown.  Also, if I am not good at a particular task, I would prefer not to do it.  And I usually don’t.  Which makes trying new things extremely uncomfortable for me.  Let’s face it, the first time you try something new is usually not your best effort.  Most tasks take time to master.  Trying something for the very first time makes you vulnerable.  It opens up opportunities for failure.  None of us like to fail.

When my wife Lourae and I were first married, I worked road construction.  Hard to believe isn’t it?  I had no idea what I was doing.  Almost every task I was asked to do I was doing for the very first time.  One particular task I had to learn was to pull a 24 foot trailer behind a pickup truck.  I know that sounds easy.  But trust me it’s harder than it sounds.  Especially when it came to backing up with the trailer to a loading dock.  One day I had to back up the trailer in between 2 semi-trucks.  It literally took me 30 minutes but I finally made it.  I got better as time went on but that first time was brutal.  The point is, the more we do something, the better we become at doing it.

Think of all we miss out on by not trying new things.  I’m not talking about performing stupid stunts or dares.  I believe God gives common sense as a gift and we should use it regularly.  However, we shouldn’t use that as an excuse not to try something new either.  Especially when God is calling us to do it.

In trying to discover God’s purpose for our lives, we must be willing to try something new.  Even if it makes us feel uncomfortable.  Francis Chan writes in Crazy Love, “God doesn’t call us to be comfortable.” (pg 124)  Gods not really concerned with our comfortHe is concerned with our calling and obedience.

We discovered in my last post that we are all created with a purpose.  We are not an accident.  (No matter what your older brother or sister has said!)  But just because you are not an accident, doesn’t mean that your purpose will fall into your lap.  It must be sought out.  We have to discover our purpose.  If the end result for us is to be “Holy” as declared in 1 Peter 1:15-16, what does that look like right now?  How do we get there?  Scripture gives us some answers here.

John 3:16 is a very famous and familiar verse.  If you are new to this church thing you probably know at least some of this verse.

John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV)

According to this passage, God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to this world for one reason.  So that all might know Him.  It does not say that all will know Him but rather all might know Him.  There is a reason that you have been created.  That purpose begins with knowing Christ as Savior and Lord.  The Bible is filled with passages that support this truth.  Here are a few…

1 Thessalonians 5:9, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (ESV)

Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (ESV)

1 Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” (ESV)

That last verse spells it out plainly.  It is God’s will that we be sanctified.  We don’t use that word much.  Do you know what it means?  Sanctification means to be set apart, to be free from sin, and to be made holy.  It’s God’s desire that you know Him.  Not just know about Him but really know Him.

How does that happen?  How do we know God or better yet, how does God know us?  You need to understand that God is pursuing you.  That’s why John 3:16 is so powerful.  Let me explain…

The Bible tells us that we are all sinners.  (See Romans 3:23)

Sin means that we have messed up.  We have missed the mark.  And because of this sin, someone has to pay for it.  God is Holy and cannot have anything to do with sin.  So we have a dilemma.   God is Holy, we are sinners, He desires a relationship with us, and He cannot look upon sin.  Insert Jesus.  God loves us too much to leave us without a chance to know Him.

Read Romans 5:8, “…but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV)

Did you see it?  Even though we are sinners, God loves us.  Because we are sinners, God loves us.  Jesus died on a cross for your sins and for mine so that our sins would be paid for in full.  His blood pays for our sins.  All of them!  It is vital that we understand that.

Once we understand that, all we have to do is allow Him to save us.  We cannot do it on our own.  We don’t earn the right to spend eternity with Him in Heaven.  If we could earn it with good choices we could lose it with bad choices.  Look at this passage…

Ephesians 2:8-10, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this not on your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (ESV)

Did you see it? We are uniquely created by God for God.  He has a purpose and plan in mind.  He desires a personal relationship with each of us.  Not because we are good enough because honestly we aren’t.  We can’t earn or buy eternity.  It has nothing to do with what we do.  It is only by God’s grace and His mercy that we are saved.

So here’s what you do…

Understand that you are a sinner in need of God’s mercy.  Romans 3:23

Acknowledge the fact that God loves you and is pursuing you.  Romans 5:8

Ask God to forgive you for your sins.  2 Peter 3:9

Realize that you are now a new person.  2 Corinthians 5:17

1 Peter 1:14 warns, “Do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance (life).”  Once we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we change.  Some habits maybe hard to die but inside we have changed.  Life for the Christian has a new purpose.  We are no longer living for ourselves we are now living for Him.  We cannot walk with Jesus and continue to walk in the world.  Our old self is gone and we are now a new person.

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Got Purpose?

Have you ever wondered what your purpose is?  Sure you have.  We all have at one time or another.  Maybe you have even wondered if you had a purpose at all.  I have wondered that.  Not about you…but I sure have about me.

I guess it’s normal to think about what our purpose is.  I personally think we’re all wired that way.  We all want to know why we are here.  It can’t be just by accident can it?

This past weekend I had the difficult opportunity to go back to my hometown and preach the funeral of a friend from high school. Tommie was a great friend to many people and he died way too soon. Here’s the reason that I share this story.

While I was driving around my hometown, a place that I haven’t lived in over 26 years, I was reminiscing of the days when I was growing up. I drove around town trying to remind myself of some memories of my friend that I could share at the funeral. But mostly what I remembered was that my time growing up was filled with doubt and wondering what my true purpose was. I didn’t know enough, or care enough, to realize it then, but that’s what it was.

While my childhood was mostly filled with good memories, there were also moments of difficulty. Difficulty has a way of adding to our doubt and struggles with discovering our purpose.

When I go through difficulty, I often turn to scripture for comfort. One particular passage that I lean on is found in 1 Peter.

1 Peter 1:13-16, “13 Therefore, preparing your minds for action,[a] and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

 

I love this passage of scripture.  Let me give you some behind the scene info…

Peter is writing to a group of believers that are apparently struggling with their faith.  It seems they have lost sight of God’s grace and mercy.  If you read through the entire book, you will find that the topic of suffering comes up often.  Obviously, the people were suffering for their faith and had lost focus of their Savior.  That’s funny.  We do the very same thing.  At least I do.

When I go through struggles, I tend to take my eyes off of Christ.  I get so consumed with my present circumstance or situation that I can no longer see God clearly.  It’s not that He has moved.  It’s simply that I have lost my focus and have begun to look at other things.

The first real difficult situation that I remember having to go through is when my parents divorced.  I was 18 years old and a senior in high school.  That’s supposed to be the best year of your life.  At least that’s what I had been told.  It sure didn’t work out that way for me.  I felt so discouraged.  It had a negative effect on every part of my life.  My life was turned upside down.  I began to sink deep into depression.  This led to irrational thinking.  I not only lost my sense of purpose, I wondered if I ever had a purpose at all.

Maybe you’ve been there.  Maybe something tragic has happened to you or your family that has caused you to travel down the same road.  Has it caused you to lose focus?  If so I have good news.  I believe God does have a purpose for you.  Scripture affirms this…

Ephesians 2:10, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (ESV)

You were created by God and for a specific purpose.  What that purpose is specifically we will get to in a later session.  But before we go any farther, you must know that you are not an accident.  You didn’t just happen.  You may have arrived in this world unexpected to your parents or family but not to God.  God knew you were coming.  He even planned it.

Isaiah 44:2, “Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you…”

So maybe the difficult situation you are in, or have been in, is there for a purpose too.  I’m not saying God caused it.  But maybe He is using it to “REVEAL” Himself to you.  Pastor Mark Batterson writes in his book Soul Print, “When was the last time you praised God for your perceived disadvantages or thanked God for the challenges in your life? (pg20)

Can you imagine?  Praising God for something that seems like a disadvantage just doesn’t sound right does it?  But if God had planned us from the very beginning, and if He has a plan for us, then He must have a plan for our situations too.  Nothing catches God by surprise.  That statement is both comforting and puzzling.  It’s comforting because it helps us to see that God is really in control and we are not.  It’s comforting to know that He is bigger than all of our problems.  It’s puzzling because many things that happen in life are painful.  How can a loving God, that has a plan and a purpose for us, allow painful situations to take place for us?  It’s all a part of His plan to “REVEAL” Himself to us.

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

Did you see that?  “All things work together for good.”  Good things and bad things.  Situations we like and those we don’t like.  They are all part of the plan.  God is showing us that we are not an accident.  No matter what our situation is.  No matter what the world tries to teach us.  God’s plan all along has been for you to be here.  Right here…right now.

So when you go through difficulty, and you will go through it, remember, it may be part of God’s plan. His plan is to reveal more of Himself to you and to prepare you for the purpose He has planned for you.

Rooted

I admit that I know very little about botany. In fact, I had to look up the word to make sure I was using the correct term. I can’t tell one plant or tree from another. To my knowledge I have only planted one tree in my entire life! It was many years ago when a tornado ripped through the town we were living at the time. The tornado uprooted a tree in my front yard and left a hole about four feet deep. After the tree was removed, I planted a new tree in its place. I really didn’t know what I was doing. All I knew was to get to roots deep. The deeper the roots the stronger the tree would be.

The same is true about us in our spiritual life. The deeper we are rooted in God’s Word, the stronger we will be. The process of being rooted is seldom seen by others and often it can be painful. Think about it. We only see tree roots in certain types of trees. But even in the ones we don’t see the roots are vitally important. The process of being deeply rooted in God’s Word is essential for every believer.

In his book Rooted, Banning Liebscher shares why being rooted is essential for the development of every believer.  As followers of Christ, we are called to be fruitful. This means we are to share our faith and do good deeds. Banning writes, “If you are a follower of Jesus, then your calling and destiny are to be fruitful.” (pg 2)

Sometimes, I don’t feel like being fruitful. Being fruitful can cause us to be uncomfortable. I hate being uncomfortable. I don’t like to admit that but it’s true. I like easy and smooth sailing.  But Christ followers aren’t called to easy. We are called to follow and obey. Often following Christ is messy because we are called out of our comfort zones. This is how Banning describes it, “We love the concept of faith and pleasing God with faith; we just don’t like being put into positions where faith is required.” (pg 71) I love that because that is so me!  I love talking about faith and trust but I don’t usually like to be in situations that require faith and trust. As I stated earlier, I like easy and comfort. But comfort is not a good standard of measurement.

On page 90, Banning writes, “Your comfort level should not be the thing that determines whether you can believe something is of God or not.” Just because something is uncomfortable doesn’t mean that it’s not from God. Because it is uncomfortable may be the true indication that it IS from God! Again, God doesn’t call us to comfort. He calls us to follow Him. Following Him requires sacrifice and service. Or as Banning puts is, “If our serving never really requires us to sacrifice for something bigger than ourselves, then it’s likely that our serving is about us.” (pg 155)

Are you deeply rooted? How do you know if you are? The only way to truly know if we are deeply rooted in God and in His word is to weather the storm. Nobody likes going through storms. Nobody in their right mind would volunteer to go through a difficult situation or season. However, God knows best and He knows what we need most. He knows that the only way to develop faith and trust in Him is for us to go through something that tests our faith. Tests are never easy. They are not meant to be easy. They are meant to teach us and develop us to become the person God has created us to be.

“God always calls us to do the impossible.” (pg 25) What “impossible” task has God called you to? What is keeping you from following Him? I’m sure it feels impossible. It’s supposed to feel that way. If it were easy, God wouldn’t call us to it. God calls us to do the impossible to deepen our faith in Him. Impossible causes us to be deeply rooted in Him. When we are deeply rooted in God, nothing is impossible!

Diggin In

I love war movies. I guess that’s a typical guy thing.  I wasn’t aware that I liked them so much until I starting listing some of my favorite movies one day.  Here is a partial list in no particular order:

Braveheart

We Were Soldiers

The Patriot

Gladiator

Tombstone

Can you see a pattern here? Besides the fact that Mel Gibson is in most of them, I just simply like movies with real life action.  I think the reason I like movies like these is because I love the concept of good vs evil.  There is always someone that plays the hero or the “good” element of the movie.  And it seems like that hero is continually under attack from the “evil” element.

This is very true in our spiritual life as well. Peter tells us:

“be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a                roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 NIV)

When we are moving as God calls us and walking with Him, our enemy wants nothing more then for us to fall. We cannot blame Satan for all our poor choices.  He did not commit the sin for us.  But he does deceive us and places things in our way as we “walk” so that we will stumble.  It’s important that we realize he is very real and very active around us.

The next part of our theme verse reads this way…

rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith…” (Colossians 2:7)

What does it mean to be rooted and built up? How can we, “walk in Him” but also be, “rooted and built up” at the same time?  The metaphors are somewhat mixed.  However, the message is very clear.

As Christ followers, we are to continue to walk with Christ daily. Even through difficult times.   Even when He calls us to move out of our comfort zones like we saw in session 2.  While we are continuing to walk with Christ, we are also to be deeply rooted with Him.  The Hebrew word here for rooted means to be thoroughly grounded.  So with that in mind, Christ followers are to be well grounded in their faith.  And not just well grounded but also growing.  Built up implies that we are continuing to strengthen.  Strengthen what?  Our faith.  We never get to a place of complete knowledge of Christ.  As long as we are living on this earth, we are to continue to grow in our faith as we walk with The Lord.  It makes sense really.  As we walk with Christ, we should grow to know Him and desire Him more.  As we grow to love Him more we will become more firm and rooted in our faith.  It’s the process of maturity.  The longer we live, the more we should grow.

Are there some things we can do to help us get more deeply rooted and built up? In the book of Ephesians, Paul lists some things that we can “put on” to help us in our walk with Christ.  Remember, we face a real enemy with intentions to cause us to stumble and fall.  Therefore we must dress like we are going into battle.  We must “Dig In” so that we can be prepared for the fight.

Read Ephesians 6:10-18.

Lets review these pieces of armor that we are to put on.

The Belt of Truth:

We all know where a belt goes.  While it is not specifically part of  the armor, it       is very important.  The belt holds everything together under the armor so  that the rest of the armor fits correctly.  The belt is the foundation.  As   Christians we must have the Truth in place before we put anything else on.   We must know the Truth so that everything else fits correctly.

Breastplate of Righteousness:

Breastplate provides essential protection for the most vital organs.  It’s a must        for a soldier going into battle.  I like to think of the breastplate as being                    something that is easily seen.  Maybe even the first thing that the enemy                        would notice is our breastplate.  For me that implies that others should see             righteousness when they see me.  Not because I am righteous on my own.  I           am not.  However, because I am a Christ follower, I am righteous because I      have The Righteous One living in me.

Feet Fitted with Readiness:

The feet of a soldier are important because that is where they get their balance.  If a soldiers feet are not ready, they can be knocked down with a simple blow. Same is true for a Christ follower.  Our feet must be ready.  Ready for what?  Ready to move!  God is preparing you.  He is always preparing you.  You must always be ready.  If your feet aren’t ready, you May miss your moment or may be knocked down during battle.

Shield of Faith:

A soldier uses a shield for protection from the weapons of the enemy. As   we’ve discussed, we have an enemy too.  We are to “take up” our shield,   which is our faith in God, for protection during battles.  The enemy likes to  take swings at us.  Those “flaming darts” that come our way.  Our shield, our  faith is our protection. If our shield is big enough, we can stand completely  behind it and not be wounded. Our shield is our faith in Him.

Helmet of Salvation:

Obviously, a helmet protects the head. A soldier would be foolish to go into  battle without their helmet.  One of the most effective weapons Satan uses  against us is in the area of discouragement and fear.  He knows we can be   easy prey in these area’s.  When we are properly equipped with the helmet of salvation, it is hard to stay discouraged and to remain a slave to fear.

Sword of The Spirit:

All soldiers need a weapon.  You wouldn’t be much of a soldier without one.

Christ followers are provided with a weapon as well.  That weapon is God’s           Word.  The Bible becomes our sword.  We use it to attack and to fight off the enemy’s attack’s against us.  However, the weapon is only good if the soldier is familiar with it.  The reason soldiers practice with their weapon is so that the weapon will become as normal to them as any other piece of   clothing.  Their sword become an extension of their arm.  They always have  it.  The Word of God should be the same to us.  We take it with us    everywhere we go.  We must  study it and be prepared to use it.

As we dig in and prepare ourselves for battle against the enemy, these pieces of armor will help us to be rooted and built up in our walk with Christ. There’s a story of Peter in Acts chapter 2 that fascinates me.  Peter is known too well for his epic failure when he denied knowing Christ when Jesus was arrested.  He must have been crushed to know that he gave into fear instead of standing firm and wearing his armor.  But in the book of Acts we see a new Peter.

Read Acts 2: 14-41

I know this is a long passage but as far as sermons go you would have to agree it’s fairly short. Do you see the difference in Peter.  He is no longer this defeated person who denied his master.  He is no longer sitting curled up in the fetal position crying in the corner.  He comes out in Acts 2 with both arms swinging.  To me this is one of the most powerful sermons ever preached.  And by the way, more then a few people responded to it.

What happened? What took place in Peter’s life that caused him to go from being defeated to the victor?  Simple.  He dug in deep and put on his armor.  He relied on the power of the Holy Spirit that had been available to him.  The same power that is available to all of us that know Christ.

Will the walk become difficult? Absolutely. Remember, it’s guaranteed to be hard.  But Christ in His sovereignty has promised to never leave us and to provide us with the armor and the weapon we need.  So, Dig In!

Love The One You’re With

Yes that is the title of a song written in 1970 by Stephen Stills. (For those of you music lovers like me that love classic rock). No, this post is not a review or critique of that song. I just have always liked that title and finally found an appropriate time to use it.

I recently read the book Renovate written by Leonce B. Crump JR.  In the book, Pastor Crump shares the story of planting Renovation Church, an inner city church in Atlanta, GA. He shares the struggles, disappointments, ups and downs, and even some successes of church planting. However, a bigger take away for me was the issue of being sent. Pastor Crump broaches on this subject by revealing that Atlanta is not the place he intended to go. It is simply the place He was sent.

Honestly, I wasn’t all that taken by the book itself. It wasn’t that the book was poorly written. Truthfully, the book was very well written and Pastor Crump brought up some great points to ponder. Nor was it that the topic of church planting is not important. Obviously, I believe church planting is vitally important today. I think it is simply because I have been reading so much lately about church planting that I felt like I had read this book before. But then, something changed. I began to notice a secondary theme to the book that I had not anticipated. Weather intended or not, I began to notice a theme about being sent.

I began to dwell on the fact that God doesn’t send us to places that we want to go. He sends us to places that He chooses. Whether we like the place or not is irrelevant. That’s not to say that God intentionally sends us to places that we despise to punish us. He simply sends us…period. Then He leads us to discover the purpose and plan He has for us in that particular place. It’s up to the one being sent to then learn to love the place that God has sent them. It may not be your first choice. But it’s God’s choice for you.

For example, the place I currently live and serve would not have been my first choice. Actually, it wasn’t my first choice at all. And to be completely honest at first we didn’t like it very much. My family was very comfortable where we were previously living and serving. I didn’t really feel the need to mess that up. However, God began to stir within me. I knew that I was too comfortable. I knew that He had plans for my family that at the time I didn’t understand but knew that I had to follow. So, we moved to a new town and a new church. That was almost 10 years ago. It wasn’t love at first sight. But we were patient and firm when we wanted so badly to move back. Gradually, over time, God worked on our hearts and the place we now live became home. We couldn’t imagine spending the last 10 years anywhere else then where we are.

You see, I was a husband and father of 2 young boys. What if I was wrong? What if what I was hearing wasn’t God at all? Beyond anything else, I didn’t want my family to suffer for my lack of judgment. I wanted my family to be safe and provided for. All very admirable, but what if that’s misguided? Pastor Crump writes on page 138, “What if we chose a place based not on how it would serve our ultimate happiness or economic future or delusions of safety, but rather on how it would serve to cultivate in us a revolutionary understanding of why we are on this planet in the first place?”

That hit me hard. Over time I had allowed the pressures of life to tell me that my first priority is to look after my family. And while I do believe that that is important, and that I am commanded by God to do just that. It is not and should not take precedence over God’s command to follow Him at all cost. I, we, must be willing to give up or even lose everything for the sake of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. I think the Apostle Paul would agree.

Pastor Crump goes on to write on page 140, “Could it be that God, who determines the boundaries of the places we live, is calling us to the places where there is little opportunity for us but massive opportunity for others through us?” I’ll admit that I haven’t read every book ever written on church planting, but of the books I have read, I have never read a statement like that. I would venture to say that most church planting “experts” would never suggest to plant churches in locations that do not on the surface offer great opportunity for growth. Both personal and professional. I’m not suggesting that they would be wrong. I am definitely not an expert in church planting. But I do believe that Pastor Crump brings up an interesting concept.

One last quote from page 168, “Renewal happens when we understand we are sent, establish permanence, invest in infrastructure, and plan for a long and faithful work.” When the pastor from my current church called me to ask if I would be interested in taking a position here, I made this statement; “If I can’t see myself staying 10 years, I’m not coming.” I knew that God may move us in 2 years. But I knew that if there was any chance of having a successful ministry, it would take time. Trust me; there were times when we wanted to leave. Learning new people and a new place of ministry can be exhausting and even a bit frustrating at times. But in the long run, it simply takes time to build relationships. It takes time to build trust with the people you are called to serve. It takes time to become the leader and even the person that God has called you to be.

Be patient. And if you’re not currently in the place that would be your first choice, seek God diligently and learn to love the one(s) He has placed you with.

Good Things

Do you believe in the old saying, “good things come to those that wait.”? I’m not sure I do either. I understand the concept. I’m just not positive that it always holds true. However, I do believe every word of scripture is true. In the book of Romans, Paul writes these words, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 ESV)

Do you believe that? Do you believe that God will work in all things for our good & His purpose? Do you live like you believe it? Here’s what I mean, if I truly believed every word of scripture to be true, then I wouldn’t be tempted to be fearful. Scripture commands us over and over that we have nothing to fear. If we have a relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ, then our eternity is secure. And if our eternity is secure then we truly do have nothing to fear. If this is true, why are we still so prone to be fearful?

In the book Good Things, Kevin Gerald encourages the reader to realize that God really does have good things in store for us. I’ll admit I was a little skeptical when I began to read the book. I am highly sensitive to a proposed “prosperity gospel.” I’m leery of those that promise health and wealth as long as the person follows Gods rules or gives financially to a cause or particular ministry.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that God has great plans and a purpose for each and every one of us. I’m just not sure that we all have the same understanding of what “great” looks like. It may not be so great in the eyes of the world. God never promises us prosperity. But He does promise His presence. So while I was initially skeptical, the more I read, the more I began to understand Kevin’s message to the reader.

For example, on page 142 Kevin writes…

We don’t proclaim God’s goodness with the idea that we won’t have disappointments or experience struggles in our lives. We proclaim God’s goodness in the midst of our disappointments and struggles in life. Favor is not about God giving us immunity from life-from adversity and problems. Favor is about God giving us an advantage in life when facing those challenges.

So the message the Kevin Gerald is attempting to get across in Good Things, is not that only good things will happen to those that love God. The message is that believers can find good in everything because God has a plan and a purpose. Even though we don’t always like the situations or circumstances we go through, we can face them with confidence because we know that God is walking through those circumstances with us.

God is working for the good of those that love Him. It may not look good on the surface. But take heart, God has a plan. Continue to follow Him and He will lead you in the direction He had planned all along.

Steps to Take

Do you remember when you first learned to walk? Of course you don’t.  No one can remember that about themselves.  As a parent though, I do remember my boys learning to walk.  It was both exciting and scary at the same time.  It was exciting because they were growing up.  They were seeking new adventures and exploring new territory.  But it was scary for basically the same reasons.  Yes part of me didn’t want them to grow up.  But more importantly, I also didn’t want them to get hurt.

Seeking adventure can be fun but it can also be painful. Just ask any stuntman or woman.  The list of injuries and broken bones they accumulate would probably fill an entire file.  But, the adventure is usually worth it.  If they never went on the adventure, they would have never experienced the thrill or the rush of adrenaline.

I for one have never been much of a thrill seeker. Because of this I know I have missed out on seeing some amazing things.  When I was a kid I had the opportunity to travel to England to visit my uncle when he lived there as a missionary.  I was afraid of flying though so I didn’t go.  This is just one example.  We don’t have the time for me to share all the others.

When we first learn how to walk it takes several weeks maybe even months for us to master the skill. Our legs and knees just aren’t strong enough yet.  Our coordination is not there yet either.  And then there are always obstacles that get in our way.  Chairs, stairs and coffee tables.  Pets and their toys.  Its a dangerous world out there when we first learn to walk.

The same can be said of our Christian walk as well. When we first start out following God, we’re not that strong yet.  We trip over things easily.  There are always obstacles that get in our way and cause us to stumble.  Sometimes when we fall it can be painful.  But we can’t stop trying.  If we stopped trying to learn how to walk every time we fell as a toddler, we would never learn how to walk at all.  Think of all the excitement we would miss out on by not learning to walk.  It’s the same in our Christian walk.

Nobody ever said the Christian walk would be easy. In fact, the Bible reminds us over and over that the life of a Christ follower can be extremely difficult.  Let me give you a few examples:

“Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”(James 1:2 NIV)

“For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for Him…” (Philippians 1:29 NIV)

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13 NIV)

So, not only will life not be easy with Christ. The Bible tells us that life will at times be painful because of Christ.  We are to expect it.  Even find some way to be joyful about it.  I don’t know about you but I don’t like that part very much.  I don’t like that by simply trying to do the right thing I will suffer for it.  But just like learning to walk as a child can be painful at times, so can learning to walk as a Christ follower.  And I have found that it is usually through pain and difficulty that we learn and grow the most.  Suffering is not enjoyable, but it is essential at times.

Well, what does any of this have to do with moving with Christ? Lets recap a little.  In my last post we looked at Colossians 2:6 which states, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus The Lord, so walk in Him…”  We discussed what it means to “receive Christ.”  God chooses to have a relationship with us.  We decide to either follow or flee.  We can’t have both.  It’s one or the other.  Now Paul takes it a step further. After we receive Christ, we are to “walk” in Him.

To walk means to live. In fact the Hebrew word for walk means; “to make one’s way, to conduct one’s life & self.” How we “walk” is very important.  Our “walk” demonstrates our relationship that we have with Christ Jesus.  It doesn’t make us saved.  It shows that we are saved.  And the longer we walk with Jesus, the more difficulties we will see.

When we are learning to walk as a child, we learn from difficulties. We learn that the table hurts when we hit it.  We learn that the adults standing around us are watching out for us and are there to help us if we need them.  The same is true in our Christian walk.  When we go through difficulties, we learn that God is there to comfort us.  We will still have difficulties.  God doesn’t keep us from all trials.  He delivers us through the trials.  He knows that we learn best that way.  You and I would never choose to go through tough times.  So God allows us to go through them so that we can better see Him.

Our walk with Christ will also take us to places we never imagined going. It will at times require that we do things that are outside of our comfort zone.  In 2002 I was asked to go to Honduras on a medical mission trip.  In order for the people to receive free medical attention, they had to first come to a church service.  I was one of the preachers that went to preach these services.  Remember my fear of flying?  It was still there.  But, I knew God had opened this door and I was suppose to walk through it.  So our team flew into Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the second most dangerous runway to land in the world, for a week of mission work.  For 8 days I slept on a foam mattress on a dirt floor in a school.  We had to hire armed guards to station themselves around the school property in case there was trouble.  I was way outside of my comfort zone.  I remember being afraid the first couple of days and being extremely homesick.  I also remember how God changed my life that week in a way that I had never seen before or since.  Was it difficult? Absolutely.  But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.  In Not A Fan, Kyle Idleman states;

“Fans are happy to follow Jesus as long as that doesn’t require any significant changes or have negative implications.  There is no way to follow Jesus without Him interfering with your life.  Following Jesus will cost you something.” (pg. 30)

In his book, In A Pit With A Lion On A Snowy Day, Pastor Mark Batterson writes, “There is nothing passive about following Christ.” (pg. 121)  We will all have to step out as we take more steps with Christ.

There is a remarkable story about Peter in the book of Matthew. In chapter 14 Jesus sends His disciples away in a boat.  While they are gone He gets alone to pray to His Father.  After a while Jesus comes to join the disciples in the boat.  The boat was now a good distance out in the water.  So Jesus does the most logical thing…He walks out to them.  Peter sees Him coming and says this statement:

“Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water He said, ‘Come.’  So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.”  (Matthew 14:28-29 ESV)

Did you catch that? Peter walked on the water.  Do you think Peter was afraid?  I guarantee he was.  But something inside him told him he should step out.  For some reason he knew that Christ would catch him if he started to sink.  Peter eventually does take his eyes off of Jesus and when he does the expected happens.  He begins to sink.  But do not overlook the fact that he stepped out.  The other disciples were in the boat with him.  Peter was the only one that moved.  He decided that it would be better to sink than to sit.  When Jesus called, Peter moved.  Will you?

What boat has God called you to step out of? What has kept you from stepping out and trusting Him?

Decision to Make

When was the last time you had to make a big decision? What was the decision you had to make?  How did you make your decision? (What was your process)

In 1989 I had a big decision to make. I had graduated high school the year before, 1988 (yes I am that old!) and had an opportunity to go to college in TN and play baseball.  I chose instead to stay at home and attend a local university.  Right away I knew it was not the right decision.  I wasn’t playing baseball.  I wasn’t doing well in school.  I wasn’t very happy.  The wrong decision had been made.

There were many reasons that led to this poor decision on my part. But really it all centered around the fact that I didn’t seek God’s counsel in making my decision.  It was MY decision after all and I made it.  Looking back I sure could have saved myself, and others, a lot of heart ache and trouble if I simply would have asked God and followed His guidance.

We all have decisions to make everyday. We decide what to wear, what to eat, or if we should eat.  We decide what to say to those we encounter throughout the day and then we decide how to respond when things don’t go as planned.  It has been estimated that the average person makes over 30,000 decisions each and every day.  That’s a lot of decisions!

Obviously, not all decisions carry the same level of importance. Some decisions are extremely important while others…not so much.  So, how do we decide which ones are important and which ones aren’t?  (Wait…there’s another decision!)

The Bible gives us some guidance here. In the book of Ephesians, Paul writes:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.  (Ephesians 5:15-17 ESV)

Paul is saying here that every decision we make is important. All 30,000 of them have some degree of importance.  Why?  Because the days are evil.  Translation = there’s a lot of bad stuff happening in our world today.  And because the days are full of difficulty and danger, we have to be careful to make our decisions wisely.  If we don’t, our poor decisions can have a huge impact on us and those that are important to us.

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He developed a rather large following instantly. There were a few men that were extremely interested in what Jesus had to say.  These men would soon become the first 12 disciples of Jesus.  In the book of John, Jesus makes this statement to these men that had been following Him:

Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them,

“What are you seeking?” (John 1:38 ESV)

In other words, Jesus wanted to know what the men wanted. Why were they interested in Him and what He was saying.

Imagine Jesus asking you that very same question. “What are you seeking?”  As we imagine that, we can take the conversation deeper.  The “What are you seeking?” question from Jesus leads to other questions.  Follow up questions.  He might then ask you questions like these:

“Who do you believe I am?”

“What do you believe about Me?”

“Will you place your trust in Me?”

No matter who we are, if we encounter Jesus we will always face these questions.

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus The Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.” (Colossians 2:7-8 ESV)

Colossians 2:6 begins with the phrase, “as you received Christ Jesus…”.  This is the first decision we have to make.  Have you received Him?  The Bible says in John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever   believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (ESV)

The very reason Jesus Christ came into the world is so that you and I could have a relationship with Him. And having a relationship with Him meant having a relationship with our Creator and spending eternity with Him in heaven.  But, we have to decide to receive Him or not.  We don’t choose Him.  He chooses us.  We simply believe and receive Him. Listen to the words of Jesus:

“For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:8 ESV)

Jesus has chosen to have a relationship with you. Have you received Him?

When we encounter Jesus there are only two options. We either receive Him or we refuse Him.  In the book Not A Fan, Kyle Idleman points out that fans of Jesus are just that…fans.  They are not true followers.  We can’t be both.  It’s one or the other.  All or nothing.  Kyle puts it this way;

“When Jesus defines the relationship He wants with us He makes it clear that being a fan who believes without making any real commitment to follow isn’t an option.” (pg. 36)

Peter was faced with this decision.   The first three books in the New Testament each give an account of Peter meeting Jesus.  Matthew and Mark both describe the moment as follows:

“Immediately they(Peter & his brother Andrew) left their nets and followed  Him.” (ESV)

I love how Luke describes it. Luke writes about the encounter in the 5th chapter.  He tells how Jesus performs a miracle and instantly Peter fell at His feet.  Then Luke writes:

“And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him.” (Luke 5:11 ESV)

Peter encountered Jesus, he received Him as Lord and he was never the same again. Did Peter ever mess up?  You bet he did.  But it never changed the fact that his encounter with Jesus changed his life.

When we encounter Jesus, just like Peter, we have a decision to make. We either receive Him or flee from Him.  Have you encountered Jesus?

The Rising

I love to read. If you would have told me 20 years ago that I would have said or typed that statement I would have laughed at you. In fact, I don’t remember ever reading a book, outside of the occasional school requirement, until after I graduated college and was married. However, now I actually enjoy reading.

Lately I have been reading only non-fiction, ministry related books. Books on becoming a better leader, a better pastor or just simply a better follower of Christ. And while I thoroughly enjoy books on those topics, I had become stale. I felt the need to read something just for the joy of reading. Something that I didn’t have to mark up with a pen (I underline a lot!). I needed a good story that I could read in a couple of days. I found The Rising.

The description of the book caught my attention right away. It wasn’t fiction. It was an actual event that took place but it appeared to be written in story form. Almost like fiction. So I took a chance. What I discovered was a great story but there is nothing about The Rising that is light hearted or easy to read. In fact, I wouldn’t even call it a “good” story. The story of Dr. William Petit and is family is anything but good. Actually the term nightmare would fit the description of their story best.

On July 23, 2007, Dr. Petit’s house was broken into, his wife and two daughters were raped and murdered, Dr. Petit was beaten and left for dead and his house was then set on fire and burned to the ground. In The Rising, Ryan D’Agostino shares in graphic detail the events of this horrible night. How Dr. Petit desperately wanted to protect and defend his family but was physically unable to.

The book takes the reader through every grueling detail of the trial. How the Petit family and friends had to sit through pictures and testimonies of that horrific night. Thankfully the book doesn’t end there. After the terrible events of that night and the years and trials that followed, Dr. Petit discovers a new passion and reason for living.

The family established a foundation, The Petit Family Foundation, that raises money and awareness for victims of violence as well as other non-profit foundations. Dr. Petit is now remarried and has another child. Through an extremely painful experience, and every parent’s worst nightmare, he is discovering hope and a new purpose for life.

It’s encouraging to know that someone can go through all that he went through and still find reason to have hope. On page 265 the writer writes, “New life doesn’t make everything better, and it doesn’t bring anyone back. But it restores hope to life, and hope is the difference between living and merely existing.”

To go through what the Petit family went through, it would be easy for one to never have hope in anything or anyone again. However, living in fear allows for no joy and is really not living at all.

Leading from the Heart

I am a sucker for any book that deals with the topic of leadership. Mostly because I feel like I have a lot to learn about the subject. You see, I believe there are two types of leaders. Those that are born leaders and those that are pushed into leadership positions. I personally fall into the second category. I wasn’t born with unbelievable leadership potential. But I have been put into leadership positions for most of my adult life. So I have a lot of catching up to do and a lot to learn.

I picked up Tommy Spaulding’s book The Heart Led Leader because, as I stated earlier I’m a sucker for leadership books, and because I genuinely want to be a better leader. I want to lead those that are following me from the heart and be the most effective leader I can be. This book was just the thing I was looking for.

The writer begins by making an interesting suggestion. Tommy writes that “The journey to heart-led leadership covers only 18 inches but it lasts a lifetime.” (pg1) He states that the distance from each person’s head to their heart is roughly 18 inches. So, each chapter that follows the introduction, are 18 traits that a heart-led leader must have.

The 18 traits or characteristics that the writer identifies are as follows:

Love, Humility, Caring, Passion, Selflessness, Authenticity, Self-Awareness, Faithfulness, Character, Vulnerability, Forgiveness, Purpose, Encouragement, Empathy, Generosity, Honesty, Trust & Transparency.

None of this is rocket science. However, it is good to remind ourselves often if we want to be a better leader. On page 3, Tommy writes, “leaders and organizations that lead with their hearts are more successful and drive better results than those that don’t.”

One important truth that Tommy mentions often throughout the book is that leadership is about who you are and not what you are. We spend so much time and energy trying to get somewhere that we forget who we are in the process. Or we simply never stop to work on who we are in the first place. It’s always more important to focus on who we are then what we are. Titles and positions will come and go. Character doesn’t.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is found on page 187. Tommy writes, “But leadership is not about having the answers to everything. Real leadership comes from making mistakes, showing vulnerability by admitting your mistakes and then learning from them. You see, what most people want in a leader is someone they can relate to.” This is so true and powerful. Leaders must take time to get to know their followers. If the leader is not “real” with the people they are leading, pretty soon there will be no one to lead.

I highly recommend The Heart Led Leader to anyone that desires to grow as a leader. You owe it to yourself, and the people you lead, to be the very best leader you can be.

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