Archive for the ‘Re-Focus’ Category

How often have you heard someone recite the words “be content in all circumstances”, paraphrasing a familiar verse from Philippians. Paul states:

“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” Philippians 4:11

Usually, when someone is teaching this scripture, discussing it among friends, or even in a particularly untactful comment to someone who is struggling, they are referring to a circumstance in which someone does not feel content, but not really getting to the entire message Paul is sharing. It doesn’t start with being content, it was a learned process (see verse above where Paul says he learned…). But how do we learn to be content? Just like in almost every scripture in the Bible, we need to study context and read the entire passage to discover what the author is teaching us.

In this verse, contentment was learned by Paul, and thankfully can also be learned by us. The key in Paul’s message lies a little earlier in his letter to the Philippian church.

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14

Did you catch the key to Paul’s, and our, contentment in verse 14?

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Do you think Paul was content, the way he describes contentment in chapter 4, when he was a Pharisee killing Christians? I don’t! I believe his contentment began when he believed in Jesus, was baptized, and then learned contentment by answering the calling Jesus gave him to preach ands spread the gospel as a missionary! His contentment is directly connected to his calling, or better yet, his answered calling. Jesus gave him His plan for Paul’s life, then Paul obediently said yes, and found contentment in life because he started doing exactly what he was created to do!

Simply put, Paul gave his life to Jesus, answered the calling Jesus had placed for his life, and found contentment in every and all circumstances because he was on the path chosen for him. We can also find that same contentment, by following God’s calling for our lives!

So, now it comes back to us…what will we do with what we learn? If you find yourself lacking contentment in life, you can’t just BE content in any and every circumstance. You may be able to fake it for a while, but that inner calling will eventually come to the surface until you make the decision to listen to the God-given calling inside of you and press into that direction for your life.

There are many ways to move into that direction, once you discover what God has given you a burden to do – you know, those times you feel so strongly about ___________ that you just can’t contain the emotion or desire to do something about ____________. One way is to take that “passion” and dig into God’s character and word and see what He says about it. Another is to talk with others about what you are feeling and work out your thoughts and possible direction you can move to make an impact. You can also ask others who have a similar passion within their calling and God may develop a relationship between the two of you in which leads to even more change! But most importantly, listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudges! You know, those times where you feel a strong desire to call someone out of the blue, connect with someone brand new (maybe even someone out of your typical network of people – even if they are way beyond your normal reach), volunteer in your community, write a post, read a book, etc…the possibilities from a creative God are endless!

Something to keep in mind when seeking your calling is that there will be many distractions that will attempt to alter your course of action. The best way to discern if you are heading in the direction of your calling is to check your thoughts out with God’s word. If what He says in His word doesn’t line up with what you are thinking, it is likely a distraction. His calling will never be contrary to His nature, character or His word.

So what is your next step? It may be to go to the first step and accept the free gift of grace that Jesus offers each and every one of us – salvation through the grace of Jesus! If you have questions about salvation, I’d love to have that conversation with you!

Maybe it is to read and reread Philippians to get a feel for how Paul learned to be content…I know this has been a letter I have been parked in lately as I discovered the key to contentment. Maybe it is to look through your social feeds or watch the news/ read the headlines and see if God prompts your heart. It may also be to dig deep into yourself and ask loved ones what they see in you as a calling/passion, including what gifts you possess (those things you are naturally good at). But first, ask God to reveal His calling for your life! As you talk to God about this, He will reveal some things to you that will blow your mind! Thoughts that may seem contrary to who you are, but then He does His thing and shows you how you were designed to think and act upon His calling.

I’d love to hear about your journey whether just starting or a long-time coming. Please feel free to reach out or comment about your calling, and as always if you’d like to talk about contentment and/or calling, know I am always here for you! You can email me at rboyland01@gmail.com or connect via the form below.

I can’t wait to see more and more of you discovering your calling and taking steps toward fulfilling your purpose! Let’s make the world a better place by engaging in our communities and using our calling to change the world…you in?

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As I was laying in bed this morning, I felt prompted to weigh in on what I feel is the biggest problem in America that has led to the current sports figures kneeling during the National Anthem. Likely, what I am writing here will resonate with you in spirit and hopefully more so in action, as well as likely causing some angst in many of you as well – which is fine with me because I feel it is something God is pressing into my heart to share. So here goes:

NFL Players Kneeling During National Anthem

The real problem resulting in all of the protests (on every issue regardless of political, social or faith-driven beliefs) is the lack of courage people have to engage with one-another directly – in the church or in community. Worse, this lack of courage, along with all of the cheap and cowardly shots people take upon one-another daily from the safety of their computer or phones, only seems to be super-fueled by the media – not just journalism either, but more so, social media. That is the biggest oxymoron of our time – there is nothing social about social media anymore. Maybe there never was! What social media has done to our culture is allow most people to hide behind their keyboards or phones and communicate with their own bias and opinion while spewing hate as if their ideas are the only ones valid, all while judging everyone else as if they are completely ignorant. That might be a nicer way of saying that small minds and cowardly people will engage in every way possible without actually engaging in a way that leads to reconciliation! If you don’t have to actual talk to someone face-to-face, it’s easy to demonize them and their thoughts, words and beliefs. Cowards act done in this manner, not people seeking to make this world a better place.

So here we are, watching the NFL players sit during the National Anthem and almost everyone is weighing in on the subject with so much venom in which, in my opinion, is not representative of the Man I follow. But it is not just this most current topic that everyone is up in arms about. Lest we forget, this same pattern has been occurring almost weekly! And every issue is important! Racial violence, political unrest (on all sides), religious uncertainty, gay vs straight, rich vs poor, black vs white, muslim vs christian, stand or kneel – the list goes on…

All these issues along with social media are just a symptom of the real problem though. The real issue is so simple, and would be transformative to our communities, nation and world if we would just grasp this simple, yet profound solution that is not new – it actual was spoken throughout the New Testament by Jesus and His disciples, as well as public figures from our recent past like Martin Luther King Jr…and the beat goes on and the masses keep their ears plugged to what would really make this world a better place. Simply, if we would engage one another in face-to-face conversation and relationship, almost all of the hatred, anger and violence would dissipate as we begin to see other people as brothers, sisters and friends! We would begin to feel their pain and struggle and would help them seek out a solution to whatever is on their heart and mind, and they would reciprocate the love to us in our struggle as well. And maybe, just maybe, our heart hearts might grow three sizes that day!

I have a very good friend who also happens to be a black man. I am a white man. I believe when we first started hanging out we were both wanting to become closer friends to not only understand each other and where we come from culturally, but also we see a similar hunger in each other for loving people and extending God’s grace to one-another and those God has placed in our lives! Our conversations are sometimes raw, and I know for a fact some of the questions or comments I have made have been very naive and probably sounded pretty ignorant – I even encourage him to call me out and tell me if something I say or ask is stupid or biased…and he has – and he never judges or condemns me as we are in relationship and love one-another as brothers.

One day I had heard a talk at a conference presented by a black man who was describing his daily life as a young black man – driving through Los Angeles and passing police cars along the side of the road. He said about 7 out of 10 times, especially if he had another black man with him in the car, he would get pulled over for random things and usually let go without incident – but there were also many times where he feared for his safety from the men and women who were employed to keep them safe just because of bias and color. Guns sometime pulled as they approach the car. You know, fear on all sides can be a fuel that breeds destruction! And your immediate reaction to the last two sentences is a tell-tale sign of your bias regarding this issue facing some of our fellow human beings and brothers and sisters in this world on a daily basis.

This was just a small portion of this mans talk, but afterward I was having a discussion with a couple white pastors from the south, and they were trying to justify what the police had been doing in pulling them over, making assumptions that they must’ve been doing something wrong – speeding, acting suspicious, playing “their” loud music (his words), etc. I was saddened that these church leaders had completely missed the point of the talk in the first place, and worse chose to judge someone without even attempting to understand or engage simply based on their color and the situation described. They missed the message because of their bias – this young black man was reaching out to an arena full of leaders from every nationality to begin a conversation and start a relationship that may lead to a healed nation. He sought out a conversation, they simply wanted to justify their own bias without engaging the real issue or making a difference.

Back to my friend – after I returned from that conference I asked him about being pulled over by police in Anderson, IN. I asked him how many times in the past year he had been pulled over. He said, “I don’t know for sure, but I do know that I get pulled over often, many weeks I get pulled over several times, and even more if I have another black man or youth in my car.” When I told him I hadn’t been pulled over for at least 10-15 years – and that time for a tail light and he was just informing me of the light being out – I began to understand a bit more of his struggle and felt another level of compassion for my friend and what he goes through on a daily basis, even here in the midwest!

My goal in writing this post is not to give my opinion on a topic or social issue (but I will do that at the end though). More than likely, my opinion will be different than at least half of you reading this post. But isn’t that the beauty of relationship? When we engage with one another over real topics and deep issues, we grow! A very wise New Testament writer states it this way:

James 1:2-4 MSG – Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

That verse, as with many others, is written specifically to Christians, but applies to all. The only way for anyone to grow in any meaningful way is through the challenges of life. We are not lacking challenges in 2017, that is for sure. If your not sure, look at the headlines or venture onto your social media account and peruse the hot topics of the day. Pick one that resonates in your spirit and then take it to a place that few are courageous enough to go – find someone with a different view than you and ask them to meet you for coffee or a beer and have an honest, inquisitive discussion with the sole purpose of building a relationship and understanding why someone would come to an opposite conclusion than you on such an obvious topic (in your opinion). That is where God does some of His best work – in relationship! Discipleship is done in relationship. Jesus taught and led through relationship. Paul was a missionary spreading the gospel through relationships. For real change to occur, change toward reconciliation and loving one-another, we must not sit out and hope someone else engages in culture. We are not even called to just pray about someone else engaging the issues – prayer must lead to action. No, this call is for you to be part of the solution, and no-one gets a pass! If we will not engage one-another face-to-face, we have no right chiming in on the topics we don’t agree upon – bravery behind a screen is just cowardice! We have to stop this endless cycle of hate and turn toward one-another in love in the hope of building a mutual respect through relationship SO THAT real change can happen and lives are changed for the better.

So I challenge you now (don’t wait) – think in your heart about a social issue or topic that you have strong opinions about (even if it is something you see no possible other way of viewing it correctly) and put it into words. Then, seek out someone that may have a different opinion about the issue and meet them to start a conversation. Not to seek to change their opinion, but to seek to understand them through relationship.

And to lead well and not just share my opinion on this subject socially – I will start! I have many opinions about topics that likely run contrary to what many church people are posting. One topic that has caused a whole lot of controversy in local churches has been, “can a gay person be a believer in Jesus and go to heaven”? It is amazing to me how many times I hear people ask that question! Or worse, people state their opinion in an argumentative way that simply puts up more walls. Writing that sentence for me sounds absurd, but that is because I have an opinion that has been deveolped by engaging in deep relationship with the people in whom this sentence really affects, and have dug into God’s word and His character to make a determination that I feel comfortable sharing. It is this – YES, a person who is gay can be a follower of Jesus and enter into heaven! If by reading that sentence you became real uncomfortable or even a bit confused or angry, that is where relationship comes in. Reach out to me at rboyland01@gmail.com or below contact form and lets begin a conversation!

This entire life is about relationship and we were created to be in relationship! Social media and the bait-click driven comment sections of articles have created a culture of cowardly people who will spout off hatred from behind a screen (in the name of the first amendment, by the way….the very same thing many who are protesting peacefully are doing), but will not actually be part of any solution, taking steps toward one-anotherness and leaving behind the division and judgmentalism that is killing humanity.

Man, if I were an enemy of people, I would develop differing opinions and create ways for people to express those opinions in anger without any consequences for their actions, and then make sure there are an equal amount of people that have the exact opposite opinion, spread a little judgment and hatred, and lead the extremists to take their anger to levels of killing and fighting, and then sit back and watch the work I had created and call it good! Seems like the enemy has been doing an incredible job (in his opinion) in creating division in humanity, don’t you think?

We are better than this! Engage in real conversations with people who think differently than you and watch relationships form and unity to happen regardless of the different opinions. Different opinions have the potential of expanding our worldview beyond our little minds and into a level of love and grace that has never been seen in this world – well, maybe in one person a little over 2,000 years ago, and the thing is that same love and grace is available to each of us today as well. And becoming more like that, extending His love and grace to those around us, is the only way for this generation of people to actually make a difference and build a better world, one relationship at a time!

As of May 25, 2017, I am officially a Certified Life Coach! It’s incredibly funny to me how so many around me have told me that I should be coaching, yet I didn’t see it. I truly love to build relationships and mentor those who desire mentoring or discipleship, but never thought of myself as a Life Coach. That all changed when I began a conversation with a good friend, let’s call her Heather (because that is her name), and she only confirmed what my wife had been saying for a while now – I am already Coaching in my everyday relationships, and this is exactly how God has decided to gift me and develop a passion in me for people and relationships. So here I am, answering that calling in my life, and praying God allows me a fruitful practice where I get to help as many people as He will lead to Three V Coaching in the coming years!

So many times when we are going through a rough patch or tough situation we are referred to a pastor or counselor for counseling, however, in many situations what we truly need is a coach helping us discover the path that will lead us to freedom. Now, coaching is not therapy, counseling, mental health care, etc., but in many cases a pastor or counselor is giving advice or spending a lot of time with people in a counseling role, when what they really need is a coach who is there in relationship to foster a healthy and focused life, helping you get on your desired path.

So now I come to you, the one who is reading this post, and ask, humbly, will you help me spread the word about Three V Coaching? As I get fully immersed into the coaching role, my hope is to network with people who share a passion for relationships and helping people get from where they are to where they, and God, wants them to be in life. That network could be with pastors and leaders who could refer those coming to them for counseling, yet they may just need a coach to help them through this stage of life. Other opportunities can be business owners and community leaders who would like to connect employees or others to a coach. Through coaching, I have a unique ability to help others discover the right steps they need to take to get where they desire to be most vocationally, personally or spiritually. Many times in life we can feel stuck, knowing we are meant for something…well, more! This is where a coach can come in and help guide your thoughts toward your goals. It is very easy for us to fall prey to the lies that bombard us on a daily basis – you know, you’re not good enough, you’re too stubborn, out of shape, not worthy, you’re almost 50 and feeling a tug in your heart to do more with your life (ok, that has been mine) and the list goes on and on. It is human nature to fall into the traps of approval addiction, people pleasing, and so on. As a coach, I can help you get your thoughts on the true path which leads you to freedom!

Three V Coaching stands for Vision, Venture, Victory. My minute-by-minute desire in forming this practice is to help people develop a Vision for their lives in which they can be proud of and truly desire, Venture together into the renewal stage of life where we form goals and habits around what is true in your life so that you can live in freedom, the Victory of a satisfied and fulfilling life you have always desired. Sounds like an ominous passion pursuit, and I even feel that way writing this, yet as we break down the lies that have guided us, develop steps and goals weekly, and begin seeing the fruit of the efforts taken, the light gets a little brighter in the tunnel we feel we are in, and life begins to be more tangibly joy-filled. Life is so much sweeter when we are on purpose and in relationship. Coaching is a relationship solely focused on trust, leading from your Vision, through Venture and on to Victory! My question now to you is, will you join me?

Please share the word, pass this post along, refer a friend or family member, or contact me yourself and let’s see how I can serve you as your new Life Coach!

Contact me at threevcoaching@gmail.com or at 765.621.6537 and let’s build a relationship!

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In the past few weeks I have had the incredible opportunity to visit two newly planted churches – Church of The Hills in Nashville, TN and The Cathedral in Flint, MI.  Along with other members of itown church, we set out to encourage and support these two new congregations as they get their feet firmly planted within their communities to reach as many people as possible for Jesus Christ…doing anything short of sin to reach people for Christ!  We fell in love with the hearts and sacrifice of these amazing people as they fulfill the call God has placed in them to be a local outpost in their communities loving God and loving those around them!  We’ve made some life-long friends as well, all while cheering one-another on from afar serving our local communities and introducing people to Jesus!

Supporting the local church is an awesome responsibility for us all because in every community the local church truly is the hope for that community as well as the hope of the entire world!  With so many individual churches in our communities, The Global Church (everyone who follows Jesus) must support one-another and understand that church is not (and should never be) a competition.  The Church is a living entity of individual gatherings of people who need to be working together to reach the world for Christ; putting aside differing styles and rituals that are simply preferences, not doctrine!

church-competing

Unfortunately the picture above kinda hits a sore spot, doesn’t it?  Far too many local gatherings have chosen to not read (or at least understand) the memo from Paul where he calls us to band together as The Church body to reach as many people as possible for the sake of Jesus Christ!  Instead, many local churches have placed themselves in the headship of The Church as the only means in the community to have a relationships with Jesus – yet Jesus said we, as His followers, are ALL in this together as The Church with many different members of the body who must work together for the good of every person who is far from God in our communities…and Jesus is the only head of The Church!

Romans 12:3-8 – For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

I recall a story Andy Stanley, Lead Pastor at North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, shared regarding a gay-pride parade set to pass in front of their rather large church building on a given Sunday morning.  Andy and his staff tried to think it through to try to have as many congregants and volunteers as possible already in the building before the parade was set to pass.  They discussed how to keep the congregation inside the building a little longer than usual as to not “expose” the members to what they deemed a moral concern, possible protest or at the least an ugly exchange.  They were more focused on hiding their “righteous” eyes than reaching a community of people who need Jesus as much as we do.

As the morning began brewing, Andy was feeling a bit convicted and torn – from what I recall in his story, he and some others went outside to see how things were shaping up.  His conviction was set in stone when he saw the small church congregation across the street lining the road and handing out glasses of water to all the participants in the gay-pride parade – smiles on their faces as they opened their hearts to those walking along!  Conversations were happening and a bridge to an unreached group of people was being built right across the street!  Wow!  This congregation understood what it means to serve the community, offer grace to all, and love our neighbors with the love of Christ!  The lesson Andy learned that morning has shaped the ministry of North Point to this day as they seek to extend grace and love to the very people most congregations won’t engage – people far from God!  How different might this story have been if the churches were on the same page instead of working it from their own angle?  Odd isn’t it…what is the purpose of the local church if not to love God and love others?  Those far from God are exactly who Jesus said He came to save, and when we follow Him, we should be no different:

Luke 5:32 – I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.

Now, something amazing happens when you break that down…Jesus came to save sinners who are lost without a Savior.  Every person on this planet has at least one thing in common – we are all sinners!  The difference between being lost and found is a simple act of faith – believing in Jesus Christ!  How pious we become when we somehow think we are better than someone else because we are in relationship with Jesus!  The fact that we are in relationship with Jesus ought to embolden us to engage the community around us and share the good news of Jesus’ amazing love and grace!  How do we do this?  We build relationships with people who God has placed in our path (co-workers, fellow students, gas station attendant, Taco Bell employee, Starbuck’s server, etc.).  As we genuinely love those around us, opportunities will arise where we can share our testimony, our story, of how Jesus has changed our lives.  It is through relationship that God created man; it is through relationship that God sent His Son Jesus to save this world; it is through relationship that Jesus died for you and me; it is through relationship where Jesus came into your life and changed you; and it will be through relationship where each lost soul on earth will have an opportunity to begin a faith relationship with Jesus to change their eternal path.

Jesus has one plan for the salvation of this world – The Church (ALL followers of Jesus).  Jesus poured into 12 men…upon His resurrection and ascension to heaven He set them loose with one goal in mind – get into relationship with people in your path, share the good news of Jesus’ incredible gift of grace, and help others on the path do the same!  Here is Jesus’ commission to His disciples, and in turn His commission for us as The Church:

Matthew 28:18-20 – And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Go – our commission to get into people’s lives and build relationships…you can’t build a relationship unless you are willing to go.

Baptize – as relationships are built we share our story of how Jesus changed our lives.  This is where people have an opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus’ gift of grace and respond to that Good News by accepting that gift and beginning a relationship with Jesus.  When the topic of baptism is brought up we must also understand that water baptism is simply a public profession of one’s new relationship with Jesus – one next step in our faith journey proclaiming we belong to Jesus!  Though it is important to make that public proclamation, water baptism in and of itself is not a requirement of salvation.

Teach – we walk alongside those new in relationship with Jesus, helping them understand grace and showing them how to go into the world and begin making disciples through relationships.

“Go, Baptize and Teach” is the method Jesus commissioned us to make disciples who will learn to make disciples – this is how the world can be changed by a group of 12 men who passed it on to us!

Local churches and fellow believers; it’s far past time for The Church to come together and love one-another as we love those far from God.  When those far from God see how ridiculous individual church congregations treat one-another, they see the hypocrisy and want nothing to do with us!  When people see how critical “religious” people are in their comments or posts on social media as well in their arguments in the public square, why would we expect them to want join our mission let alone follow the One we say we follow?  God doesn’t want us to argue with people who think differently than we do.  No-one has been argued into the Kingdom!  Jesus wants us to love people who don’t know Him and get into relationship with people far from Him!  Only then will we have an opportunity to share the things that truly matter in this life!  People will want to know the One we follow when we actually reflect the One we follow!  So go out and show His love and grace to those around you – just as Jesus has extended His love and grace to you!  And cheer on the local congregations of people in your community who are reaching people for Jesus…the heavens explode with a party every time one sinner accepts salvation through Jesus.  Let’s join in that cheering and reach everyone together!

 

John 21:15-17 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 

 Many times when we read this passage of scripture we hone in on the fact that Peter has denied Christ and it reads like Jesus is calling him out and making sure, three times, that Peter gets it.  But what if this is really a call to Peter to stop playing “church” and start living it…stop wanting to be fed and start feeding others?  To stop following to gain more knowledge and understanding of Jesus and His message and start applying that message to his life and those around him?  I believe it is the same call Jesus is laying out to us right now!

Jesus is saying to Peter, and us – you say you love me; now show it by how you respond to that love – by making disciples.  Grace is a free gift and there is nothing you can do or say to gain it, yet as followers of Jesus our mission was never to be content with simply knowing Jesus and gaining more head knowledge about Him.  Our mission is to make disciples which takes the focus off of us and places it back where it belongs – on Jesus!

You see, Jesus knew that Peter was ready to begin changing the world (part of Jesus’ plan all along), yet he had to make a choice – since I have denied Jesus, I can wallow around in self pity and focus on me, me, me…or, I can choose to take what I know about this amazing Savior, and what I have learned from Him about love and grace, and share it with everyone I come in contact with from this day forward.  Thank God that Jesus challenged Peter to step out of the “feed me” mindset and into the life-changing world of making disciples!  The Church was born out of this not-so-subtle mind shift, and seems to be all but collapsing today because that mind shift has reversed!

His message for us is the same…as followers of Jesus it’s time for us to stop expecting to be fed by our local churches and start feeding ourselves.  It’s time to stop simply going to a church and start being The Church.   The local church is not a place for believers to come for primarily faith feeding.  The local church is there for community and deployment!  We build community with one-another and serve within the local church.  We are family, and family serves one-another well!  We also come together to be deployed to be a light in a world gone mad.  When members of local churches are inwardly focused, they become stagnant.  Serving and giving seldom happen at the level God desires because it’s not about Him anymore, it’s about us!  What a sad place for a believer to be – so inwardly focused that they miss the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of so many!

If you ever start thinking that your life in Christ is about you, you need to step back and realize it has never been about you…it has and always will be about Jesus!  Let’s lead our lives as though that were true…because it is!  Living for Christ and serving others by extending His love, mercy and grace is how followers are to respond to His love – feed and follow:

John 21:19b  And after saying this He said to him, “Follow me.” …and history continues! 

 dancing-rain

A week or so ago I was having a conversation with my wife and quite frankly, I was a bit discouraged…kind of like when an outdoor activity seems all but lost because an unexpected rainstorm has invaded our plans.  For some time now I have been feeling the desire to move into vocational ministry, however, at least at this moment, I don’t see myself as someone who will speak to groups of people…I am leaving that up to God, though!  Yet, over the past year I have felt an even more direct call into ministry from God; something that is constantly brought to my mind by God in every moment and circumstance of my life.  My discouragement has come from not knowing exactly where God is specifically calling me!  It seems odd to me that God would call me into ministry yet not give me specific marching orders, even though I intuitively know that is not how He works in my life.  Something I struggle with almost daily…learning to find joy when it rains!

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

Maybe my call is not so different than others who have been called.  God has simply given me one step at a time and once I am obedient and take that step, He shows me the next.  Many of the steps so far have been either faith steps or connections with people – I truly love when God prompts me to connect with someone He has brought to my heart and mind.  Some great relationships and deep friendships have developed and are developing through those interactions in which God was the only reason to connect!  Most of the trials I have been dealing with have indeed produced a steadfastness that has sustained my desire for relationship with God and with the people He has led me to (or to me).  I now see those trails (at least once I reflect) as opportunities to grow and discern God’s call in my life.

So, how do you respond to trials or disappointment?  How do you handle the victories and wins in your life and ministry?  In those moments, what do you think God is trying to teach you?  How can you and those around you grow during times of trial?  Do you have people in your life willing to pour into you even when trials come along?

Perspective makes all the difference when it comes to disappointment and trials.  Having a loving God in our life really does help us to see the struggle with joy knowing that the only way we can grow is to press through the trial and seek God to understand what it is that He wants us to discover.  Even though that way of thinking can be very difficult in the moment, having people around you who will remind you of God’s plan and purposes in your life can help keep you on the path that God is choosing for you…and besides, genuine relationship allows us to build each other up even when struggles rear their ugly head.  That’s how my lovely wife built me up the other night, simply by reminding me that the trials I am facing are opportunities to grow and take that next step of faith…answering His call one step and relationship at a time, especially when it rains!

grace-n-peace

After listening to a sermon from Tullian Tchividjian on Grace, I confirmed what he was saying and took it a bit further in looking through all of Paul’s letters in the New Testament.  Tullian had taught that in the letter the Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans, he began with a phrase many of us have read countless times, and likely read it as a greeting or a formal way Paul began his letter.

Romans 1:7 – To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

What I found was that in fact Paul began all his letters this way!  Why?  Have we read the opening of his letters wrong all along or was this just a simple greeting?  You know as well as I do that Paul didn’t haphazardly write fluff into his letters, so I tend to believe there was a deep purpose for the words that Paul had chosen.

Grace and Peace are the crux of this simple yet profound greeting, and the point of the entire Gospel message!  This is why I believe Paul wrote them into all of his letters:

Grace and Peace are not a simple greeting in Paul’s letters, but a summary of the Gospel…Grace is the root, Peace is the fruit!

Grace – The only reason we even have the opportunity to spend eternity with God is the amazing gift of Grace!  Grace is something we cannot earn in any way.  Grace was personified in the Lord Jesus Christ when He came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died for all the sin of mankind.  But that was not it!  He then beat death, rose from the grave affirming that He was in fact the Son of God and was completely capable of forgiving our sins to allow us access to eternity with God!  The resurrection shows the world that the living Savior came to set the captives free!  That is Good News!

Peace – Receiving the Grace of God, accepting and believing Jesus’ conquering sacrifice on our behalf, allows us to live a life that looks different from the world around us.  Our circumstances do not define who we are any longer.  We are a new creation of amazing value – we are part of God’s family and our eternity is secure!  With that kind of assurance, we can live a life of Peace while working through whatever trials come our way with an understanding that our life here is only a brief blip on the road of eternity!  Living a life of Peace focuses our thoughts on the things that really matter, the stuff that God cares most deeply about – people!  With that kind of focus, we get to join God’s plan of loving people into the Kingdom!  Peace is the fruit of our accepting God’s Grace and living that Grace out in our lives!

And that is the Gospel of Jesus!  The Gospel is summed up in two words – Grace and Peace!  Paul was simply sharing the Gospel in a nutshell while the rest of his letter was written to flow from the simple message of Grace and Peace – the root and the fruit of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!  The same Gospel that radically changed Saul into Paul saves us to this very moment!

The question on the table is simply this: have you accepted His Grace so that you can live a life full of His Peace?  If not there is no time better than right now!  His followers may not be all that attractive to you (after all, we are all messed up hypocrites being transformed by the Grace of God), but He is the most amazing person you will ever meet!  He loved you so much that He died to set you free from guilt and shame, disgust and pride, addiction and fear, sin and death!  If you were the only person in the entire universe, and this still chokes me up, He would have still come to die for you to satisfy the need for death to cover sin…that’s how much He loves you!  He really is that good!  He fulfills an eternal hole in which every other religion, fame or fortune cannot even come close to fulfilling.  His Grace is enough, and His Peace is so refreshing!  It’s available to you, right now!  Will you accept?

 

 

fishers-of-men

Matthew 4:19 And he [Jesus] said to them [His Disciples], “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

 

Simple and brief message here of what it means to be a Disciple who makes Disciples:

Follow me – Our Active Response to God’s Grace

And I will make you – Jesus Active Response to Our Following Him

Fishers of men – Our Transforming Life as We Become More Like Christ and begin Making Disciples

Though our salvation requires nothing but faith in Jesus, once we give our life to Christ we begin changing from the inside-out.  His heart begins shaping our heart…the things He loves we begin to love.  As we begin to deeply love Him, His love for us expands in the way we love those around us.  What an amazing circle of love God has created!  His greatest commands were to Love God and Love others…makes perfect sense because to love God can only grow into a love for people who, after all, were created in His image!  Love truly is the only way to live!

I would expect that many cringed when they read that title!  I am sure some even thought this was a false statement.  I pray you read on and then decide what you will believe…as for me, I have made my decision based in part on the following scriptures (but not limited to these scriptures alone):

Romans 5:8 But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us

This world we live in is far from being worthy of a Savior; yet, God so desires a relationship with humanity, His lone creation made in His image, that He was willing to offer up the only sacrifice that was worthy enough to cover the fate and sin of the world, the sin that we deal with on a daily basis.  That sacrifice was God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and He is the only reason we have hope in the sin sick world we live.  How amazing is it that even while we were still living out our sinful desires and wicked ways, He died for us!  Grace personified in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Yet, we still keep falling into the trap that we have to do something, anything, to gain or keep His love for us…as if we have the power to change God’s heart.  Through His grace, Christ has provided a way for us to live with God eternally – the sentence for sin is death and He beat death on our behalf!

grace

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

Grace has been given to all who have faith in Jesus, making Him Savior and Lord!  No works or deeds are required of us to gain His love or grace…if Jesus required our works to gain His grace, then His sacrifice was not required!  There is nothing we can do, we must simply put our faith in Him that it is done!

No works….here’s a thought provoking statement that goes against the grain of religion: Not even the work of repentance can gain you the free gift of God’s grace.  If the verse above holds true, our salvation, the free gift of grace, does not hinge upon our repentance!  If it did we would have a means to boast in what we have done!  So the question, “can I be gay and a Christian” really does make sense as one’s salvation doesn’t hinge upon our sexual orientation or any other behavior or lifestyle, regardless if you feel it is a sin or not.  Our salvation hinges solely on Christ’s work on the cross, and His sacrifice is enough to allow us the grace to trust in Him and let Him work within us to make us who He wants us to be!  Our repentance can only come after we have accepted the gift of grace as a response to love we have for Jesus and Him alone.   Repentance comes out of who we are becoming through Christ, but in no way proves a hindrance to our salvation.   Repentance is between you and God, not for you to point out in others!  Each one of us has enough sin in our life to deal with without pointing out where we feel someone else is falling short!

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.

What “good works” has God created you to accomplish?  Too often we look at the verse on the tail of verses 8 and 9 and say, “see, we are supposed to do works (including but not limited to repentance) to stay in His good grace.”  But that is not what Paul is saying here.  He is simply saying that God created mankind for a purpose…and each of us has a calling from God.  His calling in our lives is the only “good works” we can even hope to fulfill!  And here’s another caveat: we must read these words for our own lives and not try to force something upon others.  God is working in each of our hearts in different ways, so my calling looks different than yours.  When the bible refers to “good works” it is always in relation to people around us, not in relation to God!  With God, it is finished through Jesus!  God never needs or wants our good works, but our neighbor does!

Romans 11:6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

Another great reminder of this truth – Grace is a free gift for those who have faith in Jesus!  That is it, no extra’s, no repentance, no getting cleaned up before beginning a relationship with Jesus, no condemnation…simply a loving God offering up a relationship with Him by trusting that Jesus is who He said He was and having faith that God’s grace is enough. 

At this point there is usually a big, BUT…yet, in God’s word that is it!  We can add all the works we want to the new believer, but it’s not biblical!  There is nothing we can do to get “better” or “do good”.  His grace means It Is Done! Finished!  When we try to add things to do for the new believer we are in essence sentencing them to a roller coaster faith that will have them on highs when they are performing well and lows when they forget to read their bibles or fall back into that sin that had them captive for years.  What the new believer needs is a relationship with you!  They need someone who is navigating this faith life to come alongside them and build a relationship with them right where they are…it’s seldom enough to give someone a list of things to do and expect them to build a strong faith life built on grace.  We need to be in relationship, doing life so that true biblical discipleship can happen!  That is why I love the term Relational Discipleship – it encompasses the need for relationship in the discipleship process!  Just like in our faith, relationship is the key to everything…and after all, Jesus modeled it first!

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

THIS IS GOOD NEWS!!!  We must remember that Jesus did not come to condemn, and His people must not condemn either!  As followers of Jesus, what we can do is build relationships, point people to our Savior and love them enough to walk with them as they make eternal decisions!  We can be disciples who are making disciples while allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of those in which we are in relationship!  God is big enough and in control enough to allow us to love our neighbors while He transforms them…it is His job to change people He wants to change, not ours!  Our job is to love God and love our neighbors which requires relationships built on grace!

This post is based on a topic I have briefly written about in the past, at least as a descriptive term, yet God keeps bringing this to my mind as I interact with people in my daily life.  The topic is this: is God’s word a mirror in your life, or do you simply use it as a hammer over the lives of others?

Most of us have witnessed the extremes of the hammer position, whether in person or in the news.  Westboro Baptist Church is just one group with the extreme hammer view…and I will add their method and view is completely unbiblical and from the pit of hell!  They condemn and protest against the military (at the funerals of our fallen heroes no less) and against the LGBT community in ways that are an embarrassment to those of us who are truly trying to follow Jesus, as well as ridiculous and intolerable to those in which the hatred is being spewed.  Apparently the whole “love God and love your neighbor” thing doesn’t show up in the translation of scripture they are using!

hammer mirror

Before we get too used to pointing fingers at these extremists we must take a look at ourselves as well.  When we judge others based on their sins, in a small way we are following a similar type of thought that the extreme positions follow.  It may not look like it on the outside, and I am sure the actions do not equate those of Westboro or even the typical street “preacher” (or pharisaical condemner might be a better descriptor), however, when we condemn others based on their sin (either in our thoughts or by what we say) we are doing the same thing.  In Romans 1, Paul lays out a barrage of descriptors of the unrighteous (those not “good enough” to be His children).  But then he throws a twist at the readers in Romans 2 who were likely reading this and pointing the finger at those they deemed unworthy based on their sins:

Romans 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 

He is showing us that we are all in the same boat!  Without Jesus’ sacrifice none of us can live forever with God!  We cannot be “good enough” no matter how much we try…we all need Jesus!

The thing is, the Bible was never meant to be used as something to morally and spiritually impress upon others…it is meant to be read as a mirror reflecting God into our lives as we grow to be more like Him.  It’s His word to guide us, to help us become more like Jesus in our daily life and in the way we treat those around us.  When we use God’s word as a hammer, beating down people around us because of their behavior, we are acting like the Pharisees…and you remember how Jesus responded to them:

Matthew 23:25-26 25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Jesus was not impressed by the amount of knowledge the “religious” people (Pharisees) had, that they memorized much of the scriptures and had many laws trying to make other people follow the rules they deemed proper and biblical.  Actually, Jesus, like many of us are today, was sickened by the religious groups, just like Westboro Baptist, and called them out on it often!  Jesus spent a lot of time with people who the religious had already condemned to hell.  And the incredible part to me is that those people who were the furthest from God really enjoyed being around Jesus and spending time with Him…many times taking their first real steps of faith with Him, but even if they chose not to take steps they truly liked spending time with Him.  Relationship always trumps religion!  Jesus knew fully how to build relationships and speak Truth with love and grace!  So, the real question here is this: if we are becoming more like Jesus every day, then do people far from God even want to be around us, let alone like us?  Are we spending time in places where people do not already follow Jesus, or do we stay comfortable in our little self-proclaimed holy huddles?  Are we spending time with our Savior, building a relationship with Him and reading His word as a mirror that reflects who we truly are, or more importantly who He is in us, so that we can extend that same love and grace to those around us?

I’d love to say I sit behind this screen with no judgment of others, but that would be a lie.  However, I do know what is True, as God defines Truth, and to not apply that Truth to my life, and share what God is pressing on my heart with you, would be in direct disobedience to God!  The way we treat others is a direct representation of who we follow…like it or not!  When Westboro spews their hatred in the name of God, it makes me sick to my stomach and angry because that is NOT who my Savior is by any stretch of the imagination and in no way reflects any attribute of His character!  Our actions may not be as vocal or public as theirs, but they are still stemming from the same basic thought…we believe we are more righteous than many around us and we’ve decided it is somehow our job to point it out to them!  As I grow older I continually see glimpses of how God wants me to grow in relationship with Him as well as in relationship with those He places in my path.  Amazingly enough, when I see the reflection of God’s word in my life it brings unspeakable joy to me and extends out to everyone around me!  Oh I wish those moments were more often than they are…however; it is so much easier (at times) to grab my hammer and shatter the mirror that God wants to use to reflect His Son instead of making the right choice by extending His love to those around me  no matter how lost they may seem to be.  Using God’s word as a hammer is simply saying that we are on the same plane as God…and that is a very dangerous place for a believer to think they belong!  How amazing would life on this earth be if those who follow Jesus would simply stop hammering people and start paying attention to His reflection in all of us…loving God and then loving others in His name!

Hammers make great tools when you need to nail something to a wall, but they are not appropriate to use when we want to “fix” or change people!  The only person we can change is ourselves, so we need to stop trying to change others!  The mirror of God’s word is the way to grow (and change) as we reflect the image of the One who created each and every one of us!  So start the habit now and begin to see every passage of scripture as a note written specifically to you and you alone…then and only then can God begin showing you how love really can change the world, one reflection at a time!

#Mirror>Hammer

Adventure

Numbers 14:24 But because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.

 Prior to God proclaiming His intentions to allow Caleb to enter the land flowing with milk and honey, God directed Moses to send out spies into the land and report back what they found.  Joshua and Caleb were the only men to see the land as good and prosperous…the others saw the danger and obstacles that stood before them if they were to enter the land to claim it.  Joshua and Caleb trusted God’s promises…the others trusted only what they could see!

God has used many hard times in my life to refocus my heart.  I have had times where I trusted my own intuition over God’s direction only to discover that my choice caused me to go down a path that took me away from God (remember Jonah?).  Yet, the most fruitful and joyous times in my life have come from obedience to His promptings in my heart and the direct paths He  laid out in His word.  Some of the most incredible relationships I now have came directly from God giving me a little push to make contact with someone…and whenever I do act upon that nudge, He never ceases to amaze me with the friendships and discipleship that takes place – both in my heart and in my new friend’s heart!  Just gotta listen and act!

How about you?  When God places a difficult situation or a specific person in your path, do you typically see it as an insurmountable obstacle…one in which you see no possible good outcome?  Or do you see an opportunity to trust God and grow closer to Him through the process…possibly forging a new relationship and likely becoming more like His Son?

When we trust God and His word, life begins to make sense.  Through His word, God shows us the priorities we need in our lives – Him first, then our spouse, kids, family, friends, etc.  Simply keeping those priorities would take care of most of society’s problems.  With God first in our lives, it makes sense for us to love our spouses sacrificially, even making them a higher priority than our kids!  With that kind of mutual matrimonial love, divorce would cease to exist and broken families would be a thing of the past.  Kids would not grow up without a parent!  Prisons would close down!  There would be no more loneliness or strife.  Alas, we live in a broken world, so many of these perfect scenarios are reserved for heaven…or are they?  Jesus said we are to live life (here on earth) abundantly!  Maybe keeping these priorities is the key to living a true abundant life….

Caleb did just that!  God had made a promise to deliver the people of Israel to a place that would sustain all their needs and bring joy to them for many generations to come…after all, it is the Promised Land and is still being fought for to this day!    Caleb spied out that land with God’s promise in mind…His view of the land was that of a new property owner scoping out how amazing his new residence will be and the possibilities of a future there.

We could learn a lot from Caleb.  How would your life look if you were to believe the promises of God and live your life as such?  He truly seeks to give you a future and a hope through the plans He has made for you, as is written in Jeremiah 29:11-13.  God’s promises and plans for each of us are a huge puzzle where God somehow, someway, miraculously makes them all fit and come together to fulfill His plan for our lives!  It’s up to you – will you cower in fear of the future and what may come, or will you act upon His promptings and promises and join Him in the grand design He has laid out for your life?  Your God-given adventure awaits!

Check out the lyrics to this song – Already There by Casting Crowns:

From where I’m standing
Lord it’s so hard for me to see
Where this is going
And where You’re leading me

I wish I knew how
All my fears and all my questions
Are gonna play out
In a world I can’t control

When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You’re already there
You’re already there

From where You’re standing
Lord, You see a grand design
That You imagined
When You breathed me into life

And all the chaos
Comes together in Your hands
Like a masterpiece
Of Your picture perfect plan

When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You’re already there
You’re already there

One day I’ll stand before You
And look back on the life I’ve lived
I can’t wait to enjoy the view
And see how all the pieces fit

One day I’ll stand before You
And look back on the life I’ve lived
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

When I’m lost in the mystery
To You my future is a memory
Cause You’re already there
You’re already there

Standing at the end of my life
Waiting on the other side
And You’re already there
You’re already there

You are already there

walks-on-water

Matthew 14:25-33 – 25 And in the fourth watch of the night He [Jesus] came to them, walking on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” 28 And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Often times when we read this passage the first thing we point out is the fact that Matthew didn’t have enough faith to stay above the waves.  Jesus even says he had little faith and doubted.  How pious we must be in our thinking to believe we have even a fraction of the faith required for such a miraculous water walking endeavor!  We need to give Peter a break for the amount of courage it took for him to even consider stepping out, let alone actually going through with it!

When reading this passage again today, what really stuck out to me was the fact that when Peter had His eyes focused on Jesus he was actually walking on water!  How cool is that!  Yet, when his focus turned to what was going on around him, seeing how the wind was crashing the waves against the boat, he began to sink.  It’s all good when we have our eyes dead set on Jesus, but when our focus shifts away from Him, life seems out of control!  The parallel to our lives is astounding to me in so many ways!

I recently had a conversation with a young person who is in the middle of a tug-of-war in their mind between accepting Jesus’ gift of eternal life and living the life they know, can relate to and are comfortable with – a life where they have finally found love, comfort, safety and forgiveness from people going through many of the same life struggles.  Like this person, most of us tend to think we have to figure it all out and possibly “clean up our act”, whatever that means, before taking a step of faith in making Jesus Savior and Lord.  The problem is…none of us have our act together either before we accept Jesus or after!  We are human and are all lost in need of a Savior.  Jesus is ok with our “lostness” as long as we don’t stay there forever…He loves us too much and desires us to spend eternity in relationship with Him as well as live an abundant life here on earth – abundant in love, grace and forgiveness!  You see, Jesus doesn’t want us to try to clean up our messy lives before we come to be with Him; He wants desperately to walk with us through our struggles and show us what unconditional love really looks like.

It is easy for life to get in the way of so many important things, especially when it comes to God.  We think we have to “get things done” or feel we are too busy to make God a priority in our lives.  However, our messy, busy lives are an indication that we are too swamped to NOT make Jesus the priority in our lives!  With Jesus at the center of our entire lives perspective changes, love increases, compassion abounds, generosity flows and life fills up with joy and meaning!  Life is still difficult, but with an eternal perspective, one that Jesus gives us when our priorities are in the right order, our struggles become opportunities to grow and build relationships.  That is the freedom that the bible talks about…freedom to live our lives while inviting Jesus to guide our hearts and minds as we seek to become more like Him – not because we are trying to gain His favor, but because that is how we respond when we love someone!

So, in what ways are you taking your eyes off Jesus and beginning to sink in your circumstances?  Where are you feeling God’s nudge to step out in faith, out of your own boat, and take an impossible step toward Jesus where you only see the possibility of drowning?  Maybe your next step is to trust in Him, to begin an incredible love relationship with the Creator of the Universe!  Regardless of where you are right this moment, I believe Jesus wants you to simply focus on Him, and don’t look down!

If you have questions on how to take your first step of faith, making Jesus your Savior and Lord, please check out NeedHim.org or feel free to contact me.  A relationship with Jesus changes everything for eternity!  This life is fleeting…where do you intend on spending eternity?

When you hear the words “Total Surrender” when it relates to following Jesus, what comes to mind?  Many years ago for me the idea of total surrender meant that I must give up all the stuff I really enjoyed if I were serious about following Jesus – music, sports talk radio, hanging out at bars drinking beer and throwing darts, playing golf, etc.  At that time I felt that the things that I was overindulging in were the problem, but the problem itself was much deeper.  It was rooted in the fact that these activities were taking up a lot of time and a higher place in my heart than my relationship with God, my wife and my kids.  My priorities were way out of balance and my relationships were showing it.

Early in my faith journey, the time where personal discipleship truly began taking root, I needed to make some drastic changes in my life, but didn’t know what to do or how to grow.  So with very little guidance, I simply gave up the things I saw as detrimental to the relationships that mattered most.  For me, without guidance, that was exactly the right thing to do as it helped me focus my energy and faith in a way where priorities simply worked themselves out – God first, then my wife, kids, etc.  You see, without a mentor, someone intentionally walking alongside me in my early faith journey, the places I was hanging out were not healthy places for me to spend a load of time.  However, if I had a mentor, I truly feel I would have seen an opportunity to extend the relationships I already had in those areas of my life to a spiritual level, inviting others in on the journey of faith I was embarking!  Hindsight is always 20/20, but I feel God is showing me these things to share with others beginning their faith journey as well as with those who are willing to make a difference in the life of someone who is beginning to navigate this journey of faith!

Surrendering ourselves is allowing God to best be glorified through our lives; and your life may be best utilized in a bar or on a golf course!

Giving up the stuff we enjoy in order to follow Jesus was never His plan; His plan involves Total Surrender of our selfish desires to His will for our lives, yet living our lives right where we are now in a way that glorifies Him in our thoughts and actions.  The type of music I listened to, the bars I hung out in, or the golf courses I played on were actually a big part of who I was, and exactly the type of places where God could be glorified by a sinner like me who was saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.  The problem was never the activities, it was making these activities a priority in my life over the relationships I needed most.

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So if you are early in your faith journey, have been a follower of Jesus for a long time, or are simply investigating the man Jesus, God really does desire for you to develop your relationship with Him first and foremost – to become His disciple.  Building a relationship with a good mentor is a great way to grow and learn to navigate this new found life in Christ, and is the example Jesus used to reach people when He walked the earth as well as the model He shared with us to begin making disciples.  As you continue to grow and become His disciple, God’s desire is that you would begin making disciples as well.  In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus commissions us to go and make disciples.  This is a great reason to continue the relationships we had when we were seeking out our selfish desires (for me, bars and golf courses)…what better way to glorify God than by living out our transformed life in front of those we have had relationships for years!  And in doing so, maybe God will provide an opportunity to begin sharing your testimony of change with those who already know your past self and have witnessed the radical diference in your life.  Of course if the places you hang out are unsafe or unhealthy for you in any way, you will need to use discretion…I am not saying to keep yourself in unsafe conditions, but I am saying to listen to God and discern whether or not you must walk away or simply change your focus and priority.  Again, a good trusted mentor can help in guiding you as well!

Surrendering ourselves is simply allowing God to best be glorified through our lives; and your life may be best utilized in a bar or on a golf course!   When our priorities are clear, a little beer or golf may be the avenue that God desires for you to make an eternal difference in the life of someone who desperately needs a Savior!  Don’t just think about surrender as a sacrifice…live a surrendered life that frees you up to love others in a way that only you can love them…in the places where you are free to be yourself, and the places where others are free to do the same!  God doesn’t want to simply change your behaviors; He wants to transform your life!  Your life, as well as mine, is a mosaic of relationships where Jesus can be made known in conversation over a beer or a game of golf…and to God be the glory!

#Freedom

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Bear with me, this is a little long, but it is an important topic for us to discern as we navigate this life and invite others into relationship with our Savior!

Answer this question for me – Is gluttony a sin?  There are a plethora of scriptural references you can look up to back the claim that gluttony is sinful!  So, having this interpretation in your head, and fully believing that God agrees with you, do you go out and find the first overweight person and tell them they are fat and need to repent of their wicked ways and get their eating under control?

How about this one – Is getting drunk a sin?  Again, many references to support the notion that getting drunk is sinful; however, if you go up to someone who is drunk or even later when they are sober and tell them they are a sinful drunkard and need to repent or they are going to hell, odds are that they will shut you out and label you a hate-filled Christian.

In a world where The Church congregates in thousands of different denominations, locations and interpretive belief systems, it is sometimes difficult for someone far from God to navigate what is True and how it applies to their life.  And, if we are all honest, when we were first seeking we were drawn to people who didn’t judge us and repulsed by people who were self-righteous.  This, I believe, is one of the biggest reasons Jesus was loved so deeply by those who were marginalized by society and the religious elite due to their sinful natures.  It is also the same reason those being shunned for their sin despised the religious people of the day.  Same holds true in our day!

Unfortunately, scripture has been twisted and interpreted in many different ways to agree with those following specific belief systems.  For example, alcohol by many denominations is strictly forbidden, and many even go as far to interpret the scriptural references to wine as simply grape juice.  However, in many other denominations, alcohol is fine as long as it is taken in moderation – which again is up for interpretation.

You see what I am saying here?  Regardless of what we may believe to be true (based on our beliefs, the Word of God and the Holy Spirit’s revelation), how can someone who may be seeking to know the meaning of life, and possibly even wondering if there is a God, begin to navigate what is true and what is heresy when the “religious” systems of the world cannot agree on interpretation of scripture?  Why wouldn’t those who are searching look for a group of people who will love and accept them for who they are, and subsequently, seek to find out more about the God they follow?  As followers of Jesus we may have differing beliefs and differing interpretations of scripture, many of which may be true while others may be very twisted, but we cannot condemn people for their behaviors and beliefs then expect them to even consider following the God we follow.  The one non-negotiable Truth that we must all hold is that faith in Jesus is the only way to spend eternity with God – yet, many people who do not follow Jesus think there are many ways to God (sadly, many people who claim to follow Jesus are confused on this topic as well)!  This post is not about what is right or wrong or to start a theological debate, it is simply something that needs to be said if we ever want to lead lost people to Jesus!  Lost people (people who do not have a relationship with Jesus) will never respond to a message that focuses on their behavior instead of Jesus’ message of grace and love!  And truth is typically irrelevant to the lost until they begin a relationship with Jesus – then He, not us, will be the One who guides and convicts as He sees fit!

Something God has really been hammering home in my heart is the debates going around in the “church-world” regarding same-sex union, gay priests, gender assignment, and homosexuality – “Can you be gay and be a Christian?”.  Let alone the identities of transsexual, pan-sexual, asexual, etc.  Again, some of the mainline denominations have affirmed gay priests, conducted gay marriages regularly, and interpreted the scriptures in ways that do not condemn or condone homosexuality.  Other groups completely, and vehemently, condemn the gay lifestyle and anyone in it, around it or even talking about it – trust me; I am talking with and about this group a lot and I feel the push back from the “religious”.  Regardless of where you fall on this lifestyle, there is still a group of people that are deeply loved by God and in need of the same Savior that saved us from our sinful behaviors.  As we fight over who is right and who is wrong, and I have my belief as well, we are driving this marginalized group of people far away from our God…”Why follow a God that these crazy people are following, He probably would condemn me too!  Why bother?”  By the way, they are being marginalized by the religious, not by God – and there is an eternal difference between the two!  Religious focus on law, God focuses on grace!

The Law in the Bible was manipulated by the Pharisees (religious) to condemn people who didn’t fit their constructed religious mold.  Yet the Law was given to show us that we are not capable of attaining the perfection of God on our own; by the way, perfection is a pre-requisite for spending eternity with Him, so none of us can measure up on our own accord.  The Law always points us to the Gospel because our inability to be perfect was nullified by Jesus’ ability and willingness to be the perfect sacrifice…He died as a perfect substitution for us while we were all still sinners!  The Law is there to show us we need the Gospel, and the Gospel tells us that we need Jesus!  It is never our job to point out what we deem to be sin in others; the Bible is to be read as a mirror, helping the reader become more like Christ.  When we use the Bible as a hammer, it loses its intended purpose given by the Author!  Judgment comes from above, not from someone walking alongside!

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Bottom line here is this – I care less about where you fall in your beliefs regarding human behavior than I do about the people who have been turned away from local churches and individuals simply because most are too afraid to enter a relationship with someone who thinks or acts differently than they do.  It’s OK to believe that homosexuality is a sin as long as you don’t condemn someone else because you hold what you deem to be their sin up in the light while you hide your sin in the dark.  I believe Navy Blue is Black because when I look at Navy Blue it appears to be Black to me; but just because I cannot distinguish between the two colors doesn’t give me the right to tell my wife she is wrong when the real issue is my own vision!  How’s your vision?  I personally have some great relationships with people who do not believe being gay is a sin.  We are still the best of friends even after they ask what I believe and I share that I believe being gay is a sin based on what I read in God’s word – actually, since we have been completely honest with each other in these conversations, I can say that my relationship with each person has become a deep friendship that is based on mutual love and respect.  Why?  I feel it is because my goal is not to change someone or tell them they are wrong or sinful; my goal is to develop a relationship with the people God places in my path in hopes that they may fall in love with the Jesus, the One I wholly love!  You might say, “Sounds like you have an agenda to me!”; yet it’s not an agenda when you place Jesus in the center of your entire life – it’s actually who you are in Christ!  To hide your faith is actually contrary to who you truly are!  People in general are OK with us having our own opinions and convictions (regardless if it is based on scripture or not) as long as they are not being condemned for their own or shut down for sharing their beliefs.  Differing opinions, convictions and beliefs make for incredible conversations!  If you are truly open to loving God and loving people you may blessed in building some incredible relationships with people who are very different from you – the same way Jesus did when He walked this Earth calling sinners like us to trust in Him!  With relationship comes opportunity to share your heart with others…and with your heart surrendered to Jesus, sharing Him becomes easy even when the “tough” topics of our day seem to cloud our judgment!  So let me ask you, are you seeing people through the eyes of Jesus?  How is your vision?

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God has led me to Romans 12 a lot lately and it never ceases to amaze me how much He can squeeze into a passage of His divinely inspired Word.

Romans 12:6-8 – 6Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

In this section of scripture, Paul is explaining to us the reason God has given us His gifts by His grace.  He gives us these gifts to share generously with others!  These are the gifts described above, but are just a sampling of the gifts that God gives to us:

Gift of Prophecy (foreshadowing something to come) – Share only as much as your faith allows.

Gift of Service – Get out and serve others!

Teaching Gift – Be ready to teach, and do it!

Gift of Exhortation (encouraging someone to take action) – Encourage others to do something for the glory of God!

Gift of Giving – Give generously!

Leadership – Lead well and with boldness!

Gift of Mercy – Show mercy to those you come into contact and do it with joy and kindness!

God never gives us a gift or blessing to hoard for ourselves.  When we keep His blessing for our own desires, our minds tend to run with a self-centered vigor that will creep into every area of our lives.  One of the biggest lies Satan uses to sidetrack followers of Jesus is the lie that “you deserve it.”  You know what I am talking about:

God has blessed you with a great income, so you buy yourself a nice, new truck; after all, you deserve it for all your hard work!  Then a friend calls and needs help moving…what do you do?  You can offer your help, and drive that new truck to his house and help a friend in need.  Or you can ignore your friend because you don’t want to scratch your new truck.

Or,

A single mom from across the street comes home with 2 little ones wrapped around her ankles, unloading several bags of groceries, all while your favorite TV show or sporting event is at its climax.  You can say that you have had an exhausting day and need this down time; you deserve this downtime due to your pressing schedule!  Or, you can take a few minutes and help this young mom, who more than likely had a much more stressful day than you could ever imagine!

Or,

Say you are out to eat with your spouse, and your server is having a bad day…you can tell she or he is struggling with keeping up or just keeping it together.  The service may not be real good…how do you respond?  Do you give them a small tip because their service wasn’t what you expected?  You might think, “They don’t deserve a good tip!” or do you bless them generously because they are human, make mistakes, and could really use a little encouragement – maybe the first encouragement they have received in a very long time!

You see what I mean?  God gives each one of us opportunities every day to be generous with the gifts and abilities He gives so that we will love others.  You cannot love God and hate (or ignore) those who were created in His image!  It is impossible to fully love God and seek His will yet not care deeply about those around us…it is not in His nature and cannot be in ours if we want to call ourselves followers of Jesus!  Remember, He died for all of us, not just you!  As God’s Image Bearers, we must extend His love to those who are in need, whether they follow the One we follow or not!  This can be the beginning of an amazing relationship that has eternal consequences!

#ImageBearers