Never Give Up Praying

Our son has struggled with making poor decisions throughout his life. He had been living in Las Vegas for the past three years and was going from job to job. He called us a few months back and shared that he was abusing alcohol and heroin and had been hanging around with some dangerous people. We didn’t hear from him for about a period of three months so we decided to file a missing person’s report with the police department. They suggested that we call the hospitals and the morgue, my wife called the hospitals and I called the morgue. I thank God that he wasn’t there!

To make a long story short, we eventually ended up getting in contact with him. He had been homeless for some time and had reached a place in his life where he was ready and willing for a change. We bought him a bus ticket back to Kansas City, he had no I.D. but by the grace of God, they let him on the bus anyway. A friend had told us to contact the Hope Center, (it’s a Christian recovery center) and that maybe by chance they would be able to help him. I called and they said that someone had recently left the program and that there was an opening. I was told to bring him in the day after he arrived in KC. I did so, he has been there for a few short weeks now and has chosen to serve and walk with God, what a miracle!

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sharing about my son’s life and all the crazy things he has done. The point I want to get across is “don’t ever give up praying for your loved ones”. We’ve been praying for years for our son who is now thirty-nine years old. We wondered if we would ever see him change in our lifetime, but with God all things are possible. He is on the road of recovery and seems to have made a true heart change.

Rule and Subdue

Two weekends ago on Labor Day, my wife and I decided to go shopping in order to find outdoor fencing for our home. Unfortunately, we didn’t find what we wanted. However, along the way through the endless aisles of products, we found something that we did need. This time, it was a faucet for our first floor bathroom. The old faucet in our bathroom was very old, corroded, and would not line up correctly when shutting off the water. We agreed that it was time for a change.

So, we bought the new faucet and took it home. It was about 4:00pm in the afternoon and I decided that I would tackle this project, knowing full well in my mind that it would likely take less than an hour to remove the old fixtures and then install the new ones. That’s right, how hard could this be? I am not Mr. Handyman, but I surely could handle this easy project in a snap.

After reading the directions for installation (yes, I really did), removing all of the cleaning products from underneath the sink, turning off the water to my home, and getting my tools ready, I was prepared to whip this project into shape. The first thing that I noticed was how small my work area was underneath the sink. All the PVC piping, water lines, and the parts to the sink stopper were in my way and needed to be removed.  It was so tight that I could hardly maneuver my tools to un-install the old faucet. I banged around and tried various tools, but I wasn’t making much progress. This was taking longer than I expected. With all of the man-handling of the parts, I eventually broke a shut off valve and needed to make a trip to Home Depot.   After 30-40 minutes from the of purchase my new part, it was already 5:30pm and the old faucet wasn’t un-installed yet.

At this point I was getting frustrated, so I prayed a few times for perseverance. God didn’t answer me right away. I was reminder by my Father that he is a God of process. Some times change, improvement, or in this case the removal plumbing parts takes time. We often want instant results and answers, but He doesn’t work that way. God does not work like a microwave or Google. Learning to delay gratification is part of the maturation and character building process. This project was a good reminder of how He works within and through me.

Back to the story: After reaching out to God, the old faucet eventually started to slowly come apart. There were a few parts that just would not come free, so I turned to demolition mode to finally complete the de-installation process. It was now 6:00pm and I was ready to install the new faucet.

Fast forward to 8:00pm. I was still not completed with the project. Each installation step seemed to be taking me 2-3 tries to get it right. I was running very low on patience, but I knew God was with me every step of the way. I reminded myself not to rely solely on my abilities, but to give it over to the Lord.

Did I forget to mention that every 30 minutes, my son or my wife came by and asked “How’s it going?” I knew what they are thinking, but I was not quitting. This was a test of perseverance and God was fathering me through this entire process. I was not going to believe the lie that I can’t handle this.

Its 8:30pm now, 4.5 hours into this “easy” project, when my wife came by and asked me the dreaded question “Do you think we should call a plumber?” I said to her (something like) “Absolutely not. This is a project that I should be able to handle. This is about learning and growing into something that I need for my soul. Calling a plumber at this point would be emasculating. I need to be able to rule my domain.”   I don’t think she completely understood what I was saying, but it was important to me to finish this job and to learn from my mistakes. I would not become a quitter.

To be transparent, this project lasted another three days. At one point, we even had puddles in our basement. However, I discussed my plumbing problems with several friends and eventually solved the issue. I am pleased to report that the new faucet is working great without any leaks or problems.

So what does God have to say about this issue? Does he want me to call a plumber in the future? I don’t think so.

Genesis 1:28 says “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

In this verse, God gave Adam and Eve a job to complete, to rule and subdue over their domain (Creation). To rule and subdue means to have fierce mastery over something. God wants us to rule over and subdue the kingdoms that he has given us, not with an iron fist, but in a manner that will grow us up into the men and women he intended us to be.

Romans 5:3-4 says “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope”.

The Father is concerned with building our character. He is not so concerned with what job we have or what kind of car we drive. These types of trials, that require perseverance, grow our character and can be used as building blocks for bigger and even more difficult challenges to be faced in the future. Growing our character is a journey through many life events and if we always choose to take the easy route, then we miss out on the opportunity to receive His blessings.

God is also very much concerned with being in relationship with us. If we outsource the plumbing or other challenges, then someone else is ruling our kingdom and we miss out on the opportunity to be fathered by Him. Adam and Eve couldn’t call a plumber or someone else to rule and subdue Creation. They had something better, a close and personal relationship with the Father.

I recognize that we do not have the skills to tackle every problem and that some things must be handed over to the experts. However, let’s not make a habit of taking the path of least resistance when challenges arise. There is much to learn, character to build, and a relationship with the Lord to be experienced.   Don’t miss out on what He has planned for you!

Like Christ

Being like Christ is something we hear and for most of us desire. For most, we want to be respected like Christ, love like Christ; but we tend to think of that love only as being respectful and caring for those closest to us.  In this assumption, we fall short of one of the most significant characteristics of Christ, an empathetic love for one another.  As Christians, we sympathetically care for one another through phrases like “I’ll pray for you” or “Can I bring you anything?” These attempts to show Christ’s love, while supportive, are more sympathetic love than the empathetic love that Christ taught us.  These are great ways to show love, to care for someone’s needs, but they are not a full picture of what it is to love like Christ.

Jesus wept.

John 11:35 (NIV)

The power of this verse is that the Son of Man brought himself into the pain of those hurting. Before he wept, he saw Mary weeping, and he was deeply troubled. In other words, the pain they were feeling became the pain the pain he was feeling.  Christ, with his amazing love doesn’t just want to provide for us and see that our needs are met, he wants to mourn with you in times of sadness and loss; be joyous with you in times of celebration and victory, to such a deep a level that all of your sorrows and joys become his sorrows and joys.

The root of the empathy that Jesus shows is emotion.  We can all identify the root of emotions be it anger, sadness, fear, joy, interest, surprise, disgust, or shame. It takes our experience with these emotions combined with overcoming the fear of recognizing these emotions, again within ourselves, to experience empathically sitting with someone.  Too often we fall short of empathically sitting with someone because we fear it means surviving these emotions again, but in truth, it is a willingness to be like Christ and wear a hurt that has already been surrendered to bear the burden with a brother or sister.

Lord grant me the eyes to see those that are hurting and heart like yours to be with them as you are with us.

Amen Brothers.

In God’s Time

I have to admit that I am impatient some times when it comes to prayer; specifically, God answering them.

I know He can answer many prayers quickly, because I have seen the results, almost before I have finished my prayers… so I get frustrated when the answers don’t always come quickly.

Then I start having self-doubt, that maybe I have upset God and he just wants me to learn a lesson. I have to stand up and say no to that agreement, because our Lord is not like that. He loves us no matter what.

All our prayers are answered in God’s time, some just take longer.

We may also have been answered, but do not see the outcome as an answer. If the answer is no, maybe we don’t accept it as a final answer. We may not have prayed enough or just not for the right thing.

I have friends who have been healed by prayer and friends that haven’t. It is difficult sometimes because we want to understand the why; why heal him but not her. In God’s time…

Here is my favorite passage. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, the home of God is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evil are gone forever.” Revelations 21:3-4

And this will be in God’s time.

 In God’s Time…. How amazing it will be to be with God and witness creation in His time.

 

p.s.   Moving Mountains by John Eldredge is a book on prayer, all types of prayer. It has been a great resource for many people, including our team. I believe it has impacted everyone’s prayer life for the better. I recommend this book if you want to learn about a focused prayer life.

Hope beyond Hope

Where is your hope set these days? A very good question asked by a well-known Christian author. John Eldredge released his latest book All Things New: Heaven, Earth, and the Restoration of Everything You Love about this time last year. I remember the anticipation of its release.  I found myself lacking understanding of what life in heaven could be like. Frankly, all I had ever heard from a lifetime of attending church was we will worship Jesus forever, like an eternal church service in the sky. I knew I was supposed to be thankful to be in heaven, so if that’s what it was going to be like, then it sure sounded better than the alternative, eternal separation from God in utter torment.  But honestly it sounded, well, kind of boring. Don’t get me wrong, I love to worship Jesus, I really do, but forever just singing all the time…that’s all there is? Or so I thought.

John’s book came along at a good time for me, but it served an even greater role this past week. In the book, John takes a deep look at what heaven will actually be like. The Apostle John described what he saw in the Book of Revelation:

 “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1-5, NIV.

The key phrase from Jesus is, “I am making everything new.” Jesus did not say I am making all new things. The premise of the book is we get to live on the new earth. Heaven comes to earth. John’s takes the reader on a journey about what life in heaven will be like on the new earth and with each turn of the page, I could feel my heart swell with hope, a hope I had never had before or even understood to be available.

This played out this past week in a profound way. Last Monday, I was awaken at 4:00 am by our dog, Bruno. He was not feeling well it seemed. Frankly, as was the case many times, he was acting like he had eaten himself a healthy portion of grass for dessert that night. But something was not right. I let him outside and came back in to fire up a cup of coffee so I could actually awake fully into consciousness. I gave him some time but noticed he was lying down by the fence, not really moving. That was not normal for him. I got him up and brought him inside and he took a drink of water, which was a good sign. He laid down on the kitchen floor and relaxed. I was doing some reasearch on possible symptoms that matched his behavior when I noticed his stomach. It looked like an inflated balloon. I knew immediately he likely had a twisted intestine and we had an emergency on our hands.

I helped him get into my truck and called the emergency vet. When we arrived at the vet, his situation had deteriorated and I had to carry him onto the gurney. The situation was not looking good. I called my wife and told her she needed to wake our children and prepare them to come to the vet. After examining Bruno, the vet came out and gave me the bad news. Bruno did indeed have a twisted intestine and the x-ray revealed a grapefruit sized tumor which had likely caused the intestine to twist and was likely cancerous. Emergency surgery was an option, but he would likely not survive, but if he did then he would have to try to fight off the cancer post surgery. It was clear he was facing his mortality.

Shortly after receiving the sad news, they brought Bruno out into a private room and my family and I shared our last moments with this precious, beautiful member of our family. We held him, cried, and cherished every breath he took as we soaked up every last moment we could with him. They made him comfortable, but the time came to say goodbye to our Bruno. We were with him to the very last. It was tragic, unexpected, and beautiful. What kindness Jesus showed us to be able to all be together with him for his last moments in this life.

As we left, surprisingly, hope began to rise up in my heart. I remembered the chapter in which John discussed the presence of the animal kingdom and the heart of God being on full display in heaven.  John pointedly asked the question, “why would God not include the animal kingdom in heaven?” He would destroy these magnificent works of creation and leave them out of heaven? If that were the case, why did he put them in the Garden of Eden in the first place, with Adam and Eve? One of Adam’s first tasks was to name each of the animals, so why would God not include them when he makes the earth new again? But dear friends, he will and he even says so:

“The wolf will romp with the lamb, the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough, and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture, their calves and cubs grow up together, and the lion eat straw like the ox. The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens, the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent. Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill on my holy mountain. The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive, a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.Isaiah 11:6-9, The Message

We know there will be animals in heaven, on the new earth, so why not also the animals who were a part of our family? I read the portion of the chapter that talked about family pets and loved ones being restored and reconciled with us on the new earth to my family when we arrived home. I wanted them to have hope restored after the loss was so fresh, as an antiseptic to the sting death had left on our hearts.

It was wonderful to see them smile through tears as we pondered about what a renewed and restored Bruno would be like. What will he look like restored? Radiant and abounding with more love and joy, which hardly seems possible given the joy and good he always showed and gave us every day. Surely this is what he will be like.

But it’s true, the hope is real. All the things we love we will have again. We could feel hope bubble up in us as a family and the rest of week we reminded one another, we will see Bruno again, oh yes, we will see him again. I could see our hearts healing and hope rising with each passing day.

Where is your hope set these days? The below video is John speaking about the book and my prayer is you will find hope too in this message.

I leave you with this from the Apostle Paul:

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Romans 8:18-25, NIV

Hummingbirds and Hammocks

For me there is something magical about encountering a wild animal. Whether it’s an 8-point buck casually tip-toeing through the forest less than thirty feet away from my temporary perch during a recent Boot Camp, or catching a glimpse of a family of five raccoons strolling through our backyard late at night from the comfort of our couch, or waking up and finding hundreds of starlings blanketing our lawn as they use it for a brief pit stop during a fall murmuration, there is a part of me that leaps to life when it happens – I can feel this mixture of joy, excitement and curiosity begin to rise up. There is a sense of, ‘I don’t want this encounter to end because it feels so true.’  For me, it is also often where God shows up.

Yesterday, it was hummingbirds. Our puppy was, once again, up at the crack of dawn ready to start the day and so I found myself lying in the hammock in our backyard rather than crawling back into bed. The hammock is nestled between our deck and a nearby maple and provides a perfect view of the hummingbird feeder hanging off the corner of the deck. It was early enough in the morning that neither the sounds of the neighborhood nor the wind had woken up, but it was not too early for the hummingbirds. I barely had time to get myself situated in the hammock before a ruby-throated hummingbird darted to the feeder for a refuel. As I watched it hover, briefly land, and then hover again, that familiar sense of wonder returned and God began to connect some dots for me.

During the past few months, Jesus’ words about the vine and the branches in John, Chapter 15, have really stuck with me.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”   – John 15:1-5

This choice to ‘remain in Him’ has come up for me in Sunday sermons, in favorite podcasts, in books I’m reading, in the wise words of trusted friends, and now… hummingbirds.

A couple weeks ago I watched an episode of Nature which focused on hummingbirds.* Did you know a hummingbird has to feed on nectar every 20 minutes that it is awake?  Every. Twenty. Minutes. For it’s entire life, which can be twelve years or more.  Their little avian fuel tanks are so small and the rate at which they burn that fuel is so high, if they don’t feed almost constantly they will run out of fuel and be unable to fly.

Speaking of flight, what these tiny guys can do in the air is nothing short of a miracle. Their wings beat 50-80 beats per second and, unlike any other bird, they can hover, fly backwards and sideways, and at speeds of more 55 mph. As I watch this little guy from our hammock I think how incredible it would be to fly like that!

To get a sense of how deeply reliant hummingbirds are on nectar, consider this. Experts have estimated the amount of nectar a hummingbird must consume daily to sustain their unmatched flying abilities is the human equivalent of eating 1,300 hamburgers a day and washing it down with 16 gallons of water.

Hummingbirds must stay close to the flower – their source of energy – in order to hover, dart and zip through the air — in order to be what they were created to be and do what they were created to do.

It’s in this moment, in the stillness of the morning as I marvel at this little guy above me, that I realize their flower is a reflection of our Father.

“If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

Oh, how I long to have an impact for the Kingdom, to know Him more intimately, to bear the kind of fruit where others can’t help but see the truth and glory of God through my life in the same way that I am absolutely captivated by this hummingbird, BUT…. how often do I go more than 20 minutes without drinking from my Father’s well?

Once again, I hear Him say, “Remain in me.”  There is no condemnation, no judgment for my past and present wanderings.  It is a simple but profound invitation.  “You want to fly like the hummingbirds – you want to be what I created you to be.  You can be – even this very day – all you need to do is drink from My well – not weekly, not daily, but minute by minute.” That’s a standing invitation for each of us.

I’m reminded of Jesus’ words,

33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.  – Matthew 6:33-34

I cannot solve tomorrow’s problems today, nor can I change yesterday’s failures, but I can walk with Him today, in every moment.  When I make the choice to do so, I know I am being exactly who he created me to be.  And so I pause in the moment and say, “Jesus, oh, how I want to remain in you. Not just each week, each day or even each hour, but every minute of every day. Thank you for this reminder through your amazing creation!”

Job 12:7,10 says, “But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you … In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.”

Today I’m reminded why my heart loves seeing wild animals – because they remind me of, and occasionally even teach me about, our amazing heavenly Father and how to walk closer with Him every 20 minutes of every day.  The more I lean into Him, the more of my life I give over to Him, the more myself I become…..and the more he can use me, as he uses the hummingbird, to do amazing things that will draw others closer to Him.

* P.S.  – If you want to learn more about what an incredible miracle of creation the hummingbird is check out the full episode, of Nature’s Super Hummingbirds on PBS’ website.

Simple but profound

I just recently came back from vacation and while driving to work I saw that my engine light was on. I could ignore this, but the damage from doing so could possibly be catastrophic.

The same goes for our emotional well being. I had ignored (my emotional engine light) and pushed down my negative feelings for years and paid the price for this in many ways. I could write a book on this one but will spare you the details. My wife and I have now learned to invite Jesus into the issues of life that confront us.

We just recently faced a situation that was extremely difficult and our stress levels were very high. We talked about our feelings with this situation and then chose to invite Jesus into it. We simply asked Jesus what He wanted us to know and then we quietly waited. My wife saw Jesus sitting next to us at the meeting we were going to attend on the following day. Jesus told her that He had everything under control. I sensed Jesus telling us that He would be there with us and would help us through the situation.

We did experience some stress the following day, but nothing like we would have experienced had we not invited Jesus into this. Thank you, Jesus, for wanting to be a part of everything we do!

Two are Better than One

“Two are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4-9:13, NLT.

I needed this today, I so needed this today. About a year ago, I began a practice of asking Jesus what he wants me to read instead of turning to random passages or staying in one book or checking a box. So often in my life, I presumed to know what I needed and would be disappointed in the result, whether it is was reading the Bible, choosing what path to take, or saying things that made me feel better but were really hurtful to someone else. Over the past three years, unbeknownst to me, Jesus has been taking me on a journey away from self-protection and into allowing others in, especially him.

As the verses above state, being alone or choosing to be alone makes us vulnerable to attack and defeat. If you looked at my life from the outside, you would observe a man who has had many victories, a man who has a loving wife and children, a band of brothers who fight alongside him with authenticity and truth, and some close friends at work who genuinely care about his well being and think highly of him. You would look and think this man has so much to be thankful for (and he does) that he is truly blessed (and he is). But what you would not see is what is going on inside, his internal world.

Inside, you would see a man who has lived a life of self-protection, posing as confident, authentic, real, passionate, and driven, but in reality all those attributes served as a motive to self-protect, because in the end, “everyone leaves.” That is the deep, deep heart wrenching agreement I made long ago. And if you knew my story, you would understand why I have had to fight that deep place of hurt and woundedness almost daily. The Enemy sets up camp there and thrashes about laying down lies and bringing up examples to strengthen that agreement, no matter how many times I break it or fight back.

My story is one of abandonment, of family, friends, close relationships. But recently, I have begun to wonder how much of that has more so been me allowing those relationships to fade away, because I am actually self-protecting. One of the things I know about myself, is that I am fiercely loyal and I expect and even demand that in return. The good thing about that trait is that you get all of me as a friend and companion, all of me. The bad thing about that is I don’t leave much room for grace when you fall short on your end. This flaw is the self-protection part, and sadly I have lived most of my life that way. This is something I think I have always known, but recently was able to discern. This realization, about living a life of self-protection, is actually very true and one I am having to come to grips with.

I had an interesting experience last Saturday with my band of brothers. We were watching the Ransomed Heart Advanced Boot Camp session about the Poser, and Jesus really spoke to my heart about this self-protection theme in my life. It really hit me hard and started me down a path of memories and experiences where I had chosen to live a certain way or act a certain way in relationships in order to position myself to be able to self-protect. I started to ask myself why this was true and the answer was pretty easy to figure out.

My mother abandoned our family when I was 14. I made a deep vow about a year later on the day my parent’s divorce was final. I remember sitting in my room and saying, “I will never allow this divorce to be an excuse for me to fail or use it as a crutch for sympathy as long as I live.”  What I was really saying  though was, “I will be anything to anyone as long as they serve my needs and only as long as they do. I will never let anyone hurt me more than once, because I am out of there before they can hurt me again.”

As I have reflected on my life, I have either left or lost so many relationships because of this vow. Often, my motives have been self-serving to either make me feel good or to serve some need of mine. This posture of self-protection has really crept into my marriage over the years and caused much hurt for my family. They have had to work so hard to make me feel loved, and often I have been incapable of receiving their love. Somehow, I have actually come to believe that I am unlovable and undeserving of love. I took inventory of this theme and realized a hard truth, that I have such  great difficulty accepting compliments or gifts or acts of kindness. When people offer to help, my first response is always no, and I mean always. Most people have to push that offer further, because I rarely accept help. However, I am often the first to offer to help, and many times my motive is to make me feel good about myself, even though I do truly enjoy helping others. Just this week, my neighbor mowed my lawn. I know he did it as an act of kindness, but truthfully, I was really pissed. I struggled to accept it as a genuine act of kindness. I kept thinking he must have some other motive, he must want something in return. What is that all about? Sadly, thoughts like these creep into my psyche pretty much on a daily basis.

I have also realized that most of my relationship with Jesus has been this way. When he has loved me or blessed me or helped me in the way I want, we are good. But when he has disciplined me, admonished me, or not given me what I thought was best, it has created a wedge and distance in our relationship. I often go days without having time with him, because I am upset with him or feeling slighted. It has been painful but necessary to recognize this reality and the reality my deepest relationships have been mostly conditional, to include my relationship with Jesus. But that has been because of me. He is always there, never leaves, and always loves. This truth is real and the cornerstone of his promise to never forsake me or leave me.

Jesus is love and his love operates solely without condition. God’s love is unconditional, without requirement of reciprocation, and freely given. This is the only real and true definition of love. Any other definition is false, and therefore not love. So, I am now discovering how lost I have been because of this deep agreement with self-protection. And waiting in the shadows is the enemy, right there to remind me that if people, who are created in the image of God, are not dependable, then God must not be either. Oh how I fight this battle so often! It manifests itself in the smallest of offenses against me and then bam, there it is, woe is Zac; no one really loves him; no one really thinks of him; no one is really there for him; you are better off alone. How vicious are those lies, by an enemy who seeks to steal my joy, kill my relationships, destroy my life, and attempt to limit the life of Christ in me. Satan is evil and vile in every way and yet he has successfully deceived me into thinking I need to self-protect. But what he is really trying to do is drive a deep wedge between me and my savior, my loving father, my brother, my friend, and my guide. It does not get more detestable than that!

There is good news though! I can fight back! And I am not alone, Jesus fights with me, we fight together!! There is no escaping my responsibility to fight back with the armor of God and the strength of Jesus. I have an important part, with Jesus, to play in fighting back against the enemy and for the life Jesus promises.

This is why I love Jesus so much! He is right there with me, through the Holy Spirit of truth and goodness, breaking the lies, showing me truth in his word, and loving me perfectly when I least desire it or deserve it.

I so needed to hear those verses today. I feel his love, I know that was from him. He knew exactly what I needed. He knew I needed to be reminded two are better than one.

If you are reading this, know you are not alone. Jesus is the answer to any lie the enemy has laid down in your life. Jesus came to set us free, but there is a condition, not to his love, but to the life he offers. You have to listen to his voice, and follow his commands, only then will you not be alone. Jesus came so that you may have life and have it to the fullest, but he waits for you to choose him:

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter by the door into the fold of the sheep, but climbs up some other way, he is a thief and a robber. 2 But he who enters by the door is a shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure of speech Jesus spoke to them, but they did not understand what those things were which He had been saying to them.

7 So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:1-10, NASB.

So I ask you dear brothers, are two better than one? Will you choose to allow Jesus to be your other, or will you choose to self-protect? Join with me, and choose to let Jesus be your one so that you can be a part of two and have the life he wants to give to you.

“Two are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4-9:13, NLT.

Letting Go

Growing up, I was used to seeing men that seemed in control of their lives, keeping it all straight and always knowing what to do next. I tried over the years to emulate them but found it very difficult to be complete.

Then, I found out that God wants to be in control of my life! I don’t know about you, but after years of trying to control outcomes, I still find it difficult to let go of things; past, present and future.

Past wrongs in my life, both mine and others

Past jobs

Towns lived in and churches attended

Control over decisions with my business

Worries for family health

Control of planning and preparation

The list could go on and on….

 

It comes down to letting go of control.

 

It is not that I don’t trust God. I do. I just don’t know where I am supposed to be “hands off” or that point where I am supposed to help myself. Sometimes I think that I waste God’s time on the small stuff that I should be doing. I know that He has plenty of more important things to be helping folks with.

I have heard the question “How big is God?” I know that answer – He is big enough to handle anything. I just hate to bother Him with the small stuff.

But I see that if I keep all the small things from God, two things happen. First, all those small things overpower me and I become ineffective for God. Second, I take on God’s role, without thinking about it.

Like I said, it is tough letting go of control of the situations in my life, but I know that everything will be better if I do so.

So, I pray to let go of control and worry. I prepare for the answers God provides and work His plan accordingly.

I hope that you will reflect on your own actions to make sure that you are not trying to tackle all the small stuff too.

Give it to God. Just practice letting go…… It will make a difference for you.

Remembering Relationship

Less often than in years past but more often than I would like to admit, I at times find myself at the end of a day, sometimes even at the end of a few days or (ugh) a week, when it hits me.  I’ve gone the entire day (or longer) without walking with God.   That’s not to say I haven’t spent time reading a daily devotional, reading scripture, listening to a Christian-oriented podcast or reading a book by a Christian author, but rather that I’ve not invited Jesus into the intimate and endless moments of my day, that I’ve not sought or listened for the Father’s direction, that I’ve not been mindful or open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe each of these other spiritual practices are good and helpful and God-ordained.  In fact, I mention them because there aren’t  many days that go by without me spending at least a few minutes on one of them, BUT….. I have to remind myself that devotionals, scripture, podcasts and books are all TOOLS to strengthen my relationship with God.  They are NOT the relationship.

Let me put it this way.  I have three school-age kids who are wonderful and who I love dearly.  With the combined data that my wife and I receive on our smartphones from their teachers and schools and from the papers that come home in their backpacks I can read their stories, review their assignments, view photos of them in class and even occasionally watch videos of their projects.  With these tools I can learn an awful lot about what my kids are good at and what they like to do.  I can begin to understand each of their personalities and how they see themselves and others.  However, none of this actually provides me a relationship with my kids.  For that to happen, I have to spend time with them – talking to them, listening to them, spending time in their presence.

Our relationship with God works the same way.  We can spend all our time learning about God or we can spend our time in relationship with Him.  In His divine goodness He has given each and every one of us on this planet the exact same amount of the primary commodity required in any relationship – time.  1,440 minutes of it every day for each of us.  We then have to decide how we are going to spend it and, more importantly, with whom.

But I know this already so why have another 1,440 minutes (or more) of my life gone by without walking with Him?  This is a question I have to dig into – one that we each have to ask ourselves and one that I would encourage you to talk with God about if you find yourself living moments of life apart from God.

  • Do I believe in my heart of hearts that God is truly good and that He is for me? If not, it’s far easier to devote time to learning about Him rather than spending time with Him.
  • Do I believe that he would ever want to speak to me personally? Do I truly believe that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was enough to pay for my sins and make me righteous before the Father?  If not, I’ll wallow in shame or self-pity and allow the lies of the enemy to rob me of the relationship that God desires with me.
  • Do I so value the comforts of the World over God’s promises for me that I’ve over-committed my time, resources or personal energy so that I can build a better earthly kingdom to comfort myself and my family? If so, I will be more inclined to medicate my sheer exhaustion with television, sleep, or mindless games on my phone.
  • If I don’t “feel” God’s presence at any moment do I draw the conclusion that He either isn’t here or doesn’t care about me personally? If so, I am more likely to see him as unapproachable and less likely to see His presence in the world.
  • Do I attempt to manage my daily life and control my daily schedule in such a way that I’ve left no room for God to show up?  If so, I either succeed and begin to think I can do it on my own or fail and blame it on God.

When I’ve neglected my relationship with God, sometimes it’s a gentle nudge of the Holy Spirit that draws me back with a jaw-dropping sunset, or the wet kiss of a blanket of fog on the way into work, or the smell of a pine tree or the sound of a stream or the timely words of a song. Sometimes it is one of the spiritual practices I mentioned earlier that draws me back.  Sometimes it’s a comment from one of my kids, or one of the many selfless acts of my wife, or a timely word from a good friend.

If it’s been much longer than a day of not walking with God it’s sometimes less of a nudge of the Holy Spirit and more like a painful shove down the stairs brought on by my own sin.  It might begin with an unintentional, unplanned harsh word spoken out of frustration which quickly escalates into verbal hand grenades – indiscriminate, imprecise lobs of nouns and verbs exacting pain on anyone within range –  and end with regret, tears,  and damaged relationships.  There is a reason Jesus says to abide in Him.  There is a reason he says branches cannot bear fruit unless they are connected to the vine.   It is out of these experiences that I realize even more how desperately I need (and want) to walk with God from moment to moment and minute to minute.

Whether the renewal of my conversation with God begins with joy and gratefulness as I experience one of the countless ways His glory is revealed through His beautiful creation or begins with sadness and repentance from my own actions, I am thankful that our heavenly Father, like the father of the prodigal son, who, in Luke 15:20 saw the son “while he was still a long way off”, never stops looking for us to come home and never gives up on the relationship, whether it has been a day, a week or a lifetime.