Relational Freedom

A month ago, our family went to Colorado Springs for our summer vacation. It was a wonderful time filled with laughter, awe at the beauty of God’s handiwork in the vast mountains and scenery, joy, adventure, moments of relational challenges coupled with moments of such deep love and appreciation for our family, blessing, and most precious were the memories we made together. It truly was a special time and one of those trips we wished would have never ended.

On the way driving out and back, I listened to a three part podcast series from Ransomed Heart titled Relational Freedom. Over the course of three hours of discussion, John Eldredge and Craig McConnell discuss the impact and challenges of the following idea, “The truest expression of our Godliness is how we love others.”  And the core question they asked was, “What kind of relationship do you offer to others?” 

Have you ever had someone impart wisdom to you and then ask such a penetrating question that you can literally feel your heart sink and then feel the physical weightiness of it land on your shoulders? That is exactly what happened to me.

So let me get this straight, the measure of my Christ-likeness is based on how I love others?! I don’t even know where to start to dissect this statement, but judging by the stirring of my soul, I knew I was being called into exploring this challenging truth more. What does relational freedom even look like? It appears at first glance that relational freedom only happens when I learn to love as Jesus did, so I can live freely from his love and offer relationship to others based on his love. Sounds simple, right? If it is that simple, why is it so hard for me to do then on a regular basis?

I have struggled immensely in my Christian journey understanding what love is, especially being able to receive love. I think for most of my life, I have had a very distorted view of love. My childhood story and most of my young adult life is one of betrayal, abandonment, neglect, and a lot of brokenness in the form of my own sin as a result of not dealing with the wounds of my childhood.

The good news is, I have been dealing with these wounds and my brokenness a lot over the last four years. I have received such profound healing and encounters with Jesus through the incredible ministry of Ransomed Heart, at E6 Boot Camps, E6 book studies, and through the deep relationships with my brothers at E6.

I have experienced love from Jesus and love from others many times over the course of my Christian life, which has helped me understand more what love looks like. But how have those glimpses of love translated into how I love others? And therein lies the challenge for me of honestly examining the measure of my Christ-likeness in the quality of what I offer to others relationally. The scariest question I could ask others is, “What is the impact of my relationship on you?” And then be willing to hear what they have to say.

The truth is, I have not loved well consistently over the course of my life and thus have not experienced very much relational freedom. I would say far too often, I have experienced and offered relational entrapment. I have mostly “loved” from the motive of receiving love, which is not love at all. Now, I would be contradicting myself as to what I just stated earlier if I did not reiterate that I have learned and grown in how I love others over the last four years. But to really be honest about my life by taking a look at the heart level, I have far to go and much to learn. I am excited though to learn more about what love is and how to love so I can offer and experience relational freedom more consistently.

One of the recommendations from the podcast was to read Dan Allender’s book Bold Love. A really cool thing happened when I invited my wife into this journey with me. We both listened to the Relational Freedom podcast and are reading Bold Love together. We have had some powerful discussions and are continuing in this journey of learning about love. I have discovered during my life that a journey of this magnitude is more rich in experience if I take it with someone I love than to do it alone! One of the most profound ideas we have learned so far is that love does come in different forms.

To learn what the various forms of love are, we have to explore the various ways Jesus loved. You have heard it said that love is a verb. Love is not a feeling, although you can feel love. Love is action based. Love, at its core, is the setting aside of one’s own needs and offering to meet the needs of others without expecting anything in return.

How then did Jesus love? For example, how did he love the Pharisees? One time he called them “Sons of hell, and that they were like whitewashed tombs, clean on the outside, but inside filled with dead man’s bones.” That doesn’t seem very loving on the surface, but sometimes love is telling the truth of the matter at hand, calling it like it is in the hope it will stir others to examine their motives. How did he love sinners? On one occasion, a prostitute barged into a dinner Jesus had been invited to by a prestigious and well known pharisee. Jesus rebuked the pharisee who was offended by the woman’s presence and offered the opportunity for this woman to weep and worship him as she kissed his feet and spread expensive perfume on him. Jesus demonstrated such an act of compassion toward this woman. Sometimes love is doing something that society would say was offensive, challenging the social morays of the time. On another occasion, the resurrected Jesus restores Peter by asking him three times if Peter loves him, giving Peter a chance to redeem his three denials of Jesus the night of Jesus’ arrest. Sometimes loving someone is forgiving them and inviting them back into relationship even though you were the one who the offense was committed against. These are just a few examples of how Jesus loved through his boldness, his honesty, his truthfulness, and his compassion.

One thing Jesus did well was love others, and because he knew how to love others, he offered and experienced relational freedom. Ultimately, the greatest example of his love was his passion and his death on the Cross for all mankind. The weight of this act of love on the cross alone should be enough to give us pause and reflect on how undeserving we are of love and yet be in awe of how unconditionally and radically he pursued us in love so that we could be in relationship with him. “No greater love exists than this, when a man lays down his life for his friend.”

What really hit me hard since starting this journey two weeks ago, was what the guest pastor asked during his sermon last night at our home church, “What is your hunger for the heart of God?” At the core of the heart of God is love. “God is love.” His question opened a door of conviction in my heart. Why was it so shocking to my heart when he asked that question? If the truest expression of my Christ-likeness is how I love others, then I probably should start with asking myself, “How do I love God?” As I weighed the magnitude of this question and examined my life, it occured to me that my ability to love others is tethered to and dependant upon my hunger for intimacy and connection with the Author of Life!  It was as if I had not heard this truth before! Ah, therein lies the soul level revelation for me. Do I really have relational freedom with God?

I think I have allowed, far too often, the things of life to block, interfere, divert and distort my heart, and draw me away from experiencing his love or pursuing relationship with him. I was reminded of what Jesus has to say about that, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and all other things will be added to you.” At the core of the Kingdom of God is the heart of God and at the core of the heart of God is love. The question is then, what am I seeking after, what do I want? I can answer now that I have been awakened to start seeking what I want, which is relational freedom with God and with others!!

There is so much more to explore about love, how to love others well, and how to experience relational freedom, but I want to learn. I want to offer what Jesus offers. My hunger for his love is growing and I want all God has to reveal to me in this journey. So, I have decided to linger in my exploration of love and relational freedom for a season, as long as Jesus deems necessary. I am going to dive head first into the deep end. I suspect if I really allow my  heart to be aligned with and grafted into His heart then I will become more like Jesus and offer real relationship to others.

I will start first with a prayer so I can do what Jesus did:

Jesus I pray for you teach me how to love and how to have relational freedom. I pray you make the process uncomfortable for me. I pray you put people in my life that I have to learn how to love supernaturally, that only your love in me could make it possible for me to know how to love them. Father, show me how to love like you do. I pray Jesus I grow in my love for you. Holy Spirit, guide me in each situation. I surrender to your leadership and your power in my life. I ask you, Holy Spirit, to walk with me as I discover the Father’s love and how to love others as Jesus does. Help me to know, understand, offer, and experience relational freedom through your love!! In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen!

 

 

 

Why me?

How many times in your life have you asked the question “why me?”

I know I have more times than I would like to admit. In one way, this question is naive and in another way it feels like the right question, but in totality it depends when and in what situation you are asking it.

Most often this question is asked during times of suffering, dismay, or disappointment. To be fair to our hearts, it is a very human question but a very small story minded question. What kind of story do you believe you live in? Do you live in a small story that is only about you and the things most important to you or do you believe you live in a larger story, where you are part of an incredible journey that involves something bigger than you?  How you answer either of these questions will bring you closer to the answer of “why me?”

If your story is small, than your place in this world is small. But is that what your heart yearns for, to live a seemingly inconsequential life, here for just a short time? That you are here to get the most out of life or to live in such a way that you strive to make life work for you?

If your story is larger, than you leave room for you to play a larger part in something beyond what is right in front of you; and maybe, just maybe, your story is connected with millions of other stories and your life is far more valuable than you could possibly imagine! Doesn’t this possibility make your heart stir and fill with anticipation? The idea that you matter, and you do matter infinitely more than you know or comprehend, is not just a possibility, it is reality.

You matter, you matter greatly. Your life is so important, so valued that God himself decided you were worth giving his life for. Not just dying for, but also suffering for. Jesus came to earth to live the most human of human experiences. He came as a seemingly small part in the story in form of a baby, but his life was much bigger and interwoven into the hearts of all mankind before he appeared in the story. In fact, his life was the largest story of all, and he came to invite you into his story. He came to offer you his life, his heart, his ways, his love, and his freedom. Jesus knows suffering, and the urge to ask “why me?” he knows to the core of his own humanity. He let us into his “why me?” moment while he agonized in the Garden of Gesthemene right before he would endure the worst suffering known to human history as he awaited the beginning of his journey to the cross:

“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” -Matthew 26:39 NIV

Jesus asked “why me?”  It is the most human of human questions to ask in the midst of suffering. Take notice though of what Jesus said next: “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Jesus answered his “why me” question by choosing you. The “why me?” answer for Jesus is YOU!!

The next time you ask yourself “why me?”,  instead of asking it from a place of a self-focused, small story-centered heart, ask it from a place of being chosen, from a perspective of being worth more than life itself. God himself laid down his life so you could have life, and not just your life but his life to live the fullest way your life could ever be lived. Remember, when Jesus chose you, he chose you in the midst of his deepest agony and yet he never turned from his mission to rescue you. He answered the question “why me?” with the greatest act of sacrifice in history. Why you? Love, with Jesus, it always comes back to love.

Will you take the step towards him and let him answer “why me?” for you or will you continue to live your own way in your own small story, when his offer is life, freedom, healing, and a place in the larger story?  He loves you enough to answer “why me?” for you but he also loves you enough to let you answer “why me?” for yourself. What will you choose?

The most important relationship for every one of us is our relationship with Jesus Christ. Choosing to believe that he is who he claimed to be—the Son of God and the only way to salvation—and receiving him by faith as your Lord and Savior is the most vital act anyone will ever do.  We want life.  He is Life.  We need cleansing.  He is the Living Water.

Here is a simple prayer if you have not yet given your life to Jesus and invited him into yours:

Jesus, I believe you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross to rescue me from sin and death and to restore me to the Father. I choose now to turn from my sins, my self-centeredness, and every part of my life that does not please you. I choose you. I give myself to you. I receive your forgiveness and ask you to take your rightful place in my life as my Savior and Lord. Come reign in my heart, fill me with your love and your life, and help me to become a person who is truly loving—a person like you. Restore me, Jesus. Live in me. Love through me. Thank you, God. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

Surrender to Live Free

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.” Galatians 5:1, MSG

On November 17th, 2018, our pastor preached a powerful message and I have been living in its truth and power ever since. I encourage you to listen to this sermon for more context (https://youtu.be/0LiSkci4mUo), but the power of this message sent me on a journey of profound breakthrough. The Holy Spirit’s power of revelation opened my eyes to the truth that a surrendered life brings more freedom than a life of fighting for control. The fight to control my life, to make life work for me, has been the harness of slavery I have worn for far too long.

Three questions came to my mind from this key verse the message was built upon: How has Christ set us free to live a free life? Why do we need to take a stand? How can we never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on us? 

How as Christ set us free to live a free life? Christ can only set us free if we choose to allow him. We must surrender by asking him to set us free. Freedom starts only through relationship with Christ. There is no way around it. Becoming a Christian starts with surrender; your sin, your life, your will, and your soul in exchange for freedom and eternal life. Why then do we tend to stop surrendering when our entire Christian journey began with an act of surrender? Because our experiences in life, our wounds, pain, other people’s sin toward us, our own sin, and the lies of the enemy cause us to doubt the heart of God, his goodness, his trueness, and his love for us, so in return we take back control.

One of the key points our pastor made in his sermon was “Be careful what you surrender for things of convenience.” This simple but profound point is accurate and relevant to our behavior in today’s society. Everything in modern society is driving us toward convenience in order to achieve comfort. It’s been going on for nearly two hundred years since the Industrial Revolution began in the 1830s.

Think of all the modern “conveniences” we have in America: cars, smart phones, instant access to information, air-Conditioning/heating, online banking, indoor plumbing, voice responsive devices, same day delivery, drive-thrus, fast-food, 24 hour news cycle, airplanes, the internet, temper-pedic mattresses, smart homes, self-driving vacuums and lawn mowers. I could go on and on, but what are we giving up? Self-reliance and freedom in some ways. We are daily giving away our freedom in exchange for control and comfort. I am writing this blog post on a laptop while sitting in my recliner in a heated home listening to the Chiefs game, and yes I am very comfortable. We hardly have to think about our wants. We just click or speak a voice command and we have what we want. We have in many ways become slaves to modernity. We have become enslaved to convenience in order to control our lives so that life is more convenient. It is a circular cycle of giving away freedom for convenience. And I am afraid we have done the same with our spiritual life. I know I have many, many times.

I am not saying these things are inherently bad in and of themselves, but I am saying we have transferred those expectations to God and we are forsaking the truth that God is a God of process. When we don’t involve him intimately in our daily lives through daily conversational intimacy with him, instead we are striving to make life work for us through convenience because he’s not moving fast enough. The surrendered life is the inverse. We must surrender to him and wait on him in order to live more free. Why have I missed this truth for so long??? I believe it has been because I have lived under a self-imposed tyranny through a terrible misunderstanding of the theological doctrine of pre-destination. Thank you Jesus that our pastor cleared up my misunderstanding!!

The best explanation our pastor gave for the doctrine of “pre-destination” I have ever heard is as follows: “Pre-destination is NOT pre-determined or pre-decided; instead pre-destination is God’s foreknowledge. God knows everything already because he is not bound by time. He sees all of human history outside of time, therefore as far as God is concerned, all of human history has already happened.”  I am asking you to take a moment and let that marinate in your mind and penetrate your heart. Having this category of understanding take root in your heart will change everything. God already knows what has happened and what will happen, but he does not determine our choices, in fact he cannot determine our choices. You can now step out of the fatalistic view that your life is already scripted, that you have no choice in the matter, that you should just throw your hands up in the air and check out of life because everything has already been decided. This mindset is called fatalism and my friends this mindset is not only dangerous, but it is a harness of slavery.  There is not a drop of freedom in that way of thinking, none, zero, nada. Let’s step out of that mindset together and start walking on the path of freedom through surrender.

The next point our pastor made will give you hope beyond hope and truth beyond truth: “Everything that happens to you in life is NOT always what God wanted to happen.”  Wait, what? How can that be? How is this possible?  The answer is love my friends. This is the most important character trait of God, that he is love. Because he loves us, he gave us free will, the freedom of choice. He had to:

“7 My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God8 The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love-so you can’t know him if you don’t love. 9 This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. 10 This is the kind of love we are talking about-not that we once upon a time loveGod, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”  1 John 4:7-10, MSG

 In order for freedom to even be possible, free will/freedom to choose must exist. Why?? Because God is love and God’s love always gives the freedom to choose. Secondary, but just as important and interwoven into his character is that God cannot lie. God is incapable of lying. Follow me here; if God is love, and he is, and if God cannot lie, and he can’t, then God would be both unloving and a liar if he did not give us the free will to not choose him; otherwise we would be robots, living and waiting for his every command for what to do next. We would have no say. Therefore, God would be interfering with our choices and controlling us, and in doing so he would not be love, so that is why things happen to us in life that he never intended, because he gave us the choice to sin, to choose to do evil, and go our own way. Ironically, by giving us this choice we can actually understand his goodness and his love because we have a contrasted understanding of what love and goodness is not, which is personified in the evil we see in this world and the evil that has been done to us. Thank goodness it is impossible for God to lie or not be love.

The good news is that by living surrendered and asking him what we should do or where we should go each day brings us into partnership with him and his will. We are playing our part in the larger story of life by choosing to allow his will to take precedence over ours. Otherwise, if we live  striving to control life, we are forsaking his better judgment and desire for us. Why? Because our will is not his will and his will is not ours.  His ways are higher than ours. The more we offer ourselves to him, the more he will guide us to do what he wants which will always be better than what we want, always. Make no mistake in your understanding though, we can always choose to reject his will. Ultimately though, by surrendering to his will we are more free than not because we will be operating at the highest and fullest capacity of love possible. By choosing our own will we are actually choosing the harness of slavery rather than the life of freedom. The simple truth is we are the most free by choosing to surrender!!

Why do we need to take a stand? We have an enemy!! You have an enemy!! “8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  9 Stand firm against him and be strong in your faith. Remember that your family of believers all over the world is going through the same kind of suffering you are.” 1 Peter 5:8-9, NLT

The enemy takes advantage of our freedom, tries to steal it, and bring us back into bondage. He uses temptation and tries to seduce us back into the flesh through the world. He is always trying to show us that God is not love and we are not free to choose. How does he do this? He uses religion, rigid doctrine, and he twists the Gospel into  a false gospel of fatalism or works. He tells us the lie that life is already decided, everything that happens to us is from God, and everything bad that happens in life was meant to be, so it must have been from God. Friends, that is a lie from the pit of hell. We always have a choice to receive this freedom, to live in it, to surrender to it, to allow God to love us, and to listen to his voice.  It is true however, we also have the freedom to not receive, to not believe, to live pridefully with hard hearts, to not let God in, to never surrender, and to ignore his voice. The scriptures are full of people who chose not to listen, to go their own way, to defy God’s commands, and wholeheartedly reject him and his love. Read their stories and see how things turned out for them. Even God’s very best, Moses, King Saul, and King David, to name a few, all chose their own way at times. They never lost God’s love for them, but God did not spare them from the consequences of their choices when instead of surrendering to freedom they chose to go their own way.

It is never God’s desire to choose for us. In his love he has chosen us, but he just doesn’t choose for us. He always loves, he can’t not love. He does not have the ability to not love. The decisions of our lives are always up to us. It is always up to us to choose him and take our stand against the enemy in the power of Christ!! We must choose to stand firm.

Because mankind chose the harness of slavery from the very beginning through Adam and Eve’s sin, from the second we were born we were guilty of not choosing freedom: 8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8, NASB.

God has always been innocent and yet he made a way for us to find freedom: 23 Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners…and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, 24 God did it for us. Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.” Romans 3:23-24, MSG. 

Because of God’s love, he provided a personal and individual way for us to choose a life of freedom, but choose we must and act we must: “9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved… 13 For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10: 9-10, 13, ESV

He has done his part, have you?

How can we never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on us? If we confess God made a way through Jesus, we believe he made a way, and we call on the name of Jesus to save us then he will say Yes to us and no one will ever be able to put the harness of slavery on us again!! His answer to a surrendered heart will always be yes!! The freedom to surrender is ours. Freedom has always belonged to us, the freedom to choose to say yes to God through Jesus has always been right in front of us all along because God made it possible. He loved us too much to leave us in our bondage. Why? Because he is love! Our freedom calls to us to choose daily to surrender to it, if we want the freedom he offers we must surrender to it.

The last question our pastor asked, and the most powerful question I think I have ever been asked was: “If God had his way, what would my life look like?” I have been asking myself that question every single day since November 17, 2018. For me, I have decided it looks like a life of surrender:

Father, I give you my life! Have your way with me! I surrender my life to you today in order to take hold of the freedom you offer, just as Jesus surrendered before he willingly went to the cross! He chose to surrender to your will and ransom his life for my freedom! Jesus, thank you for purchasing my freedom with your life! I invite you to be the Lord of my life this day and I surrender the throne of my entire life to you today. Come and take over. I will come back to you each day and surrender again so that I may have the freedom you promise. I will live surrendered as demonstrated in Matthew 6:25-34: 25 Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:25-34, NASB

I will conquer each day by choosing to surrender in belief to the power of your promises in Psalm 91:

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
3 For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
7 Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
8 Just open your eyes,
and see how the wicked are punished.

9 If you make the Lord your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
12 They will hold you up with their hands
so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation.”

Psalm 91, NLT

“Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you.” Galatians 5:1, MSG 

May you find a life of freedom through surrender and never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you!

Live Free!!!

Merry Christmas to you and all your loved ones!

 

Live for Today

“Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself.” Matthew 6:34 TPT

Sounds simple right?! This concept is anything but simple to live out. The world is throwing information, schedules, problems, challenges, relationships, social media, finances, commuting, parenting, marriage, conflict, and once in a while it sprinkles in some goodness.

Something has happened to us, to our hearts in the midst of the life we are striving to make work for us. How then can Jesus, in the middle is his famous Sermon on the Mount, throw in this concept as if all he has given us to understand about how to live as a Christian is able to be followed, he tosses this grenade of truth and expects to us to be able do this?

The truth is, he knows we can’t do this, or anything he called us to be in this sermon, on our own that is. He is calling us to surrender to relationship with him and in turn the outcome. He is showing us how to live as a follower while calling us to give over today to him. It is a relational call. Jesus is saying, “Son, stop worrying about the future, for it may never come, walk with me today, surrender the day to me so we can do this together.”

What a compassionate and loving thing to do!! He knows we can’t not worry about the future so he invites us into deeper intimacy and relationship by calling us to give the day to him, to allow and trust him to orchestrate our day.

Yet, I, we resist because that would mean giving up control of trying to make things work for us, giving over our ability to make a comfortable life for us. Don’t get me wrong, I love air conditioning and my temperpedic mattress, but is that really the point of life?

I don’t see anywhere in the gospels where Jesus instructed us to seek comfort. Instead, he warned us of the suffering to come in following him. So why do I resist giving the day to him? After all, he knows what is coming today. He does want to give me good things, but he also knows there are challenges headed my way. Maybe the good thing he wants to give me is a detour to avoid an accident or an opportunity to help or minister to someone in need.

Why in the world would I presume to know better? Because my stubborn and prideful flesh jumps in the way and seeks comfort and the easy path. But Jesus said the road was narrow, so why do I seek the wide path? This is the battle each day, to choose today and set worry about tomorrow at the foot of the cross.

Jesus, help us to live for today, surrender the outcomes, and walk with you in the challenges, for today has enough troubles.

Strength and honor brothers!!

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

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.

The Call of My Heart

This blog is different than some of my others. I hope you are blessed and challenged to pursue the call of your heart Jesus has placed there, wherever it leads.

The last two weeks have been tough, I mean really tough. If I am really honest, the last three years have been tough. Two Friday’s ago, I sat in my office at the end of the  last 15 minutes of the work day when an overwhelming feeling of despair rolled over me like a tidal wave. As I sat starring at my computer screen in silence for that entire time, I uttered these words, “I hate this.” I could not now, nor then have told you what the “this” was, I just knew I was in trouble. From that point until I walked in my house, I could not tell you how I got home or how I even made it home.

As I drove home,  I continued to be overcome with sadness, despair, emptiness. I was numb, a total zombie. About a mile from my house is a park. I drive past it every evening. Somehow, my vehicle turned into that park and I drove to the furthest back parking space I could find. I just sat there and closed my eyes. I couldn’t even pray. I sat in total silence, reeling inside. At some point, I managed to utter “Jesus.” No relief came from the despair, but peace did come. It was going to be okay, I did not know when or how, but I knew it was going to be okay (sometimes all it takes is to say the name of Jesus and sometimes that is all we can say). After I few minutes, I figured I better get home as to not worry my family. I was about and hour late! When I walked in the door, my wife could see my countenance and she graciously did not say anything. I wouldn’t have even been able to respond at that time anyway.

Later in the evening, I went downstairs where I meet with my Father. It’s my listening spot. I sat in more silence, still unable to speak. I remember thinking, “This is not good Zac, this is not good at all.” Eventually, my precious bride came downstairs and asked the question every guy dreads, “What’s going on?” What she was really asking was, “Can I have access to your heart?” I responded, “How much time do you have?” and of course she said, “As much as you need.”

I proceeded to tell her about the struggle of the call of my heart. I have been hearing this call for many years. Some days it is deep and bellowing, other days it is subtle and faint, but nonetheless the call is daily. But, I could not define or put into words what I was feeling.

At the last three Boot Camps, the session that has called to me most profoundly has been the session on Adventure and Calling. My heart has been so stirred to action, but action never seems to come when I return home. After listening to me describe all this to her, as best I could, my wife quite possibly spoke the most life giving words I had ever heard in my life, and God was so in it. He was speaking directly to my heart through her!

She said to me with such tenderness and love, “Zac, we’ve probably had this same conversation over the course of the last three years a hundred times, and I think what I have gathered from this conversation is you are struggling to decide what direction you want to go between two Zac’s.” At this point I was very intrigued, and what happened next was the freeing of my soul in such a holy moment that can only happen when someone who knows you, really knows you and knows your heart, can give you truth supernaturally.

My bride continued with tears of love and compassion streaming out of her tender and loving eyes, “You are fighting a battle along a continuum of your heart. On one end of the continuum is ‘Safe Zac’ full of responsibility, seriousness, dependable, self-sacrificing, and predictable. But, on the other end of the continuum is ‘Reckless for Jesus Zac’ where you want to live everyday following him, depending on him, totally for him, whatever he has each day, living out of your heart, and doing exactly what he wants you to do. What I have seen is Jesus moving you closer and closer to ‘Reckless for Jesus Zac’ and you are feeling like you are at an intersection and the time to make a decision for the future is now.” It was like the Holy Spirit opened my heart and let my bride look inside and put to words what I had been searching for over the course of the last three years. I came back to life! My heart was resurrected! That was exactly what I had been feeling and experiencing!! What a whole and holy moment that was!! I was set free!! Thank you Jesus!!

But, that was just the beginning. The pursuit of my heart has just started. I have spent long stretches of time since that conversation walking this out, asking Jesus what this call of my heart could look like. I have been very intentional sitting in solitude and silence, allowing him to speak and inviting him to lead me. I have not received all the answers, but what I have learned and am still learning, is Jesus is so in this struggle and the adventure. Even though I have been dealing with this same struggle for such a long time, I have never been closer to Jesus, never more have I felt his love pouring over me in such a real way, or wanted to be in his presence more than I ever have at than any other time in my life!

I am pursuing the call of my heart with passion and zeal while I am also letting Jesus pursue my heart with all the passion and zeal he displayed going to the cross for me!

As the story goes with all of us though who are in Christ, the enemy has been right there bringing foul spirits of despair and discouragement. But, I am equipped with the truth and knowledge of how to fight back and resist. It has been intense, but I fight from a place of victory and have won every battle so far with Jesus fighting with me, right by my side!!

I don’t know where the call of my heart will lead, but I do know the call of my heart is the most real and true me there is, and I know the call of my heart is the voice of my brother and friend Jesus. I am listening intently. I am willing to follow, wherever he leads.

I will leave you with this, one of my favorite songs of all time. The truth of this song has deeply encouraged me.  I pray you are encouraged as well:

A Backward Life

“If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love never gives up.

Love cares more for others than for self.

Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.

Love doesn’t strut,

Doesn’t have a swelled head,

Doesn’t force itself on others,

Isn’t always “me first,”

Doesn’t fly off the handle,

Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,

Doesn’t revel when others grovel,

Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Puts up with anything,

Trusts God always,

Always looks for the best,

Never looks back,

But keeps going to the end

Love never dies…”

1 Corinthians 13:3-8 (The Message)

I have lived a backward life for the majority of my life. In the fall of 2017 Jesus whispered to me, “Zac, you don’t know how to love. You love in order to receive love.”  Those words began a journey into exploring how I have lived my life. It was not enjoyable at all to hear Jesus speak that truth to my spirit, but it was the most loving thing he could have done at the time. This is not a blog about how to love better or how to learn to love better, this is a blog about what love is. I can write the next sentence and end this blog with one statement, because there is really not much else to say other than this, “Love is a choice.”  That’s it, nothing else, nothing more, nothing less, that is what love is, period.

You have probably heard this verse many times, and if you are married, it’s very likely this very verse was read at your wedding, it was at mine. We can all agree that Paul’s description of love is true, without question. But is it true for you? Is it, really? I thought it was for me for so long, but my view was outward, meaning I applied this truth to how others should love me. It’s so easy to fall into that trap.

Be honest with yourself, you read Paul’s description of love and said, “Yeah, love is that way, and if my wife would just love me in that way, we would rarely if ever have any problems.” But you see, that is the problem, these attributes, this wisdom is for YOU, period. Otherwise you are living a backward life.  I came across this quote the other day, “The only way love can last a lifetime is if it’s unconditional. The truth is this: love is not determined by the one being loved but rather by the one choosing to love.”

Brothers, love is on you, it’s up to you, it’s determined by you, it’s chosen by you. There is no other way, well there is, but it’s not love and it is certainly backward.  Every single attribute Paul wrote is a choice. Let me show you, if I may take some liberty with scripture to prove a point:

Love chooses to never give up.

Love chooses to care more for others than for self.

Love chooses to not want what it doesn’t have.

Love chooses to not strut,

Chooses to not have a swelled head,

Chooses to not force itself on others,

Chooses to not always be “me first,”

Chooses to not fly off the handle,

Chooses to not keep score of the sins of others,

Chooses to not revel when others grovel,

Chooses to take pleasure in the flowering of truth,

Chooses to put up with anything,

Chooses to trust God always,

Chooses to always looks for the best,

Chooses to never look back,

Chooses to keep going to the end

Love chooses and never dies…”  1 Corinthians 13:3-8 (The Message)

Think about the times in your life you chose to love. Did Jesus not make the same choice for us when he left heaven and went to the cross? “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” Romans 5:8 (The Living Bible)

God chose to love us with the most precious gift he could give, himself. If you would let that sink in, let that permeate the depths of your soul, what would your life look like, your marriage, your most important relationships, your church, if you chose to live in this truth?

What is the most precious possession you have in your life? Could you honestly see yourself giving that over to ridicule, torture, and ultimately death, for love? Would you, really? God did! Why? Because he chose to.

That is what love is, a choice. It always has been and it always will be. Will you choose to no longer live a backward life? I am choosing to not live a backward life each day even more than I ever have before. You can too, today is the day. Choose in small ways and they will become greater ways over time. One of the best ways to love is to pray and you can chose to do so with this simple prayer:

Father forgive me for the ways I have chosen to not love. Jesus, I give you permission to reveal to me the ways and times I have chosen to not love and to come into those times and heal my heart. I ask you Holy Spirit to show me when I am not choosing to love and urge me in those times to choose to love. I call forth the Kingdom of God over my life in a new way and I choose not to live my life backward, but instead to look to you Jesus to move me forward in love. I surrender my heart to you and ask you to remove any place in my heart that is calloused or unloving and I invite you to replace those areas of my heart with your love and your capacity to love. I open my heart to you to fill it with your love for my wife, my family, my relationships, and others you put in my life. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Die to self, Really?

I have been hard pressed on all sides lately. Since early Novemeber, I have been met with one challenge after another. Whether it’s been work, family, my marriage, finances, relationships, this time of year, or any combination thereof, this has been a tough couple of months. I have begun to realize that it has not been those “things” necessarily, but more so about how my heart has been toward those things.

A theme has been developing in my life recently and Jesus has been very intentional in taking me to a place in my heart of deep deep woundedness while revealing my profound deeper ways of coping and masking the pain that comes with those wounds. Here at E6, we adopted term called “posing” from Ransomed Heart, which simply means to live in a false-self outside of who you were intended to be, which is born out of a single wound or a series of wounds. Regardless of the wounding, the false-self or “poser” is what most people create in order to make life work for them. Because to often the pain associated with the wounding gets stuffed or covered, the result is to live as the poser and never allow anyone to see who you really are. I became a master at doing so starting at the age of 15.

The theme Jesus has been speaking to me about has been what he said to me this past October. He said, “Zac, you don’t know how to love. You have never really known how to love. You have lived your life in such a way as to receive love, not to love.” When Jesus spoke those words to my spirit, I knew exactly what he meant. When I was 15, my parents divorced. I remember my dad coming home the day the divorce was final and crying, literally wailing in agony. I had never ever heard my dad cry, not once until that day. That was the first time in my life I heard true pain in loss. I made a solemn vow that day as I sat on my bed in my room. I said, “I will never let this situation define me or use it as an excuse to hinder my life.”

What has been revealed to me since October is the truth of what I did with that vow and how that vow was the beginning of the poser in my life. What I began to do was learn how to do whatever it took to be loved. I have spent a lifetime discovering what individual people liked and even loved about me and I would remember and be whatever the “that” was to them, just to receive their love or admiration.  I became so very good at doing this. Truthfully, it helped me become very successful in life, as worldly success is defined, but it is an absolutely exhausting way to live. Now, I could not have told you until recently that I have been posing in so many areas of my life, but I do know now after a couple of years of reflection that I was living a poser led life.

I was not always 100% of the time doing this, but much of the the time I was. There have been many times I have done loving things for someone with a pure heart and out of love, but this underlying posing was always present. I have a long history of moving on from relationships once I was discovered to be a poser. Whenever someone, be it a girlfriend or close friend started to not like particular things about me, if I could not figure out how to be that to them, then I would jump out of that relationship before they could leave me. That stems from abandonment when my mom left at 14, but it is very much tied to simply wanting to be loved. My poor wife has had to live with this for far to long. Thank goodness she has loved me despite myself and shown me what real love looks like. So what has Jesus been up to with me regarding this theme in my story?

First, Jesus has exposed the poser in me over the course of the last couple of years. He has slowly and consistently been speaking to my heart in this area. He has been calling me to die to self and learn to love his way, selflessly. In all transparency, this has been the most challenging and painful time of spiritual and emotional growth in my life, mostly because I can’t go back to posing even though I want to at times. It now hurts more when I catch myself starting to pose than to go through the process of becoming who he wants me to be, my true-self. Which is ironic, because my whole life I have fought to hide the real me, but now I want the real me in Christ to be more and more revealed. The hardest part is fighting through the shame of so much lost to a poser led life, but I know there is far more freedom in who I am meant to be.

Jesus talked a lot about death bringing life during his time here on earth. He spoke about death being a catalyst for life and growth, such as the parable of the single grain of wheat (John 12:24) or when he discussed how his own death would bring life throughout the Gospels.

We are currently in the Christmas season and what better example than what Jesus did for us to explore how death brings life. Jesus came to earth as a human baby. He willingly came from eternity into a finite body. He chose to be defined by space and time. The very second a human is conceived, they begin the life long process of dying. The Eternal One came to earth and immediately began to die and for the purpose of dying?! Wrap your mind around that and let that sink in for a minute. Jesus had an intentionality to teach us about how believing in him and his death would bring us life, eternally. No other person in human history has ever been able to make that claim, let alone fulfill it or live it out.

To follow Jesus is to die to self, there is no other way to life. Living for Jesus calls us to die to all kinds of things. For me, dying to self is intentionally allowing my false-self to die and my true-self to live. No one said the Christian life was easy, and it certainly has not been for me recently. Jesus himself said the road was narrow, but the narrow road is exactly what makes it so worth living. I don’t have to do all the things the world says I have to in order to live. At the end of the narrow road is life, the life we were meant to live and can live now, if we are willing to die to self. Paul said it best in Philipians 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Dying to self is truth, and so often my false-self shouts to me, “What about me, what about what I want, what about what I need?”  My true-self responds, “What about it, wouldn’t you rather have life?”  I would and I do.

Each day requires a choice, not an easy choice, but nonetheless a choice. Do you want to die to self in order to live, or do you want to live for self and die with no life? You always have that choice in front of you each day.  Personally, I believe dying to self is only possible by surrendering your life to Jesus, daily.  So when I ask, Die to self, Really? For me, the answer is Yes, if I really want to live.

Let me share this portion of Ransomed Heart’s Daily Prayer to help you see how the death of Jesus will lead you to life:

Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me and choosing me before you made the world. You are my true Father—my creator, redeemer, sustainer, and the true end of all things, including my life. I love you, I trust you, I worship you. I give myself over to you, Father, to be one with you in everything as Jesus is one with you. Thank you for proving your love by sending Jesus; I receive him and all his life and all his work which you ordained for me. Thank you for including me in Christ, for forgiving me my sins, for granting me his righteousness, for making me complete in him. Thank you for making me alive with Christ, raising me with him, seating me with him at your right hand, establishing me in his authority, and anointing me with your love, your Spirit, and your kingdom. I receive it with thanks and give it total claim to my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind, and will. I bring the life and work of the Lord Jesus Christ over my life today, over my home, my family, my household, throughout my kingdom and domain.

Jesus, thank you for coming to ransom me with your own life. I love you, I worship you, I give myself over to you to be one with you in all things—spirit, soul, and body, heart, mind, and will. I sincerely receive all the work and triumph in your cross, death, blood, and sacrifice, through which my every sin is atoned for, I am ransomed and delivered from the kingdom of darkness and transferred to your kingdom, my sin nature is removed, my heart is circumcised unto God, and every claim being made against me is disarmed this day. I now take my place in your cross and death, dying with you to sin, to my flesh, to this world, to the evil one and his kingdom. I take up the cross and crucify my flesh with all its pride, arrogance, unbelief, and idolatry. I put off the old man. Apply to me all the work in your cross, death, blood, and sacrifice. I receive it with thanks and give it total claim to my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind, and will.

I bring the blood and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ over my life today, over my home, my family, my household, my vehicles, finances, over all my kingdom and domain. I bring the cross, death, blood, and sacrifice of Jesus Christ against Satan, against his kingdom, against every foul and unclean spirit, every foul power and black art, against every witch, and against every human being and their spirit, their warfare and household. I bring the cross, death, blood, and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ to the borders of my kingdom and domain, and I stake it there in the name of Jesus Christ.

Jesus, I also sincerely receive you as my Life, and I receive all the work and triumph in your resurrection, through which you have conquered sin, death, judgment, and the evil one. Death has no power over you, nor does any foul thing. And I have been raised with you to a new life, to live your life—dead to sin and alive to God. I take my place now in your resurrection and in your life, and I give my life to you to live your life. I am saved by your life. I reign in life through your life. I receive your hope, love, faith, joy, your goodness, trueness, wisdom, power, and strength. Apply to me all the work and triumph in your resurrection; I receive it with thanks and I give it total claim to my spirit, soul, and body, my heart, mind, and will.

I bring the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ over my life today, over my home, my family, my household, my vehicles, finances, over all my kingdom and domain. I bring the resurrection and the empty tomb of Jesus Christ against Satan, against his kingdom, against every foul and unclean spirit, every foul power and black art, against every witch, and against every human being and their spirit, their warfare, and household. I bring the resurrection and the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ to the borders of my kingdom and domain, and I stake it there in Jesus’ name.

Joy Worth Fighting For

If you have lived on this planet for any amount of time, you know the following statement by Bruce Cockburn is a reality of life, “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.” I recently discovered joy is not something I can strive for, manufacture, or create. I literally cannot be joyful on my own accord. But, I can fight for joy. Confused? So was I until recently.

I just returned yesterday from an incredible anniversary weekend with my bride. I surprised her with a trip to New York City. I wish I could take credit for the idea, but the idea came from Jesus. A couple of weeks ago, I was operating out of a place of woundedness. Work was stressful, life was incredibly busy, and what happens to me sometimes is I seek my validation and emotional stability from my bride. You would think after 16 years, I would learn to not turn to her for the kind of emotional comfort only Jesus can provide, but nonetheless, I fell back into that old pattern. Let’s just say I had created an environment of unnecessary tension in our relationship.

Enter The Rescuer:

During this time we had one of those quiet mornings, which happens from time to time when my bride and I are in a place of disconnectedness. I just didn’t know what to say or how make things right with her. As I was pondering what I should do, I prayed “Jesus, I need your help, I have no idea what to do here.” I immediately heard his reply, “Take her to New York.” I was shocked at both his promptness and his response. I knew exactly what Jesus was referring to. Our 16th wedding anniversary was less than two weeks away and Jesus was suggesting I take my bride to New York City for our anniversary.

Now, one would think if Jesus offers a solution immediately after asking for help in a situation, the appropriate response would be like what the disciples did, “at once they dropped their nets and followed him.” So of course, I just said yes, right? Uh, no. I began a negotiation, more like Moses at the burning bush. I rebutted, “Father, a trip to New York is not in the budget.” To which my Father lovingly and graciously responded, “Son, this one is on me, you just go.” I knew he was right. I knew in my heart he was asking me to take a step of faith, to book the trip and he would provide. So I went for it.

Enter Joy:

When I arrived at work, I shut the door to my office, fired up my computer, and started booking the trip. With every key stroke, I could feel joy bubbling up in my heart. Oh how long had it been since I felt true joy that comes from the Holy Spirit! Along the way, I asked Jesus, “What hotel should we stay at? What Broadway show should we see? What else should we do while we are there?” He answered every question. I was doing this all in faith and it was exhilarating! Pure joy was flowing from my heart!

The best part came next. After booking everything (and by the way, I got an incredible last minute deal that was not a budget buster after all) I checked my cell phone and there was a pretty long text from my bride regarding the current state of our relationship. Talk about timing! She said some honest and tough things to me, which I needed to hear (one of those texts every husband loves to get when Jesus speaks directly to us through our wives). I simply replied, “You are right, and I have a surprise for you tonight.” When I got home things were still a little tense, but she had softened since she received my text. I initiated one of our favorite rituals when we have a surprise for one another. I had her ask a series of yes and no questions about what the surprise was. And you know what? Everything I picked to do was exactly what she said she wanted to do. I picked the right Broadway show (The Lion King), visiting the statue of Liberty, and staying in Times Square (thank you Jesus!). Talk about Joy unhinged! At that moment, all was well and the joy in my heart overflowed!

Enter stage right; The Fight for Joy:

I wish I could tell you everything was wonderful for the next couple of weeks leading up to the trip, but the fight for joy came and with fierceness. The enemy was furiously opposed to our joy, to this trip, to us celebrating our marriage. The sprinkler system in my yard mysteriously started leaking and I did not discover it for two days. My oldest daughter started coming down with what looked like strep throat two days before the trip. I dealt with some really tough situations at work. It became clear to me this trip was opposed. The enemy was trying to steal my joy. You see, this is very important to understand when it comes to joy…the enemy HATES joy and especially joy initiated by Jesus. Friends, the enemy does not admire our joy or our marriages or anything from our Father. He despises us, despises our marriages, despises our faith, and he fights against it with all the forces of Hell. Oh yes friends, the enemy is fiercely opposed to our joy. Remember what Peter said, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith.” (1 Peter 5:8-9, NLT). So what must we do? Fight! Fight with all you have, in prayer, with the power of the Holy Spirit, and with a band of brothers alongside you!

I prayed the daily prayer, I put on the Full Armor of God to thwart the enemy’s attacks, and I asked my brothers on the E6 team to pray with me. I knew this trip was worth fighting for. But most of all, I fought for joy. Until all this unfolded, I never truly realized I had to fight for joy. But how it was worth it! My bride and I had an incredible trip and experienced lasting joy and memories. Our Father poured out his joy on us throughout the entire trip. On the drive to the airport we consecrated our trip and oh how Jesus answered our prayer! Nothing went wrong, not a single glitch. The flights were on time, our room had an enchanting view of Times Square, visiting the Statue of Liberty was flawless, we got a bonus trip to Ellis Island, and the Lion King was the most incredible show we have ever seen. This was truly an experience of joy for us both that is forever seared into the deepest parts of our souls.

Enter Discovery:

In a Desiring God post in which John Piper explores joy, Piper quotes Jonathon Edwards  (see the full post here: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-most-libertating-discovery).

“God glorifies himself towards the creatures [in] two ways: (1) by appearing to…their understanding; (2) in communicating himself to their hearts, and in their rejoicing and delighting in, and enjoying the manifestations which he makes himself…God is glorified not only by his glory’s being seen, but by its being rejoiced in…

[W]hen those that see it delight in it: God is more glorified than if they only see it…He that testifies his idea is of God’s glory [doesn’t] glorify God so much as he that testifies also his approbation (admiration) of it and his delight in it.”

Piper elaborated on Edwards’ statements: “This was a stunning discovery for me. I must pursue joy in God if I am to glorify him as the surpassingly valuable Reality in the universe. Joy is not a mere option alongside worship. It is an essential component of worship. Indeed the very essence of worship – being glad in the glories of God.”

Brothers! We must fight for joy! Fighting for joy is our pursuit of it. We cannot create it, we cannot manufacture it, we can only allow it to enter our hearts. True joy can only come from the Father, through the Holy Spirit, and because of our relationship with Jesus. If that doesn’t fire you up then your wood is wet!

I leave you with this truth from the scriptures, “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things.” (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT). Yes, only the Holy Spirit can produce joy in us, we are not able to produce any of these fruits on our own. But we do have a part in seeing them come to fruition. Oh yes, we must fight, and fight I most certainly will! Why? Because, “Nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight.” And Joy is so worth having!