Know Where You’re Going?

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Recently I was sitting in one of my coworker’s classrooms and I caught a glimpse of a poster hanging on the wall. It read, “If you’re not aiming at anything in life, you’re guaranteed to go nowhere.” The poster encouraged kids to set goals for their life and pursue them in order to have a sense of direction. I think most people can relate to a feeling of floundering and waywardness at certain junctures in their journey through life.

For me, goal setting was really emphasized growing up. With that said, I can’t say that I was encouraged to set all the right goals. Most of mine had to do with career, athletics, and school. Those are all good things but something extremely important, downright vital, is missing from the list. Spiritual goals were never an important aspect of my life until about 10 years ago. Because of that, I floundered. You better believe my schooling, athletics, and career pathways were darn near precise. I stayed on track and achieved a lot of what I set out to do. But it was empty because of my lack of direction in the spiritual sense.

I think goals are great. Everyone needs to have them no matter who you are. I will raise my children with that. But I will go further, for their sake. Their spiritual goal is first, foremost, and above all others. It will not be the leftovers from whatever energy they have remaining. It will not be something they put on hold until they graduate, start a family, or “arrive” at the career they want. That’s how I operated, and I want more than anything, to save my kids from that troublesome pathway through life.

Several places in the Bible we are given spiritual goals to pursue. That saves us from the hardest part…figure out where we want to go. The most essential part of any journey is knowing the destination. Without one, everything in between is a lump sum of haphazard choices and consequences. God never intended anyone to go through life that way. So He gave us a destination (knowing Him), a guidance system (His Holy Spirit), and a straight and narrow road (Jesus) to get there.  Here’s a great starter list of five common goals for anyone needing a jumping off point for setting their spiritual goals:

#1- Declare the Praises of God

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 2:9

#2-Serve Jesus and live like He did

For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

Colossians 1:16

#3-Respect God and live the way He’s called us to

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

#4-Be a light (different from those in the world) to help people know God

In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:16

#5-Love God and love others well

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’This is the first and great commandment.And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Please don’t make the same mistake that I did. Set the goals that matter first and allow them to shape the rest. There are a lot of great things to aim at in this life, but they are all secondary to the centerpiece of life.

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:14

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Offering our Best

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And when anyone offers a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering from the herd or from the flock, to be accepted it must be perfect; there shall be no blemish in it. Animals blind or disabled or mutilated or having a discharge or an itch or scabs you shall not offer to the Lord or give them to the Lord as a food offering on the altar.You may present a bull or a lamb that has a part too long or too short for a freewill offering, but for a vow offering it cannot be accepted. Any animal that has its testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut you shall not offer to the Lord; you shall not do it within your land…

Leviticus 22:21-24 ESV

One thing I’ve been guilty of is giving away my leftovers. I make a trip to Goodwill or the Salvation Army with things that I no longer need or want. I don’t believe that there is anything wrong with passing along things that others may find useful. Hoarding it would be wrong and selfish. The problem lies in the singularity of giving. If these are the only types of things that I am offering to others, then my heart needs to get realigned with the biblical concept of giving.

According to Leviticus chapter 22, the heart devoted to God is one who gives freely, gives things that are in perfect condition, and gives what would still be of great value and use to him or her. That’s super challenging! In preparation for writing this post, I’ve tried to take inventory of anything that I’ve given that fit these three criteria. I can tell you, it wasn’t a huge list. For myself, and I’m tempted to say most Christians, I don’t think freely giving is the hard part, until it comes to giving away the prime stuff that we still want or need. Honestly, we should be giving our suits and nice things away and not just the clothes we no longer fit in and utensils we no longer use. If we value a possession too much to share it, then we don’t deserve to have it. That’s the principle I’ve tried to instill in my children, so I better make sure I’m living by it as well.

Jesus calls us to offer our lives for the sake of the gospel so no possession we have should be a problem. Nothing is valuable enough to stand in the way of showing God’s love. Since everything comes from God, nothing is off limits as an offering of praise. To withhold anything from God is like saying that I’m good enough to receive it but God isn’t good enough for me to offer it up to Him. That was the problem with the rich young ruler that Jesus spoke with in Mark chapter 10. All he had stood in the way of serving and following Jesus. That was in stark contrast to the first century Christians who sold of their own possessions to give to those in need. Nothing was off limits for them and nothing should be off limits for us today. What applied to them, applies to Christians still today.

And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?”And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise…

Luke 3:10-11 ESV

Jesus doesn’t say if you have 10 tunics give away one or if your pantries are overflowing with food then give some away. If we have more than one of something, it’s an abundance. That’s something that is hard for many in a modern society to grasp. Let’s give more because we want to love more, both God and others.

Handle With Care

SL015-3People can be so reckless sometimes. We fly off the handle with our reactions, we are too careless with our words, and we are often out of touch with the ripple effect of our actions. We are all helping to carry others through life. Whether as a parent, teacher, mentor, friend, spouse, peer, coworker or simply a citizen, we are all part of others’ journeys through life. We will all impact the process. And we will all be impacted by others.

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4 ESV

When a package goes from postage to delivery, it will often go through many hands. It’ll be boxed, wrapped, stamped, sorted, driven, flown, shuffled, stacked, and more. Packages can go through a lot. Those with valuable contents are often marked fragile. When a handler sees that marking, they will be much more gentle, conscious, and intentional on how they treat that package. If only people could be given one of these marks. The truth of the matter is that we’ve all been given this mark.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Psalm 139:13-15 ESV

Upon conception, every living person is deemed with unmeasurable worth. Because we are so valuable, we are also fragile. Those made in God’s image should be handled with care and intentionality. Be careful about how you treat someone. Be thoughtful about the words you speak. Don’t overreact or overcorrect. Don’t be careless or abrasive. People are fragile. Even that 250-pound bodybuilder who can benchpress 350 pounds. Even that successful business executive. Even the millionaires and billionaires. From infancy to the end, people deserve dignity and love and to hear the message that they are of endless worth.

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

John 15:12 ESV

How are you helping those in your life get to their destination? Beat up and broken or cared for and loved? We can help how others treat us but we can always choose to be agents of love and peace in this fallen world.

God bless you brothers and sisters

Pouring out our soul

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But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.

1 Samuel 1:15 ESV

Have you ever been distressed to the point where your body aches? Have you ever wept bitterly because of loss or injustice? Have you felt a pain that could be described as your spirit being broken to pieces? Hannah did. She had been left barren, ridiculed by her peers, rejected in society, provoked, and deeply grieved. And this went on for years. If you find yourself relating to Hannah, either now or in the future, may I encourage you to do as she did? Fall at the feet of Jesus and pour out your soul. Don’t be afraid to weep and fast and pray for days, or months, or even years. A breakthrough is around the corner. The Lord is listening and He will act. It may not play out how you predetermined. But God always has your best interest in mind. Please allow your struggles and distress to draw you to Jesus, not drive you away because He’s already near.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Psalm 34:18 NIV

Peace brothers and sister. You are loved.

Craving the Slop

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Have you ever craved the slop? I know I have. My life story is full of it.

One of my favorite stories that Jesus told was about a family torn apart by greed and selfishness and later restored by love and grace. In most Bibles, it’s labeled as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s part of a series of stories that Jesus told relating to the idea of things that were lost but searched out and found by God. They are stories of discovery that bring hope to even the most wayward soul. They are also stories that most people can relate to. I definitely can.

In Luke 15, Jesus talks about a boy who decides to go out on his own. He’s done with his family and all he wants is to claim his cash inheritance and live a self-indulgent life. As with anyone who chooses this path, life was empty and unsatisfying. For many, that lifestyle usually runs people into the gutters of despair. The young man from Luke 15 hit rock bottom. In verse 16 it says that he was so desperate that he craved the slop that he was feeding to the pigs as a hired worker. He had wasted all his money and was employed in one of the lowliest possible professions. It was a filthy job feeding unclean animals. Not only that, but he couldn’t even afford to eat. He was so hungry that he wanted to devour the nasty food that the pigs ate. That’s desperation. I’ve been there.

I too have craved the slop. In my darkest year (2009) I was wallowing in the slop. For me, the slop was an addiction to pornography, caught in a cycle of alcoholism and self-loathing, divorced from an adulterous woman, and at an end to a hopeful career. Just like the young man in Jesus’ story, I was craving all the wrong things and it led me into a destructive lifestyle. The scene from Luke 15 takes me back to that year in my life. I too needed to come home. I too needed to right many wrongs. I too needed to crave the right things.

This world presents us with more slop than things that actually provide for our need. The slop is anything short of anything that draws us closer to the Lord. My slop was creating an image for myself, gaining approval, and enjoying the flesh. I had the same aim as the young man from the story in Luke 15. I wanted to set out on my own. I wanted to get mine. I wanted to live a self-centered life. That’s what leads us to the slop. That’s because the slop feeds self, not the soul. The fortunate ones are those who come to enlightenment and realize they need to go home. They realize that where their life has led them is nothing more than a pigsty. The unfortunate ones are those who are living in a pigsty and don’t even realize it.

Let me make it plain – anyone who runs from the Father will end up in the pigsty, craving unclean things, surrounded by unclean things. The father in this story is meant to depict our Father in Heaven. He will let us go. He will let us run from Him. He will let us choose the slop. But He will always be watching for us and wanting us to return home. He will always come running to those who choose Him. It doesn’t matter how dirty we are from wallowing in the mud. He will always come running to embrace the wayward child who turns to Him.

Just as 2009 was the darkest year of my life, it was also the year I returned home. It was the year I felt the Father run to me and embrace me. It was my year of enlightenment and deep repentance. I felt what it was like to be separated from the Father and to be held in His loving arms. If you have wandered from the Lord as I did, just know that He’s waiting and watching for you. All you have to do is take the first steps home and He’ll come running your way.

So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’ And they began to celebrate.

Luke 15:20-24 NASB

Rested, Satisfied, and Forgiven

Life sure can be hard sometimes. There’s always something that we could spend our time worrying about, whether its finances, health issues, poor choices by those we love, relationship struggles, and on and on it goes. Let’s face it, the cup can always be half empty if we let it. At the same time, however, the half-empty cup is always half full.

A few days ago I was having a glass-half-empty moment, for about 3 hours, before my mind was able to reconsider how I was looking at everything. It turned out to be as simple as looking at my situation from the opposite perspective and all the heaviness began to give way to that nice peaceful easy feeling (you know like the Eagles started singing about back in the 70s). Actually, I’m talking more about the feeling that Jesus talked about thousands of years ago.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus is the author of that peaceful easy feeling. He’s not just the glass is half full, He’s my cup is overflowing with goodness. My problem, and you all can probably relate, is that I have expectations of how things will go. When those expectations blow up in my face I can quickly drift towards the negative. When my expectations aren’t founded on Biblical realities, my perspective can easily be out of alignment with where God wants me to be. Far too many of our expectations are based on uncontrollable elements of life and therefore, we are clinically psychotic. We torture ourselves mentally, and by extension, physically and emotionally because we put so much stock into how things that are way beyond our control, will turn out. We either focus on what we want to have, don’t have, or may no longer have instead of holding on to what we can never lose – a loving God.

Jesus essentially says to us: “I call you only to do those things you were created to do, and you will find therefore that my yoke is easy. I put on you the burden of following me, but I have already paid the price so that when you fail you will be forgiven. I’ve taken off you the burdens that other people have. I’ve removed the burden of earning your own salvation through your striving and effort. I’ve removed the burden of guilt or shame for past failures. I’ve taken off the burden of having to prove yourself worthy of love. I am therefore the only Lord and master who, if you find me, will satisfy you, and, if you fail me, will forgive you.”

Expcerpt from Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical by Timothy Keller

 

Fear vs. Love

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Fear is one of the most basic human motivations. It drives stock markets and fuels wars. Its unruly energies can be used for great harm or channeled for great good. Professional boxers are often told fear is their friend. Fear can make them better fighters. It keeps them alert. It sensitizes their determination. In the same way, God can use our fears and make us better fighters for his cause. Whenever we are afraid, we have the potential to do the impossible. Why? That which is impossible in our own strength is made possible with God’s help. Fear makes us more likely to forsake our own resources and rely on God instead. In this way, extreme fear can lead to extreme faith.

The following is a story shared from Voice of the Martyrs.

The LORD is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear?

Psalm 27:1

LAOS: The unwritten code of the police was clear: If you catch the Khmu or other tribesmen converting to Christianity, arrest them. If you catch anyone evangelizing the tribesmen, kill him.

After “Lu” had been shackled at the hands and feet and shamefully marched through the village, the Communist police threw him in a pit. “We will let you go,” they said, “when one hundred Christians in your village renounce their conversion to Christianity.” But they were unable to find believers willing to turn their backs on Christ. Then tragedy struck the police. One officer’s son broke both legs in an accident. His other son became critically ill. The officer who had beaten and harassed new Christians suddenly died of a heart attack. Other officials fearfully pulled “Lu” from the pit and allowed him to return home. Government authorities were too frightened to take action against the Christians in the village after seeing what happened to their leader. Seeing God’s show of power, more Khmu became believers. Where there had been one hundred Christians, now there were seven hundred. They even sent Christians out to tell other villages about Jesus. While the Laotian authorities were controlled by their fear, the Christians in Southeast Asia overcame theirs.

For some people living in post-modern nations, sharing the gospel may result in losing friends, not being invited places, being written up at work, being overlooked, and perhaps being ridiculed and given a nasty label. But it won’t result in death and imprisonment. Yet, fear still grips the believer. Fear of rejection. Fear of being different. Fear of what people will say. When we compare this with Lu’s story in Laos, it’s embarrassing that anyone would allow these minor inconveniences to prevent them from spreading the greatest news the world has ever heard. Fear is strong. But not as strong as love.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

1 John 4:18 ESV

Believer, we no longer need to fear anything. Not sickness, not persecution, not ridicule, not rejection, and not even death. Because we are perfectly loved and that love is our view of those who need to know Jesus. No matter how they respond, they need to know Jesus just as much as we did. We can’t keep this great love to ourselves, not even from those who reject it. Never forget that your courage and love could change someone’s life forever.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7 ESV

Be brave brothers and sisters, and go change the world!