How To Conquer Your Giants


Remember Shammua son of Zaccur, Shaphat son of Hori, or Palti son of Raphu? How about Gaddiel son of Sodi, Gaddi son of Susi, or Geuel son of Maki? No? Well, not many of us do. But if I say Joshua son of Nun or Caleb son of Jephunneh, you instantly know who I’m talking about, don’t you? In fact, I probably only need to say “Joshua and Caleb”, and it will immediately bring to your mind the account in Numbers 13 where Moses dispatches twelve spies to scout out the Land of Canaan as the future home of the Israelite people. Of course, Joshua and Caleb were among these twelve men. The other names I listed are some of the other ten spies.
        There’s a reason why we don’t recall the names of the ten, but have no problem remembering Joshua and Caleb. Joshua and Caleb returned from the Land of Canaan, the land God had promised His people, with a positive report, firmly believing that God would grant them victory over their enemies. The rest of the spies came back with a doom and gloom report and discouraged the people from trying to conquer the land. In their mind, the obstacles were too great.
        The ten men reported that in Canaan they had seen large, fortified cities and scary looking giants. “The land we explored devours those living in it,” they said (Numbers 13:32). Devours? That’s pretty strong language. And they added, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (verse 33). Now, how in the world did they know that? How did they know what their enemy was thinking? It’s not exactly like they interviewed them!
        Of course, they didn’t know. The statement was based on a subjective, unfounded assessment of their circumstances.
 

How Big Is Your God?

        Obstacles are those frightening things we see when we take our eyes off God’s promises. When we forget how big God is, life’s challenges seem insurmountable and fear quickly builds in our hearts. On the other hand, when we consider God’s character, His goodness, His wisdom, His power, His undisputed faithfulness toward us in the past, the fact that He put the stars in their place and created the universe out of nothing, that He is the supreme ruler of all things, then suddenly our problems don’t look so big anymore.
        The twelve men all journeyed to the same land, but they didn’t see the same thing. This, because some looked at their circumstances through the eyes of doubt, while others – in fact, only Joshua and Caleb – decided to view them through the eyes of faith.
        If we’re honest with ourselves, we’d have to admit that we’re more like the ten spies who came back with a negative report than we’re like Joshua and Caleb. We evaluate things more on the basis of our circumstances than on God’s promises.
        For example, God says He has moved our transgressions as far from us as the East is from the West, yet we listen to our emotions instead and go around feeling guilty about sins we have already confessed. Or, God tells us we are perfected through patience, but we – because we have bought into the instant gratification mindset of our culture – grumble and complain when things don’t happen on our time table. And of course the list goes on and on and on.
 

Fearless Living

        Human beings are prone to be lacking in courage, so it’s no wonder the phrase “don’t be afraid” is the most frequently used command in the Bible (repeated well over 300 times). Also, it’s interesting to note that in the first chapter of the book of Joshua, four decades after the spy incident, when God instructs Joshua to enter and conquer the Promised Land, He tells him multiple times to “be strong and courageous”. Apparently, even an experienced warrior like Joshua needed this reminder.
        If we don’t make a deliberate effort to look at our circumstances through the lens of faith, all we will see is guilt that can’t be shaken, temptations that can’t be resisted, prayers that remain unanswered, and needs in our lives that aren’t met. We’ll be inclined to believe weak fellow Christians who come to us with doom and gloom reports and discourage us from taking hold of that which God has promised us. The mountains will appear too high to climb, the terrain too perilous to explore, and the giants much bigger than they really are.
        The Calebs and Joshuas of our time, however, understand that it is God who paves the way for His people, grants them favor, wipes out their enemies, and gives them the land. They know that as long as they just walk obediently with the Lord, they have nothing – nothing whatsoever – to fear.
 

The Link Between Obedience And Courage

        Right after God commands Joshua to “be strong and very courageous,” He adds, “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:7-9).
        Do you see the obvious link here between obedience and courage, between following God’s precepts and experiencing His favor, between cherishing God’s Word and succeeding in conquest? So often we pray for God to guide us, yet we haven’t yet responded to what He has already revealed to us! Why would He lead us and show us the next step if we aren’t following what He has already told us?
        Each time the Holy Spirit prompts us to move in one direction or the other, you and I have the choice to either obey or disobey what He is showing us. We can be faithful or we can be faithless. Any time we distrust God and reject the light, we experience more bondage. Any time we trust God and respond to the light, we find more freedom.
 

Put Your Foot In The River

        After Moses had died and Joshua had been given the task of leading the Israelites across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land, God also said something else: “It shall come about when the soles of the feet of the priests who carry the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan will be cut off, and the waters which are flowing down from above will stand in one heap” (Joshua 3:13).
        Did you catch that? God didn’t tell Joshua He was going to lead them to the river bank, part the waters, and then have them walk across on a dry path. No, He said to first step into the river. The moment they did – in fact, the very moment the soles of their feet touched the water – the waters would part.
        God builds faith in us not by showing us His entire plan all at once, but by directing us, one step at a time. This is what it means to walk by faith. When we put our faith in Him, He is honored. In return, He honors our faith.
        Friend, God wants to take you across the river, to the Promised Land – a place of purpose, usefulness, fulfillment, rest, peace, and joy. It’s all there. You just need to trust and obey Him. So don’t stand there fretting at the giants. Put your foot in the river and the waters will part. Remember, the obstacles in front of you are never as great as the power behind you…

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Right Now Counts Forever

Right Now Counts ForeverI recently heard a talk where a Christian speaker asked the following question: “What if you learned you were part of an experiment where the next 24 hours would determine the quality of the rest of your life? Everything from the job you hold to the neighborhood and house you live in will be tied to how you navigate a single day. How would you approach those 24 hours? Would you be intentional, or would you leave things to chance and hope for the best?”
          His point was that if you knew your entire life was going to be affected, for good or for bad, by the actions you took between right now and this time tomorrow, you would obviously consider every word you spoke and every move you made with painstaking caution. In fact, all you’d be thinking about for the next 24 hours would be that you were making wise choices – no matter the cost – so you could spend the rest of your earthly life reaping the benefits. It’s a no-brainer. Say you’re 35 right now and you expect to live until the average death age in the US, which is 78.8 years, that means you’ve got 383 688 hours left of your life. And who wouldn’t be willing to work hard, make sacrifices, face challenges, take risks, or do whatever else is required of them for the next 24 hours in order to make the remaining 383 653 hours of their life magnificent?
          It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see it. When you put a 24-hour time period against the backdrop of the rest of our life, those 24 hours are minuscule in comparison.

False Teachers And Vain Pursuits

          The speaker then asked another question: How long is eternity? Well, it’s a lot longer than 383 653 hours! Eternity is, well, eternity. It’s forever. And the Bible tells us that the quality of our eternal lives will be based on how we spent our earthly lives – our earthly lives, which we’d do well to remember, could be ripped away from us at any moment.
          Over and over, Scripture tells us to focus on the things above, not on the things of this earth, to store up our treasures in Heaven, to press on toward the finish line, to keep our eyes on the prize… Tv addictionHeaven is our home, it’s where we belong, and it’s where we have our true citizenship.
          And yet, in churches around America prosperity preachers continue to tickle the ears of their congregations, falsely teaching that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and problem-free. People come flocking from near and far to hear them speak while the pews of solid, Bible-preaching churches stay empty.
          We Christians know this world is not our final destination. Why then, do we invest so much of our time, effort, and money in it? Why are we for the most part chasing after the same things as unbelievers? Why aren’t we more zealous for personal holiness, more consumed by a passion to do the will of God, more on fire to reach the lost with the Gospel? Why are the teachings from our pulpits wishy-washy, compromising and non-confrontational?
          Why do we waste so much of our time on TV and movies and video games and computers and iphones? Why do we spend so little time thinking about, investing in, and longing for, our real home – Heaven? If we’re completely honest with ourselves, can we truly say with the Apostle Paul, “I’d rather be with Christ”?

When All Is Said And Done

          My purpose with this post is not to try to guilt you out but to make you ponder the brevity of your earthly existence. I want to encourage you to evaluate how you spend your time. Fact is, most of us go about living our lives as if we have all the time in the world. “Life always offers you a second chance. It’s called tomorrow,” says a popular adage. A cute, feel-good quote, but the truth of the matter is that one day you’re going to be out of tomorrows, and if you lived your life by the mantra that Dead End you’ll always get a second chance, you’re going to be looking back at a life of some pretty serious regrets.
          Deathbed regrets are a very real thing. Google the term and you’ll find several different lists that researchers have compiled from interviews with elderly and/or terminally ill people: “I wish I hadn’t been so afraid to take risks.” “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” “I wish I’d stayed in touch with family and friends.” “I wish I’d traveled more.” “I wish I’d taken better care of my health.” “I wish I hadn’t held so many grudges.” “I wish I’d known how to live in the moment.” I wish, I wish, I wish…
          It’s heartbreaking to read, but it’s reality: Way too many of us arrive at the end of our earthly journey only to realize we pursued the wrong things and didn’t take time for what was truly important.
          Now, if you were to conduct this type of survey among Christians exclusively, I suspect the number one answer you would get would go something like this: “I wish I’d lived more for Jesus.” Can you imagine anything more tragic than that – coming to the end of your life and recognizing that you never did much for Christ? That you never really used your gifts for the Kingdom, didn’t touch lives for eternity, didn’t do what you were created, and saved, for? Instead, you merely focused on being comfortable and having fun and accumulating stuff and trying to fit in…

Finding True Fulfillment

          I can think of only two things that we do in this life that have any eternal value: Proclaiming the Gospel to the lost through our words and good deeds, and help equipping fellow believers so they can grow spiritually. Only that which is done out of genuine love for God and for people is going to outlast this world.
          I hope this has given you something to reflect on. Worship JesusAs I get ready to step down from my soap box here, I want to leave you with some final thoughts: It seems to me most Christians in America today want a big helping of the world’s goodies with a little bit of Jesus on the side. At the same time they want to experience joy, inner peace, and lasting fulfillment.
          Problem is that as long as we pursue success the world’s way, true satisfaction will forever elude us. Because it isn’t found in what the world has to offer! Everything the world has to offer is merely pseudo… A fake, an imitation, a mirage… True fulfillment is only found in a deep, intimate, heart-felt, ever-growing relationship with Christ and by living out His purpose for your life. The only way to achieve real satisfaction, then, is to make your life more about Jesus and less about the world.
          Friend, the clock is ticking. As a mere sojourner here on earth, please, please be mindful of the choices you make, the voices you listen to, and the direction in which you’re going with the rest of your life.
          You have one precious life. Live as if right now counts for all eternity. Because it DOES.

When A Star Dies… (A Somewhat Different Perspective On The Passing of George Michael)

George Michael doesPop singer George Michael and Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher join a large number of famous people who died this year… Whenever I hear of a celebrity passing I’m reminded of the profound statement Jesus made in Mark 8:35-37: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and for the Gospel will save it. What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?”
          Jesus is saying here that you can win the world’s accolades and accumulate great amounts of earthly riches, but if your heart isn’t right with God, nothing you have achieved is going to help you when your life comes to an end and you stand before His holy throne. You can’t take your fame, your worldly goods, or even your charitable deeds, with you.

Who Can Forget Wham!?

          Like so many others, I owned several Wham! cassette tapes back in the 80s and enjoyed dancing to the beats of “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” and “Last Christmas” at youth clubs. And who can forget slow-dancing with your latest crush to the tunes of “Careless Whisper”?
          In the Wham! posters on our teenage bedroom walls fresh-faced George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley sported the latest 80s fashion while gazing at us, flirtatiously, from under fluffy, highlighted locks. How handsome they were! Especially Michael… With his leather jacket and beard stubble he was the epiphany of masculinity and melted thousands upon thousands of teenage girl hearts.
          Great was our surprise when Michael came out publicly in the late 90s and announced he was gay after having spent years “in the closet”. He was involved in several short and long-term gay relationships, and it was his most recent boyfriend who found the 53-year old Michael lifeless in his bed Christmas morning.
          Michael was a prominent gay rights advocate and raised a lot of money for AIDS research (one of his earlier boyfriends died of complications from AIDS in 1993). However, in recent years, the once dashingly handsome pop star was rarely seen in the public eye. In the wake of his death, neighbors have reported that he was a bloated version of himself and didn’t look like George Michael anymore. They saw Christmas deliveries arriving at his home, but no guests. He was also absent from the midnight service at his local church, which he had attended last year. The last time Michael was seen, he was watching the torchlight procession on Christmas Eve from his window, all by himself.

A Troubled Soul

          Michael is thought to have battled heroin addiction as well as an addiction to crack cocaine although this has not been verified. It’s interesting to note, however, that cardiac arrest – the cause of death according to Michael’s manager – is common among those who have used heroin. Either way, one thing we can say for certain, looking at the way Michael chose to live his life and at statements he made in candid interviews with the press over the years, is that he was a troubled soul.
          But to his fans he was the defining pop idol of their generation, to his admirers he had one of the most beautiful voices in British pop. His chart-topping hits earned him more than £100 million over the course of his career, first as part of Wham! and later as a solo artist. The day after his death, it was reported that Spotify streams of his solo music shot up more than 3,000%.
          Scores of George Michael fans went to pay respects to the late singer by leaving mementos, candles, albums, flowers and balloons outside his London residence as well as his riverside home in Oxfordshire, which is where he died unexpectedly earlier this week.
          A large number of celebrities took to social media platforms to express their sorrow. Super model Naomi Campbell, for one, spoke about Michael’s indelible impact on fans and, in particular, members of the LGBT (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender) community. George Michael“You will never know how many lives you touched with your soulful voice and your fight for LGBT rights,” she wrote. “Stand tall, George, the angels are awaiting you!!! May you rest in peace.” Former 1980s teen idol Rob Lowe tweeted, “Voice of an angel. Now he can sing for them,” while Boy George from the 80’s band Culture Club had this to say: “I hope the Buddha will hold him in his arms.”
          Not surprisingly, the sentiment was, across the entertainment industry, that George Michael – because he was talented, inspiring, and generous with his money – has joined the angels in heaven and is now in the presence of God (or the Buddha…take your pick).
          Michael achieved super stardom in life, and in the wake of his death he is being praised and worshiped perhaps like never before, by fans and fellow entertainers alike. Nothing new there… We saw the exact same thing when Michael Jackson died, at the passing of Whitney Houston, of Prince, David Bowie, Princess Diana, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe…the list goes on and on. It’s to be expected. When a star dies, the world stops for a moment. It grieves, it remembers their talent, their contribution, and their charitable deeds.
          But then the world goes on. Everything returns to normal. The memory of the star lives on for a while – the bigger they were, the longer they are remembered – but eventually, even the memory of them fades. Truth be told, a couple decades from now hardly anyone will remember who George Michael was.

The Only Thing That Matters

          When all is said and done, it won’t make an iota of a difference whether the whole world knows your name or only God knows it. It will be of no significance whether you were sought after and admired while here on earth or you lived your life in obscurity. The only thing that’s going to matter is whether you have received forgiveness for your sins through Jesus Christ and that you used your life to serve Him. The first saves you from hell and allows you to enter heaven, the latter determines your heavenly rewards.
          As someone rightly stated, “No matter how big your house is, how recent your car is, or how big your bank account is, our graves will always be the same size.” Indeed. Life is a vapor and then comes eternity. Let’s remember that. Let’s remember that God’s definition of success is radically different than that of the world. And let’s be careful not to read news accounts about the death of stars through rose colored glasses, or pay attention to the spiritual musings of celebrities who have no knowledge of biblical truth.
          No…it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul. Whether you’re George Michael or John Doe, ALL that matters when God looks at you – be it in this life or in eternity – is that He sees you clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Though Michael’s lifestyle may suggest otherwise, I hope that somehow – by the lavish, extraordinary, amazing grace of God – he repented and left this earthly life not covered in his own sin but in the holiness of the Lord Jesus… I hope that with all my heart.

The Cure For Fear And Doubt

PrayerI always have to chuckle a bit whenever I read in Acts 12 about how Peter, after his miraculous escape from prison with the help of an angel, shows up at the house where the rest of the church has gathered to pray for his release. When the maidservant, Rhoda, sees him at the door, she is so overcome with joy that she just leaves him standing there and rushes back in to the prayer team to announce his arrival. The rest of the group then argues over the truthfulness of her report: the very answer to their prayers is knocking, and they refuse to believe it. They declare Rhoda crazy – all while Peter is left knocking and calling at the door!

When Rhoda sticks to her story, the church members conclude that Peter’s guardian angel – who according to their Jewish tradition would take on his attributes – has arrived, either to bring good news or to announce Peter’s death. It seems that any other option is more feasible than that God has in fact answered their prayers and delivered Peter from prison! When they go to investigate, Scripture tells us they are “beside themselves in astonishment” as they open the door and see Peter standing there.

The narrative has comic irony, but when you think about it, isn’t it pretty illustrative of the way you and I often approach God? We pray without believing God and are astonished when He answers our petitions. We don’t come before Him with confident faith. We doubt His ability to overcome natural obstacles. We don’t believe His timing is perfect. Oh, we may say we have faith and that we believe in His power and His timing, but when we fret and worry and/or try to take matters into our own hands and push our own agenda, aren’t we proving just the opposite?

Jesus said that as believers we must become “like children” in order to inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Childlike faith differs from a doubting faith in that children are trusting and ready to receive whatever they ask for without questions or fear. When a parent makes a promise, a child naturally believes. He or she does not worry about whether or not the parent is going to follow through (unless, of course, the parent has made a habit of deceit or unreliability).

Even when parents tell silly tales of the tooth fairy and Santa Claus, the child readily believes. When a little child climbs up on a ledge and his daddy tells him to throw himself off, reassuring him that “I will catch you”, the child does so gladly, shrieking with delight as he throws himself into his father’s arms. The child may experience some fear, but his trust in his parent – that he will be there to catch him just like he said – outweighs that fear many times over.

This is the kind of trust God wants from us. He wants us to trust Him with the innocent, believing heart of a child and without the cynicism of an adult.

Let’s also remember that doubt is a tool of Satan to make us distrust God’s Word. The natural mind tends to fear and to question what the Bible says rather than simply believe.

The remedy for fear and doubt is faith, and faith comes by hearing the Word of God (Romans 10:17). God gave us the Bible as a testimony of His works in the past so we can have good reason to trust Him in the present and for the future. In order for our faith to be strengthened, we must study the Scriptures to know what God has said and done for His people throughout the ages, and also regularly meditate on how He has come through for us, personally, in the past.

This is how we reassure our doubtful hearts that He is, in fact, trustworthy. As a result, we are then better able to come before the Lord in expectant prayer, believing that He is going to act on our behalf, and when we honor God this way by placing confident faith in Him, He again honors our faith by proving Himself faithful to us and answering our petitions.

The Healing Power of Relationships

Healing handsIsn’t it funny how, if we’ve injured an arm or a leg, we understand and accept the fact that the limb isn’t going be restored back to health overnight, but when it comes to emotional injuries, we so often try to rush the process of healing? The one thing we don’t want to hear is that it’s going to take time!

But the reality is that just as we need to submit to the doctor’s prescription and give ourselves time to heal from bodily injuries, we need to let God – the Great Physician – use the Truth of Scripture, the power of prayer, and grace administered through the body of believers over an extended period of time if we are to heal from emotional wounds.

People do heal. People can change. But whether or not we stay stuck or move into a better future is a choice that lies with each individual. More than anything, it takes humility because the only way to do it is to admit we are helpless, surrender it all to God, and allow Him to show us how to go about the process of changing. An important part of this process is to properly plug in to the healing power of the body of believers.

Did you know it has been scientifically proven that when you lovingly hold the hand of someone who’s hurting physically, or you hug them, their pain level goes down? I find that so fascinating:) But it makes a lot of sense since God created us for relationships!

And relationships are to be more than just a context for ministry or activities. God’s people are channels of His grace. He administers grace to His children through the members of the body, and if we aren’t making use of this, we can’t grow properly. This is something I missed most of my Christian life: I tried to do Christianity all on my own, and the few friendships I enjoyed with other believers were very superficial.

Sadly, I think this is the way it is with a lot of people. We are too afraid to open up and too proud to admit we have problems. At church on the Lord’s Day, when someone asks us how we’re doing, we respond with our pre-programmed “I’m fine. How are you?”

We don’t talk about the fact that there are areas in which we struggle because we believe we’re “supposed” to have it all together. Christians aren’t “supposed” to be depressed or anxious or fearful…are they? So instead of talking about what’s really going on in our lives, we continue to suffer in secret. We act as if by pretending the wound isn’t there or that it isn’t such a big deal, it will go away.

It’s a lot easier to cover up, minimize, or deny our shame and guilt than it is to take a long, hard look at our lives and deal with the things that lie beneath the surface. The latter can be very painful, and by not admitting that something is wrong, we give ourselves permission to stay the way we are and we don’t have to embark on the difficult process of changing. But by not striving to make improvements in our lives, we miss out on God’s best. We miss out on the joyful, purpose-filled, abundant life He intended for us.

It’s only when pain is acknowledged and brought into the open that it can be healed through grace and truth. Because by bringing transparency back into our relationships this way, we’re returning to God’s original model for human relations. When we stop stuffing our feelings and instead bring them out and into the light, we’re doing relationships God’s way, the way He intended them to be.

God always meant for human relationships to be transparent and vulnerable. This is how Adam and Eve related to one another before the Fall. They lived in harmony and honesty. It was only after sin entered the world through their disobedience that they lost the ability to communicate openly and started hiding, blaming, pretending, and covering up.

God’s work in us is a life-long process, and it involves us learning, growing, changing, falling, confessing, repeatedly turning from our sin, and developing more and more holiness and wholeness over time. This is something we need to remember whenever we feel defeated in our struggle against sin or when painful memories come knocking: We’re a work in progress and none of us can expect to change overnight.

At the same time we can take great comfort in the fact that God has given us all the resources we need both to recover from past hurts and to grow in godliness. He has given us Jesus as our Advocate, the Holy Spirit to guide us, the truth of Scripture, and the body of believers.

God is actively involved in our lives and has committed Himself to our spiritual growth. In fact, He has promised that the good work He started in us He is going to complete (Philippians 1:6). Therefore, we can have full confidence that with each passing week, month and year, we’re going to be transformed more and more into His image, until the day comes that we stand before Him in glory. This, my friend, is our hope, our strength, and our victory!

Are You Looking For God In All The Wrong Places?

Looking for God Most of us know the parable of the Prodigal Son that Jesus told in Luke chapter 11. The forgiving father symbolizes God, the younger son is a picture of the person who lives in open rebellion toward God, and the elder brother is a symbol of the self-righteous, in particular the Pharisees and teachers of the law of that day.

Originating from this parable, the term prodigal has in our culture come to characterize anyone who has ever acted out, be it through addiction, rebellion, or any number of other destructive behaviors, and who has surrendered ownership of his or her life to an external, controlling influence. And by the way, more of us fall into this category than are willing to realize it.

That being said, at a recent conference I attended here in Southern California, Christian counselor Chris Williams had a rather unique and interesting take on this familiar parable that I’d like to share with you in this post. “Like the prodigal, we all have a distant country we go to,” Williams said, “one where we seek life and love apart from the Giver of life and love.”

Williams talked about how we humans – even Christians – so often go searching for happiness outside of God’s presence, in places where it can’t be found. We look for it in drugs or alcohol, in love or sex addictions, gambling, materialism, or the wrong type of relationships. Or we turn to people pleasing, compulsive overeating, excessive television viewing, and a host of other unhealthy behaviors. But it is not until we, like the Prodigal Son, come to our senses and return back home to our Father where we belong, that we’re going to find true love and joy.

“The prodigal,” Williams continued, “returned to his father empty-hearted and empty-handed. This took honesty, trust and humility.” He took the right actions, and when he did, he was restored back to the fullness of life.

Williams then talked about the older brother… He, too, could have received love from his father, but he blocked that love with resentment. He thought the way to get his father to love him was to earn it. Unlike his brother, he had been responsible and dutiful, and he expected to be rewarded accordingly. Now he was upset that his younger sibling was the recipient of such undeserved favor.

Truth is, the older brother was living in bondage to his own pride and sense of entitlement. He didn’t understand or know the heart of his father. And because he wasn’t willing to humble himself and receive his father’s love as a free gift, he missed out.

“We all have both the younger and the older brother in us,” said Williams. We have parts of the rebel in us but also parts of the do-gooder who tries to earn brownie points with God. Of course, we know we didn’t earn our salvation, and mentally we also know there is nothing we can do to make God love us any more or any less. But in our hearts…that’s a different matter. We often act as if we believe God’s acceptance of us hinges of how well we perform in our Christian lives.

What is your distant country? Is it career? Achievement? Travel? Sports? Entertainment? Social media? You may not be struggling with an addiction or pursuing something that is sinful in itself, but any time you go looking for fulfillment outside of God’s presence, giving someone or something else precedence over Him in your life, I can promise you this: You are on the wrong path.

Whatever it is that has lured us away from the comfort of God’s embrace, the remedy is always the same: To realize that our Father still loves us; that He wants us to come home and stay home. “The addict who relapses,” said Williams, “needs to just keep coming home, over and over, as many times as it takes, until he stays there. This is what recovery is: You just keep coming home.”

The Prodigal Son expected judgement from his father but was met with nothing but compassion. It’s the same way with our heavenly Father: There is no shaming, blaming, or even explaining to be done. Our Father is always waiting, watching and hoping for us to come to our senses and come back home. In fact, just like the father in the parable, God isn’t just waiting, He is moving toward us, wanting to embrace us and celebrate our return.

The happiness we crave so much is not “out there” somewhere. No, it is right here, right now, right where we’re at. To lay hold of it, we simply need to open our hands and receive it. There is nothing our heavenly Father wants more than to show us how to live an abundant life at home, in His loving presence.

What Is The Abundant Life? (Probably Not What You Think)

Abundant LifeThe word “abundant” in the Greek is perisson, which means “exceedingly, very highly, beyond measure, more, superfluous, a quantity so abundant as to be considerably more than what one would expect or anticipate.” When Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10), He was saying, simply put, that He wants to give us a life far better than we could ever imagine.

So, what, then, does this abundant life consist of? Lots of free time, plenty of money in the bank, a large circle of influence, people who admire and respect you…the house, the car, the vacations…fun, excitement and adventure…?

Um, not exactly. Jesus wasn’t referring to material abundance, but spiritual abundance. Fact is that God isn’t near as concerned with the physical circumstances of our lives as He is about the condition of our hearts. We often pray for God to change our circumstances when the reality is that He wants to use our circumstances to change us.

God assures us that He will take care of us and meet our physical needs (Matthew 6:25-32), so that’s something we don’t need to worry about. He may or He may not have earthly wealth in His plans for us, and neither riches nor lack of material abundance is an indication of our standing with God. The Bible is full of examples both of godly people who were wealthy and godly people who were poor.

The abundant life Jesus spoke of is a life that is focused on what is eternal rather than what is temporal. You’re living the abundant life when Christ is at the center of everything you do – when you’re following His will, seeking Him in every decision, listening to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and dealing consistently with sin in your life. Then you are living as you are supposed to and you will experience God’s blessings as a result.

The abundant life is not one with an abundance of stuff, but with an abundance of love, joy, peace, and all the other fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). When you’re walking closely with God, you’re going to produce this fruit quite naturally. Our goal should always be to produce so much of it that spills over into the lives of others. Because that’s the whole point with spiritual fruit production – the point is for it to benefit other people.

As Christians, we are here to bless others with our lives. Jesus didn’t say, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your big paycheck and glorify your Father in heaven,” or “that they may hear about your accomplishments and glorify your Father in heaven.” He said “good works” – “that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

We are no longer to live for selfish pleasure, as we did before we were saved, but for the worship of God. He bought us and He owns us.

If we are experiencing lack of purpose or fulfillment, the reason is almost always that there is some area of our life that we are holding back from God.  Only when we offer our lives as living sacrifices to the One who gave His life for us, are we going to find satisfaction, happiness, joy, and inner peace. Often, we then also discover that the things we thought we needed so badly, we really don’t need at all, and that every plan and dream we’ve ever had for ourselves completely pales in comparison to what Jesus wants to give us.

“Now to Him who is able to do infinitely more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20)

How To Walk By Faith

 Not only are we saved by faith but we’re also instructed to walk by faith. What does this mean? Well, when Scripture tells us “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:6-7), it’s a metaphorical reference to how we are to conduct our lives. Mind you, it’s not telling us to make irrational decisions or blind leaps of faith but rather to focus on the unseen realities and live in light of eternal consequences. A person who walks by faith is going against his natural instincts, responding to what God has revealed to him through His Word and through the Holy Spirit, even though he hasn’t yet seen it with his eyes.

Rarely does God show us the entire road ahead all at once. He tends to guide us one step at a time because this is what builds trust and produces growth in us. God wired us to learn that way.

Each time the Holy Spirit prompts us to move in one direction or the other, we have the choice to either obey or disobey what He is showing us. Any time we respond to the light, we find more freedom. Any time we reject the light, we experience more bondage. For the obedient child of God, life is a journey of increasing spiritual insight. As Proverbs 4:18 tells us: “…the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day.”

Just take the first step that God is showing you. In due time He will show you the next. Then, as you obey Him again, He’ll show you the next…

If were having a hard time discerning God’s voice, it could be that we’re simply not spending enough time in His presence. It could also be that we’re holding on to some sin. Scripture tells us that,”If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18 ). We can’t expect the Holy Spirit to lead us and show us His will if we aren’t obeying what He has already revealed to us!

Consider the words of Oswald Chambers: “The golden rule for understanding spiritually is not intellect, but obedience. If a man wants scientific knowledge, intellectual curiosity is his guide; but if he wants insight into what Jesus Christ teaches, he can only get it by obedience. If things are dark to me, then I may be sure there is something I will not do. Intellectual darkness comes through ignorance; spiritual darkness comes because of something I do not intend to obey.”

God’s purpose by having us walk by faith is to help us know, trust, and love Him more. This, not only to benefit us in our own Christian walk, but so that we can also use our experiences to help others. Walking by faith is a way of life. It’s how we are to live each day, every day, until Christ returns or calls us home. Because, as Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”

When God called Abraham out on his pilgrimage, Abraham had no idea where he was going, other than to a foreign land inhabited by enemies. Yet his response was one of immediate obedience. And Noah…think about it… It wasn’t raining during the 100+ years he spent building the ark – in fact, he probably hadn’t seen rain his entire life as most scholars believe there was no rain prior to the flood. Yet, when God called him to embark on what must have seemed like a completely irrational and totally bizarre mission, he did not object, complain, or question God.

This is the kind of faith God wants us to have – an implicit, childlike, unwavering faith. And yet, isn’t it true that having faith in God’s promises is one of the things we, as Christians, struggle with the most? We want to be in control, we want to know what the future holds, we want answers and explanations. But more often than not, God chooses not to give them to us. Instead He says, “Just trust me, and you’ll see how I’ll come through for you.”

How about you, do you live each day by faith, or is everything in your life carefully planned out? Are you always trying to have everything under control, and does it make you frustrated, anxious, or stressed whenever you feel like you’re not on top of things? Are you always conservative in your choices? Or do you regularly take risks for the Kingdom of God?

If we had it our way, we’d always know what was around the corner and we’d be fully prepared for every challenge. But that’s not God’s way for His children. His way is one of surrender, trust and dependency. As the song goes, “Trust and obey, there’s no other way.”

Just take the first step.

 

 

How To Discover Your Calling

Discover Your CallingVery few of us ever think of pushing the ‘pause button’ on the treadmill of life and ask God whether we’re truly living our calling. Rather, it seems most of us simply expect Him to put His stamp of approval on whatever it is we’ve already decided to pursue.

Now, you may not have thought about it this way before… Leaving God out of our plans isn’t something that most of us do consciously. Nevertheless, if we go chasing after dreams that haven’t been surrendered to God, that is precisely what we’re doing.

I suspect that if you asked any given number of Christians how God led them into their current career, they would react with surprise because it’s something they’ve simply never considered. Instead of being led by the Lord, they were led by the prospects of wealth, recognition, self-realization, comfort, or security.

As Christians, we face the very real temptation of using our talents to serve ourselves and make ourselves look important rather than God. The child of God who’s artistically gifted is going to be tempted to use their talents to try to achieve fame and fortune instead of using them for God’s glory. The person with leadership skills faces the temptation of using their gifts to get applause from the world rather than to build God’s Kingdom. The Christian who’s a talented communicator will be tempted to use their skills to promote themselves and their own agenda instead of the purposes of God.

Tragically, when we fail to employ our gifts the way the Lord intended, we miss the entire purpose for which we were saved. Then, we are no different than the lost people of the world. Like them, we fail to honor the gift-Giver – even if it isn’t intentional.

So, how then, can you know you are actually hearing from God about His calling on your life? How can you know that it’s not just your ego talking?

Well, we need a clear spiritual vision in order to discern whether our dreams and goals truly are from God. Church once a week and a hurried quiet time in the morning isn’t going to do it. We’re not going to discover God’s will unless we go deep with Him.

You see, God doesn’t hide His will from those who truly want to know it. It’s not that He doesn’t speak to us – He speaks to us all the time. And He doesn’t speak with a forked tongue. His voice is never confusing or misleading. Problem is that everywhere we turn we are bombarded with competing messages about what’s important in life and what’s worth pursuing, and God’s voice is completely drowned out amidst all the noise. That’s why we don’t hear Him – or we think we hear Him when it’s really our flesh talking.

If we want to know His will, our minds need to be tuned in to the frequency of His voice. What I’m saying is that if we want to discover God’s calling on our life or some other specific of His will for us, we need to consciously place ourselves in settings where we’re going to be exposed to His Truth. 

Most of us don’t spend near enough time plugging into the channels through which God’s power flows – such as praying, meditating on Scripture, reading solid Christian books, listening to worship music, taking communion, sharing our faith, discipling new believers, serving in our churches and communities, and fellowshipping with others in the family of God. At the same time, we spend a disproportionate amount of our time entertaining ourselves with the things of the world – not necessarily sinful things, but things that have no impact on eternity…

And yet we wonder why our vision isn’t clear, why our plans are falling through, and how come we can’t seem to discover God’s will for our life.

In Romans 12:2 we are instructed to “not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” The verse continues, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” What this verse is telling us is that when we stop trying to fit into the world’s mold and instead let God use His Truth to change us on the inside, we will, as a result, be able to discern His will for us. When we are deliberate and consistent about tuning in to His voice this way, we are going to be able to hear Him loudly and clearly, and we’ll be a lot less likely to mistake the lies of the world and the flesh for the real thing.

Simply put: Spend less time in front of the TV and scrolling your phone. Spend more time in the Word, on your knees, and in the company of God’s people. That’s certainly not all there is to discovering your calling, but it’s a great place to start:) Start by going deeper – much deeper – with God. 

For more on this topic, please visit Your Calling.