Encouragement

I Will Rejoice in the Lord!

Last week, as I was getting ready for bed, I was grumbling! I was grumbling before the Lord and asking, “how long?” How long would we have to shelter in place? How long until there was a cure to Covid-19? How long until I could hug my friends? Or return to church? And as I grumbled, I heard God speak. Not in an audible voice. But in a whisper. Yes, I heard the Holy Spirit whisper, read Habakkuk. Habakkuk? Yes, Habakkuk! And with that, I knew it had to be the Holy Spirit, and not a bad burrito, as I had never been prompted to read Habakkuk before. Nor was it a book, I’d turn to when I needed a little hope and perspective. So in obedience to the Lord, I opened my Bible to Habakkuk and started to read.

As I turned to Habakkuk, these words immediately jumped off the page, “Habakkuk’s Complaint”! Ha ha, God! You got me. Then after a good laugh, I was gripped by these words from the prophet in the second verse of chapter one, “How long, Lord, must I call for help”! Wow, I immediately identified with Habakkuk’s agonizing cry to the Lord. Like us, the people of Judah were facing a crisis. And while their crisis was different than ours, Habakkuk was asking similar questions.

Then I read God’s response to Habakkuk, when He says, “Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. For I am doing something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told (1:5).” My heart leaped with joy, as I am sure it did for Habakkuk. I began to imagine what our city, our nation and our world might look like as God’s plan began to unfold. And I found hope. Yes, God was going to do something, but then to my surprise, and I am sure Habakkuk’s as well, I read how God was going to accomplish His plan for His people. And it wasn’t quite what I expected. And I am sure it wasn’t what Habakkuk expected either. Then for the rest of the book, I was invited to listen in on a conversation between God and Habakkuk, as Habakkuk comes to terms with God’s plan and purposes.

Finally, at the end of the conversation, Habakkuk exclaims, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior (3:17,18).” How is Habakkuk able to move from pain to this place of peace and confidence? Well it was a journey! And since that night I have been studying and meditating on this book, and here is what I have come to remember along my journey….

First, even when all outward evidence points to the contrary, the church is called to trust in the Lord. This trust is based not on what we see, but on who God is—the Lord Almighty (2:13). And the Lord Almighty calls all people, from every tribe and nation, to place their trust in Him, for “the righteous shall live by his faith” (2:4). While at times God may seem silent, He always has a plan and is at work in unseen ways. The example of Habakkuk encourages believers to wait on the Lord, expecting that He will indeed work out all things for our good (Romans 8:28). Although God’s plan was not clear to Habakkuk, he had learned to trust God and lived by faith.

Secondly, the book affirms that God is a sovereign, omnipotent God who has all things under control. We just need to be still and know He is at work. He is who He says He is and does keep His promises. Even when we cannot see it, He is still on the throne of the universe. And when we rest in that fact, we can like Habakkuk, declare that: “The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights” (3:19).

​​God’s ways are not our ways, yet He can be trusted. Even when things seem chaotic, God is still in control. God wants what’s best for us even when it’s hard to understand. And understanding how God works is not my job, but trusting Him is. So in my grumbling, I have rediscovered that peace and joy don’t come from my circumstances, but from the Lord Almighty. My timing, is just that, my timing. But God’s timing is perfect! So while I may grumbling, God is using COVID 19 to accomplish His plan and purposes in our world, and I do believe God is saying, “Look at the nations and watch – and be utterly amazed. For I am doing something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told (1:5).”

Lesson learned. Now God, can I go out and play? 😊

Who Do You Listen To?

Back in December, Jennifer and I were discussing following the example of our new Senior Co-Campus Pastor James Powell and his wife Brittany and coming up with a word for 2020 that we felt best described the year ahead and what we believed God was going to do in us and through us! I felt impressed to use the word “breakthrough” and Jen wanted the word “new normal”! First, I reminded Jen, that “new normal” was two words and that we needed to pick one. Then, I asked her what that meant to her.

As she shared about the significance of the words “new normal” to her, she talked about how 2020 was going to be different year for us as we prepare to launch Zach into the world and became empty-nesters! Yes, we haven’t shared this publicly much, but Zach graduates Rocklin High School this year and has plans to go to Bodenseehof Bible College in Germany this fall! So yes, 2020 was going to be a new normal for us. I understood her, but still argued that “new normal” was two words. We agreed to disagree, and she choose “new normal” and I choose “breakthrough”.

Well, welcome to the year of the “new normal”! In the first three months of 2020, we have had the threat of war, an impeachment trial and now are sheltered in place for the next 30 days! Yes, Jen had it right!

And as we experience this “new normal,” there are so many differing voices out there on how to respond to what is happening in our world right now. On any given day you get a barrage of information from social media, politicians, the medical community, and the media. Not to mention the lies of the enemy, who is throwing things at us to evoke fear and anxiety!

So who do we listen to in times like these? Well as I was considering this, I recalled a moment in my life, over seven years ago, when we first moved to Roseville! We had just bought a new Honda Accord in Orange County before moving to the area, and the dealership had called me to let me know that my car was due for service. I thanked them for calling, mentioned that I had moved and told them I would contact my local Honda dealer for service. However, when I called the local dealer, they told me that my car didn’t need to be brought in for another 3,500 miles, as my car had synthetic oil.

Perplexed, I told Jennifer about the differing view points and asked her who I should listen to. And in all of her wisdom, she reminded me of that little booklet that sits in the glove box of the car, and suggested that I read it, because she thought it might have the answer to my question, directly from the manufacturer of the car! Again, Jen had it right!

Aren’t we just like that in times of uncertainty? We run to Google, we call a friend, we read articles, we research, we listen to podcasts, when instead we need to turn to our owners manual, the Bible! God has given us His Word to be our anchor, to be our guide, to be our blueprint for living! But, like I did with the Honda, we listen to the other voices, instead of the voice of the One who made us and promises to be with us!

This is what God tells us in Hebrews 6:17-20, Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 2where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

In considering this text, I believe that there are three things that God wants to remind us in this season…

First, God’s nature is unchanging! God is still on the throne! Hebrews 13:8 tells us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. He is the alpha and the omega! He hasn’t changed. And even though our circumstances have changed, His character and nature have not! He is still ALL knowing! ALL powerful! He is the ALWAYS present one!

God loves you! He is near. He is for you! Why is this important to understand? Because as Daniel 11:32 tell us, those who know their God will display strength will display strength and take action. Do you want to display strength and take action? Then spend time learning and getting to know Him! Read your Bible! Invest time hearing it, reading it, studying it, memorizing and meditating on it! It is our source of strength. It is our blueprint for living!

Second, it is impossible for God to lie! This means His promises are true! As Hebrews 6 tells us, He has promised and confirmed it with an oath! Not only is God our way maker, but he is our promise keeper! Throughout the Bible there are so many stories of God’s faithfulness. He’s always keeps His promises in His timing. Remember that the same God in the stories of the Bible, is the same one who is right there with you. He’ll do the same for you every time.

Can I be honest with you for a minute? I have a grid by which a person’s promises go through depending on who promises it! If my teenage son promises to do something for me, I believe he will do it about 85% of the time. However, if my wife promises me something, I trust her about 100% of the time. And then there are others I say, “I am not going to hold my breath on that!” But as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 1:20, For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. God’s promises are our HOPE! Let’s claim them, because God is not a liar!

Finally, our hope is secure, because Jesus has gone before us! This is what the text says, We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. Jesus is our forerunner, who has gone before us, and made a way to know and be with God for all eternity! And as our forerunner, our future is secure and guaranteed. Jesus has gone ahead to we can anchor in the fact that He is unchanging, His promises are sure, and therefore we can stand firm and secure because he has gone before us!

You see the writer of Hebrews was writing to new Hebrew believers who wanted to go back to some stinking thinking. Back to the old ways of doing things – under the law. There were some other voices they were listening to. And the writer of Hebrews is saying, Jesus is greater than the high priests, the angels, the law! And because Jesus is greater, our hope is firm and secure!

So who do I listen to? I choose to listen to Jesus!

Why? Because, we have a certain God! We know the end of the story!

Let’s hold onto that HOPE!

We Live By Faith, Not By Sight

I’ve been prayerfully thinking through how to respond to the recent outbreak of COVID-19 around the world. I have gotten questions about upcoming missions trips our church is planning, as well as personal questions surrounding my son’s plans to go to Bible College in Germany this fall. And it’s got me thinking, how do people of faith respond in times like this?

I don’t want to minimize the risk, nor do I want to incite fear. And in being wise, I have heeded the warnings and followed the advise of our medical community. But beyond that, what are we to do?

Well here are three things I believe the Scriptures tell us what to do in times like this:

Pause

Romans 10:17 states that, “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” If we want to be people who move beyond panic to peace, we need to be in God’s Word! It’s the single most important thing we can do each day…to pause from the cares of this world to be with God. To let God speak to us, and assure us of His promises.

You see, as we are in God’s Word, our faith muscles grow, and we move beyond the fear to the “the assurance of things hoped for, and the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). So before reading the headlines, or scrolling through your Facebook feed, make sure you are taking in God’s Word and seeing the world through the lens of His eternal truths. It will definitely change your perspective.

Pray

Did you know that it takes the same amount of energy to worry as to pray? One leads to peace, the other to panic. So we need to choose wisely. Scripture tells us to pray about everything. In fact, Philippians 4:6, 7 instructs us to, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Worry is common to man. But God has called us to face troubles and threats with courage, leaning our weight on Him. So let’s be people who pray! Let’s pray for God’s healing hand upon our land. Let’s pray for our medical community. Let’s pray for our leaders. Let’s pray for our families, our churches and our community. And let’s pray that we in the midst of everything, we would be people of faith, who love others well.

Proclaim

Right now, we have a world in need of some hope. And it’s in times like these, that I am reminded that the church needs to advance, not retreat. So let’s share the hope that we have found in Christ. Let’s remind our brothers and sisters, of an eternal God, who loves us, assures us of His promises and who has made a way for us to spend all of eternity with Him.

Yes, we need to be cautious, but let’s also remember that in times like these, the world needs people who are strengthened by God’s Word, who are marked by prayer and who offer His message of hope to others.

Lessons from Job (the person)

This year I’ve decided to make it my ambition to read through the Bible, following the Chronological Bible reading plan. I’ve spent much of this month reading through the books of Genesis and Job. The book of Job has always been one of those books in the Bible that has stumped me, as I have sought to make sense of its purpose in the scheme of the other Old Testament literature.

If you don’t know the story of Job, it’s the story of a man who is beset by misfortune and suffering. Yet James 5:11 mentions Job as a man worthy of consideration as an outstanding example of steadfast faith in the midst of suffering, as James writes, “You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”

In setting the scene for the book, it is clear that Job was truly blessed by God. And it’s God’s favor upon Job, that becomes the reason for Satan’s interest in testing Job. As Satan thought that Job’s obedience to God was only in direct proportion to his blessings from God. But in the end, Job passes the test and acknowledges God’s sovereignty; thereby, destroying Satan’s suspicion that he only feared God because of God’s blessing. And along the way, we learn some things about how to respond to trials:

Lesson # 1 – God is in Charge!

While Satan is allowed to test Job, I’m comforted in the fact that Satan’s actions are limited by God’s sovereign control. In Job, we see that each time Satan approaches God for permission to test Job, God limits the extent of Satan’s tests, even mentioning that Satan could not put his hand on Job, nor take his life. The good news here, is that the devil does not “sneak up” on us, while God’s back is turned. God’s back is never turned. His eyes are always upon us. And nothing happens to us that God has not permitted or allowed. Therefore, when we are struck with personal tragedy or persecuted for obedience, we can be sure that God is large and in charge.

Lesson # 2 – Keep Trusting God! 

Job was in despair. His whole life had been turned upside down. He not only loses his wealth, but he also loses his loved ones in a series of tragedies. Then suddenly his health is gone too. As a result, Job is deeply frustrated because he cannot make sense out of his trials. Yet in the depths of perplexity and despair, he makes one of the most profound declarations of faith in Job 13:15, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”.

One of the things Satan never understood about Job was his motive. Satan thought Job only served God because it was to his advantage here and now. And Satan was convinced that if God removed blessings and protection, Job would curse and revile Him. But that was not true. Job loved God and served Him out of sincere devotion. He trusted God even when he was feeling abandoned. There is a lesson of steadfast trust, which is one of the most important aspects of character we can gain from any trial.

Though Job could not begin to understand why all of these things were happening to him, he kept trusting God. He did not react, as Satan had predicted, by cursing God. Yea, he certainly went on a rant, but Job like told his wife in Job 2:10, Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”.

Lesson # 3 – God has a purpose!

James 1:2 states it this way, Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Through this trail, Job came to really know God deeply, not simply to know about Him. And Job became a far more humble and compassionate man, even coming to the point of wanting to pray for his friends, instead of cursing them. Whatever the trial or test, there is purpose that God has in mind to make us more conformed to His image and likeness. Our trials can make us bitter or they can make us better! And for Job, he chose the latter.

While Job isn’t one of those warm and fuzzy books in the Bible, I always walk away with a more profound understanding of God’s sovereignty and my responsibility to trust God even when I don’t quite understand. My hope is for all of us, is that whatever we are going through, that we can declare like Job, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).

Soar

This past fall my Men’s Bible Study did a study entitled, Be Strong. It was a great study, unpacking the resources God has put at our disposal in order for us as Christ followers to Be Strong.

In preparing for this series, I wanted to hit on some of the verses where God encourages his people to be strong in the Lord. But specifically, I wanted to unpack Isaiah 40:28-31, as I know that there are times where we are completely exhausted, or in need of hope and we need to remember the promise of Isaiah 40:31,  so we don’t lose heart and give up.

Isaiah 40 marks the beginning of a new section in the book of Isaiah. It is the first chapter which looks beyond the captivity of Israel to the brightness of the future God has in store for the nation of Israel. The Israelite’s are waiting for the Lord to fulfill His promise of deliverance. They longed for, and looked forward with hope the completion of His covenant. And in the midst of this anticipated hope, God instructs them to wait upon Him. To believe His Word; to stand upon His promise; to hope in His faithfulness. and to expect good things from His hand.

We all get tired. We all get weary at times. But I am especially comforted by the fact that Isaiah says that even even young men, athletes and soldiers, grow weary and become fatigued. There is a limit to all human endurance. That even the strength, stamina and agility normally associated with youth even proves insufficient. Exhaustion causes them to stumble and in weariness they fall. Even the strongest can only go so far.

But in our weariness, the promise is that we can  soar on wings like eagles. In other words, we can rise effortlessly. If you have watched any film footage of eagles, you know they soar with the greatest of ease. Those who study them, tell us they are masters of wind currents. Eagles do not rise to dizzying heights by constantly flapping their wings. It is not an feat of endurance. Instead they perform this act by depending on a source other than themselves. They ride the wind. They catch the currents. They use thermals.

For eagles, distance or duration is not a problem. Like the Energizer Bunny they go on and on and on and on and on. And this the difference between relying on our own efforts and trusting in the Lord’s strength. The point of this chapter is to encourage us to trust in and count on the strength of God, the power of the Creator, the joy of the Lord.

In the text we are asked, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?” (40:21, 28). These are rhetorical questions aimed at reminding us of the things we have always known about God. He is the all-powerful Creator; He raises and dethrones world rulers; He knows all about every one of us. He knows everything we face. And He cares! As it says in the text, God will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. (Is. 40:28-29).

The choice is ours. We can flap or we can soar.

Maybe you need these promising words today. You have run the gamut. Your strength is gone or nearly gone. You are stumbling, or maybe you have even fallen. If that’s the case, here’s the instruction. Wait on the Lord. Trust Him. Reach out to Him. Believe. He will renew your strength.

The Danger of Comparison

We do it everyday. Consciously or unconsciously, we size one another up. We measure others by their looks, the type of car they drive, where they live, and by the type of job they have. We use comparison like a measuring stick, assessing our own worthiness based on how many friends we have on Facebook and how many likes we have for our posts on Twitter and Instagram. But the sin of comparison is robbing us of our joy and contentment.

The problem with comparisons is that they lead us to make judgments – toward ourselves and toward others. And comparison also causes us to show partiality toward others or ourselves.

As human beings, we often use conscious or unconscious measuring sticks to try and rank others. But the problem with that is that we are all created in God’s image and likeness. Therefore there are no “better people” or “worse people” – there are only people created in the image and likeness of God.

Comparisons get us into trouble for at least two reasons:

1. They can make us feel better than the person we are comparing ourselves to, leading to pride. Remember the man who thanked God that he wasn’t a sinner? The enemy of our souls loves it when we struggle with pride. After all, it was his downfall.

2. They can make us feel worse than the person we are comparing ourselves to, leading to low self-esteem, which still keeps our focus on ourselves. Although it says in James that God is not a respecter of persons, we do not believe this if we believe God is withholding something from us that is rightfully ours.

In other words, when we compare, we’re essentially telling God that what He created wasn’t good enough. And we miss the opportunity to see the beauty of God in ourselves and in others.

The Bible says satisfaction comes from doing your best, not comparing yourself to others: “Let everyone be sure to do his very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work done well and won’t need to compare himself with someone else” (Galatians 6:4 LB).  In other words, you can’t focus on your purpose and find contentment while looking at other people.

So here are four ways to stop comparing yourself to others and rediscover your joy and find contentment:

1. Remember that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. 

Psalm 139:14, the psalmist tells us that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” In other words, you are God’s unique creation. If you ever consider yourself unremarkable or even ordinary, you’re not seeing yourself God see you. But when we discover the truth that we are God’s unique design, it is overwhelming and empowering. So when you begin to feel inadequate and feel the temptation to compare, quietly whisper a prayer of thanks to God for making you the way you are.

2. Realize we all have different strengths and weaknesses. 

The reality is that there will always be someone thinner, richer, and better looking than us! No matter how hard we try, someone will always be better at something than we are. So when we start feeling the need to compare, we must recognize our opportunity to practice humility and recognize the beauty of God in His creation. This past week, at a Night of Prayer for our church, the different gifting and talents of our church staff struck me. And I thought about how each of those staff members’ gifts and talents are needed for the church to function well. God in his sovereignty has given us each a set of gifts and talents to accomplish His kingdom purpose.

3. Choose compliments over comparison. 

Instead of being people that compare ourselves to each other, we need to be people who champion each other. So whenever you find yourself comparing yourself to another, why not go right up to that person and compliment them about the very thing you are comparing yourself with. Jealous of someone’s great hair, his or her nice car or beautiful home? Tell them how beautiful you find those things! Instead of comparing your accomplishments to the accomplishments of a coworker, why not send a note congratulating them on their achievement? When we turn our comparisons into opportunities to champion each other, the devil loses and God is glorified.

4. Rely on God’s opinion rather than the opinion of others. 

Truth be known, it’s often our own insecurity that causes us to compare ourselves with others. But what if you and I relied on God’s opinion of us, before we had a chance to listen to our own, or another’s opinion of us? Not only are you and I fearfully and wonderfully made, but Scripture also reminds that those in Christ are loved, forgiven, accepted and complete. That means we must use God’s measuring stick, not our own or that of others to live by.

So when it comes to comparison trap, God asks one thing of you: Be who He created to be!

24 Lessons on Marriage

Today my wife Jennifer and I celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary. That’s 757,382,400 seconds, 12,623,040 minutes, 210,384 hours, 1,252 weeks or 8,766 days of being married to my best friend!

I remember, Saturday, May 15, 1993 like it was yesterday! I remember my groomsmen gathering at Lyon’s for breakfast! I remember my eyes tearing up as my beautiful bride Jennifer walked down the isle. I remember stopping by Kaiser in Vallejo to get a prescription for birth control, before we hopped on a plane for Hawaii the next day. I remember watching the sunset as we ate our first meal as husband and wife at the Moss Beach Distillery. It was the beginning of a spectacular journey that has almost spanned a quarter of a century.

We had no idea what the future held for us on that day. But we said we would love and cherish each other for richer and poorer, in good times and bad; and we knew that as long as we had God and each other, we would have enough. And through all of life’s surprises and challenges, its hard fought lessons and its moments of sweetness, we have stayed true to each other and our vows by God’s grace.

So to honor our many years together, here are 24 lessons I’ve found most valuable in our marriage:

  1. Marriage takes work. You can’t just cruise into idle after the wedding date. Each season, with its challenges and opportunities, is an opportunity to trust God, grow in His likeness and cling to each other.
  2. God is the only One who can fulfill us at every level. It’s unfair to expect my spouse to be my all-in-all. Therefore, it’s important to surround ourselves with other friends, who will encourage us on the journey.
  3. You cannot change each other. And you cannot change yourself either. God is the One who changes and transforms us.
  4. My spouse is my most important ministry. Period.
  5. Love is an action, not an emotion. The greatest and most challenging definition of marital love is found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-6: Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
  6. Play together. Participating in an activity or hobby together will bring you closer together. Over the years Jen and I have taken country western dance lessons, played golf together, and watched many of a San Francisco Giants game together! These moments are priceless.
  7. It’s about the simple things. Over the years, some of the best times Jen and I have had are when we simply took a walk on the beach, watched a movie on Netflix, or did the dishes together.
  8. Opposites attract. Remember all those things you loved about your spouse when you were dating? Well those are same things that drive us crazy when we’re married. We simply get attracted to the opposite of us. And I believe it is part of God’s design.
  9. Listen to your wife. Don’t offer advice! Be empathetic and meet emotion with emotion. As it says in Romans 12:15, “rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn.”
  10. Pray together. Nothing has brought Jennifer and I closer together than praying to God together! We are the closest, when we pursue God together.
  11. Non-sexual touches lead to great intimacy in the bedroom. Perhaps that is too much information here, but it took me awhile to learn this lesson. Men are like microwaves. Women are like crockpots. Understanding each others need in this area will go a long way.
  12. Date your mate. For Jennifer and I, much of our time on date nights are talking about our kid, but it’s important to spend time dating. Do the things you enjoy, without the kids.
  13. Take family vacations. These create treasured memories for your kids. Every year for the last 24 years, minus a year or two, we have taken an annual camping trip to Plumas Eureka State Park! And every year, we spend some time on one of the hikes, recalling God’s faithfulness to our family. The place holds treasured memories for our family. And in doing this each year we’ve created family traditions.
  14. Capture memories! I am the photographer in the family, and over the last 24 years I’ve captured over 25,000 pictures of our family. That’s almost 1,000 per year. But it’s so fun to look back on all the fun we’ve had as a family. In addition, Jennifer has placed pictures in our house in strategic places to remind us of God’s faithfulness to our family.
  15. Children change everything. Adjusting to parenthood is hard but rewarding. And just when you think you’ve figured it out, you enter into a new phase of parenting, which keeps you humble and dependent on Jesus!
  16. Marriage thrives best in community. Being a part of a married small group over the years has brought us great blessing. In fact, it was the prayers of our small group that God honored by giving us the biggest blessing of all, our son Zach, after years of struggling with infertility.
  17. Marriage is not a 50%-50% give and take. It is 100%-100%. The love that we’re supposed to show our spouse every day is unconditional, sacrificial love. This is what Paul states in Ephesians 5:1-2, “be imitators…and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
  18. A good marriage takes two good forgivers. It’s important to keep short accounts in marriage and resolve conflict in a productive way that leads to greater intimacy.
  19. Speak words of life. Intimacy is about being fully known and loved. Therefore, we need to learn to express our needs, wants and desires, in order to allow our spouse to understand and respond. Your spouse also needs to hear words of encouragement. They need to know that you appreciate them.
  20. Love your spouse according to their love language. I learned this one early on in our marriage. I was doing all these things around the house to show Jennifer I loved her. Then one day, she called me out, stating I was doing all those things for me. That was the last time I ever did anything around the house and she regrets ever saying that. Seriously, there are 5 Love Languages: 1) time; 2) gifts; 3) service; 4) touch; and 5) words of affirmation. Jennifer’s love language is time! And it’s not quality time; it’s lots of time.
  21. Don’t have a television in your bedroom. This came as advice from the pastor who did our pre-marital counseling. We’ve honored it since; and we’re so glad we did.
  22. Keep a budget. The most important step to achieving financial success in your marriage is to make a budget. Put simply, a budget allows you to tell your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.
  23. Turn off your phone. The simple act of turning off your phone can go a long way toward growing closer. Just put it down & concentrate on being together.
  24. Take time to laugh. Most couples spend the majority of their time talking logistics: who’s doing the grocery shopping, which one is calling the repairman, who’s picking up the kids. A relationship is more than logistics, so have a pillow fight instead!

20 Things I Learned from My Mom

In honor of my mom this Mother’s Day, I wanted to share some of the life lessons I learned from her, either by her words or by her example…

  1. Believe in yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to.
  2. Don’t expect things to be handed to you. Work for them.
  3. Don’t give up. When you encounter roadblocks or hurdles, figure it out and move on.
  4. Keep your commitments. If you say you’re going to do something – do it.
  5. As long as you try your best in everything you do, you’ll never fail.
  6. Be respectful to those around you.
  7. Education is worth pursuing. Plan and save for it.
  8. Work smarter, not harder. Do it right the first time.
  9. Spring cleaning is good. Don’t hang onto junk, throw it out.
  10. Age is a state of mind.
  11. Be responsible with your money. It doesn’t grow on trees. (Okay, maybe I heard that one from my dad!)
  12. Getting organized will help you get the important things done.
  13. Prioritize vacations. Work hard. Play hard.
  14. Try new things. Life should be full of experiences.
  15. It’s important to remember special days in people’s lives.
  16. Be dependable.
  17. Honor family traditions. They’re fun and create memories.
  18. Always send thank you cards!
  19. Take care of the things that matter most.
  20. Stand your ground. Sometimes it’s okay to go out and play, even though you didn’t eat your liver!”😀

Happy Mother’s Day Mom! Thanks for who you are, all you do and everything you’ve taught me. I love you!

Live. Love. Thrive.

We were never intended to live our lives apart from God. In fact, it’s impossible to try to live the Christian life apart from Him. God has not called us into a relationship with Himself, only to leave us alone to find our way through the maze of life. Prior to His departure, Jesus promised a Counselor who would guide us into truth and act as our guide and companion. The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, not only empowers us to become like Jesus, but he also fills us with a supernatural ability to do great things for God.

In West Texas there is a famous oil field known as the Yates Pool. During the Depression, this field was a sheep ranch, owned by a man named Yates. Not able to make enough money on his ranching operation, Mr. Yates was in danger of losing his ranch. With little money for clothes or food, his family, like many others, had to live on government subsidy.

Then one day, a seismographic crew came into the area and told Mr. Yates that they thought that there might be oil on his land. They asked permission to drill a wildcat well, and he signed a lease contract. At 1,115 feet the well struck a huge oil reserve. The first well came in at 80,000 barrels a day. 50 years later, a government test showed that one of the wells still had the potential to produce 125,000 barrels of oil a day.

And to think Mr. Yates owned it all! The day he purchased the land, he received the oil and mineral rights. Yet, he was living on government subsidy. A multi-millionaire, living in poverty! The problem? He did not know the oil was there. He owned it all, but did not possess any of it.

I know of no better illustration of the Holy Spirit than this. As Christians, the moment we receive Christ, we are indwelt (I Corinthians 3:16) and sealed (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30) with the Holy Spirit, and as such we have direct access to God’s unlimited power source for strength and victory. But, like Mr. Yates, most Christians continue to live in self-imposed spiritual poverty, because they do not know how to appropriate the power of the Holy Spirit, which is already theirs in Christ.

Such was the experience of Peter, who apart from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, denied Christ three times, but who later under the power of the Spirit, proclaimed Christ boldly. Of course, we know that the Spirit had not yet been given when Peter denied Christ, but clearly Peter’s story shows us the difference the person and work the Holy Spirit can make in our lives. Not many sermons or talks are devoted to the work of the Spirit, but it’s important to understand the Spirit’s work in our lives, so we can experience the promise Jesus made to his followers in Acts 1:8 when we said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In looking at the biblical data concerning the person and work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit’s roles are numerous. He assures us of our salvation (Romans 8:16); He baptizes us (Acts 1:4,5; 1 Corinthians 12:13); He convicts the world in regards to sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8); He directs us (John 16:13); He empowers us (Acts 1:8); He fills us (Ephesians 5:18); He guarantees our inheritance (Ephesians 1:14); He helps us (John 14:16,17); He indwells us (I Corinthians 3:16); He regenerates us (John 3:5); He seals us (Ephesians 1:13; 4:30); and He teaches us (John 14:26). The regenerating, indwelling, baptism and sealing by the Holy Spirit take place at the moment of salvation. However, the assuring, directing, filling and teaching aspects are ongoing ministries of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life.

Because the Holy Spirit is the source of the overflowing life (John 7:37-39), we must live in dependence upon Him, walking moment by moment in His strength and not our own. This is why Paul, in Ephesians 5:18, exhorts us to “be filled with the Spirit.” To be filled with the Spirit, means to be controlled and empowered by the Spirit, and the imperative is in the continuous progressive tense, suggesting that one must “continually be being filled.” By appropriating the fullness of the Spirit by faith, one is not only empowered to be Christ’s witness, but also empowered to live life to its fullest (John 10:10).

So, how do you know if you are walking according the Spirit? Check the fruit! As it says in Galatians 5:19-23, The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” If you want your life to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, the solution is simple, walk according to the Spirit. As Romans 8:5 tells us, Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit, have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

If you have been living in spiritual defeat, wondering if there is any validity to the Christian life, there is hope for you! The same power that was available to Christ is also available to you in the person of the Holy Spirit! And Jesus’ promise to us is this, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).

Remember, if you are in Christ, you do not have to ask the Holy Spirit to come into your life, because He is already indwelling you. But to be filled, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, you simply yield to Him and ask for His fullness and power. It’s the difference of a glass of milk with a bunch of chocolate sitting at the bottom of the glass, and a glass of milk with the chocolate stirred up, so that it looks and tastes like chocolate milk. Both glasses have the same amount of chocolate in them, but one looks no different than a regular glass of milk, while the other is taking on the characteristics of its indwelling force. In the same way, as Christians, we need to allow God to stir us up (fill us), so that others see Christ in us, the hope of glory.

So here’s the point. When we live in the power of the Holy Spirit, the evidence of the Spirit’s work is supernatural. The church can’t help but be different. And the world can’t help but notice.

Post written as a contributor for Principles to Live By

Flourish in Relationship

relationshipsGod made us to flourish! And as God’s created handiwork, we are made to flourish with him and with others in relationship. Therefore, in order to become God’s best version of ourselves, we need to be connected with others, specifically seeking to build and cling to these four important relationships in our lives:

God…

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” In this passage, Jesus tells us that there is no other relationship of greater importance; there is no aspect of life any more important, than to know and to be in relationship with God. A healthy relationship with the Creator and a willingness to allow God’s Word to guide our actions, activities, and govern how we act towards others will allow us to experience the promise of this verse.

In my life, none of my other relationships work well if my relationship with God is out of whack. I can tell when I have neglected time with Jesus, as I get weary, become less patient and less present with others. And sadly this state of mind rubs off into my relationships with my wife, my son and with those I work with. But as I seek first God’s kingdom, and prioritize my relationship with Him, everything goes much better, as I experience His presence and power!

Friends…

Everybody needs a few close friends they can laugh with, cry with, have fun with, or do life with. And there is such power in connectedness. Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 tells us that, “Two people are better than one, because they get more done by working together. If one falls down, the other can help him up. But it is bad for the person who is alone and falls, because no one is there to help.”

Zig Ziglar used to tell a story about how Belgian horses are trained to work together—and how it made these incredible animals so much more effective. Belgian horses are huge, powerful animals. In fact, one Belgian can pull more than 8,000 pounds. That’s one strong horse! But the amazing thing is that if you put two Belgian horses together, who are strangers, they don’t just double the amount they can pull; they actually triple it to 24,000 pounds. And if you spend some time training them to work together, that unified pair can pull a whopping 32,000 pounds. That’s four times what a single horse can do alone!

That story reminds me that connections are powerful. And just as Solomon reminds us, people need healthy relationships to win at life, too.

Wise Counselors…

Life can present us with challenges and decisions that are not easy to make on our own. We may pray about the situation and read God’s Word for guidance, but could still feel confused and uncertain about the direction we should take. It’s in these times, that it can be helpful to seek the counsel of other wise and godly people.

I believe that everyone needs a mentor in his or her life. To cultivate a relationship with those who have already been where we are or who are a little further along on the journey. A wise counselor is someone in which you can bounce ideas off of, gain wisdom and get perspective from.

Proverbs 15:22 states, “Plans fail without good advice, but they succeed with the advice of many others.” Seeking wise counsel is a sign of maturity and humility and some of the most successful people in life have surrounded themselves with wise counselors.

As a pastor, I have come into contact with many great Christian leaders like Bill Hybels, Phil Vischer, Dave Ramsey, and Rick Warren, and what strikes me about their leadership is that they are always asking questions. In my conversations with these men, they don’t seek to impart with me their wisdom; they seek wisdom by asking lots of questions. And I believe it’s this humility and perspective on life that God blesses.

A Close Confidant…

Finally, I believe we all need a trusted friend who you not only enjoy being with, but who speaks truth into your life and with whom you feel safe enough to be real.

Jesus called twelve guys to do life with him, but within his circle of twelve, he had an inner circle of three comprised of Peter, James, and John. These were his closest friends and confidants. And in following Jesus’ example, we need to circle ourselves with a few people that truly know our story, our struggles, our insecurities and our fears.

It’s these types of friendships that shape who we become and truly affect where we go! Having these sorts of relationships will not only help us run the race that God has called us to, but will also help us to experience joy and encouragement along the way.

Yes, life is all about relationships! So get connected, start taking some risks to be vulnerable and get connected by pursuing these relationships in your life. Until next time…

Post written as a contributor for Principles to Live By

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