Hawaii Praise

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Ephesians 3:20 (NIRV) – “God is able to do far more than we could ever ask for or imagine. He does everything by his power that is working in us.”

My buddy Dan just sent a photo of his vacation in Hawaii. He’s standing atop a green peak, in a tank-top, shorts and shades, yelling at the powder blue sky. In the background, I see a green expanse of flatland far below. The crystal blue ocean pans out to the left. Dan’s about to get married in August, so he took this time to spend a few days with a military buddy, in the beautiful Hawaiian atmosphere.

As I study the picture, I’m genuinely happy for my young friend. As a young engineer, he’s worked extremely hard and avoided some of life’s more precarious pitfalls. He deserves a vacation every once in awhile. Why not Hawaii?

I was just finishing up reading Ephesians chapter 3 (during my lunch break in cubetown), when the photo came through on my cell phone. A wide grin stretched across my face, as I texted him back, “YES!!!”.

Then I thought, “Man, I will never be able to do something like that, in my lifetime.”

I was immediately convicted by those condemning words. What do I really believe about God and his omnipotent power? What did I just finish reading? If I truly believe the Spirit of God dwells within me, why would I ever doubt his ability to take my family farther than we could possibly imagine?

If it is within his plan for my life, the Lord can do anything, take me anywhere and affect change through anyone, using me as one of his many instruments. That’s what the apostle Paul was teaching the Ephesians. We tend to think in the 3 dimensional realm of our current circumstances at any given moment. Those circumstances often dictate what the outcome will look like. But how many of us know that God is not–nor will he ever be–confined by 3 dimensions?  His dimensional scope defies physics, economics, logic(s) and any other “ics” we can come up with.

Dan, I’m gonna need you to mark that spot on the hilltop. Someday, I’ll make it there, if the Lord is willing to have me go do his work in Hawaii. When the camera snaps, my voice will be lifted high in praise to God, for making the seemingly impossible miraculously possible.

Everyone’s Got Their Thing

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An acquaintance has a gambling problem. Another can’t get enough of strip clubs. A friend attends church regularly, but can’t stop posting half-naked selfies. Another just can’t seem to climb out of the debt hole. Still, another friend drinks too much, while yet another is secretly addicted to pornography.

By the way…I’m included in one of those categories, just so you know.

What do we all have in common, besides being failures in some personal area of life? We’re all human. But, you know what? Despite our humanity, Jesus meets us right where we are; in our most vulnerable states.

In the book of Matthew, chapter 9:10-13, we see Jesus hanging out with tax collectors and “sinners” at Matthew’s house. Now, if you want to imagine that in terms of today’s society (particularly urban society), think about it like this: Jesus went to the hood Bar-B-Que to eat with the dope boys and the turn-ups. When the uppity suburbanites hear of this party, they immediately check Jesus’ crew.

“Hey! Why in the world is he hanging out with those thugs and degenerates?”

The bible says, upon hearing this, Jesus replied, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“What in the world is that supposed to mean?” asks the snooties.

And therein lies the problem. Most unbelieving people can’t understand the gospel or show respect for Jesus because they don’t even see their own need to have him in their lives.

Thankfully, Jesus cares enough about man to meet him right where his sins are exposed. He does so in a loving way.

Can I be 100 with you for a minute? This statement may adversely effect my future loan inquiries, but it may also set someone free, who just might be suffering from the same struggles; strength in numbers and all that. I struggle with debt. I have for most of my adult life. No matter how hard I try to trim fat, my financial savvy is a constant trainwreck. It’s not that I spend money on ridiculous items. I simply haven’t found the formula for getting ahead of the expenses my large family regularly incurs. While this “thing” of mine is a thorn in my side, Jesus never once punished me for battling this sin. Yes; it is a sin in my life. I have to discover what keeps me financially bound. While it may be something simply for Dave Ramsey to point out, I struggle with it daily. It’s my cross to bare. Because I recognize it, I know that I need the Lord in my life. I need him to help me through the rough times, to locate the source of my sin and to ultimately eliminate it, because I can’t do it on my own.

Everyone’s got their thing. The importance of recognizing your thing, is knowing you don’t have to try conquering your thing before you come to Jesus. He already knows what your vulnerabilities are. So instead of acting like the suburbanite snobs (I don’t have a problem. I’m perfect in every way), bring your baggage straight to him and let the Lord walk you through it.

Living Fully In Freedom

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1 Peter 2:16 (NIV) –“Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.”

When I was saved and gave my heart to the Lord, I didn’t have a full understanding of what that meant. Hence, I used my new freedom in Christ as an imaginary shield against sins I continued to commit on a daily basis. All the while, I claimed to know and love Jesus with all of my heart.

I pirated movies released in theaters from bit-torrents. I downloaded questionable music that I knew I would never listen to in the presence of my Lord. I made selfish purchases without considering my family. I even went to see movies on my own because I felt like I deserved the “me” time.

Some of you may say, “So what’s the big deal? I do all of that and I’m still a good person.” No. I was using the gift of Salvation as a cover-up for the sins I should have repented of. Big or small, a sin is still a sin, in the eyes of the Lord. Peter made it clear that we are not to use our new freedom as an excuse to continue sinning.

Now that you’re saved by God’s grace, is there an area in your life God is calling you to lie at his feet? Accepting Jesus as Lord of our lives means we submit fully to him. We have to live fully in the freedom he has given us.

The Blessed Victory Into The New Year

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In January of 2014, I said a prayer. Unfortunately I don’t remember the words verbatim, but the gist of it was something like this:

“Lord, let this be the year of ‘The Blessed Victory‘ for my life. May this be the year of breakthrough, prosperity, easy living, and happiness for my family and I.”

After I made that prayer, I got the sense of God answering me. “Okay,” He said. “‘The Year of Blessed Victory’ it is; trust me.”

I once heard someone say, if you really wanna hear God laugh, just tell him what your plans are. I tell you that, just in case you don’t know who God is. He’s all powerful, omnipotent (look it up in the dictionary, kids), kind yet jealous, gentle yet firm, fiercely loving and he’s got a sense of humor.

When I made my plans through that New Year prayer, I had a different perspective on what I actually wanted the year to look like, than the way it actually progressed. In short, 2014 turned out to be the toughest year for my family and I to endure. In fact, I believe it’s been the end of a stretch that began seven years ago, after my Mom passed away from Cancer. I was so mad at the Lord for taking her away. Despite my anger, he called me to him anyway.

Coming to the Lord wasn’t easy because of the lifestyle I wasn’t exactly ready to give up, but he was patient with me. In time, I began to follow him, but I had a lifetime of baggage to unload through the process. In the Christian community, we believe life progresses in seasons. There are seasons of prosperity, season of peace, even seasons of sorrow, loss and sadness. Sometimes those seasons might last a few months, or they can stretch out for a few years. That’s just life: one gigantic roller coaster. My season just so happen to last seven years, during which time, God allowed all sorts of trials to test my faith in him and my resolve in allowing my life to be changed by the truth of his word. The first six years were a culmination of painful lessons and miraculous blessings. God, knowing that I was still a baby Christian, walked me through, holding my hand. But, there comes a time in every man’s life when he needs to find out what he’s truly made of and what he really believes in.

2014 put my faith to the test in ways, I might not have been able to handle in previous years. God will never give you any more than you can handle, but he’ll allow it get awfully uncomfortable, to build and sharpen your faith. I learned true humility. I’ve learned that it is not a sign of weakness to cry out to the Lord in front of your kids. I’ve learned how to pray the God for the miraculous and the mundane. I’ve learned that…there really is a difference between the world of the faithful believer and the world of the non-believer.

I want to spend just a moment on that point, if I may. This is so very important. There was a time when I thought being Christian meant you simply added the words of the bible to the life you already have; that every once in a while, you needed to throw in a “praise Jesus” after a couple of words, just to let people know where you stood regarding religion; that every once in awhile, you needed to go to church, just to get that emotional pick-me-up, from an entertaining pastor. But overall, you really didn’t have to change who you already were. You simply needed to add to it, like learning a new craft. Afterall, we all live in the same world, right?

I could not have been any more wrong. Contrary to popular secular belief, Christianity is not brainwashing. The Lord Jesus knew exactly what he was telling his disciples when he charged them to take up their cross daily, and follow him. Parents, the culture of today is in direct conflict with the teachings of God’s Holy word. Everything about our culture is in direct defiance to what the Lord had intended life to be like.

How many times have you seen a homeless person, and immediately felt the urge to be someplace else? How many times have you seen a wicked celebrity fall from the grace of Hollywood, and thought, “Well, they had it coming anyway.” That’s the world we live in. It’s different than the world God wanted us to be in. The two simply can’t coexist because a house divided cannot stand. A person who is both compassionate and cold at the same time, will always have to deal with some form of torment. You have to be one or the other.

There really are worlds within the world. If you’re not careful about what you’re following, you may find yourself walking through a season of sorrow longer than you’d like. And so it was for me, and my family. On the surface, we may have all looked like we had everything together. But we struggled this past year in ways that would amaze some of our friends and family. There were days, we prayed for the gas tank to make it another few days. There were days of choosing to pay a bill to keep the electricity on for another 10 days, or eating. There were times when fasting wasn’t really on purpose. Your kids eat before you do.

I doubted my writing ability. When you need to make a living, you turn to what you know how to do first. When that doesn’t offer enough, you start to dream. When you dream, you learn to start praying. But, when your prayers go unanswered, you find yourself tested. I was tested a lot this year. In the passed, there were people I could call on for physical help, or secret stashes I could dip into. Not this time. This was the season to believe or not believe.

Somewhere I heard, “To get what you’ve never had, you have to do what you’ve never done.” Now, that saying could go in many different routes. Sure you could brandish a piece and go out and rob someone. No thanks. In my case, I did something I never saw myself as capable of doing on a somewhat long-term basis. I fasted for 21 days. I won’t go into detail with that, because the honor and glory is not mine to be had. All praise is given to the Lord for walking me through that very difficult time, because in the midst of it, I found out what true joy in the Lord looks like. At the end of that period, nothing happened.

Or did it?

In the late November, I got a word from the Lord while I slept.

“Your season is over, son.”

That’s it. I really didn’t think much about it, until I recalled my daughter giving her heart to God in September. That was a huge deal, and though she fights her own personal struggle against the influences of the world, I know who’s walking beside her. There were a few other miraculous occurrences; things that might be explained logically to anyone else. But to my wife and I, we recognized God’s hand working in our lives. And then, on the 19th of this month, God showed up and reminded me of the promise he made back in January.

Despite my doubts on the effectiveness of my writing, I continue to write. I don’t know how to shut it off, so failure is never an option where my writing is concerned. Faithwriters and Xulon Press must be in agreeance because they sent an email to me, announcing that I had just won a publishing package for a book I’ve only written one chapter for! That, my friends, is the blessed victory. It could mean absolutely nothing to anyone who just happened to click on this story, purely for entertainment. But, to me and my wife, it is the beginning of something new and great; something that was promised by the Lord himself.

When I look back on the trials and challenges of not only 2014, but the last seven years, I understand that God needed to take me through some things in order to get me to a place where I would willingly lean on him alone. That’s a good thing, you see. I’m selfish, self-centered, judgmental and sometimes cruel without him in my life. I had to get to a place where I could honestly admit those traits exist within me. But, with him leading me, I am the opposite of them all.

You see that gauge I picked up? It topped out at just over 120. Let’s say the 200 mark is the tipping point between my faith in the Lord and going back to a life without him. It’s a pressure gauge, you see. It tells you just how much you can take before you quit and go back to a life devoid of God’s presence. Now, look at that needle again. Over seven years, that’s how close I came to giving up. I was more than half way there. But God knew me better than I did. He always cheered me on, while I struggled to believe in him through the hard times.

“C’mon son, just a little more. You’ve got this, and I’m still here with you.”

I wouldn’t change a thing. The road ahead is still littered with trash I have to walk through, but I know God is with me. I know he’ll make a way. I know his promises are faithful and true. I know that when times get tough, he will never leave me as long as I believe in him.

The promise of the blessed victory happened, and I didn’t see it coming. 2015 is going to be an exciting year for my family and I. So let me ask you, friend. What are you believing in these days, and what are your expectations for the New Year?

Return Fire With The Word

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Matthew 4:10 (ESV) – Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”

The devil really knows how to intimidate us. He waits for a time when our faith is under fire, then strikes mercilessly. After fasting for forty days and forty nights, Jesus was hungry. It was then, that the devil seized the opportunity to strike out at our Lord. But Jesus knew how to fight back, even in his weakened state: he relied on the word of God.

In our culture today, we are burdened with all sorts of frustrating realities from monthly bills to stressful work conditions. Maybe your burden is a quest to determine your destiny. Perhaps you’re burdened by a health issue. Whatever your specific situation is, you can be sure that Satan has a tailor made lie ready to throw your way.

“If I just had more money, the problem would go away.”

“Maybe I should quit this job, and take a break for a few…months.”

“I’m sick of waiting on God to tell me where I belong. I’ll figure it out on my own.”

“I’ll bet that psychic has an herbal remedy for my pain.”

Jesus didn’t fall for Satan’s traps. He rebuked him by using the word. That’s precisely what we should do: remember the word. The next time Satan intimidates you, fire back by proclaiming the truth written throughout the bible.