Archive for September, 2010

September 30, 2010

Conquering Fear

There are times in our lives when we seem to come to a precipice. We can no longer see where the next step will take us. We white-knuckle the comforts of the known, however good or bad they might be, because the fear of the unknown is too great. For some this fear can even become paralyzing –unable to cope with the uncertainty of tomorrow we regress or are unwilling to reach out to take God’s hand.

In his book, Faith and Doubt, John Ortberg wrote that “letting go is always an act of trust.” At the core of fear is the question do we really trust God? We might be surprised to find when we honestly answer that question that we struggle to place our trust in God. Isaiah 43:19 is great reminder that God is continuously at work in our lives whether we see which direction he is leading us or not.

Isaiah 43:19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

So when you find yourself overcome by fear or feel a resistance to let go of the known for fear of the unknown, remember God is doing something in your life. He will not forget the good work he began in you (Phil. 1:6) and will make a way in the desert. Just think – what blessings could unfold in your life if you were just willing to let go and trust?

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September 27, 2010

Socrates and Spirituality

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

I am huge proponent for self-awareness and self-examination. This is partly due to my vocational choice but also a natural part of my personality. If we don’t understand why we are reacting, feeling, thinking, or believing in a certain way how can we realistically align ourselves with truth and continue on a path of spiritual growth? After all, it has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Yet, many Christians opt for the “easy out” by refusing to take a deeper look within their own hearts. I’ve often wondered if the lack of self-examination is rooted in the fear of what might be found in the deepest places of our hearts if we really looked. While these dark places may cause us to face the reality of our human depravity, we cannot begin to remedy the condition of our hearts without first bringing it to light.

Gary Thomas wrote in The Beautiful Fight that “when we stop focusing on growing, we usually regress. That’s why, even though perfection may not be possible, the journey toward it is still well worth taking.” This is why we must stop now and then and take inventory of our hearts. Be aware of what is occurring in our hearts. This allows us to focus on growth. An unexamined heart may leave us in a place of stagnation and ultimately leave us to regress in our spiritual walks. My hope for you, dear reader, is that you find the strength and courage to look within and be blessed with growth as a result.

September 22, 2010

Praying the Impossible

Lately, it seems the topic of prayer follows me where ever I go (so yes, this is another post on prayer). I don’t think I will ever fully grasp the power and extensive nature of prayer. Because I don’t fully comprehend prayer and because I am lazy, I often stop praying for things I determine are “impossible.” I know I am not alone in this.

But one day recently, I saw God move. It was a faint movement but it stirred hope. Could something I had prayed for 20 years really happen? Then I realized how long it had been since I prayed in a manner that confidently proclaimed God’s power to accomplish the impossible. This thought was humbling. Where was my faith?

Mark 6:1-6 reveals how Jesus was rejected in his hometown because the people did not have enough faith. Jesus could have easily performed many miracles among his own people but he couldn’t because of their unbelief. Our faith in Him is an essential component to allow God to accomplish miracles in our lives. In Matthew 17:19-20 we learn that faith, even as small as a mustard seed, is necessary in order for miracles to occur. This leads me to a terrifying thought. What is God not doing in my life because I do not have enough faith? Did I stop praying because I lost faith that my infinite God could accomplish the impossible?

What about you? Have you stopped praying for the impossible? What is God not doing in your life because you don’t have enough faith? Have you given up on that lost family member? Do you think your job won’t ever change?  Have you given up on the deep desires of your heart? Surely the God who performed miracles, walked on water and rose from the dead is able to accomplish what we mere humans deem impossible. Do not lose faith; keep praying.

September 19, 2010

In Pursuit of Joy

Ecclesiastes 11:9 “Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do.”

Months ago I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine on the topic of joy and blessing. In the midst of trial and adversity this friend demonstrated wisdom and discernment when she spoke of the Lord’s desire to bless his children. This may seem obvious for many of you. But for some, this comes as a much-needed reminder and it is for those readers that I write this post. Often we are taught to busy ourselves with work – whether this is a career or our ministry lives. We can be enthralled with the pursuit of improving ourselves (reading more, working out, volunteering etc.). However, when we do these things without keeping our motives and hearts in the right place even our best pursuits can leave us feeling burned out or burdened.

As I was mulling these things over in my mind and thinking about my own fruitless pursuits of self-improvement, attempting to further my career and ministry life I found myself in the book of Ecclesiastes. The “Teacher” (or author) of this book time and time again reminds up of the meaninglessness of life and futility of our work. Yet, I began to see another challenge as I read – a challenge to enjoy the life given to me. Ecclesiastes 9:7 encourages us to enjoy life with a “happy heart” and that God approves of this. This does not mean we are to give up a pursuit of a godly life or the journey of sanctification.

God is pleased when we serve him and work for him but he doesn’t want us to forget to enjoy the life he has so graciously given us. We are his children who he is madly in love with. He wants to give us abundant blessings. So my challenge (or reminder) is to stop and enjoy life. What blessings has God put before you and me today? Did you get a chance to sit with the sun on your face? Read a book? Laugh with a friend? Take that class you’ve always wanted to try? Brothers and sisters, this life is short. Enjoy the blessings God has given to you. Just as it was Christmas morning, allow Him to shower you with his love and recognize these blessings as illustrations of his intense love for you.

September 16, 2010

Worthwhile Podcasts

In an age of where we can easily download and go, why not download some encouraging and challenging podcasts? Here are few that are, in my opinion, worth a listen.  Know of more? Leave a suggestion.

The Village Church – Based in Texas, pastor Matt Chandler regularly challenges with the truth of God’s word in a frank and honest manner. These hour-long sermons will leave you with an abundance of applications to mull over throughout the week. This is definitely one of my favorites.

In Touch Ministries by Dr. Charles Stanley – This podcast brings me back to my spiritual roots. Dr. Stanley has been preaching the truth of the Gospel for years. I frequently find myself frantically scribbling down notes as I listen to the truth found in his sermons.

Walk in the Word with James MacDonald – James’ short (approximately 30 minutes) program serves as a great reminder to continue to walk in light of God’s word throughout the week.

New Beginnings with Greg Laurie – I found Greg’s podcasts years ago and now I’m excited he is coming to the Chicago area and hosting a crusade! Greg tragically lost his son a few years ago and you can feel the honesty in his sermons. He often integrates difficulties from his own life and inspires listeners to keep pressing on despite the difficulties and hardships in their lives. Greg presents the truth of God’s word in a bold and compelling manner.

Focus on the Family Daily Radio Broadcast – Not in the mood for sermon per se? Choose from a selection of podcasts from Focus on the Family’s Daily Radio Broadcast. You don’t have to be raising a family to benefit from the wide range of topics covered on this broadcast. Find interviews with authors, public figures, encouragement from those who have walked through some great difficulties.

September 12, 2010

3 Questions to Ask When Facing a Trial

Certainly there is not a magic number of questions you can ask yourself when facing a trial. Each trial is unique. Charles Stanley challenged me in a sermon I heard to ask myself what God is teaching me when I go through a difficult time. The second question is derived from my personal conviction after reading Tim Keller’s Counterfeit Gods. The third was formulated after I realized my propensity to want to lie down and quit every time a trial came.

  1. What is God teaching me?
  2. Is there an idol in my life that God is trying to strip me of?
  3. Am I choosing to wallow in self-pity or am I looking to God for strength and wisdom?

Many of us have heard Psalm 34:18 quoted to us when we’re facing difficulty. Psalm 34:18 reads, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Follow Psalm 34:18 with Isaiah 55:6 which states, “Seek the Lord while you can find him. Call on him now while he is near.” This logic would tell us in our brokenness to seek the Lord fervently while He is close. Use this time to glean spiritual lessons that will take you through many spiritual deserts. You may not be able to “consider it pure joy (James 1:2)” just yet (or maybe you won’t ever be able to claim the joy of a trial) but be certain that the Lord is near and willing to be your comfort and teach you if you seek Him.

September 7, 2010

Prayer Is Not A Traffic Light

I often think of this old children’s song I learned in Sunday school when I think about prayer. Strange perhaps, but it equated our prayers with a traffic light. Green meant God said yes, yellow meant we must wait and red of course meant no. The song went something like this:

Sometimes God answers yes when we pray.

Sometimes God answers wait when we pray.

Sometimes God answer no, just because He loves us so.

Sometimes God answers no when we pray.

The idea of immediate and clear answers to our prayers is an appealing thought but often not reality. Do not get me wrong, I believe there are many, many times in our lives when prayers are answered immediately and clearly. We often can point to a situation or concern and speak to how God worked in to make Himself and his will known.

But what of unanswered prayers? What of confusing situations where you thought the answer was a “yes” but then turned to a “wait” and then a “no?” What if the point of prayer is just so we lay down our requests to Him and surrender our will to ever know what God has in mind? Do we not trust that God has a good and perfect plan for us (Jer. 29:11-13)?

Beth Moore wrote about prayer in a study I did this past summer that made me think about our finite minds and God’s infinite wisdom:

“…He’s answered you above and beyond what you asked on some of the very requests you assumed He answered negatively. If time and opportunity have passed, we assume God said no. Sometimes we are right. Sometimes we’re wrong. Our finite minds simply cannot grasp God’s infinite ways of answering prayer. You have no idea how many times you’ve prayed and God’s answered affirmatively but is awaiting the proper time for its revelation.” Beth Moore, Stepping Up: A Journey Through The Psalms of Ascent

Our job in prayer is to be faithful to take our concerns, requests, and honest cries to Him. This is sweet surrender. It is difficult to relinquish control over situations that pain us or the desire for God to clue us in on His plans. Yet, I’ve come to understand that my job is just to pray. His job is to take care of the rest. Deuteronomy 29:29 confirms this in my heart.

Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of the law.”

It is thrilling to think God has secrets. There is something about this that excites me. It’s a great mystery for Him to unfold in my life. While the secret things belong to Him alone, my responsibility is to continue to pray. Isaiah 62:6-7 says to “give the Lord no rest until he completes his work.”

Isaiah 62:6-7 “O Jerusalem, I have posted watchmen on your wall; they will pray day and night continually. Take no rest, all you who pray to the LORD. Give the LORD no rest until he completes his work, until he makes Jerusalem the pride of the earth.” (NLT)

If we are to fervently pray in a way that gives the Lord no rest until His work is done, this can only mean our task is to continue to pray and seek Him with every breath we take. I encourage you to join with me in surrendering our need to understand God’s will for us by providing clear answers to our prayers when we do not seem to find one.  Take no rest; continue praying to the One who has secrets to unveil in your life. May God take you on an amazing adventure where he will one day reveal secrets and shape your life in ways that you cannot even imagine because our minds are too finite to understand his infinite wisdom in how he responds to our prayers.

September 1, 2010

Out of the Overflow of Our Hearts We Speak

Luke 6:45 “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Recently I’ve been realizing how closely linked my heart and mouth are. The fact that our hearts and mouths are linked is not a new revelation. The mouth is often a common weakness for many of us. I am not exempt from this.  I often hastily respond to situations with raw heart emotion.  Not that long ago I read a book that challenged readers to think and mull over Scriptures – essentially training our thoughts.  In doing so we can better harness the beast that is the tongue. Through this we can not only eliminate the harmful nature of our words but also find peace in our hearts.

The idea of training my thoughts (and heart) struck me in a new way this time around. Could I really learn to focus my thoughts? I liked the indulgence of thinking irrationally or going down “thought bunny trails.” I never thought I was sinning in doing so.  Although, I found my anxiety increased and my discontentment grew.  I could not seem to understand why I could not find peace and did not account my thought life into the equation. On the recommendation of a good friend, I read Loving God with All Your Mind by Elizabeth George (Thomas Nelson, 1982). George challenges readers with Philippians 4:8 to think about what is true.

Philippians 4:8 “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

I had heard this verse time and time before. I memorized it as a child. Philippians 4:8 always seemed to be taught as an encouragement to keep ourselves pure (and rightfully so). But I had never broken the verse down – whatever is true. Were my thoughts really true? If my thoughts weren’t true then how could my words and actions align to what I knew was right? Why was I wasting time thinking about things that were not happening or might not happen at all? Looking back, it was no surprise that my heart became anxious and discontent when I chose to focus on what was not true. In training my mind I have found peace and a great ability to use discernment in speaking. It is then, when my heart is at peace and focused on truth, that God can allow a greater work to be done in my life and through me.

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