Sunday, July 29, 2018

Finding Joy in the Valley

***If you are not comfortable with reading about thoughts that can accompany depression, this post is not for you.  I don't care for the phrase "trigger warning," but I find it appropriate in this setting as I know that some of the subject matter can affect me.***

There have been two times in my life that I've fought anxiety and depression at the same time.  The latter of which I am at the tail end.  While my intention of this post is to focus on the positive things that God has brought to light in my life, I believe that we have to acknowledge the negative (and many times dark) things in our lives that can lead us down into the very literal "valley of the shadow of death" before we can move on to the peace and joy that is intended for us.  If we don't, many times those same issues are just covered up and creep back into our lives at a later time.  This is my story...

The Fall

I remember one morning a couple of months ago when we were driving to church.  I told Tara that I was starting to feel a bit down, but it wasn't bad.  I wanted her to know because I had gone through a nasty bout of acute depression once before a few years ago.  I told her I thought it was the melatonin I had been taking on a nightly basis to help me stay asleep.  I would wake up knowing that I had slept through the night, but was feeling empty.  We continued on to church, and everything seemed relatively fine for the next few weeks, or so I thought.

I can't tell you the exact day, but what I can tell you is that I went from being relatively happy to the pit of despair in the blink of an eye.  My emotions tanked.  Since I had been through it before, I knew what was happening.  The problem was that I didn't see a way to stop it.  I felt like God was nowhere to be found.  I felt like my wife didn't love me (which couldn't be further from the truth).  I didn't want to be around my kids.  I truly didn't want to leave the comfort of my bed.  I liked talking to people because it took my mind off of it, but as soon as I was alone, my mind wandered back into the abyss.  On top of all of this, anxiety about all of it set in.  My resting heart rate went from about 60bpm to almost 100bpm for days on end.  My heart felt weak, I felt shaky, and I had this painful pit in my stomach.

This is when the darkness started to creep into my life.  Because I didn't feel/see my God, and had a general feeling that nobody cared for me, I didn't feel like my life was worth anything.  Why was it important to go on?  *Before I go any further, I must stress that you need to keep reading beyond this paragraph.  DO NOT stop here.*  It would be easy.  I could just go to my gun safe, grab a gun and end it all.  Sure, people might be sad, but it would only last for a while.  Life would go on, and my emotional pain would end.  I was tired of holding onto the stress that I let build up in my life.  I just wanted out.  Believe it or not, this bout with depression was not quite as bad as the last one.  A few years ago I was laying in bed holding my wife's arm around me as tight as I could.  I was crying and shaking uncontrollably.  I didn't want her to go to work the next day because I didn't want to be alone.  By the grace of God she was cancelled that day.

Identifying the Problem(s)

  • Book Problem- A book that has been very important in my life is "Radical" by David Platt.  It challenged my thinking about who I was as a Christian, and pushed me to do some introspection.  The problem is that instead of looking at all of the positive things that God was doing in my life, I focused on everything I was doing wrong, and would constantly be down on myself for what I wasn't doing. 
  • Technology Problem- A majority of my work is done on my computer.  When I am not working, I find myself in need of something that keeps my mind going the same speed.  Many times I turn to Facebook.  Other times I watch movies.  Hours and hours on end I would try to keep my mind occupied.  
  • The Teacher's Problem-
    Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher,Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.What advantage does man have in all his workWhich he does under the sun?  -Ecclesiastes 1:2-3
I found myself focusing on the beginning of Ecclesiastes and not the end.

          Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter:
          Fear God and keep his commandments,
          for this is the duty of all mankind.
          For God will bring every deed into judgment,
         including every hidden thing,
         whether it is good or evil.  -Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

  • Control Problem- This really is the crux of the matter.  I find myself trying to control every aspect of my life.  I place importance on things where importance isn't due, and am let down when things don't go my way.  
  • Happiness Problem-  While I know things of this world can provide temporary enjoyment, I also know that true happiness is found in delighting in my God.  I have sought to find joy in all of the issues listed above, and they have all failed to deliver.
  • Contentment Problem- I have a problem with being content with where I am at in my life.  It ties in with the "Book Problem" in that I don't feel like I am doing enough.

All of these problems are root problems.  They all led to many other issues that plagued my mind as well as manifesting as physical issues in my body.

The Fix

My wife was very concerned.  She wanted me to go to the doctor this time.  I obliged and was put on a very low dose antidepressant due to the fact that I rarely take pills, therefore they have a big effect on me. As I don't believe this was the main fix, I wanted to make mention of it because 1) it is part of the story and 2) to let people know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking help.  If you are in a dark place, put aside any negative views of antidepressants and work towards getting better.
The pills were actually my second step.  I believe the most important thing you can do is to talk about what's going on.  DO NOT bottle it up.  First, I kept my wife in the loop.  Second, I talked to God about it.  I then sent a message to the men in my accountability group and talked to my mentor.  Thankfully I am no longer taking the antidepressant.  I attribute it to what is written below.

My Wife
My wife has been by my side through some very tough situations.  She's stood the test of time and didn't falter with her support through this valley.  She pushed me to see a doctor, was a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, and the voice of reason to my stubbornness. God put her in my life for a reason, and I will be forever grateful for her.

Accountability Group and Mentor
I am a part of a men's accountability group.  We have been meeting for 4 or 5 years now on a weekly basis.  We have a major thing in common.  We have all identified issues in our lives and are seeking to lift each other up through prayer, interaction, and accountability.
My mentor and I have been friends since I was 18.  As he lives in South Dakota, we didn't connect very often.  4 1/2 years ago I touched based with him and asked him to be my mentor.  We try to touch base weekly.  His guidance has been a key part in my spiritual growth.  It was when I was 18, and it has been over the last 4 1/2 years.

I saved God for last because He was and is the true fix.  As much as I cherish all of my other relationships, they all pale in comparison to an active relationship with my Father.
This part of my story needs a little background before I dive into what He has done for me in the last couple of months.  I used to (and probably still do more than I should) lean on my own understanding (Prov. 3:5).  I would actually tell people that when I prayed, I would pray for others (which isn't bad in and of itself) instead of myself because I knew I was good with God.  What I have found out recently is that it was a terrible approach.  Instead of reaching out to God, I was hiding behind the needs of others to push God away in my own arrogance.  In my twisted mind, I thought that God would sustain me in my path if I brought other's issues to Him instead of my own.  I wasn't acknowledging him in my own life, and was trying to direct my own path (Prov. 3:6).  Essentially I was putting myself on the same level as God.  A.W. Tozer said it well in his book Knowledge of the Holy. He writes:

"The man who comes to a right belief about God is relieved of ten thousand temporal problems, for he sees at once that these have to do with matters which at the most cannot concern him for very long; but even if the multiple burdens of time may be lifted from him, the one mighty single burden of eternity begins to press down upon him with a weight more crushing than all the woes of the world piled one upon another.  That mighty burden is his obligation to God.  It includes an instant and lifelong duty to love God with every power of mind and soul, to obey Him perfectly, and to worship Him acceptably.  And when the man's laboring conscience tells him that he has done none of these things, but has from childhood been guilty of foul revolt against the Majesty in the heavens, the inner pressure of self-accusation may become too heavy to bear."

I finally cried out to God on one particularly dark night a few weeks ago.  I had nothing left.  I had nothing left of myself to lean on.  I saw no path forward.  I was scared. I was exhausted.  I was alone.  As I prayed, the Spirit reminded me of verses from the psalmist.  My prayer included verses like Psalm 18:10, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe."  I also prayed verses from Psalm 23.  I was very much in the "valley of the shadow of death," but I wasn't acknowledging that He was with me.  I finally gave up.  I needed the peace that passed all understanding.  I went to sleep that night knowing and feeling that God was right by my side.  Some of you reading this may say that I was building myself up with words of encouragement.  I would very much have to disagree with this idea.  I went down that route.  I tried it myself...and I wound up digging a deeper hole.  There was nothing I could do in my power to climb out.  The following morning a woke up with a sense of peace.  This leads into my next realization about God.

I've learned a lot about peace through this journey in the valley.  Many times I think that we approach God wanting the quick fix.  Philippians 4:7 states, " And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  I think that we take a faulty and selfish view of this verse.  How many times have you (myself included) prayed for that peace to come out of a selfish motive?  We do God a disservice in this.  What God desires most is for us to have a relationship with Him.  Not a friendship, but a relationship that surpasses every relationship on this earth.  He desires for us to commune with Him daily.  With that said, nothing should ever be sought of God for a quick fix.  We are to cry out to Him in our times of trouble not out of selfish desire, but to deepen our relationship with Him.  We should be asking for peace acknowledging that our life is meaningless without Him.  Acknowledging that His holiness is so much greater than our fallible mortal state.  And that in no way are we capable of having a peaceful and meaningful life without him.  

This part should probably be titled "Happiness and Enjoyment," but happiness has so much more meaning than enjoyment.  Many times I think we confuse the two.  I also believe that true happiness can only be found in a true and meaningful relationship with God.  I believe that when happiness isn't sought out through that relationship foremost, our fleshly selves try to find it in the things around us.  Enjoyment isn't a bad thing, but when we try to replace our lasting happiness through our relationship with God with temporary enjoyment, we find ourselves consistently dissatisfied with the temporal nature of what this world has to offer.  As I have dealt with this (and will continue to), I know that it becomes a never ending cycle.  When the enjoyment fades from something we are trying to find happiness in, we move on to something bigger and better.  We think that "maybe this will give me happiness" only to be let down once again.  The thing about the God-shaped hole in our being is that only God will fit.  Try as hard as you might to fill it with the temporal, but you will ultimately be frustrated and disappointed.

This is what I have learned through my time in the valley.  While it is hard, I wouldn't trade it for the world.  It has brought me closer to my God.  I rely on Him on a daily basis now.  I wake up with Him in the morning and go to bed with Him at night.  I yearn for my time alone with Him.  I seek Him throughout the day.  I have truly learned that I can't do it alone, and that's the beauty of it all...we were never meant to.  I have seen God respond to me when I finally gave up doing it all on my own.  I have finally allowed God to be real in my life.  I'm still in a bit of the valley, but instead of focusing on the darkness around me, I'm focused on the Light beside me.  The Light doesn't show me the finish line.  Instead, the Light requires that I walk next to Him at His pace and in His time.  He is healing me slowly but thoroughly and intently.  The more I embrace that healing, the more peace and happiness I find.  Paul said it well in 2 Corinthians:

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.  Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Cor. 12:9-10

Finishing off this post, I'd like to quote A.W. Tozer one more time.  This is the following paragraph from the previous quote:

The gospel can lift this destroying burden from the mind, give beauty for ashes, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. But unless the weight of the burden is felt the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden.  Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"The grass is always greener _____."

It has been a long time since I've shared my thoughts.  These have been my thoughts as of late.  I just returned from my 3rd missions trip to Poland.  I led a group of 9 people this time.  I had each person give me a verse that described what led them to missions.  We later when on to look at each of those verses a little more in depth.  The verses that I chose were Philippians 2:1-7.  The first 4 verses say this:

"Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit,if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others."

I chewed on these verses for a month.  What they reminded me of was something we had talked about in Sunday School in the first quarter of this year.  If we believe in the grace that has been given to us, why do we not use that grace as a motivator to tell others of the grace that only Christ can provide? That study was based in Ephesians 1.  For the verses above, Paul puts it pretty simply.  If we have been given all of these things through freedom in Christ, why are we sitting around holding on to that which he wants us to share?  This life isn't about how to better ourselves.  That's the trap Satan wants us to fall into.  He wants us to focus on ourselves.  If he can get us focused on that, we will continue to be lukewarm in our walk, and we will be "spit out" and "cut off" as a branch that bears no fruit. The problem is that we don't realize the gravity of the situation.  We tell ourselves that we will do it tomorrow.  It's not a priority in our lives.  It falls behind our jobs, our vacations, soccer practice, and even our Sunday time of fellowship.  We've put so much stock in the schedules that we've set for ourselves because we've spent so much time creating them.  It leaves no room for God and the purpose He has for our lives.  We fit God into the few minutes we can spare for Him.  Maybe that's daily, weekly, or monthly.  Either way, something needs to change.  We sit around listening (like I am now) to Christian songs that call us to make a difference in this world.  We even sing along.  But do we believe that we can live out the words, or are we just listening to Christian music because that's what Christians do?  Heck, it's just music.  What about the call in the Holy Word?
I'm not saying that you have to move around the world to obey the call (although I believe global ministry should be a part of it).  What I am saying is that we all need to shake things up a bit.  What is important in your life?  Are you willing to share about your freedom with your family, those around you, the un-reached around the world?  Does that call reach beyond our jobs, vacations, soccer practice, and fellowship time?
My challenge to myself and those who read this is this.  Stop looking at the Holy Spirit's tug as the greener grass on the other side of the fence.  Get a ladder, grab the bolt cutters, get a truck for all I care.  Climb over, cut, or mow that fence down to get to that greener grass.  Joshua and Caleb saw the greener grass.  They didn't care about the fence between.  It's what God had for them, and they were ready to plow through that fence.  We are God's children, and our purpose is to grow the family.  Get out there and start planting, watering, and harvesting the seeds as He provides the opportunities. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A Thought About Those in Need...

For the past few days, most of the posts that have been coming across my facebook feed have been about what our response, as Americans, should be towards Syrian refugees.  After the attacks in Paris, my conservative republican reaction was to keep them out.  Why do we want to even take the chance of bringing a terrorist into the country?  I've read many posts from people that have been proud that their states have signed executive orders blocking Syrian refugees.  Heck, I did the same thing just last night.  When I woke up this morning, I read a blog that reminded me of something that I have been telling others for well over a year now, "We should be living as Christian Americans, not American Christians."  The big difference?  The former teaches to put others before ourselves, and the latter teaches us that making ourselves happy is the ultimate goal.  Now don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying that to be a Christian, we must live a life without joy.  It's more about where our joy comes from.  As you know, there are many other parallels that can be drawn here, but that's not the reason for this post.
What we have enjoyed in this country, has also made many of us soft in our Christianity.  We have taken freedom of religion, and have turned it into freedom "from" religion.  We pick verses out of the bible to live by that are convenient to the American life that we've built for ourselves, but conveniently skip over the verses that might require something that would infringe on that same cushy life.  You see, as Americans, most of us can't relate to the situation the authors of the New Testament were going through.  Stoning...doesn't happen in America.  Crucifixion...doesn't happen in America.  Flogging...doesn't happen in America.  We have these amazing freedoms from persecution, but what that has meant for many of us, is that we've forgotten how it all started.  The 1st century church faced persecution on a daily basis.  The threat of death was very real for them, and yet, they boldly took a stand to spread the gospel because they knew that an earthly death was of very little meaning, but eternal life meant everything.  
Peter had a lot to say about persecution... 
"Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you." -1 Pet. 4:12-14

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.  For
“Whoever desires to love life
    and see good days,
let him keep his tongue from evil
    and his lips from speaking deceit;
 let him turn away from evil and do good;
    let him seek peace and pursue it.
 For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are open to their prayer.
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
13 Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.
18 For Christ also suffered[b] once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous,that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit," -1 Pet. 3:8-18
Have we forgotten who we are?  Have we forgotten the command that we as Christians were given at the Ascension?  The threat of persecution should have no power over us.  And it should by no means keep us from doing our duty.  Timothy gives us a good reminder of who we should be in 2 Tim. 1:7-9 saying, "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity,"
You see, the love and joy that we are charged to share with the lost of this world should not be overridden by the fear of having to face persecution.  The problem is that most of us have never had to, and the threat of having to do so infringes on our cushy American lives.  The rubber is about to meet the road, and we, as Christians, need to be ready to put our money where our mouth is.  Folks, it's time for us to recall who we should be first.  Our sense of entitlement should never override who we are as Christians.  And as Christians, we are to help those in need so they might see Christ through us, and find the freedoms that we so easily share through our Savior.  THAT is our purpose in this world.
Thinking like this is going to bring up a lot of hard questions.  A lot of these questions we have never had to ask because of where we live.  But because of where we live, many times we put Christianity on the back burner.  It's time we wake up and start acting like the Christians we were meant to be.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Flip It Over

I recently found myself reading an article about a picture of an iceberg that had flipped over. Most of us know that only 10% of icebergs are visible above the water. What most of us probably don't know is just how majestically beautiful they are underneath. I also read an article entitled, "An Open Letter to All the People Writing (And Sharing) Open Letters About What’s Wrong with The Church." This article made some great points about what the church is, and who we are as Christians.
Something that I have been thinking about recently is our identity in Christ and the world's perception of us. Very often we, as Christians, let our view of ourselves align with how we perceive that the world views us. We tell ourselves that we have to live a perfect life to be a Christian. At the very least, we try our hardest to portray that our lives are flawless while we stuff our perceived shortcomings in the closet. We think everyone else holds us to a higher standard, and we feel obligated (as good Christians) to meet that standard....all in the name of Christ! Our purpose becomes to portray what we think Christ looks like instead of letting Christ mold our lives into what it should like. So the world gets to see what we have effectively made an idol in our lives instead of an all-forgiving Savior.
Here's the truth....we're all the same. We were created by the same God. Psalm 139:13 says, "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb." The difference is that, as Christians, we believe that God has paved a way through an endless map of an uncertain future. He's the light at the end of the tunnel. The answer to all of the world's unanswerable questions. But when it comes to living in this world, we are just as fallible as any other person. Why do we try to hide that fact? We WILL fall and fail. It's an inevitability. This doesn't mean that we cease continuing to be as Christ-like as we possibly can be, but in essence, we need to understand that there is very little of that action that we control. We control the decision to strive after this feat, but that's the end of our control...or at least it should be. Once we make that decision to continue to strive to be more like Christ, it is Christ who works in us and through us. But this is a complete surrender of ourselves. Something that many of us are scared to do. And this is where the title of this post comes in. So many times we think that the world can see Christ in us, even though we have covered Him up with all of the junk that we have wrapped ourselves in. What the world tends to see is a person that is saying they are "different," but they surely don't look like it. They see everything that we put on the surface, when what should be seen is the beauty that lies underneath. A beauty that has been molded through the years and through the currents of this life. All of the jagged edges. All of the craters. All of the broken pieces. All of the things that have molded your life. All of these things made majestically beautiful through Christ who remembers them no more. What is left is a person that is just the same as any other person out there with brokenness in their lives, but has been washed and made new.
So the next time you find yourself sliding into the easy path of flawless portrayal, make the decision to flip that iceberg over to let Christ show the world what He has made beautiful. Don't pretend that you somehow figured it all out on your own and continue to cover the beautiful person that you are. The beauty of Christ can, and will shine through just have to make the choice to flip it over.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Path Less Traveled (God and the Boundary Waters)

There has been a tradition in my family that started in the late 80's.  It's a tradition that I was able to join in on in 1995, and have been involved with ever since.  Every year that our schedules align, we make our way up to the Boundary Waters the first week of August.  We spend five days canoeing in what most of us consider the most beautiful country on earth.

While I was working this past week, a song came on the radio by For King & Country called "Fix My Eyes."  It's a song that I have heard many times, but this time a phrase jumped out at me.  Here's a portion of the lyrics:
"I learned the lines and talked the talk (everybody knows that, everybody knows that)
But the road less traveled is hard to walk (everybody knows that, everybody knows)
It takes a soldier
Who knows his orders
To walk the walk I'm supposed to walk"
The part that really jumped out at me was "the road less traveled is hard to walk."  On our canoeing adventures over the years, portages (the carrying of a boat or its cargo between two navigable waters) have been a way of life.  You get used to them.  Some are hundreds of feet, and others are over a mile long.  We have taken two kinds of routes through the years.  We've taken routes that are easy where you see a LOT of people, and there tend to be few portages that are well traveled. And we've taken routes that are harder where you see very few people, and the portages are rocky, hard to navigate, and can be downright miserable.  Any idea which route I like to take? Although those routes that are less traveled can be much harder, the beauty you find in nature, and the peacefulness around you is far greater than taking the more popular routes.  I would much rather carry a canoe up a steep rocky path, be bruised and bloodied, and be able to enjoy the peace without other groups around me, than travel a flat well traveled path, and have to dodge groups throughout the entire trip. 
 The song reminded me of this.  Although there are paths that seem easy and wide, what you find on those paths will pale in comparison to what you will find on those hard and rocky paths.  If you live in America, the easy path is something that we are told we have to strive for.  Who doesn't want to live on easy street, right?  But what needs to be realized is that our relationship with our Savior is what should always be placed first in our lives.  Living the American dream shouldn't even be near the top of our priority list.  The hard part is actually choosing that rocky path.  It takes a lot of faith to choose a path that could potentially bring a lot of pain and hardship over a path that will be easily traveled. 
I am reminded of two passages today:
Matt. 7:13-14
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it."

Matt. 11:28-30
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

I used to question myself all of the time.  The path before me seemed so daunting, and I would find myself exhausted just thinking about it.  But I was doing the opposite of what Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us, 
"Trust in the LORD with all your heart
            And do not lean on your own understanding.

      In all your ways acknowledge Him,
            And He will make your paths straight."
It is one thing to read, and yet another to put into action.  When I started practicing all of these passages in my life, I found myself on that rocky path that sometimes left me bloodied and bruised.  But I couldn't be happier in knowing that it's not by my strength or power that I know that I will see God throughout the rockier portage path of life, but by the One who provides me with that strength because I've chosen to take the path less traveled.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

A Different Level and Understanding of Trust

     I was thinking about some of the things that hinder our lives and why it is so.  Many of us either don't realize that we do this, or we do realize it, and that is what drives our focus.  Many of us let our lives be run by the fear of sin.  We often fear sin so much that we focus on it rather than focus on getting past it through the ultimate freedom and forgiveness we have through Christ.  Please don't think that I am trying to make light of our sin.  If we allow sin to infiltrate our lives without admission, repentance, and sorrow, then we risk becoming out of touch with our Father, as 1 John 3:7-10 says,

"Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God. By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother."

Sin is not to be taken lightly. However, when we focus on it to the point that we neglect accomplishing God's will, then that sin becomes, in and of itself, an idol in our lives. We run the risk of becoming like the Israelites of the Old Testament who became so focused on the letter of the law that God spoke through Isaiah (recorded in 1:11-16) saying,

“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?”
Says the LORD.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle;
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.

“When you come to appear before Me,
Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?

“Bring your worthless offerings no longer,
Incense is an abomination to Me.
New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.

“I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,
They have become a burden to Me;
I am weary of bearing them.

“So when you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Yes, even though you multiply prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are covered with blood.

“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil,"

What was lacked, and many times lacked within ourselves, was and is a reverence for the One who provided freedom from the bonds of sin. Our Father doesn't want us to simply acknowledge that our sin was taken care of on the cross, but very literally turn from our sin, and trust that He has taken care of it. We will continue to struggle with sin, but we, as Christians, should approach it with an attitude of seriousness that doesn't distract us from trying to fulfill the ultimate will of the Father, but with the understanding that the Father who called us has provided an answer to sin.

Sin is something that should be dealt with daily, but something that does not deserve our reflection. Our reflection should be reserved for one purpose...."How can I better accomplish the will of my Father?"
Trust that God can accomplish this in you. Trust that He will do mighty things through you. Trust that when He says sin has no hold, that it has no hold. When we can work up that kind of courage, our lives will truly change.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Be Moved

     After a retreat that I attended in January of 2013 (,  I have come to realize that a radical change was needed in my life.  It has led to some major decisions within myself, my family, my business, and my involvement in my church.  What I have come to understand is that I can go to a retreat, can meet God there, and have Him work on my life that weekend, but unless I make the decision to let Him continue to move in my life, it was all for not.
     I personally tend to get wrapped up in the things that society and culture tells me to be wrapped up in.  I put the things I have learned from the world in front of things I learn through the Word, prayer, and the Holy Spirit.  I find myself asking, "what is truly important in this life?"  The cliche answer is 1. God 2. Family 3. Others 4. Church.  What I have been challenged with is this list: 1. God.........
It's not that all of the others aren't important, but that honestly giving the rest of them to God to take care of can be a true test of who we are.  This doesn't negate my responsibility to any of the rest of this list, but puts it all in perspective.  With this perspective, I am able to slow a busy life down to the point where the will of God becomes evident through prayer, meditation, and reading His word.
     I have had this tendency to do Christianity lip service in the past.  It was a part of my life, but my life was never a part of it.  Things are different now.  I find myself seeking God's counsel more and more.  The human side of me still wants to hold things back, but I feel my spirit urging me to take hold of the all-powerful will of God in my life.  To give Him dominion over all aspects of my life...ALL ASPECTS.  To be moved.
     The more I find myself giving up, the more I realize the intricacies of sin.  The little things that I used to pass off that have become big things in my life.  But since I had always considered them little things, when they became big, I failed to recognize them.  The cool thing about it now is that, since I'm taking hold of living a Christian life, I can very truly find freedom.  I have brothers and sisters to help me fight the spiritual battles within, and I do the same for them.
     As has been pointed out, God only ever used one flawless person on this earth.  Take hold of the will of God in your life.  You are going to make mistakes along the way, but the more faith you show in God along the way, the more He is going to use you to accomplish His will.  What is His will?  To bring the lost back to Him.  To save as many souls from the clutches of death as possible.  We are the warriors, we are the servants, we are workers.  Be still.  Be moved.