Love Riot

The Newsboys has always been a favorite of mine in the Christian music scene. Not only do I enjoy their music, I have always gotten the sense that while they are very successful in the Christian music scene, they don’t let that keep them from doing the work of God. They have always seemed very humble and caring not only of their fans, but of the “least of these” around the world.  These four men appear to be doing the work of God that He has laid out for them.

The other night, my wife and I took our 15 year old son to see them in concert. What a great show they put on. Of course they played all our favorite hits, full of energy and it was very entertaining as any concert should be. But it was also one of the most moving nights of worship I’ve ever experienced. I truly felt the presence of God among us that night and I fully expect that God did some wondrous things that night in many people.

Michael Tait, lead singer, gave a 10 minute talk as the rest of the band rested partway into the show on the importance of faith in God and trusting Him in the world we live in today. This is something so many on both sides of the political spectrum have forgotten. Something that people on both sides of the racial divide seem to failed to remember. We are all children of God.

At this point, they broke into playing We Believe…which for me was the turning point in the show where I really felt God moving in the building. Many that had been sitting during the first half of the show, jumped to their feet and were truly praising God, including me and my family. At this point it became not just a concert of a good band, but a moment to spend with God in worship!

Of course they went on to play many more of their hits and ended their main set with the drum spinning Jesus Freak.

Coming back out for their encore which finished with one of my favorite songs of theirs, not only musically but because of the message, God’s Not Dead.

The name of their tour and latest album is “Love Riot”. The name says it all really, what if we started a riot, not because of race or political affiliation, but because of love for one another as Jesus loves us all. What if we put as much energy into love as we put into the hatred for one another? How could we change the world?

If only we as believers could come together and pray for our leaders (whether we voted for them or not), if we could pray for our enemies and friends, if we could love one another regardless of color. If we could all remember who we belong to, who has saved us…imagine what we could do as one.

When God’s Voice is Clear

I’ve been stressed over work and a few personal things lately. It’s just been a stressful and busy couple months and likely to be more to come. When I stress over something, I tend to obsess on it. It becomes my sole thoughts 24/7. It’s the first thing I’m thinking about in the morning, the last thing I think about at night and my dreams tend to surround it in some way during the night.

Last night was no different. I woke up this morning, in that slight fog that I tend to arise in, when my thoughts are not usually coherent yet my mind tends to race, and my first thought was to put Jesus first in all things. Not to leave him out of the stressful situation, but to humble myself before him and let Him take charge.

When I finally got up and got around to looking at my phone, I see the notification from YouVersion verse of the day.

My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare. -Psalm 25:15

God was really trying to tell me something here. I was filling my thoughts and actions with my own problems, so much so that there was no room for Christ. But if I fill myself with Christ first, then there is no room for my own problems and he will take care of them, I will have effectively laid my problems at the foot of the cross.

Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; He will never let the righteous fall. – Psalm 55:22

I love when God speaks clearly, this is not the case always, but as I’ve learned to listen, enhanced my prayer life, study more of God’s word, and humble myself before Him, His voice becomes easier to recognize.

Sharpening the Ax

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

This quote is attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Whether he actually said this or not is immaterial, the concept is sound. If you are given a task, using the best tools you can to do the job helps you to perform the task more efficiently and effectively. A dull ax will take longer and require more strength.

Using a dull ax requires great strength, so sharpen the blade. That’s the value of wisdom; it helps you succeed. — Ecclesiastes 10:10

Over the years, I’ve often questioned what my true mission is. I’ve received revelation from God over that time, yet I still question and wonder if I’m following the right path. Is my ax sharp enough to do the task that God has put before me?

Before heading out on mission from God, sharpen your own ax by getting yourself straight with God, praying and reading the Bible.

I find that often I’m looking for how to best serve God and I realize that I don’t take time to read the Bible. I find that I struggle to start the day with prayer and I’m too tired at night to end the day with prayer. Throughout the day, I’m way too busy with too many things on my mind, that taking the time for even a short prayer in the midst of my busy day is beyond my thoughts.

Martin Luther is rumored to have once commented, “I have so much to do today that I’m going to need to spend the three hours in prayer in order to be able to get it all done.

Are we so busy that we can’t take the time to pray? How much time do we spend on needless things? Could we cut out an hour of television? God wants us to enjoy life,

The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. -James 5:16

How can we be the most effective tool for God, if we don’t allow Him to sharpen us? God sharpens us through the reading of his word. We find out his mission for us through reading and prayer. God has given us the tools to do the job he set out for us wherever we are, whether on the mission field or at work.

God has given all of us the tools, but so many of us (myself included) don’t bother to pick the best tool for the job. We choose a dull ax to chop down the tree. We strain ourselves to do the job God has put before us. We work so hard at His mission for us, that we fail to sharpen our tools.

Prayer and reading of His word will sharpen us. If we spend the time sharpening our tools, we will be able to do His work so much more efficiently and effectively.

 

The Holy Spirit Knows the Way – Romans 8:26

holy-spiritIn the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. -Romans 8:26

God was telling me today to look at this verse. Last night I was just flipping through my social media and came across an old article that someone had linked to that gave a list of 10 things about prayer. I can’t remember anything about the list other than, number 7 was this verse from Romans 8. For some reason, it struck me as something I needed to stop and listen to.

I’ve wanted this year to be come my year of prayer. A year I learn more about it and become more diligent in it. One of my main prayers over the last few years has really been to see clearly what God’s will is for my life. What is his plan? I’m eager to find out and get moving. If you’ve been reading my blog for a couple years, you can see a large portion of my posts are seeking the answer to that prayer.

This morning, as is normal, I open my favorite Bible app on my phone and see the verse of the day…yes you’ve guessed it, Romans 8:26 is staring me right back in the face. To me that is about as clear of an indicator of God telling me something that I’ve ever received. But what is God trying to tell me with that verse. Well that required me to do a little study and further reading this morning.

Let’s look at the next verse;

And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will. -Romans 8:27

The Spirit knows what God’s will is for us. The Spirit knows where we are going. Even though we may be unsure of where we are going or what God’s will is for us, the Spirit is not. The Spirit will intercede on our behalf to ensure that we reach our destination. We can be assured of God’s protective guidance in spite of being unaware of where we are going or how we are getting there.

And that all leads to verse 28;

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

God is working for our good my friends. He has called us to his purpose, he has a plan for us…and it is good!

So I feel God threw this verse at me to let me know that I can stop focusing so much on the destination, God already knows where that is and the Spirit will ensure that I arrive. But along the way God has tasks for me, people to interact with, to tell the truth to, to pray for. Those opportunities laid before me each and every day, those things that cross my path are where my focus needs to be. The destination is important and I shouldn’t forget it, but the Spirit has got that covered.

We’ve been liberated from sin and death through Jesus, so we can take comfort in knowing the that Spirit will guide us, without fail, to the promised land that God has given to us. Just like the Israel of old, who were led by the pillar of cloud and fire through the wilderness, we too are being led by the Spirit into the promised land. We often don’t know how we are getting there or which direction to go tomorrow, but we don’t need to worry about that.

My prayer today is one of thanks. I’m thankful that God gave me the eyes to see this verse that he so clearly wanted to give to me today. It has truly opened up my eyes on my prayer life and given me a whole new freedom as I traverse through life. Thank you God for making this verse come alive in me today!

Because He Truly Cares – 1 Peter 5:7

As often happens while sitting in church a scripture is given or something is said that may only be tangentially related to the sermon topic itself but it triggers in me that I realize that it is not only the meaning that God wanted me to get from the service, but it also triggers as a seed for blog post. This post is one such post. Warning, this may be a bit of a dry post as I’m going to be looking at word origins and such, so be aware if that holds no interest to you.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. -1 Peter 5:7

This is how it reads in the NIV translation. The translation given at church was from the NLT and reads;

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

What struck me was the use of the word cares in two different contexts, one as a noun and one as a verb. Granted the pastor did go into a similar explanation of what I’m about to talk about and the entire sermon leads up to this verse, I’ll post a link to the sermon once the church puts one up.

Anyway, when I want to look at the meaning of words and how and why they were translated into English as they are, I like to look back at the original text in the original languages.

So the first instance of cares, is the word ‘merimnan’ which we also see translated into anxiety (which is a more descriptive translation to us modern English speakers) is described as meaning:

A part, separated from the whole, worry, anxiety. Dividing and fracturing a person’s being into parts.

So literally he is talking about those things that we stress over that divides our attention and distracts us. When we become Christians, we want to focus on the works of God, what He is doing in the world around us and how we can be a part of that. This worry and anxiety, literally takes our focus off of that and puts it back onto us and our situation.

The second instance of the cares, the verb is the word ‘melei’ which is described as:

To be of interest to, to take care, to be concerned about. To take interest in.

This tells us that God truly takes an interest in us. He cares about us and our situation, whether it’s a financial issue, a health issue, a relationship issue or a spiritual issue. God is truly interested in the details of our lives.

The takeaway from all this, is that God truly cares about our lives, but as long as we are distracted by our worries and anxieties, we can not see how much he cares and we struggle to give our full attention to Him and his works. I take this verse as a clear instruction to us. Cast our worries and anxieties on him, and God who truly cares for us and loves us will use us in mighty ways.

God’s Not Done – Wrestling with God – Part 3

jacob-wrestles-the-angelGod work in unexpected ways. He often surprises us with blessings we don’t understand at the time. Things that don’t quite seem like the blessing at the time. Things that we may feel are NOT the blessing that they turn out to be. Or things that we think are the blessing, and we think they are great and we praise him for them, but it turns out they are not the really the complete blessing we thought they were…in other words, God’s not done. This is where we look in part 3 of the series on wrestling with God.

So we started this series with a look at how God wrestles with us and how that conflict can have incredible changes in our lives. The second part to this story looks at how God wants to bless us and how he pursues us to do so. Using my adult life as an example of how I had conflict with God and how he pursued me, we pick up the story in 2011.

After falling to probably are deepest level financially, wrestling with God over what I need to do, I held on despite being wounded in spirit like Jacob was in the verses we’ve been looking at.

When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” – Genesis: 32:25-26

So bless me he did with a new job, one with a good friend of mine, making good money and I was second in command in the company. This was a true blessing to me. A steady paycheck, something I’d not had for years. Working with friends at a high level of influence in the company.

At this point, I could have said, “Thank you Lord” and just accepted the blessing and moved on with my life. Chances are, I may have let go of God in the process as we tend to do in good times. I may have thought that God had given me his blessing, put me where he wants me to be and has moved on to blessing others.

But I felt a restlessness in my spirit. I never felt like I was quite “there” yet, wherever “there” was. For five and a half years, I went through the motions. God had blessed us financially, gotten us back on our feet and nearly out of debt, but I discovered that spiritual he was not finished yet.

Look at this verse in Isaiah;

But God’s not finished. He’s waiting around to be gracious to you. He’s gathering strength to show mercy to you. God takes the time to do everything right — everything. Those who wait around for him are the lucky ones. -Isaiah 30:18

This is how I felt for those nearly six years I was in this sort of spiritual limbo. While I was being blessed beyond what I thought was possible, I still felt like something was missing; and it was. Those six years, I went through the motions to earn money, but I really never felt like I belonged there. As the stress of life and job built I became more unhappy and more restless. But through it all, I never let go of God. That was the big difference between then and my life before. Even during the good times, I never let go.

The years drug on and I felt stagnant and not going anywhere. God’s blessing were still very evident, but I was still in a low spot. Looking back now, I see that God was not finished yet. God is doing everything right and he takes his time, his perfect timing in doing so.

All this time, I continued to expand this blog and my writing. God used this not only to hopefully touch others, but also to strengthen and build me. Over these last few years, I’m feeling pulled to more leadership in Christ and the trials have only strengthened me to move into those positions.

About a year ago, our company let go a man that was filled with Christ. This dismissal never felt comfortable to me, it never settled in my head that we as a company did the right thing. But after that was done, I felt a strange peace come over me. Not that we had let him go, but I felt God telling me that it was time, time for me to move to the next phase of his blessings. God had put this man before me for a reason and with his leaving it was as if there was a pull for me to go to.

I waited around for God those six years and I do feel I’m one of the lucky ones. God put me in a new company that while the financial and benefits aspect are still blessing me even more than before, I’m in the company of many Christ followers. God has put me in a position to expand my personal ministry and growth through my writing and service in my local community. I feel that this is only the beginning of my journey so while the wrestling may seem to be over, I’m not without injury so I’m holding on tight to God and I’m not letting go.

Through his blessings to me I’ve been able to be a blessing to others and as I move into this next phase of my growth, I’ve set my eyes upon that, to bless those around me. God’s not done with us. I feel He is always moving in our lives to further complete us. I’m holding on tight, strong in faith, yet plenty of growth to go. God has renamed me, as he renamed Jacob. My name is still Jason in our world, but God has renamed me because I struggled with God and have overcome. I’ve struggled with my own fears and have overcome them. I’m holding on tight for more is to come… God is not done yet.

God Wants to Bless Us -Wrestling with God – Part 2

wrestling2So last time I left off in about 2006, but let me back up a bit.  From 2001 to 2004 or so, life had been a struggle, three young children, a home and wife. We didn’t have much and we were happy, but it was hard. We grew stronger in our faith during that time and this is when I was able to quit some bad habits. God was using these hard times to strengthen us and teach us to trust in Him.

Well in 2005, I landed that long-term contract and life was getting easier, at least financially. In February we were blessed with our fourth child, Ethan. Later that year we were able to purchase our first home. If you’re familiar with what happened between 2006 and 2008 or so, you may realize that this was probably not the best time to purchase a home, but needless to say, God had this in his timing. Things were going great, but I still had more lessons to learn.

From 2006 until 2009 or so, my business was really taking off, but I wasn’t quite ready for this level of success. We didn’t spend money on frivolous things, but our bills were high so the level of income needed was high. But hey, I was making a lot of money and we were doing fine. But in hindsight, I realize that we became self-reliant, meaning I had stopped leaning on God. Oh, we still went to church, I still prayed and believed, but I stopped trusting that his grace was enough. So as often happens during times like this, God pursued me!

God wants to bless us.

God wants to share his blessings with us. We look back at our story about Jacob wrestling with God. God forced Jacob to wrestle. He was the initiator of the match. But why make us wrestle? Does God wish to withhold his blessings from us until we “win” them from him? Not at all. But I believe that he shares even more blessings with us through the wrestling that without. So those hard times are important, to teach us, to sharpen us, to show us how great and merciful God truly is. These are things we wouldn’t receive if the gifts were just handed to us.

As many of you know, in 2008 the economy started to go into recline. Prices were rising, home values dropping, businesses were reluctant to spend money as their business slowed. Being a small consultant, I was easy to cut from the budgets of many of my clients. So work slowed down and the money stopped coming in. Remember, we had a high income need and it was slowly getting depleted.

Along with that our debt started to rack up. I had my best years ever in 2006 and 2007. Such great years that I wasn’t really prepared for it. And being a small business in the United States, we often bear the burden of high taxes. Taxes I wasn’t prepared for because of my own lack of preparation. So the tax man came and I owed a lot of money to the government. Well realize, they want their money. They don’t care about anything else but getting what is due. Being someone who feels obligated to pay what I owe, we set up payment plans with the IRS to pay it down. But combine that added expense, with a slowing economy and things got real tight.

This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. -Genesis 32:24

See God came to Jacob. God wanted to bless Jacob and God came to him. Much the same, I feel God came to me during this down slide. During the downward spiral, I often turned inward, but God had a way of bringing me back. He would pull me out of my self-pity and forced me to wrestle with him, to see God face-to-face.

Also, notice that God wrestled Jacob the entire night. God could have very easily knocked Jacob out quickly, but He kept the struggle going all night. Much the same, our struggle lasted for a few years. The darkest of times, were from 2008 until early 2011. There were times in there that we weren’t sure where we were going to get money to feed ourselves, let alone pay the bills. But over and over, God came through in so many small ways during this period. Those small blessings that you may not even notice at first, but looking back you can see they could only come from God. This struggle was real and it was long.

When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” -Genesis 32:25-26

Near daybreak, God caused Jacob’s hip to be injured. Much the same, in 2010 I was injured both physically with a back issue and emotionally through the financial issues that we were facing. It was at this point that I had a choice to make. I could let go and perhaps lose the blessings that God in store for me or I could hold on until God blessed me. Luckily I made the wise choice. I held on. I could do nothing else. I had already proven, despite my best efforts, I could not “fix” things on my own. So I held on. I stood strong in my faith that God would see us through.

And God blessed me. He didn’t magically remove my debt, nor did I magically discover a treasure chest of money. But despite leaving me with my “injured hip”, he blessed me. And in reality, that “injured hip” of mine was a blessing itself.

2011 found me with a new job, steady paycheck and a way to bring my family from the brink of financial disaster. I held on to God, after he had brought me low, until he blessed me. And the blessings far exceeded my expectations and they came in unexpected ways.  This is not the end to this story, but that is a story for later.