Stars

 

When we think of God, we think of the creator of the universe. The beginning and the end. God is omnipresent and omniscient. God sits outside of time and can see all. And we rightly worship a God so great. He deserves our praise and our adoration. By all rights he should really take no notice of us as we are insignificant compared to his glory.

But, amazingly and thankfully that is not how God is. I was sitting around thinking this afternoon about why God would bother hearing my prayers or taking notice of my insignificant problems.

Then as God usually does he placed something in front of me that answered these doubts for me.

Stars by Skillet came on my play-list and listening to the lyrics made me realize that God knows me by name.

You spoke a word and life began
Told oceans where to start and where to end
You set in motion time and space
But still you come and you call to me by name.

Despite the power and the glory of God, he still calls me by name. When I remembered that, my worries didn’t seem so important, or at least I realized I wasn’t in this alone. God hadn’t forgotten me or didn’t think of my problems as insignificant. He remembers my name.

But now, this is what the Lord says — he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” – Isaiah 43:1

No matter how deep despair you may fall into, or how stressed you may feel from life, God never leaves our side.

The deepest depths, the darkest nights
Can’t separate, can’t keep me from your sight
I get so lost, forget my way
But still you love and you don’t forget my name

When we stray from God, stray from the path God has laid before us, he never leaves us. We may not feel God’s presence, but that is not because he isn’t there, he’s simply waiting for us:

Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars.

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A New Beginning

It doesn’t seem that long ago that my wife and I were coming home with our first child. We had our oldest son Trey when we were both 24 and I remember that first day home with him was filled with both excitement and fear. I’m responsible for this little human that does nothing by sleep, eat and cry it seems.

Then as the days wore on, a smile here and there from him would light up the day for all of us, making us forget the late nights and constant barrage of diapers. Seeing him slowly become mobile and active was not only exciting but again, still fearful. How could we care for this child that was slowly becoming more independent (not really, he was still just a baby, but it felt like he was growing up so quickly over the first few months)

Years went by and we saw that baby become a young boy, full of his own personality. And again, I had that excitement and fear. Here was a young boy who was soaking in all the information he could in his environment and that was forming his personality. And the fear came back, because I realized he was watching us and learning from us. So I quickly understood that now I was responsibility for raising this young boy to become a young man who was kind and gentle, yet fun loving and strong.

Fast forward a few years and we’ve moved into his teen years. Much of his personality is formed and he has become that individual and we hope we’ve taught him well. The rebellious teenage years kick in and while he was not very much trouble at all, the fear set in that now would I have to go from being his best friend and teacher, to being more of an enforcer of rules meant to keep him safe and from making stupid decision that would affect the rest of his life. Again, I didn’t have too much to worry about, I must have done my job well enough during the younger years, because Trey was turning into a respectable, hard-working, loving and funny young man.

No here we are today…this first-born of ours is 22 and a completely independent young man. He is hard-working and fun-loving. He respects and loves us as parents and he has come back to being one of my best-friends. He loves and will do anything for his family, his brothers and sister, his grandparents and extended family can always count on him to be there when we need him.

And now, he is beginning that journey into the next phase of his life, one that seems not that long ago for myself, where he got down on a knee and asked for his girls hand in marriage. He has found a fine young lady, one that cares for my son as fiercely as we do. One that has become part of our family as much as if she were truly one of our own. I couldn’t be prouder of them as they begin this journey.

For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. – Genesis 2:24

We’ve done what we can, but I think we’ve done OK as my father did with me. He will make a great husband and someday a great father. And I hope that in 20 years or so, he can reflect back on his life and his children as I am today and see that the love of our children never fades no matter how old we and they get.

I would love to have those days back when he was young and all he wanted to do was throw a ball with me out in the yard. Those are some of the memories I cherish most with him. But I can’t wait to see where life takes him as I know he will go far in life, much farther than I could have ever imagined when we brought him home that first day.

God’s Love Never Fails

Like many families, my family has had it’s disagreements over the years as we’ve all gotten older, gotten married and started our families. Some disagreements have been minor, but some have been major.   And neither side is really actively pursuing a reconciliation.

We as human beings often find ourselves content with our separation from loved ones, because it is easier than opening old wounds that have despite the time, not yet healed completely.  Despite our deep love for one another, we are content in the status quo.

God is not content

It’s a good thing God is not like that! God loves us unconditionally and even when we continually reject his overtures of love towards us, he continues to let us know “I’ll be here when you are  ready” and in fact He consistently reminds us “Hey, I’m here and I still love you.”

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever — Psalm 23:6

I’ve not seen my sister for almost a year now and some of my family has not seen her for many years. And neither side has taken active steps to reach out to the other for reconciliation. But look at what the psalmist says. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me…” It follows me all the days of my life, I don’t have to seek it, I don’t have to go looking for it… I just need to turn around and there it will be. God will pursue us.

And I am sure that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on that day when Christ Jesus comes back again — Philippians 1:6

God has a plan for our lives and He will go to great lengths to complete the work He has begun. He’s not so willing to give up on us.

Now don’t get me wrong, our pursuit of God is important, but that is in response to Him first loving us.

We love because he first loved us. — 1 John 4:19

God’s love does not depend on our performance. Over and over again, God has said to us humans, “I love you”, we say “Not now, I’m not ready yet.” But God is relentless in his pursuit of us. He never quits;

O God, God of Israel, there is no God like you in the skies above or on the earth below who unswervingly keeps covenant with his servants and relentlessly loves them as they sincerely live in obedience to your way. – 1 Kings 8:23

Someday, I hope my family can become one loving family again. God wants the same. We are his creations, his children and he wants nothing more than for us to come back into a relationship with him. We keep denying him, but he never gives up and He keeps pursuing us.

Do Everything in Love

Last year our church had a sermon series entitled Last Man Standing that was one of my favorites of the year and really impacted my life in 2016. My favorite in the series is the one entitled Men or Boys . I had written a post Act Like Men about this back then that is worth the few minutes to read and will give plenty of context into this post.

One of the verses I highlighted in that post was 1 Corinthians 16:13-14;

Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be men of courage, be strong. Do everything in love.

The final part of that, “Do everything in love,” provides context for all that we are implored with doing in the first part of the verse. You could change the wording slightly and this verse becomes;

Be on your guard, in love.
Stand firm in the faith, in love.
Be men of courage, in love.
Be strong, in love.

A sidebar on word etymology.
I love learning more about the origins of the words we use as they are often far different from how we use them today. And when ancient texts, like the Bible are translated into our modern language often words are used that have the proper meaning, but our modern interpretation of those words could be different. So I enjoy looking at where the words come from and even learning the Greek or Hebrew that the Bible was originally written in so as to better understand the original meaning.

God’s Word doesn’t change and is true to what God is wanting us to hear, however our imperfect language that we use today can sometimes lead to misunderstandings or misinterpretations if you are not careful. While God will let His truth come through regardless of what language you read His Word in, it does help to understand what the writers were originally trying to convey.

The sentences sound a bit strange in our modern vernacular, but when you look at the original language the word for love used in the 14th verse is, agape. Of all the different words for love used throughout the Bible, agape is used to indicate the highest form of love. Often used to indicate the love God has for us or we have for God. It is a universal, unconditional love that is there regardless of circumstances.

In the King James version, this is translated as ‘charity’ which while we use that word typically as “benevolence for the poor”, it’s older usages from which it originated was defined more like “Christian love of one’s fellows.”

So what is being said here in this verse? What Paul was trying to tell his readers, is everything should be done in love to God. By doing these in love, we should be like Christ. Being like Christ should be the foundation for every decision we make and every action we take.

Be on Guard

As Christians we have a powerful enemy. One that tempts and attacks continuously, trying to thwart our work for God. So in that we should;

Watch against Evil: We need to watch for the evil in this world, but do so in the context of love. When we have the love of God in us and that love comes out from us, evil becomes easier to spot. With that context, we can judge our actions and the actions of others in that light. Does that activity we are about to take glorify God and show the love of Christ to those that might witness our actions? If not, be on guard. Do the words we speak to our spouse share the same love that God shares to us? If not, be on guard against those words.

That meaning of being on guard has us looking for negatives. But we should also be looking for the positives, for example, we should be on guard looking for opportunities to do good. James 2:14-26 tells us that faith without action is dead;

In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. -James 2:17

We should be on guard to see those opportunities that God puts in front of us every day to do good. It could be something big and in the open like being on mission over seas. It could be as small as a smile to a stranger. In fact, I believe those little things can have a big impact for God’s kingdom and they are simple easy things to do. But we need to be on guard to seize the opportunities we are given.

Stand Firm in the Faith

We need to stand firm in the faith that was given to us by the Word of God.

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:1-2

We need to persevere in the faith, for if we don’t than this is an evidence that we never had the saving faith in the first place. Judas Iscariot, for example, eventually showed that he was not a true believer.

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. -Hebrews 3:14

A hallmark of a Christian saving faith, is continuing till the end. Many will hate Christians, they will criticize you, they will mock you, they may even try to harm or kill you…but the perseverance in persecution will be a sure sign of salvation.

Remembering the promises of God’s love will help us keep on. God’s love will never fail us and when we remember that, keeping our faith becomes so much easier. And when we stand firm in faith, showing the love of God to others, even those that oppose us, becomes natural.

Be men of courage

Men our judged by many things these days. Physical strength, money and possessions, their successes and status. But John MacArthur says it well in his sermon, How to Be a Man of Courage;

There is a trait that I think distinguishes a man most distinctively, the solitary foundation of manhood. And I want to sum it up in one word, it’s the word fortitude….Now I know that’s not an often used word today and that’s why I picked it. It’s not one that has a lot of baggage. It’s one that may come to you sort of from out of left field and you’re wondering what it means. Let me tell you what it means. Webster’s dictionary says, “Fortitude is that strength or firmness of mind, courage of soul which enables a person to encounter danger with coolness, to bear pain or adversity without murmuring, depression or despondency.” And then we could sum that up by saying, “Fortitude is courage built on strength of soul.” Fortitude is a good word because it combines courage with strength but it also has a third component and that is conviction. Fortitude is the combination of those three things: conviction, courage and strength.

We are to have courage in our faith, we are to be strong in our faith and we are to be sure of our faith. But remember this is all to be done in love. The love is a critical part. There are many strong and courageous people that believe strongly in something, but without the love, they can just become tyrants. We as Christan’s are called to have fortitude, but to be loving as well.

John again sums this is up very well;

They know that they must have the truth, they must have unwavering conviction about the truth, they must have the courage to stand for those convictions and the strength to withstand the assault. That’s what defines a man. A man is known by his character, by his fortitude.

 

Be Strong

With all these others, we are to be strong. We should put all our energy which God has provided in maintaining the truth. When we exercise this faith, we become spiritually stronger. When I physically exercise, I become physically stronger. It is no different when exercise our faith. When we do so, our faith become stronger and we are able to resist the enemy even more effectively.

The word used for be strong here krataióō is which is translated to be strengthened in a passive voice. The other actions talks about previously in the verse are things we need to do, things we can take action on. This call to be strong is a willingness to all God to strengthen us. Something God does to us and for us, not something we can do for ourselves. The thing we must do is submit ourselves to Him so He can make us strong in the faith. The more we submit, the stronger God can make us. When we become strong in the faith, we are able to do the others much more effectively.

In Love

So all these things Paul is admonishing us to do and we do them in love like Christ loved, they will draw us closer to Christ giving us the strength and courage to endure to the end and resist the enemy and allows us to be strong in the faith so that others can see the love of Christ in us.

The love is the key part to all of these. Christ loved us even though we are sinners and gave us a pathway to God that we could never follow on our own. Through Christ we can be made strong and fearless. Through Christ we can be sure we can persevere until the end. Though Christ we can be on guard against the enemy and be watchful of those opportunities that God gives us to serve. And through Christ we can share the love that he has shared with us.

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.