Always running

Always running

Thought-Have you pondered lately, what are you running from and what are you running to? Because if we are honest with ourselves, we are always running from something or towards something our whole life.

Scripture: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1-2

Insight: They say when you wake up in the morning in Africa and your a Gazelle, you better be running because if you don’t run fast enough, a Lion will catch you and kill you, and if you wake up and you’re a Lion in Africa, you better be running because if you aren’t fast enough to catch a Gazelle, you will starve to death. So either way, you better be running. Life is like a race.For some they treat it like a sprint, for others that pace is way too fast and they treat it like a marathon. But whether we treat life like a sprint or a marathon, we all are running a race. But a race against what exactly? Most people would answer that question as a race against time. Some want to get as much pleasure out of life in the time that they have to enjoy it. Others want to grow in whatever endeavor they are called to pursue and have a lifetime of meaning and significance. Most of us are usually running away from something in our past and running towards something new. That could include relationships, careers, addictions, ourselves, responsibility, reality, and the list goes on and on.

The Bible verse above from Hebrews 12:1-2 gives us good instruction on what it takes to run a good race. We must throw off things, like sin, that entangle us, we must have perseverance and we must stay focused.  The Apostle Paul ‘s life gives us a a good example of what is possible if we follow the instructions above. We can literally re-make ourselves into something brand new in Christ Jesus. Paul had run away from his past life as a persecutor of those who followed the Christian faith, and ran a new race fervently commitment to Jesus Christ and to preach the gospel on His behalf. Though he endured many hardships as a result of his commitment to Christ, he kept his eye on his eternal promise, ” the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day.” 2nd Timothy 4:8 His race was a marathon, with an eternal focus, not a sprint. We all have to make a decision on what we are going to pursue in our lives. I have met many people whose lives are stuck in the past and their dreams have been mired by the sin that still controls them. Rather than coming to a place of repentance and freedom in Christ, both their self pride and self doubt keeps them from accepting the free gift of salvation, and they just keep making the same mistakes over and over. It is almost as if they are like a hamster on a wheel, running and running, and yet making no progress. They spend their entire life running from themselves and they tend to be running right towards their own destruction. There is a clear alternative. You can make yourself a new path forward filled with hope and joy and free from the guilt of your past mistakes. How can you do this? By accepting the invitation of Jesus Christ as your savior. 2nd Corinthians 5:17 says, ” Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away and the new has come.” Our past mistakes do not have to define us. Although there are always consequences to our actions and our sinful acts, there doesn’t have to been a lifetime of condemnation and guilt. Romans 8;1 promises “therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We love to beat ourselves up, Christ wants to set us free. We view God as a traffic cop, with a radar gun, behind a billboard just waiting to bust us. So we do everything in our power to avoid Him and his ‘judgement.’ But if we trust in the Lord, and His plan for us, we soon come to realize that rather than judgement, He dispenses mercy, grace, forgiveness and love. All the things we need for moving forward from our past quagmires are found in Christ Jesus. We find, like Paul, a new direction and purpose in our life through Him. Jesus died for forgiveness of our sins, so we could be set free. We should then run our race as if we are free.  He will protects us from the true judgement of God on our day of reckoning through his merciful sacrifice on the Cross. He waits to lead us forward, forgetting the past, striving towards the future. Our sins are left behind us, their binding shackles removed once and for all. We are free to run and win the race of life, energized through our risen Lord. We find the strength to finish strong and claim the prize that awaits us at the finish line; An eternal resting place where we no longer have to race, but rather can rest from this life’s grueling race. Praise and glory be to God.

True freedom

True freedom

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”- John 8:32

There are different types of FREEDOMS. As a Country, it took courage and strength and fearlessness to fight the battles that needed to be fought in order for us to secure this most treasured of earthly prizes- FREEDOM. But although we are still free as a group of individuals to pursue our desires, to pray and worship freely, to love and to cherish the beliefs that make us special as a nation, there are still many walking amongst us who are not free at all. They are walking in spiritual bondage! They are captive to an evil, oppressive occupier of their minds, hearts and souls and in many cases they are not even aware of their plight.

On the outside, they may even appear to be winning in the game of life. They may be living the American dream of fancy houses, nice cars and great careers. But if you were to ask many of these people to honestly state how they feel on the inside, many would express a far different story. They would say that they are fearful of losing of what they had worked so hard to acquire. They would talk of the anxiety and depression they feel. Basically, they would feel duped that all of the external things that they thought would bring them peace and comfort, has instead left them feeling like a captive deep in their souls. They are literally trapped in an internal prison.

I know this feeling because I was living it for the first 38 years of my life. No matter how much worldly success I accumulated or how many possessions I acquired, I eventually came to the stark conclusion that all true freedom must come from within. I could not acquire my way to freedom. In fact, in many ways it was just the opposite. The more I accumulated, the deeper in bondage I became. As the Bible verse of the day states above, once we recognize this truth, that Jesus is the only way to true and everlasting contentment, can we be set free internally. The truth of who Jesus is and what He came to do for us here on earth, is the beginning of our internal journey to find real truth and freedom. Once we recognize the fact that Jesus died on the cross for forgiveness of our sins, was resurrected on the third day to sit at the right hand of the father’s throne, and left us the ability to connect with His truth through the power of the Holy Spirit, can we begin our march to true freedom deep in our souls. This cannot be accomplished any other way than on our knees, humbly admitting our need for Him as Lord and Savior of our life.

The amazing thing is there is no hard work required on our part, only the willingness to ask Him to come into our lives to help us with our pain and separation, to recognize who He is and what He has done for us, and to humbly repent of our sinful nature and He does all the rest! True freedom begins the moment we recognize how far we fall short of the mark He set, and recognize that without Christ, we would stand guilty in our sins before the God of the Universe on judgement day. Now, we are free in the knowledge that He alone has paid our sin bill in full and there is nothing left on the tab! If that is not freedom, I don’t know what is. It doesn’t mean it will be easy, or without pain, as we grow in our knowledge of who He is and who we are, and how great the chasm is that divides us, as Isaiah 55:9 reminds us, ” As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” But it gives us great freedom to know that He has taken care of the chasm, and He understands that our sinful nature is a result of living in a fallen world into which we were all born, where sin and darkness reign until HE comes again to clean this whole mess up.

Unless we grasp that thought, we will never be free and no amount of money or success can make us feel free inside. Like all freedom, our internal freedom came at a cost, and in this case it cost Christ everything. But love has no higher calling than this, that He was willing to lay down his life in a gruesome fashion so that we could live in true freedom, knowing that we are His for eternity. For He came to this earth to set the captives free, to remove the scales that were over our eyes so that we can see the truth clearly.

After the drugs where off, the sex gets old, the gambling brings only pain where it once brought pleasure, we must finally admit that the sinful ways of this world lead only to bondage and pain. Jesus Christ is the way to true freedom. “He is the way, the truth and the life” as John 14:6 reminds us. All of our heart’s desires and all we need for happiness and contentment, come from being assured of the rest and security that comes from the loving arms of our heavenly Father, by way of His faithful Son. True freedom never comes from external circumstance, but rather from internal contentment. When will we stop striving, looking for external things to fill the void that exists in our lives? True freedom comes from within. Jesus is the only answer to our Cosmic Emptiness. May that truth set you free!  Amen.

Stubborn mules

Stubborn mules

The fall of mankind that took place in the Garden of Eden plays out in the lives of us as individuals on almost a daily basis. Our human nature is such that we are never really satisfied with what we have and always leads us to want more. God had given Adam and Eve everything they could hope for. There was beauty, security, freedom and abundance all around them in the Garden at all times and at first they were content. Genesis 2:25 illustrates this for us ” the man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame.” But it takes only a brief time until the free will that God gives to each of us humans leads us to disobey God. At our core, we are stubborn mules who think we know better than God what is best for us. Pride was the tool that the devil used to weaken Adam and Eve to the point of disobeying their God who had provided everything they needed for comfort and fellowship with Him.  It is no different for us. Our pride leads to sin, which leads to death! After Adam and Eve sinned and ate of the forbidden fruit, they were instantly overwhelmed with guilt. Where just a few passages ago they were fine with their nakedness because they were walking with the Lord, now in Genesis 3:7 their sinful action has left them feeling vulnerable ” Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” It is the same for me. Sin leads to shame. Sin entangles. Sin cause guilt to overwhelm.

I am still weak and vulnerable anytime I am filled with pride and like a stubborn mule, I seek my own path. When I am away from the word of God or like a lost sheep, I stray from the Good Shepherd for very long, I am so vulnerable . But I have come to realize that true contentment can only be found in close fellowship with the Lord. Even King Solomon, ” The wisest man that ever lived,” according to 1 Kings 3:12, came to the same conclusion. He was blessed with wealth beyond imagination and was given the privilege of building God’s temple, yet he could find no lasting contentment apart from obeying God. He devoted himself to studying and exploring all kinds of things. He sought worldly pleasures and satisfaction in his fleshly pursuits, but he quickly realized they were folly and without value as the contentment he was seeking evaded him through these pursuits. He tried to find contentment through personal achievement. He undertook many great projects, including the building of an extensive irrigation system to bring water to his groves of flourishing trees. In the end, he decided according to Ecclesiastes 2:11 ” that yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.”

We can all earn great lessons from the wisdom of Solomon. Despite massive wealth, great accomplishments, and any fleshly pleasure he wanted, he still could not find peace or contentment apart from God. Many live life for the applause of others, but in the end, that will also prove meaningless. The only things that will truly matter is what we did in the name and for the honor of King Jesus, our Lord.

 

Wilderness testing

Wilderness testing

Bible verse of the day: Deuteronomy 31:6 ” Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

The wilderness means different things to different people. If you say to someone that you have just returned from the wilderness, they probably think you went camping or shot the rapids in a raft or canoe or went mountain climbing. We are likely to think of Bear Grills and adventure. Many would think that you went to get away, to relax and recharge. They may think that you needed time alone to think about your life, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. To escape the frantic pace at which we live our lives in the 21st century. The wilderness conjures up vivid memories for most people. For me, it represents freedom, beauty, open space, quietness, serenity, and most importantly, time for personal introspection and reflection. I have found my soul many times during various ‘wilderness’ excursions.

But in my Christian walk, as I am sure is the case with many other folks, the wilderness can represent something more scary. It can represent the times that truly test a man’s faith, the darkest night of our souls. It is where we are alone and afraid, with little feedback or communication from God. Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness to prove his ministry was not about the kingdoms of this world, but the kingdom of the unseen heavenly realms for which God had sent him. Jesus suffered greatly in the wilderness, but he stood strong by rebuking the devil with scripture, ” it is written that Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matthew 4:4 ” It is also written: Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Matthew 4:7 ” Away from me Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” Matthew 4:10

The fact that Jesus, the Son of God, suffered greatly when tempted in the wilderness should give us all perspective and encouragement when facing our own wilderness experiences. In fact, Hebrews 2:18 tells us, ” Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” That He understands what we are going through in our darkest hours of questioning our faith, is what has kept me going many times. It is that personal relationship and fellowship with Christ, God incarnate, that defines my faith walk. That He can relate to our human experiences, since He lived them himself, is what sets our whole Christian life apart from any other religion in the world. Because when we are in the midst of a wilderness experience, when God is building up our trust in Him through a season of preparation, there is no other practical way to get through that except to know that our savior, Jesus Christ, is by our side.

Not surprisingly, the place where we are most likely to experience testing is exactly the place where we struggle most to trust God. For me, that has been patience and fully surrendering my financial future over to Him.  I find it frustrating as I look back on my experiences, how I could clearly hear Him saying to me, ” We can either do this the easy way or the hard way, but the lesson is going to get taught one way or another,” and how my pride kept me from doing it the easier way. Why do we always choose the hard way? Surrender to God’s perfect plan is so much easier! Oh the foolishness of my pride!

We are slow learners riddled with fear and self doubt. Our pasts tend to cripple our beliefs of what our futures can be. God needs to transform us by removing us from our comfort zones!  He helps us overcome obstacles, grows our faith via trials and tribulations, temporarily leaves us alone, leaves us discouraged, prepares us through a deepening trust, releases us from captivity to our fears, gains an improbable victory and achieves a fulfillment of His big purposes. The Bible stories repeat this theme again and again as God uses stutterer’s like Moses, adulterer’s like David, Prostitutes like Rebecca, weaklings like Gideon, to achieve His grand purposes. God uses the least likely to achieve His glory. 1 Corinthians 1:27 says “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” That way there is no doubt who deserves the glory! I am qualified then by how unqualified I am. 

Human nature is nothing if not consistent, we doubt easier than we trust. We must see it to believe it, just like Doubting Thomas. But God is in the resume building business and He often uses our wilderness experiences to help mold us into what he needs us to be. That usually requires some pain on our part, and it always requires a greater level of patience and trust. God knows how badly we want our dream to be accomplished, He wants it even more. He must refine us first. For when our “lack” is finished, whatever that is for each of us personally, then our preparation in the wilderness is finished. We are finally ready to claim our dreams and glorify our God!

Knee mail, not email

Knee mail, not email

Scripture- “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”- 2 Thessalonians 1:12

Thought- We need more knee mail, not more email.

Insight – I struggle sometimes with how fast life is moving. It leaves me on edge. Technology seems to have supercharged our way of life and there can be periods where rest is hard to come by. I find that the amount of email I process on daily basis, most of it unemotional, detached responses, triggered by a bombardment of always urgent requests, can leave me bone dry at the end of the day. It can leave me feeling emotionally detached. The only thing that brings my life back into some semblance of peace is when I fall on my knees and admit how much I need Jesus Christ in my life. When I am humble, and admit my weakness to the deluge of technology all around me encroaching on my peace, then He alone can comfort me. He alone can restore me. Not matter how “successful” I might be on any day in responding to a bunch of emails from my inbox, nothing can bring me satisfaction like falling on my knees and praying for Him to come close and give me peace. How about you? Do you long for His peace?

Prayer- Lord, we need you. This world seems like it is spinning out of control at times and there is no time to find solace. Only you can restore us and give us the peace we need deep in our souls. Help us to humbly submit our need for you and to pray for your peace and wisdom in the midst of the chaos that swirls all around us.

Be Still.

Be Still.

Bible Verse of the Day: ” Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the Nations. I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

I have suffered greatly in my life by having an incredible way of putting the proverbial cart before the horse. I can try to force an outcome through my own impatience that can get me outside of the will of God. When this happens, I am left tired and weak from my own misguided efforts. Likewise, I believe many of us also get burnt out along our path by making the mistake of prioritizing service for Jesus above just spending time with Jesus. Make no mistake, there is a time and a place for effectively serving our King to grow His earthly kingdom. But the order of things matters greatly in this universe. We benefit greatly when he first spend time with Him before being sent out. In Acts 1:4-5 Jesus commands the Disciples to wait in Jerusalem and not to leave until the Holy Spirit comes upon them in power. Why should it be different for us? Sometimes we just need to wait in His presence,  being still in His presence and just trusting in His wisdom for our lives can help us feel renewed, refreshed and refocused for the plan that He has for our lives. This order of things helps us to get in alignment with Him, and that leads to a more fruitful pursuit of whatever it is we are being called to do. It is hard to be effective at anything if we are tired and lack a sense of purpose and conviction. However, when we are energized by the stream of living water,  an unremitting stream of water for our souls found only in Jesus Christ, then we are purposeful and highly effective. The most important thing we can do as Christians is to spend time alone with our savior, in prayer and conversation. I crave these times of peace in this hectic world, when I can let go of all of the busyness around me and in me, and just find rest in His presence. Even if it is for just a few minutes, I find this time alone with Him is invaluable in my day. I find that when I seek Him, I find Him, and He usually has the perfect answer for whatever is weighing on my heart, soul or mind. All I have to do is be still before Him and be present in my intentions, and He will guide my path, sending me out reinvigorated for the challenges ahead.

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