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Faith

Friday Inspiration

Faith shows the reality of what we hope for; it is the evidence of things we cannot see.

Hebrews 11:1

gift

A Gift from God

In August of 2014, it was very hot in Bakersfield—as usual. I had planned a trip to visit my Mom with my son Luke who was 4 at the time. When I walked into her bedroom and saw her lying in bed, I knew something was wrong. She was extremely ill and I was upset that no one had told me. Mom had agreed to watch Luke for a few hours while I went to visit a client. She had been suffering from COPD, a chronic breathing problem, for several years and recently she’d had more difficulty breathing. I didn’t realize it was so bad she was bedridden.

Even though she was sick, I continued to be upset with Mom during my trip for hiding her condition from me. I left Bakersfield the next day without having cleared the air.

Just after I left, my Mom ended up in the hospital for a week and then was transferred to a rehab center. She was still very sick but seemed to be slowly improving.

A couple of weeks later I was in L.A. visiting clients when I got this sense I was supposed to see my mom again. My schedule was packed tight and on the day I was to fly home, I was scheduled to meet with a friend and client named Gil. I got a call at 5am on the day of our meeting saying that Gil was sick and unable to make our meeting. I immediately knew where I was supposed to be. I left my motel room in the early morning and arrived at the rehab center to see Mom still sleeping.

To watch her sleep, in peace, was so beautiful.

She was so happy to see me when she awoke. I was happy to see her too.

She was able to get out of bed and I pushed her in a wheelchair with her oxygen tank. We had a wonderful time together. We did Bible study, prayed, laughed, and cried.

This visit was the last time I ever saw her.

God gave me this time with her. It was a gift from our loving Heavenly Father to His messed-up child. So undeserving of this gift, even on my best day, yet, in God’s love, mercy and grace, He gave this gift to me, in His own unique and perfect way.

This gift has infinite value in my heart, for two main reasons.

  1. Being connected to God and knowing that He put this sense in my Spirit that I needed to see my Mom one more time before He took her home—all of this still aches in my heart. It’s one of the most beautiful gifts I have ever received from Him. I want more and more of this connection with God. I know my busyness could quench the Spirit and keep me from perceiving these nudges, but I want to get closer and closer to God and get to know His mysterious ways more and more.
  1. I’m indescribably grateful I was able to see my Mom before she went to Heaven. Just two weeks earlier I was with her and was upset and departed angry. God gave me a do-over. God is so good, perfectly good! I am so grateful to God for so many things. For all things, not perfectly, but in my mess.

How have you seen God’s goodness in your life or have you had a chance encounter led by the Holy Spirit?

God First

One Thing, God First

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

When I was preparing to propose to Nicole, my Mom was with me every step of the way. From picking out the ring, figuring out Nicole’s ring size, subsequently hiding it from Nicole — my Mom was my engagement ring consultant, and an excellent one at that!

From all the decisions to be made in terms of cost, clarity, cut and numerous other options, the best advice came regarding the engraving on the ring.  She didn’t hesitate when I asked what should be engraved on the inside of the ring: she insisted on the words “God First.”

To be honest, I had no idea what this meant when I got engaged and got married. Although it was and is a simple sentence, I had no idea how to make it a reality in my life. It actually was quite foreign to me since I was going to church but was not reading the Bible and felt quite distant from God due to my sin. I was a casual Christian and God was playing a very small part in my life.

He was definitely not first, more like twenty first.

Nonetheless, we went with this inscription. Maybe it was a prophetic prayer from a mother to his son to get right with God. Although very short, those two words still ring in my heart and head to this day.

Now, some thirteen years and many trials and tribulations later, God is first in our marriage. This two sentence vision/prayer from 2004 is now the key ingredient in our healthy marriage.

What stories, phrases or prayers can you share about making God first in your life and/or marriage?

Friday Inspiration

Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.

Habakkuk 2:4

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Daddy Day

Most every Saturday, I spend the day with my 7 year old son, Luke. This is a new commitment for me this year, one I have enjoyed immensely.  In the past I tried to have this “rhythm” but it didn’t last.  Despite good intentions, I didn’t have accountability in place to keep me going.  To be completely honest, in 2015 and 2016 I had other priorities that came before Luke.   At the end of last year it hurt my heart to see our relationship was far from where I had hoped it would be.

Just this morning, I believe I got a sign from God that we were at a new level in our relationship as a result of months of Saturday “Daddy Days.”  A few months ago I was asked to speak to the 6th-8th graders at the weekly chapel at Luke’s school, and I was excited to do so.  We’d recently returned from a cross country trip, so this morning it was a little crazy as I got ready for the talk, but Nicole and I agreed at the last minute that although Luke was just in first grade, he should attend the middle school chapel. When we arrived, Luke and I were greeted by the Head of School, the person who originally asked me to speak.  He kindly sat with Luke in the back of the auditorium. The talk went well and afterwards I had planned to drop Luke off at his classroom and head back to the office to start my work day.

As we arrived on the elementary campus, Luke’s class was just leaving for PE.  Luke put his stuff on his desk and then turned to me with this look on his face that I had seen before. I immediately wondered why he was about to cry, as he pulled me into the kitchen that is off of their classroom.  I then heard the words I won’t soon forget: “Daddy, don’t leave me, I want you to stay with me.”

Luke was full of so much emotion it was hard for him to articulate what was going on.  I had heard these words before, but it had been some time ago.  After several minutes of tears and conversations with his teacher (twice) and the school’s secretary, he was able to explain to me what was upsetting him. He simply wanted to hang out more—he usually didn’t get to spend all morning with Dad, and today had been so fun. Possibly the “Daddy Days” are having a greater impact than I had thought? My son actually wanted more of me.

All this makes me ask the question: Are we experiencing regular “Daddy Days” with our Heavenly Father? Are we spending so much time with him that we are crying and asking not to be separated from Him like Luke was with me this morning?

God opened my eyes to three things he desires for our relationship with Him:

  1. We are commanded to love God and Jesus with all we got: “Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. (Mark 12:29-30).

Luke was not letting go this morning as he was loving me with all he had, and I had a front row seat to this love.  He loved being with me and wanted to stay with me.

  1. We are to live, to “walk” in the same way Jesus lived: “but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked”(1 John 2:5-6). We have explored this idea before about what drove Jesus up Calvary’s mountain to be crucified for us. If we are to walk in the way Jesus did do you think this includes loving God the Father as Jesus did?
  1. Our Heavenly Father wants us to have an authentic relationship with Him as Jesus did, expressing our deep heartfelt desires even when it is uncomfortable in the worldly realm, like Luke did when he was sobbing in front of his classmates who were trying to figure out what was going on with their normally joyful friend. “And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:38).

Our Heavenly Father wants us to have the greatest relationship with Him, like He had with Jesus. He wants us totally ruined with tears and sobbing when we are pulled away from Him. I believe this is part of what was going on with Jesus in the Garden Of Gethsemane when He knew what lay in front of Him—being forsaken and disconnected from the Father in order to bear our sins and forever rectify us with God the Father.

I have never had experience like Luke had with me, but I hope to.

What experiences have you had that resembles what Luke experienced this week?

May we long to be with God the Father and cry violently like Jesus did in the Garden and how Luke did this morning when we are separated from our Heavenly Father.

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David and Goliath and the View of God

“When Saul and all of Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.” (1 Samuel 17:11).

Recently I came across this verse from the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel, and it blew me away.  This huge behemoth of a man, Goliath, had just challenged the army of Israel and you know it was going to be a fight to the death. No one had ever seen a person of Goliath’s size and understandably they were all scared and stunned. But when David stepped out on the battlefield, he wasn’t afraid at all.

David was the only one who felt and acted this way.  Why was he not afraid? What was it that led David to think and act so confidently in the face of undeniable danger?

I’d like to propose five reasons and they are all wrapped up in this verse from 1 Samuel: “Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God” (1 Samuel 17:36).

First David saw himself as a servant of God. He had the correct stance towards God that we are to be God’s servants, serving Him so that His Kingdom will come on earth as it is in Heaven. How many times in my life do I serve myself and then get super frustrated because things are not working out the way I had planned?

Second, I believe David had the correct view of God. David saw God as all powerful and capable of anything.  He had seen God work before when he had protected David as a shepherd boy and helped him kill a lion and a bear.

I have so much work to do in having the correct view of God. It reminds me of this quote: “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (A.W. Tozer). I know this is important and unless I get this right, it may impact my entire life. Forgetting who God says He is could prevent me from  stepping into the reason I was created.

Third, David remembered when God had shown His power before, empowering David to kill the predators that threatened him and his flock. How much of our Christian walk is about remembering when God got us through our most challenging times? I know I tend to forget God’s faithfulness and need to do a better job of remembering God’s power and how He has delivered me countless times in the past.

Fourth, David also had faith in God that He would come through for him again. Faith in God is so vital, isn’t it? Countless verses and Bible stories tell us about God giving a thumbs up, and Jesus too, to those people in the Bible who had faith in God.  David is just one of the heroes of faith who displayed this key trait at a most critical time in his life. Oh, how I long that we all become heroes of the faith, trusting this awesome and all powerful God.

Finally, David was very upset that anyone would come against the army of God and actually believe that they were more powerful than our God. There was no doubt in David that God, through him, would conquer Goliath.  None.  Zero! When was the last time we were so upset that we were willing to put ourselves out there to defend the power of God?

The story of David and Goliath is full of life principles to guide us through this life God has entrusted to us. David was not perfect, as we are not perfect, yet God uses His flawed children to show his almighty power and awesomeness so He can get all of the glory.

Which of these five reasons do you think you are doing well in and which one are you struggling with the most?

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Love Gap

When Jesus was asked “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. (Mark 12:28b-31).

Seems simple – love God with all my heart, mind and soul and then love my neighbors as myself.  So how are we doing with the “Great Commandment”?

When people think of us as Christians do they think we love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength and that we love our neighbors as ourselves  — I would say probably no, at least not all of the time.

Could we be suffering a “love gap” that is the distance between how we are loving and how God created us to love?

Maybe we are failing to manage the time (calendar) God has entrusted to us in the manner in which God created? For me to love God with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength and to love my neighbor as myself it takes less time wasted and more time with God, reading His Bible, praying to Him and being in a listening posture. I still struggle with all of this because of the pull of the world is constantly telling me I have to do this and that and be busy, busy. Why all this busyness? Perhaps because most everyone else I know is doing it and busyness seems like the natural thing to do.

But I fear that we are quenching the Spirit when we are too busy with the things of this world and not focusing on things above and instead focusing on things below.  My focus too often is on what is right in front of me instead of heavenly things.

I need to remember that God is awesome and that He knows best and that is why I need to spend as much time possible with Him and Jesus.

I need to be reminded that I should not feel obligated to do my quiet time but instead be super excited to know our God more, to fall deeper in love with Him so He can be my everything including my most, by far, important relationship. I also must be reminded that when I do not live up to these goals, I should not feel shame or guilt but know that God loves me greatly and for Him there is no love gap.

What will we give up today, to close this love gap?

paul

The Life of Paul

I’m fascinated by the life of Paul. This hard-charging, super type-A personality was bent on doing what he thought was the work of God—only to find out it was the antithesis of it.

Talk about being outside of God’s will!

A man who, upon learning of his wrongdoing, does a 180 and starts proclaiming the name that he was trying to bring down: JESUS!

A man who, upon his conversion, goes away to Arabia for three years to do things about which we can only speculate. Preach and teach? Receive more revelation? Pray?

It would be like Bill Maher travelling to one of his gigs only to come across Christ, become blinded and filled with the Holy Spirit, get baptized, regain his sight, then fall off the face of the earth and emerge three years later to plant churches in San Francisco with Francis Chan and write books about Jesus, grace, love, forgiveness, gratitude and how to finish strong for Christ!

Can you even imagine!

Maybe if Paul never felt the grace of God he would have never become grateful. Gratitude became one of his greatest attributes. He urged his fellow Christians to be grateful all of the time. “Give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

His gratitude welled up and he wanted EVERYONE to experience this freedom in Christ.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1).

Jesus was using this type-A personality to promote His name. Paul was literally risking his body so that everyone he came across would hear the Good News.

This, my friends, is the road to true generosity. It was through gratitude due to the grace of Jesus Christ, that Paul was able to freely and abundantly give of himself, risking the life God had given him to spread the Good News. He recklessly gave so others would be free ̶ FREE IN CHRIST!

Paul’s life is the perfect model for us to follow in order to have Jesus reign supreme in the calendar, cash and calling God has entrusted to us.

What did Paul do first? Did he become generous with the cash, or step immediately into the calling God had on his life?

No.

Jesus uprooted the calendar part of his life. Jesus reprioritized his life to what Jesus created him for. His true calling. But it first started with the calendar part of his life.

 

 

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Arabia—A Time with God

Saul persecuted people of the Way. He witnessed Steven being stoned to death. He was marching his way to Damascus to inflict more persecutions when Jesus Christ met him and confronted him about his activities.

Saul was blinded, filled with the Holy Spirit, regained his sight, became a Christ-follower and was baptized, then started proclaiming the name of Jesus in the synagogues.

After a little time he went to Arabia. For three years! This hard-charging man was in the desert for three years. His job was taken away as he no longer had a heart for it. He lost all of his friends, his co-workers, and those who were part of the mission to persecute people of the Way. His life completely changed.

What happened during these three years?

Could God have spent this time rebuilding the foundation of his life and faith? Saul had been going very hard for a very long time, possibly never stopping. (This sounds oddly familiar to me.) How cool it would have been to eavesdrop on the conversations between Saul and God.

Maybe during this time he learned to be content?

“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

Maybe he learned about Jesus’ grace and what Jesus had given up for him and everyone?

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Maybe he learned how to live and what to die for?

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

Maybe he learned to count others more significant than himself?

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

Maybe he learned to rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4) even when you have been beaten and thrown in jail?

“And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:23-25).

Maybe he learned that it is far better to give than to receive? (Acts 20:35) Undoubtedly Saul became Paul—a completely new man. It was that time away from everything and everyone except God that caused this change.

When was the last time you were away from everyone and everything except God? Are we missing the life we were created to live because we have not had our time away with God?

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S.H.E.D. (Seek Him Every Day)

In order for me to say yes to Jesus being my CEO, I had to pray about what He wanted me to keep in the life He had entrusted to me.

These are the things I laid at the altar:

  1. The house we lived in.
  2. The car I drove.
  3. My career.
  4. The private golf membership.
  5. Hospital foundation board spot.
  6. Committee at the YMCA.
  7. Working out M-F at 5:30am.
  8. Large office space.
  9. Working ‘till 6pm most days.
  10. The MBA in Financial Planning I was pursuing.
  11. Where to live.

Surprise—God got rid of almost the entire list except for my career, and moved us to the Bay Area from LA.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

All of these activities were outside of God’s will for my life. I learned that if we are not asking God what He wants us to do, we can get off track—even if we are going to church, reading the Bible, and going to Bible study class.

As you can see, I had to shed a lot!

I now had space to seek Him every day. My relationships improved. God also slowly got rid of the façade I had in LA, so that I’m more fully the person He wants me to be.

I am now running my race better—not perfectly—but much better and more efficiently than before. I learned God’s way is so much better than my way.

How about you? Did you have to shed anything in order to seek Him every day?

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Financial Independence

The Bay Area is one of the wealthiest places on earth, during one of the wealthiest times in history. There are many people who have achieved financial independence or are striving for it. For Christians, as Jesus as our model, what should our aim be? Is it bad to be financially independent or striving toward that goal?

When I was a teenager, I thought if I had more money it would make me happy. I got a lot more money and I was not happier. It actually made me feel arrogant, entitled, selfish, and greedy.

I came to Christ and that did not change things.

I fell in love with Nicole, got married, and started having financial problems. I continued to think, “More money will solve these problems.”

Right around the time that Jeff took me to lunch I had a conversation with my stepmom Lana and she told me I did not have an asset problem but I had an expense problem. I had never thought of it that way. I was a financial planner but never applied these principles to myself!

We had no budget.

We did not track expenses.

We did not prepare a balance sheet.

We were out of control financially.

We were just tracking to be financially independent someday by making more money. Our focus was always making more money. The conversation with Lana was one of my first steps towards realizing that this track was wrong.

I believe chasing after more money was bad for me. Do you think it might be bad for you?

“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

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Marveled at

We all want to be marveled at, don’t we? Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to chase after adoration from strangers and friends alike. We put ourselves out there on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and every social media outlet you can think of—including blogs! Our goal is to be marveled at—for people to think we are special.

I’m guilty of this, and it’s a battle I fight daily.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “marvel” as “one that evokes surprise, admiration, or wonder.” That doesn’t sound like such a bad thing. We want to be admired and “liked.” Isn’t that one of the main drivers getting us to these social media sites so often?

But what if we had a different mindset? What if everything we did, we did with the goal of being marveled at by Jesus?

Think of the centurion who inspired Jesus to say these words:

“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith” (Luke 7:9).

Jesus was really impressed by the Centurions faith; so much so that He wanted to tell others. Jesus even added emphasis, using the equivalent of “I’m telling you!” Jesus marveled at the centurion’s faith.

I want so badly for Jesus to be impressed with my faith and with all of my actions. But I fall short. I still care more about what others think than what Jesus thinks.

This is changing! I’m headed in the right direction, but it’s a fight every day.

How about you? How are you doing when it comes to being marveled at by Jesus and others?