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Numbers

The bible is full of numbers.  I believe God really likes numbers—he even named a book in the Bible after them.  I’ve always liked numbers too.  I’ve been playing with them since I was four. It began with playing cribbage with my uncle, then baseball cards and statistics, multiplication tables, algebra, pursuing an accounting degree in college, and now I work in finance. The importance of numbers is woven throughout my life.

I remember in second grade, I learned my “times tables” quickly and earned fifty cents. It doesn’t seem like much now, but back then I felt I had been rewarded for accomplishing something. I was one of only two in my class to accomplish the feat, and I was proud of myself.

It’s a great feeling when you’re seven, but this pride in my accomplishments and comparison with others became a struggle in my life. It’s an ego issue that I need to be aware of and often fight against.

It seems somewhere in my life my love of numbers became a vanity thing. I believe it might have started in that second grade class when I compared myself to everyone in my class and I felt superior to them.  Eventually I felt the sting of being on the losing side of the numbers game. Fast forward to ninth grade history class (clearly no numbers involved in this subject) and I got a D-minus on an exam. The results were posted for everyone to see.  I felt inferior, stupid and ashamed; this time being one of the last in my class.

But that was just a blip on the screen for this numbers game I was playing. Comparing my numbers with my friends’ numbers to see how I was doing continued throughout high school with my student ranking, how many points I was scoring per game in basketball (or not scoring), how many home runs I hit versus others on my team, my SAT scores . . . there was no stopping it and no one to stop it. I felt like I was on the right side of the numbers game.

Other blips came up in college and as I started working. A earned a whopping 1.78 GPA my first semester of freshman year. Ouch. In my first job as a financial advisor associate at the bank, every week our division office would send out a list of the top five producers (who sold the most in investments) for the previous week so that we all could see who was on top. I longed to be on the top of the list and be recognized.

The continual ranking and comparison was having a negative impact upon my life. If I am being honest, I have to say comparison still does sometimes get the best of me.

I have started a few practices in my life to stop this superior/inferior comparison game:

  1. Know the truth that I am loved by God without having to do anything. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4:16).
  2. Seek God above all else. “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). This means focusing on things above not things below. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
  3. Know God more by praying more and being quiet in his presence.

“…pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

“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).

  1. Know I was made by Him for a specific purpose. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
  2. Limit/eliminate time on social media where a lot of my comparison occurs.

All of this leads me to the only number that truly counts. Number 1. God is to be number one in my life.  He is to be primary, preeminent, the top, and I when recognize God’s proper place, the comparison subsides and I am able to become more and more aware of how much I am loved by Him. My Heavenly Father does not care about comparisons.

How can we start today anew by eliminating comparison in our life, to live the life we were created to live in Christ?

sin

Paul – Sin, Shame, Calling

The story of Paul keeps messing with my mind, heart and soul. Paul was able to step out from being the Christian-hating persecutor Saul and into the role of the Apostle Paul. There are things from my past that are preventing me from stepping into the life that God has for me. Yet for Paul, it did not appear this happened.

Can you relate to this?

Fear, shame, jealousy, anxiousness, lust, impatience, entitlement, self doubt—you name the emotion or sin, I feel it or have felt it strongly in my life. Some of these I feel often; others just once in a while, and some have subsided. But they are all too familiar to me and are in my heart and mind, or have been, hindering my soul from experiencing our good, good Father.

I know Paul struggled with sin as well, yet it appears he was able to live the life God created him to live. “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15).

I see three important behaviors in Paul that allowed him to overcome his struggles and live out his calling to his last breath. These choices propelled him powerfully in the beginning and then sustained him as he continued serving.

Surrender: On the road to Damascus, Saul encountered the living Jesus, yet he still had a choice. Follow Jesus or not.  Although blinded, he could have ordered the men to take him back but he didn’t.  I believe this is the initial stage of Saul’s surrender of his life to the Lord Jesus. Saul allowed the men to lead him by the hand into Damascus and he stayed with Judas (Acts 9:8, Acts 9:11) until Ananias came to heal him. Through his surrender, he was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17), and later went on to write, “Do not quench the spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Why? Maybe because he knew, first hand, that we were all going to need the Holy Spirit to live the life we were created to live.

Obedience: Acts 9:20 tells us that upon regaining his sight and being baptized, Saul immediately proclaimed Jesus in the synagogue saying, “He is the Son of God.” We can imagine Paul’s eagerness to begin preaching the truth he now understood. But he later writes in Galatians 1:18, “after 3 years, I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him 15 days.” It appears Paul spent three years in Arabia before starting his ministry, despite the fact that he was probably anxious to begin right away. Paul had a choice and I believe he was obedient to the wooing of the Father that led him away for a time. I picture Paul being led by the Holy Spirit, much like Jesus was led into His wilderness experience by the Spirit (Matthew 4:1). I imagine Paul spending this time learning, praying and drawing closer to God, and falling deep in love with Him. This is most likely where Paul learned how utterly horrific his old life was, and the power of Jesus’ grace, thus continuing this radical transformation (old life—new life—Ephesians 4:22-23) that first occurred on the road to Damascus. Have you sensed the father wooing you to Him, to spend more and more time with Him like Paul did? Could He be drawing you to Him now for a specific purpose like He did with Paul?

Dependence: I believe Paul became increasingly dependent upon God our Father while in Arabia.  He basked in God’s goodness, love, mercy and grace and never wanted to leave this connection, this dependence. No doubt Paul was never loved liked this before. It became Paul’s lifeline drug, nurturing him through his greatest of trials, tribulations, sufferings, agonies, bleeding and wounds (2 Corinthians 11:24-27). The amazing act of grace by our Lord Jesus and His love penetrated the depths of Paul’s heart, soul and mind and this once hard heart was molded into something that never returned to where it once was. Although he wasn’t able to fully grasp it, Paul took hold of that which he could with all his might and was never the same. The Holy Spirit changed Paul from his old life to his new life, using the power of grace to shape Paul more and more into who the Trinity originally created him to be.

Paul didn’t allow his past to define him or prevent him from stepping into the life God had for him. Do you think shame was a part of Paul’s story?

Billions of lives have changed because of Paul’s life and writing. Paul did not know his destiny on the road to Damascus but Jesus did. Possibly for the first time ever in his life Saul had truth enter into his heart and he was never the same for it.

What if Paul had never gotten over his sin and shame? Think of the countless people who would not have been deeply impacted.

What if you and I do not step into our callings? Think of all of the people that will not be deeply impacted.

How do you think Paul overcame shame to fully live out the life he was created to live?

 

 

mom

Words matter.

After my Mom passed away I found a short letter she had written to me. Although I don’t know exactly when she wrote it or why she didn’t give it to me, nonetheless, it touches my heart every time I read it. In it, she expressed how proud she was of me as a son, as a husband to Nicole, and as a person. She used the words, “What more can a mother ask for?” And she reminded me to always put God first. I believe the Lord made sure I found the note.

Words matter.

I need a constant reminder of this.

I need to practice this all of the time.

Recently I deeply hurt a friend with my words and I didn’t even know I was doing it. We had grown so close that I would make fun of this person in jest, not even thinking about the words I was saying and how they might be received. Levi Lusko, Pastor of Fresh Life Church says the following about words: “Words are powerful things. They can build up and tear down. They can unlock potential and they can crush spirits.” Proverbs says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (18:21). I have apologized and I am trying to learn from my mistakes. I have so much to learn.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Thessalonica he wrote: “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).

Mom was a great encourager to me. I try to be an encourager to others but fall short when I let my pride—wanting to be funny and make people laugh—overshadow my desire to encourage. This too I have to change.

Part of my Mom’s legacy is encouragement. On this, the third anniversary of her going to Heaven and spending eternity with Jesus, I want to try and encourage you with my words. Although I miss her greatly, her legacy lives on with this blog which I started one year ago today. I’m celebrating this first anniversary! All of you have been an encouragement to me, and this blog has helped me immensely, letting me synthesize my thoughts and culling them into one central place. It has worked as a healing place for me to give and receive encouragement as we all drive towards living the life God created us to live in Christ.

I am still convinced the best is yet to come and although life is full of challenges, I know Jesus is my greatest encourager and corrector, my ultimate source of joy, love and wisdom. I know that whatever pain or suffering we are currently going through, He loves us perfectly (John 15:9), and we are His treasure (1 Peter 2:9-10). ALL will be worth it, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

My prayer for us is that we can encourage one another, learning together to live the life God created us to live in Christ.

How are you doing with giving and receiving encouragement?

Friday Inspiration

Freely we have received; freely we should give.

Christian Huang, Former Executive Director @ City Impact SF, City Impact 2017 Conference