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God

Friday Inspiration

God has an outside voice, and He’s not afraid to use it. But when God wants to be heard, when what He has to say is too important to miss, He often speaks in a whisper just above the absolute threshold of hearing.

Mark Batterson, Lead Pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C., Whisper

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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?

Friday Inspiration

Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.

 

Revelation 4:8

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Slothful in Zeal

By Special Guest Blogger Michael Blue

I often wrestle with the question of gifting and calling. So much so, that I periodically try to copy someone else’s gifting or calling in my own life.

A few years ago, I heard a pastor tell a story about carrying $100 bills around and giving them out to people as he felt led. These random acts of generosity had led to some remarkable stories. After hearing some stories, I decided I wanted to be a part of some of these types of stories. So, I went to the bank and got four $50 bills. I carried these bills around for about a week, struggling to give them away. (For some reason, I felt weird walking up to strangers and handing them money — okay, maybe that’s not so strange.) After chickening out for the better part of a week, I pulled into a gas station determined to walk in and give the cashier $50. Gathering my courage, I walked up to the cash register, paid for a drink, and handed a $50 bill to the attendant, saying something like, “Here’s a little gift for you to let you know how much God loves you.” Impressive, right? I had done it! Yeah, me. Unfortunately, this is when it became awkward. This sweet young girl looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, but I am not allowed to take tips.” She then handed the money back to me. I tried to protest and convince her it wasn’t a tip, but at this point it was weird. So, I took the money back and walked out the door, deflated.

While this makes a pretty amusing story, it taught me something very important. God gifts us all uniquely, and trying to be someone else simply doesn’t work. I want to have stories like this pastor has, but trying to be him (or be like him) is not honoring to God. God has made me with certain gifts and abilities and those are the things that I need to cultivate in following Him.

This point was driven further home when I was studying Romans 12. Paul, in this chapter, is talking about spiritual gifts and the uniqueness of each person’s gift. He writes in verse 11, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” Reading this verse in the context of the chapter, I believe Paul is exhorting us to not hesitate or be lazy in pursuing our gifting, but rather pursue it with a passionate intensity in service to God.

I think we can learn three important lessons about calling and gifting from this verse:

First, your calling and gifting are unique. It is not the same as mine and it is not the same as your pastor’s. God has uniquely equipped you for service where you are right now. Your job is to pursue that gifting in service to the Lord.

Second, when you pursue your gifting, pursue it with unabashed passion. If God has given you a heart for the poor, find as many ways as you can to engage with the poor. If God has given you a passion for generosity, find creative and new ways to give and draw other people into that giving. If God has given you skill in preaching, preach.

Finally, if you are confused as to what your calling or gifting is, quit looking and spend time with God. Trying to figure out what God’s will is for your life, is a fool’s quest. You are either walking with Him or you aren’t. Oswald Chambers once said that the only time someone would ever search for a path in the woods is when they aren’t on it. This is the same with God’s will. If you are walking with God, reading His Word, and obeying it, then you are in God’s will. God’s will for your life is not some big mystery that you are to spend your life uncovering, it is simply that you know Him and follow Him. If you want to know what God’s will is, start obeying His Word. Exercise your gifting in this obedience and don’t try to be someone else.

We are all uniquely gifted by God for His service. Our job is to not be slothful (lazy, hesitant, shrinking) in exercising these gifts. When we aren’t slothful and are passionately intense in service to God, we get to experience the joy of walking with God. Let us not be slothful in our zeal in serving God!!

 

 

Friday Inspiration

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Romans 8:31-39, The Message

Friday Inspiration

Is it possible that what we perceive to be relational, emotional, and spiritual problems are actually hearing problems-ears that have been deafened to the voice of God? And it’s that inability to hear His voice that causes us to lose our voice and lose our way. Let me make a bold statement: Learning how to hear the voice of God is the solution to a thousand problems! It’s also the key to discovering our destiny and fulfilling our potential.

Mark Batterson, Lead Pastor of National Community Church in Washington D.C., Whisper

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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?

 

 

Friday Inspiration

Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly beloved children, and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a sweet-smelling offering and sacrifice to God.

Ephesians 5:1

Friday Inspiration

“For God (The Greatest Lover) so loved (The Greatest Degree) the world (The Greatest Company) that He gave (The Greatest Act) His only Son (The Greatest Gift), that whoever (The Greatest Opportunity) believes (The Greatest Simplicity) in Him (The Greatest Attraction) should not perish (The Greatest Promise) but (The Greatest Difference) have (The Greatest Certainty) everlasting life (The Greatest Possession).”

Chuck Swindoll , Hilarious Generosity, A Needed Return to Joyful Generosity

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God’s Part – Our Part

The other day I was sitting on the couch and my son Luke came up to me with a cup in his hand and mumbled something under his breath. I was watching TV so I didn’t fully hear him. I asked him to repeat what he said and he did, saying, “We are out of water.” He waved his cup so that I could see that it was empty. It became clear to me then that the drinking water dispenser bottle was empty.

I got up from the couch and went into the garage to pick up and carry the 44-pound water bottle to put it on the dispenser. Before entering the garage, I asked Luke to do his part and grab some damp paper towels and bring them to me so that we could wipe the bottle clean. He was also in charge of removing the empty bottle. We met at the water cooler, Luke removed the old bottle, and I loaded the new bottle onto the dispenser after Luke had wiped it clean.

Luke is 7 years old. He cannot carry, lift nor put the 44-pound bottle on the cooler. He can, however, get and wet a few paper towels, remove the empty bottle and clean the new bottle. Luke does his part. I did mine.

This is a reminder to me in my spiritual life: I do my part. God does his part.

I need to keep this straight. I am not to try and do God’s part because I cannot do it. I need to do my part and God will do His part if He wants to. I could have told Luke to drink tap water. God could tell me to drink the proverbial “tap water.” That is God’s call. He knows everything.

How do you determine your part and God’s part?

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Pushing or Praying?

“And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:41-42).

I often want to get my way so badly. Being an only child, getting my way came easily. My mother totally spoiled me.

The shock to my system after I got married and all of a sudden I couldn’t get my way all the time was epic. My desperation during that time was what started my prayer life. (Isn’t it interesting the things God uses to draw us to Himself?) Slowly, very slowly, I began praying sporadically, usually when I needed something, or when I was convinced I was right about something and Nicole was wrong. I was still pushing my way through life, more than praying my way through it. I was probably trying to push God to let me get my way!

In 2011, on my 39th birthday, prayer took on a different meaning when I was convinced to make Jesus the CEO of my life and seek him every day in every area of my life. I had so much to learn, and I still do, but this was a powerful step in the right direction. Praise God.

The energy I expend praying vs. pushing is finally shifting more towards praying. Pushing is hard. Pushing my agenda, beliefs, ideas, and thoughts onto someone is not only bad for relationships, it’s pointless. I’m learning more and more to turn to God in prayer, the true power. Turning to God in prayer makes pushing look like a weak alternative. I ask more questions of my friends, family, clients, and those with whom I interact – instead of telling them what I think.

Nowadays I try to only share my agenda or opinion in specific circumstances:

  1. After much prayer.
  2. When asked directly. Even then, I usually ask questions first. Jeff, my friend and mentor, modeled this for me.
  3. With those closest to me like Nicole, Luke, and close friends or family.

Thinking about this more, when I look at how Jesus interacted with those around him, I see him praying and questioning and gently teaching, never pushing at all. If I am to be like Him, I need to totally let go of the need to push, and instead pray, ask more questions, and gently teach when it’s appropriate.

I have so much work to do here. Pushing comes naturally; prayer does not.

Where are you in this journey of praying vs. pushing?

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?

Dead Men Walking

Jerry Leachman has greatly influenced my life. Although I have never met him, his talks have deeply impacted me and my walk with Jesus. This talk below is at the top of my list. The idea that you can’t hurt a dead man will forever be in my heart and mind and will take a lifetime to implement, if ever.

Friday Inspiration

We choose our occupation and profession without a moment’s thought as to God’s will in the matter. We spend our money and our time with no thought but for our personal pleasure, and the thought of God, if it enters our mind at all, is pushed aside as a disagreeable and unwelcome thing and we will have none of it.  This is the real root of sin of life, the rejection of divinity.

James Madison Stifler, The Christ of Christianity, A Study of Luke and Acts

 

 

Friday Inspiration

If you pray to God regularly, irregular things will happen on a regular basis.

Mark Batterson, Draw the Circle, The 40 Day Prayer Challenge

Define Love According to 2 Corinthians 8:2

Recently I heard Dr. John Piper speak at the Celebration of Generosity and he touched my heart deeply. Below is just an excerpt from a sermon that he gave at the conference. I consider that sermon to be a contender to be one of my Top 5 sermons of all time. I believe you will be deeply impacted by it:

https://generousgiving.org/media/videos/john-piper-joy-in-poverty

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