God’s way is right all of the time.
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?
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.
“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
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?
“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:
- After much prayer.
- When asked directly. Even then, I usually ask questions first. Jeff, my friend and mentor, modeled this for me.
- 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?
God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
1 Peter 5:5c
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.
- 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.
- 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?
“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?
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.
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
If you pray to God regularly, irregular things will happen on a regular basis.
Mark Batterson, Draw the Circle, The 40 Day Prayer Challenge
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:
Look at the proud! They trust in themselves, and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God.
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6)
I got more serious about my faith after I met a girl named Nicole. Not because she was Christian, but because I knew, deep down, that my faith was not where it needed to be. For us to have a great life together Christ was going to have to be at the center of it.
While my faith was stronger, I was still deceived ten years later after my son Luke was born. I was working long hours and gaining new business, but this short term success was causing fights between my wife and me. My most important relationships grew weaker—with God, with Nicole and with Luke.
I was doing my part and more, not trusting God to do His part, and going against His word. (Matthew 6:25-34)
I was worried about providing for Nicole and Luke. It was 2010/2011 and I was running a small, young financial planning company. I would leave at 5am to workout with the boys at the country club who did not know Jesus but who I thought might be good potential clients or connectors. I’d return home around 6-7pm, never thinking that my primary focus should be to seek first the Kingdom of God, to have Him transform my life. I certainly wasn’t thinking about being around to live it out in front of Nicole and Luke so I could be a Godly example for my family.
I was headed for disaster and did not even know it.
I continued to buy the lie that my life was awesome, that I was working towards the abundant life. I was confusing mediocrity for awesomeness. The enemy is the greatest of confusers.
I began to read the Bible and pray more, to fast, to talk to mentors who truly loved me and wanted nothing from me—only something for me—and then I began to see time and life differently.
I looked down into my son’s dark chocolate eyes and I saw someone who really needed my help. He would look up to me, arms outstretched, and in my soul I heard him say, “Daddy, help me, I need you. You are the one God created to teach me what I need to know. Don’t blow it. You have one chance to pour into me, because I am empty now. Soon I will be full, and it will be too late for you to do your job of training me properly. Don’t buy into the lies that so many other Dads have bought into. Trust that God will take care of you, me, and mom—you just need to do your part, not His. Know that the only inheritance I need and want is right here and right now with you, and the money will hurt me if I don’t have wisdom. Don’t focus on the Joneses—focus on the Savior who was brutally murdered so you and I could live.”
God has to properly train me before I can properly train Luke. This training takes time and it takes saying no to some very good things, but as we know from Jim Collins, “good is the enemy of great.”
It is going to take God transforming my life into that which I want Luke’s to become. How can I do this if I am climbing the corporate ladder and too busy chasing the things of this world? My legacy sleeps in the same house I do, and what I pour into him he will pour into his kids, and so on.
How can we encourage one another to be trained by God until the day we die?
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:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
God has a plan for our brokenness.
Elisa Morgan, Former CEO of MOPS International, Generous Giving’s Celebration of Generosity 2017 Conference
“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?
My Mom died and went to spend eternity with Jesus in September of 2014. It was a very hard time for me but God was with me. I don’t say that flippantly—I saw Him working in my life before, during and after to help me get through this season. His presence was tangible.
Leading up to this time, God had me working with Generous Giving to bring more Journey of Generosity’s (JOGs) to the Bay Area. A JOG is a 24 hour retreat where Christians gather to discuss, in a safe environment, generosity. I attended my first JOG in August of 2014 and then two weeks later, JOG facilitator training to be in a position to share this magnificent experience with others.
Five days before my Mom died, I met a new friend while serving at City Impact’s Adopt a Building program. Jojo was going through a painful divorce and needed someone to talk to. I felt honored to be able to minister to him.
Around the same time, my friend Nelson asked me to help him in a program to teach teenagers in the Bayview area about finances.
I could have opted out of all of these quite easily, but I felt led by God to serve. I began to sense a correlation between serving and healing. Could it be God’s plan that we help others while going through a painful season in our lives?
When we look at the last hours of Jesus life what do we see?
- Him feeding and then washing the feet of his closest friends. Matthew 26:26-29
- Asking God to forgive those who were crucifying Him. Luke 23:34
- Sharing salvation with the criminals on the cross so they could have eternal life with Him. Luke 23:43
- Making sure His Mom was taken care of by his closest friend John. John 19:26-27
I have no theological backing for this next statement but I believe it was God’s purpose for Jesus to continue ministering to others right up to the end in order to endure his darkest time on earth. In essence, to take the focus off of Himself and place it onto others.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).
We know we are to be like Jesus. We may often think of this from a point of view of holiness, but we can follow his example when it comes to healing too.
I believe Jesus shows us how to deal with the great pain that comes into our life so we may finish the race God created us for, like Jesus did, like Paul did, like I pray you and I do.
What stories of serving through pain do you have?
Total commitment is the channel through which God’s best and biggest blessings flow.
Chip Ingram, True Spirituality: Becoming a Romans 12 Christian