Play your game

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It’s March “madness”.  One of my favorite times of the year.  I love watching as many basketball tournament games as possible,  trying to will my team on and enjoying the moments of upset and triumph.  A tournament presents a special challenge to coaches and players alike.  You get very short notice about who you will be playing from one night to the next.  A coach could try to analyze every potential opponent and come up with a game plan for each possible match-up – in some cases this is what they do.  But more often than not the coach will rely on their game.  This is simply trusting in what they do well, and executing their style offense and defense.  In the in-game interview, you often hear the coach give an excuse for the other team’s success by saying, “they got us out of our game” or “they forced us to play their game”.

The writer of Hebrews described this type of mentality as it relates to our walk with Christ.  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.  And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Hebrews 12:1-2

Christ is calling each of us to throw off or ignore those things that distract us from the goal – a life lived entirely for Christ.  We are called to simply shed whatever entangles us.  It sounds simple, but in reality we find it very difficult. We (myself included) have a skewed priority outlook.  Too often, our walk in Christ is dependent on everything else going on in our life.  In reality, our entire life should be dependent on Christ.  He should be the first thought in every decision, and our perspective should be eternal – with eyes fixed on Jesus.  So why is this so hard?  Why do we let this world throw us off our game?  For me, it’s a pretty simple answer – faith.  I still rely so much on my ability and don’t leave room for God to be God of my life.  I cram so many things into life that have little or no real eternal value.  I give Him the areas that are easy to give up, but I hold on to those areas that I am ashamed of, or that I want to control.  There is a lot of “I” in my life and not nearly enough of Him.  The first step in fixing this is faith.  My faith has to run deep enough that I am willing to give up control of my life.  It is not enough for me to try to do this.  It’s a must.  Christ’s sacrifice demands it.  He has to be first.  If He isn’t, my life will choke him out of the picture.  Too often I identify with the type of person that only gives to God what is comfortable.  That’s not real sacrifice.  That’s not the depth of relationship God is looking for, or demands.  My walk with Christ shouldn’t be so comfortable that a walk without Him wouldn’t look any different.

When a runner lines up at the starting line to run his race, he often takes a few seconds to look down the track.  He doesn’t look left, he doesn’t look right, he looks down the track.  His eye is on the prize.  He knows when the gun fires, he must explode out of the starting block, and focus ahead, straining with all he has to reach the end.  The moment that he allows his focus to shift to the competition on his right or left, he’ll become distracted and that momentary distraction can be all it takes to derail the race.  Jesus is the finish line.  He is the ultimate prize.  His way is perfect and the path he has laid before us has been precisely prepared.  Just as the writer of Hebrews exclaimed, we have one job – eye’s on the prize, that focus will help us put everything into perspective, and will elevate Christ to his rightful place as the complete controller of our lives.  Are you focused on your game or are you distracted by everything around you?

God, I thank you for your wisdom, and your perfection. I thank you for the challenge to give my entire life to you and I commit to a life lived for you first.  I pray that I will be obedient to follow you and keep my eyes focused on you so that I may persevere in my walk with you.  Lead me Lord.  In your name I pray – Amen.

One step away

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“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Galatians 5:16)

The youth ministry that I work with has started a new series focusing on the Fruit of the Spirit.  It has been, like everything else, challenging for me to look deeper at my walk with the Lord.  We went “head on” with the idea of balancing our walk with Christ between legalism and reckless behavior.  Thinking about that balancing act has really “wrecked” me for lack of better words.  I have struggled to find the balance.  What is the balance?  I think the balance is to realize that I will never (at least not on this side of eternity) get complete away from recklessness.  I am a sinful human.  But I can’t just write it off and never try to do anything about it.  I can’t just expect to sin on a daily basis and be alright with it, because it’s out of my control.  I have to work at it – daily.

On the other side of that line is legalism.  Legalism stinks of me.  It’s all about what I am doing to earn favor with the Lord.  What I’m doing to try to make up for the recklessness.  Paul was pretty clear in Romans 3:10 – “As it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one;”.  No one can earn the favor of God.  It’s not in us.  We are flawed from the beginning.  While it’s true, I can’t earn favor with God by anything I do, I can please Him by living for Him.  I can please Him by giving Him control.  I need to submit to the Holy Spirit’s leading of my life.  I’m not obeying the Holy Spirit because it’s going to get me “brownie” points, I am obeying the Holy Spirit because I want a close relationship with the one that gave his life for me.  I’m obeying His call to surrender my will, my desires to Him so that He can fill me with the desires that make me what He wants.

So back to the struggle.  Why do I struggle?  It seems pretty simple: listen to the Spirit and guard my heart against recklessness or habitual sinning.  I struggle because I am weak.  I struggle because I am human – and I forget that I am saved.  I struggle because I am a man and it’s inherent that we try to tough things out, go it alone, work for what we have.  I struggle because I lack the discipline to consciously yield to the Spirit while the flesh is on auto-pilot, always seeking a weak moment to strike. I struggle.  It has been a depressing few days as I have stewed over this, but today, through the Holy Spirit and God’s love for me, I have started to see and realize things God’s been teaching me all along.  The song One Step Away by Casting Crowns came up on my playlist earlier, and the words started to sink in.  One of the biggest ways the devil attacks me is through my guilt.  It’s the same cycle.  I fall and sin.  Then I feel guilty and I immediately start to think of how I need to make amends.  This gets me in the “me” train of thought and I start to ignore the holy spirit.  Before I know it, I have tripped up again, and I repeat.  It is the feeling of being chained to an endless cycle.  But these words just resonated in my heart today

So come on home, come on home

One step away from arms wide open
His love has never let you go

You’re not alone, You’re one step away

Lay down, lay down your old chains
Come now, take up your new name

We are blessed because He never leaves us if we have placed our trust in Him.  He is right there, one step away with arms wide open.  He’s just waiting on me to put down the chains that bind me and get back to simply loving Him, taking that one step forward, away from my past, walking in the new life He gave me the moment I trusted Him to save me.  I can find victory because the score is settled.  I can find peace in the leading of the Spirit.

Father, thank you for helping me to see that it’s all about your love and all about surrendering to that love.  The Christian life on this earth is not easy, and I’m pulled in many directions often, but your love for me has always been straight and perfect and your love for me knows no end.  You’re always one step away from me.  Thank you for your perfect love, thank you for the freedom I find in you, and thank you for the peace I have when I surrender to the spirit.  In your name I pray – Amen.

Risk & Reward

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This week, I found myself in a very difficult situation.  I was thrust into a position that required quick decisions and my best effort with an unknown outcome.  By happen chance, or better said, by God’s timing, I ended up on a fire scene with confirmed entrapment.  This is the worst dispatch to hear.  The call was not in my territory, nor would my department be asked to respond, but I felt compelled to go, as I was less than mile away and had my gear with me.  Upon arrival, I found heavy fire showing from the windows and heard law enforcement officers tell me that there was a woman inside the back bedroom.  I made the decision to try to enter the house.  While I had my gear (fire coat, pants, boots, and helmet), I did not have a breathing apparatus. To enter this house, I would have to risk it all.  I opened the back door and immediately faced a heavy fire with intense heat and smoke.  I got as low as I could to the floor, calling out to the person trapped inside – no response was heard.  I could not see anyone near the door and the fire was quickly advancing.  In that moment, I had to make a choice – was the risk worth the reward?  As a firefighter I know, from my earliest training, that being in the toxic environment of a house fire without your breathing equipment can be fatal in seconds.  It is often said, you’ll take your first and last breath if you don’t have the right equipment or if it fails for some reason.  That training rang loud in my ears and I ultimately decided I wouldn’t be able to pull this person from the fire before becoming a victim myself.  I pulled back.  Another saying we live by is risk a little to save a little, risk a lot to save a lot.  This situation had a great risk on the line, but the reward was unknown.  Not being able to see her, or hear her made it an unknown reward.  Was she still alive?  Would I be able to find her in those conditions?  Later, after the call ended, I spent a long time reflecting.  I thought a lot about sacrifice, and couldn’t help think about the ultimate sacrifice by Jesus.

God is calling each one of us to take a risk with a known reward.  [John 3:16] Jesus willingly came to this earth to pay the ultimate sacrifice.  He did this – gave His life, so that we could have a restored relationship with our creator – God.  He paid a penalty that required death for our sins.  His sacrifice gives me the opportunity to have my sins forgiven and forgotten.  So what’s the risk?  The risk is accepting His sacrifice for my sins, and trusting this faith in Him as the only way to receive the eternal reward of Heaven.  Unlike the incident I described in the beginning of this post – where the risk was great and reward unknown, my reward for trusting Christ is certain.  I don’t have to weigh it out and make a decision that has unknown consequences.  I can boldly move forward, not with fear, but with hope.

Read more about the hope found in Christ

So many people today are afraid of the risk.  We are afraid of what God will require of us, afraid that we can’t measure up, or won’t be able to follow through.  We are afraid of losing the life that we know.  For so many people, the risk is too great because they can’t see the reward.  Many of the fears that people have are true.  We can’t measure up to God’s standard, we will fall down along the way, and we will be different from our former self.  The closer we get to Christ the more different we will be in this world.  It is certainly not the easiest road nor the most comfortable.  But we can face this with the certainty of the reward.  God’s promises are real.  He sees us through His son, Jesus Christ.  We can step out in the faith of an eternal reward.  We can step out in the faith of the Holy Spirit that will be with us every step of the way, leading our hearts toward a closer relationship with Christ.  Is the risk of stepping out in faith worth the reward?  The answer is simply an eternal yes!

Father, thank you for taking on the risks of this life and making the ultimate sacrifice for me.  Thank you for making me your reward.  I continue to be in awe of you and your love.  Thank you for giving me a desire to follow you and for a servant’s heart. I am thankful that the risk you ask of me has an eternal reward.  I pray today that my life brings glory to you.  Help me to deny my sinful flesh and instead follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in my life.  May your name be lifted up through all you bless me to do.  In your name I pray – Amen.

 

 

All your heart

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“I love you with all my heart”

Those words roll off the tongue so easily.  I know I have said it to each of my kids thousands of times.  I have said it to my wife.  I have said it to God, on my knees, in fervent prayer.  But what does it look like?  What does it really mean to love with all my heart?  Do I even know what all my heart is?  I started out on a devotional reading today that was speaking about the desire of a father for his children to receive wise counsel from others.  Basically, praying that they would seek out godly friends and mentors that would pour positive truth into their lives.  While reading and thinking about that, I praised God for committed believers that work with my kids, and then started thinking about my commitment to do the same for others, and more importantly my commitment to God.  Thus, God has laid the burden of understanding what commitment looks like to Him.

There are many places in God’s word that speak about doing something with all your heart.  Psalm 119:2,10; Jeremiah 29:13; 2 Chronicles 15:15 all speak about seeking God with all your heart.  Numbers 32:12 – follow God with all your heart, Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Matthew 22:36-38, Love the Lord with all your hearts.  There are many other places.  What all of these verses speak to, in context, is a 100% commitment – no holding anything back.  Within that commitment comes trust.  We have to trust that any outcome that results from this 100% devotion is the right outcome.  So many times, I have committed to the Lord, my entire  life, only to grab the reigns after a few short steps, because I didn’t agree or trust where He was leading me.  God is completely ready and willing to walk alongside us at any moment and lead us in the exact, perfect path through life.  But we have to provide the “action”  We are called to seek him, follow him, obey him, love him, turn to him, trust in him, praise him, serve him, rejoice in him, etc.  All of those contain him.  He is to be the sole affection in our life, and from that love for him, all love for others will flow.    But we have to provide the action.  It’s all part of that commitment to him.  When you commit to something, you are committing to the belief in that thing, as well as the work necessary to accomplish what you set out to do.

I think the best way to sum this all up, to fully understand what this 100% commitment looks like, is found in Deuteronomy 6:5 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and will all your strength.  In one article I read, this verse was referred to as the “All Command.”  I like that.  It is a perfect picture of what it take to live 100% committed and to love with all your heart.  Loving with all your heart is a reference to where this all starts – inside.  If we are fully going to commit to something, we have to fully trust it.  We have to believe without any reservation in that which we are committing.  Loving God with all our heart is to believe in what He says, what He has done, and what He promises.  Placing our full trust in Him.  We can’t say that we love God with all our Heart unless we have committed our lives and entrusted our soul to Him.  That leads to the next part – loving Him with all our soul.  In the old testament, the soul was a reference to the body.  The complete self.  Loving God with all our soul means that our body is fully committed to him.  All of us.  So what is on the inside is what others see on the outside.  Too often, what is on the outside is not a reflection of what is truly happening on the inside.  We have a tendency to be masters at “appearance”.  If we fully commit to God on the inside, it is only natural that our outside will be a reflection of that commitment.  Finally, loving Him with all our strength.  I think this is the perfect picture of loving God with all that we have (and all that we can do).  I enjoy working out.  Those that have seen me, may not realize it, but I do enjoy it.  I relate “all my strength” to performing an exercise and having to summon all the muscle groups I can to perform a certain lift or movement.  Loving God with all my strength means that I will do all that I can in service for Him.  I will give all that I have – my time, my money, my family, everything I have for His glory.  It is often described as the greatest act of love – to give your life for someone else.  That is exactly what loving God with all my strength should look like.  Giving Him all that I have to give.

God is a jealous God.  He deserves and has every right to be that way, but we still like to look at Him and decide what he deserves.  Today, and forever more, I want to be all in, and I commit to him my heart, soul and strength – my all.

A life worthy of persecution

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Chinese government authorities have begun pressuring house churches to register with the government and join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Officials have approached key leaders of many house church networks in recent weeks and delivered an ultimatum: Register with the TSPM within the next two months, or else. House church leaders, who oppose joining the TSPM, believe their only option is to create awareness of their situation and ask Christians around the world to pray for them. (Taken from icommittopray.com).

Have I ever been in this position?  No.  I live in the United States.  I have complete religious freedom.  I can stand on my street corner and shout (so long as it’s not to the point of disturbing the peace) the praises of my Lord Jesus Christ.  On a trip to Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago, I witnessed a man standing outside the gates of the White House, proclaiming through a bull horn, his distaste for what was currently going on in our country.  We are free.  There is no question about it.  In the past few weeks, my church youth ministry has been focused on the persecuted church.  We have read countless stories, watched videos and learned about what it’s like to be persecuted.  In some countries, it’s atrocious.   People are dying, everyday, because they profess their faith in Jesus Christ.  Dying.  Everyday.  According to a study by the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR), over 90,000 Christians were killed in 2016 for their faith.  That’s 1 person every 6 minutes, that lost their life for simply publicly living for Christ.  It doesn’t say what they were doing, specifically.  Some may have been leaders, spreading the gospel message.  Many were simply converts, that refused to renounce their new faith.  Again, I have never faced this.  In fact, I couldn’t recall a time when I faced any form of persecution for my faith, and that disturbed me.

In the past few months, I have found my world challenged.  I don’t feel comfortable anymore just sitting idly by and not doing anything with my faith.  It’s not enough to attend the regular meetings at church, participate in outings, and be a “facebook Christian.”  I blame…rather give credit to God.  I prayed, one night, a couple of months ago and asked God to give me the strength and the courage to give all of me to Him. Everything.  Move me where you want me.  Give me the thoughts you want me to have so I can do what you created me to do.  It was a scary prayer, and the excitement and fear that I have felt since then, prove that God will use you and move you if you are willing to give him control.  But last night, I just thought about that question – have I ever been persecuted for my faith?  I couldn’t say that I had.  So why does that disturb me?  It’s simple.  Jesus explains that anyone who follows Him…I mean really follows Him will face the same treatment He faced.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matt. 5:10-11).  Jesus says we are blessed when we face persecution.  Why?  We are blessed because of the key part of that verse, we are living for Him.  We are living out our faith.  We are living a life of righteousness.  In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12).  So, again, I ask the question, why am I disturbed and downcast because I haven’t felt persecuted?  It’s a simple answer, and one that I am ashamed to admit.  I haven’t been living a life worthy of Christ.  My faith hasn’t been radiant to those around me.  God’s word promises that when we live a life for Christ.  When we are out there – we will be persecuted.  Does that mean that I will have to give my life?  Probably not in this country.  That adds a whole new round of guilt and shame.  I live in a country where the worst I have to be afraid of is someone not liking me, or someone talking about me because of my faith.  Yet, I hide it.  There are people in this world that are dying, horrible deaths, because they utter the words, “I believe in Jesus.”  Yet, here I am, with no fear of physical pain or death, and I don’t say a word.

I want to challenge, myself and anyone else that comes across this.  Be intentional.  Lay down any fears and reservations about what people may think of you and be intentional in living for Jesus Christ.  Our fear should not be of our peers perception of us, but in how Jesus sees us.  “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and int he glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26).  That verse should be committed to memory and thought of often.  I have said often, I am non-confrontational.  I don’t like conflict and that bleeds over into my spiritual life and how “out there” I am.  I don’t want to upset anyone.  You may be reading this and think – if I get out there and live like that, I’ll run everyone off and that’s not what Jesus wants.  I believe that if we live as and for Christ, we won’t run everyone off.  We may challenge them, but they will be drawn to us because we are different and genuine.

Are you living a life worthy of persecution?

Lord, I have failed.  Until this point in my life, I have never even thought about living a life worthy of persecution for you.  I pray, today, that I will be bold in my faith and unashamed of your name.  Stoke the flame in my heart so that your radiance shines brightly and unmistakably.  May I live a life that leaves no doubt where my heart is.  In your name I pray, – Amen.

Life’s end?

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Driving home the other day, I was talking with God – eyes open…I promise.  I was just trying to spend some time praising Him for all I could see and it made me think about what Heaven may be like when that’s what we get to do for all eternity…praise Him.  When I think about Heaven, my mind takes an “earthly” turn and I get overwhelmed.  What will it be like to pass from this life to the next?  What is eternity – how can we even begin to comprehend never-ending?  Through that thought process I felt a gentle tug at my heart – a calming peace.  I have come to know that calming moment as when the Holy Spirit reminds me that He has this.  I’m not to worry about things that I can’t possibly grasp, but to turn to my faith and know that God has this.  What’s my job then?  My job.  My blessing.  My life is to sing praises to my redeemer.  My job is to spend my days worshiping Him with all that I think and do.  Praising Him for the blessings, praying to Him through the struggles and trusting in Him for the answers.

So, the question I started with – what is life’s end?  It occurred to me that, even  though I may experience an earthly death, my life does not end.  I am living with an eternal perspective.  The Bible is clear that when we close our eyes on this side of Heaven, our next conscious thought will be in Heaven.  There is no end for the believer.  In reality, there is no end for any of us – believer or not.  Life will continue in one place or another.  For those that have trusted Christ as their savior and put their faith in His finished work, that life continues in Heaven – praising and worshiping Him forever more.  For those that reject this free gift of salvation, and choose to place their faith in this world, that life will continue forever more in torment and separation from the one that created us.

So, today, when I think about life that doesn’t end, it gives reason that I should live as though it doesn’t end.  Too many times, I get caught up thinking about how hard I should work now, before I run out of time.  That is true in one sense.  My job here – bring God glory through worship, praise and telling others about Him.  Tell them verbally, show them through my actions and life, etc.  When I die, I won’t be able to impact anyone else still on this earth, other than through the testimony I leave behind.  But my focus has to be on more than just what can I get done while I’m here, but continually allowing God to change me to be the person that I’ll be forever, even after “the end.”  I want to begin today, letting God have all of me, to change me to the person that praises Him everyday, all day in all that I do.  I want to live life as though it doesn’t end, and go ahead and get started living with the same focus as I’ll have in Heaven.  I know that I can’t have the mind or clarity that God will give us when He “connects all the dots” and we understand completely, but I can use all that He blesses me with in this life, no matter how hard the blessing is, to praise Him and bring Him glory.

Don’t short yourself while you are still on this earth.  The blessing in Heaven is going to be sweeter than anything we can imagine, but we can get started living for it today!

Lord, I thank you for an eternal perspective.  I wish I had submitted to it earlier in my life.  Praising you every day of my life brings no greater joy and peace.  I thank you that you have never left me and I thank you for the sweet fellowship you pour out on me.  I don’t deserve the love you show me, but I am thankful for it.  I pray today, that my life will be lived as though I am already there.  Help me to radiate the love you pour out to all those around me and help me be your hands and feet in this world.  I pray for your courage and humbleness as I seek ways to serve you and tell others about you.  In your name I pray – Amen.

Thunder of God

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For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (1 Thes. 4:16)

I was startled out of bed this morning to the loudest clap of thunder I can ever recall hearing – ever!  It was amazing.   The entire house shook and it rolled on for what felt like minutes.  My wife sat straight up and after it had stopped said, “I thought the world just ended.”  I carried on the rest of this morning, in a normal routine of running around, getting things ready for the day, but I can’t get my mind off that statement.  “I thought the world just ended.”

The Bible makes is so perfectly clear that it could happen at any moment.  Matthew 24:24 says “Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect (ESV).”  Matthew 24:36 – “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only (ESV).”  We are not guaranteed even one second.  So many are waiting – on what, I don’t know.  Waiting to get in a better frame of mind, waiting to fix themselves first, waiting because it just doesn’t feel right now.  Friend, if you are reading this today, it’s a gift. A blessing that God has given you.  Perhaps its the last time your heart will be stirred to think about eternity.  This morning could have been it.  It could have been the triumphant return of Jesus Christ and all those that have rejected or waited could have seen their moment slip away.  No one understands enough, is clean enough, is right enough, or will ever be perfectly ready to accept the gift of salvation, found only in Jesus Christ.  Part of faith in Him is faith that He can work with whatever I give Him.  Don’t wait.  If you feel uncertain, or are questioning, take that step of faith and call out to God.  Accept Jesus Christ as your savior today, and know for sure that when that split second moment happens,  you will be ready.

How can I be saved – Click here

What about those of us that have trusted Christ.  How would you have felt if this morning was it?  Today could have been the day when He called us home and in the twinkling of an eye we are standing before the judgment seat of Christ giving an account of what we did with Him.  Perhaps while I share my thoughts, it could happen.  How many of us really believe that though?  How many of us live our lives as if it WILL happen today?  I know I certainly do not.  I am the first to admit that I become extremely complacent so quickly.  God tells us to live each day for him to the fullest.  To give him our all, in every aspect of our life, and to always be prepared for His return.

What does that look like?  Do we live carelessly without worry for tomorrow?  Do we become impulsive and live without any plans for the future?  I don’t think so.  I think what God expects from us is to live our life in light of that second coming.  I watched a movie several years ago where the lead actor was killed toward the end and he never saw it coming.  When he died he had a small smile on his face.  I am a comments junky, and reading comments about that scene, one person remarked how great it would be to be in a moment of happy bliss when our time was up.  I think that relates to how God wants us to live our life.  To be ready.  Wouldn’t it be great to go to heaven when He returns in the midst of witnessing about His glory? Better yet, having just shared the gospel message and leading a brother or sister to Christ.  God is asking us to give Him our all, everything we are.  To live a life that brings Him glory.  Make plans, but in those plans, think of how God can use you.  Purpose to read God’s word and hide it in your heart so you can think about it when the book is not open in front of you.  Be intentional in how you live around others and look for every opportunity to share the love of Christ with a friend or stranger.  We can live a life of expectancy concerning His return by never missing a moment to live a life that brings Him glory.

What are you doing today to prepare for that moment when He returns?

Father, I think you for your blessings of each new day.  I long for the day when you return.  I pray for those that may not know you, that you would use me to reach them and share the gospel with them.  I pray for the strength and purpose to live each day thinking about that return and how I can use what you give me to reach others with your gospel message.  Give me a heart that longs for your return, yet strives to make the most of every moment you wait.  In all things, let me proclaim your glory.  In Christ I pray – Amen.

Thank you Jesus

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In 2016, a teenager from North Carolina wanted to do something to express his love for Jesus.  He got a yard sign and put three simple words on it: Thank you Jesus.  That was it.  He put it in his front yard and went about his normal teenage life.  It wasn’t long before his neighbors saw the sign and asked for one for their yards as well.  Soon the requests were in the thousands.  Today, over 20,000 yard signs have been made and distributed.  The signs are sold with the profits being used to fund grants for churches and non-profits in the local area.  What makes this story so special?  This teenager simply wanted to show his gratitude, publicly, for Christ.  He wasn’t looking to make a living.  He was simply being sincere and intentional about his faith and wanted to share that.  Reminds me of a verse.  “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19)

Looking through the list of ideas and actions that define a lukewarm christian, I came to this statement: Lukewarm people are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act.  They assume such action is for “extreme” Christians, not average ones.  They call “radical” what Jesus expected of all His followers.

Reading the news story about the thank you signs painted it as a viral movement that was out of the ordinary.  That is what our Christian walk looks like more often than not – ordinary.  I came across another article that asked several “Christians” about myths they have heard used to describe a Christian.  One statement said, “There are also people who say they’re Christians but don’t do anything about it.  They give people the impression that Christians are just like anyone else, that there’s nothing special about being a Christian.  Wow.  What a statement.  To summarize that statement – I’ve been given the greatest gift, that I didn’t earn that has set me apart from the lost world, and guarantees me a life with Jesus Christ standing right beside me, or more appropriately, holding me up and an eternity in Heaven, but I’m really no different from anyone else.  I’m not special?  Nothing can be further from the truth.  That statement is exactly why we have a society now that considers any life lived out for Christ to be radical and not the norm.

It’s confession time…again.  I have lived a life, and still struggle with this today, where I was just an ordinary Christian.  I haven’t done anything impacting for Christ.  All too often, I have praised God for great people who do great things, but missed the point, that I, too, am called to do great things for  Christ.  What is a great thing for Christ?  Is it leading a massive revival of thousands?  Is it organizing a food drive that feeds hundreds?  Sure, those things are great and far-reaching, but so is walking across the street to my neighbor’s house and telling him about Jesus.  In today’s world that can be just as radical as starting a massive revival.  Perhaps too much emphasis has been placed on not “boasting” or holding ourselves higher than others.  We feel like we are to be meek and out of the spotlight.  That’s true to an extent.  It’s God’s glory.  That’s the goal.  But how can I bring glory to God if I am not about His work?

The Bible is full of stories of seemingly “nobodies” doing amazing things for God.  Moses was a shepherd, Daniel – a captive slave, Peter and John – fishermen.  We too can be just a great in God’s eyes if we give 100% in one area – faith.  When I think about this lukewarm statement, I keep coming back to faith.  We don’t have the faith that God seeks from us.  We are content to simply believe and enjoy the benefit of knowing one day we’ll be with Jesus.  We don’t step out in faith to do what God has laid on our heart from the moment we trusted Him as our savior.

Think about the last part of the statement above – we call radical what Jesus expects from all of His followers.  Jesus has no prerequisites for radical faith other than that – faith.

Lord, today, I humbly acknowledge I have lived a life that is far too “ordinary” and not anything that resembles radical.  You have gifted me with the holy spirit and have simply asked that I step out in complete faith and allow you to use me.  Forgive me for failing you so greatly in this area.  May today be the day that I embrace my faith in you and yield my life to you completely.  I pray that you’ll use me just as you created me to be used.  In your name I pray – Amen.

To learn more about the “Thank you Jesus Signs”, click here.

Insanity

insanity

Insanity.  No, I’m not talking about the crazy workout video series that I, proudly, made it through day 4 without dying.  I’m talking about real-world insanity.  Most of us know the definition – doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results.  For a Christian, a better definition may include doing whatever we want without worry because we know the end result.  This type of insane thinking is dangerous and could be a false assurance.  It’s what came to mind when I read the next statement in the profile of the lukewarm.

Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved FROM their sin; they only want to be saved from the penalty of their sin.  There is more to it, and I’ll get to that later.  This first part of the statement is so powerful and so true.  Life is like this.  We don’t really mind bending the rules, cutting corners, even cheating.  What we mind is the consequences if we are caught. For the majority of us, we don’t let the “possibilities” deter us.  Take driving for example.  There are posted speed limits.  There are laws that require drivers to obey the posted speed limits.  Yet, we get in our cars everyday and drive “around” that limit.  Maybe 5 or 10 miles an hour over.  We don’t want a ticket, but we aren’t really that concerned with avoiding the behavior that would rightly earn a ticket.

Christianity, when it is first discovered, usually at the end of the Romans Road, really deals with life and death.  We present the gospel message, often focusing a great deal on the eternal reward.  Is that a dis-service to the new believer?  Maybe it is.  Maybe we should share the good news and place more emphasis on “this side of eternity” benefits.  Whether its presented as a “get out of hell” message, or someone is just interested enough to focus on “getting in”, it’s a real problem that needs to be examined.  The Bible clearly shows that Christ demands we give up our old life when we take on the gift of a new life in Him.  “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  In Romans, Paul asks the question, “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin live in it any longer? (Romans 6:1-2).  So the question begs – should we be concerned if our only goal is to avoid the penalty of our sin, but not the sin itself?

They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it; they’re merely sorry because God is going to punish them.  Have you ever had someone do something wrong, and when you called them out on it, they gave you a very sub-par apology that lacked any real empathy or substance?  They were merely apologizing because they had been caught.  They weren’t really sorry for what they did, and they had no plans to not do it again, to you or someone else.  That kind of apology doesn’t really sit well, does it?  Neither does our half-heart repentance to God.  I believe they’re many people walking around in life today who feel that they are “good to go” with God because they prayed the “sinners prayer” one day.  Jesus gives a stark warning about this in Matthew when he told His disciples that “not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…” (Matt. 7:21).  Jesus wasn’t calling us to a works salvation, but to genuinely repenting of our sin and trusting only in His perfect sacrifice for the atonement of our sin.  If we believe that simply saying the words, without believing them, is all that it takes, we are in for a rude awakening.  God isn’t looking for a half in, half out christian.  His demand is simple, trust in the one He sent – Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t offer the option to trust in parts of Him, or in a few of things He did, but to trust in Him.  This is a complete trust.

This statement about the lukewarm lifestyle should be a huge warning sign.  Are you sinning, without regard, without remorse, without a second thought?  Is your assurance based on a prayer you spoke one day when you felt guilty about your sin, but you never gave it another thought?  That’s a dangerous place to be.  When you give your life to Christ, and truly repent, you should be truly sorry for all that you did to hold Christ on that cross.  When Christ is in you, you will hate the very sin He forgives and you will feel unworthy of the eternal reward He earned when He gave His life for you.

Now, before anyone goes off questioning their salvation, it’s important to distinguish between being lukewarm and having a lukewarm moment in life.  I have found myself stuck in a vicious cycle of repeated sin, even after I trusted Christ as my savior.  The cycle lasted so long that I became oblivious to the sin, I was giving into it without any fight.  I was leading a life very much reflective of this statement.  But I hated the sin.  I still hate the sin.  I cringe when I realize I have given into temptation, said or done something that was an obvious offense to God.  We are not perfect and won’t be until we are in the presence of our savior.  That very fact is why we must trust, 100% in His finished work on the cross.

Where are you at today?  How does sin affect your life?  Do you believe and treasure this new life in Christ, or are you more content in the chains of sin?

Father, thank you for the perfect gift of your son, Jesus Christ.  Thank you for accepting His payment for my sin.  Thank you for making me aware of my sin nature, and thank you for how you have given me a heart that hates my sin.  I am not worthy of your eternal reward, and my life is far from anything that reflects your glory.  I pray that you will continue to change me and that each day I will flee from sinful behavior and find perfect comfort in the new life you gave me when I trusted you as my savior.  In your name I pray – Amen.

Lay down my life – am I ready?

firefighterPray

I have read several posts from fellow firefighters over the last couple months about “laying down my life” and “being willing to give it all” for the sake of someone else.  This is a popular theme among first responders.  While it’s not in the fine print, it’s an underlying thought that we all know is there.  The more I read these memes and posts, the more God has laid a burden on my heart to share the truth that should be paramount in that decision to “lay it all down”.  Are we ready?  I’m not asking if we are ready to give our life as in, “will I consciously choose my brother, sister’s or patient’s well-being over mine?”  Honestly, no one knows that answer until it is asked of them.  But the question I am asking is – Are you ready for what happens after you make that choice?

There are no guarantees in life.  There is no way to know where we are on God’s timetable.  As an ordinary human being the Bible paints an urgent picture to be “right with God”.  To make a decision, while we still can, for Jesus Christ.  James 4:13-15 paints a solid picture about the brevity of life and the need to live on purpose.  Now listen, you who say, Today or tomorrow we will go to this city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  Instead, you ought to say,”If it is the Lords’ will, we will live and do this or that.”  It doesn’t get much clearer than that.  We don’t know.  Life is short.  It really is.  While we can’t live just for today or tomorrow, we certainly can’t put off decisions and actions thinking there will be time later.

My post, today, is directed at those that I serve with in first responder world.  It’s open for anyone and everyone, but those men and women are on my heart today.  I challenge you this – are you ready for what happens after you so bravely lay down your life?  Have you made a decision to trust Jesus with your eternal life?  If you haven’t made the choice, or if you have no idea what I’m talking about, I challenge you today to read on.

We are not perfect.  God is.  We do not measure up to His standard – which is perfection.  We can’t be with Him because we are imperfect sinners.  For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one (Romans 3:10).  This is hard to digest, because we can’t imagine in our mind that laying down are life wouldn’t be enough.  Can’t we become righteous for paying the ultimate sacrifice?  According to God’s word, we can’t save enough people, we can’t give enough, we can’t do anything enough to become acceptable to God.

Where did sin come from?  Why was I born this way?  Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.  We are descendants of the first created being – Adam.  He sinned, and His perfection ended.  From that moment it was in his DNA and passed on to each generation.  The result of that sin is simple – death.  Adam and Eve were created to live forever, but God wants us to choose Him, so he gave them a choice.  Their choice had an outcome.  They chose to disobey God’s direction, and live for themselves, and their outcome was life that ultimately ends in death.  For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life (Romans 6:23).  Don’t miss the last part.  God didn’t create us to kill us.  He created us to be with Him.  That was the original design and it was perfect.  God doesn’t throw away His design, so He made a way.  That gift was His way that we can be together when our time here is up.

God shows us His never-ending mercy and love by giving the ultimate gift – Jesus Christ.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Christ came to this world for one purpose: to save us.  As a first responder, maybe you can relate in some way to that.  Maybe that is exactly why you chose to serve – to save.

God demonstrated his love by giving us Jesus who would live the life we couldn’t and die the death we deserved to satisfy the penalty that is rightly ours.  To show that his payment was sufficient, God raised Jesus up, giving him victory over death.  He put one requirement out there to get this free gift – believe.  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)  God requires that we put our trust in what Christ did as the payment necessary for our sin.  In accepting that He is the payment, we also must believe that God accepted that payment on our behalf.

Worried about your past?  Don’t be. This gift has no prerequisites.  There is nothing we can do other than believe.  For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Romans 10:13).  It’s out there for everyone.  We just have to accept it.

Remember, we don’t know when God will call our name and our life will be over – here.  We, as first responders, have signed up to help others at all costs, even death.  While you may, so bravely, hold that commitment in your heart, I beg you to do it with the assurance that you have trusted Christ as your savior.