Restless Excitement

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I am a fidgety person.  I blame it on my attention deficit issues, it comes with the territory.  My mind wonders and my feet move, my fingers tap, I click my pen, and so on.  When I talk on the phone – especially if it’s important, I can’t seem to sit still – I have to pace around.  I recently took a phone interview…in the middle of a Sheetz…after traveling for 20+ hours.  During that 10 minute phone call, I found myself circling every aisle as if I was possessed and looking for something.  It wasn’t even a normal stroll up one aisle and down the other, I looked like a lost animal trying to find the exit.  I would take one step in this direction, spin around, walk 10 steps another way, turn again.  I am sure it was comical to watch.

Restlessness can also creep up in our spiritual life.  Sometimes this is a bad thing.  Sometimes, we get to a point where we are confused about what God wants from us, or how we should follow Him.  We may feel uneasy with where our life is right now, and not know which way to turn.  I have experienced a little bit of that as I search for a new career.   My mind says find something that pays the bills, but my heart is tugging toward something that fulfills God’s plan for my life.  I don’t want to make the wrong decision or miss an open door because I am too restless and unwilling to slow down, trust God and listen to the Holy Spirit.  Today, I have been challenged to think of restlessness as a good thing.

This week has been a crazy period of adjusting to the time change, geography change and most importantly, daily life change.  I prayed and thanked God for the experience and the life changing passion He has given me for foreign missions.  I love going where He sends me and just being wide open and willing to do whatever is asked of me.  There is something free about following God’s leading.  Now that I am back home, I went through an adjustment, but there is a restless excitement.  I am not content to come back and put that mission trip on the shelf and just reminisce about how nice it was.  I have a desire to serve here just like we served while we were on the field.  I’m on edge looking for opportunity and trying to listen to the Holy Spirit.  I don’t want to miss out.

God gives us that restlessness so we are drawn to Him.  When we think of restlessness because we are unsure, it’s God – the firm rock and foundation of our lives that we turn to.   When we are unsure of what’s next in life, we can look to God and His word and understand our purpose.  Our restlessness is a tool that God uses to disturb the status-quo and move us closer to His will.  As part of the idea of being intentional, take the restlessness that you may feel and intentionally seek God’s heart.  Take the time to pray and look for the opportunities that He is presenting so you can draw closer to Him.  God’s desire is a relationship with us, his creation.  When we give our life to Christ, He spends the rest of our days helping us live out the plan He has had for each of us since the beginning of time.

My challenge to you today is simple.  Don’t ignore or try to quiet your restless heart.  Instead embrace it, become excited by it and look for the purpose.  Be bold for Christ and refuse to settle for “good enough.”  Be intentional and open your heart so that you are leaning fully on faith and go!  Remember what Paul wrote – But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 3:20).  We aren’t done until we are home.  That restless excitement is God pushing us deeper and deeper into Him.  Giving us a heart that longs for our heavenly home and understanding the purpose while we wait for that homecoming.

Father, today, I thank you that I am uncomfortable.  I’m not meant to be comfortable on this side of eternity.  There is work to be done, and I thank you that you are moving to make me aware of that.  I pray you’ll continue to build this desire in me to serve you, wherever you put me.  Thank you for this intentional attitude.  I pray that I am sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, yet bold and courageous to answer with full faith in you.  In your name I pray – Amen.

Intentional Living: Following God’s GPS

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As I continue to adjust back to home, I have spent the past few days processing, seeking, and listening.  I know God has moved me in an extraordinary way and I am on a mission to capture that movement and follow the path He has laid out for me.  As I thought about my walk with Christ, I keep coming back to the words focus and intentional.  Focus is a funny word to me, mostly because I am 100% A.D.D.  Even today, as I read and study God’s word, I have found my mind drifting to completely different things.  Focus is not easy, but it’s an attitude and trait I have given to God and asked Him to help me change.  I want to live a life focused on Him – hourly, daily, weekly, and forever.  I mentioned it before, one of the greatest aspects of serving Christ in an all-inclusive environment is that the focus is always on Him.  Now that I am back in my reality, the focus still has to be all about Him.

For ADD people, we know that in order to focus we have to consciously do it.  Many people can do things without even thinking about them, but for someone who has a wandering mind, you have to purposefully keep your mind engaged on the point of focus.  This is a part of what is meant when we talk about living an intentional life for Christ.  Purposefully finding out what God wants, what pleases Him, and how He has gifted you to accomplish His will.  The other part of that is going beyond figuring it out, but actually doing it.  For a long time, I have had the head and even heart knowledge, knowing what to do, but it stopped there.  It’s like figuring out your exact destination on a trip – right down to the street number.  You take that information, enter it into a GPS, and instantly, the path is laid out before you.  Here is the starting point, here is the route, and here is the ending point.  But now what?  Well, the obvious answer is to start the car into motion and follow the route.  So why don’t we do that with God?  We have His word.  If we know Him as our savior, we have on-board GPS – the Holy Spirit.  All that’s left is to start into motion and follow the leading of the Spirit.  But for so many, myself included, we stop at the starting line.

For a long time, I didn’t feel prepared to start.  I knew the path, I trusted God’s word and plan, but I didn’t know how to follow it. I didn’t think I had it in me to tell others about Him in an effective way that would lead them to salvation.  I couldn’t speak eloquently enough, didn’t have enough answers to tough questions.  So I just sat there, not moving, just being.  In Ephesians 5:10, the Bible says “Figure out what will please Christ, and then do it.” (From The Message).    The context of this passage deals with following God’s example, not getting caught up in the worldly concerns of this life.  He is our GPS.  He is the beginning and end.  He is perfection and following him intentionally every day will keep us moving on the perfect path to become what He desires and accomplish what brings Him glory.  Now, I can’t illustrate anything with a GPS and not talk about re-calculating.  Anyone that has ever followed a GPS has made a turn, or a decision and saw the words re-calculating.  That does not mean the destination has changed, it just means you’ll get there by a different route.  The same is true in our Christian walk.  Thank God we are saved by grace and nothing we do outside of faith changes that.  Imagine if you were driving along on your trip, made a wrong turn and the GPS just quit and said, “Good Luck.”  We would never get where we were headed.  God loves us so much that He is willing to recalculate, but He’ll never simply turn off.  He just gives us a new route and our job is to trust that the route He provides will be the perfect way to get us from where we are to where He wants us to be.

Go where He says to go. Serve how He wants you to serve.  Love how He wants you to love.  Be intentional.

So, how does this apply?  It’s simple. Be on purpose – or be intentional. Pray daily, seeking the face of God and by faith and with commitment, submit to Him.  Go where He says to go. Serve how He wants you to serve.  Love how He wants you to love.  Determine everyday to live a life that thinks about Christ, considers what He would do when faced with our situation, and walk how He would walk, leaning on the faith that God will provide whatever is needed to do it.  Take responsibility for how you live your life.  It isn’t enough to say I want to be more like Christ.  The right statement to make is, “Today, I will be more like Christ in my thoughts and actions.  He is the perfect GPS and is ready to take us on this journey called life, helping us reach the destination He has for each of us.  Are you willing to take the ride?

Father, I love you.  I am in awe of you and I fear you.  I feel your perfect love and can see clearly this day how you intend for me to live.  I intentionally choose to look for every opportunity to walk with you and serve you with my whole heart.  I thank you for this refreshing attitude and pray that I’ll wake each day with the same purpose to follow you in all that I do.  In your name I pray – Amen.

Post-Mission: Attitudes to Avoid

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I am feeling the effects.  Mostly jet lag and adjustment back to this time zone, but also the effects of post-mission deflation.  I’m not sure if this is a real thing or not, but I go through it every time I return from a mission trip where I spent the majority of each day serving and being immersed in ministry.  That is probably my favorite part of these trips – getting to serve, uninterrupted – 24/7 without any distractions.  Everything you do is focused on the key goal, telling others about Christ.  As a youth leader, there is the other aspect of being with your teen students all day every day.  Your bond and relationship with them deepens to a whole new level.  I learn more about their everyday life, their heart, and connect with them to the point that I look at them as my own.  You can’t help but love them…even when they have you up at 2 a.m. planning the next big prank.

sarah cole - IMG_0765But two days, post-trip, I am sitting here trying to get back into the “real world” I left behind.  I have daily tasks, meetings, responsibilities, etc.  But my mind is still on the broken path overlooking the Black Sea.  My heart is still thinking about the stories we heard, the games we played, and deep moments where we connected with our groups and saw them light up hearing how Jesus loves each of them.  I try to get my focus straight, but I can’t help feel a little empty because everything else that’s not serving Jesus seems pointless.  I miss working side by side with the team, hearing them laugh, watching them push through when their tired.  It’s easy to slip into a small depression, and to miss the Holy Spirit’s gentle voice.  He’s saying…“It’s not over, nothing but the geography has changed.”  I could just sit and think about what we did, but that’s not what God wants to do through me and this experience.  He uses these moments to “fire us up”, to get the blood flowing again.  To prime us for the real work.  Being a disciple and follower of Christ in our every-day lives.

When we are on these trips, we typically do a group devotion and it’s laid out beautifully. It helps you work your way through a passage of scripture and then apply that scripture through thoughtful questions.  One such question deals with what we want to avoid – actions and attitudes.  I think that’s a fair question for how I reflect on this trip and think about what comes next.  The last thing I want to do is have an attitude of “it’s over”.  

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. – Romans 12:11

That’s the furthest thing from the truth. In fact it’s just beginning.  During this past trip, our devotions focused on the missionary journey’s of Paul.  Reading through each passage, brought out one central theme: Paul never let an opportunity to witness and proclaim Christ slip by.  When he found success and a receptive audience, he didn’t just sit back and enjoy those memories, he pressed on and continued to reach as many people as he could.  His attitude is the perfect example and where I am determined to go.  My mission trip didn’t end, it just changed location.

So my attitude on this day is simple disciplines: Reading God’s Word, praying for understanding and application, and purposefully submitting to the Holy Spirit’s leading of my life.  Through this simple discipline, I will continue to grow, God will continue to lead, and I’ll be ready the next time he calls me to “Go.”  I am forever changed by the experience of visiting Ukraine and sharing the hope of Christ with the children at Bible Camp.  I have a deeper love for each of the students I am privileged to work with and my friendship and bond with my fellow leaders will last a lifetime.  I am certain of these things.  I choose, today, to take this boost and push forward, boldly living for Christ in everything that I do.

Father, thank you for the memories.  Thank you for a heart that longs to be immersed serving you with those that mean so much to me.  Thank you for giving me a heart that seeks after you.  I pray that I’ll move forward looking for opportunities to use what you have done on this past trip to strengthen me and help me grow in my love and devotion to you, rather than just sitting around reflecting on what has been.  I pray for your leading and strength so that I will serve you no matter where you lead me. – In your name, Amen.

Go…wherever you are called, just go!

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Just a few short hours ago I was flying over the Black Sea leaving behind a 10-day experience in Odessa Ukraine.  In those 10 days I was part of an amazing group of teenagers seeking after God’s heart while serving the people of Ukraine.  We came along side our brothers and sisters in Ukraine to provide a Bible Camp to 70 children from villages around Odessa as well as refugees who have been displaced by the conflict in the Eastern part of the country.  God moved through that camp and in the end, several children accepted Christ as savior and forever changed their lives and eternal destiny.  I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to serve my Lord in this country, and am blessed beyond measure to have the chance to help lead our teenagers as they discovered the joys and challenges of foreign missions.

Derek Belcher - IMG_0940On the flight home, I was reading a book that has sobered me to a painful point in my life and made me look at my past Christian walk.  I have been heartbroken by the choices I have made and where my priorities have been.  There is so much more I could do for the Lord and so many opportunities I have lost.  But I remember the words of Paul in Philippians 3:13 – “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead,…”  God isn’t interested in what I haven’t done. He is focused on what I can do…today, tomorrow and the rest of my days.  In reading this book, Crazy Love by Francis Chan, he made this statement: “Some people claim that we can be Christians without necessarily becoming disciples.  I wonder then, why the last thing Jesus told us was to go into the world, making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that He commanded?  You’ll notice he didn’t add, “But hey if that’s too much to ask, tell them to become Christians – you know, the people who get to go to heaven without having to commit to anything.”Derek Belcher - IMG_1175

That’s powerful truth, staring you in the face. If you claim to be a follower of Christ then you have to be willing to go wherever he leads you.  We have one super simple job…teach others to follow Christ, so they can join our super simple job – teaching others to follow Christ.  This mission experience reaffirmed this simple call in my life.  I love foreign missions. It’s scary and exciting to visit a new place, to learn about their culture and see how God uses their different approach to life to accomplish His purpose, bring glory to His name and develop personal relationships with those that trust Him.  But my heart is burdened beyond that.  I realized, this week, and through reading the gospels and this book that the call is there for all of us, whether it be in a place like Ukraine or around the block in your neighborhood.  If we really want to call ourselves followers of Christ, true Christians, it’s time to open our eyes and answer the call to go.  Go to the local outreach, go on the short-term trip, go to the next county or state, go wherever God provides an opportunity to share His message of hope through Christ.  Just Go…wherever that may be…just Go!

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Father, I thank you again and again for your love and mercy in my life. I thank you for the grace we see in you, and for the indescribable love you show each of us everyday.  I thank you that you are not concerned with what I haven’t done, but with what I can do for you.  Make me the disciple you want me to be.  I pray that I will never miss the opportunity to Go!  In your name I pray – Amen.

Getting them to the starting line

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Last night, I was humbled as I heard the voice of a six-year old little girl answer the calling in her heart to accept Christ as her savior.  My daughter asked a million questions over the last few months, and you could certainly see that she was dealing with the question of “what do I do with Jesus?”.  In a simple moment, she made a decision to ask Jesus to save her from her sins and live in her heart.  In that moment, my heart melted.  I silently prayed a prayer of thanks to God for giving her to me and for convicting me with my parental responsibility to tell her all about Him.  As someone living in the millennial age, my next duty was to share it on social media.  I don’t post a lot, but I felt like screaming from the mountaintops.  The “likes” and comments flowed in and I beamed as I went to bed.  When I woke up this morning, I went through my social media again, and a comment caught my eye and it spoke to me so profoundly.  It was a simple “my heart is happy for you” and then a follow-up comment.  “Now the hard work continues…to train her…”.  I kept reading that over and over and it reminded me of my importance in her life – in the life of all my kids.  My job isn’t over.  Yes, we were able to lead her to this point where she realized her need for a savior and where she made a decision for eternity, but that’s just the starting line.

The Bible is very clear on the responsibility of parents, and especially fathers.  One of my favorite movies is Courageous.  It has a very clear story of a father coming to grips with tragedy only to learn what his real responsibility is concerning raising his children.  At the end of the movie he gives a speech where he emphatically answers questions, about who will lead his family and help his children grow in their walk with Christ, with a resounding “I will”.  In God’s word, I am charged with discipling my children and helping them grow in their lifelong walk with Christ.  It doesn’t just end with getting her to this point where she has accepted Christ’s free gift of salvation.  It continues to help her see what that means and what that opens up.  It continues as she learns about giving all areas of her life to Christ and committing to serving Him with her whole heart in all that she does.  It continues as she learns to love everyone the way Christ loves her.  It continues as she silently learns how she’ll raise her own children, leading them to the Lord and walking this same path with them.  I am so grateful for that comment to remind me of my importance in my children’s lives.

I studied Ephesians 6:4 this morning and found great delight and humbleness as I was reminded of the responsibility God has given me.  “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  In this verse, God summarizes a lot of what he wants me to do as a father.  I am constantly butting heads with my 13-year-old because…well he knows everything.  I have always read this verse and thought, I need to be careful not to push his buttons so I don’t make him angry. That lasted all of about 10 seconds.  Reading that again today, and looking through the study notes in my Bible, I understand that it is not just keeping the peace, but being realistic.  I need to create a home where He can grow, learn, succeed and fail and it all be alright, because in the end, we love him unconditionally.  It should be that way with all our kids.  Ultimately, we want to model Christ, and there is no greater picture to model than what He did for all mankind on the cross.  My children will become angry when they get in trouble, but discipline is a key part of discipleship.  My job as a parent is to never stop learning and leaning on Christ and to be consistent as I model that behavior to my kids.  My expectations should be clear and based on my walk with Christ.  If I expect them to love the Lord, they have to see me loving the Lord as well – in all that I do.  I believe the best way to avoid provoking their anger and their resentment of Christ is to be consistent, forgiving and most of all in love with God.  The  last part of the verse is pretty easy to understand.  When I was a young child my parents told me about Christ.  They took me to church and they raised me on biblical standards.  That’s my job with my children.  I am called to impart on them the discipline and knowledge of the Lord so they will continue to honor Him as the generations before them have.  It’s getting harder and harder to see in our society, but that’s still the basic idea.  We are training the next generation so that people will continue to hear the good news of the gospel.

So, we are at the starting line and ready to run this race.  I am thankful that I know how the race will end, and I can already celebrate the victory.

Father, thank you for your son Jesus Christ.  Thank you for the perfect gift that satisfied my sin debt.  Thank you for extending that gift to my daughter.  I pray for your wisdom, strength, perseverance and courage to raise her to honor you, fear you, and most of all love you with all of her life.  Make me the man, husband, and father you want me to be for my family and all those in my life.  I pray for my daughter’s lifelong walk with you.  In Christ I pray – Amen.

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

rewardRisk

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

all in

“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

comfort

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.