Letting Him Renew Our Strength

This week my devotions led me to Isaiah 40:30-31, which says: “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

There were two things I noticed as I read this section of scripture—two things that I think can encourage us and help us in these challenging times that have left many of us weary and exhausted.

The first is the reality that God knows we’re going to experience weakness and fatigue in this fallen, broken world. We’re told in these verses that even youth become weak and tired.

My son Toby has always been high energy. From day one (19 years ago) it took everything I had to keep up with him. The thing is, that energy would eventually run out. It wasn’t uncommon when he was little for him to fall asleep in the car on the way home from a long day or to fall asleep on the couch in the evening after playing hard all day.

The reality is even youth with all their energy grow weak and tired. And it’s no surprise to God that we do too. He knows we are human and our physical bodies can only take so much. The key is how we deal with our fatigue and exhaustion.

This leads to the second thing we see in these scriptures, which is the fact that we renew our strength in the Lord. It says as we wait on the Lord, He gives us the strength we need to “mount up with wings like eagles”.

When we find ourselves weary and exhausted, do we take time to wait on the Lord? When was the last time we actually took time to Sabbath? And Sabbath isn’t just going to church, it’s actually taking time to put everything else aside to rest our bodies and connect with the Lord. It’s something we’re called to do weekly. “Remember the Sabbath and Keep it Holy” is one of God’s Commandments. This is because God knows we need to rest and He knows that He’s the only one that can truly renew our strength. If you’re feeling tired and weary today, I encourage you to take time to wait on the Lord and rest in Him!

Learning to Keep Quiet

This week I was at our denomination’s district conference and heard an amazing message on Joshua and the story where they defeated Jericho. The speaker pointed out the fact that the Israelites were told not to fight but to simply march around the city’s walls.

And on top of that, they were told not to talk. Listen to what it says in Joshua 6:10 “But Joshua had commanded the army, ‘Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout!’” 

The truth is that until hearing this message, I hadn’t really given much thought to why God would ask them not to talk. But the fact is the Israelites were known for their grumbling and complaining. It was their grumbling and complaining that lead to them wandering in the desert for 40 years.

I can almost imagine the conversations that might have taken place while they walked around Jericho had they not been told to keep quiet, especially by the fifth or sixth day. Who knows what kind of grumbling or complaining they might have done.

When God doesn’t do things the way we think He should or in ways that don’t make sense to us, how do we respond? Do we grumble and complain? Like I said, the Israelites were known for their grumbling and complaining. To be honest, I believe we as Americans can do a pretty good job of complaining and grumbling ourselves.

But what if we didn’t? What if we chose to keep quiet and trust that God has a plan? What if we chose to look for ways that God is at work instead of focusing on the negative things in our world? Grumbling and complaining have never benefitted anyone. It just stirs up confusion and anger. Joshua said to not say a word until he told them to. What if we learned to keep quiet until God tells us to speak?

Improving Our Relationships

This week I read an article by Rick Warren that talked about how we can improve our relationships. His key point was that we must learn to serve others. The fact is we often focus on our own wants and needs, which can make it seem like life revolves around us.
 
And if this is how both people in a relationship are viewing things, it’s going to cause challenges and conflicts in that relationship. This is why we must learn to serve others. Serving others will change our heart, which will ultimately change the way our relationships look.
 
One of the key values God desires for all of us is to learn to be selfless instead of selfish. It’s the example that Jesus set for all of us. Matthew 20:28 tells us: “…the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
 
All we have to do is look at the Gospels and read the stories of Jesus. There we see Him show love and compassion time and time again as He graciously serves others. He would always put others before Himself.

We are called to imitate the life of Christ. To love like He loved, to serve like He served. When we live in this way, we live our life not for our own benefit but for the benefit of others.
 
And if we can learn to live life this way, there’s no doubt that our relationships will improve. People enjoy being around those who genuinely care about them and who put them first.
 
My encouragement for all of us this week is that we seek to do a better job of serving others. We need to ask the Lord to show us how we can improve. We need to read the stories of Jesus and let His life inspire us. Because I truly believe that learning to serve others better, will improve and transform our relationships.

God is Love

As a pastor, I get emails and letters every so often from people telling me what I need to be preaching on or what I’m doing wrong. I find this especially strange when it’s from someone who doesn’t even attend our church.

I received one of those letters this past week. I’m guessing I wasn’t the only pastor in my city that received this letter because they seemed to be addressing churches in a broad spectrum. In the letter were these words, “The church has allowed the devil to take over your pulpit and dictate that you only preach the ‘love verses’ because, God forbid you should offend anyone.”

I find this statement so odd and ironic because the last thing the devil wants is for us to be preaching about the love of Jesus. We’re told in 1 John 4:8 that God is love. So if all we ever do between now and eternity is preach the “love verses”, I think it would be wonderful and pleasing to the Lord.

In his book The Signature of Jesus Brennan Manning writes, “Jesus, as the revealer of the Godhead, defines God as love. In light of this revelation, we have to abandon the cankerous, worm-eaten structure of legalism, moralism, and perfectionism that corrupts the Good News into an ethical code rather than a love affair.”

1 John 4:7-8 tells us: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

I honestly think that love is what is lacking more than anything in our world today. We need to better understand and receive the love of God so that we can live out the two greatest commandments: LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and LOVE your neighbor as yourself. Let’s continue to preach, speak and demonstrate the love of Jesus.

Speaking Love and Life to Others

Every week I take about 30-45 minutes for what I call margin time. It’s a time where I go for a walk or a hike with the sole purpose of clearing my head and casting all my cares upon the Lord. I generally do it before I sit down and begin to type out my message for that week.

This week, I was walking through our city park on a beautiful fall morning. It was a little cool, but the warmth of the sun made it absolutely perfect. I sat down on a bench there in the morning sun and closed my eyes and listened to the sounds that surrounded me. I heard the sounds of the creek, the squirrels and a handful of birds.

There were two distinct bird sounds there in the area. One was a squawking sound that was quite a bit louder, while the other was more of a chirping or a song like a melody. Needless to say, the bird with a song to sing was much more pleasant.

As I sat there listening intently, I wondered: “Which one of these am I?” When I open my mouth, do others hear squawking or a song? And I’m not talking about singing ability, because I know I’m more of a squawker in that case.

I’m talking about how people hear and receive the words I speak. Am I a squawker that is constantly and loudly spouting out negativity and words that may be hurtful or annoying? Or am I one who speaks life and love in the words that come from my mouth?

Now, I honestly know I’ve been both, but my desire is to be someone who speaks life. Proverbs 18:21 tells us, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” The words we say make a difference.

We live in a world that is constantly looking for the negative in everything, but I want to be someone who looks for the positive and who speaks encouragement to others. I don’t want to be the squawker. I want to be a person who speaks love and life to those that God puts in my path.

Embracing His Grace and Showing It to Others

This week, I had the privilege of sharing a little devotional with one of our ministry groups here at the church. As I pondered what to share, the Lord put on my heart this idea of embracing and showing His grace.

The scripture that the Lord led me to was the story of the woman who had been caught in adultery. If you aren’t familiar with it, I would encourage you to take some time to read it. It’s found in John 8:1-11.

If you are familiar with the story though, you know that this woman obviously understood grace. One minute she’s on the verge of losing her life and the next she’s walking away with an opportunity to leave her old life of sin behind.

I am someone who can relate to this woman. Even though I grew up in a Christian home, when I was in the Marine Corps I fell hard in my relationship with the Lord. So much so that I actually had a roommate say to me, “It’s hard to believe you were ever a Christian!”

Talk about a wake up call. It was those words that helped me, over time, give my life back to the Lord. And after realizing how far I fell, I have embraced His grace with everything I have.

Now my wife’s story is a lot different from mine. Stacy was one of those who grew up in church and pretty much served the Lord her entire life. She was a rare teenager that often obeyed her parents and never really caused them trouble. As a matter of fact, her mom would tell you that she was the easiest teenager of all 5 of her kids.

The thing is, Stacy will tell you the challenges this brought for her when it came to embracing grace. Since everyone always told her what a good girl she was—she actually began to believe it.

She knew she wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t until she was in her mid-twenties that she realized that her sin was no different than anyone else’s sin: that regardless of how good a person she had been: she was still a sinner and she needed God’s grace just as much as the adulterous woman in John 8. If we want to be people who embrace God’s grace, we must first realize our need for it. Romans 3:23 reminds us that we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of the Lord. When we understand this truth, it enables each of us to embrace His grace and then show that same grace to others.

What Do You Think Jesus Thinks?

Two weeks ago my wife spoke at church and shared a very raw and authentic message that I know was impactful for many people. In her message she was vulnerable and honest about taking on an offense that wasn’t hers to take on.

It was a great reminder that all of us fall short at times. We all make mistakes and can easily get caught up in the emotions that entangle us. This is why it’s important that we walk in humility and seek to identify those areas in our lives where our vision may be skewed.

One of the questions Stacy talked about that helped her see things more clearly, was the question: What do you think Jesus thinks? It’s an interesting and challenging question. I think many of us would desire for God to be proud of us and for Him to support the decisions we make. But have we actually taken time to pray and ask Him?

1 Corinthians 10:31 talks about doing all things for the glory of the Lord. But how often do we ask ourselves these kinds of questions: What does Jesus think? Is what I’m doing glorifying Him? Is this really what He would have me do? Is this how He would have me respond?

How often are the decisions we make based on our own thoughts or desires? Are we taking time to think through our decisions and seeking to truly glorify God in all that we do? I know these are challenging questions, but I believe if we want to truly glorify God in all that we do and live the lives He’s calling us to live, we have to be asking these questions. And, more importantly, we need to be honest with ourselves about the answers.

Step Into the Silence

If you’ve been around me at all, you know that I don’t have a problem carrying a conversation. My wife, on the other hand, struggles at times with conversation. That is: if I’m not around. If I’m at her side, she’s fine, because she knows she won’t have to worry about those awkward moments of silence.

Awkward moments of silence have never been a problem for me because I’m a talker. If silence occurs, I have a way of filling the silence with the sound of my own voice. I’m not really sure if this is a gift or a curse.

We live in a day and age where we fill every moment of our lives with noise: whether it’s the TV, the phone, our music apps, video games, podcasts, our own voices, or whatever. We have come to the conclusion that silence is awkward, but why? Why is it that so many of us struggle with silence?

I believe it’s something that has happened slowly over time. It’s something that has gradually crept into our way of life. And it’s something that I think we have to be intentional about changing.

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” I am learning that silence isn’t awkward. It’s actually an amazing opportunity to quiet my heart and mind and allow God to speak to me on a deeper and more intimate level. I’m able to hear things that I otherwise might have missed.

We were created for this kind of connection and we have to be intentional about quieting the noise and seeking Him in the silence. So, I encourage you to take time to step into the silence and know that He is God!

In It For The Long Haul

Years ago, when I was in youth ministry, I had the opportunity to have lunch with a Foursquare pastor from Germany. During that lunch we talked about numerous things concerning ministry, but there is one part of that conversation that I still remember to this day.

We were talking about goals and accomplishments in ministry and he told me that they have a saying in Germany that translates to English like this: “We overestimate what we can accomplish in one year but we underestimate what we can accomplish in five or ten years.”

The truth is, we live in a society that seeks to accomplish things as quickly as possible and, if we don’t reach our goals as quickly as we hope, we often abandon them. We lack patience in our culture and, because of this, we often don’t see our goals fulfilled.

This week I’ve had the opportunity to hang out with our missionaries in Alaska. Our Church family has been supporting them since we planted our church and we have watched them lovingly and patiently do the work they set out to do a little over ten years ago.

The last three or four years have been extremely challenging as they’ve faced many hardships. There were times when they weren’t sure if their mission here would continue, but they persevered and pressed on, seeking to do the work God has called them to do.

This evening, as I sat talking with Rod Koop—our primary contact and liaison for the North of Hope mission here in Alaska—he received a text from an Alaskan tribal administrator asking for his help with a project. As he read the text to me, he said, “This is what we came here for. This is huge—they don’t ask outsiders to help with things like this.” Tears of joy and gratitude streamed down his cheeks as he shared these things with me.

This came after ten years of hard work, patience, and perseverance. And I believe they are only beginning to see what God will do through their faithful obedience! Galatians 6:9 tells us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Rod didn’t give up and now he’s beginning to reap the harvest God has prepared. And God wants to use all of us to make a difference in our world. The question is: Are we willing to be patient, walk in faithful obedience, and persevere to see those things come to fruition?

Let Him Be Your Deliverer

Today I read the story in Exodus 14 where the Israelites were finally leaving Egypt and the oppressive rule of Pharaoh. But if you’re familiar with the story you know that after the Israelites left, Pharaoh changed his mind and he and his army take off after them.

And so the Israelites find themselves between a rock and a hard place. On one side is the massive Red Sea and on the other side is Pharaoh and his Egyptian army coming to take them back into captivity. They have nowhere to run.

We can only imagine what was going through the minds of the Israelites.

In that moment their situation seemed hopeless. I wonder how many of us have found ourselves in similar situations. Where the walls around us seemed to be closing in. Where things seemed hopeless. Maybe some of us are even feeling that way right now.

If so, let me encourage you with the same words that Moses spoke to the Israelites, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the LORD will accomplish for you today.” In this fallen broken world we are going to experience difficulties and challenges, but we don’t have to be afraid. God is with us and he will never leave us or forsake us. He is our hope in hopeless situation. So I encourage you to trust in Him and let Him be your deliverer.