The Freedom to Surrender

This Monday is the 4th of July: a day we celebrate our independence as a country; a day we reflect on the freedoms that we have in this country. I served in the United States Marine Corps years ago and made a commitment to fight for those freedoms. 

I am thankful for the freedoms that we are able to experience in this nation: freedoms that many people all over the world don’t get to experience. But it’s good to remember that our freedoms can also create a challenge for us as followers of Christ. And the challenge is to not allow the freedoms we have to keep us from surrendering our lives to the Lord.

As a Recon Marine, we had a little motto: “Never surrender, never give up.” To surrender meant giving up and that’s something Marines see as weakness. But as followers of Jesus, we’re called to surrender our lives to God. We actually give up our rights to follow Him and His will for our lives.

One of the things that I’ve seen our freedom do is cause us to believe that the world revolves around us. We often believe that our freedoms give us the right to do whatever WE want. And the truth is, that might not seem wrong from the view of a non-believer. But as followers of Jesus, we’re called to put others first.

In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul tells us: “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” As I look at all that’s going on in our nation today, I’m not seeing a lot of humility. And most people only seem to care about their own interests.

Freedom is an amazing thing, but we can’t let the freedoms our nation affords us keep us from living the life that God calls us to live. God calls us to a life of love and grace: a life where we put Him and others first; a life that isn’t focused on ourselves, but rather focused on loving and caring for others.

As we celebrate this 4th of July, my prayer is that we remember the freedoms that God has given all of us: freedoms that allow us to love one another; freedoms that allow us to even love our enemies. May we remember His freedoms and surrender to His will and way for our lives.

God’s Plan For Our Lives

If you’ve spent any amount of time in church, you’ve probably heard the words, “God has a plan for your life.” And I think the big question for all of us is: Do we believe this? It sounds good and many of us may want to believe it, but do we?

Then, if we don’t really believe it, I guess the follow up question would be: Why not? If we’re honest with ourselves, many of us struggle with shame and insecurities. We don’t think we’re good enough to be used by God and we lack the confidence to step out in faith.

If I’m honest, this is the real reason I didn’t think I’d ever be a senior pastor. I struggled with the fact that I hadn’t gone to Bible college…that I hadn’t gone to any college for that matter. I didn’t think I had what it took to be a senior or lead pastor. I didn’t think it was in my DNA, so to speak.

But I’ve learned that “God doesn’t call the qualified—He qualifies the called.” In other words, He gave me direction and provision and even the skills required each time I took a step forward in obedience to do the things He placed in my heart. He knows me better than I know myself and He knew that His plan was for me to be a senior pastor. 

Now, not all of us are called to be pastors vocationally, but God does have a plan for our lives. He created each of us uniquely for specific purposes.  In Psalm 139:13-14, David says, “You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.” (NLT)

God created each of us in such a wonderful and complex way. He knows us better than we know ourselves and we will never be all that God desires us to be until we embrace that truth. 

None of us are perfect: all of us have flaws and weaknesses. God knows that and He isn’t bothered by any of them. As a matter of fact, He tells us that His strength is made perfect in our weaknesses. And when we step forward in obedience, even when we feel unqualified or unskilled or weak, He takes what we’re able to give and multiplies it for His Glory as He shines through us in ways we never imagined.

Lord, help us to embrace the calling You have on our lives. Help us to realize that we were fearfully and wonderfully made: that You made us the way we are so that we can fulfill Your plan for our lives and for the world around us. 

The Perfect Father

This Sunday is Father’s Day. A day that brings different emotions for each of us. As a son who has an amazing father who has helped me become the man and father I am today—I have wonderful and positive feelings about Father’s Day. But I know others who didn’t have positive experiences with their father or who grew up without a father. For them, Father’s Day can be painful and discouraging.

Romans 8:14-15 tells us: “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

I’m not sure how each of us feels about Father’s Day and I’m not sure if this idea of God as our heavenly Father is encouraging or challenging. But as we approach this weekend, I hope that we all come to an understanding of God the Father’s love for all of us.

I believe we were created with this desire to experience God’s love. He is a perfect Father Who wants to love us and care for us in all the ways our earthly fathers fall short. He wants us to know and to understand the unconditional love that He has for us.

So, my prayer for all of us this weekend is that we can acknowledge our Heavenly Father and give thanks to Him for being the perfect, loving, kind, and just Father.

Understanding Our Value

I was recently talking to someone about the current housing market. It totally blows my mind what houses are selling for these days. I don’t understand the varied prices people are willing to pay for houses, vehicles, and different types of collectibles. Something might be worth one amount to one person, but to another person it could be worth a lot more. The value really is dependent on what someone is willing to pay.
 
It’s crazy to think about the true value of something. I’ve heard it said that the value of something is really based off two things: First, what someone is willing to pay for it; and secondly, who owned it in the past.
 
I have an old family friend who used to restore old Chevelles. He would fix them up and sell them at this big auction down in Arizona. I remember one time, when I was in high school, Reggie Jackson bought one of his cars. (For those of you who don’t know, Reggie Jackson is a Hall of Fame baseball player who played for the Yankees in the 70’s and 80’s.) 
 
I thought it was so cool that Reggie Jackson bought his car. The crazy thing is, Reggie turned around and sold that same car in the auction the next day for almost double what he paid for it. What made this car so much more valuable in a single day? It was the fact that it had now been “owned” by Reggie Jackson.
 
So, as we think about this idea of what makes something valuable, how does that affect our value? Think about it: How much was someone willing to pay for us and who’s name is stamped on our life? 1 Corinthians 7:23 tells us: “You have been bought and paid for by Christ, so you belong to him…” (TLB)
 
We have been bought and paid for by Christ! And that price was huge. He paid the highest price anyone could ever pay: He paid with His life. And He did this so that we could once again be His—we belong to Him. We belong to the King. This makes us more valuable than anything else in this world. I know at times we can look at our lives and fail to see our own value, but Jesus sees our value. And His unconditional love for each of us is what gives us that value.
 
Lord, help us to understand our value and seek to live our lives in a way that brings glory to You.

What’s My Motivation?

In Acts 8, we see the story of Simon the sorcerer. In this passage, Simon apparently believed the gospel and had been baptized, but it’s obvious he didn’t get it. He wanted what the disciples had, he wanted to be able to lay hands on people and see them receive the Holy Spirit. But why? 

We see Peter call him out in this chapter and realize he desired these things for all the wrong reasons. He wanted the power for himself, to make himself look good. His motives were all wrong. The question is: Am I any different? Why do I seek the things I seek? Why do I do the things I do? Is it for me? Is it to make me look good? 

The Bible tells us that all things were created by God, for God. I think many of us believe that first part, but often forget or leave out the second part. We like things to be for us. It’s hard for us to face the fact that this world doesn’t revolve around us. So, the question is: Am I living my life with this truth in mind? Am I living my life for God or am I living it for myself? What’s my motivation? 

The more I look at our world, the more I see the desire for self. It’s all about our wants and desires and our motives are all out of whack. I want my motivation to be pure. I want to be someone who truly seeks the power of the Holy Spirit to bring glory to God as opposed to bringing glory to myself. I want to come to a point where I can honestly say everything I’m about and all that I do is motivated by my love for Christ and nothing else.

Lord, search my heart, know my ways. Show me any of my motives that are wrong and help me to make them right. May I always seek to glorify You over self.

Being Accepted and Accepting Others

Why is it that we worry so much about what others think? I know I’m one who probably cares less about what others think of me than most people do, but I still struggle with it at times. It seems like we spend a good portion of our lives just trying to be accepted by others.

We try so hard to earn acceptance from those we love and from people we respect and want to be like. So much so that, at times, we might actually try to be someone we’re not just to earn their approval—just to try and get them to accept us.

This desire to be accepted can be so powerful that it affects the kinds of clothes we wear, the kind of car we drive, the kind of house we buy, and even the careers we choose. We so badly want to be a part of the in-crowd (whatever that is) that we’ll sacrifice our own values and beliefs for it.

And the sad thing is: you would think our own desire to be accepted would cause us to be more accepting of others, but often times that isn’t the case. We too, can be part of the problem. But in Romans 15:7 Paul tells us: “Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you so that God will be given glory.”

The truth is, Jesus accepts us just the way we are. It’s not based on performance, looks, or social status. We don’t have to earn His acceptance; we don’t have to prove ourselves to Him. His acceptance is unconditional and His desire is that we would learn to love and accept others in the same way.

Let me finish with some questions to challenge us: Are we trying to prove ourselves to someone? Are we attempting to earn their acceptance? If they aren’t willing to accept us for who we are, do we really need their acceptance? Are we accepting others for who they are or are we making others jump through hoops just to get our approval?

Lord, help us to remember that You created us and that You love us and accept us for who we are. Help us to accept ourselves as we are and not try to be something we are not for others. And help us learn to love and accept others in the same way that You have freely and completely loved and accepted us. We want to be an example of Your love and acceptance to the world. Help us, we pray.

Being the Church

We live in a day and time where church isn’t always a priority for believers. There are many reasons why this could be: for some, it might be the busy-ness of life; for some, it’s not a high priority; and for others, it’s the belief that they can experience church without actually going to church. 

Regardless of the reason, it’s important to remember that the Bible tells us we should be gathering together as followers of Jesus. Hebrews 10 reminds us that we shouldn’t neglect meeting together, because we’re called to come alongside one another and encourage each other.

I think sometimes we forget the role of the Church and see “church” as just a place to worship and hear God’s Word. These are actually things we CAN do without going to church, especially in today’s world. We have access to some of the greatest worship services and messages on our phones, tablets, and TVs.

But church is so much more than worship music and messages. The Church is the body of Christ. And going to church helps us connect with other parts of the body. I say it every week in our service: we were created for relationship with others. God never intended for us to live our lives in isolation. We were created to live as one body, in communion and unity with others.

In Romans 12 we read: The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? -Romans 12:5 (The Message)

We can’t grow spiritually the way God intended if we’re disconnected from the body of Christ. As this scripture references, if we were to cut off our fingers, they would become useless. They have to be connected to the body in order to function the way they’re supposed to. In the same way, we need each other—as the body of Christ—if we want to grow spiritually and fulfill God’s purpose for our lives.

The California Department of Mental Health shared a study that discovered that those who isolate themselves from others are four times more likely to suffer from emotional burnout, five times more likely to experience clinical depression and ten times more likely to be hospitalized for an emotional or mental disorder.

We may live in a fallen, broken world, but God has called us to be light in this dark place. And that light can only be seen when we come out of isolation and connect with others. As the Church, we need to realize that we are better together. 

“Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

Lord, help us be the Church that you have called us to be!

Nobody Has It All Together

Every Monday, I receive an email that’s sent out to encourage pastors. This week’s email was titled, “Pastor, You Don’t Need to Have It All Together.” It was a simple reminder that, as pastors, we can’t forget that a title doesn’t make us better than the people in our church. And it’s ok to admit that we’re human and we don’t have it all together.

As I read through the email, I realized this is a great reminder for all Christians. Because the truth is, nobody has it all together. It’s easy to buy into the lie that Christians have to uphold a certain image, but we must not fall victim to that lie. The Bible reminds us again and again that nobody’s perfect—except for Jesus, of course. The rest of us are broken because of sin.

The thing is, we don’t want others to know we’re broken, so we walk around trying to impress people and pretend like we’ve got it all together. The problem with that is that we need to be honest, first with ourselves and consequently with others, if we want to see real change in our lives. We have to actually admit that we don’t have it all together. We have to admit our weaknesses and give God the freedom to come and bring true change to our lives. And we have to be transparent enough with others to let them see and know that we are still in process.

In Romans 12:3 it says: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” 

This verse is really about humility. It’s about taking an honest look at our lives and being willing to address our issues. Are we willing to ask the people closest to us where we’re falling short or how we could do better? Do we have the courage to ask others to really be honest with us?

Rick Warren says, “You can only manage what you measure. If you don’t know the measure of your faith, you can’t grow in your faith. If you don’t know the measure of your health, you can’t develop better health. If you don’t know the measure of where you are financially, you can’t set goals financially. If you don’t know the measure of where you are spiritually or vocationally or relationally, then you can’t grow in those areas. You can only manage what you measure.”

Are we willing to take a good, hard look at our lives and assess how we measure up or where we may be falling short? We don’t need to have it all together, but we do need to be willing to look at the areas where we are falling short and seek to grow and do better.

Lord, help us to realize we don’t need to be something we’re not. Help us to acknowledge our weaknesses so that we can grow and become the people You are calling us to be. Help us to trust one another enough to be real with trusted friends, instead of pretending to be perfect and holding everyone at arm’s length from our true selves. And please help us by giving us the strength to do all of this because we cannot do it without Your Spirit at work within us.

There’s More to the Story

I recently had someone share some scriptures with me. The person told they knew the scriptures were definitely for them, but they felt they might be for our church as well. The scriptures were all from Galatians 5, but the ones that stood out to me the most were verses 14 -16. 

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘“Love your neighbor as yourself.’” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” -Galatians 5:14-16

The pastor I served under before planting a church used to tell me, “Nothing is personal, everything is spiritual.” It’s a great reminder that our battles are not against flesh and blood—they’re not against people. Our battles are against the principalities and powers of a broken world. And the enemy loves nothing more than to see Christians “bite and devour each other”.

It’s sad how much division we see in the church and it’s all because we fail to love our neighbor as ourself. We have a tendency to bite and devour others when they think or believe differently than us. We fail to realize or remember that we’re all human and that the life of another isn’t always what it seems from our vantage point.

I love Bob Goff. He is an amazing author and speaker who truly inspires love and compassion. Now, if you’ve ever seen Bob Goff, you may have noticed that he frequently wears a Boston Red Sox hat. I just assumed that he was originally from Boston or that it was his favorite team for some reason. 

Well, I recently watched him speak on a church video podcast and found out that he isn’t a Red Sox fan. He doesn’t even follow baseball or any sports for that matter. It’s actually a hat that belonged to his neighbor who passed away several years ago. She was a die-hard Red Sox fan and Bob and his wife loved her through her final years. He was an excellent example of loving his neighbor as himself.

And in her last week, when they knew she only had a few days left, he told her he would make a deal with her. He would wear her Red Sox hat and support her team for the rest of his life if she promised to put a good word in for him with Jesus. 

We’re people who often make snap judgments or assumptions about people or things when we don’t know the whole story—whether good, bad, or neutral. But if we want to be people who truly “Love our Neighbors,” we need to realize there is always more to the story than what we see. Instead of biting and devouring people, maybe we need to take time to get to know them and discover their greater story.Lord, we want to be people who love our neighbors the way you desire us to. Help us to see beyond our assumptions and misunderstandings and love people with your grace and compassion.

Simply Seeking Jesus

In Mark chapter 8, there are a couple verses that tell of Pharisees coming to Jesus and questioning Him. And it says that to test Him they were asking for a sign from heaven. In other words, they were saying do something amazing and miraculous right now and prove to us that You are the Son of God.

And in Mark 8:12 it says: “He sighed deeply and said, ‘Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, no sign will be given to it.’” The crazy thing is, Jesus had been doing amazing signs and wonders all around them, but apparently these Pharisees failed to see any of them. 

If they would have just opened their eyes, they would have seen that He indeed was the Son of God. I honestly believe that even if He had shown them a sign, they would have found some excuse to not believe. Their hearts were hardened and they weren’t willing to accept the truth that was right in front of them.

How often do we fail to see the miracles of Jesus in our own life because of hardened hearts? It’s so easy to allow the cynicism of our world to cause us to lose sight of the Lord and to allow our hearts to be hardened. But if we don’t ask the Lord to soften our hearts, then—like the Pharisees—we’ll fail to see all the wonderful and amazing signs that Jesus is doing all around us. 

I think the key for our generation today is that we need to stop seeking signs and miracles and simply seek Jesus. Jesus is our sign, He is our miracle, and we will see the miraculous as we seek Him. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever and His miracles are happening all around us.

Lord, help us to seek you, to seek Your will and way for our lives. And help us to have eyes to see the amazing miracles that You are doing in our world!