Stop and Listen

A question I’m asked often as a pastor is: “How do you hear the voice of God?” It’s a great question and actually an easy one to answer—“Take time to stop and listen.”

We live in a world that never stops. We are continually bombarded with one thing after another. There is so much chaos and noise all around us that it seems impossible to hear any voice, especially that still, small voice.

Which is why we must be intentional about taking time to stop and listen. 

I think most of us want to hear God’s voice. We want to do what He’s calling us to do. But the reason many of us fail to hear God’s voice is because we don’t slow down enough to listen.

This reality forces us to ask the question: “What’s most important to us?” We want to hear God’s voice, but we don’t make time for it. Everything else in our lives seems to take precedence. What does this say about the importance of God in our life?

I know most of us have a hero or person in this world that we would love to meet someday. Whether it’s a sports star, a movie star, a famous singer, a favorite evangelist, or someone else. Who is that person that comes to your mind?

If we got a phone call today telling us that this person was going to be in town and wanted to meet us for breakfast tomorrow at 6am, I’m pretty sure we would cancel any other plans we had and be there. We would get up as early as possible to look our best and probably even arrive 30 minutes early. Why? Because it’s something that would be important to us.

The crazy thing is, the Creator of the universe desires to meet with us daily. Are we willing to make time for Him? Are we willing to slow down a little and take time to stop and listen to what He wants to say?

I know that my days are filled with important responsibilities, commitments, and activities. But my time with God should be the most important thing on my calendar, because everything else is meant to flow out of this. If I want to hear His voice, I need to make sure I’m taking time to stop and listen to what He has to say.

Looking Out for One Another

Philippians 2:3-4 tells us: “In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

The sad thing is, this is so opposite of the world we live in today. The culture of our day says, “It’s all about me!” It’s about my wants, my needs, and my interests. But I’m so thankful this is not true when it comes to the people in our church.

Because of the unexpected passing of my wife’s dad, she ended up being gone for over a month and I was gone for two weeks myself. During that time, numerous people stepped up to help and take care of things while we were gone.

We had people drop off meals when my wife first left. We received numerous calls, texts and emails from others willing to help in whatever way possible. For Sunday services, many others stepped up and filled holes that were left by me and my family being gone.

It was such a blessing to see the church be the church: To see people do what Paul talks about there in Philippians 2 and put the interest of others above their own. 

I’m so thankful for all who helped and offered to help over this past month. We are so encouraged by their love and generosity. And we are so blessed to have a church that lives and loves so selflessly!

The Goodness of God

If you’ve known me for any time at all, you know that I’m a huge TobyMac fan. Now if you don’t know who TobyMac is, you’re missing out. He’s a Christian music artist that I’ve been listening to for 34 years: first when he was with DCTalk in the late 80’s and then as a solo artist since 2002.

This past month, Toby released a new album and one of the songs on his album is simply titled: THE GOODNESS. Now when you listen to the song, you realize right away that he’s referring to God. One of the main lines in the song says: “Lord, You make me wanna shout it, oh—You’re the goodness in my life.”

At church, we say God is good, all the time…And I hear some of you replying back, and all the time God is good. But the question is: Do we actually believe that? To hear this song written by TobyMac says a lot if you know his story.

In October of 2019, he and his wife lost their firstborn son at the age of 21. I can’t imagine what that must have been like. Toby talks about the pain and grief that his family has gone through and how hard it’s been for them at times to deal with this reality. But through it all, he believes in the goodness of God.

This song has resonated with me and my family as we mourn and grieve the passing of Stacy’s father. It hurts and some mornings it’s hard to get out of bed, but I realize it hasn’t changed the truth that I’ve come to understand—That God is good.

We live in a fallen, broken world and Jesus told us that we would face heartaches and trials, but He reminds us that He will never leave us or forsake us. As we go through the difficulties, He is right there with us, embracing us and comforting us as we need it.

I’m so thankful for His goodness in my life. It’s because of that goodness, that I know He’s with me. It’s because of that goodness that I can rejoice and be glad that this earth is not the end. Toby’s son and Stacy’s dad are experiencing the GOODNESS of God like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. Lord, thank you so much for Your goodness!

Turning Towards the Son

I was out of town this past week and our Children’s Pastor shared a devotional with our church. It was a good reminder that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus. I decided to share it with you here on my blog. I hope it encourages you:

One of my favorite things about summer in Oregon are the sunflowers. Since I enjoyed them so much, I bought some seeds and planted them along my fence a few years ago. Every year these giant beauties will grow taller than my fence, getting the attention of my neighbors. I love watching them grow and seeing bees reap the benefits of these amazing flowers. Last year, my neighbor mentioned that bees, when they are far from the hive in the evening, will actually sleep in the blossom of a sunflower. This made me love and appreciate sunflowers even more! 

One of the ways that I connect deeply with God is through nature and the sunflower is no exception. I love watching the growing flower heads turn so that they will receive the most possible sun. This made me think about us as human beings. We are created for relationship with God, and with others. In order for us to grow to our fullest potential, to be of utmost benefit, we need to be facing Him. And to do that, we need to be following Him. This is an active process for a sunflower that happens every day, starting by facing the east at sunrise, following the sun to the west for sunset, and then returning to face the east before the next morning. 

This is a great image for us of what our relationship with God should look like: starting and finishing the day by facing Him through prayer and scripture, and following Him throughout the day in rhythms of grace and thanksgiving. In this intimate following and growing process, God uses each of us for a very specific purpose in His plan. 

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” -Ephesians 2:10

We have work to do, but we can’t do it unless we following the One who created us. Our growing and giving process will continue until we meet Jesus face to face. This is seen in the life of the sunflower as well. Sunflowers only stop following the sun when they reach maturity, this is also the time when they cease being maximally beneficial, culminating in the final act of sacrifice by dispersing seeds to continue their work. Until that day, though, we, much like the sunflower, will continue to grow and bless others by following and keeping our eyes on Jesus.

Remaining Humble and Teachable

This past week I talked about humility in my sermon. It’s a word that continues to come up in conversation a lot these days. And it just “happened” to be the topic of a weekly email devotion I received this week from a pastor’s website I subscribe to. 

The devotional started off with a phrase I’ve heard before—Be humble or you’ll stumble. It comes from Proverbs 16:18 which says: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Often times the more we grow in knowledge and understanding of something the more prideful we become. We think we know more and thus become more powerful or prestigious, I guess.

But the reality is, the more we grow in wisdom and knowledge, the more humble we should become. Truly wise people are people that remain humble. And that’s because they realize that humility and teachability go hand in hand.

As we grow in our knowledge and understanding of the Lord, it shouldn’t make us think we’re better than those who don’t have our knowledge and understanding. Instead, it should help us to realize how much more we have to learn and grow as we look to our perfect Savior and see the example He set for us.

Humility begins by realizing that we’re not God and we never will be. It’s realizing that we are NOTHING without Him. If we don’t realize this truth, then we will never be able to be the leaders God has called us to be. Our maturity isn’t based on WHAT we know, it’s based on WHO we know (and how well we know Him).

James 4:6 tells us, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” God wants to show us grace, He wants to bless us and use us for His glory. And it’s our humility that allows Him to do this.

As we grow in and through Him, we must remain humble and teachable. Because whether we realize it or not, we still have so much to learn. Lord, help us to be humble, teachable, life-long learners!

The Staying Power of Love

For my blog this week, I want to share a devotional my wife Stacy did this week for our Church:

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.  -1 Corinthians 13:13

My dad passed away unexpectedly at the end of July. Our family is so grateful for the outpouring of love and care that we’ve received from our church family in recent weeks as I’ve been helping my mom in California. The texts sharing love and hope and prayers for us have ministered God’s embrace. Thank you!

Today, I want to share briefly with you something I’ll be talking about at my dad’s memorial service. 

My dad loved the Bible. He read it daily and treasured God’s Word in his heart. The verse above ministered so deeply to me these past weeks as I’m learning to mourn a loss I wasn’t expecting.  It talks about the staying power of faith, hope, and love…and says that the greatest of these is love.

It made me think: the beautiful thing about love is that it is outside of time and space. I don’t cease to feel my dad’s love for me simply because he is not present with me—my whole life was shaped by the fact that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my father loved me, and that there was nothing I could do that would cause him to stop loving me.

The way I view myself…my faith in and love for God…the type of life partner I chose…the way we raised our kids…the filter through which I see the world—all of these things were directly impacted by my dad’s love for me. I will feel his love for me today and always because love remains.

In the same way, I do not stop loving my dad just because he’s no longer physically here with me. In fact, I would venture to guess that my love for him will continue to grow as I think of precious memories with him. 

My dad’s love often came in the form of the gruff and straight-shooting person he was, but the staying power gives it away: he took me to work with him just to spend extra time with me; he led me to Jesus; he gave me my first study Bible (Thompson Chain NIV), he planned adventures and travels for our family so that we could experience more of the world together. 

I didn’t get to say goodbye to him—which he probably considers a blessing because he always seemed uncomfortable with goodbyes. But I hold onto his love for me and my love for him as both a marker of the lasting power love has and a reminder of how great God’s love is for me.

Heavenly Father, thank You that You are love and that the love You give lasts forever. The staying power of love gives us hope and faith, without end. And we are grateful.

Unity in the Church

In John chapter 17, Jesus knows that the time is coming for Him to go to the cross. And we see Him praying to the Father in this section of scripture. He prays for Himself as He seeks to glorify God in what is about to happen, He prays for His disciples because He knows how important this time is going to be for each of them, and He prays for believers: those who were and also all those that ever will be.

This section of scripture is powerful when you read and listen to the words that Jesus Himself prayed to the Father. If you aren’t familiar with it, I would encourage you to read the entire chapter. But it’s His prayer for ALL believers that I want to highlight in this blog. 

In John 17:21, Jesus says: “I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”

God’s desire for His people is that we would be ONE. That we would love and care for one another with grace and mercy. That we would be able to live together in unity regardless of our theological differences. The truth is, the Bible is complex and no one can interpret it perfectly. We’re going to disagree on certain things, but we can’t let those things keep us from being ONE.

There’s an old saying: “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” What it basically means is that there are some things that we, as followers of Christ, have to be unified in. The fact that Jesus is the Son of God who came and died for our sins and rose from the grave so that we might have life—that’s one of those essentials. But there are many things that aren’t essentials, that we as believers get hung up on and it causes unnecessary division.

I love that I live in a community where all of the churches and pastors I know don’t get caught up on our theological differences. We put aside those non-essentials, because we realize that we are better together. We know that we are more effective when we walk in unity as ONE. 

I’m excited that many of the churches and pastors in our community are closing the doors of our specific churches this week to gather as ONE Church at the High School football stadium. This is what Jesus prayed would be happening among believers: that instead of promoting our individual agendas, we would come together as ONE to lift Jesus up and see His will be done. Lord, let this simply be the beginning of what You’re doing to create ONE Church in our community!

The Great Shepherd

I had my first experience with death when I was 11 years old. My great grandma passed away after a short bout with cancer. At her graveside service, my grandma asked if I would recite Psalm 23. It was a chapter of scripture I had memorized in school and my grandma said she knew it would have meant so much to great grandma for me to share it at her service.

This week, Stacy and I received the devastating news that her father had passed away unexpectedly. It hit us all hard, but we’ve found comfort in knowing that he loved the Lord and is in His presence. One of the blessings of knowing Jesus is knowing that we will get to see him again.

As I was praying and processing this loss, the Lord reminded me of reading Psalm 23 at my great grandma’s service. It’s such a powerful Psalm that reminds us of the goodness of the Great Shepherd. And for my blog this week, I felt led to simply share this Psalm:

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside quiet waters. 3 He restores my soul; He guides me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You have anointed my head with oil; My cup overflows. Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

These verses remind us that God provides, He gives us rest, He helps us experience peace, He restores our wearied souls, He is with us in the dark valleys, He comforts, He blesses and He is waiting to welcome us into His presence forever.

We have a Great Shepherd who loves us and cares for us. He is with us here on this earth as we navigate the challenges of living in a falling world. And He continues to prepare a place for those who love Him to dwell forever and ever.

Turn Things Around

I’m not sure about you, but I know I go through seasons where I feel like I’m just spinning in circles—where I feel like I just keep hitting a brick wall. The reality is, we’re all human and we’re all susceptible to failure. And over the years I’ve discovered a few practices to help turn things around.

First, we have to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working. As a father, I’ve watched numerous animated movies over the years when my kids were young. And I remember a scene from the “Bee Movie” where the main character, a bee, tries to get out of a house by flying right through a closed window. He obviously didn’t know what glass was and kept smacking into it again and again. And each time he would say, “Maybe, this time!” Only to smack into the glass once again. 

I think this is a great analogy of all of us at times, when we keep trying the same thing over and over again to no avail. We have to stop doing the same thing and expecting different results. I believe that’s what Albert Einstein referred to as insanity. If we want to turn things around, we have to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working. 

Then the second step is to relinquish control. I’m sure most of us have heard the old Carrie Underwood song “Jesus Take the Wheel”. I know I often joke about that song and sing it loud and off key trying to be funny, but that’s what all of us really need to do. We need to admit that what we’re doing isn’t working and let Jesus take the wheel. Because Jesus is the one that actually turns things around.

And then the final step as we give God control is OBEDIENCE. God created us, He knows us better than we know ourselves. David tells us in Psalm 139:13 – For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. God knew us before we were ever born and He has a plan for each of our lives. And if we want to turn things around we have to be willing to obey His commands.

God wants to see us succeed. He wants to help us navigate the ups and downs and challenges this life brings. And when we find ourselves smacking into the glass, we must give God control and walk in obedience because that’s how we’re able to turn things around.

Lets Keep Moving

As a pastor, I have people who come to me hoping I can tell them what God wants them to do with their life. And I can tell you in all honesty, I have never had an answer for them. My normal response is that they really need to seek and hear God for themselves. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if God would give us a detailed map or step by step instructions of where we need to go and what we need to do? Unfortunately, this isn’t how God works. Instead, what He gives us is more like a compass with a general heading and, as we begin to step out in faith, He gently guides us and makes corrections along the way. 

The key, though, is that we’re moving. We serve a God of movement. The question is: Are we moving with Him? I’ve heard it said that you can’t steer a parked car. You can turn the steering wheel all you want, but it isn’t going anywhere if the wheels aren’t rolling. So sometimes we just have to get our tires rolling so God can guide us to where He wants us to go. 

We see a great example of this in Acts 14:6-10. Take a look at these verses: “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”

Here we see Paul and his team try to go several different places and the Lord redirects them. The key is that they were moving. They were going until God said stop but when He stopped them from going one direction, they didn’t stop moving. They just changed the direction of their movement until they received clear direction from the Lord. 

Some might look at these scriptures and say they were heading in the wrong direction. But I actually think if they hadn’t been on the move to begin with, they might not have ever made it to Macedonia.

I have had situations in my life where I have stepped out thinking God was calling me in one direction, only to find out it was just a catalyst to get me to where He actually wanted me in the first place. And the funny, or maybe even sad, thing is…I probably wouldn’t have ever gone that direction had I known where I was going to end up. 

Sometimes things seem too challenging or scary at the start, but God uses the journey along the way to prepare us for the destination. This is one of the amazing things I’ve discovered when it comes to following Jesus: the journey is as important as the destination. So, let’s keep moving!