Three Principles to Remember this Christmas

Christmas, meant to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, our Savior and Redeemer, has been turned into the most hectic commercialized season of all. Of course, the circumstances surrounding the census and the birth of Christ were pretty busy and hectic too. I want to encourage you in this article to not over-complicate Christmas.

There are three principles we should all remember as we enter the Christmas season; First, keep it simple. Jesus was born into some pretty sparse circumstances. The son of two poor Galileans, he lived a life of humility and simplicity that became a key element of his ministry here on earth.

Reflect Christ-like attitudes by focusing on the small things, being intentional in our personal relationships, and focusing on quality over quantity. Instead all the distractions Christmas has become within our culture. How many times have we bought the expensive gift only to watch the child enjoy the box more than the toy?

Second, be present. We give love to people at Christmas when we show up in their lives, serving and celebrating. One way we tell our families and friends that we love them is by giving them our focused attention. Attention says, “I value you enough to give you my most precious asset – my time.” When you give someone your time, you’re giving them a portion of your life that you’ll never get back. You can always make more money, but you cannot make more time.

Third, give with delight. God uses giving as an antidote for materialism, and he loves it when we give with a delighted heart (2 Cor. 9:7). Jesus said there’s more happiness in giving than in receiving (Acts 20:35), but here’s an important point to remember at Christmas: Giving is a matter of willingness, not wealth. It’s attitude, not amount. Christmas is about heart, not possessions.

We’ve replaced true, heartfelt, delightful giving with a hollow materialism that keeps us all overspending during the holidays. Instead, we should give from our hearts. Expand your definition of giving beyond the financial. Imagine how much you could bless others if you simply shared your time and talents.

The essence of Christmas is that we simply and humbly give ourselves, just as God gave generously and sacrificially to us through his Son, Jesus Christ. This Christmas lets generously show up in the lives of others with our time, talents, money, possessions, and friendship.

Simple isn’t just beautiful; it’s powerful. You don’t have to cram your days full of activities, and you don’t have to make everything big, complicated, or expensive in order to enjoy Christmas. Keep your holidays simple, so you are free to serve those in need and celebrate with those you love.

Are You a Modern Day Obadiah?

One of the little known characters in Scripture is Obadiah. Obadiah was in charge of King Ahab’ palace. He was a devout follower of God. He even risked his life by hiding one hundred of the Lord’s prophets from Jezebel as she scoured the land for prophets to kill.

Coming out of a three year drought that was caused by God and prophesied by Elijah, 1 Kings 18:1-19 tells the story of Elijah asking Obadiah to connect him with King Ahab. Even though he believed in God, and knew Elijah to be a true prophet of God, Obadiah’s response was “What have I done wrong that you are handing your servant over to Ahab to be put to death?”

In this article I will use this story to reveal six characteristics of today’s modern “Obadiahs”.

1. Modern day Obadiahs love Christ, but do not want to take a strong stand (v.3,7-12). Many people want to claim Christ, but not to be identified with Christ. They want to lay low or fly under the radar instead of being a clear ambassador of Christ.

2. Modern day Obadiahs try to straddle the fence of lordship (v.7-9). You have heard it said that “Jesus is either Lord of all or He is not Lord at all”. In reality it is impossible to straddle the lordship fence because straddling the lordship fence actually is not accepting the Lordship of Christ. Jesus said it this way, “You are either for me or you are against me.” Straddling the lordship fence makes one willing to debate with God.

3. Modern day Obadiahs want to be secret about their commitment (v.7-19). Secret Christians have destroyed the mission of the church for generations. Christianity was never meant to be a candle hidden under a basket, but rather it was meant to set up on a hill to provide light to the world.

4. Modern day Obadiahs consider the cost versus the personal benefits before choosing to obey (v.7-19). Jesus would say “Those who love me, obey me”. Obedience is always an issue of love and trust. Before committing they want a guarantee that all will work out comfortably.

5. Modern day Obadiahs are struggling to survive (v.7-19). Survival is the natural mindset of people who do not completely trust God with their future. They also want to remind you about the times in the past when them did something risky (v.13) as if that is a free pass to not obey God today.

6. Modern day Obadiahs are inconsistent in their commitment to God (v.7-19). Wishy-washy obedience is not true Christ-following. Competing mindsets and priorities lead to inconsistencies and create inner conflict (v.7-19).

The moral of the story: Don’t be an Obadiah. Choose to proudly follow Christ wherever He leads.

Learning to Love & Enjoy God (Part 2)

As a review from the previous article; “Learning to Love & Enjoy God”  there is a simple process that I believe best describes the “intentional” effort required to walk in a vital relationship with God. Christians talk about “loving” God, but “loving” God is actually the third step in this process. I believe the problem is that we neglect the first two steps in the process.

This simple, easy to remember process has four steps; Step #1 – Seek God; Step #2 – Know God; Step #3 – Love God; Step #4 – Enjoy God; Then continue repeating the cycle. The more you seek Him, the more you will know Him…. The more you know Him, the more you will love Him…. The more you love Him, the more you will enjoy Him. Enjoying Him makes you want to seek Him more so you can know Him better so you can love Him deeper, so you can enjoy Him more.

Graphic - Seek:Know:Love:Enjoy God

The process works this way: We should first seek God with all our heart (Jer. 29:13; Matt 6:33). Then, as we diligently seek Him we will get to know Him. Then, as we get to know Him we will naturally find ourselves falling deeper and deeper in love with Him. Then, it really gets exciting when we realize that we actually enjoy God.

Jesus said, ”Seek first God, His kingdom, and His righteousness, and all these other things will be added as well.” (Matt. 6:33) Then He would follow a statement like that with a question like “Why do you call me Lord, and not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)

Foolishly, the average person has the tendency to do it backward by chasing first after so many other things before a personal relationship with Christ. So many folks claim to know Christ, but the way we live and the choices we make seem to place question marks around the subject. We seem to skip over bible verses like 1 John 2:6, which says “Whoever claims to know Christ must walk as Christ did.”

What we chase is clear evidence of where our heart/affection/commitment actually is, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt. 6:21) God desires that we “seek Him with all of our heart” (Jer. 29:13). “All”, as in completely undivided, with singleness of purpose. Then God’s promise back to those who will seek Him first, with all their heart is, “all of these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).

God can handle the details of life. What He wants is us. He does not want to compete for our love and obedience…He won’t “compete”… He is the one and only real God who desires that we have a real life-changing relationship with Him through His real Son, Jesus….He doesn’t “complete” with the thousands of false “gods” we establish in our lives….there is no competition.

As we seek Him, we get to know Him better. The better we know Him and His ways, the more we will fall in love with Him. As we find ourselves falling in love with Him we will realize we truly enjoy Him. Seeking first God is the path to freedom and peace. God offers each of us a personal relationship, forgiveness, hope, and restoration. Begin truly seeking God first today, and see what you have been missing. He will handle all the details.

Learning to Love & Enjoy God

Do you love Jesus? Do you enjoy God? Most people who call themselves followers of Christ do not actually love Jesus. They will say they do of course, but Jesus would say that our struggle with obedience is actually an issue of love. Jesus said it this way; “If you love me, obey my commandments. Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them. All who love me will do what I say.” (John 14:15-27)

Graphic - Seek:Know:Love:Enjoy God

There is a simple process that I believe best describes the “intentional” effort required to walk in a vital relationship with God. Christians talk about “loving” God while choosing disobedience and apathy over and over again (I think Jesus would take issue with them…John 14:15-21), but “loving” God is actually the third step in this process. We talk about loving God in the same sentence with loving our homes, trucks, and various kinds of food. I believe the problem is that we neglect the first two steps in the process.

This simple, easy to remember process has four steps; Step #1 – Seek God; Step #2 – Know God; Step #3 – Love God; Step #4 – Enjoy God; Then continue repeating the cycle. The more you seek Him, the more you will know Him…. The more you know Him, the more you will love Him…. The more you love Him, the more you will enjoy Him. Enjoying Him makes you want to seek Him more so you can know Him better so you can love Him deeper, so you can enjoy Him more.

The process works this way: We should first seek God with all our heart (Jer. 29:13; Matt 6:33). Then, as we diligently seek Him we will get to know Him (not merely his deeds, but His ways… not simply facts about Him, but Him!). Then, as we get to know Him we will naturally find ourselves falling deeper and deeper in love with Him based on our knowledge of who He is. Then, it really gets exciting when we realize that we are not only “in love” with God, but that we actually enjoy Him (not just the stuff He does, but Him)!

I use a clock graphic (seen above) to help me understand how the cycle works. So many people want to say the love Christ, yet they don’t actually know him because they never seek him.

Most people love shortcuts! Ever get lost trying that new “shortcut”? We do the same thing with our spiritual development process. We have a tendency to want to “love” God without really “knowing” Him. How can we truly love someone we do not know? How can we “know” God without first “seeking” Him? Though they may want to deny it, the average church go-er talks about loving God, but honestly has little concept of what it means to truly love Him…which is why we struggle so much with issues of obedience, surrender, and life change.

Christ-following really is an issue of love. It is about loving God enough to surrender everything to Him. We should “make ourselves nothing,” and “take on the very nature of a servant”…. Because that is what we are! Press in to know God! Walking with God in a vital relationship is not an accident. It is the product of intentional effort. Is it worth the effort to you?

Who is Capable of Judging Others?

“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you use, it shall be measured to you again. And why do you complain about the splinter in your brother’s eye, but overlook the beam that is in your own eye?” (Matt 7:1-5)

Jesus asked many questions of his followers with the intention of getting them to see the truth. As He preached the Sermon on the Mount He began dealing with judging each other. There are many reasons why we ought not to judge and several of them are contained in this scripture. Judging is and always has been the biggest fault of Christians. We like to judge! The problem is, we are not capable to judge if we are honest.

Normally, the person who judges others does not consider their own condition first. Only those without sin can judge sin. No one should ever judge another for their lying while harboring lust in their own heart. None should consider judging the thief when they themselves are not tithing. The bottom line is this; we are all sinners, and that simple fact disqualifies us as someone else’s judge.

Only God has perfect insight. We are limited by our physical nature and blinded by our sin. We may think we have all the facts necessary to judge, but we don’t. Only God has perfect hindsight. He alone knows why people do what they do. We cannot see into a person’s past and determine the path that led them to their thoughts, emotions, attitudes, decisions, behaviors, motives, etc, but God can. Only God has perfect foresight. He alone knows the potential in a person. If you and I were left to judge, we would seldom consider the eventual outcome of a soul. We would condemn most as un-redeemable and mark them off our lists.

All this is especially alarming when we consider that the way we judge others is the way we will be judged. Whatever standard we hold others to will be the standard God uses to judge us. (read Matt 7:2) If you just can’t help but judge others, I have some good advice; begin with yourself! Judge yourself; you know more about you than anyone else anyway. Be honest now! Scripture says, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not come under judgment.” (1 Cor 11:31)

By the way, the best news of all is that all of our sin was nailed to the cross. The ultimate Judge of all has provided a way to reconcile you back to Himself by judging your sin on the cross and offering you forgiveness and restoration instead. God did something for us that we could not have done for ourselves; He took all the sin of mankind and placed it on Jesus on the cross. Jesus became our sin, then God judged him, and even rejected him.

Hanging on the cross, Jesus went from calling God “Father”, to saying “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” God judged Jesus so He could reconcile us back to himself so that we could have a personal relationship with the only true judge. You are pardoned by His grace and mercy.

We ALL Expereince Times of Heat & Drought

“But blessed is the person who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Jeremiah gives us a wealth of wisdom and encouragement in the two verses above. Blessed, joyful, content, and satisfied is the person who places their trust in God. Think about it for a moment. All worry and anxiety is rooted in distrust of God. We can deny it, but it is still every bit as true.

Scripture tells us to cast all of our fear, worry, and anxiety upon the Lord, but doing that requires trust. Fear, worry, and anxiety rob us of the joy, contentment, satisfaction, and overall blessing God intends to give each of us. God has always proven faithful, yet it is a normal flaw in our flesh to distrust God.

On the other hand, choosing to trust God releases joy, contentment, satisfaction, and the overall blessings of God. Proverbs says that if we trust the Lord fully, He will direct our paths. Jeremiah says that if we consistently choose trust we will be like the tree planted by the ever-flowing stream, regardless of the heat and drought of life, our roots will always be able to reach the life-giving stream.

All of our lives will experience “heat and drought”. Heat represents those times of intense pressure. Drought represents those times of dryness and emptiness. Life is ever changing. We have great days, and we have really hard days. We experience times of stress and pressure that increase our blood pressure and lower our tolerance. We experience extended times of emptiness, where we have expended so much, and nothing seems to be replenishing us.

The great news of the gospel is that regardless of the ups and downs and overall pressure of life, God is always faithful and trustworthy. If we choose to maintain our “rooted-ness’ in Him, we will find an ever-flowing stream that will allow us to stay fresh and bear fruit. The heat and the droughts of life will come, but the river of God never ceases to flow to the point of our need. But we it does require trust.

Our trust is based on our confidence in our unfailing, always faithful God, whose ways we do not always understand, but who nevertheless, is the definition of trustworthy. Complete and absolute trust in God provides the blessings of God you crave. It will give you peace in the raging storms, steadfastness in the howling winds, and calm when the world around you seems to quake. You can trust Him!

In the words of S.M. Lockridge, “He supplies strength for the weak and He’s available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes and He sees. He guards and He guides, He heals the sick, He cleansed the Leper, He forgives sinners, He discharges debtors, He delivers the captives, He defends the feeble, He blesses the young, He regards the aged, He rewards the diligent, He beautifies the meek. He’s the key to knowledge, He’s the wellspring of wisdom, He’s the doorway of deliverance, He’s the pathway of peace, He’s the roadway of righteousness, He’s the highway of holiness, He’s the gateway to glory! You can trust Him! He’s the master of the mighty, He’s the captain of the conquers, He’s the head of heroes, He’s the leader of legislators, He’s the overseer of the over-comers, He’s the governor of the governors, He’s the prince of princes, He’s the king of kings, He’s the Lord of lords! You can trust Him!”

Happy St Patrick’s Day! From Captured Slave to a Man on Mission

Happy St Patrick’s Day! Tis the season for parades, green beer, shamrocks, and articles talking about why St. Patrick’s day isn’t all about parades, green beer, and shamrocks. St. Paddy’s Day started as a religious celebration in the 17th century to commemorate the life of Saint Patrick and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland.

Before all the festivities focused on shamrocks, leprechauns, and good luck wishes, let me tell you about something worth celebrating: a man willing to stand in the gap for Jesus Christ.

This “Feast Day” always took place on the anniversary of Patrick’s death, which was believed to be March 17, 461 AD. In the early 18th century, Irish immigrants brought the tradition over to the American colonies, and it was there that Saint Patrick started to become the symbol of Irish heritage and culture that he is today. As more Irish came across the Atlantic, the Feast Day celebration slowly grew in popularity. So much so, in fact, the first ever St. Patrick’s Day parade was held in Boston in 1737.

If you’re wondering why we wear green on St Patrick’s Day, it not just about protection from pinching fingers. It goes back to the Irish Rebellion, when Irish soldiers wore green as they fought off the British in their trademark red. Until then, the color associated with St. Patrick and Feast Day was actually blue.

The reason shamrocks are such a part of St Patrick Day celebrations is that Patrick took a shamrock and pointed out the three leaves on it, as an illustration, to help people understand the Trinity.

The real story of St. Patrick is one of a man on a mission. Not a mission to party, wear funny green hats, or finding leprechauns, but to bring the power of the gospel to his Irish captors. When Patrick was a teenager, marauding Irish raiders attacked his village and abducted him from his home. Patrick was captured, thrown onto a slave ship headed for Ireland, and sold into slavery to an Irish king, who put him to work as a shepherd. Six years later, he escaped and returned home. Throughout that experience, God captured his attention and prepared him for his mission as a missionary to Ireland the home of his very captors and those who enslaved him.

Patrick had been raised in a Christian home, but he didn’t really believe in God. Patrick wrote, “from an early age, he didn’t have any serious interest in religion and that he was practically an atheist when he was a teenager.” But while in slavery, hungry, lonely, frightened, and bitterly cold, Patrick began seeking out a relationship with his Heavenly Father. As he wrote in his Confessions, “I would pray constantly during the daylight hours” and “the love of God . . . surrounded me more and more.”

Six years after his capture, God spoke to Patrick in a dream, saying, “Your hunger is rewarded. You are going home. Look! Your ship is ready.” What a startling command! If he obeyed, Patrick would become a fugitive slave, constantly in danger of capture and punishment. But he did obey, and God protected him. The young slave walked nearly 200 miles to the Irish coast. There he boarded a waiting ship and traveled back to Britain and his family.

But, as you might expect, Patrick was a different person now, and the restless young man could not settle back into his old life. Finally, thirty years after God had led Patrick away from Ireland, He called him back to the Emerald Isle as a missionary. Patrick understood the danger and wrote: “I am ready to be murdered, betrayed, enslaved — whatever may come my way.”

Patrick was determined to return to Ireland as a missionary. God granted him success and the gospel was spread throughout Ireland. Over the next 200 years, Celtic Christians, following Patrick’s example, brought the gospel to Britain, France, and central Europe. Those Irish pirates had no idea that kidnapping a teenager to be their slave would be used by God to bring many thousands to Christ.

Patrick lit a fire in pagan 5th century Ireland, ushering Christianity into the country of Ireland. Ireland was a beautiful island shrouded in terrible darkness. Warlords and druids ruled the land. The Irish of the fifth century were a pagan, violent, and barbaric people. Human sacrifice was commonplace. They worshipped multiple gods of the sky, earth, and water, but across the sea in Britain, a teenager was poised to bring this nation to God. It was an act of defiance that changed the course of a nation.

Since the warlords and druids ruled Ireland and worshipped multiple gods of the sky, earth, and water overcoming that false belief system became Patrick’s his first challenge: to convince the Irish that there was only one God and that his God really did love them.

Patrick came face to face with the warlord chieftains and their druid priests in a showdown on his first Easter morning in Ireland. Part of the pagan worship in the spring was that a start a fire on the hill of Tara and to prohibit all other lights throughout all of Ireland. Patrick was staying in a monastery on the hill of Slane, and in direct defiance of the high king of Tara, Patrick lit a forbidden fire.

Patrick was summoned before the king, and he explained that he “wasn’t a threat, but he was bringing a new light, the light of Christ, the Savior of the world, the Light of the world.

Patrick brought the hope of the resurrected Christ to Ireland as he trekked across the countryside bringing the Gospel to the pagan Celts. Patrick taught Ireland was that there is a cost to discipleship, but it’s a cost worth paying. Discipleship demands of you, but it’s a cost that Christ will help you to pay. Patrick’s ministry lasted 29 years. He baptized over 120,000 Irishmen and planted 300 churches.

If you wear green this St. Patrick’s Day, consider thinking more about the mission than the party. Many gave their lives to Christ because one teenager refused to let the oppression of a godless culture shape his identity.

Five Foundational Truths of Surrender: Truth #5

There are five foundational truths of surrender;

  1. God is good.
  2. God is in control.
  3. God knows more than we know.
  4. God can do more with what we have that we can.
  5. Everybody surrenders to something. Even the most independent, rebellious people in the world surrenders to something….why not make it God? Everything God does is to provide for you and protect you.

Five Foundational Truths of Surrender: Truth #4

There are five foundational truths of surrender;

  1. God is good.
  2. God is in control.
  3. God knows more than we know.
  4. God can do more with what we have that we can. God doesn’t need your stuff, He wants you. He wants all of you, and He realizes that many times our stuff come between Him and us. We have a tendency to seek our stuff first….but as we seek God first He will manage all of our details (Matt 6:33).


Some Bullet Point Thoughts about the School Shooting in Parkland, Florida

• Don’t just share the hashtag #PrayForParklandFlorida., or type “prayers sent”, etc. Actually, stop and pray for the families involved, the school staff, and the churches in the area as they help one another.

• Are we so self-absorbed (in the best possible usage of the term) that we really don’t care enough to begin praying bold heartfelt prayers, having meaningful conversations, and making a difference where we live?

• Don’t make this a conversation about needing more laws or more gun control. Laws do not change a heart. Laws do not fix mental illness or evil. Regardless of where you stand politically, this is not a gun issue.

• For me, the conversation is about how do we handle mental illness and the ever-increasing spiritual darkness in our nation. Like, if Jesus was here in the flesh right now, would he call that mental illness or would He cast out a demon? If we see a homeless guy running around a cemetery naked and wild (Luke 8:26-39), we would call that mental illness, but Jesus called it demonic. I’m not saying we should blame everything on a demon, and I don’t think a prayer fixes all mental illness issues, but I do believe it is both are issues, not one or the other.

• It bothers me that this type of tragedy has become common enough that we seem to have developed a numbness to it. It is “just had another school shooting”. We get more outraged over common things that happen like someone cutting us off in traffic, or our “fries being cold again” when we go through the drive-through. We get more brokenhearted over what happened on “This is Us” or when a favorite musician dies of a drug overdose.

• It bothers me that we get more vocal and passionate about the political conversations surrounding a tragedy rather than the spiritual conversations that need to be happening.

• At the end of the day, we need Jesus. Evil will always be present and active, but the spiritual apathy of supposed Christ-followers and our churches, only allows the darkness to spread. We are called to be light in the darkness. Light and darkness cannot co-exist. As light increases, darkness decreases.

“All it takes for evil to succeed is for good people to do nothing”. Apathy is killing us. Fear of offending someone is killing us. The “It’s not my problem” attitude is killing us.