Sunday, September 30, 2012

Overlooking the "Small Stuff"

Sometimes we can overlook something that may seem so small, or insignificant, but it can turn out to be one of the most amazing miracles God uses in our life. To me, one of the most interesting miracles in the Bible happened during Pentecost. Even if you read this 100 times, read this again with me:
Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:5-11 ESV)
What I love about this story, as you may imagine from the passage I selected, was that these simple "Galileans" weren't just speaking some angelic tongue that somehow the others were able to understand by the power of God. The others heard their own common languages being spoke ... at the same time ... by the same people! Huh? Again, don't let the Sunday school story you heard many times water down your impact of this passage, this is pretty awesome stuff! However it got me thinking about these Pentecost moments today, in my life.

I was talking to my children today about this story (again) and something had occurred to me that I shared with them that I'd like to share with you. You see, there have been some personal conversations that I've had in the past surrounding my faith with various people throughout the last several years. There are times I've walked away from a conversation feeling quite proud. Proud because I was able to answer the questions [I felt] well, and supported them biblically (or by using other outside secular, scientific, or other sources). Then there are times I've walked away from a conversation that was really important to me feeling like I sounded like a complete idiot. I choose terrible examples, fumbled with my knowledge of Scripture, and felt I left more questions and doubt than helped give answers and clarity!

Usually however, those conversations that seem to fail in my eyes, are the ones that are emotionally significant, and close to me. They are the ones that I've prayed over, thought about while getting ready for work, or late at night. Perhaps because I am so concerned that I may say the wrong thing is the reason I fumble my words. Yet gloriously it is those conversations (though not all) that I hear back from (sometimes days later or longer) with with words like: "Thank you, that's exactly what I needed to hear."

Huh? How did you get anything out of that mess?!
"for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:12 ESV)
This Holy Spirit, is the same Spirit that made multiple people at Pentecost hear from the same men different languages at the same time. I wonder, I just wonder ... if when I speak in those moments ... those moments that I have prayed for ... if He doesn't take my Words and make them His before they reach the ears of my friends. Hmm.

Sound strange? Reminds me of part of this song:
You count it strange, so once did I ...
Before I knew my Savior (Aaron Schust, My Savior My God)
I love the way He works ...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Work Resumes

Today is a special day for me ...

Five years ago today I stood in front of hundreds of people and was baptized in the name of Christ Jesus. It took me almost 30 years to not only truly find Him, but to find my need and love for the Cross as well. In return, He has blessed me with His presence and guidance in every moment of every day; if I should choose to seek Him.

So as I picked up my Bible today, I continued reading Nehemiah. As Nehemiah is organizing the rebuilding of these walls, and progress is being made, the enemy begins to feel threatened and plans to launch attacks. An enemy does not like to see progress from their opposition. However Nehemiah and the team rallied, supported, and protected each other so that the work could resume. Yet all the while they worked, they stood ready with their swords at their side, and prepared for the attacks of the enemy. They "labored with one hand, and held their weapon in the other" (Nehemiah 4:17).

All this reminded me of my journey these past 5 years. Once I started building, the enemy attacked. Some of the attacks surprised me, and came from those very close to me, while some from distant sources. Yet I hear the rally cries for Christ, and even amidst the attacks, my heart continues to grow stronger, more at peace, and joy filled. I can only pray that those who oppose me find the same joy, freedom, and life that I have found one day as well.

Additionally, over the past five years, I have discovered something else as well. While I love and will continue to study how He is revealed not only in the Word, but science and history, what draws me close to Him is not discovering Him with my head, but with my heart. Texts, research, and other information is all great, but nothing reveals Him more to me than simply sitting down with Him and talking. His revelation through prayer is more powerful than I ever would have thought.

I need not ponder the past 5 years too much, as I don't live for yesterday or tomorrow, but I live for today. So today my work continues; one hand on the task at hand, and the other on my sword.

"Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,"
(Ephesians 6:14-17 ESV)
Thank You for this journey Abba ...

At the ready, for Christ,

Monday, September 24, 2012

Wait, let me think of something else.

Something hit me hard today. I was asked if I had any prayer requests by a friend online. Prayer has been on my heart a lot, and as always, so has the Holiness of God. My prayers don't often take shape into minor requests (though sometimes they do, as He welcomes us to come to Him for everything), sometimes they're big, but often lately I ask for Him to show me His will in a given situation. I do pray for peace a lot, and pray often that I can remember to draw from His strength, not my own.

So when I heard this request, my heart typed in: "Pray that I can be desperate for Jesus"

Then I hit backspace rather than enter.

Woah! Hold on Matt. I want to be desperate for Jesus? It reminded me of the prayer "Whatever it takes Father, make me like Jesus!" Whatever it takes? Desperate for Jesus? These are big words, and big prayers.

Often when in the moment of being shaped, I see it as pain. Going through loss, fear, agony, or terror are not choice situations for me (nor anyone that I'm aware of). Yet I've been through loss. I've been through fear. I've been through agony. I've been through terror. I know the human response is often wanting to compare our conditions to others. However for me, these were real emotions, even if others somewhere sometime can 'top me'. Whatever your trial is, don't compare it to others, it's your trial, and it's significant to you.

Could He shape me through blessings? Could I fall humbly at the feet of Christ in thanksgiving feeling desperate for Him? Sure. I absolutely think that. However my story shows that most of my growth has come through trials, fires, and being refined. Something I speak and write of often.

So here I sit, with His hands open asking me to Trust Him. Could it hurt? Yes. Will it hurt without purpose? No. Will I grow? Yes. So am I ready to grow?
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2 ESV) 
Prayer request sent ...

I trust You

When Disappointment Leads to Zork

Zork? Yes, Zork! We talked about those "choose your own adventure" books we read as children, and to me, this is what came to mind! Wow did this take me back!

As we closed in prayer today at church, we asked for strength and courage to hand over the pen of our life, to the Great Author. So often we want to grab the pen and begin to write our own story. We want to change course, and "Choose our own Adventure" like we did when we read those books as a child. However we do so without understanding (or wanting to understand) that there is already a plan for our life, a perfect one. We just need to sit back and let Him read our story to us, and not spend our time fighting for the pen.

This perfect plan however, doesn't seem so perfect to us at times, and soon disappointment seems to justify our disobedience (Mark McGilvrey, That one hit me hard Mark! In a real, loving, and "light shining on darkness" kind of way. How true that is, that once we seem to start becoming disgruntled about the way this plan is taking shape, we [want to] try again to fight for that pen.

Without application and transformation however, powerful (and even anointed) words or sermons, are just that, words and sermons. So I suppose my next step is to ask myself the question, "What is His plan for my life, and am I trying to fight for the pen?"  I don't think the answer to that question is as difficult as it may seem. While I don't know the plan itself, I think I can safely say that I know when I'm not following it. How? As I said before in another post, the inaudible words of God are often more real and clearly understood than when someone is standing right next to me. Point being, I don't think it's hard to tell when you are disobeying God. There is a sense of discontent there that we may try to suppress, but it is fairly obvious (at least to me) when I'm going against the will of God.

So then, I guess we're back to that next step again? What is it for me?

Obedience. If I can understand ... I can obey.

I try to explain to my kids that obedience is not just what they should do, but that I care for them and it's in their best interest, not just something I want. As a loving father I will never ask my children to obey a command that will put them on the wrong path. Sounds like I need to continually hear the same lecture from my heavenly Father as well. When I think back on those more significant moments in my life where I took a greater leap of faith (obedience), the joy and adventure was all that more great as well. I hear the words, "Trust Me, I got this" ...

I'm encouraged to take that next step of faith. What is yours? Is His voice calling you in a different direction, or is His voice just a whisper of encouragement, saying: Jump. I got you.

Listen ... He is talking,

Friday, September 21, 2012

What did you say? I was too busy talking.

When it comes to my Spiritual life, it's amazing how ritual, legalism, rules, check boxes, religious behaviors, required actions, all start creeping in as things become routine. Being transformed starts to take a back seat to being informed. Information gained from the Scriptures starts taking priority over letting myself be transformed by Them and His amazing handiwork.

Don't misunderstand me, information is great, how could I say otherwise. The Scriptures are there [to some extent] to inform us indeed. After all, it's one of the ways He speaks to us. However, I began to take my current Bible reading plan and turn it into a check box. Is this an issue for everyone who has a reading plan? No. However for me it is at times. I decided to stop bouncing across books just to make sure I kept up with my plan and simply pick a spot, and start reading. I ended up in Nehemiah. Why Nehemiah? Ask Jesus, all I know is I was prompted to start there.

However upon starting, I was immediately drawn in by Nehemiah's prayer. Prayer has been on my heart lately for multiple reasons, and when I read that first chapter it reminds me of how beautiful, powerful, and very serious prayer is to His people.

Nehemiah, after receiving some difficult news, begins his prayer with weeping, mourning, and fasting. Before Scripture reveals the specifics of his prayer, he does this "for days". Some may say it was simply a time to cry and mourn, I sense that he needed (and wanted) to get his heart right before he presented his requests at the throne. I sense that "for days" when he was praying, he wasn't speaking, but listening.

The prayer continues with some beautiful passages. He wanted to stand in the gap and ask for forgiveness not just for himself, but for all of Israel. He recognizes and calls on God's promise, something that speaks of beautiful confidence in a Holy, but very personal and loving God.

However, I still reflect back to the days of fasting and prayer. I truly think he was listening, and waiting on God. Something that in the rush of "reading for information" I seem to need right now too, just some quiet time with him. Perhaps my prayers "for some days to come" should be spent simply listening, not talking.


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Feeling Complete

I have had some pretty incredible moments in my life, and many of us share similar moments. Meeting our spouse for the first time, getting married, having children, or specific vacation memories that come to mind are just some of the common ones. We of course have those other beautiful moments that we tend to remember as well that perhaps may be more specific to our life. Additionally other moments such as getting that first job, promotion, or having the courage to change fields and find something new stand out in our minds. Still yet others like purchasing our first car, or house, boat, or even cottage stand out.

I've shared a lot of those moments, and others, but they never left me feeling like my life was now complete. Even with marriage and children, while by far almost at the top of my list, didn't leave an eternal feeling of lacking nothing. I was now in union with my wife, and starting a family, something that certainly completed many aspects of my life, but it didn't seal my purpose in this world.

I was quite successful at many things. Made good money at an early age, met a great woman and a beautiful girl to start a family with, always had a stable job, a loving family, and friends. I spent money on things that I wanted, enjoyed the things that my eyes desired, and lived life in the ways that society in general told me I should. On paper, I had it good. Sure, I could always use a little more, but that's what everyone wants right? Just a little more ...

I even remember a few times laughing (but only half joking), pointing at myself in the mirror and saying: "You da man!" Embarrassing? Sure, use it to make fun of me, don't care. However my point was simply that I thought I had it all (regardless if I did or not).

Yet in those quiet moments of life, when I was honest, I did have secret fears of my sand castles tumbling down. Failure. Wife, kids, job, money ... health, especially health. After all, dying would suck. I had so much left to do!

Then ... somehow ... (get your mouse ready to click the 'x') ... through unexpected ways, I met someone; Jesus Christ.

I was thinking just the other day that while I certainly don't exactly want to be hit by a bus, I feel ... complete. My life is complete. I do have much I want to do. Some of it worldly (watching my kids grow up, growing old with my wife, and exploring this world), and some of it for His Kingdom (I'm excited to see what He places on my heart as this journey continues to grow).

There will always be bills to pay, kids to challenge you, those that criticize you, and fires to go through, but do you feel complete? My goofy mind sometimes thinks that: "If I say I'm complete, then I'll get hit by that bus!"

No ... not complete in the sense that I have nothing left to do in this world, just complete in the sense that I now lack nothing.

I lack nothing. Christ is mine, and I am His.

I lack nothing.

I am complete.

And now I sit here with a smile ...
"And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:4 ESV)"

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

So I ran 100 miles ...

OK, well not in a day, but in the month of August! It was a goal that I set, and one of the few that I actually met! I left many things in the dust during that month, some of them great things to leave behind. Doubt about my running ability, lack of consistent dedication to my health, and even the lie that I don't have time for myself.

After all, we should be taking care of ourselves. This body is a gift, and as a thank you to the amazing Gift Giver I would like to take care of this vessel. However I left something else behind that I didn't expect; Him.
"for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." (1 Timothy 4:8 ESV)
So do I intend to back-down my workouts or start eating some more pizza? No, not at all. However it wasn't the exercise that was the problem, it was the sacrifices that I made to fit it in. I have a lot of hobbies, and I have a tendency to want to fit all those in, and in turn, my devotional time, prayer life, and study took a hit.

These sacrifices had nothing to do with obligation, checking a box, or feeling like I didn't give God something I required. Leaving Him in the dust didn't leave Him feeling empty, it left me feeling empty. You know that "Peace of Christ that transcends all understanding.", well that is hard to attain when you're running away from Him and pushing away the source of all that peace. It is that peace that is just part of the promise that Paul writes to Timothy in the above verse.

It reminded me of my life before Christ; I accomplished much, but was never truly satisfied.

On my next 100 miles, or whatever goal I set forth next, He will be leading me. Then I will walk away from a goal feeling like I accomplish much, and also walk away feeling truly satisfied!


Monday, September 10, 2012

New Beginnings ...

This is certainly a season of new beginnings for me. I can speak of many, including prayerfully and peacefully leaving one church body and finding another closer to our new home. A new school year is upon us, as is also my annual work cycle. We have a new ministry season beginning at many churches, which for me includes new beginnings to studies and small groups. From a health point of view, after recently battling a bit of a virus, I'm looking forward again to getting back to eating healthy and taking care of my body with regards to exercise again.

However more significantly, over the summer due to many factors, my mantra of being on "His Path, Daily", turned more to weekly. Partly due to logistics and my ability to be involved in my former church body, however a much greater reason was simple choice.

In response, I've begun taking the step-approach to increasing my prayer life. Step 1, pray; there are no further steps.

So on the way to work, I pulled over, got out of the car on this beautiful morning, watched a few moments of the sunrise with my coffee, and  just thanked Him for something He knows much about; the opportunity for new beginnings.

"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;  his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:22-24 ESV)
My road this coming year may end up feeling like a newly paved black top highway, or it may seem more like I94 through Detroit during rush hour. Whatever path it is, I pray I will recognize it as His (and not one I try to call my own) and will use it for His Glory.

Getting back to His Path, Daily ... again :)

Loving you all and Him, and praying for whatever new beginnings you are facing,
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