Champion the Grace

One of my favorite books of all time is "What's So Amazing About Grace?" by Philip Yancey. It's a beautiful exploration of the greatness and AMAZEMENT of grace. Yancey calls grace the "last great word."

Grace. The last great word.

My heart has been on a journey this year. A pilgrimage, really. As I have pressed into Jesus during this season, and without going into loads of detail, Jesus has redisplayed one word to me: "grace". Grace is the unwarranted, undeserved favor. Being placed as a prince when you were born a pauper. Being given a kingdom when you deserve condemnation. Being given a right to inheritance, when you deserve death without rights. GRACE. Grace makes the unlovely lovable, makes the unlikable parts likable, the rough parts round, the weak parts strong.

It's the one thing the world can't touch - the world - steeped in covetousness and vindictiveness, where people only get what they deserve, where punishment is swift, where seeing light in dark is impossible - because there is no Christ. And where there is no Jesus - there is no grace. The world is thirsty for God, and his grace - (which are one and the same). It needs forgiveness, kindness, gentleness, charity. It needs grace - now maybe more than ever.

As Christians (little Christs), we bear what our Pioneer bestowed us. Grace. Grace to the underserving, grace to the weak, grace to the hopeless. We get to be the salve to gracelessness, the answer to religiousness, the hope to the condemned. 

Today may you BE GRACE to the world. Forgive the rude cashier. Give grace to the tired super market mother. Give money to the homeless man, regardless of your thoughts about him. Give time to a lost driver. Give kindness. Give laughter. Give grace.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace. - 1 Peter 4:10

Favor and Favorites

I have often felt as though I am the Lord's favorite child.

Arrogant, I know.

But in my defense, I have loads of friends that would say the same. My friend Doug, who teaches with me at Red Rocks Young Adults, has told me he feels he is God's favorite. (I laugh internally at this we all know who God's favorite is, I think but you go ahead and be delusional.) My pastor and mentor Chad Bruegman gave an entire staff chapel at one point about believing he is the favorite child, and that believing so is the key to the heart of God.

He's not wrong.

Grace, after all is unmerited and undeserved FAVOR. To be found favorable for no other reason than the Son of God having grace on your fallen heart on Calvary. To be found honorable, likable, lovable, favored. To be a FAVORITE.

This feeling of being the favorite child, it's scripturally bound to the idea that God loves each of us individually, uniquely. As Lisa Bevere said, "God does not love his children equally, he loves them uniquely." Praise God for that. This means that God loves you intimately, knowing your personal favorite ways to be loved. He knows the language to use with you - if you are better with tough talk or tender tones, he knows how to please you, he knows how to minister to your heart. Because you are his FAVORITE. 

May you feel God's overwhelming and deeply personal FAVOR on you today. May you take a moment to recognize his eyes are completely capable of "only having eyes for you". He's God, after all. Omnipotent, almighty and full of enough Godness to love each of us as "favorite" children.

Favor on you, friend.

Generosity = Longevity

As I write this I have been in full-time ministry for over 8 years. Before that, I felt the "call" 6 years earlier. So in total, I have been journeying with God from invitation to activation for 14 years. While this is a drop in the bucket to many folks I know, it has been a long journey. I have grown up, but not grown cold, I have been burned, but not burned out. When pursuing your call there are moments of severe doubt, set-backs that are anything but gentle, moments of sobriety where you realize the next season will require more of you, not less, and that growth is more painful as the years go on, not less.

Once you receive platforms, and recognition, the boat only becomes more rocky. True friendships, where I believe ministry rides or dies, are harder to come by. Those fast few you find you grip with both hands because Christianity is hardly Christianity without dear people to share it with. They are the ones who believe in you in darker times, celebrate you freely in the brightest of spotlights, and walk. with. you. There are others who are simply there for what you offer - a stepping stone or a coattail. Whatever that may be. The joy of calling is deep. But so is the sorrow.

There have been things that have defined my calling, and my commitment to it over the years. One of the deepest, is the idea of a generous life. Gordon MacDonald writes:  "Generosity, you see, is the authenticating symbol of resilience, and it is the antithesis of a life trapped in materialism, self-centeredness and an obsession with pleasure." In other words - generosity is having the mind of the kingdom - how can I give away? In a world that has the mind of darkness - how can I take more for me?

For Jon and I, this has taken place in our finances. Nothing has bless our lives more than attempting to rule ourselves by giving our finances freely. We enjoy praying about our tithe and hearing from God about the amount to increase it. We enjoy having a giving fund to bless others. We enjoy (even though at first we are frightened) the times where we sacrifice and give what seems too much. In fact, as I write this it comes to my mind that we haven't had a discussion about sacrificial giving in a while - and - I think that means we are due.

But generosity also embodies how we view our lives our family and ourselves. For us, years ago we decided ministry was a family affair - for better or worse we were all in - altogether - for the entire ride. This meant sometimes sacrificing time as a family to serve other people, finding ways to serve as a family at church, etc. But it also means a deep intentionality. To never view my life or our lives as our own, but to join Jesus in his CAUSE and in his FIGHT. To care for the things he does, and lose ourselves generously along the way.

While I am far from the Saints that have gone before me, I realize that generosity is the way to longevity. It is the only way to run your race with endurance, because as MacDonald writes - is authenticating. I can run forever because I'm running for what matters. What is true. Generosity and living generously is the way to give and have joy, live fully in every season, be fully awake in each moment. In the effort of giving yourself to Jesus' cause and glory, you find that you are running quicker, happier, truer. The goal for me (and maybe you) is this: to pursue our call until the length of our days are done, and be able to say as Paul of Tarsus did:

"This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, he’s an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for his coming." 2 Timothy 4:7-8 The Message

 

 

The Struggle is Real. But so is Jesus.

The day after Thanksgiving I sat with my Nana in her room on a warmer than normal November day.  Our family knew that week that my Nana's body was beginning to let go, and to show signs that the end was near. I sat with my sweet, poised and intelligent Nana, speaking to her, telling her stories, reading the book of John. It was deeply sorrowful, but also peaceful in her room. I sat, and I thought of eternity.

In my view there are two things that humans universally struggle with: ONE: their own finite being, and TWO: their validation and significance in life. We struggle with death. And we struggle with love.

Death is something 21st century Americans try to avoid. We feign youth - warding off wrinkles with cremes, putting in hours at the gym, eating our way into immortality with the latest fad. We idolize the young and ignore the elderly. We rarely talk about what comes after death. We pretend to be immune. We struggle with dying.

We struggle with love.

Our world distorts love. Love in society comes at a cost, and is easily lost. Love is earned here: if you are attractive enough, talented enough, savvy enough. Love is equated with tolerance. Love is a slogan for political campaigns. Love is a bumper sticker that declares devotion to a ski slope, a burger, a dog, a taco joint. Our hearts, whether consciously or not shudder under the lack of REAL LOVE. We want it. We own it not.

According to scripture, we struggle with these two experiences, because they were the catastrophic consequences of the fall. In one ill-fated moment, a decision was made, an apple was eaten, and the world fractured. The significance we felt in the presence of God was replaced with insecurity and shame. The immortality we experienced with our Creator was stolen, and in its place came mortality. 

If you are disturbed by the world today. If you are haunted by the thought of people dying, of your own mortality, of the lack of gentleness and love in the world... It's not just the media, terrorism or politics that are the cause. It's Genesis and the fall.

It destroyed perfect unionized love. It killed off security. It brought forth death.

As I sat in my Nana's room, the weight of the fall pushed on my chest. Her body giving way. Her breath slowing. I loathe death, I thought. And I cried. It was in those moment, though, that I realized ben more that Jesus is our only hope. He is the only chance we have to satisfy our struggle. Our struggle with death is satisfied in his resurrection. Our struggle with love is quenched in his acceptance and adoption of us. Our mortality is exchanged for immortality in Christ. The grave lost it's power. Death lost it's sting. Shame was met with unfettered grace and care.

There is a song by Hillsong United that years ago was my favorite, and has made it's way into my playlists again. Where the Love Lasts Forever sings these lines with adoration: 

I throw my life upon all that you are
Because I know you gave it all for me,
When all else fades my soul will dance with you,
Where the love lasts forever

If your struggle today is with humanity, hate, death or despair: Take Heart. There is a savior who offers you relief for all that burdens you today. His heaven is more real than we know. Our eternity is secure, if only we would call on him. His offer of love and life the only offer you will ever need. The struggle is real. But so is Jesus. 

 

 

He's Here. Happy 2017.

Welcome to 2017. He's with us.

Out of all the things that have empowered my life, the largest has been ACCEPTING the reality that God does not leave nor forsake me. That he is always always always with me. Watching out for me. Empowering me. Guiding me. Defending me.

A few years ago I wandered into Exchanged Life Ministries, a counseling and resourcing unit. I was saved and so in love with Jesus. But so, SO broken. The brokenness was from a variety of sources, but the largest reason it still existed 5 years into being saved was that I believed that God did leave me. That at times he did forsake me. I would feel a lack. I would have a set back. And I would (wrongly) assume God had abandoned me. It wrecked havoc on my faith, and kept me in a holding pattern in my calling.

There in counseling, I learned about the irrevocable promises and truths of God. The truth of God never leaving nor forsaking me sunk deep over a series of months. Regardless of how I was feeling that day, my feet and heart were buried deep within the concrete of God's truth. God is with me. God resides in me. His spirit is available and on tap within me.

For most of us, the reason our lives lose power is because we don't reckon this as TRUTH. That God is WITH US. That he resides in us. And greater is he that is in us than he who is in the world. The enemy can't take this promise of God, so he tries to make you believe it isn't true. Our lives lose power when we lose sight of God being with us and in us.

In a worship song I love, Steven Furtick from Elevation Church preaches about the power of belief in the middle of the song. At the climax of his mini sermon he yells to his crowd, "lift your hands - HE'S HERE."

This needs to be our anthem as we walk into 2017. Lift your hands. He's here. Believe his promises. They're right here. Trust with everything you got. He's here. Tell the Enemy what you're made of. He's here. 

May your 2017 be full of the promises you KNOW to be true. Lift your hands. He's here.

Election 2016 - There's Still Time To Change Your Mind

This election has been frustrating, disheartening, and downright exhausting, aye friend?

For the last 12 months our thoughts and hearts have been ravaged by an ongoing onslaught of campaign drama, debacle, paranoia and fear. We've been sold a bag of lies: that if our candidate doesn't get into office - the world as we know it, will in fact, end. Our egos are fully on display this go-round. We recite facts to back our positions, post articles from our favorite celeb, use graphs to prove our fears or frustrations, whatever they may be. We demonize the party lines, and anyone and everyone attached to it. Suddenly, people become demons or deity, depending on how we feel that day, and they will sink us or "save us", destroy us or resurrect us. Whatever that means.

The leaders that have have emerged from the fray are a sad and base. We pretend like someone else voted for them. That this is the result of some crazy fringe voters. The tyrants, the people with money, the people with power. The unintelligent, the brainwashed. They did this to us. "These candidates don't represent us," we say.

We believe that this whole charade is someone else's doing, thrust upon us against our will.

But then that's not the truth is it?

To be sure, the state of America is a reflection of our hearts at this moment - in its truest form. (If this is not you forgive me, I'm talking to everyone else as I write.) For the last few years we have whittled down our brothers and sisters to sound-bites. We have allowed disunity to somehow become a value in our households. We have allowed the media to be our highest form of intellect and conscience. We have bowed down to a system, believing it has the ability to direct or guide us, not understanding we have set the system in motion with our own fractured beliefs and half-hearted morality. Our character is not strong, our integrity waining. We are arrogant and all-knowing, depraved and yet not knowing, lacking morality and yet not wanting consequences. We are depraved. Debased. Lost. Captain-less. I have looked in my heart and I have seen this in myself.

And Lord. I am sorry.

Like the Israelites in 1 Samuel asking for a king -  we do not understand what we asked for.

These leaders. They are the ones we have called for. They represent us now because THEY ARE US NOW. 

She is me. He is me. They are a dire reflection of a nation's hollowed out soul.

But there's still time.

Even if you have cast your vote there's still time for us to change our mind. After all, to "repent" simply means to have a change of heart or a change of mind.

In 1 Samuel God speaks sad and sweet words to Samuel His prophet. In His heartbreak over losing His children to a human leader, he says: "They haven't rejected you Samuel," God spoke softly, "they have rejected Me." I can hear every once of His love and sadness in those words.

I have chosen a king I think in the last few months. My guess is you have too. When I give a news reporter or an article my fullest attention and devotion, I'm choosing a king. When I let my soul be directed by a human being I'm choosing a king. When I let my entire heart be set on things of this world instead of things above I'm choosing a King.

We have chosen a king. But there is still time to change our minds.

This week as you vote bend a knee. If Christ has won your heart once let him win it again. There's still time to turn from our wickedness, humble ourselves, and perhaps the Lord can restore us still. There's still time to do the right thing. Not with a pen and a ballot, but with a rushed returning to a Savior.

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

Where My Girls At? [Halloween Edition]

Halloween is in 3 days! I got my snickers bags on lock down, a couple pumpkins ready for my porch and my witches hat I've worn three years and counting. It's becoming a lazy tradition.

For the last month, little B (she's two.5) has been saying she wants to be a "turtle". I know right? CUTE. (This suddenly changed last week when she saw a butterfly costume, so that's what she's going as now. You get it. Attention span of a two.5 year-old. But I digress...) Jon and I searched through stores and Amazon for a tot turtle costume. What we found made my mother-heart droop. 

I found tiny legging-with-short-skirt turtle costumes. For a toddler. I found little tiny girls with their hands on their hips, one knee bent and bum jutted out to the side in a "sexy" little girl pose. I found countless little girl costumes like this. For 3 year olds. 8 year olds. When I was 8 I told my mom I wanted to be a "confused tourist". I had a tourist outfit complete with fanny pack and a giant map. I got to act like I was lost all day. It was HILARIOUS. It never crossed my mind to try to be sexy. Or that my costume was only worthy if it made men turn their heads.

And don't get me started on the adult costumes.

As a society, as a female generation, we need to decide what we are. Are we strong, female leaders, defying sex-status and ready to tackle the work place, serve Jesus with ferocity and find a seat at the table? Or are we "sex-objectifying lady bug" for Halloween? Are defying the norms, jetting through glass ceilings and making new roads for females? Or are we "sexy Harry Potter"? Are we beautiful daughters of the King, serving our friends, our spouses, our Creator? Or are we a "sexy Batwoman"?

I'm being serious.

Are we taking a stand and ending sex slavery in our lifetime?
Or are we playing sex-slave nurse this year?

I'm calling all female leaders. All worthy women of the cross. All beautiful creations of God. All precious Daughters of the King. To be OF Him is to look NOTHING LIKE THEM. The world that is trying to make you a sex object. A symbol of objectification. A toy.

To be found in Jesus is to look completely different from the world. To be beautiful means to clothe yourself in strength and dignity. To be a "catch" in the Kingdom means to have a valiant heart, a GOOD heart, a STRONG heart a DIGNIFIED heart.  

We clothe ourselves in strength and dignity. 

This Halloween show the world what you're made of. What gorgeous really looks like. What beauty STAND FOR. What grace looks like. That you can be GLORIOUS as confused traveler. That Jesus lives in you and makes you WORTHY. 

Praying for the ladies this Halloween. Do it up BIG. In Strength and Dignity.

-j

Peace Above The Noise

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

It's an interesting season in America. The chatter is continuos, innocuous and LOUD. The news stations, the social media feeds, the banter, the opinion. It's annoying at one moment, and ear piercingly DEMANDING of your attention the next.

I remembered reading years ago about God's anointed word to Elijah. A large wind came and blew in Elijah's face - but God wasn't there. An earthquake came and shook Elijah's body - but God wasn't there. A fire came so close it wilted the end of his coat - but God wasn't in the fire. 

And then a whisper came. And there was the King of Kings.

Today if the noise you hear is deafening, be suspicious. It's possible God isn't in the news feed, your Facebook feed or your car commute.  

To be bold with peace today - get alone. Get quiet. Present your requests. Lay down your anxieties. And there He will be, in the whispers of your heart. 

Where Pessimism Goes To Die

I love Jesus. I love the fullness of Jesus and His face. I love his embrace. The way I feel in prayer when I'm near Him. He is the embodiment of hope and I know it the moment I look up from my day and look TO Him. He is all things bright. Good. Beautiful.

Which is why in Christ our pessimism goes to die.

There is no room for skepticism. There is no place for fatalism. Because there is nothing but fullness of HOPE. In Christ, we can be optimists without understanding always why. 

And we need optimism now more than ever.

This means that you can look at the world - the dark parts of the world, the difficult parts of the world, the frustrating parts, the hateful parts, and it doesn't have to SHAKE YOU. Jesus is bigger. Bolder. Brighter. In this world, we will have trouble, but pessimism doesn't have to win out.

We have overcome the world.

Pray with hope, faith and OPTIMISM today. And watch Jesus work miracles out of our beautiful belief.

 

Pride Paralyzes Potential

Dear Talented, Visionary, Passionate 20-something,

I believe in this generation. And I have high hopes for what this generation is becoming/will become. I believe that there is an inherent altruism, drive, kindness, harmony and power about the teens and 20-somethings I see around me. With the current state of national leadership, I think most people can agree there are things left wanting. My prayer is that this generation coming up fulfills the great call of leading society to higher and more holy places. I LOVE and speak LIFE over this generation.

But there's a catch. If you are in your 20's, and you have vision for your life, and God on your side, there is one card the Enemy is most certainly hoping will destroy you. While this attribute will seem like it is on your side, it's not. While this characteristic will seem like it's looking out for your best interest, it really will be your downfall.

What is this trait you ask?

Pride.

I have had ring-side seats to watch pride drive ministry dreams off the cliff. I have watched pride burn a man's momentum alive as he clung sadly to self-preservation.  I have seen pride keep a woman sidelined because she would prefer to stay safe and unexposed than admit failure and rally for a second try. I've seen pride single-handedly wipe out the future of some of the most talented men and women I know.  Pride is destructive. Fast-acting. Elusive. Cunning. And quite possibly may be the end of your potential.

Here are a few simple thoughts on a Wednesday for safeguarding your life from pride:

1. REGARD YOURSELF SOBERLY

In the book of Romans Paul, (who besides Jesus may hold the trophy for "how to live your life powerfully for the Kingdom") writes: "do not think yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgement, in accordance with the faith God has given you." Sober judgement is something I often see missing from 20-somethings. In general, young adults will regard themselves too talented- too early, too important- too frequently, and too untouchable- too often. In other words, we sometimes think ourselves more savvy, favorable, or irreplaceable than we actually are. As my pastor Chad Bruegman points out: God doesn't need you, but he wants you. I find millennials reversing saying: God may not always want me, but he needs me. We approach our jobs, calling and circumstances then not out of reliance on God, but out of a fierce belief in ourselves.

Paul writes that we should find a better way. To regard ourselves soberly, and not think of ourselves more highly than we ought (notice he doesn't say "think lowly of yourself" only "be sober in how you quantify yourself. BE HONEST ABOUT YOURSELF EVALUATION."). To stay sober, simply remind yourself that you're talented, but not irreplaceable. That you are called, but that the gifting isn't nearly as potent as the reliance on Christ. Stay sober about yourself, and pride will have to find another dummy to prey on.

2. REGARD OTHERS BEFORE YOURSELF 

Paul goes on in Romans and says "be devoted to one-another, honor one-another above yourselves..." In general, and this goes for all generations, people normally look to be devoted to themselves. To find ways to receive honor... for themselves. A sure fire way of combatting pride is to always seek out ways to lift up, love, and honor those around you. Put another person's dreams before your own. Offer up your time to help another person achieve more. Affirm another in love and honor. Not only will pride slide off of you, but you will see God bring YOU honor in return.

3. SURROUND YOURSELF WITH PEOPLE MORE TALENTED THAN YOU

If you want to permanently extinguish pride in your life get around talented people. I mean WAY more talented than you. And LOTS of them. You should feel constantly challenged, somewhat threatened, and at the end of the day very aware that God made lots of people better at _____ than you. And you should feel ok with all these emotions and thoughts.

Insecure people prefer to surround themselves with people less gifted than themselves. They like being the big presence in the room. Secure and humble people love being around the best of the best. In your work environments, your every day friendships and so forth, make sure your partying with the best __________ that place has to offer. You will not only have a more well-rounded sense of self, you will also benefit from being sharpened by people who are better at life than you are.

4. WAIT YOUR TURN 

Pride not only whispers in your ear that you are untouchable, it also makes you think you're ready for things that you just aren't.

A young man proposes to a young girl because he loves her and feels SURE he's ready. Against all counsel, advice and warnings he arrogantly strides forward thinking his self will can sustain a marriage alone. Nine months later he is frightened and ashamed, as his marriage falls apart despite his efforts.  

A young woman feels ready to lead. Chomping at the bit she looks for any and every opportunity to advance, to highlight herself, while dimming the gifts of others. She sacrifices internal integrity and development, and as a result lands a job and role that eventually crushes a character that was never built in the first place.

Waiting your turn, while hard in the season, pays off in the long run.

As one of the most beautiful examples of prideful zeal turned powerful humility Peter writes this: "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God and in DUE TIME... He will exalt you."

 

 

The Threat To Unity: Stand In Defiance Of Division

As a prisoner of the Lord, I urge you: Live a life that is worthy of the calling He has graciously extended to you. Be humble. Be gentle. Be patient. Tolerate one another in an atmosphere thick with love. Make every effort to preserve the unity the Spirit has already created, with peace binding you together. - Ephesians 4:1-3 The VOICE

Last week our country walked through a series of events that were both horrifying up close and overwhelming as you stepped back and viewed it from a thousand feet. I watched a video where a man named Alton Sterling was manhandled to the ground by two police officers and then shot by one officer at close range in the head as he faced the ground. A day later another video went viral. A man named Philando Castile was pulled over for a broken tail light. The video showed the aftermath of a brief interaction between him and a police officer. Philando was leaning against a car door as he bled out, a police officers gun in view of the video still pulled and aimed at Castile.

Both of the men were black. And both videos left me thinking, "dear God, this can't be real."

Not 48 hours passed before another scene unfolded. At a protest in Dallas -an effort to bring light to the two tragedies- a man named Micah Johnson shot 12 police officers monitoring the protest - killing 5 of them.

As a human I felt confused, overwhelmed by the lack of sensibility in culture for other human beings. As a white person I felt confused, both horrified by what I viewed as racial profiling of black people and then reversely profiling of police officers. As a leader, I felt paralyzed. What to do now? Where to go from here?

My thoughts and prayers are still forming, but there is one thing I am certain of: I stand in defiance of division. 

I loathe arguments loaded with underlying "us vs. them" language and afternotes. The bitter language that comes out of mouths of commentators, angry and saddened spectators (both white and black) and people trying to make a buck on a book. The hurtful words used to describe a group of people - black or white, blue or citizen. I disagree with fear being the driver of a forming an opinion of a human being. I defy language that whittles an entire class of people (black, white, asian, police, hispanic, etc.) down to a few careless words.

During tragedy, I watched an entire nation carefully tiptoe into battle lines. Draw deep conclusions about other groups of people that they would carry in their core. Form prideful and thick walls of concrete thoughts. Yes, the shootings have been horrifying, tragic and have issued a warning flare to our generation about problems with systematic racism and flawed anger that are bubbling over the brim. To be sure, there are issues to be addressed.

But the aftermath. The pure, unadulterated judgement - on all sides. This behavior pleases the hallways of hell. And I will take no part in it. 

I make no claims to know what Jesus would say to us in this moment. I truly am not sure how he would lead us out of these days, or what oration he would give at a black man's or a police officer's funeral. I DO know that he would say: "you're my KIDS. Stop talking to each other like that."

In Ephesians Paul reminds us that the unity of the bond of the Spirit has been set in place by God. But that it must be protected. Cherished. Cared for. Looked after.

That in the face of something meant to divide a world into teams, instead we close our eyes, breathe, and say "in Christ, there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile, black or white, police or pedestrian." In Christ we are unified. In Christ, there is no use for teams. There is only the broken, stained, sinful and yet fully redeemed people of God. There is no "this is MY PEOPLE. (referring to a black community), or "this is MY PEOPLE" (referring to a white community). There is only His people. That is all there is. And all there will ever be. 

The prideful boasts of team language disgust him, I would venture to guess. 

I won't pretend to know the perfected rightness here. But I would assume that there is a "rightness" to be found in each other. In a thick wall of love. It's in kindness. It's in thinking of another above yourself. In standing with a black friend. In standing with Alton and Philando and their families. In standing with Trayvon Martin. And then standing with a white friend. In standing with the fallen officers. In acceptance. In submission. In being calm in the face of an enemy. In the wisdom of letting an offense pass you by. In the deep pools of love that is found in Christ. In the deep acceptance that he has for you. And that acceptance then rushes over your mortal body and onto those around you. No, you and your team are not as perfect as you thought. Your language of division is not something to be proud of. But if you would be willing to see the world with the Father's eyes, and with acceptance DESPITE shortfalls - I honestly think this could be the beginning of healing.

Maybe today we defy division.

Today, may you just LOVE your neighbor. Even the annoying neighbor. Even the opinionated neighbor. The black neighbor. The white neighbor. Stand on kingdom ground, with a kingdom family, using kingdom language towards your fellow image-bearer. And here is where maybe revival and change begin.

Re-upping On Remaining

Of all the things I see plague 20-somethings it is the need to move when they really should stay.

My 11 day old daughter, Georgia is a wiggler. Even when I was pregnant with her, her "parties" as I called them were wild. She would flail about her arms and legs and I could feel each kick. Now that she is out in our world little has changed. I will swaddle her and hold her close to comfort her and sing over her, but she still wants to wiggle. There's no way to tell this little one that the best thing for her sleep and rest is to just relax and remain in my arms.

I'm pretty sure that if you add 20 years to this habit, little changes for us as adults. We love to move. Squirm. Wiggle out of our circumstance, whatever it might be.

It might be a job we hate. It might be a job we just tolerate. It may be a season where we are taking care of a loved one. It might be a waiting period before the "next" thing begins (school, internships, vacations). It might be a season where we are wading through old wounds. Whatever the season, we as a people, would prefer to move on then remain. 

Paul puts it this way:

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves is recognize the season and place that God has assigned us, and obey, be faithful, and remain.

Today ask yourself two questions:

1.) What is it God has given (assigned) you?

In other words, what in your Spirit do you know is yours to take care of now? School? Overcoming debt? Taking care of family? Sprinting towards a ministry goal? Clearly define what it is Jesus is laying at your feet to steward.

2.) What are you going to do about it?

Now that you know your "assignment" ask yourself if you want to do the homework. Are you going to phone in at the job or be faithful? Are you going to be salt and light to your co-workers or check out in front of your iPhone? Are you going to deal with that sin or wound or just "wiggle" out of it and continue to let it fester in your life?

Today may you choose to accept assignment, to be faithful, and to re-up on the POWER of remaining. 

Desperation vs. Declaration (What's Your Prayer Posture?)

Growing up I had terrible posture. My shoulders would naturally slump forward and when I sat at a desk I would kinda lean or droop over it. Sitting "properly" in my view was a waste of time for kids who attended etiquette class, and really... who wants to be that proper??

As I am maturing though, good posture is becoming important to me. The way I carry myself and posture myself says something to the world about me. It projects my inner strength outwardly. It gives my muscles something to do. It focuses my body to the task at hand.

Prayer life, in a way, is this way.

Your posture in prayer matters.

For a large number of us, when we come to prayer, we come in a posture of desperation. We approach God hastily in times of need. "God, please change this circumstance." "God I am feeling so overwhelmed." "God this scenario has ruined a relationship." "God I feel defeated." "God these finances aren't working out." "God HELP."  

Our posture is not one of confidence. It's one of frantic, already defeated energy. We come slump shouldered, sad, needy, victimized, and hopeless. Like the disciples on the boat in the sea go Galilee, as the storm swells we looked panicked towards a present but possibly sleeping God: "Jesus!" we cry frantically, "don't you CARE???" 

Our Christ is so good, he loves that we come to Him, no matter the posture. "Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy laden..." He says. But like the disciples in the boat, our prayer posture may be one of desperation, lack of faith, fear, distrust. 

Instead, I would propose that the mature Christian, as we grow and be formed into His likeness has a prayer posture that is less a cry of desperation, and more a declarative proclamation. 

That our prayers become move from weak-spirited, pleas with Jesus to change us, change the screen, change the reality to a strong, focused, faith filled mouth of declaration. Our posture changes, from a slumped, downward looking and pitied thing, to an upwardly focused, intentioned and hope-filled stance.

Like the Psalmist prays - chest puffed out, eyes fixed upward, stance strong and posture assured: "I lift my eyes up to the mountains - where does my help come from? It comes from YOU, the MAKER of HEAVEN."

Today, as you approach Jesus, do it with a valiant posture. Strong. Chin skyward. Faith-filled. And like your posture in life, your faith muscles will grow. Your inward strength will grow and will project outwardly. May your prayer posture today be STRONG.

How To Gain Vision

To be honest, this last season of ministry has been smaller in faith and vision for me. It could be that I’m one month out from having a kid, and so my faith muscles have relaxed as I’ve been trying to order our home and find joy in the last few weeks of just the “three” of us as a family.

But to be honest, I love vision.

I love what it does to my insides. My mind becomes clearer. My focus sharper. Priorities seem to order themselves. Suddenly I know exactly how to spend my time and my energy.

The difficult thing here, though, is I don’t just conjure up vision. I wish I could. Sit down and say “now brain, do some visioneering.” And *poof * I see the next year of ministry and family and drive boiled down to 3 bullet points. But no. Vision for me has always come out of persistent, focused, and sometimes lengthy periods of seeking God’s will.

The bible says that where there is no vision people perish. Another translation says they cast of restraint – meaning they lose self-control and focus. Both of these outcomes (perishing and losing self-control) sound really terrible to me. And so, the alternative is what I will always choose.

Here are a few thoughts on seeking Jesus for vision for your life:

1.)  Divert your eyes from your feelings to his promises:

The biggest liar in your life (besides Lucifer himself… side note… did you know there is a TV show called LUCIFER? What in God’s name are they thinking? Best of luck to all of them, as for me, I will never ever ever ever ever watch that show. Amen.), or the most consistent I will say, is your FEELINGS.

You feel sad today? Lost? Maybe you feel weary. Frustrated maybe? Well know this – your emotions do a great job of trying to hijack your faith. So today tell your feelings that they are co-pilots at BEST (not pilots), and that normally they just get to come along for the ride.

Then focus on God’s promises for you.

2.)  Be persistent in prayer:

Recently, a story that has directed my prayer life in the bible is the parable of the annoying friend in Luke 11. You can go there yourself, but in essence, it’s a story about two friends. One comes to the other at midnight to request a favor – food, namely. The friend in need begs and pleads and it truly just a PEST until his buddy comes and answers the door and gives him what he needs. Jesus says this is how we are to pray. Persistently. 

So go to Jesus today and ask him for vision. And, if need be, get annoying about it.

3.)  Don’t stop until He answers:

For me, big vision has always come out of long stretches of prayer. Sometimes there is fasting. Sometimes not. But always, it’s almost as if God enjoys me seeking Him so much, he waits until the last possible moment to give me the vision.

When you ask for vision today. Don’t stop. Not tomorrow. Not the next day. Until you hear from him and know His heart for your life and for the people He’s given you to steward.

The Power of Focus

Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who boxes the air. - 1 Corinthians 9:26

There is a HUGE difference in the kingdoms when it comes to this word "focus". Focus in our world is something lacking, if not completely lost. Today millions will thumb through their cellphones, mindlessly gazing at a post from the NBA or from their favorite celebrity. We will roll out of bed daily, showering and doing the morning routine, then drive to work in a haze. We will punch the clock, drive home, and as we check out in front of the television we will wonder why in the world we are so zapped of life.

You see a lack of focus doesn't just steal your gaze. Really, it steals your momentum. Your drive. Your lively LIFE. 

And yet, today millions of us will complete our day the way we started it: checked out.

If I had to guess, Satan loves me BEST when I'm distracted. When I'm unfocused and untethered. When my thoughts wander from "did I RSVP to that thing?" to "where are my favorite pants?" to "what's CNN writing about Trump today?" I'm a sitting duck of inactivity. A void of space that breathes and "shows up" to work or to my family, but nothing more. If I had to guess, I think Satan LOVES me BEST when I show up this way. I'm as unthreatening as someone napping. I'm as effective as an untrained fighter. I'm as far from the works I was created in Christ Jesus to accomplish as I could be.

A lack of focus isn't just a mind gone on a leisure stroll. A lack of focus is death to our purpose. A clever trick to take us dangerously off course.

It's not enough to show up. Jesus wants your full heart and attention for His kingdom. 

In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul writes about the race within God's kingdom. He asks a question to the readers: "Don't you know that lots of people run the race, but are you aware not EVERYONE wins a prize?" He's setting up a thesis here. He's saying - it's not enough to just come to the race track. It's not enough to just show up to work. It's not enough to just RUN. If he were to say this in 2016 he would probably say: "Look, see? Everyone is running. To nowhere. For no reason. Everyone is busy being totally and completely unfocused." 

Then he says this: "when I run, it's NEVER without aim. When I box, I plan on doing damage with my hits."

It's not ENOUGH to run. You want to run to win at your purpose and at your call.

So how do we run our race for the kingdom with focus?

  1. Right Your Routine: Scientists and the Bible alike tell us that a life without routine (going to bed on time, waking up on time, having a ritual of reading the Bible, eating good sustaining food,) is an unfocused and chaotic life. Do you feel pointless right now? Out of step? Purposeless? Start with simply trying to establish a rhythm in your day. Work out at the same time. Read a book and don't stop till it's finished. Focus your energy and mind on what God has placed in front of you that day. Make lists. Do what you have to to discipline your day into your plans. Otherwise life will make plans for you.
  2. Set Your Mind: Find a set time in your morning to set your focus. Turn off outside noise for a few minutes, and whether in front of your Bible or in front of prayer, simply check in with Jesus. Take your thoughts that are wandering captive, and present them to God. Ask the Lord what he would like to accomplish in and through you that day. Let God minister to you about your purpose, how much he loves you, and who you are in Christ. Find a way to do this as a part of your routine: do it in your morning commute, in your morning devo, with your morning cup of coffee, with your morning shower. Even if you aren't "feeling" it, Jesus can do wonders with someone who just shows up to his throne. He has GOOD things for you and for His kingdom EVERYDAY. Set your mind on that truth and watch your day click into focus.
  3.  Remind Yourself of Your Role: Most of us become distracted because we honestly believe our time, talents, life, or investment DOESN'T matter. We can lose focus because we lose heart. The truth is, each disciple of Jesus has immense value for His kingdom. I remind young adults all the time that "only you can do what you can do." If you are an engineer at a firm, only YOU have the brains to work there, the heart to share Jesus with other people and the tenacity to carry out both with excellence. If you are a teacher, only YOU have access to that class and those students day in and day out to impact them in a way that could literally transform their eternities. If you are a stay-at-home daddy, only YOU can speak life over your kids the way you do. Truly, there is no one else. Only you can do what you can do. Remind yourself of how crucial you are, and check in today to focus on what Jesus has.

Today may you run with incredible aim, fixing your eyes on Jesus your author and perfecter of your faith. And may you box as someone who knows they are called, loved, and assigned.

May you feel new life as you gain new focus. In Jesus name. Amen.

Did Someone Swipe Your Courage?

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith. - Galatians 6:9-10 The Message

There are times, seasons, circumstances in life that can bring us to our knees in discouragement. We feel hard-pressed, like our work has come up void, our that the set-backs are never ending. Discouragement comes in like a black cloud. It keeps us up at night and steals our joy.

Discouragement is rooted in the two words "Dis" - to take, to remove, to lack, and "Courage" - the quality of mind or Spirit that lets us face challenges without fear. To discourage someone is actually a terrible and nasty offense: It is "To make someone less determined, confident, or hopeful." I'm not sure about you, but upon reading this in Merriam-Websters definition I thought, "well isn't that just like the devil."

Discouragement isn't just the byproduct of a day gone wrong, or a plan not coming to fruition. Discouragement is the enemy's way of stealing your courage. Making you less determined. Less confident. Less hopeful. Discouragement is the ultimate way of distracting you from your destiny. Taking you off course. Halting your progress. Paralyzing you from realizing your goal. 

God promises that your harvest and your victory is around the corner - if you don't give into discouragement. 

If you are feeling discouragement today, it is because you are well on course to your destiny, and the enemy is pulling out all the stops in order to trip you up.

Someone is attempting to steal your COURAGE. The question is - are you going to allow it? Or are you going to press forward in faith?

Today, when discouragement comes knocking - don't allow it to distract you from your destiny. You have a faith fight to fight, a harvest to reap, a God to glorify. And you will see victory if you don't GIVE UP.

Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you. - Deuteronomy 31:1 The Message

Clean Slate

I love lists. I make lists for my work days and my days off and the days I'm trying to get lots of important things done and the days I'm trying to get insignificant things done. For 2016 I have already made a bunch of lists. Lists of family adventures we need to take. Lists of goals. Lists of prayers.

New Year's is the perfect time to make lists of everything you want NEW. Changed. Different.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if all the lists, resolutions, vows to "do" something different are really just a longing to BE someone different.

I recently read an article about Justin Bieber, and his relationship with Carl Lentz and Christianity. It's a great read, and I won't do it justice here, but one evening, Justin came to Carl in desperation. Unlike the Justin we see on MTV and at the VMAs, this Justin wasn't confident. Wasn't impressed with his fame. Wasn't happy with his success. And he wanted out. Not of what he was doing. But out of himself. He wanted to be baptized. He wanted to be someone different. And he wanted it immediately.

He didn't need a new album, a new tour, a new wardrobe, a new ride, a new girl. He needed a new Justin. He needed a new "me".

I think I can relate.
I think you can relate.

In all of the New Year's effort to lose weight, to look good, to start a new habit, to end an old one, to get a date, to lose a date, to find a new job... it's really about something much deeper than that. We don't just need clean slates. We need clean hearts. We need that incredible peace, emotion, inner rest, satisfaction and glory that comes from being made new.

Colossians puts it this way: "You have taken off your old self, with it's practices and have put on a new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge of its Creator." In the New Year maybe we don't need new make-up, haircuts, or shoes. Maybe we don't need new work-out regimens, eating habits or trainers. Maybe we don't need a new project, vacation or life experience. Maybe we just need freedom on the inside. A flag of glory waving as Christ is the center of our lives, the joy of our hearts, the blood-life of our days and the focus of our admiration. 

This New Years may you:

Put off vanity and put on the glory and beauty of Christ.
Put off selfish ambition as you put on the hope of Christ.
Put off worldly lusts as you put on the mind of Christ.
Put off comparison as you put on contentment in Christ.
Put off resolution to "do" a few things different...

And put on Christ. Who will make you truly new.  
 

Pray for Miracles.

I have seen miracles.

This year alone I have seen people far from God reach for his hand. I have seen a marriage all but destroyed be rekindled again in God's love. I have seen cancer shrink, and cancer give way. I have seen the miracle a child walking, the miracle of a a family being knit together. I have seen the miracle of dreams coming to fruition, not seeming large enough, and the challenge to dream bigger, grander, more glorious.

I have seen the miracle of God moving in a generation. (To catch a glimpse watch this video of our 2015.)  And I believe God is just getting started.

And it is my belief that 2015 was miraculous, and different from every year prior because this year I changed the way I prayed. 

In years past I prayed the way most of us do: I prayed for safety and for provision. I prayed for the weather, for my day to be productive. I prayed for my family to be healthy, and for my dreams to come to pass. I prayed for comfort.

Then, in 2014, something dramatic shifted within me. At the birth of our first born I suddenly became aware that my prayers were self-focused, my dreams self-centered, and my ambitions not nearly beautiful enough to pursue in light of stewarding a new life. And so I began to pray a new way:

"God, what is it that you dream about? I pray in 2015 I get to be a part of your dreams coming to fruition, and that you use my life for your ambitions?"

My dreams were crushed under the weight of his kingdom. My hopes bowed low before the promise of his hope. My ambitions gave way to a heart for his people, and a love for his Church. And just like that, my world was flooded with miracles. 

So what about you? What are your hopes for 2016? Are you tiring of your prayers? Of your selfish ambitions and half-hearted goals? Then may I invite you to pray a different way in 2016:

"God, what is it you dream about? What do you care about God, and can my life be used to bring your dreams to fruition?"

May 2016 for you be a new start to a new way of life: to pursuing his dreams, taking up his heart, and being a part of his kingdom's miracles. 

Waiting in The Wings

One of God's favorite names for Himself in the bible is "Elohim". It means "God", simply. In a world that is waring within itself to discover who or what is top dog, and whom or what has top authority, God lays claim to it here with His name. Elohim comes from the root Hebrew word "strength" or "power". In Genesis it is out of the power of God that the world was created, and by His power that it moved and turned and spun around the sun. When the storms are calmed in the Bible, it is by the power of God - Elohim.

Have you ever caught yourself trying to be Elohim in your life?

If the storms are going to calm - if the world is going to slow down - it's up to you. You try to exercise power over your world.

The other day my 1 1/2 year old was climbing on a larger step stool we have in the kitchen. She is a climber at heart, a monkey of sorts, constantly trying to crawl up, over and on top of objects. Most of the time I let her go for it. She's a toddler after all, and toddlers should adventure.

When she gets on the step stool though, I stay close. It's tall, and larger than most the things she scales. I wait close by. Not interfering but waiting... just in case.

The other day she climbed and got to the top step, threw her leg over the railing at the top, and attempted to sit up there. Immediately her weight shifted and she started to slip. "Hep! Hep!" She cried, (which is toddler speak for "HELP! Ma!") I swooped in and grabbed her, kissed her and set her back up to adventure some more.

It dawned on me in that moment that this is Jesus in our lives. Ever patient, and ever delighting in our adventuring, but fully aware that we aren't Elohim, and the authority and strength is not our own. He watches us play, watches us live our lives, smiles as we climb,

Just waiting in the wings.

A moment may come where we try to scale an obstacle in our own strength, or calm a storm in our power. It suddenly dawns on us, "the waters are too high. We need help." And we cry out. How comforting that the moment we call on the Lord he responds. Never pushy in His moves to aid us, the Holy Spirit ONLY goes where He is invited - and brings calm. Peace. Strength. Victory.

Today may you be wise enough to call out when you are in need, to admit surrender when the climb is too high, to reach for the TRUE Elohim when your strength gives way.

He's ALWAYS waiting in the wings. 

I Am A Slave To _____________ Without Jesus

Freedom to me has always been this ambiguous concept.  I have always had this fascination with freedom and the idea of living a free life. I remember when I was little; I asked my mom what does freedom mean. And I was taught words like liberty or justice, the statue of liberty, America, Washington DC.

We are in a time where our nation clings to this idea of freedom. Ideas that scream you are free if you do what you want, when you want it, how you want it.  Freedom equates to surplus of time, money, success, status, sex, or fame in your life.

What if I told you that Jesus had a better way?  What if I told you that he authored freedom? What if I told you that Jesus recognizes your desire to be free and responds?

John 8:31-38:      
Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in Him. "If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you." Surprised they said, but we are descendants of Abraham. We’ve never been slaves to anyone. How can you say, “the truth will set you free?” Jesus said, "I tell you most solemnly that anyone who chooses a life of sin is trapped in a dead-end life and is, in fact, a slave. A slave is transient, who cant come and go at will. The SON, though, has an established position, the run of the house. So if the SON sets you free, you are free indeed.”

THE CALL: Jesus is calling upon believers.  Jesus is talking to Christians that believe in His authority.  He calls them to a life of holiness, by living out what he has spoken.  He then makes the charge that only TRUTH will bring freedom. TRUTH WILL BRING FREEDOM.

God tells us all throughout scripture, TRUTH is the word of God.

THE RESPONSE: When Jesus confronts this issue of freedom head on, the people respond out of their own bondage. They say things like, “I’m not a slave to nobody or nothing.” “Do you know who I am?”  “How dare you say that to me?”

Have you had reactions like this when a close friend or family member points out an area of bondage in your life? Your immediate response is defensiveness to a sin pattern in your life?  My hand is up on this one.

THE ACTION: So what do we do? How do we move into freedom in our lives? Jesus drops the bomb that the word of God can bring freedom.  Take a good look at your life.  The things that you think have no effect on you- maybe that is bitterness towards a family member, anger against your absentee father, or abuse of your choice drug on the weekends.  Jesus says that you are in fact a slave to those things.

If you never let truth into those areas of your life, you will always be a victim of slavery. 

Hebrews 4:12 says,
For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

I AM A SLAVE TO _______________ WITHOUT JESUS.

True freedom comes when you subject your life to the gospel and when you allow God's WORD to rule in your innermost thoughts and desires.