Category Archives: Spiritual Development

Crossroads Are Scary

I grew up in western South Dakota 5 miles out of town in the mountains.  Now before you think my family wore coon-skinned hats and made moonshine in a rusted car in our backyard, I assure you we had running water and “Pa” didn’t have to go catch our food every morning.

There were frustrating parts about living in South Dakota and being a little less connected to the world in some ways though.  For crying out loud, I heard that Back To The Future III just got to theatres there, but that’s for another blog.  But some of the best stuff about living there was the outdoors and especially the hiking.

Now, I’m not an intense hiker, but I do enjoy trail hiking.  Hiking is not just a walk in the park because it requires decisions to be made along the way.  Do I go left on this trailhead or do I go right down this worn path?  Should I turn around and go back or should I push ahead a little further?  The decision you make will dictate the destination you arrive at and the journey you will take to get there.

It doesn’t take a theologian to realize we do this same thing everyday.  We come to points in our life that decisions need to be made and we must make them.  The result of those decisions will ultimately determine the journey we will take and the destination where we will arrive.

I’m not immune.  I have decisions to make every day too, but I like to have details about my choices so I can make an informed decision.  Very rarely do I pick up the “decision dart” and blindly throw it at the board hoping I hit the “right choice” bulls eye.   Through study and research I make educated decisions as often as I can.

God calls us to do this too.  In the Bible, God speaks to the people of Israel through His prophet Jeremiah after they had strayed from the path of Truth.  They chose the wrong path and in Jeremiah God tries to give them a way to get back on the right one.

This is what the LORD says:

“Stand at the crossroads and look; 


ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is,

and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”  – Jeremiah 6:16

God is telling Israel, and us, to choose the “good way” by following God’s Word and looking at all the “ancient paths” of the Godly lives of those lived before us to direct where we should go.

You may be facing a crossroads right now.  “Should I come to church?”  “How do I kick this addiction?”  “How do I save my marriage?”  “What is the purpose of my life?”

All of these can be answered if you and I objectively look at the crossroads presented to us, determine where each path will lead, ask for God’s direction, and then choose the “good way” even if it looks a little harder.

I choose to do this not just because I’m a tad bit O-C-D, but because I want to listen to the voice of G-O-D in my life.  I do this by following His Word and choosing wisely when at a crossroads.

Share

I Give You My Word…Kinda

When I was 10, I made a bet with my friend Luke.  He played on a rival baseball team and we were about to play them and so we decided to put a “wager” on the game.  If we won he had to drink water for entire week.  That meant no pop, milk, orange juice, or anything else with taste.  It had to be water.  If I lost I would have to drink milk for an entire week without substitute.

I know…it was a big bet.

Long story short…we lost the game.

So the next morning as I was about to pour myself a glass of OJ when my mom grabbed the bottle and said, “What are you doing?”  I said, “getting some OJ.”  She said, “Are you forgetting something?”  I said, “No, the glass is right there I think I’m covered” to which she replied, “I don’t think so.”

My mom took the time to “remind me” that I had lost the best with Luke and now I needed to do what I said I was going to do.  So for an entire week I drank milk.

Fast-forward two years and I’m at a swimming meet.  I had just finished a couple of races and I was exhausted.  The bummer was that I had one more race called the 500m Freestyle left to swim.  It was a beast of a race and I decided I wasn’t going to swim it.  By the time I got up to the grand stands it was very near the time I was supposed swim.  When my mom saw me she said, “What are you doing here?  You’re about to race!”  I shrugged my shoulders and told her I wasn’t going to do it.

The next thing I know I felt a mommy paw grabbing my right arm and dragging my Speedo covered butt down the stairs.  As I stumbled to catch my breath, I remember her saying, “You signed up to swim this race and you are going to swim it.”  My mom LITERALLY pushed me onto the starting blocks seconds before the starter shot the gun.

FOR THE RECORD:  I cried the whole time, my goggles filled with tears, but I nearly won that stupid race.

Why in the world do I tell you these stories?  It’s to share with you that from a very young age my mom and dad taught me to honor the commitments I kept.  They knew that they wanted me to be a man of integrity that kept his word and did what he said he was going to do. That has stuck with me to this very day.

Why is this a big deal?

Well for starters it’s the right thing to do and secondly Jesus taught us to do it.

Jesus said, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37)

Jesus’ brother James also encourages us to do the same thing when he says, “Above all, my brothers, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. Let your “Yes” be yes, and your “No,” no, or you will be condemned.” (James 5:12)

This means:

  • If you said you’d show up…show up.
  • If you promised to drive them…drive them.
  • If you said you’d help out…help out.
  • If you committed to love them “till death does you part”…love them.

Our world doesn’t get this.  It doesn’t get it because it focuses on “me” and “I” more than anything else.  If honoring our commitment gets in the way of “me” doing something then, I choose “me” every time regardless of who I let down.

In essence we’re saying, “I give you my word…kinda.”

However, honoring your commitments can be one of the most effective ways of showing Christ’s transformation in your life.  It shows Christ driven integrity.  It is a visual example that you are who you say you are.  It shows that you are living your life by a different rhythm than the beat of the rest of the world.

Now don’t get crazy.

If you have committed to cutting tails off puppies or are a member of hit man squad for the mob I’m not saying you should keep those commitments in the name of Jesus.  That is called sin and you should repent in the name of Jesus.

I’m talking about the commitments that you make that won’t lead to jail time or personal injury.  🙂

Do I realize there may be times you have to back out of things?  YES!!!  I totally do and have had to unfortunately do it myself.  I feel terrible about it and I know I haven’t honored those people or organizations well.

However, I have tried to honor them in the way I’ve backed out.

Here are keys I’ve found to doing this in a Godly way:

  1. Pray about how your decision first to ask God’s wisdom and guidance.
  2. Never assume that they can “find someone else” or that you “weren’t that important”.  If that were the case they would probably be calling you thanking you for you offer, but they are ok now.
  3. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER, I repeat NEVER tell them in a text, e-mail, Twitter message, Facebook message, through someone else, or any other passive aggressive manner.
  4. Talk with them face-to-face out of respect and so they can hear your heart.  If in person is not possible, call them on the phone.
  5. Explain the circumstances surrounding why you can’t do it and offer to help them another time or in another way.
  6. Apologize for not being able to fulfill your commitment.

Listen, I know this is hard.  I know life happens and things get in the way, but I also know that impact committed people have on the world.

You want to be the person that when someone sees you or looks at your name on a list they instantly say “Oh, Joe!  He’s solid.  We can count on him.”

You want that!

I want that!

Jesus wants that!

Share

Seeking Wisdom: Proverbs 3:3 – An Eifel Tower On My Back

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you;

bind them around your neck,

write them on the tablet of your heart.”

Proverbs 3:3

A couple of years ago my wife ran the Chicago Marathon.  It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever watched in my life and not just the race itself.  For MONTHS Cherie trained for this one day.   She would get up early in the morning to run anywhere from 3 – 20 miles depending on the training schedule, but she couldn’t have done it without her good friend Connie.   I was so impressed with how hard she trained and the mental focus she had to keep going.

When race day arrived Cherie and my brother Brad took off when the gun sounded. In my anal retentive fashion I had figured out 3 specific spots that I should be able to see them along the route and had used their pace time as the gauge for when to be at each one.

Tragically both my strategy and the alert system the race used to tell the pace of the runners failed miserably.   I only saw my brother once and I didn’t even see Cherie!  I was so upset.  But as I watched the runners go by dying in the heat, I noticed a man running with a 9-10 foot model of the Eifel Tower on his BACK.  Yes a grown man, running in near 90-degree heat, with a miniature monument on his back.

Why?  Who knows…he’s an idiot.

I mean it’s hard enough to run a marathon in perfect conditions with all the right running gear, but to add the weight of a Tower to the challenge is absolutely insane.  I’m pretty sure this is not one of the training techniques Nike recommends to its runners.   A marathon is hard enough on its own; it doesn’t need our help to make it more difficult.

I believe we do the same thing to life.

We tend to forget that plain old vanilla flavored life is difficult all by itself.  It doesn’t need our help to make it more complicated.  Yet, somehow we decide to strap on brick after brick of stress, worry, anxiety, laziness, and frustration to to our backs.  With all this extra baggage it’s no wonder love and faithfulness are a fading!  Who wants to add one more thing to their life?

But Solomon tells us something different.   In Proverbs 3:3 we read we should bind love and faithfulness around our neck and writing them on our hearts to keep track of them.   I don’t know about you, but when I first read that it sounded heavy.  The words “bind”, “never”, and “write” seemed to jump out at me as a convicting finger being pointed at me by God.  But the more I thought about it, I realized this Scripture is very freeing.

Solomon is saying that love and faithfulness should be a part of our normal training routine.  They are so important to our life that we should find a way to attach them to our very soul.  Not so we feel guilty or weighed down because of them, but so that we can be free.

Regardless of what the world says, love and faithfulness are not the burdens in our life.   In fact if we stop carrying these on our backs and start tattooing them on our souls, we can run faster, we can adjust quicker; we live stronger not having to account for balancing love and faithfulness in our lives because they are always with us.

When this happens, love and faithfulness become part of our normal operating system and the other things that weigh us down don’t make sense to hang onto.  We begin to rid ourselves of the self-inflicted bricks in our lives and live differently.

We stand tall living with love and faithfulness as our support and not our Eifel Towers weighing us down.

So make an appointment to the local tattoo shop and stop carrying Love and Faithfulness on your back and get them tattooed on your heart.

It will leave your hands free for so much more that God has in store for you on this race called Life.

Share

The Day After Syndrome

“…and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. 

She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger…” 

– Luke 2:7a

So by now, I’m in Iowa doing the same thing you are doing.  Trying to figure out what in the world just happened yesterday!  Months and months of buying, planning, shopping, budgeting, and fretting all culminated in this one magnificent day and now…it’s over…again.

December 26 always seems like such a weird day to me and I call it the Day After Syndrome.  I mean, don’t know if I feel relieved or bummed out.  I’m not sure if I should quickly put away my Christmas decorations or be like my friend Brianne and keep them up until Valentine’s Day.  Christmas music seems annoyingly out of place and songs I was singing just hours before are now noise to my brain.  The site of red, green, and white are the equivalent of a red cape to a bull at some points in the day, but then you see your daughter playing with all her toys and you kinda want to snuggle back into the Holiday feeling a little longer.

It’s a weird day.

I bet it was even weirder for Mary and Joseph.

Up until this point there was, an immaculate conception, awkward conversations with a fiancé, a visit to a family member’s house where a baby jumped in the womb when Mary came near, donkey rides to Bethlehem, bad news at the Hotel front desk, battling oxen for space in a barn, a heck of a lot of pushing and screaming, catching a baby, cutting the umbilical cord, cleaning the baby, wrapping it up, and then trying to get some sleep on a dirt floor, but not really sleeping because every movement the baby made woke you up.  But now…it’s the next day.   Now what?

Mary and Joe don’t know the shepherds are coming.  They don’t know Wisemen are camel-ing their way across foreign lands to visit.  They don’t know an emergency trip to Egypt is eminent.  All they know is that at this moment in front of them lies a baby who angels told them is the Son of God.

Scripture doesn’t tell us exactly what they did in those moments, but I’m fairly confident I know.  I believe, they picked up Jesus and fed, consoled, held, burped, and loved Him.  They did what any parent does after being given the gift of a child; they enjoyed every minute of it.  Only for them, their minutes were spent tending to the Son of God and basking in the wonderment of His plan being started through them.

We miss out on this in our lives all the time.

Mary and Joseph were not paralyzed looking at this baby in a manager waiting for the angels to tell them to pick Him up and feed Him.  In the same breath, we don’t need an angel from heaven directing every step of our lives either.   We simply need to slow down and do what God intended for us to do with the life and gifts He’s given us.  Enjoy them.

Christmas aside, everyday we hurry by opportunities to enjoy the gifts God has given us.   We rush to work at the cost of our children.  We hurry to the Internet to talk to our “friends” instead of enjoying real time with our husband.  We eat meals in our cars by ourselves instead of sitting down together as a family.  We allow “life’ to get in the way of a relationship with God.  We choose a couple more hours at work instead of an hour at a Small Group.  All these different ways that distract us from the gifts and opportunities God has laid in front of us to enjoy.

Maybe we need to rewind the DVR on our lives and look back at all that God has done.  It may serve as a healthy reminder of God’s greatness and open our eyes to what God may be doing right now.

Don’t let yourself live each day with the Day After Syndrome trying to figure out what’s next.  Because sometimes what’s next was given to you yesterday to enjoy today.  Open your eyes, pick up the gift, and start doing what God has called you to do.

 

PS:  364 more days till Christmas! 🙂

Share

Seeking Wisdom: Proverbs 2:2 – Searching For Understanding

“My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ears to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. ”

Proverbs 2:1-5

If you ever travel to a foreign country (no, Canada does not count 🙂 ) it doesn’t take long to realize you are “not in Kansas anymore.”  For me it happens when I get to the baggage claim area in the airport.  As you wait for your bag and become hypnotized by the passing conveyor belt you start to hear a rumble of voices as people greet loved ones and talk to colleagues.  Except this time you have no idea what they are saying and you feel like you are caught in a beehive of activity with no stinger to defend yourself.

It only gets worse as you interact in the cities or even get something to eat!  Fortunately for us the rest of the world is more educated than we are in the US and learn more than one language.  However, since English is their second language you have to listen so closely and lean into every word the servers or employees are saying just to survive.  If you don’t purposefully seek understanding in those moments of conversation you will be lost.

Searching for wisdom is a lot like that.  When you desire to know the will of God and are truly seeking wisdom in your life you have to lean in a bit more to understand it.  You have to be willing to search for understanding if you ever want to achieve it.

Solomon gives us very practically wisdom when seeking to understand God in our life, and we see it in verses two and three.  He says:

  1. Turning your ears to wisdom – We must start by turning our attention, our ears, to the voice of God and not the voice of the world.  The voice of God needs to perk our ears like a whistle to a dog.  It has to cut through the noise and affect our souls to draw our interest from the mass amounts of noise to the still small voice of God.
  2. Apply your heart – Saying you want wisdom and aggressively searching for wisdom are two different things.  Something becomes important to you when your heart begins to ache for it.  Only when the heart and soul of a person are starving for Truth do we change.
  3. Call out for insight and cry aloud – Solomon is saying don’t sit back and wait for wisdom to come to you through osmosis.  You need to get aggressive, you need to call out for it, you need to get in your Bible, get in a Small Group, go to church, serve on a serving team, and, and, and.  If you want something bad enough you do all that you can to achieve it so don’t wait.

Be willing to search and seek wisdom with passion and veracity.  Change your prayer life to one of boldness and not just traveling mercies.  Switch your Bible reading to wisdom mining and not loop hole diving.  Desire an honest relationship with God and not a bumper sticker, wristband, window cling, t-shirt, or necklace only friendship.

As you begin the hard work of searching for wisdom, let God start to pierce through the noise in your world.

Share

A Call to Pause: A Christmas Prayer

As I type this blog I’ve just finished leading worship at our Lockport Campus.  This was our last service before we begin the marathon Christmas Eve services in a few days.  It was a great time with amazing men and woman of God that I LOVE serving alongside.

I vividly remember looking out at a packed worship center filled with people entering into worship of God.  I could literally feel my soul warm.    I love seeing people let the Holy Spirit grab them and stir something inside.

That will never get old.

What concerns me is what happens when we leave and Tropical Storm Christmas causes wave after wave of distraction to come our way.  How do we keep the worship moments with the Holy Spirit Alive at Christmas?  How do we keep the focus of Christmas on Christ?

I believe it happens in simple conscious decision; a decision to pause.   It’s a moment of conscious reflection before the waves start to crash and the gifts start to be ripped to shreds.

It’s a pause to pray.

Maybe this Christmas you and I both guide our families to pause a moment before the madness begins to say a short prayer thanking God for the gift of Jesus.

If you aren’t a real good “pray-er”, maybe you could use this one.

 

Dear Mighty God,

Today we celebrate Christmas, but before we open presents, eat food, or hang out with family we want to stop and remember why we are celebrating. 

Lord, we want to thank you for the gift of Jesus today.  A gift You gave the entire world by allowing Your one and only Son to be born as a baby and to live a life amongst Your creation.  We know that You left the beauty of heaven to come to this earth and that alone was a great sacrifice. 

But Jesus, we know that you grew up to be a man and lived a perfect, sinless life.  You were killed on a cross and buried in a tomb for our sins, but raised to life three days later defeating death and sin forever.  You did that for us so that we might have a way back to God and into heaven through Your gift of Grace.

 A gift we don’t deserve, but one You give us freely if we will only accept it. 

Thank You Lord Jesus for this amazing gift. 

Lord God, we want to acknowledge how awesome You are today and how thankful we are for all the things You give us.  Our families, friends, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, jobs, health, food, and even our church are gifts from you.  Thank You for always providing for our every need and for loving us unconditionally. 

May this day be a celebration of You Lord Jesus.

In Your Holy and Powerful Name we pray,

Amen.

 

No matter what you do this Christmas, make sure you take time to reflect on why you are celebrating.  It doesn’t have to be long or drawn out, but it should be purposeful.  Begin a new tradition of pause in your home that allows for a spirit of thankfulness to God to fill your home and soul.

I believe then your Christmas will take on a whole new meaning and purpose.

Merry Christmas!!!

Share

How To Be A Zoo Keeper For Dummies

Recently there was a man in Ohio whose personal zoo got out of control.  Over 50 wild animals were let loose onto a remote Ohio town causing mass hysteria and panic.  If you want to read more about this loony tune click here, but it really doesn’t matter all that much any more.  In short the guy flung open the cages to the 56 animals he housed and then killed himself leaving Noah’s ark to be unleashed on this small town.

As a result the town closed roads, schools, and businesses for days as these animals were either captured or killed.  Serious damage could have been done to so many people, but luckily only the owner of this makeshift zoo was injured.

What just blows me away is that this guy thought that he could play zookeeper with some of the most intense wild animals on the face of the planet!  I mean really, don’t you think the electrical wires, iron bars, acres of land for habitats, and animal trainers wearing Tasers for protection at the REAL zoo should have given you a clue that this was not for the average Joe with an aquarium at his house to mess around with?

As I thought about it, we shouldn’t be to loud with our criticism because we play zookeeper every day too.  Except in our case we are caging up the sin in our life thinking we can tame it somehow like these wild animals.  Sadly, this can be just as destructive in the long run as a hungry wild grizzly bear chasing you down.

We all think that if we keep our sin buried deep inside us and only let it out at home or when no one is watching that we can manage it.  That we can keep it at bay well enough that we don’t really need help from anyone.  What we don’t realize is that at some point the cage is going to break and we won’t be able to do anything because it will be right on top of us.  There in that moment your sin will be looking at you eye to eye drooling as it begins to devour you.

1 Peter 5:8 tells us “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

John 10:10a tells us “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy…”

All that’s true…if…we don’t know Jesus.

“For he (Jesus) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”       – Colossians 1:13-14 (emphasis mine)

However, for us to receive the full freedom found in Christ we must be vigilant in not trying to manage our sin.  We must kill it, destroy it, and avoid it at all cost.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. – Colossians 3:1-6 (emphasis mine)

The sooner we stop fooling ourselves that we can somehow manage the sin in our life and start taking it out behind the barn and disposing of it the right way the sooner we will feel Christ’s true freedom in our life.  Until then we are left looking over our shoulder at the sin cages we keep in our life hoping that lock we have on the door will hold.

Share

I’m Lazy And My Armrest Agrees

As I got into my truck the other morning I noticed something in my backseat.  It was gray, leather, had a post sticking out of it one side, and I’m pretty sure had about 1” of dust on it.  It was the armrest to the passenger seat and after a quick calculation I realized it had been there about 2 years.

You see two years ago my truck “only” had 200,000 miles on it, but the leather on the armrest had worn out so I got it repaired.  However, at the time the person who repaired it didn’t have a pin that was needed to reattach it to the seat.  So, he was kind enough to give me a card for a business near me that could reattach it.  I told him thank you and then put the business card in the drink holder of my truck.

Soon the card got in the way of my coffee so I moved it to my change holder right by it.  Then I had nowhere for my wallet so I moved it to the inside of my center console.  Then it fell into the recesses of that console to never be seen again and to join all the lost socks, toys, and buttons in the world that seem to have fallen into the same mysterious vortex.

So when I look at my armrest flopping around in the backseat, I could easily blame it on the card for not reminding me.  I mean that was it’s job right!?  It was supposed to spur me on and force me to call that person on the other side of the number, but now it has abandoned me to shuffle through life with passengers uncomfortable and without rest for their arms.

Let me take a second to wipe the sarcasm off your screen before I continue.  There.  Better.

Of course that is a bunch of garbage.  The reason the seat isn’t fixed is because I flat out didn’t call the guy.  It’s not fixed because I gave every excuse possible for not driving over there and making an appointment.

It’s not fixed because I am lazy!

(At this point my wife will be standing up from the computer and yelling “AMEN!” I’m sure.)

I wish I could say that my laziness was confined to this annoying seat malfunction, but I can’t.  This sloth like behavior seeps into a lot of my world and even into my spiritual walk.  I don’t pray like I should, memorize verses well, and I don’t always feel joyful when I give.  In fact some times I’m a down right cranky giver!

Can anyone relate our there?

Are you lazy sometimes in your spiritual walk?

  • Do you find yourself saying “No” to God and “Yes” to everything else because everything else seems easier?
  • Have you been putting off really following Christ because it looks like too much work?
  • Are your kids more spiritually fed right now than you because you justify it by saying “I want them to know God” when in reality you are too lazy to work at it yourself?

I know I can answer yes to some of these and I’m pretty sure you can too.

The encouragement that we have is that Jesus isn’t lazy.

Jesus is in a never-ending pursuit of us and is able to point to the cross as His proof.  An empty tomb shows us His work isn’t finished and, as the writer of Hebrews tells us we should  “Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:3

We should never grow tired or weary or lazy in our pursuit of Christ because when we do WE miss out.  It is OUR loss when we stop running the race God has set for us and as a result miss out on the life God intended for us.

So as we look in the back seat of our life and see that “spiritual arm rest” flopping around back there perfectly ready to get locked into place, I encourage you and me to stop what we are doing and get reconnected with God.

Trust me, more than your arm will thank you!

Share