Monthly Archives: January 2013

Beauty for Ashes

This is a repost of one of my most popular devotionals last year.

We traveled recently to northeast Texas to property that my sister in law’s family owns. As we drove near the property and even onto the property, we noticed the devastation that the wildfires of 2011 left behind. At first we were saddened as we tried to imagine what it had looked like before. What we saw now were blackened trees standing naked in acres of fields with a grey sky as a backdrop.

As we stood outside and stared at what was compared with our imaginations of what had been, I began to notice all of the green bushes that were growing at the base of the trees. My wife mentioned that in a strange way, it was kind of beautiful. My brother said that periodically, fire is actually good for the forest. It’s just hard when the period you own it coincides with the period of fires.

As I looked at, with my wife’s words echoing in my mind, I remembered the scripture in Isaiah 61:3 that said God will give beauty for ashes. I then thought of my life and others I know whose lives had been burned. I remember standing there in shock after my life burned to the ground. I spent a lot of time remembering the way life was before and often wishing I could go back. I spent almost a year in a daily rut of trying to remember the good old days and trying to forget the pain.

My brother was right. Fire can be a good thing. I remembered seeing a billboard with the web address of goodfires.org once. I looked it up to see how a fire can be good. It said that through controlled burning they can increase healthy habitats in the forest, they can promote a varied population and it provides nutrients to the soil that creates quality increases in plant life. The devastation that fire brings increases life.

I think the same holds true in our lives. You may be where I once was. You may be looking at the charred remains of what was your life wondering why God allowed this to happen. I know the feeling. What I’ve learned is that God will replace those ashes with beauty. He can use the fire that burned you to create new life in you. You can’t see it right away and certainly not while you are looking at the remains of the past. You have to search for it. Find that new life. It’s there. It may be just budding, but it’s there.

I remember someone speaking to me a word that they felt God had given them for me after everything I had was burned. They said, “What seems like an end is only a beginning. I have not left you, nor have I forsaken you. I am here by your side. I’m not in front of you or behind you, but here by your side. Where I am taking you, you will experience joy like you’ve never known. Trust in me.” I believe that holds true today.

You may be looking at what seems to be an end. All might seem lost, but it’s not. The fires burned away what was temporary in your life. God wants to create a new beginning in you. He wants to bring you life. He holds to His promise that He will never leave you or forsake you. He knows and sees the pain you have for now. Hang in there, He will create beauty from the ashes of your life.

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Chopping Trees

I’m reading “Greater” by Steven Furtick right now. I’m only a few chapters in, but already I am being challenged. The premise of the book is to dream big, start small. I’ve had no problem dreaming. It’s the starting that is the problem. When you have a big dream, it’s natural to think you have to start big. In reality, you have to do the little things first.

Noah was called to build a big boat. His small start was chopping down the first tree. Think about that. He didn’t have a Home Depot to go to in order to buy the lumber he needed. He had to chop down trees, form them into lumber and then build the boat. That’s a lot of work. I think that my problem, as well as others, is that when God gives us a dream, we think He’s going to do everything and we forget we have to work towards that dream.

God plants the design and the desire in us, but we are the ones who have to walk by faith to make it happen. We have to chop down the trees and build what God has planted in us so that when the time comes for us to do what He called us to do, we’re ready. If Noah had waited until he saw a storm cloud to chop down the first tree, it would have been too late. The time to build an ark is while it’s sunny, not when the storm clouds are on the horizon.

It took Noah 120 years to build the ark. None of us have that kind of time, but it shows that just because God plants a dream in us, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen overnight. We may have to chop trees for a while. We may even cut down an entire forest before that dream becomes a reality. In that time of preparation is when our faith is tested. Thoughts like “Did I really hear from God” and “What if I do all of this and nothing comes from it” pop in our head to challenge us and cause doubt.

It’s in the chopping of trees that our faith grows. It’s believing God when we can’t see ourselves getting closer to the dream. Faith is knowing we heard from God and continuing to work towards that dream even though we can’t see how it will ever happen. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.”

If I could see the entire road and how it would happen, it wouldn’t be faith. Faith is about believing God when all I see are trees. It’s about putting it all out there and trusting God with everything. Others may laugh, ridicule or even stand in your way, but you have to keep building. You have to keep chopping. You have to keep trusting so that when the time comes for the fulfillment of your dream, you’re ready.

Noah could have dreamed about the ark for 120 years and then prayed for a miracle once the storm clouds started rolling in. Thank God he didn’t. He would have been in disobedience if he had only dreamed and never picked up an ax. Because he took small steps toward his dream, his family and the animals were saved. There’s no telling how many will be saved by your obedience. You’ll never know unless you start chopping.

What dream has God placed in you? What trees do you need to start chopping?

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When You Can’t Hear God

I heard a joke last night that I want to share. There was an older man who went to the doctor. He told the doctor that he thought his wife was going deaf. The doctor thought for a minute and then told him how to test it. So the man went home eager to try what the doctor had told him. He got about 20 feet away from his wife with her back to him and asked, “Honey, what’s for dinner?” She didn’t reply so he moved closer. He asked again and got the same result. He moved closer still and asked again. With no reply again, he moved about 5 feet away from her and asked. This time she answered in an agitated voice and said, “For the fourth time, we’re having lasagne!”

I think that’s how we are with God a lot of the time. We keep asking questions and think he is deaf to our prayers. We ask over and over again with no reply. We start to believe that God doesn’t hear us or that He doesn’t care. Neither is the case. Too often, we are the ones who are deaf (or blind) to His answers. We are the ones who are too far away to hear Him speaking to us. The problem is we don’t move closer to hear Him. We end up moving further away because we think He doesn’t care.

If you think God is deaf to your prayers or isn’t answering you, move closer and ask again. James 4:8 tells us, “Come close to God and God will come close to you.” It doesn’t say, “When God comes close to you, you come close to God.” The first move is yours. We are the ones who have to take a step closer to God first. So how do you do that? It’s the same way you would get closer to anyone else you have a relationship with.

The first thing you need to do is make time for Him and then spend time with Him. Anyone that you are close friends with, you spend time with. That’s how you get close with someone. You carve out time from your busy schedule according to how important they are to you. The more important it is to spend time getting to know them, the more time you will create for them. How important is God to you based on that? Have you given Him much time lately? The good news is you can start carving out time today.

Another thing you do with someone you want to be closer to is communicate with them. Communication with Him is as simple as talking. He’s with you wherever you are waiting to Hear from you. He doesn’t want to just hear all your requests. He wants you to open up and talk to Him. Share with Him your darkest secrets, hidden fears and unrealistic hopes. That’s a sign of being close with someone. He wants to listen and reply, but you need to move closer to hear Him.

I know these aren’t the only steps to moving closer to God, but if you do them, they will get you closer than you are now. The good news is that your moves toward God are doubled because He is moving closer to you. I like that. It’s a two for one deal and all you have to do is take a step. Soon enough you will hear (or see) His replies. He’s been talking this whole time, you just haven’t been close enough to hear.

What steps have you taken that others can take to move closer to God? I’d love to hear about them.

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The “Why”

I’m the type of person who likes to know the “why” behind a task before I do it. It drives my wife crazy. Even yesterday she asked me, “Why can’t you just do what I asked without knowing why?” I like knowing the intention, purpose and final outcome before I do something so I know its importance and how to prioritize my time and effort towards it. It wouldn’t be bad if it were just a couple of things, but that thinking bleeds into every task including those God asks me to do.

I’m sure that He, like my wife, gets frustrated with me. Even when God asks me to do something, I still like to know the “why” and the final outcome. What I’ve found is that more often than not, God doesn’t give me those. He expects me to trust Him blindly and to do what He asked without question. That is tough for me because it goes against my very nature.

When I look at the Heroes of Faith in Scripture, I see men and women who trusted and followed God without knowing the “why” behind everything. When God said, “Go”, they went. When God said, “Speak”, they spoke. A couple of them might have argued because they didn’t want to do it, but they really didn’t ask why. They knew that when God asks for something, you do it. You don’t argue with the details. He knows them and will give them to you when you need them.

That’s what faith is. Doing what you’re asked to do without knowing why or what the outcome will be. If God shared with us the “why” and what the end result would be, we wouldn’t be acting in faith, we’d be acting on knowledge. God didn’t call us to walk by knowledge. He called us to walk by faith. He knows that when we know the outcome, we will try to do things in our own strength to affect the outcome to what we think He wants.

Look at Abraham. When God told him that he would have a son and that all nations would be blessed through his descendants, he took matters into his own hands. His “knowledge” said that his wife couldn’t have kids and so God must have meant to have a kid through her maid. Had he walked by faith, he would have trusted God to do what He said and had a kid with his wife. That mistake cost him 14 years before he saw the promise fulfilled in Isaac.

I don’t want my need to know the “why” to cost me years of wandering when I could be enjoying the blessings of obedience instead. I want to trust God without knowing the final outcome. I’ve got a long way to go in that area before I’m there. Until that time, I will take the small steps and trust His direction without knowing the “why’s” until my faith is strong enough to take the giant steps He wants me to take. I don’t want to hear God ask me like my wife did, “Why can’t you just do what I asked without knowing why?” I would rather hear Him say, “Thanks for obeying. Here’s what happened because you did…”

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What are you Worth?

Do you feel unworthy or just not good enough? You aren’t alone. There are many who see themselves that way and never reach the full potential God has for them. It’s easy to know how great God is and see yourself as small and insignificant, but that’s not how God sees you or wants you to see yourself. Yes, we are to be humble, but we are also to know who we are in Christ.

There is a difference in being humble and feeling insignificant or worthless. Humility is something that God honors. It’s having a right perspective of who we are and that what we have is God’s. Worthlessness is not a trait from God. It is a tactic from the enemy to keep you from tapping into the power of God in you. It will destroy you from within through thoughts that change how you see yourself.

How you see yourself reflects in how you behave and act. If you feel worthless, you draw back from others and become isolated. I’ve watched enough Discovery channel to know that a predator’s first goal is to separate you from the heard. Once you are isolated, he attacks. I Peter 5:8 says, the devil “roams around like a lion roaring in fierce hunger, seeking someone to seize upon and devour.” He isn’t seeking a group, he’s seeking someONE.

If you struggle with those feelings that are isolating you, I’ve been where you are. You can beat it. It’s not easy, but you can. Start with reading God’s Word. A few verses I like to read when I feel that way are Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:6-7 and I Peter 5:7. These verses talk about how much God cares for you and how much He values you. You don’t have to be great in the eyes of people to be great in the eyes of God. You are more precious to God than you can even imagine.

Don’t let those thoughts consume you. When they come into your mind, you have to fight back immediately. When Jesus was fasting, He was attacked mentally and each time He fought back with the Word of God. Bring those thoughts captive and speak the truth to them. Tell them and yourself who you are in Christ. Don’t dwell on them because then you start to believe them. You can’t believe the attacks of the enemy, but you can believe God’s Word.

Don’t be a victim, be a victor. There is safety in numbers. Don’t allow yourself to be separated from those who love you and will lift you up in prayer. Share with someone what you are struggling with. They can help you through encouragement, prayer and accountability. It takes some honesty on your part, but that vulnerability is worth more than the cost of succumbing to those thoughts and being devoured. You are a child of God, worth more than anything in this world. When God looks at you, He sees His child, His creation and someone He loves deeper than you can imagine.

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Why I’m burned out on religion

This is a repost from one of my most popular posts.

I’ve seen first hand what the effects of religion are. I’ve seen people who are forced to follow strict guidelines or risk being shunned by their community. I’ve watched people mutilate their body in hopes of paying some kind of penance. People do a lot of unnecessary things to themselves and to others all in the name of religion. It’s very sad to see.

Religion often seeks to control others. It uses rules and regulations to force people into doing things in order to earn their way into the afterlife. By keeping people guessing about their assurance of their salvation, they can manipulate them into doing whatever they ask. People comply and the follow in the name of this or in the name of that, but really it’s in the name of whoever is trying to control them by fear.

Jesus did not come to bring fear or to control you. It’s just the opposite. II Timothy 1:7 says that God has given us a spirit of power, love and a sound mind. He gives us a spirit of power, love and a sound mind, we won’t be controlled or manipulated by religions that seek to do that. Even in Christianity there are those who seek to manipulate and control through fear.

In Galatians 5:1, it says that it was for freedom that Christ set us free. Jesus didn’t die on the cross so you could be bound by religion and the rules that come along with it. He came to bring freedom from religion. He knew that the only way to have a true follower is if it were by choice. He wants to have a relationship, not a dictatorship.

Another thing that religion does is to condemn people. Condemnation uses shame and judgement to make someone feel bad. By using condemnation, religion seeks to elevate itself by tearing down those who follow it. Those who are under condemnation can never be good enough or do enough. They can never be sure of their salvation, but they keep trying in hopes of making it when they die.

Jesus said in John 3:17 that He did not come to condemn the world, but that through Him, the world might be saved. Where religion brings condemnation, Christ brings salvation. His message was not Hell, fire and brimstone. It was love, compassion and forgiveness. He desires to spend eternity with His creation and made a way for that to happen by paying the high cost of giving His life for you.

Religion also seeks to make you conform. It wants to make you conform into its image, not God’s. It doesn’t want you to be who God made you to be, it wants you to be who they think you should be. When you lose who you are, you are more likely to blindly follow their rules. As mentioned before, Jesus wants you to be free.

He wants to take who you are, all of your successes, failures, scars and shortcomings to use them for His purpose. When you become His follower, he doesn’t make you conform. Instead He makes you transform! Romans 12:2 says that we should not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the entire renewal of your mind. This transformation starts with renewal. You get a fresh start spiritually. Jesus wants to give you a renewed hope and future.

I know what it’s like to be religious and to try to impose religion on others. Jesus didn’t do it that way and neither should we. Where religion seeks to control, condemn and conform you, Christ wants to set you free, forgive you and renew you. In fact, Christianity is the opposite of religion. It is not a set of rules and regulations as some would have you believe. It’s about having a relationship with a God that loves you more than you can comprehend. It’s about living for the One who died for you. While there are those who seek to make Christianity act like religion, that was not Jesus’ intent. He came to bring life and peace. There is freedom in Jesus.

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Praying Isn’t Complicated

I wonder if we try to complicate prayer sometimes. We think that God speaks King James English and try to pray that way to Him. We try to use big words we barely understand hoping to impress Him. We make a list of what we’re going to pray for as if He doesn’t know our needs. We make sure we are serious and have a somber attitude because somehow we aren’t respecting Him if we’re not. We practice the structure to make sure it includes certain things as if the right structure will move Him to act and make my prayer more powerful.

The truth is that prayer is simply a conversation. God isn’t concerned with the format or syntax of your prayer. He’s concerned about the heart that it is coming from. The most powerful prayers are the most well thought out ones. They are born out of a heart in need of communicating to God. They are given in desperation. They are the most honest ones. God desires to have a real conversation with you. One that is born out of your need and desire to hear from Him.

I grew up believing the loudest, fastest prayer is the one that’s heard. I’ve read books that say slow contemplative prayers are the ones that work. What really works is when you pour your heart out to Him and tell Him what’s on your mind. He’s not scared of the doubts you have or the thoughts you think. He knows them already and He still loves you and desires to meet with you daily.

I think even daily is too far a part between prayers honestly. I Thessalonians 5:17 tells us to never stop praying. How can we do that? Simple. Prayer is simply communication with God. We just don’t stop communicating with Him throughout our day. Just like you would call, email, text or Facebook someone throughout your day as you thought about them, you would send little prayers to God throughout the day as you needed.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still times you need to have longer than a text conversations with God just like you would have longer conversations with a friend. A relationship is built on time and communication. God desires both from you. He wants to spend time with you, hear what you have to say and also say things to you. Most of us rarely stop to listen to what He has to say to us. It could be that we’re scared of what He’d tell us or ask us. It could be that doubt of thinking it’s your own mind talking that keeps you from listening. Whatever it is, be honest with Him about it.

In John 10:27, Jesus said, “The sheep that are my own hear and are listening to my voice (AMP).” There are two verbs in that verse that are important. We need to hear His voice and be listening for it. Don’t be afraid to stop and listen to what God is saying to you today. Write it down if you want. Put it in a journal. Measure it against the Bible. God will never contradict Himself or what He said in the Bible. That’s one way you can know if it’s God.

Today, I want you to have an honest conversation with God. Tell Him your fears, hopes and dreams. Ask Him the questions you’ve been afraid of asking in the past. Speak to Him like you would a friend. Don’t complicate it. Be real. After that, stop and listen. Hear what He has to say to you. It could be a little or a lot depending on how long it’s been since you’ve given Him the opportunity to speak. Let me know how it goes.

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