It’s Free Friday! Today is the day you let go of the things in your life that keep you down or hold you back. To celebrate, I’m giving away a copy of “Fresh Air: trading stale spiritual obligation for a life-altering, energizing, experience-it-everyday relationship with God” by Chris Hodges. Keep reading to find out how to enter.
Two years ago, I was losing weight. I had adopted a better diet, began to exercise more and controlled the portion size of the food I ate. For weeks, the pounds came off. Five pounds. Ten pounds. Fifteen pounds. Twenty pounds. Twenty pounds. Twenty pounds. I got stuck. I couldn’t lose any more. I hit a plateau at twenty pounds lost. I wanted to lose more, but nothing I did pushed me past it. I are healthier. I exercised more. I ate smaller portions. Nothing worked. I was stuck. Eventually, I quit trying. I adopted the mindset that this was my ideal weight.
It wasn’t long before I allowed junk food to slowly enter my diet. I began to exercise less. Holidays came around and I justified the larger portions. I put on one pound. Two pounds. Four pounds. I began to drift backwards. “When I get to ten pounds, I’ll go back to that healthy lifestyle,” I told myself. I became stuck in this limbo of wanting to lose weight, but not really doing anything about it. I plateaued again.
I find that the same thing happens to us spiritually. We desire to have more of God in our lives. We want to be a stronger light for Him. So we read our Bible more, pray all the time and find ways to share our testimony. We make a difference in one life. Two lives. Five lives. Ten lives. Ten lives. Ten lives. We hit a plateau in our spiritual growth and the lives we influence. We read more. We pray longer. We look for more people to talk to, but nothing changes. We then adopt the idea that this is where God wants me to stay.
It’s not long before we read less, pray few times a day and quit looking for opportunities. We get caught in a spiritual limbo. The problem is that checking off spiritual boxes like reading and praying will produce some growth, but not a sustained growth. We’ve got to break down scripture into bite sized chunks to understand it deeper. We’ve got to spend silent time in prayer listening to the voice of God to communicate with Him. We’ve got to do things differently than we’ve done them if we want to break through those plateaus.
We’ve got to quit settling for where we are spiritually if we really want to grow. We’ve got to change how we study and pray to get to that next level. We’ve got to get to past living a life of rules and checked boxes if we truly want to experience who God is. Sustained growth comes from the inside out, not the outside in. You’ve got to want it more than anything else and then make the sacrifices that will produce the results you’re looking for. “Draw near to God and (then) He will draw near to you.” You’ve got to make the move first. You’ve got to do the work that draws God to you. His desire is to be constantly moving closer to you. Break free of the plateaus today and climb that mountain. You will experience new life and fresh growth if you do.
If you would like to win “Fresh Air” by Chris Hodges, all, you have to do is go to my Facebook page here and “like” it. I will randomly pick one person tomorrow (February 1, 2014) who has liked my page. If you have already liked my page you’re already entered. If you enjoy reading these daily devotionals, please invite your friends to like my page so they can receive encouragement from God’s Word too.
Yesterday was one of those days. I was away on business and couldn’t get home. The airport was shut down due to weather and my flight had been canceled. The roads were closed due to ice so I couldn’t drive home. The only other option was to take a train. I realize that other countries and even parts of the States have adopted rail as normal way to commute, but it hasn’t caught on where I live. The day was ripe for adventure.
People are more friendly on a train than on a plane. I guess that’s because you are going to spend quite a bit of time together. I got to know a father from Australia who came to the US to rescue his wife and daughter. They were going to see the world together when the daughter developed a fear of flying. He came, figured out a way to get the daughter from Florida to California and then back to Australia without having to fly. It has cost him a great deal of time and money, but He was happy just to be taking care of his family.
It reminded me of the great lengths our father will go for us. When we’re suddenly afraid to take that next step of faith, even after having taken several, our Father will come to our rescue. He will leave His throne in Heaven, meet us where we are and guide us the rest of the way. It may not be the way He intended for us to take, but He’s good at finding work arounds. He doesn’t come and demand that we do it His way. He comes and gently encourages us to find a way to follow our faith.
I also met a Filipino who is an associate pastor in Long Beach. He, like many of the disciples, loves to fish. His trip had taken him from California to Florida to go on a fishing expedition. His eyes lit up as he talked about all the different types of fishing he had done. They really lit up when he talked of his seven daughters and only son whom God blessed him with “late in life.” Here was a man in his sixties who had a five year old son and referred to him as a blessing from God.
He reminded me of Abraham who had a son at one hundred years of age. He was supposed to be beyond the years of having children, yet God decided to bless him with a son. Abraham considered it a blessing and Sarah thought it was a joke. They both loved their son very much and God used that miracle to be the way to fulfill His promise he made to them 25 years earlier. I’m sure the older Abraham got, the more he doubted God’s promise. He must have become content with living in the land God showed him and had given up until the angel spoke. That son became the embodiment of the promises of God that seem too far fetched to come true. It gives us all hope that His promise to us is still coming.
I don’t know where your adventure is taking you, but I do know that all around you are reminders of who God is. To me, He proved He is the father who will go to lengths of the earth to find me. He’ll make a way for me even when I don’t see how. He also showed that the promises He made years ago are still alive. I don’t see the path to make them come true and I’m not getting any younger, but He knows when the timing will be right. Until then, I’m to be faithful, ready to call Him when I need help and open to blessings in disguise. God is good at using those to fulfill his promise.
Prayer to me is like a car engine. I don’t know everything about it, but I know it works. Sure I can point out some parts under the hood and tell you what they do, but I don’t understand fully how they work. I’ve replaced a couple of parts that were easy to do, but for the harder stuff, I go to someone who understands it more fully. They are able to replace anything under the hood and make it run as intended. I take it to them because they know and understand every part of an engine. They also know how to tweak it to get the most out of it.
Every one of us can pray. Every one of us can make it work. We may not understand how it works or what to do to get the most out of it, but we can push the gas and make it go. I’ve read where people have broken down “The Lord’s Prayer” and taught me how to pray. I’ve been given methods like “ACTS” (Adoration, Confession, Thankfulness, Supplication) to give structure to my prayers. I’ve been shown how to pray intensely so that my prayers have more power. There are so many things we can learn about prayer, but most of us leave the hood closed.
We’d rather just ask God for what we need rather than to intimately know God through our prayers. It can be scary getting to know an omnipotent God who wants to meet and converse daily. What if He asks me to go to some crazy part of the world that I won’t like? What if He tells me things I don’t want to hear? We let our fear of the unknown make our prayers a one way communication. We keep our effectiveness to a minimum and have to rely on others who understand it more fully to pray for us in our needs.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t go to others for help when praying for something. I believe in the power of multiple people praying and I know that there are others who have more effective prayers than I do. I seek them when I need it. What I’m saying is that each one of us have the ability to have effective prayers that God will not only hear, but answer. We have the ability to open the hood, tweak the things that need tweaking and make our prayers as effective as possible.
It’s going to require you to get a little dirty though. You’re going to have to do some work. You’re going to have to spend some time under the hood tinkering. Powerful, effective prayers come out of spending time with the one we’re talking to. They come from intimately knowing the One to whom we pray. They come from understanding what His will is and what His Word says. The more we know what His Word says, the more we pray in accordance with it. The more we pray in accordance with it, the more He answers. The more He answers, the more faith and confident we get. The more faith and confident we get, the more effective our prayers become.
Don’t be afraid to look under the hood of prayer. Learn what you can. Take time tweaking this and that to make it comfortable for you. Understand there are different types and ways to pray. Your prayers get an audience with the One who created everything you see. It’s worth investing time and energy to make them as effective as possible. Hang around others who get their prayers answered. Learn from them how to pray. Each one of us have room for growth in our prayers. To get better, we just have to open the hood.
I was reading recently in II Chronicles 7 where Solomon was dedicating the temple. During the celebration, they celebrated the Feast of Shelters. I wasn’t as familiar with that feast as Pentecost, Jubilee, Rosh Hashanah or others. I looked it up to find out more about it and found something interesting. To help Israel remember how their ancestors wandered the desert for 40 years as nomads, they would live in temporary shelters for seven days. Some would sleep on the porch of their homes, others would camp out, some would build lean to shelters and some would build temporary booths.
The shelter they stayed in needed to make sure they were exposed to the elements. If it got cold, they shivered. If it rained, they got wet. If it was hot, they sweat. All of this to remember that their ancestors didn’t have permanent dwellings like they did. It was meant as a link to their past, but for me, it’s a link to our future. These bodies we live in are our temporary shelters. We live like nomads in them moving around all over the world. We think they’re our permanent home, but like the Israelites, we look forward to going to the Promised Land and getting our permanent homes.
II Corinthians 5:1 says, “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in Heaven, an eternal body made for us by God Himself…” Paul referred to our bodies as tents which is what the people of Israel lived in while they wandered the desert. It’s a temporary home. The problem is that we have lived this way for so long that we’ve forgotten it’s temporary and have made ourselves comfortable in them. We are only wandering here making our way to our permanent home.
These tents we live in have us exposed to the elements of life. They don’t really protect us from tragedy, problems, storms or outside forces. We feel the full force of things and hurt deeply. When we get our new bodies, our permanent ones, we will have shelter from those things. In fact, Scripture says we won’t even shed a tear in Heaven. There will be no more death either. Those permanent homes won’t be susceptible to the things that these temporary ones are. We will look back at these bodies and thank God we’re not in them anymore.
Instead of looking back at the past and reliving the hurt and exposure to life’s elements, look forward to a time when we won’t have to worry about such things. Yes, we are still living in these tents and are still being exposed to the problems here, but looking forward can help us endure the elements. Knowing that a day is coming when we’ll have protection against such things should give you strength and courage to move forward instead of being stick in the past. God wants each one of us to move forward and to think about the future He has for us. He told us about such a time because He knew it would give us hope, and hope is a powerful thing in a temporary storm.
Last night I got to watch “Lone Survivor”. It was a moving experience like I haven’t had in a movie in a long time. When the movie was over, everyone just sat in their seats in silence. You could hear the sniffles from people crying. No one said a word as they exited. It was a very humbling thing to experience that movie. The mental and physical toughness that it took to survive was incredible. Marcus Luttrell, the lone survivor, left me with one phrase from the movie: You are not out of the fight.
I think that’s something each of us can adopt. We are each faced with hardships in our lives. Some are physical, some are mental and some are relational. We reach our breaking point because of our situation. We get pushed to our limits and feel like we can’t go on. We question if we really should, if it’s even worth it. Our faith falls through our hands like sand and we wonder where God is in our problems. We cling to what little hope we can find to survive the next go around. Just when we think we’re free, we start getting hammered again.
If you are breathing, you are not out of the fight. You have the ability to survive. God placed in you a spirit of power, love and a sound mind. You’ll need all three to make sure you are not out of the fight. You need power to stand when that’s all you can do. You need power to push forward when everything in life is trying to pull you backwards. God’s strength is made perfect in your weakness. When you realize you can’t do this on your own, His power, His strength will come in to help you make it.
You need love to give you a reason to live. There are things left in this life for you to experience. There is a new life out there waiting for you and it will only happen if you make it through. Going through hard times helps us to know what’s important in life. All the fluff, the temporary things and the things that don’t matter seem to disappear when hard times come. When all the things that don’t really matter in life are gone, you’re left with those who love you and you can start fresh with things that matter.
Finally, you need a sound mind to stay in the fight. Mental toughness and the will to survive are required. You must win the battle of the mind. That’s why God gives you a sound mind. Control the thoughts that come in and want to talk you into giving in. Bring every thought captive. Put God’s Word in so you have something to meditate on rather than everything that’s going on. If you look at the battle with your own eyes and mind, you’ll give up. If you look at it with the sound mind God gives, you’ll never be out of the fight.
On a side note, I’d like to say, “Thank you” to each of you who have served, are serving or have family in the military. I know thank you will never be enough, but it carries deep weight.
If you’d like to check out the review my friend Wade Bearden wrote on “Lone Survivor” for “Christianity Today”, click here.
It’s Free Friday! Time to let go of the things that hold you back and keep you down. Choose to let go today and embrace all that God has for you. To celebrate, I’m giving away “the voice New Testament: Step Into the Story of Scripture”. “the voice” invites story lovers to step into the story of the Bible like no translation can do. Keep reading to find out how to win
If you haven’t done so yet, I’d like you to take a moment and watch the video below. These are Christian leaders in China who are getting their very first Bible. Up to this point in their lives, they have never had their own Bible. Before this, they used pages of a Bible that they had hand copied and used those to preach and study from.
This is a powerful video and reminder that we need to cherish God’s Word. Each day when it’s time to read it, we make excuses as to why we’re too tired or promise ourselves that we’ll do it tomorrow. Our Bible collects dust on our night stand and our walk with Christ slows to a crawl. We spend our time doing other things that require our attention and then wonder why God never speaks to us. We have silenced God in our lives by keeping our Bible closed.
A couple of years ago, our church was raising money to buy Chinese Bibles to send to ministers in China. They challenged us to count the number of Bibles in our houses to see how many we had. I had over 20 Bibles. I had surrounded myself with God’s Word, but was living in silence because not one of them had been opened in years. I had taken God’s Word for granted and put it on a shelf next to other books. I treated it as if it was just another book.
After watching this video, I decided to free myself of the excuses keep me from God’s Word. I began to dig into it daily. I got up earlier to make sure I had time to read it. Instead of making it the last thing I did each day, it became the first thing I did. If God wanted the “first fruits” of my income, why not give Him the first fruits of my time? I quit reading a chapter a day. I read until I heard from God and found a Scripture I could apply to my life.
A radical thing began to happen. My outlook on life changed. My crawl turned into a walk and eventually a run. The silence from God was broken. His voice came through loud and clear. I was able to make the right decisions and resist temptations that had beaten me every time. I grew stronger in my faith and put it into action. People noticed a difference in me. It all began when I quit letting my Bible collect dust.
Where is your Bible right now? Do you know where it is? How long has it been since you opened it? How long has it been since you opened the Bible app? How are things going in your Christian walk? It’s not a coincidence that the two are related. The more you are into God’s Word, the more vibrant your life will be. Let your excuses collect dust instead of your Bible. It’s time to value what so many have given their life for. It’s time to appreciate what you’ve been freely given. It’s time to love God’s Word again.
If you would like to win “the voice New Testament” and see the Bible in a fresh, new light, go to my Facebook page here and “like” it. I will randomly pick one person tomorrow (January 25, 2014) who has liked my page and give them the Bible. If you have already liked my page, you are automatically entered. If you like these daily devotions, please share my page with your friends so they can receive daily encouragement from God’s Word too.
There is a lady I used to work with who enjoyed reading obituaries in the paper. I was curious as to what intrigued her about them. She told me she thought it was amusing how many different ways a writer could come up with to say someone had passed away. She showed me some said, “this person went to be with Jesus”, “they went to receive their reward”, “they expired on this date”, “they got their wings”, “they bravely lost her battle” and the list went on. She told me that she wondered what they would write in hers and what her legacy would be.
I think that’s a good thing to wonder about. If you were to live until you were old, what would you want your legacy to be? What would you want others to say about you so that you could feel like your life was a success? Now work yourself backwards in life. What will you need to have done in order to have accomplished that? What can you start doing today to start moving down that path? You won’t accomplish your goals in this life or God’s will for you unless you have a plan to accomplish them and act on it.
Saul was a man who the Bible describes as “head and shoulders above the crowd.” God chose him to be Israel’s first king. After he was anointed, he prophesied and was transformed into a new person. He started off well, but he had no plan for what his legacy would be. He just assumed that because God had done these things for him that he could coast in that favor for the rest of his life and his legacy as king would succeed through his sons. With that lack of vision and planning, his life began to wander.
The longer Saul was king, the further he went from his intended legacy. He became paranoid, arrogant and proud. He forgot his mission from God. Without direction or a plan, his life wandered into disobedience. During his reign, God anointed another man to be king and ensured that Saul’s line of successors to the throne would end with him. I Chronicles 10:13 records his obituary. It says, “Saul died in disobedience, disobedient to God.” His legacy was tarnished because he didn’t go to God for help and turned away.
Saul did some great things for Israel in his life. He freed them from oppression and won many battles. He started well, but finished poorly. When he sinned, he became arrogant instead of repentant. His heart became hard. He didn’t look to the end of his life and wonder what it would look like if he had followed God’s will. He didn’t think ahead to what a successful life would look like. Instead, he took each day as it came and never knew he was off the path because he had never looked at the path.
What does your path look like? Where is it leading? What will your obituary say about you? I know it’s kind of morbid to think of the end of your life, but I believe that’s how you create a legacy. Where do you want to be at the end of your life and how if you get there from where you are today? When you have that path, you’ll know when you get off of it. When that happens, repent and get back on that path to fulfilling God’s will for your life. Your obituary can read, “This person lived life fully, loved God and died in obedience to what God had for them.”
Rebuilding is hard work even when you have help. As Nehemiah worked to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, there were many who opposed him. People came along and taunted him, “If a fox climbed that wall, it would fall to pieces under his weight.” Others planned to attack them as they built. They didn’t want the wall rebuilt and the people living in safety. There were internal distractions from arguments among the workers too. It seemed that everything and everyone was against the rebuilding of the wall, but Nehemiah kept at it. He prayed and encouraged those daily who we’re rebuilding. He kept their focus on the job at hand.
Each one of us have times of rebuilding in our lives. Sometimes that rebuilding is more like a remodel. Sometimes it’s repairing holes in our wall that were created from bad decisions. Other times the whole wall around our lives lies in ruins. Everything we had or worked hard to build crumbled and fell right in front of us. It makes you feel lost, unprotected and vulnerable. There’s so much work to do to rebuild that you don’t know where to start. You want to just give up and live in the ruins. You try to rebuild one part of your life and another falls down. It’s hopeless.
I think that’s how he people of Jerusalem were in the book of Nehemiah. They had gotten used to living in the ruble and had quit trying to rebuild. Their lives were sad. They had no joy or sense of protection. They had to rely on others to protect them and were treated poorly. It wasn’t until Nehemiah came along and got them excited about rebuilding that they began to change back into who they were made to be. He encouraged them daily, prayed over them and helped them rebuild the walls. He helped them protect themselves against attacks and rebuilt their confidence with the building of the wall.
Yes, there were distractions, times where the work slowed down and people who tried to hold them back. There will be the same things in your life when you try to repair or rebuild your life. There will be people who try to hold you down, pull you backwards or taunt you. Nehemiah didn’t get down off the wall or stop working though. Instead, he set up people at the breaches in the wall to stand guard. He had the workers rebuild with one hand and hold a sword in their other.
You will need to ask people to stand in the gaps for you where you’re most vulnerable. You’ll need to stay in the Bible constantly as it is your weapon. Ephesians 6 says, “Take the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” The Message calls it an “indispensable weapon”. There will be those who oppose you. Stay constant in prayer so that you hear God’s voice above theirs. Above all, never give up. Keep working. Keep building. Don’t get used to living in the ruins. God’s desire is that you rebuild. Find someone who will encourage you daily to keep building and who will pray for you. Before you know it, the walls will be repaired and new life can begin.
I was reading in Psalm 51 where he wrote about being confronted by the prophet Nathan. David had an adulterous affair, got the woman pregnant, had her husband killed and married her to cover it up. The prophet came and let him know that God saw everything. David broke down and repented. He wrote this Psalm to describe his need for forgiveness from God and what he needed to start over. God forgave him and David continued to be a man after God’s own heart.
I’ve always been attracted to verse 10 in that particular Psalm. It reads, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” That has been a prayer of mine for as long as I can remember. I want to always have a clean heart before God. I want to have a heart that is sensitive to His Spirit and isn’t too prideful to ask for forgiveness when I fail. David’s prayer here is proof that no matter how badly I mess up, God can forgive me and create a new heart in me.
As I read this chapter again, I started reading it in other versions to see how that verse translated. The Message caught my eye. It says it like this, “God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos in my life.” I have read that over and over because it’s just that good. We all need a fresh start every now and then. We need God to pull us from the mundane and to give us a new look at life. After we’ve sinned, we sometimes have to start over. Even in dealing with the consequences of our sins, God can still give us a fresh start.
The next part of that verse also speaks to me. “Shape a Genesis week from the chaos in my life.” I went back to Genesis 1 and read about that week. The first thing God created was light. When we have sinned or are living in sin, there is no light in our life. We have a dark cloud hanging over us. God will come in and bring light back into our lives and then cause things to grow again. God can take the chaos that dominates your life today and create order, life and peace. All He has to do is speak into it.
If you’re living in that chaos today, invite God to speak into your life and to shape a Genesis week for you. If you have sin in your life you haven’t repented of because you think God won’t forgive you, ask Him to create a new heart in you and to give you a fresh start. God loves new beginnings and He loves to create things. He delights in you and wants to bring light back into your life today. The only thing holding Him back is you. Pray today that God would allow you to start fresh with Him. He will do it. I promise.
Today, as a nation, we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. He is best remembered for his work in the Civil Rights movement and his “I Have a Dream” speech. Having studied his life, his speech and the Civil Rights movement, I’ve learned a lot about him. Just like you and I, he had many flaws, he made some poor choices and at one point lacked direction in his life. His father was a minister and felt like he was supposed to go into the ministry too, but King wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor. As a young man coming out of college, he struggled with his faith and his future.
After thinking about it, he decided that the Bible had many profound truths that he could not escape. He decided to go to seminary in order to become a minister. Those years in seminary helped shape his public speaking and understanding of Scripture. I believe they gave him the ability to say what so many were feeling and didn’t have the ability to express. They gave him the means to energize a people who had been emancipated for a hundred years, yet hadn’t seen a day of freedom since. Because of that decision to go to seminary instead of being a doctor or a lawyer, he changed the course of a nation and a people.
You and I are faced with struggles and difficult life decisions too. You may not think that you will change the course of a nation by the decisions you make today, but you could. I’m sure he didn’t think it mattered as much as it did what he studied as a post graduate. Our decisions have lasting impacts. Sometimes they change us or our family, but they could change our neighborhood, our city, our state or our country. What you do in life matters. The decisions you make shouldn’t be made lightly. Imagine a world where he would have been a doctor. He still would have saved lives, but not nearly as many.
When it came down to it, he made his decisions based on the truths of the Bible. That means he read it for counsel. You and I should be doing the same thing when it comes to our decisions. Instead of finding out what God thinks, we go and ask family and friends what they think. Instead of wondering about the spiritual impact to our lives, we base decisions on the monetary impacts. God’s calling on your life may not make sense at the time, it may take a while to fulfill or even seem so big that you could never accomplish it. That’s ok because He’s not asking you to accomplish what only He can. He is looking for your obedience.
What decision is weighing you down today? Have you looked to God’s Word for help or the wisdom of man? You don’t have to be afraid when you act in obedience to what God told you. Don’t look for others to try to give you every reason why you shouldn’t do what God called you to do. Look to God for guidance on your next step and trust that His decisions for your life are far better than the decisions you could ever make for yourself. Who knows, the decisions you make today regarding your calling could change the nation tomorrow.