Tag Archives: Christianity

Hard Knocks University

When people ask where I went to school, I often say, “Hard Knocks University.” For the longest time, it seemed that life kept knocking me down. No matter what I did, I couldn’t gain ground. In fact, it felt like the bottom kept falling out from underneath me. I learned that the only way to fail Hard Knocks University is to quit. I also learned that the only way to graduate was to get closer to God. The troubles we face in life can either make us bitter or better. We get to choose by how we respond when we keep getting knocked down.

For me, I let it push me closer to God. I found myself praying more asking God for the wisdom to make better decisions. I also started reading the Bible more. I knew there were principles in it that could help with the things I was facing, so I began to consume the Bible looking for answers. What I got was a deeper relationship with God and the promise that He wouldn’t abandon me in my troubles. I began to put my focus on Him instead of my problems, and then I began telling my problems about Him instead of the other way around.

The Psalmist must have graduated Hard Knocks University too. Psalm 119:71 says, “My troubles turned out for the best – they forced me to learn your textbook” (MSG). If you’re in the toughest school around, let it draw you closer to God and His textbook. He probably won’t take the troubles away as quick as you like, but you are guaranteed that He will walk through them with you. Failure can’t be an option, and you don’t want to keep taking the same course. If you want to graduate, you’re going to have to read the textbook. I recommend you start with a chapter in Proverbs each day to get the wisdom you need.

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Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.

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Healing Old Wounds

For years I carried a hidden wound inside of me. I pretended that it never happened. Every time that a memory would pop up, i would tell myself, “That never happened. It was just a dream.” I buried it deep to the point that today I struggle remembering if some things really happened. I didn’t know it, but even though I had buried it, it was still affecting my life, my thoughts and my actions. Beneath all the layers I had covered it in, this pain was festering and affecting my relationships, my job and my walk with God. Every once in a while someone would say something or be in a situation that would touch that nerve deep inside me, and it would send me on an emotional roller coaster.

One Sunday we had a man named Dave Roever preach at our church. His face and hands were disfigured from a phosphorus grenade that went off as he was trying to throw it in the Vietnam War. One of the things he said was, “Some of you look like me on the inside.” I was pretty sure he was talking to me. Then a little later he said, “Don’t be afraid to show your scars for in them others will find their healing.” Immediately I knew what I had to do. I felt God ask, “Are you ready to deal with the problem?” So I began uncovering this deep wound layer by layer, exposing it, dealing with it, seeking forgiveness and allowing God to heal it. My life began to change for the better.

Hebrews 12:1 says, “As for us, we have all of these great witnesses who encircle us like clouds. So we must let go of every wound that has pierced us and the sin we so easily fall into. Then we will be able to run life’s marathon race with passion and determination, for the path has been already marked out before us” (TPT). What wound do you need to let go of?whats hidden deep inside of you that is affecting your life? It’s not easy, but it needs to be opened up, dealt with and healed. Only then can you truly run your race well. God wants to set you free and to heal it, but you have to remove the layers you’ve put over it. Once it’s healed, the scar will remain, but it won’t be as painful. Then, as you share your scar with others, they will find their healing too.

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Redeemed From The Past

A couple of decades ago, I went through what I somewhat jokingly call halftime in my life. I was born and raised in church and accepted Jesus at an early age. Then in my mid twenties I decided to live in opposition to how I was raised. It didn’t take long for God to work on my heart to bring me back into living His way. During halftime I suffered many consequences for my actions including people telling me I was disqualified from being a minister. As I was lamenting over it to a friend, he reminded me that God doesn’t rescind His calling in our life. He takes our past and uses it to help others.

Paul, who wrote a lot of the New Testament, was raised in the strictest sect of Judaism. His zeal for God’s Law was so strong that he hunted down and killed people he thought were in opposition to his understanding of the Law. Then, in Acts 9, as he was traveling to persecute Christians, Jesus appeared to him and changed his life. As he ministered to people, he referee to himself as the chief of sinners knowing what he had done in the past. However, God was able to use his past to prove to anyone that no matter how much they’ve lived in opposition to God, they are still able to receive God’s grace, find salvation and be used by Him in ministry.

Psalm 139:5 says, “You’ve gone into my future to prepare the way, and in kindness you follow behind me to spare me from the harm of my past. You have laid your hand on me!” (TPT) God is not afraid of your past (or present). He has a plan for your life and is able to use whatever you’ve been through and whatever you’ve don’t to help others find healing and forgiveness in Him. Those things do not disqualify you. Instead, they have prepared you for the future He has got you. You, nor others, have the ability to remove God’s calling or plan for your life. He has prepared your future despite your past. He has laid His hand on you to accomplish His purposes in your life. Leave the guilt and condemnation behind, and follow where He leads.

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Surrendering Completely

One of the things I talk with pastors about is spiritual growth and how to help people along the path. According to “Move: What 1,000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth”, there are four places we find ourselves in when it comes to spiritual growth. They are: Exploring Christ, Growing in Christ, Close to Christ and Christ Centered. There are different habits, behaviors and disciplines of people when they’re in each segment. The goal is to help people move from one segment to the next. The hardest segment to get people to move to is from Close to Christ into Christ Centered. One seeks God’s wisdom and direction for their life along with daily disciplines. The other is complete surrender to God allowing Him control over your life. It’s a hard jump for people to make.

In Mark 1, Jesus had just begun His earthly ministry. He had been baptized and was beginning to preach. As He did, people began to follow Him. There were some people though that He asked to be disciples instead of just followers. In Mark 1:17-18 Jesus saw Andrew and Simon Peter cleaning their nets and said, “‘Come follow me and I will transform you into fishers of men instead of fish!’ Immediately they dropped their nets and left everything behind to follow Jesus” (TPT). These two, along with the other 10 disciples, left everything to give themselves completely to Christ. Most people simply took off of work, listened to Him preach, and then went back to work. These guys dropped what they were doing in complete surrender to follow Him. They gave up everything.

I’m not suggesting that you quit your job to be a Christian and have a better relationship with Christ. I am asking you to examine the things that you’re holding onto that are keeping you from complete surrender to Christ. It could be control of your schedule, your money, your time, your talents, etc. The Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19 was called to move from Close to Christ into a Christ Centered life. He walked away sad because he wanted to hold onto things. It didn’t mean he wasn’t a Christian. It meant that he didn’t move to a Christ Centered life to experience all God had for him. Like him, we hold onto things that Christ is calling us to let go of. We need to be like Andrew and Simon Peter where we immediately drop those things, leave them behind and surrender to God’s will.

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Developing Life Flavors

One of the things I enjoy doing is cooking. One of the things I’ve learned is that foods taste better if you take the time to develop the flavors. That means that instead of adding onion and garlic later, I may start with them and let them sauté a bit in order to bring out more flavor. When I create a sauce to cook in, I may let it simmer a little longer so that it reduces. Doing that will intensify the flavor. To turn a recipe into a beloved dish, you have to take the time to develop and bring out the hidden flavors with heat and time. It’s more than simply adding ingredients.

I believe our lives are the same way. God wants to create amazing flavors in our lives that point others to Him. To do that, it requires Him to do things differently than our recipe. It also requires us to be put in the fire, sometimes longer than we care to be there. It’s really our choice how we respond. Do we give Him the freedom to bring out the flavors that are locked inside of us? Or do we allow those times to produce a bitter flavor that turns people away from us and Him? God’s desire is that each one of us would have complex, well developed flavors so that we’re not just another Christian.

James 1 tells us to consider it joy, even a gift, when trials and challenges come at us from all sides. In that pressure cooker, it releases hidden flavors into the world. In verse 4 he writes, “So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way” (MSG). When things aren’t going right and life is coming at you hard, don’t run away. God is at work in you and pulling out flavors that were locked away and hidden before. He’s not going to allow these problems to overwhelm you. He knows what you can take and how long you can stay there. Trust His judgement and let Him do His Work in your life.

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Throwback Thursday is a feature I’m using to help build some margin into my schedule to pursue other ventures. Each Thursday I’ll be bringing you a previously written devotional that still speaks encouragement to us from God’s Word.

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Listening To God’s Voice

One of my daily prayers is, “Lord, help us to hear your voice more clearly, and give us the courage to do what you say.” That prayer prompted my son to say, “I’ve never heard God’s voice before. Is He speaking?” I told him that God is always speaking. It’s up to us to find a quiet place and listen. I then explained that God rarely speaks to us audibly. He usually speaks to us through the Bible or He whispers in our heart.

One of the times God spoke audibly was in 1 Samuel 3. Samuel was just a boy and lived in the Temple with Eli the priest. In the middle of the night, God called to Samuel. He thought Eli had called him, so he went into the room where Eli was sleeping to ask what he wanted. Eli told him that he hadn’t called him and sent him back to bed. This happened three times before Eli figured out what was going on. He then sent him back with instructions should he hear the voice again.

Verse 10 says, “And the Lord came and called as before, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ And Samuel replied, ‘Speak, your servant is listening.’” As I told my son, I believe that God is always speaking to us. It’s up to each one of us to listen. Just like you have to learn to actively listen to someone, we have to purposefully listen for God’s voice. When you open the Bible, pray, “Speak, your servant is listening.” Do it when you pray as well, then give God Time to speak.

We live in such a busy world that we rarely take the time to slow down and listen. The same voice that spoke billions of galaxies into existence wants to speak to you today. Any relationship requires two way communication. God isn’t looking for someone who will just follow a bunch of rules. He’s looking for someone to speak with. That’s why Christianity isn’t about a bunch of regulations, even though we’ve made it that. It’s about having a relationship. All relationships rise and fall on communication. Yours and God’s is no different.

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I’m enjoying one more day of rest today. I hope you enjoyed this devotional I wrote previously. I’ll return with a new devotional tomorrow.

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Participating With God

When God called to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus 3, He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (NKJV). God then asked Moses to return to Egypt where the Lord would perform miraculous signs and wonders. Moses argued with God and gave excuses as to why he couldn’t speak to Pharaoh. Eventually, God convinced Moses. He then spoke to Pharaoh, God performed 10 plagues and the Israelites were set free from their bondage because of the things God did.

Fast forward 40 years and Israel is finally permitted to enter the Promised Land. They cross the Jordan and begin to prepare to attack Jericho. While Joshua is surveying it, the Lord appears to him in Joshua 5:15 and says, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” Did you catch the difference? When Moses met God, he had to remove both sandals. When Joshua met with Him, he only had to remove one. I believe it’s because with Moses, God was doing all the work, and with Joshua they were going to work together to subdue Canaan.

I believe God wants you and I to participate with Him in living an overcoming life. We can’t sit back and wait for Him to do all the work. You and I are going to have to step out and face some giants. We are going to have to attack some walled cities in our life. The great news is that God will fight our battles if we’ll have enough faith to get onto the battlefield. If we’re going to live An overcoming life, we’re going to have to quit making excuses and letting fear make our decisions. If God is for you, who can be against you? It’s time to quit camping by the Jordan and to fight for the land God promised you.

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I’m enjoying a day of rest today. I hope you enjoyed this devotional I wrote previously. I’ll return with a new devotional tomorrow.

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Love And Restoration

I grew up in the age of televangelists. I was a teenager when Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker fell from grace as we called it. I remember them being all over the news for their failures. I also remember the Church joining in with the world in taking them down. Days before the news broke, these men and their ministries were held in high esteem by many. Then immediately they were cast out. The same thing happened to singers Marabeth Jordan from First Call and Michael English. They were pulled from the radio, their CD’s taken out of stores and they were shunned. I remember thinking, “What if King David had been treated this way? We forgive him, but not these people.” Michael felt the reaction so heavily that he ended up homeless and on drugs. I’m not sure what the exact response is, but rejection isn’t it.

In John 8:1-11, the religious leaders paraded a woman into the Temple area where Jesus was sitting. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our Law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what do you say?” (GNT) If this had been in our time, we would have started throwing the stones, but Jesus wasn’t so quick to pick up a stone. Instead, He drew in the dirt as He considered His response. He straightened up and said to them, “Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her.” One by one they dropped their stones and walked away. He drew in the dirt some more, then looked up at her and asked if anyone was left to condemn her. “No one, sir,” she answered. “Well, then,” Jesus said, “I do not condemn you either. Go, but do not sin again.”

Jesus provided a great example of love and restoration. Galatians 6:1 says, “My friends, if someone is caught in any kind of wrongdoing, those of you who are spiritual should set him right; but you must do it in a gentle way. And keep an eye on yourselves, so that you will not be tempted, too.” Instead of walking around with stones in our hands looking to take out brothers and sisters who fail, we need to be looking for ways to use those stones to repair their foundations. We forget that we’re in the restoration business and not the demolition one. Demolition is fun because it’s quick and easy. The work of restoration is long and tedious, but that’s what we’re called to do. Who have you been withholding restoration from? Who have you thrown rocks at? We’re all guilty of it, but it’s not too late to change. If Jesus is able to forgive them, we must be willing to as well. We are His vehicle for restoration of their lives. Let’s act like it.

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Being Teachable

One of the things I’ve learned is that if you’re going to grow, you must be teachable. People who think they know it all have placed a lid on their growth. The ones who are humble enough to realize they don’t know what they don’t know are often the people who ask questions that seek understanding. They want to learn more so they can get better at something. They seek out people who know more than they do in the area they want to grow in, ask questions and then apply what they’ve learned. Application is a huge part of growth. It’s what takes the knowledge you’ve been given and does something with it. If you’ve been taught something new and don’t do anything with it or change how you do things, then you may not be as teachable as you thought.

Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, was a serious scholar. He had one of the brightest teachers who poured everything into his students. Even though he had all that knowledge and was very strict in obeying the Law, he was missing the point. Jesus met him on the way to Damascus to show him His will for him. Paul spent the next several years relearning everything in the Scriptures with his new perspective. Once he understood what God wanted him to do, he did it faithfully until he died. He served God with complete devotion, and wrote letters to the churches of that day explaining the Scriptures and helping them follow Jesus with the same devotion.

In Psalm 86:11 David prayed, “Teach me, Lord, what you want me to do, and I will obey you faithfully; teach me to serve you with complete devotion” (GNT). It’s a prayer each of us should pray as we seek to grow and follow Jesus more closely. Like Paul, God will reveal to us His will and give us understanding of Scriptures. He wants us to know His will for our lives so we can obey Him and fulfill our purpose. It starts with us being teachable and asking Him to show us. Just like before, knowledge is great, but growth happens in the application and obedience. Both David and Paul were people like you and me. They had flaws and failures, but what sets them apart from most is that they were always seeking to know more of what they didn’t know about God and how to serve Him more faithfully. I believe their teachability is why God revealed so much to them and why God used them to write so much of the Bible. Imagine what God could do through you if you were that teachable.

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More Faith

There are times when I feel like I have the type of faith that can move mountains. There are also times when I feel like my faith is much smaller than a mustard seed. Sometimes I read verses like John 14:13 where Jesus tells us to ask for whatever we need in His name and He’ll give it to us, and I think, “What if I ask and you don’t answer?” Hen I think, “What if I don’t ask at all? What happens then?” Having the faith to believe sometimes feels like the gas gauge on my car. Sometimes it’s full, and other times it feel empty. Either way, I believe God honors the faith we do have, but He’s also encouraging us to have more.

In Mark 9, Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration to find his disciples arguing with some teachers of the Law. When he asked them what they were arguing about, a man pushed forward and said he had brought his son to be freed from demons, but the disciples couldn’t do it. Jesus asked for the boy, and Ashe approached, the demons threw him into a fit. The man begged Jesus to help them if He possibly could. Jesus responded, “Yes, if you yourself can! Everything is possible for the person who has faith” (GNT). To that, the father answered, “I do have faith, but not enough. Help me have more!” Jesus cast the spirit out and the boy was healed.

Faith is a partnership between us and God built on trust and communication. Jesus wanted to partner with this father’s faith for his boy, but the man felt he needed more. He is a lot like several of us doubting our faith isn’t enough. Jesus was able to use what faith he did have to free his son. Later, when the disciples asked why they couldn’t cast it out, Jesus told them, “Only prayer can drive this kind out. Nothing else can.” It’s a reminder to us to look at our prayer life when our faith feels small. How much quality time are we spending with our Heavenly Father? I’ve found that the more time I spend with Him in prayer, the greater my faith is. You and I can have more faith, but it comes through prayer and reading the Bible.

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