Obedience

God, teach me lessons for living so I can stay the course.  Give me insight so I can do what you tell me- my whole life one long, obedient response.  (Psalm 119:33-34, The Message)

As I begin to write, I had to have a conversation with my 7 year old on obedience and respect.  She has an old iPhone that she has kept up with for about 4 years now.  No, she doesn’t have wireless service but she does get to use it like an iPod.  I have been very impressed at her ability to keep up with it and to not break the screen.

How does this relate to obedience?  Well, I had a conversation with her this morning about not walking around the house watching and listening to her “kid shows”.  I explained I don’t want to hear it today.  So, as I begin to write, she walks past my room with it playing.  Literally – all I typed before this happened was the word obedience.  I turned around and called her back and had another conversation about it.  (Side note:  I do like all the times she walks around the house playing and singing Hillsongs, “Oceans” at the top of her lungs!)

This week I made a step of obedience myself.  I have been praying about this for over a month.  Really? Yes really!  I sat around for the past month and prayed whether or not I would be obedient.  Sounds silly, stubborn, and disobedient – all at the same time – I know.  And, yes, I do and did deserve the same conversation from Jesus that I had with my daughter this morning.

It gets better than that prayer.

I actually called one of my life-long friends from seminary.  Fortunately, he didn’t answer the phone.  I called looking for him to give me permission to be reasonable and logical about this thing I was praying about…. bottom line I was looking for him to tell me (without him knowing) I was looking for him to give me permission to delay my obedience.  Think I will call him back today to apologize for something he has no idea he was almost a party to… Honestly, I don’t think he would have given me the permission or encouragement for me to delay my obedience.

My wife and I sat down that same night, held hands, and prayed.  Immediately, I did what I had been “praying about for a month.”  Two days later, God intervened in a situation to let me know He had heard me and was with me.  A direct answer to another prayer that has been ongoing for the past month.

Honestly, as I sit here and contemplate this week.  I can see all of the situations before me and see them all as layers connected to the same onion.  Obedience is the key to the layers being able to be peeled back.

This morning I am reading Rick Warren’s daily devotional and he also is writing on this same subject!  (I love how the Holy Spirit works through things I read to confirm His leading in my life).  The first paragraph reads,

God smiles when we obey him wholehartedly.  That means doing whatever God asks without reservation or hesitation.  You don’t procrastinate and say, “I’ll pray about it.”  You do it without delay.  Every parent knows that delayed obedience is really disobedience.

Well, you don’t have to hit me over the head…. but I do love the confirmation of God at work in my heart and my life.  For that, I am wonderfully thankful!!

Faith-filled living does require action.  And, oftentimes, that action is at the center of obedience.  So, today, walk in obedience and do what He is leading you to do.

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He cares…. seek Him with all your heart!

Just before the cold, snow, and ice came our way, I was looking through some things and came across a bag of bird seed I had forgotten about.  So, I go out to the storage building to get the bird feeder and set it out.  Normally there is a lot of traffic around this feeder throughout the spring and summer months.  Now that it’s winter not so much traffic.

I was looking out the window this morning as I heard something rustling in the leaves.  I saw  male and female Cardinals.  They were both enjoying the little treat I had left outside.  The sight got me to thinking about a time I was meeting with a few friends early one morning.  We were praying over needs in our lives.  As we prayed, I could hear the birds singing and I reminded the guys that God takes care of the birds we could hear – how much more will he tend to our needs.  We must trust him and lay all of our concerns at his feet for he cares for us (Matthew 6:26).

I set the bird seed out over a week ago.  I have seen these Cardinals sitting on the fence some 50 feet away from the bird feeder on several occasions.  I thought to myself (as if I were talking to them) there is food over here under this window.

Isn’t that like God?  Everyday he provides for us.  His provision is there.  Sometimes it’s right in front of us and we see it right away.  Somethings in life come to us through much seeking, looking, asking, knocking, etc.  But when we find that which we are searching, our Heavenly Father is looking out the window at us with a smile on his face, with great pleasure, saying, “You have found it.”

We all go through tough and bitter-cold seasons of life.  Seasons of searching for answers to troubling times.  Paul writes in I Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.”

These verses are not always the easiest thing to do – especially when faced with overwhelming circumstances.  I know I’ve been there… even now I seek and search and lay those things that are heavy on my heart and I rejoice because I know He cares and His Spirit comforts me.

In Psalm 84, the writer is longing to be able to worship in the courts of the LORD.  To physically be in this place of worship.  “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.” (v.3-4)  He is reminded of being there in this place of worship and seeing these birds there and how he longed to be in the presence of God just as he knew those birds are.  But even more than his longing to be in the courts of God, in prayer, he longed for the living God himself.

For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.  I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.  For the LORD God is a sun and a shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor.  No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.  O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84:10-12)

Find rest, comfort, and warmth as you trust in the Lord today… may you find the presence of the Lord himself.

Walking in wide open spaces

I loved living in the desert.   I miss the wide open spaces with blue sky all around.  While reading in Psalm 119, I was reminded of this beautiful land that I miss.

and I shall walk in a wide place, for I have sought your precepts.  Psalm 119:45.

The Psalmist loved the Law of the LORD.  I love reading Psalm 119.  Through all of life it’s the law, the way of God, His precepts, commandments…. that he loves and that drives him forward in his pursuit of God.  He has a relationship that is real and personal with God.  The Message puts it this way, in verses 44 & 45,

Oh, I’ll guard with my life what you’ve revealed to me, guard it now, guard it ever; And I’ll stride freely through wide open spaces as I look for your truth and your wisdom;

Rio Grande in New Mexico Bike MS 2015

We were visiting a church several years ago.  During the worship these lyrics jumped out at me, “All of my deserts are rivers of joy.” I mentioned I love the desert.  And when I look back at my time of physically living in the Southwest I see rivers of joy.

I was reminded of John 14:12 this morning where Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.” (New Living Translation).  God intends for each of us to be moving toward greatness.  He tells us here in John that we will do even greater works… but we must believe in him…  Even in the times of desert living.

Our lives have the propensity to become messy.  Everything about each one of us is not perfect.  Yet we try hard to make our lives look neat.  We want to make everything look perfect.  We attend churches with stained glass windows and/or churches with rock bands filling the room with great music, lights, and dry ice… all looking and sounding good.  But when it’s all torn down what really remains?  Hopefully, in both situations, relationships are being built so that when the stain glass windows and the music fades that the heart of it all will still be standing.

After having lived in the beautiful Southwest, I understand that there is a lot of life in the desert.  For me, its a beautiful place that is open with great views all around.  To some the land may look barren but it’s really wide open spaces full of excitement.  So much has adapted and been created to sustain life there.  I believe we will each spend our time in the desert of life.  It’s not a place we should avoid but rather take advantage of.  It’s there, in the stillness of the desert, we can draw close to God.  It’s a place for us to be able to sit back and enjoy looking into the face of God and keep our focus steadfast on Him.

The desert at night is breath-taking!  The first time I ever stopped on New Mexico HWY 550, in between Albuquerque and Aztec, I realized I couldn’t see one foot in front of me due to the darkness.  But I could see more of God’s creation in the sky than I have before.  I never would have seen the beauty above me had I kept my focus on the darkness in front of me… I had to look up.  When we find ourselves in a desert place with darkness all around it’s not until we look up to God that we will see His glory.

Romans 5:2 in The Message says it best,

We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand – out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.

If you find yourself today in a land that is dryer than you would like keep your eyes on Jesus.  Look to him and him alone for your joy.  We will not find joy looking in any other direction.  Feeling a little dry? Want someone to pray with you?  Just leave a comment, “In need of prayer”.  I’d be happy to pray for you.

The Promise…. waiting.

When I read this verse today I heard George Michael sing, “Faith.”  If you are familiar with the song now it’s stuck in your head too.  Sorry about that.  🙂

Faith.  Hearing and responding in faith, at times, can be a very difficult thing to do.  Especially when one is living in long season of silence.

I wonder about Abraham.  I wonder about his life and the thought process he went through before he took matters into his own hands.  God had told him he would have a son.  I presume he waited.  I guess he actively engaged at the task of trying to have a baby with his wife.  I’m sure he didn’t get tired of that!  But, then again, maybe he did.  He did end up taking things into his own hands by having sex with someone else.

I still wonder about his thought process.  He knew the promise.  He knew the Lord.  He was a friend of God.  Yet, he got tired in the waiting.  Did he question his understanding of the promise?  Did he begin to doubt?  Did he ask God about this decision to sleep with someone else?   Obviously he believed he was supposed to have a son.  That’s why he stepped outside of the covenant of marriage to have one.  (That doesn’t feel or sound right to even type).  But that’s exactly what he did.  He stepped into sin in order to bring about God’s promise…

I go back to wondering about his thought process that got him there.  Had he lost faith? Did he think it was up to him to help God bring about a child? In James 2 we read faith and works go hand and hand.  Abraham is even used as an example of faith and works when it comes to his son Isaac.  The son that was promised!  Yet, before he got to that point he exercised his faith with works outside of the covenant.  Outside of the realm of what God had promised.  Which brings me back to my wondering about what was going on in Abraham’s life and heart at the time he made his decision to help God along with the promise.

For me, I know I have made decisions in the darkness of silence.  Knowing I was supposed to do something, make a move, career change, etc.  Many, if not, most of those decisions didn’t work out so well for me.   Why? Did I not hear correctly?  Or did I not wait?

I think it has more to do about the waiting and trusting the promise God has spoken  than anything else.

He Speaks in the Noise

I thoroughly enjoy my moments of quiet and relaxation.  That typically happens before my family is awake or out on a country road riding my bicycle.  Lately, life has traveled far from tranquility.  It’s loud, stormy, and, stressful.  In about every arena that I am involved – it feels like a storm is brewing.

For example, while retrieving one of our cars, after being in a wreck this week – the van I have been driving shuts down on the way home.  Now it sits in a parking lot as I try and figure out my next step with it.  As for the car, it will probably end up getting crushed later this week for scrap metal.

Yesterday I took a vacation day from work and went on a field trip with my daughters kindergarten class.  It was a fun time to watch my daughter interact with her friends.  I don’t see how the teachers do this day after day.  Leading little minds to learn, respect, behave, and to enjoy life.  One parent said to me, “I don’t see how they (teachers) do it.  They kept up with all of these kids today.”  I’d like to add that the children were well behaved. I know the teachers were tired from their little outing but they still had a smile!

Reading in Luke 8:22-15 this morning.  I have re-read this passage several times this week as I continue my trek through the New Testament.  A couple of things stand out to me.  Nothing new.  But in the midst of the current circumstances these verses seem to hit home.

The disciples are with Jesus in a boat.  Jesus is sleeping. There is a storm on the lake and the disciples are scared and have begun to panic.  Now, some of these guys are very familiar with boats and being on the water, as they were fishermen by trade.  I am sure they are very familiar with storms on the water as well.  But for some reason this storm was nothing like they had experienced before.  They were afraid for their lives,

They awaken Jesus for help, “Master we are going to drown!”  The Message says, “Getting to his feet, he [Jesus] told the wind, ‘Silence!’ and the waves, ‘Quiet down!’ They did it. The lake became smooth as glass.”

The sentence that leaves me asking more questions is Jesus’ question back to his disciples. “Why can’t you trust me?”

Makes me think of a moment this week where things seemed to be crashing in on me and I wondered if God even liked me anymore.  I began to question if he was going to let me perish in the midst of my own personal turmoil.

As I read this again, I hear him ask, “Why can’t you trust me?”

Yes.  It’s very noisy right now.  And he is here.  I know it.  I need to learn in this experience of life and to respect, behave, and enjoy life.

Joy, joy, joy down in my heart

Approaching 2015 I felt all of this pressure to have a “word” for the year. I’m not sure where all of this started but for the past several years I have had a word or a phrase that has been a central focus. But this year it seemed like the message of “having a word for the year” was coming from many directions. I don’t recall there being so much focus on “having a word for the year” before. It came from a devotional, a friend, my pastor, and Margaret Feinberg to name a few sources.

I was leaning in a direction for this word or focus for the year. Then I began to think that I was being influenced by one of my favorite authors and I didn’t want that either. I wanted this to be real, fresh, and lead by what the Holy Spirit. I even changed my word on New Years Day just to avoid the word I thought I needed to focus on… just to change it back within a few days.

I landed with “Joy” as my word for 2015. Margaret Feinberg’s book Fight Back with Joy has some to do with where I was going for the year. And it was because of her book I wanted to fight off the thought of joy being my word for the year. I just wanted this to be something God wanted me to focus on.

Several years ago I had a pastor friend tell me his prayer for me has been that I would experience real joy in my life. His words have stuck with me now for about 6 years. I’ve wondered: What was it about me that would have him say that to me?   Was I depressed? Unhappy? Did I seem like I was missing something in my life? Is that why I have been feeling the way I have been feeling? Was it all because I lacked this three-letter word in my life? The answer is, Yes.

It’s time to stop asking questions and really pursue what God has in store. Taking the words of Margaret Feinberg and making them my own,

It’s time to pursue a joy-filled life. No need to wait for joy to arrive mysteriously in the mail one day. I need focused spiritual practices that might nurture joy. (Fight Back with Joy).

Well, whatever the reason, I’m on a journey to find and experience lasting joy… a joy-filled life.

Almost everyday this year “JOY” has come up… in conversations, messages on the radio, a charm on a necklace, Scripture, a song on the radio… it comes at me through so many ways.

Recently, while sitting in the living room, sipping on a cup a coffee, during my Quiet Time, I have the thought come to me, “Read 1 john 1:4.” So I read that verse in The Message Bible. If you are familiar with The Message you know sometimes you can’t just read one verse.

We saw it, we heard it, and now we’re telling you so you can experience it along with us, this experience of communion with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!” (1 John 1:3-4, The Message).

I sat down to write this verse out on a break at work and as I finished “Joy to the world” by Three Dog Night comes on the radio that’s playing through our building. I understand what my pursuit is to be this year JOY.

I’m sure I’m no different from you as you live, breath, and walk this planet. There are problems. There are mistakes made due to unwise choices. There is sickness.  There are circumstances that may have caused you to label yourself as damaged goods – not to be used for the Kingdom of God. Maybe someone else has labeled you as such and you have believed the lie. It could be that you battle depression, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job, lacking confidence or faith… whatever it is that may be holding you back today. Know that God wants to fill your cup. He doesn’t want to just fill it up He wants it to overflow from His heart to yours and from yours to those in your world.

Today is the day to surrender. Let Him fill you up! Ask Him to and He will.

Oh and one more thing… that same day I mentioned earlier, over dinner, my four-year-old says to me, “Dad you know what we are going to dance to? I got the joy, joy, joy down in my heart…”  I’m encouraged I’m moving in the right direction.

Crossroads

Are you familiar with the ending to the movie “Cast Away”?  Tom Hanks is standing there in the middle of this intersection in the middle of Nowhere, TX.  As far as he can see in all directions is nothing – yet he has been given the gift of life to be lived another day.  If you had been him, how would you have chosen where to go?    IMG_2822

We all find ourselves at places in life where we are at an intersection and we aren’t sure which way to go.  In the movie, he isn’t sure where he is going to go.  He pauses and gets out of the Jeep with his map and ponders for a moment or two.  During this moment of contemplation is when the person he was looking for drives up.

I wonder how many times in life we come to a crossroad and ignore it and just keep driving our lives right on through.  Or – how often do we get there – and recognize it… and then we get stuck there afraid to move at all.  Maybe there has been a bad decision in the past and fearful of getting burned again.

No matter the reason or how you would respond to the situation it is still a decision that must be faced and made.  No decision is still a decision.  How do you make the decision?  What steps do you take?  Do you get the Road Map out?  In my life, the Road Map has become God’s Word found in the Bible.  No, it doesn’t tell me to turn right or left and any specifics like that at all.  I can say the Holy Spirit gives insight I can’t explain.  Which is often followed by a peace I can’t explain.

Jesus tells us in John 14:25-27,

I’m telling you these things while I’m still living with you. The Friend, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send at my request, will make everything plain to you. He will remind you of all the things I have told you. I’m leaving you well and whole. That’s my parting gift to you. Peace. I don’t leave you the way you’re used to being left—feeling abandoned, bereft. So don’t be upset. Don’t be distraught. (The Message).

I’ve personally been at a crossroad for a long time now.  I have ventured in a couple of directions already to find that the peace, fulfillment, and contentment were not in the directions I have tried thus far.  I am still hungry to know God more so I keep going back to the Cross and asking for direction.  I am asking for wisdom… wisdom to be used for His glory, for the leadership of my family, and the community in which I live (wherever that would take me).

The Holy Spirit will teach us all things.  He will give all that we have need of.  He cares intimately about the details of our lives.  He will not leave us lonely in the dark.  Jesus instructed his disciples:

“This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks! (John 16:23-24).

I know He uses me through my job… even though I can’t directly communicate His Word… I live it.  I’m thankful for the opportunity I have to influence others in all aspects of my life.  I want to continue to do so full of the Holy Spirit, wisdom, and grace.