tragedy

Americans started off this past week with horrific news. Dozens upon dozens of people are dead and hundreds more are injured after a gunman opened fired at a Las Vegas music festival. This is being called the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history. It is senseless. This attack hit close to home for Carson City residents remembering our own local tragedy that hit our city on September 6, 2011 when a gunman opened fired at IHOP killing four people. This is not the first time (or last time) our community has felt the sting of death and the pain of searing loss.

Our hearts break far too often because of the senseless rage of a lone gunman or because of the seemingly endless assault of terror, death and tragedy that plays out in lives, our community and in the world. Perhaps you have thought or prayed about living in a world in which friends could go to the movie theater, where athletes could run marathons, where our kids could go to the park or school, where people could attend concerts and where one could go to places like nightclubs and or even churches without the fear of violence.

The reality is that have to deal with events like natural disasters, such as earthquakes and hurricanes, and although those are devastating in their own right, it is the unexplainable and senseless acts of evil that is poured out on others that bring about a deep level of grief and pain. And often in those experiences, we are left asking: “Why?”

How do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy within our own lives? How do we answer the “why” question, or even more difficult yet, what do we say when the world asks us, “Why did God allow this to happen…?” Perhaps, there is no single response that can adequately address the complexity or these questions. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, nor is there any election result that can fix this once and for all. But, in the midst of the pain and confusion our God is big enough, great enough, powerful enough, and merciful enough to handle every single “Why?” In His divine nature and His role as Creator and Sustainer, He can and will reveal to those searching how He was and is present with us during the most painful, tragic, and senseless seasons in our lives.

God’s Word is very clear on how His people should respond when tragedy hits. Romans 12:15 says: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Jesus taught that: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Psalm 42 is a beautiful prayer that encourages us as we read it, to rest in the Lord for His hope and wisdom during the toughest experiences in life. Psalm 34:18 declares that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If you have ever been through a tragic event or experienced the death of a loved one, then you know that often that time of difficulty can be but a blur. Days may seem endless, sleep is fleeting, and the tears rise like flood waters. Yet, if you are blessed enough to be surrounded by a strong support system, this network is somehow getting you from place to place, it is present, and it is sustaining in the midst of the blur. The Lord is like that for us spiritually, but in a much deeper and much more profound way. In our time of need He will take care of us in ways we cannot fully explain or always comprehend. He is there and He is at work – just like the wind we may not be able to see it, but we can sure see its affects!

So how do we as Christ followers respond to the senseless tragedy? The church, our leaders and pastors, the neighbor, parent or student – we must respond, but how? We simply do. We do not stay silent and we do not stay at a distance. We go and be the church, the kind of church that Jesus had in mind all along. We should not stay silent and we should not sit back doing nothing. We pray. We stay humble. We serve. We laugh with and cry with those around us. We confess and repent of any wrong. We cling to Jesus and the Holy Word of God, and nothing else. We forgive, and love, and hope, and trust. We turn to the Lord for the strength we fear we might not have, for He has it. And, we point people back to the hope of knowing Jesus personally and the joy that is found in eternal security in Him.

We actually do have the things that can change this world: the hope of Jesus Christ and His ever present comfort to those in need. What you do in response to senseless tragedy matters more than ever. We are meant to be the conduit of God’s mercy and grace to a hurting and broken world. So, let us go and be the church, the church that boldly declares: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, Because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners.” (Isaiah 61:1)

Lord, as we have learned to do in all our experiences, we come to You now. We know that You love us, and that You can turn even the shadow of death into the light of morning. Help us now to wait before You for healing and hope as we grieve and mourn. Make this a time of opening our eyes and our understanding of Your comfort and of your love. I pray that you would bless those who feel this sorrow most deeply, and unify Your Bride, Your church, so that we may share with our friends and family our spiritual strength and faith in You which is ours through the love of Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.

(Adapted: Originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” which appeared on Oct. 7, 2017)

Advertisements

admitting our wrongs

I received a brief message from a trusted friend that said: “I was reading Isaiah 30:15 and was led to pray for you. Blessings on this day my friend.” Not knowing this verse by heart, I went to it. What I was anticipating in that moment was an encouraging verse that might affirm me in a positive way. What I got was this: “For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’ But you were not willing…

One thing that I have learned to do is that when God speaks, I should listen. And, with this trusted friend, who is also a ministry leader in our community, in knowing that I can trust his heart, I wanted be open to how the Lord might working through him to speak to me.

Regardless, I can I honestly say that I’d rather someone else admit to me all of their wrongs, while keeping mine a special, little secret. And more than likely, you are a lot like me when it comes to admitting to others your shortcomings, your struggles and those things that seem to keep you from an abundant life in Christ. It is easy for us to have misconceptions about ourselves. We are remind in James 4:1 that there is war within us, and that we have a significant part to play in our behavior. While we have to accept the things that we cannot change, we must still take action with the things that we can. Admitting to our wrongs, whether that is a behavior or our words, it is something we can do. Blaming others takes no courage at all. Admitting our wrongs is courageous.

If one admits their specific wrongs, I have found that they will probably have to face at least four different aspects in that experience. The first is fear. Fear in the fact that this admission might cause others to leave you because of what has happened. The second involves anxiety and stress, or some form of that. This happens over the reality of the loss of “what was” and the pressure to deal with what is left. The third aspect could be depression. As a result of being left and losing things, one may face depression at the loneliness of their current circumstances. And yet, there is also a fourth aspect: love. Yes, when we admit our wrongs we will encounter loss and loneliness, and others may leave or have to leave, but we can also experience love – the love of the Father, and the love of our true friends – a love that takes us towards restoration.

In looking at the context of Isaiah 30, you would see that in the first 17 verses the people of God are being warned not to make an alliance with another group of people. And verse 18 through 33 reveal that the longing of God is to be gracious to His people, while remaining holy and just. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says: “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives.” The spiritual reality is that when we abide in the love of God, and not fear or stress, and when we have taken a real look at ourselves, we can more freely admit to what we have done to ourselves, to the Lord and perhaps, to others. We can do this because of the gracious posture God has towards His beloved, while keeping His purpose for our lives close to the heart which is our holiness and purity in this life.

And when you do, when we are courageous to admit our wrongs, what we actually loose is that sense of isolation, we loose that desire to do wrong, we can also loose our unwillingness to forgive, and we can address our false pride and those misconceptions we have created for ourselves and bought into throughout time. The great news in all of this is that in exchange for our wrongs we can receive healing (James 5:16); we can experience freedom (Psalm 107:13); and, we can get real help and support (1 John 1:9).

And just like you, I desire to be courageous and to abide in the loving restoration of the Father.

May we then purpose to be, a mighty movement of the Lord that is so consumed with Him and His promises for our lives that we live honestly and authentically in all that we do. And may His church, may those who call themselves Disciples of Christ, may they be known for, not what they can do themselves, but, for what the Lord has done in and through us!

Saying “NO,” so we can say “YES!”

Whether we like to admit it or not, we say “yes” (or some form of yes) far more than we need to or really want to. We find ourselves often saying “yes” to a variety of requests and even to people we barely know.

This often pushes us to live with schedules that we cannot keep and finances or resources that end up being stretched beyond their limits. We lose sight of what really matters by living such a full life that there is zero space in the margins.

Sometimes all of this happens because we don’t want to miss out on an experience/opportunity or because the “pleasing others” aspect of our thinking is waging war against our minds and hearts. If we are open and honest there are probably a multitude of other reasons as well.

But, it occurred to me recently, in a simple but profound way, what we are actually doing when we say “yes” to something we shouldn’t. What happens? We miss out on the fullness of joy that is found in actually saying “yes” to the things that really matter. 


My son said to me: “Daddy, will you watch Batman with me?” Well, I guess my “yes” got this precious boy all different shades of happy. And friends, that’s the profound lesson I learned, and am learning again, through this simplest of interactions with my son.

My yes to this request meant I had to first say no to a few others things: getting a jump on some laundry while it was still cool in our house, or preparing a family breakfast because it was my day off, or even ___________, just fill in that blank. Some of it may be good things even, things that if I had said “yes” to, even in that moment, it wouldn’t have been wrong. But if I said yes to both, I would have been divided in focus at best and perhaps, all my good intentions would be water down or less genuine.

That’s what I mean by saying that we might be “missing out on the fullness of joy that is found in actually saying ‘yes’ to the things that really matter.” All of our responses that are filled with good intentions, maybe even high hopes, can still take us away from the joy and fullness that is found in really making them a real yes – a very present in the moment, genuine yes!

What might happen in your life today if you are more aware about what you are saying “yes” to? What might happen when you choose to say no, so that you can say yes to something else?

Anything! 

We can experience true and lasting joy in all that we purpose to do when make each yes with clarity, perspective and with a focused commitment to personal integrity.

So what can you say “no” to this day in order to give that “yes” response to your friends, to your kids, to your spouse, to your neighbor, to your boss or even to a stranger? 

Jesus is our model. He is our example for everything. Throughout the Gospels we see how Jesus put people first. We see in Scriptures how people matter most – as we are His beloved, His creation. And, Jesus even taught in Matthew 5 what the goal of our actions, of our intentions even, should be when we seek to give a yes or no response, and how much that matters to God.

The fullness of joy that I felt in saying “no” to those other things that I could have been doing when my son asked me to join him led to one of those awesome and loving “dad moments” for sure, but an additional truth emerges when we are focused on what we say yes or no to…

True, we can experience that deeper sense of joy and connection when we are making those right yes choices, but more than that – MORE THAN THAT – we have an opportunity each and every time to reflect the very heart of Jesus.

So what can you, or should you, say “no” to this day to be able to say “yes” to someone or something that God has placed within your reach, for that moment, to experience a real joy and to fully reflect the heart of God through that experience and encounter?

Lord, I pray for my friends and family. Help them this day to be so aware of your working in their lives that they can be fully present in each experience and with every person they encounter. Give them patience to endure the hard stuff, wisdom to know how to respond, and a boldness that is saturated in Your hearts desires for them. I pray that I too, would be more open to the opportunities you are placing within my reach and that I would follow Your example and live a life that points people to You and the hope I have because of You. Amen

learning through challenges

I am sure every person, in one way or another can relate to this illustration…

Every one of us faces challenges. Some are big and some are small. Challenges that I face, might not be as difficult for you to navigate. Setbacks you encounter might derail you, where with another person, they are more easily managed. Some of us are magnificently equipped to handle a variety of challenges while others of us have to continually seek out help and leverage what resources, skills or talents we currently possess.

The way in which we respond to the challenges we are faced with in life speak powerfully about our character and the values of our heart.

And we could easily turn to a quick fix, or perhaps a quick search…

One could read all the “how to” books and articles and still not experience that change of the heart and mind that is required of someone to endure the challenges of…school or work, parenthood, anger or fear, floods and earthquakes, annoying neighbors, obnoxious friends, a lack of employment and financiers, sickness, disease, or even death. You name the challenge and it will always require perseverance on our part.

The reality we probably have to embrace is that the way in which the world around us responds to challenges, well it might not be our best model to pursue.

In fact, I believe there is a better model…

Jesus, and only Jesus should be our example that we look to as we face challenges. And, God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment

And perhaps you do. Perhaps you cry out to Him in prayer. Perhaps you turn to the Word of God for direction and hope. Perhaps when faced with a challenge you have a whole network of physical and emotional support that you can mobilize.

But when you’ve done this, when you’ve grieved, confessed, prayed and sought help, what have you learned as a result? What has God taught you about His character and your identity being rooted in Him, regardless of the challenge and its outcome?

Often we see our challenges as hurdles or road blocks preventing us from living, from loving and from doing all that God has placed within our reach. As we face challenges we need to build into our spiritual problem solving methodology the ability to stop and ask the right question.

Jesus had twelve disciples who followed Him and learned from what He had to say. The word ‘disciple’ literally means ‘learner’. It is a passion of mine to be a Disciple of Christ who makes Disciples for Christ who can go and make Disciples of Christ. That means that we should be very focused on learning how to listen to God and to seek to learn what He’s telling us in every experience, in every challenge.

To help us with this, you can use a tool called the “Learning Circle.” I have been using this in my journey with the Lord and it has profoundly impacted my life.

The “Learning Circle” helps us, especially in challenging time and during set-backs or loss, it helps us during those experiences and challenges to identify when God is speaking to us through a “kairos moment” – a moment in which God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment.

We all face challenges and we all make mistakes. We can either learn from them, or ignore them and watch them happen again and again. Using the “Learning Circle” has helped me move from observation to action.
learningcircleI have learned that most effective way to start applying the “Learning Circle” to our lives is to learn it from somebody else. I believe in this tool and I’d love to partner with you in apply it to your life. But for now, the next time you have a kairos moment, why not share it with somebody you trust. Ask them, “can you help me take this around the circle?”

To help you more now, here is a simple outline of each step of the circle…

FIRST – OBSERVE: To change our lives, we need to observe where we are. This means taking note of our reactions, emotions and thoughts.

SECONDLY – REFLECT: This means asking ourselves why we reacted or felt the way we did. If a real change is to take place, we must be honest with our answers. 

THIRD – DISCUSS: Through discussion, and by sharing our thoughts with a group of trusted friends, we begin to discover more clearly what God is doing in our life. It can be hard to share your thoughts and struggles with someone else but it will help you grow and change the way God wants you to. 

FOURTH – PLAN: After reflecting and discussing, the next step is to plan. This always involves considering the Kingdom of God first. Pray, discuss, and consider the best move or action that will glorify God. 

FIFTH – ACCOUNTABILITY: If your plan is going to happen, there needs to be at least one person holding you accountable. Ask someone to pray with you and keep them up to date with how you’re going. And pick a person who is the “real-deal” as well – someone who won’t sugarcoat their responses but who care enough about your growth and success that they will be honest.  

AND SIXTH – ACTION: Once a plan has been established and shared, the next step to take should be is to act on it. Real faith is courageous. Real faith trusts in God and what He has said. Real faith always surfaces as action. Thoughts and intentions that remain within the mind and are not acted upon, however fruitful, is not faith.

You can learn more – and I would HIGHLY encourage you do just that – you can learn more about the “Learning Circle” by connecting with me directly, or by reading “Building a Discipling Culture” by Mike Breen, or by visiting the 3DM website directly. The “Learning Circle” image is from a shared resource.

When we face challenges we can learn from them and we can look to Jesus with complete confidence that He wants us to learn and grow through all of life’s challenges.

God is breaking into our lives, our challenges and all of experiences, to help us learn through that moment. How will you respond? And He is faithful, He will not waste any of the pain we face. He is with us in every season, and through every experience, looking for us to become more like Him and experience more of His peace.

The Healing Move of God

In the Gospel of Matthew, just before Jesus performs that great miracle of feeding thousands of people – literally, thousands and thousands of people – we get a quick and yet beautiful encounter between Jesus and those who had gathered and needed to be healed. In Matthew 14:14 it clearly says: “When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick.”

As evidenced throughout Scripture, our loving and gracious God has promised that He will respond to us when we faithfully come to Him. And in Matthew 14, God moved in the lives of those who those who gathered. He didn’t just heal some of the sick who had gathered, or the ones who perhaps were more deserving, but rather, moved by compassion for all He saw, Jesus healed the sick – every one of them. No matter who you are, no matter your past and no matter what the future holds for you, God desires to move in your life and bring forth His healing.

So perhaps you are on the shoreline, gathered and wanting God to move in your life and heal you.

In faith, you can seek the Lord and cry out to Him. You can seek to experience His healing, His transformation and His redemption. The Lord desires to compassionately move in our lives. To move us from death, to life. From darkness, to light. From defeat, to victory. From shame, to grace and from fear to faith. To move you from places of sorrow to great joy. To heal us of all of our bondage and to move us to a place of real freedom. Your loving Heavenly Father desires to heal you and move in your life.

All who gathered in Matthew 14 who were sick needed to be healed. Max Lucado writes: “Surely, among the many thousands, there were a few people unworthy of good health. Undoubtedly there were those in the multitude who would use their newfound health to hurt others. Jesus released tongues that would someday curse. He gave sight to eyes that would lust. He healed hands that would kill. Each time Jesus healed, he had to overlook the future and the past, something, He still does.”

Filled with great compassion, while knowing your past and with knowing your future, God will move and heal you. Physically. Emotionally. Spiritually. He will heal you according to His perfect will. Not so that you can claim some kind of self-promoting victory, but so that He can be glorified and that others will see His movement and healing in your life, and be pointed to Him and His mighty and gracious working because its all about His Kingdom, here and now, being displayed powerfully throughout our lives.

30106-cm-Restore-health-heal-wounds-social.500w.tn.png

So may we no longer wait for a move of the Lord, but may we daily be His movement of healed, of restored and of grace-filled Christ followers who live by faith and who, with great joy, live out a genuine and authentic life of worship. May we live out a holy pursuit of Him that passionately demonstrates the hope and holiness of Jesus Christ in our lives, in our homes, in our churches, in our neighborhoods, in our city, and throughout the places we call home.

Draw close to the Father, set aside your agenda, and let Him heal you and move in your life and the life of His bride, the church.

(Originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” on June 24, 2017)

Moved by Compassion – Moved to Action

As I write this article, many are focused on what is happening with our nation’s tallest dam in Oroville, CA. More than 100,000 people (some news agencies reporting even 200,000) were told to evacuate from areas near the Oroville Dam in Northern California. Officials feared that an emergency spillway could fail, sending huge amounts of water into the Feather River, and other waterways which would have a profound and devastating impact on multiple communities.

Compassion_FuneralCall

With the first evacuation ordered, people had to get out of town. The roadways were a mess. My heart was heavy thinking about many great friends who were in the throws of this impending danger. We were staying in communication with them, watching and praying.

And, then I noticed something. I noticed not once or twice but over and over again an outpouring of compassion from the greater surrounding areas as people opened their homes to those who had to flee theirs. I saw people begin to network with places housing people (like churches) to bring in additional items like blankets or clothes that those who left in such a hurry needed.

For a moment people were not fighting about politics and they weren’t debating about executive orders. They weren’t marching and protesting either. An entire region of people no longer focused on what divides them, but rather, focused on what they can do to love and serve one another. What one valued or believed to be “true” was not the focus – but rather, the person in need was the focus of their attention.

Have we lost sight of what Jesus said about loving our neighbors? Or even, loving our enemies? Do we hide behind the “submit” button of our social media outlets only to tell off those we disagree with? Have we lost how to fulfill the Great Commission in the spirit of the Great Commandment? Does it take tragedy to awaken the people of God to be the people of God who are on mission with Him in our every day lives?

I do not know what will continue to happen with this situation in Northern California but I do know that we, as Disciples of Christ today, need to focus on three things. First, repentance. Have you failed to genuinely love your ‘neighbor’ and be a true conduit of God’s grace and redemption just because they differ so much from you? If so, then seek forgiveness – both of God and of man. Second, restoration. For each of us this will look differently – and I believe that is on purpose – but whatever it is that moves you to respond with compassion, then use that as your fuel to restore the brokenness found in failure. Live a life that will connect others with God’s heart to redeem and restore all things unto Himself. And third, respond. Do something. Don’t just post something on social media. Don’t just call your neighbor to tell them what you think. Go and serve. As you go and meet the need, do so in the mighty name of Jesus. We do this, in love and in grace, so that God will be glorified and that those who see our actions and efforts, will praise our Heavenly Father.

With more weather expected in the Northern California region, the need for great compassion will continue. And yet regardless of what happens there, we need to respond to loving others and pointing them to Jesus in each opportunity that God has placed within our reach.

(Originally written for the “Nevada Appeal” on Feb. 18, 2017 – Adapted)

Priorities.

We live in a day marked by pressure in almost every arena of our lives. There are family pressures, world problems, economic problems, personal problems, and the problems of friends and loved ones. In the midst of such pressures, there is one thing that will determine the course of your life: YOUR PRIORITIES.

Let me ask you a question: what matters most to you? Not just for this day, but in regards to the legacy you are building – what will your life show about your priorities?

Our priorities determine our future because they speak to how you spend your time, with whom you spend your time, and how you make decisions. Your priorities keep you from being battered around by the waves of pressure and help you to steer a clear course toward the proper destination.

I have heard it said, that “if you want a deeper relationship with Jesus, feast on Him until you loose your appetite for anything else this world offers.” Priorities—godly priorities—are so vital and a genuine thirst for the Lord should be your chief aim, your greatest priority in every season of your life.

Psalm 63 reveals the priority of a man of God under pressure and it shows us that David’s priority was to seek the Lord. Seeking after God should be our most important priority. No matter what pressures come into your life, you will be able to handle them properly if you maintain this one priority above all else. God must saturate every area of your life. He must be at the center of every decision you make.

He must be the Lord of every relationship you have. You manage your money by considering what His Word says about it. There is no area of your life, be it your business, your family, your education, or whatever, where God is not an integral part. There is no division between sacred and secular; all of life is related to God.

And so here is David in Psalm 63, his kingdom is in a huge mess, he is on the run while seeking to protect his people. It would be understandable if God were temporarily squeezed out of the picture. But David is “following hard after God,” as the King James Version puts verse 8 of Psalm 63. God was at the center of David’s present and his future. There no area was off limits to God and there should be none in our lives as well if we truly will thirst for the Lord in all our ways.

Writers & Bloggers, Ryan & Selena Frederick of FIERCE MARRIAGE believe “that a Christ-centered marriage takes a fierce tenacity that never gives up and never gives in.” They have shared a simple reminder of how we can keep our priorities clear and simple each week. They said “keep it clear and simple: First is Jesus, second is your spouse, third is your kids and family, and fourth is everyone (everything) else.” This practical advise is a good reminder for us to consider on a regular basis – especially as you begin to plan out each week. Seeking God, following hard after the Lord has to be our very first pursuit and planned action each day.

So how is it with you and God? Take some time to review this past week or even this past month and ask yourself, “Did my schedule reflect that seeking God was my number one priority?” You say: “Well, that’s my priority, but I’ve been under a lot of pressure!”

Pressure is what reveals your true priorities. When the pressure is on, everything but the essential gets set aside.

The Holy Spirit is telling us through Psalm 63 that “A THIRST FOR GOD IS ESSENTIAL!” If it’s not essential for you, then you’ve got to join David, the man after God’s heart, in making it so and you can do this by turning to the Lord, soaking up His truth from the Word of God, and by surrendering yourself fully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

(Adapted. Originally written for Nevada Appeal, Faith and Insight Article – July 2016)