Fulfillment Requires Obedience

True and lasting fulfillment requires obedience. True obedience to the Lord is fulfilling. God’s perfect love has provided the pathway to real obedience.

For many, however, the conviction to obey is saturated with a concept of negativity. Why do I say this? Well, far too often when one thinks about obedience, it normally brings about a feeling of completing a task, apart from the actual desire or longing to do it. Meaning, we associate obedience with obligation, rather than what it was intended for: fulfillment. When Jesus walked among us, He demonstrated fulfilling obedience. He carried out what many would see as a very different lifestyle of obedience. The life Jesus lived demonstrated what obedience to our Heavenly Father should look like in each of our lives today.

Obedience to the Lord is about making the choice, it is about purposing to live each day, (a lifestyle) to live a lifestyle of Biblical love and devotion to God, the same God who has fully and completely loved us with an enduring and extravagant, perfect love.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 15, Jesus said: “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” (vss. 9 & 10) So why then is it so easy for us to miss the heart, the intent of God, when He calls us to pursue true fulfillment through obedience? Jesus demonstrates in John 15 that He purposed to live in such a way that it reflected, and it reciprocated the love He was shown by the Father. He lived His life in obedience to the Lord out of the depth and wealth of relationship He had – never out of simple duty or obligation. Jesus asks: will those who follow me now, do the same?

Another Biblical example we have regarding fulfilling obedience is in the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus states the greatest commandment in Luke 10:27“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The heart of God for us incredible, as He does not call us to a lifestyle of obligation, or even undesired sacrifice – rather, He calls us to a way of living each day that enables us to fully reflect and reciprocate the abundance of love that has be demonstrated in Christ and poured out for all the the world. The Lord does not merely set rules before us, rather He has made a relationship with Him the goal. He is after your heart – which comes in total and complete surrender to Him.

Our culture is often marked by its self-seeking, self-satisfying agenda – but, the Lord in His strength and power and wisdom, has set us free from this, enabling us to step outside of the burden of living for ourselves. We have been freed to live for others, by reflecting and reciprocating the perfect love of God when we live out a life of fulfilled obedience to the Lord. Our current way of living is often marked with the weight of pride, but God provides a way of freedom. The Father pours our His unceasing, selfless love which has the power to transform us into His beloved who can abide in the Lord and reflect His heart of truth, love and obedience.

If we purpose to truly obey the Lord, to abide in God’s commandments and to love wholeheartedly, we will experience true satisfaction that is unknown to those around us that are filled with the pursuits of our culture regarding selfishness and pride. We can and we will experience the abundant life promised to us by God if we abide in Him alone, if our identity rests in Him, in what He has revealed in His Holy Word, and when the Lord is our source of approval, and the source of a fulfilled life. 

May we abide in the commands of the Lord, choosing to live a lifestyle of wholehearted love for Him and of others. May we choose to live in obedience to Him, in response to His profound love for us. And as we do, may we discover the power, the purpose, and the radical freedom that comes from serving others with the very love that has been demonstrated through Jesus Christ for us, and them. May we experience fulfillment when we truly obey that which God has commanded His beloved to do.

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Lions, Honey & Lust – Oh My!

If a story was written about you, what would you want it to say? Perhaps you would want it to share a good mixture of different experiences from your life. Or, perhaps you’d want just the highlights to be proudly reported for all to read.

When we look at Scripture, we see many stories shared about different people. From Moses to the Samaritan woman at the well, we see people from different generations of life and from a wide variety of places and circumstances. Sometimes, Scripture gives us but just a glimpse into ones life, and then other times, the Bible goes into great detail.

For example, take David: From a shepherd boy to the King of Israel. Declared by God, as a man after His own heart, when we read his story we see moments of triumphant and moments of tragedy. We see his faithfulness and obedience to the Lord and we learn first hand from his missteps and mistakes as well.

Another amazing story is about a man named Samson. As a young boy, I was captivated by the stories I heard of the strength of this guy – how he lost it all after seeking only what was best for himself, but, how in one final moment, God used Samson as an instrument of Israel’s deliverance where Samson would die in a final act of courage.

Samson’s miraculous birth, exploits, failings, and redemptive death is covered in the book of Judges from chapters 13 to 16. These verses in Scripture share about everything from his mullet-like long hair, to his rated R lifestyle and all of it produces some profound stories for us to learn from.

If one is honest, they probably can see themselves in many of these stories. For even when we believe that God is for us, we can still pursue what we believe to best for us instead.

One experience in the life of Samson has always truly captivated me. In Judges 14, Samson sought to marry a Philistine woman. His family didn’t understand what God was preparing this marriage for. Scripture shares though, that God was using this marriage to create an opportunity to work against the Philistines, who ruled over Israel at that time. Verses 5 and 6 share that As Samson and his parents were going down to Timnah, a young lion suddenly attacked Samson near the vineyards of Timnah. At that moment the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon him, and he ripped the lion’s jaws apart with his bare hands. He did it as easily as if it were a young goat. But he didn’t tell his father or mother about it. “

What a crazy thing to have happen? Right?! Almost out of nowhere, a lion attacks and you rip it apart with your bare hands?! Crazy! This experience would have made Samson a candidate for the TV show “I Was Prey” on Animal Planet. Now, I don’t know about you, but a wild animal attack is not something I am actively preparing for and I am sure that this moment during his travel to pursue a woman he wanted to marry, that it was definitely an unwanted experience as well. But unlike that TV show on Animal Planet that tells the story of surviving an attack, Scripture clearly said that Samson did not tell his parents about what had happened. He didn’t share this experience…yet.

The Nazarite Vow that Samson took came about because before he was even born, his parents made a promise the Lord – dedicating Him to the Lord, and promising that throughout the life of their son, he would fulfill this vow.

This specific vow can be summed up into three basic guidelines: do not consume alcohol, do not touch anything that is deceased, and do not cut your hair. Samson wasn’t suppose to “cuss or chew or hang out with girls who do” but man oh man, did Samson end up breaking all the rules, especially theses core guidelines of the Nazarite Vow.

Samson actively used his God-produced strength to tear apart that attacking lion. After some time had passed from his first trip, Judges 14 goes on to tell us that he would return again to Timnah for the wedding to this Philistine woman, and along that path, he looked for the carcass of the lion he had killed. (Side note: WHY? If I had been attacked by animal, and survived, I doubt I’d want to revisit that spot.) Samson goes and finds the lion, and he sees that bees had made a nest in the animal and were making honey in the carcass of the lion. Verse 9 says: “He scooped some of the honey into his hands and ate it along the way. He also gave some to his father and mother, and they ate it. But he didn’t tell them he had taken the honey from the carcass of the lion.”

It appears that without much thought, Samson ignores a key guideline. For the life of me, I cannot imagine doing what he did – it seems pretty disgusting, to dig around in decaying animal and to eat honey found in that animal. However, Samson saw something he wanted and took what he wanted. Making his vow out to be nothing!

We are much like Samson because far too often when we see something we want, then that becomes all that we can think about. Take ice-cream: see it, want it, and then we justify how we will work off those unnecessary calories, perhaps telling ourselves why we deserve a little treat like this, and then…we take what we want, that glorious ice-cream.

In a teaching, Pastor Craig Groeschel said: “Lust makes us think, ‘I want it.’ Entitlement is that love that takes ‘I want it’ and adds ‘…and I deserve it.” And like Samson, we can live our lives with a simple thought pattern: “I see. I want. I need. Heck, I deserve this…” type of mentality.

What God wanted for Samson was clear: do not consume alcohol, do not touch anything that is deceased, and do not cut your hair. But in the heart of Samson was something that pulled him away from God’s best: lust.

What causes you to pursue or even choose your own way over what we say we believe to be God’s best for our lives? It is an all consuming lust that is developed by what we see, and then think we want or need and what we believe that we deserve.

With this story of Samson, and with many stories from his life, we learn what happens when we seek to justify our sin and desires to fit our agenda. But when we do this, we are making a choices to turn our hearts away from what God wants for our lives.

What God wants for your life is actually the very best thing!

The Lord has given you abilities and strengths to make choices within your life – some big, and others small – but to make choices that not conveniently ignore God’s direction and His best for you. But rather, He has given you these abilities and resources so that you can continual turn your heart toward what we know God wants: an abundant life.

Remember where your strength comes from. It comes from your Heavenly Father.

Recall your own less-than-perfect story, and in doing so, begin to identify why you are giving into your own weaknesses, and seek to understand why it is easier for you to sell out your own God–given strengths, purely so that you might gain some kind of acceptance from people who don’t have your best in mind.

Seek to guard your heart. Keep an account of your strengths, of the the unique gifts, talents and abilities God has poured out on you, that He seeks to develop within you. Write them out. Look at the value God has for you. He believes in you. He has equipped you. Don’t give up and remember that the next time you make a commitment to God, that you will not sell out these strengths to anyone or anything. And when you do mess up on your promise to Him, be quick to confess that and repent of it. You must not forget that the Lord loves you and that He longs to forgive and restore you, and that He will help you pursue once again, His best for you.

Stay away from those lions and the girls that cuss too! Seek to make choices each day, in each relationship and within each experience, that push you closer to God while following the guidelines within Scripture. Strive to make each day, a holy and joy filled pursuit of God’s best, growing in His wisdom and strength everyday.

 

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.

Transformed by Humility

At various points and places in life, we come face-to-face with our past.

In some experiences, this moment is thrilling and exciting. And at other times, that moment can be a shaming, sorrow-filled reality.

It is easiest to run straight towards those exciting past experiences – it was a moment of great joy, one you are proud of and most willing to recall and even repeat. But those moments of our past that we face, those saturated in sin and self, we often choose not to run towards those things, but rather, we choose to run away from them.

quotes-on-humility

Friends, it is in those moments, when we are confronted the shame of our past, it is those moments that running away from the past brings no healing, no forgiveness and no redemption. Facing our past, or mistakes, our sin – it is never easy. And yet, how we deal with our past mistakes and sin, that speaks volumes to the world around us about how deeply we understand the grace and redemption of God.

See, the Word of God tells us in 1 Peter  5:6 & 7 to “humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” The word picture here of “the mighty hand of God” is a powerful symbol in the Bible of God working in the experiences of men, always accomplishing His divine and sovereign purposes.

We often choose to run away from the very process in which God has designed to use in our lives to purify us and to cleanse us of all unrighteousness.

Seeking humility as we face the past, it positions us before God to truly receive His correction, His guidance and His empowerment to press on. 1 Peter 5 continues in verse 10 by saying: “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” God will work through our struggles, our sin, to produce His strength and character in us if we remain humble and let God work and transform every thought and every action we have.

We have to remember that Lord will not waste any pain that we face. Yes, we need to get serious about dealing with our past. And yes, we need to get serious about sin. For as disciples of Christ, we need to be radically committed to the spiritual discipline of confession and repentance so that we can fully abide in the powerful and majestic life-shaping grace of the Lord.

Most of us do not want to be humbled, so choose to be humble – choose to seek humility daily, staying devoted to having a contrite heart before the Lord, letting Him speak to the problems you have and thus allowing Him to restore and redeem you.

Remember, God is never closer than when He is pruning and refining us, and action which is a very “hands on” moment in your life. God is faithful to transform us when we address the discontent, the discouragement, the despair, the fear, the lies, and all of the other “stuff” from our past.

So choose humility. Run towards transformation and redemption. Abide in Christ, so that He may lift you up and out of the shame of your past.

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” – June 2015)

Mulligan

If you play or watch golf, you are probably familiar with a mulligan. It’s a action in golf that brings restoration from a bad swing. Often at fundraiser tournaments you can even buy a few – a mulligan gives a player a chance to re-do one play, to be restored.

icallmulligan

Our journey as disciples of Christ is full of mulligans. One of the disciples, Peter, he is a great example of this process. 

In Mark 8:27-33, Peter gets the identity of Jesus right, but he got the mission of Jesus wrong. He goes from one extreme to the next. He needed a mulligan. In Mark 10:17-31, with this shot, Peter made it back to rough for he understood that a sacrifice on his part was needed to follow Jesus. And yet, the rich young man that approached Jesus was not able to give up what he values on earth in order to be fully surrendered to Christ. In Mark 14:27-41, at first Peter nails it again, claiming his devotion to God at any cost but in the next few verses, Peter is with Jesus in the garden and he and a few other disciples, they could not keep watch like Jesus asked and they fell asleep. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Peter is about to slice it into the woods in Mark 14:66-72 when he does, in fact, disown Jesus, just like he had been told.

Peter was ready to give up on the mission and return to fishing. He was in a desperate need of a mulligan. Yet, a mulligan is not something he can give to himself. And despite what people say, it is not something we can buy either. Peter needed a mulligan, big time. Do you?

Do you constantly replay your failures? Or maybeyour problem is re-committing the same sin over and over again? While others around you are experiencing spiritual victory, you feel plagued with the same problem, the same temptation, the same sin. And after awhile, you give up on asking for a mulligan. You give up on becoming the Rock that Jesus said we would be.

We cannot give ourselves a mulligan. Mark 16:7 says: “But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Why was Peter singled out? For restoration, for a spiritual mulligan-experience He probably did not feel like he was worthy of and yet, just like that, Peter receives it when in Mark 16:15 when Jesus says: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

We cannot give ourselves a mulligan, only God can do that. And some of you reading this article right now are in desperate need of a mulligan. You need something only God can give you. This is more important that Christmas shopping or holiday parties. You have looked for that restoration, that re-do, from so many other things and other people. You may have even thought you got one through some other route, but no, that was nota true spiritual mulligan because it did not last. When you really receive a true spiritual mulligan, it keeps you out of the woods.

Will you seek restoration with God now? Will you receive the mulligan He wants to offer you? Will you humble yourself and let God restore you into a right relationship with Him? Right now is the time to receive that much needed mulligan, just stop and go to our gracious Lord in prayer and seek His heart of forgiveness for your life. He will restore you, you are His prized possession, His beloved.

(Originally written for the “Faith & Insight” column of the “Nevada Appeal” in December 2014)