SEVENTY TIMES SEVEN

With Easter approaching, our thoughts turn to Jesus’ sacrifice, and the lengths God was willing to go to in order to redeem His fallen people. Fittingly for the beginnings of Spring, Easter is a time of death and reincarnation — and forgiveness. Jesus’ blood bridged the gap between us and God to allow us to accept God’s grace.

Forgiveness is something we all need. And not just between ourselves and God, but between each other. However, rarely is this an easy task.  Perhaps that’s why we struggle at times time to believe God can forgive us so easily. Humans like to hold onto their guilt, just as much as they cling to their hurt.

“Then Peter came to Him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me?  Seven times?”  “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “But seventy times seven.” Matthew 18:21-22, NLT

When we read these verses, we often take them to mean Jesus was saying we should always forgive, no matter how often someone wrongs us. And while that’s true, I’ve come to see over the years that it can mean something more. What if Jesus was also warning us that, for sinful man, forgiveness is never a one-and-done act in our hearts?

 

RENEW

 

We hear “forgive and forget,” all the time, but do we really? I know I certainly don’t. Even if I forgive someone, that doesn’t completely remove the sting of that betrayal. That memory can still come back, every bit as painful as the first time. And Jesus, in His infinite wisdom, tells us to renew our forgiveness for that hurt every time it rears its head. We must say to ourselves, “I forgive you,” and lay it at Jesus’ feet, where He can salve our hearts and souls in a way no apology can. Seventy times seven. As often as we need it.

This is a lesson I’ve been learning for years. And while I can say I was well within my rights to hold onto my hurt, what good would that do me? None. Nothing but anger and bitterness. But after years of having to continually lay that pain at God’s feet, to say “I forgive you”, even though they never asked for it, I am at peace. And while I grieve what our relationship might have been without that hurt, I can look back without bitterness.

 

LAY IT ALL AT HIS FEET

 

Every mental shackle works the same. Maybe it’s not forgiveness you struggle with. Anxiety? Fear? Worry? Lust? Guilt? Greed? Every time those thoughts cross your mind, lay them at God’s feet. Offer it to the one whose grace is eternal. Who can wipe the slate clean every single time. Seventy times seven. God’s perfect love.

THE MINIMALIST TONGUE

A breath-taking and beautiful truth about God is that He is a God who is ever inviting us forward into abundant life — or what Jesus called “life, and life to the full.”

Minimalism — or, in terms of a spiritual-discipline, “simplicity” — has been one of the more profound ways in which God has been inviting me more and more into “life to the full” over the past two years. It’s more than just getting rid of some possessions, or decluttering. That’s part of it, sure. But anyone can do that, and not be any different in the heart. The invitation of God through minimalism is this: the more and more we simplify, the more space we open up for life with God — the abundant kind of life; that “life to the full” kind of life. 

That’s heart-level stuff.

And here’s the beautiful thing about minimalism. The invitation doesn't end with material possessions. It often starts there, because, at it’s core, it’s a counter-cultural approach to life in the Western world that tells us we need to constantly consume something. The invitation of God through minimalism is an invitation to simplify every facet of our life so as to make sacred space for a “constant state of awareness of and connection to the Holy Spirit,” as John Mark Comer of Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon teaches. Minimalism, or simplicity, is just another way to achieve that ultimate goal of living in a constant state of connection to the Spirit, or to better “keep in step with the Spirit,” as Paul calls it in Galatians 5.

So, it’s not just possessions.

We can simplify our spending,

our time,

our schedules,

our daily routines,

our eating —

anything, really.

There’s really not an exhaustive list, here. Wherever and however the Spirit leads you is as unique as you. Be open. Again, our God is a God who invites into new life, not condemns into new life. Where could He be inviting you, here, through minimalism, or simplicity?

One of the ways in which He is inviting me through minimalism is through the simplifying of my speech. 

As you can imagine, this isn't an easy one. When I began this practice of simplifying my speech, my eyes were opened to just how much my excessive speech revealed about me. I found that I often would use my words to try to come across as "smarter" than I am, or as "more-caught-up" and "informed" than I really am, or as more "funny" than I really am; more whatever than I really am, or anything of the like. I would try to impress with my speech. I was trying to mask an insecurity and would worry about others’ opinions of me. All of that instead of trusting God with whatever others may think of me, and fully rest content in who He says I am.

In her book Abundant Simplicity, Jan Johnson writes, “… this less-is-more approach helped me see that I was using my words to convince colleagues to do what I wanted them to do and to impress friends with what I knew. I realized that my wordiness revealed a lack of trust that God would work without help from me.” Her words strike a chord within me.

What may your wordiness reveal about you, deep down? 

This isn't a guilt trip. Far from it. It’s an invitation to see just where God may be calling you to give up the exhausting lifestyle of trying to do so much with your words, and instead to release any and all outcomes to Him. It’s ultimately a trust issue.

It’s quite insane just how much Scripture speaks of the invitation to tame the tongue. Just read the Proverbs. Almost every chapter has something to say about the beauty of being quiet. 

One of my favorite pictures comes from 1 Samuel 3, where it says “The LORD was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel's words fall to the ground” (emphasis mine).

What would it look like if none of your words fell to the ground — to not let one word go to waste? What would it look like to have speech that is described as nothing short of life-giving? Paul, in Ephesians 4, calls us to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

What would that look like?

If our speech only was helpful?

Was only edifying?

Was only building up of others?

Was only beneficial to all who may listen?

That’s life-giving speech.

In her same book, Johnson writes of Quaker founder George Fox and that “the fewness and fullness of his words” would even strike strangers with admiration. She goes on to write, “Not only did Fox speak little, but when he spoke, his carefully chosen words welled up from a single-focused heart, creating a clear and compelling effect. It was obvious to others that he treasured both God and them.”

Few.

Full.

Surgical.

Three words that I want to characterize my speech.

What words do you want your speech to be characterized by?

 

YOU PROMISE?

Pinky promises…

Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye…

Making sure fingers aren’t crossed…

We are all very familiar with promises. Making them, breaking them…all of it. We’ve experienced the joy of someone following through on a promise made, increasing our trust in that person. But we’ve also experienced the pain of someone breaking a promise made to us.  Maybe we’ve even been on the side responsible for breaking the promise. All of this to say, promises are nothing new to us. In fact, promises go back as far the Garden of Eden.

In Genesis 3:15, we see what is called the “protoevangelium” (there’s your 10-point word-of-the-day).  The “protoevangelium” (or First Gospel) is the first promise ever made. What was this promise? Well, it was the promise of God that Jesus would crush the serpent’s head…that Jesus would be victorious over evil.

You see, God has been in the promise-making business for a long time. The Bible is full of God’s promises to his people. One person’s count puts the promises in the Bible at the number of 3573. There are promises of God’s provision, his protection, his deliverance, his judgment, and his love for us. Personally, one of my favorite promises in all of Scripture is found in James 4:8.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” - James 4:8 (ESV)

This is not just a hollow statement or a false comfort. It’s not a hopeful situation where we draw close to God and maybe he’ll show up…when he has the time…or if it’s important enough.  No! This is God’s promise to us that when we draw near to him, he will draw near to us. That gives me hope and assurance that God’s love for me is always there and He is always ready to engage in relationship with me.

Since I gave you the first promise in Scripture, I see it fitting to leave you with the last promise we see in the Bible:

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” 

- Revelation 22:20

SAYING "I LOVE YOU" AND OTHER TONGUE TWISTERS

In 1995, Dr. Gary Chapman published his very well known theories on what he calls “Love Languages.” He postulates that there are 5 universal love languages that everyone needs to hear, speak, and recognize. They are time, touch, words of affirmation, gifts, and acts of service. He makes it clear that while we all need to hear all 5 languages, we don’t need to hear all 5 from everyone we meet and there is usually one we hear louder than any of the others. I like to go a step further and focus on how we speak these love languages. We tend to speak one better than the others, and it isn’t always the one we hear the best. 

For example, I have a friend who is great at giving gifts but would rather you come spend time with her than anything else. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. No language is better than the other. 

With that said, I challenge everyone to intentionally learn to speak all 5 languages and practice them.

 

NO GREATER COMMANDMENT

 

Jesus persistently tells us that Love is incredibly important. In John 13:34 he flat out commands us to love one another. God defines what love is and what it isn’t in Colossians 13. Then just to make sure we got it he repeats Himself in Mark 12:30-31 saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

No greater commandment! Fantastic! Everyone on board? Lets intentionally say I love you and I care about you in as many languages as possible! 

 

"I LOVE YOU."

 

That’s a really easy principal to support. 

Here is the hard part. Say “I love you” to the people that you aren’t already saying it to. The people who don’t look like you, vote like you, act like you, or live where you do. People who have done, will do, or are doing things you never would. People you disagree with. The people whom if you ever tried to utter the words “I love you” to, your tongue would hide behind your clenched teeth and you would have to bolt your feet to the ground to keep them from stomping off. 

The lonely neighbor who talks way to much. I love you. 

The family member you will never impress. I love you. 

The co-worker you would fire if it were up to you. I love you. 

The homeless man you walk by. I love you. 

The server who is clearly having a bad day and it’s starting to affect yours. I love you. 

Notice you don’t have to particularly like these people to love on them. 

Because its not about weather or not you like them. Its about if God likes them. And guess what? He does. So love on them. Because God loves them. And You are his hands and feet in this world.  

If you love Him, you must love them. 

So, because of and in spite of everything they are, go spend a moment with that neighbor. Give that family member a hug. Help your co-worker keep their deadline. Ask that homeless man what his name is. Give a good tip to that server.  

And not just once! And not just twice! 

Continuously, intentionally, relentlessly — just like God loves you. 

 

 

LOOK OUT GIANTS, HERE WE COME!

I love a new perspective, don’t you? Especially one that gives me a picture I can hold on to and reminds me how amazing our God is. That’s what I found in a sermon by Trevor Barton titled “Itty Bitty Giant”.

Recently I found myself allowing thoughts about situations I was facing overwhelm me. This went on for several days. It’s just crazy how our thoughts can consume us and become instruments of fear in our lives.

 

TAUNTED

 

Maybe that’s how it was for the army of Israel when Goliath was taunting them daily, several times a day.

I Sam 17: 8-10 says, “Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us. Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.”

Kind of like my thoughts taunting me: “what if this happens?”; “what if it’s that?” or “how will you handle any of it?” and “is there going to be any way you can get it all done?”

And verse 16 says: "For forty days the Philistine came forward every morning and evening and took his stand."

First thing in the morning and last thing at night—it’s constant and it’s exhausting and after a while others begin to notice.

This is where David enters the picture and hears the giant shouting his “usual defiance”. David’s response is to basically ask, “Who does this guy think he is?”

There is a lot of wisdom and power in letting someone else in on what it is that stirs fear in your heart—the “usual defiance” you hear every morning and every evening and all day long. It’s not always easy to admit our fears, but when we keep them to ourselves they seem to gain power. One sure way to deflate them is to bring them into the open by sharing with a trusted friend —

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”

and with God —

I Peter 5:7 says, “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

 

FAITHFUL

 

When we face “giants” it’s easy to remember what we should forget (past failures) and forget what we should remember (God’s faithfulness).

David remembered God’s faithfulness in his life and told King Saul, “don’t worry-God’s got this” (see I Sam 17: 32, 37). 

And then David RAN toward his giant (I Sam 17:48) and defeated him. The thing that enabled David to do this was the way he saw the giant and the way he saw God.

This is the perspective that has been so helpful to me. I knew this, but seeing it this way was just different and fresh and impacting.

David did not take the perspective of fear that looks like this:

GOD

vs

GOLIATH

David had the perspective of faith that looks like this:

GOD

vs

GOLIATH

After a few days of dealing with my “giants,” I remembered the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and shared my fears with a friend or two. It’s amazing how quickly that deflated the threat I was feeling. Actually, now, just a few weeks later, I can’t even remember what those giants were.

God has always been faithful to me. I know he always will be. And now I have a great “word picture” to remind me that he is bigger than any giant I will face. He has already faced down and defeated sin and death through his son, Jesus. Just like the Israelites all shared in David’s victory over Goliath, we all share in Jesus’ victory through the cross.

Look out giants, here we come!!

WISDOM FOR THE ROAD

Driving a car is a necessity and privilege that comes with great responsibility. I have vivid memories of getting behind the wheel on the country roads in southern Indiana where I honed my skills as a driver. Similar to most young boys at this stage of life, rules were less of a priority than simply experiencing the freedom and rush of punching the gas and going. Or the laid back “coolness” of cruising. Yeah, back in the 80’s in Scottsburg, Indiana there were two things to do on Friday night: go to the basketball game, then cruise main street. As a young driver, it was a generally safe and conducive environment to further development my driving skills and comfort behind the wheel. I’m so grateful for those days, my parents and my Driver’s Ed instructor who put their life on the line teaching me how to drive. They showed great patience and passed on the necessary knowledge and “rules of the road” to have the best chance for success and safety as a driver.

 

CLEAR INSTRUCTIONS

 

Driving is a metaphor for life. It can be a great ride but there are a lot of potholes and tricky curves along they way. Some we can see coming, and many we can’t.  Fortunately, we have some clear instructions and wisdom in God’s Word that help us navigate and, if we are smart, we will pay attention.  

“Get wisdom, get understanding, do not forget my words or swerve from them.”  - Proverbs 4:5

Like a young driver, we struggle to “stay in our lane.” We tend to swerve in and out of the path intended for our safety or the limits that are there to preserve order. We forget that we not only jeopardize ourselves but many others as well. Have you ever considered the domino effect of a traffic accident? It’s profound. When we step out of God’s wisdom and guidelines for our life we put ourselves and others a great risk. But when we live within the precepts of God’s Word, we find great freedom and are able to enjoy and be fulfilled in the open road of a life in Christ.

 

KEEP STUDYING, KEEP HONING, KEEP LEARNING

 

So keep studying the manual. Keep honing your skills and learning from the experiences God allows you to go through.  

“Listen, my son, accept what I say, and the years of your life will be many. I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths.”  - Proverbs 4:10-11

 

  

IRRIGATION DAYS

After 8 years in ministry, I found myself in a period of transition. It was one of those times when I was waiting to hear from God, and finding a lot of perceived quiet coming from His end. I had left my previous church without knowing what God had for me next. During this time, I had a brief stint working with an irrigation company. Talk about a change in what my days looked like…

We didn’t get into anything too crazy…mostly installing sprinkler systems for apartment complexes and for private residences. My days started earlier than I was used to and sometimes went longer. We were working outside, usually in the full-on summer sun.  The normal was for me to be soaked through with sweat by 11am and downing water like never before. At the end of the day, I was wearing clothes that sweat through at least 2 times (if that's possible), covered in dirt and mud, with sore hands, knees, and back……and I loved it!

 

FRESH PERSPECTIVE

 

Now, even though I would not want that to be my permanent job, I found a kind of joy from doing something different; learning new skills and how to work with different people was a good thing. It was healthy for me to disconnect from a church office setting for those few short months and be around “regular” people. I gained fresh perspective and was reminded of the gifts and talents that God had blessed me with.

Having been back in the ministry and church world for several years now, I have to be honest…sometimes I miss those “Irrigation Days.” Not that I would rather be doing that all day every day — but sometimes I miss the simplicity of “Dig a hole there” or “Connect this pipe to that sprinkler head” or “It’s 4 o’clock…we’re done for the day.”  Sometimes I just want to be told to dig a ditch from here-to-here and then be left alone.  In a lot of aspects, those irrigation days were a lot easier than full-time ministry. You don’t have to think much about digging a ditch or running a pipe. Dirt doesn’t create problems for me to solve. And if it did, I’d just hit it with a pick-ax. You can’t really do that in church. (Although there was that story in the Bible of the woman putting a tent peg through some guy’s skull.)

 

CALLING

 

It’s a gift for me to know that I have the skills and abilities to do work “out in the world”, but I know that my calling is to work for the Church in a ministry capacity. My hope is that through that, I can continue to equip others to serve the Lord through their jobs of doctors, teachers, grocery baggers, construction workers, or whatever else it may be.  What I know to be true and place my hope in is the words of Colossians 3:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive your inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.  ~Colossians 3:23-24

THE WHOLE TAPESTRY

If we look forward to all the changes we plan to make during the first month of the new year, then in the second month we often find ourselves looking back at where we’ve fallen short. Even when we know it’s for our own good, it’s hard to change. Most of the goals and resolutions we set for ourselves are for the good; exercise more, save a little, spend more time with family. But change is hard.

 

CHANGE IS HARD

 

Change can also be scary. And nowhere is this more apparent than when the changes in our lives aren’t of our own doing.

At the beginning of 2017, I can remember saying that I felt like God was about to do something major in my life. I felt restless in my spirit. An anticipation for… something.  Change was coming, but I had no idea when, where, or how. So it was only slightly surprising when, during a sermon, I felt God calling me to go back to college. “What?” I thought. Now, I spent seven years just to finish my Masters, working full-time and going to school part-time.  And when I graduated, I was done. That was it. No plans to go for more. So to suddenly have the thought to go back… that I needed to go back… could not have been from my own will.

So I prayed. And I asked others to pray for me. And I came to an understanding with God. “Okay,” I said. “I’ll do my part, but you’ll have to make a way.” Something would have to change to make this plan possible.

 

GOD IS THE MASTER WEAVER

 

That change, coming barely a month later, was my company losing their contract and subsequently me losing my job. “This isn’t the change I meant, God!”

Jeremiah 29:11 says: “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)  This is a scripture that I have etched on the tablet of my heart. Me and God, we’ve done this song and dance before. I find immense comfort in this verse. “I know the plans,” God says. “You don’t have to know them. You just need to trust me and be faithful in what I’ve called you to do.”  God is the master weaver. He sees the whole tapestry. Each of us, the individual threads whose lives twist and turn to carry out God’s beautiful, perfect work. We can’t see the end result of our twisting. But God does.

I know many of you may be going through seasons of strife. Not all changes seem for our good. What good is there in sickness, death, or sorrow? But God’s prosperity transcends our own understanding. God sees into eternity, while we can barely see past today. And the hope He offers is what we are to cling to during those dark times. We don’t have to understand. Only hold to His promises.

OPPORTUNITY

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.” 

- 2 Thessalonians 3:3 NET

A month or so ago I talked about the storms in life, and how we can find little comfort in common sayings such as “the grass is greener on the other side.” But even still, we should allow God to light our path as Psalm 119:105 states. 

But, as those who are going through what seems like an everlasting storm, they know constant outside encouragement is needed in addition to being attentive to God. So if you are in the middle of what seems like an everlasting storm, with valleys that seem to only get deeper and deeper, take a moment a ponder over this verse above. Two of the most essential qualities we need in getting through any storm are strength and protection, and God not only provides such aspects; He fully embodies them.

 

LOOK AROUND YOU

 

Something else I believe that is essential in surviving the storms of life is the ability to see things from a different perspective. A good friend of mine once shared Isaiah 43:19 which says “ ‘Look, I am about to do something new. Now it begins to happen. Don’t you recognize it? Yes I will make a road in the desert and paths in the wilderness.’” As things appear to be falling all around us, we also need to look for the opportunities God is putting in front of us. In my blog “Value in the Broken Pieces” I talked about how God uses the brokenness, the shattered pieces of humanity to make himself known. That’s what we need to look for in these storms — the  valuable opportunities that are only made visible when chaos arises. I also want to point out that in the verse from Isaiah, God reveals that not only is He illuminating our paths, but HE IS MAKING OUR PATHS. So, if it’s difficult to comprehend God being omnipotent and knowing where the path is in order to light it, know that he makes the path — through the deserts and wildernesses where we are weakest. He created a way through that He is going to guide us through, one step at a time. All we have to do is trust in Him and look for the opportunities He has placed before us.

As you go about your week, I DARE YOU to try and find those opportunities. Talk to a friend to help keep you focused and open about where you are in this storm, and what possible opportunities God may be revealing to you. And remember “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.”

CRAZY ABRAHAM

Do you ever hear about someone or read about their life and just think…that dude was crazy!  A recent example of this for me was Felix Baumgartner’s 24-mile skydive jump FROM THE STRATOSPHERE… that’s up in the Ozone Layer!! During this jump, he reached a top speed of 843.6mph. You’re average airliner plane travels at 621mph. He jumped from a helium-filled balloon capsule in an astronaut suit with the sole intent of breaking the world-record for highest free-fall, breaking the sound barrier in free-fall, and highest manned balloon flight. All of that to say… this dude was crazy!

 

ABRAM WENT

 

I’ve been reading through the story of Abraham recently, and I must say, Abraham was crazy!  Abraham’s story (or Abram, at the time) starts in Genesis 12. And it doesn’t take long to see the first thing that might make us think Abraham was kinda crazy. In Genesis 12:1, God calls Abram to leave everything he has ever known, everything that he has worked for and acquired, and to follow Him “to the land that I will show you” (emphasis mine). God tells Abram to leave every comfort and security he has to blindly follow God to a place that He will show him. He doesn’t tell him where that place will be, how long it will take to actually get there, or even why.  But the crazy part is in verse 4: “So Abram went…”

Abram went… no questions asked (at least none recorded in Scripture). With only the promise that God had a land in mind for him and that God would make him into a great nation, Abram left it all to follow the call of God. And the craziness isn’t over. If you know anything about Abram and his wife, Sarai, you know that they could not have any children. Now, God promised to make Abram into a great nation by giving him offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky. But it’s kinda hard to see that happening if you can’t have any children.

Eventually, God opens Sarai’s womb (at the age of 90!) and blesses them with a son. And here’s crazy part #2. In Genesis 22, God calls out to Abraham again. And again, he has a crazy request for him: Take your one and only son, the one through whom I promised to make you into a great nation, and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Now, I’m no scientist or biologist… but I’m pretty sure sacrificing your only son would make it difficult to expand your family tree. But again, Abraham doesn’t hesitate to follow God’s calling.

 

WHAT IS GOD ASKING?

 

Most of us know the rest of the story: Abraham goes to sacrifice his son, God stops it from happening, and God blesses Abraham because of his obedience. But what has always spoken to me from the life of Abraham is his unflinching willingness to be obedient to God. He didn’t follow God’s leading kicking and screaming. He didn’t try to negotiate or make a bargain.  His attitude and response was simply to trust and obey God. So we may look at Abraham and think he was crazy for believing that even though he was heading to kill his only son, God would still come through on his promise to expand his offspring into a great nation. We may say Abraham was crazy for giving up everything he had worked for to follow a blind promise of a better land and future to come.  But when he put obedience to God’s calling ahead of everything else, we see that God comes through on his promises and rewards those who are faithful.

“Don’t worry about how clearly you can see what God’s up to. Just have faith and take the next step.” - Craig Groeschel (Pastor of Life.Church)

What is God nudging, asking, or clearly directing you to do? Let’s be crazy and follow Him.