Monthly Archives: January 2016

Hold on!


A constant theme in any endeavor is that of persisting and holding on to your goal. Whether you’re seeking a college degree, a job promotion, expanded business goals, raising children, or keeping your faith in a chaotic and increasingly faithless world, persistence is a key element in that process. We think of Winston Churchill’s famous quote, “Never, never give up!”  We’re reminded of Thomas Edison who made 1,000 attempts before succeeding in developing a working electric light bulb.  When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”  Babe Ruth became famous for his 714 home runs despite the 1,330 times he struck out at the plate. He remarked that each strike out led him closer to his next home run. Vince Lombardi wrote, “It’s not whether you get knocked down; it’s whether you get back up.”


That’s good advice for each of us too. Someone wrote, “I can’t brag about my love for God because I fail him daily. But I can brag about God’s love for me because it never fails!” We fail often in demonstrating perfect love, but we keep on loving. Our faith is too often betrayed by our thoughts and actions, but we keep on believing!


In God’s love letter to us (the bible) we are continually reminded to “Be Strong.” Knowing that we humans have a tendency toward fear, he reminds us 365 times, “Be not afraid!” Repeatedly, we’re told to “encourage one another.” I’m convinced this is one of the primary reasons God left us on earth after we were saved….to encourage one another.


These are the messages of 2 Thessalonians 2. Paul warns believers against falling for the false teachings that strayed from biblical truth. “Stand firm and hold on to the teachings we passed on to you. Encourage one another.”


It’s such a vital message to each of us and others on our path. But may I ask you, “What are you doing to hold on to your faith?” What habits are becoming increasingly ingrained into the fabric of your daily life?

– My mom starts with an affirmation prayer to God: “THIS is the day you have made. I WILL rejoice and be glad in it!” Even if it’s a terrible, no good, horrible Monday, I will rejoice in my faithful God who never ever abandons me.

– We could start by humbly confessing our weakness and ask for an increased sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives. Have you ever invited God to purposefully interrupt your scheduled plans for the day? This hard step makes us available to the opportunities he wants us to seize.

– Devote your daily transition times to remembering God’s goodness. Those are the moments between one activity and another: between getting up and going to work, between chores or appointments, or the travel time between one place and another. Using the multiple transition times in your day keeps your relationship with God alive and practical.

– A dear friend of mine keeps a Thankfulness Journal, recording every day the things for which she is grateful, despite the pain and suffering that also come her way.

– Taking time to bow your head before each meal and acknowledge God’s goodness is a way of holding onto your faith.  My friend Willy Neudahl taught me to invite our waitress when they bring the food: “We’re going to give thanks for our meal. Is there anything we can pray specifically for you?” Whether or not they accept, you can pause and give thanks for their service and ask God’s leading and blessing in their life.


Hold on. Press on. Never give  up. It’s not the number of times we fall but the number of times we get back up and turn again to Jesus that keeps us on the right path.


“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14


How “doing drugs” opened my eyes


My cousin Darlene loves to send me funny get well cards. The latest one says the key to healing is having a positive attitude…(open card) “and enough painkillers to drop a horse!” Wow. I can associate with that. Sometimes I shake my head at having gone from being healthy and taking a single multivitamin each day to now taking handfuls of medicines intended to make things right and decrease pain. With hundreds of abscesses pressing against muscles, tendons and nerves throughout my arms and legs, I tried a number of different pain meds to see what might help. I’ve settled on morphine for the time being. I had tried dilaudid which gave me a wonderful peaceful feeling, but it also came with hallucinations, especially when my eyes were closed. They weren’t horrible frightening ones but they altered my perception of reality. When I forced my tired eyes to open, the hallucinations vanished.


The experience led me to think about how we go through life, eyes open to some things and shut to others. It’s easy to live in a state of denial, though reality usually catches up with us at some point. With eyes open to the lure of low interest rates and deferred payments, we close our eyes to the reality of living beyond our means. With eyes wide open to our drive for success, we close our eyes to the effect it has on our family. Pain demands we pay attention to it, but focusing so much on our sorrows causes us to miss out on seeing the real joys still before us. Eager to pursue the comforts of life we may miss out on the very purpose of living. With our day schedules filled to the brim with activities we don’t realize how closed our eyes are to the reality of God’s plan for us.


I am fully persuaded that there are two realities that face us every day of our lives. There is the physical reality that we perceive with our senses. We’re well in tune to this as we constantly are exploring our world through what we see, hear, and touch. We are not unlike the “doubting Thomas” who wanted tangible proof of the Savior’s resurrection. In fact, we often measure our progress and success by what we see and measure. In the presence of measurable things, we also face another reality: the spiritual world in which we live. If we are to believe the bible, we will recognize that most of our problems and struggles come from this spiritual realm:


“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12


Doesn’t this counter what we typically think? Don’t we typically perceive our woes are related to that disagreeable person in our life, the dead-end job situation, volatile financial markets, the “other” political party, and our own battles to stay happy and healthy? True enough, there are real struggles in this physical world, including those that can be overwhelming and seem to threaten our sanity. But realizing there are also very real spiritual battles being waged around and within us, gives us the ability to respond to both the physical and spiritual threats. In fact, this spiritual awareness offers us the only real control we hope to have in life.  We don’t control the behavior of others, the weather, political forces, the value of the dollar, or even our health. But we do have control, if we discipline ourselves, to respond with spiritual power.


Each day we’re confronted with battles for our mind…battles that decide who will control our thoughts and emotions and our response to the circumstances we face. Will we live with anxiety or peace, fear or assurance, despair or hope, our own weakness or God’s strength? We’re well counseled to prepare ourselves for these spiritual battles by equipping ourselves every single day with a type of spiritual “armor”: the belt of the truth of God, the breastplate of righteousness, boots of peace the gospel offers, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit of God which is the Word of God. Add to that persistent prayer and you have an effective strategy for dealing with the seen and unseen realities you’ll face today. (Ephesians 6:10-20)


When our eyes are closed, we don’t see the need for being armored. Battles? What battles? Everything seems pretty good to me when my eyes are closed. But when we ask God to open our eyes to our full reality (physical and spiritual), we quickly recognize the need to go into each day well equipped for the battles before us.  Being well equipped allows us to stand firm and not be shaken or knocked down when the things around us tumble and shake.


We become “more than overcomers” when we keep our eyes wide open to what God wants us to see. May having the eyes of God be your daily prayer and discipline.




Who changed your life?


Who were the people who most influenced your life? What is it they did that made such an impact on you that it changed your life? It might have been a mentor, teacher, pastor, friend, parent, or someone outside the realm of your daily life. Likely it was someone who saw things in your life differently than you could.


I can think of a number of people who impacted my life. Some of them were brief encounters and others are people who have walked alongside me for longer periods of time. One of the shortest encounters happened when I was putting in a window in my house in Washington, Iowa. An itinerant pastor, maybe a church planter was walking by and offered to help me. The thing that struck me was that he wasn’t pushing to recruit me to his church. He just stopped by to encourage a stranger and lend a helping hand. It taught me to remember to look for ways to encourage and help others without having an agenda of my own.


I remember the abundant generosity and joy of living that Tom and Lucy Aycock demonstrated while focusing intently on pursuing – and celebrating – God.


I think about Pastor Carlton Christensen who mentored me spiritually in such a gentle way. Without criticizing where I was in my journey he gently showed me how to get on the right path. I also remember his compassion in helping me put a starter in my car…on Christmas Eve day…in the bitter cold temperatures. Pastor Christensen taught me the importance of being real and helping others even if it came at personal cost.


I remember co-teaching with Dr. Terry Penniman at the community college. On one lunch break we stopped at a local DQ Brazier. I was eager to get our food and visit about our upcoming class, but Terry was busy complimenting the new manager on how the restaurant looked. Terry taught me the importance of noticing others and speaking value into their lives.


My dear bride of the last 43 years and 7 months continues to teach me the art of being gentle with others, of slowing down, and the importance of laughter. And oh, she has taught me so much more.


I could list several others who have influenced my life in profound ways. I remember Danny Hodges saying we all need to be in positions of being influenced and influencing others in positive ways. His challenge was that we each should have a Paul, a Barnabus, and a Timothy in our lives. His reference was to Paul is an older, more mature person who could mentor us. Barnabus refers to a fellow sojourner who might share our path for a period of time, likely someone who shares our struggles, a friend in whom to confide. And Timothy refers to those people in whom we invest by pouring our wisdom and experience into their lives. These people will probably change over the course of your life. Ideally, a balanced life that is bent on maturing would have all three.


How about you? Do you have a Paul who could mentor you in the challenging parts of your life? Or a Barnabus with whom you can share mutual trials and celebrations? And are you investing your life in a Timothy, a younger person or one who is newer to the spiritual walk?


These are the relationships that make a legacy life, a life of great purpose and passion. Ask God to guide you in purposeful relationships that contribute to your legacy.


Plans worth making


We all like to make plans for the future. Plans to get married, raise a family, go on vacations, get new jobs, visit loved ones. Sometimes our plans work out and sometimes they don’t. We make our plans but God directs our steps. We often make plans for tomorrow without thought that tomorrow might not come.


“Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”” James 4:13-15


I was talking with a friend about making plans for the end of life. If you’ve ever done this, you know it feels a bit weird to talk about a time when you will not be alive on this earth. And it may be difficult to even approach the subject. But why should we plan for things that might not happen and not plan for that which certainly will happen? Death is the fate that awaits us all, unless Jesus returns for his followers first. Why not plan for it?


Marcia and I established our wills and living wills years ago and are giving those a review; also making sure we both know where important documents are, and the passwords to electronic accounts. Preparing for a most certain event makes sense, even while we live with great hope for tomorrow! But that’s only the beginning.


While it might seem unpleasant to talk about death, we who believe in Jesus need not fear it. The bible assures us that this life is only the beginning and a much more glorious life awaits us that will last for all eternity. It will be a life without tears, sorrow, or pain. Can you imagine?!


Yet, as wonderful as that will be, may I ask, “Are you preparing for it?” If you’ve made the decision to ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior, you’ve taken the first step.

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13

You don’t have to wonder if you will go to heaven. God’s Word gives us assurance of that.


But there is something more than a one-time prayer to ask Jesus into our heart and it centers around the word “believe.” The word actually is better translated “keep on believing.” Belief and faith are ongoing and active components of our lives. True belief will always be evidenced by our response. I can say to my wife, “I love you,” but the evidence of my love is in my actions, motivations, and ambitions. True love is patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful or proud. It doesn’t dishonor or belittle the other. It is not self-seeking but instead seeks to please the other. It isn’t easily provoked and it keeps no record of wrongs. True love rejoices in truth, not lies or deception. It always protects, trusts, hopes, perseveres. It doesn’t give up. (From 1 Corinthians 13)


If my bride is to believe my love for her, it will be evidenced in the expressions of that love. And so it is with our relationship with the one true living God. Our faith is expressed in actions of love. Jesus says whoever has and keeps his commands is the one who truly loves him. Have you looked at yourself in the mirror of his commands (love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself)? True belief is always expressed in loving ways. It becomes the motivation that greets us in the morning and leads us through our day. It constantly asks, “Is what I’m doing and thinking a way of loving God and others?”


By loving God and others, we also are preparing for our future life, eternity in heaven, because our obedient response to God’s shapes us into who he meant us to be and prepares us for that final destination. When I persist in being resentful, bitter, angry, begrudging, anxious, or fearful,  it separates me from God, not draws me closer. True love reaches out to others with compassion and in obedience to his commission for our lives. Is your love for God bearing witness to others?


“This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5:2-5


These are plans worth making and ones to guide our day today.


What are your plans for tomorrow?


We all have plans. Plans for today. Plans for tomorrow. Plans for the future.  And of course, sometimes our plans don’t work out just as we expected.


We were planning to move to the Bolivian mission field but then I was diagnosed with Leukemia. I got better and was making plans to return to Bolivia for a three month trip to test my immune system But then I had a relapse of the Leukemia. Before I got better again we were talking about how we serve in local missions while supporting global missions from “home.” Then I came down with two rare blood infections. One of those now requires daily infusions at the hospital for a number of months.  Then the latest bone marrow report shows 1% cancer remains. The doctor says we are in a race against time, to cure the infection before the cancer grows, leaving dim prospects from a medical perspective. It reminds us of a scriptural truth:


“The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.” Proverbs 16:9


Maybe you’ve made plans that were seemingly thwarted, even after consulting God and other mature Christians. You were sure of the “call” you heard, but everything seems to stand in your way.  Take comfort. Delays that seem untimely in our minds fit perfectly in God’s plan. Consider the paralyzed man who laid by the healing pool for 28 years, waiting for someone to help him into the pool, before Jesus came along and healed him. Or this: Even after David was anointed king he had to wait 14 years to assume his rightful throne. Fourteen years also separated Paul’s conversion from his first missionary journey. Have you ever wondered what they did in the interim? I suspect they drew even closer to God and listened carefully to his voice. I imagine that God used that time to prepare them for their future ministry. Maybe he used that time also to protect them from other perils.


It’s likely the same for you and me. You’ve heard, “When a door is closed, God opens a window.” But sometimes the door is just closed. There is no other way to go. You may feel stuck in a place you don’t want to be. But if it’s a place God intends for you, you just have to be still and know that God is indeed God. Draw close to God in your waiting and he will draw close to you. And be aware that “the plan” may need revision. Paul intended to go places to preach the gospel but was thwarted in his efforts so he could reach others instead. Remember:


“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28


While you want to make plans for tomorrow, talk with God about the good things he intends to reveal in your place of waiting today.



The Fifth Gospel


Have you heard “You may be the only bible some people ever read?” It’s true. People watch us. They’re interested to see if there’s anything different and worth pursuing in “the Christian life.” Our lives are on display as Christians and how we live our faith might be the only bible they know. 19th century evangelist Gypsy Smith said it this way: ‘There are five Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian—but most people never read the first four.’


Is that a scary thought? Being “the fifth gospel” places responsibility on us, not to be perfect, but to be real. It should cause us to ask, “Am I living the life that Jesus called me to live?” It makes me turn to the Psalms and pray like David, “Search my heart O God, and see if there is any evil way in it.”


Can you imagine with me what the world would look like if we actually lived “fifth gospel” lives? What if we lived as if we had encountered the risen Jesus? (We have, if our hearts are surrendered to him!) What if we were actually so convinced the bible were true that we let it rule our every day lives? We start to experience irrational fear or anxiety? Turn to the author of peace. Our minds become filled with doubts? Look to the one who actually is the truth. Feel overwhelmed by the troubles of the world? Go to the one who says, “Come to me all of you who are weary and I will give you rest.” Tempted beyond what you think you can endure? Answer the same way as Jesus did: quote scripture. Not sure if something is right or wrong? Do what Adam failed to do: Say, “Let me check with my Heavenly Father about that.”


Imagine living a life fueled by an unstoppable force that desired to know Jesus and make him known. Bobby Conway, author of “The Fi5th Gospel” imagines a movement of God where Christians have “a renewed passion for living beautifully before a watching world.’ If people are reading our lives, he asks, “Isn’t it time we give the world something worth reading?” Isn’t it time we live lives that respond to Jesus call to go into the world and tell them the good news? Shouldn’t our lives at least look radically different from a lost world? Conway responds:

“In his letter to Rome, Paul writes, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). The only ‘real’ lost gospel is the one that remains hidden in the hearts of out-of-commission believers. As believers, Great Commission-living isn’t an option, it’s a commandment. As Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20). These words not only need to soak in, they need to leak out.


The apostle Paul speaks authoritatively to this:

“You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” (2 Cor. 3:2-3).


Your life and mine are the stories of what we believe and what’s most important to us. What is your story telling and what kind of message do you want to send? Even in my far from perfect and broken life, I hope there is something that others will see and say, “I want that.” Peace in the middle of a storm, assurance in the face of doubts, calmness where anxiety used to live, love that conquered anger, and compassion that counters apathy.


As Christians, we’re not called to blend in. We’re called to stand out, to be different, not weird, but genuinely sincere. That means what we do matches what we say. Walk the talk. Our lives ought to give others a reason to take a second (or first) look at Jesus, not another reason to ignore or reject him. What does that look like in practical everyday terms?


Stop grumbling. Be satisfied with less. Consider the interests of others greater than your own. Be compassionate. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, bring clean water to those who are thirsty.


Pick one or several, as God leads you. Put your stake in the ground and determine, “As for me and my house we’re going to live for the Lord!” Live differently. Live the gospel.


“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Learning to walk


Walking with God in tough times is an ongoing process that requires humility, surrender of self, a desire beyond self interests, obedience, and a faith that continues to believe. But how do we develop and nurture these characteristics when our life was previously built on the opposite? We don’t. Trying to master these in our own power is an exercise in futility. That’s why Jesus sent his own Holy Spirit to dwell within us to accomplish in and through us what was impossible alone.


It starts with humility because its opposite, pride, is our fiercest foe. Pride thinks all the time about satisfying ‘my’ desires, comforts, and ambitions. Pride redraws the universe to revolve around ‘me.’ It’s insatiable appetite is never fulfilled. Whatever it has, it wants more. Humility finds calmness of heart and peace in the storm. It says, “It’s not about me. There’s something much bigger than me. I’ve learned to be content.” Personally, I am never more humbled when I think of God’s greatness and especially his mercy and love. It’s humbling to recognize that he chose us before the foundations of the earth were laid. Looking at the vastness of God’s creation brings me to bow in humility. Humility grows when we recognize the depth of our sin, how we deserve nothing, yet find God giving us all good things instead. A humble heart learns to say, “I was wrong. I’m sorry.” On the scale from humility to pride, where would you place yourself? Remember, only the Holy Spirit can bring you closer.


Humility leads us to repent. Repentance is surrendering and turning away from sin and the failures of our own limited efforts. More than that, repentance counts everything as loss that we once considered gain. God may or may not call you to leave your treasures, a secure job, or a bank account to serve him. But he will call you away from striving after them as your deepest desire. His Spirit brings us to joyfully turn away from these pursuits so we can pursue something far greater. Repentance turns away from the old self – no looking back. Do you find your old self more in your rear view mirror or in your windshield?


Repentance not only brings us forgiveness but the grace to see beyond ourselves. Just as a self-directed life focuses primarily on us, the Spirit- led life brings us to increasingly look at others through the eyes of Jesus. Can you admit to sometimes seeing people as interruptions or maybe not really seeing them at all? Jesus changes that. We’re all tempted to look at people, savings, possessions, and time as if they belong for our comfort. Jesus shows us that he owns it all. Scripture reminds us that even our bodies are not our own. They were purchased with a price!  What we surrender comes to seem very small compared to the opportunity to participate in his master plan of redemption and  restoration. Ask God this question each day, especially when you confront people you regard as difficult: “God help me to see others through YOUR eyes.”


Seeing our lives and others through God’s perspective leads the spirit-led life to obedience. Obedience is the test of love.  If we catch ourselves persistently envying a better lifestyle, a certain look, or other things if the world, we’re not loving God. If we constantly steal time from our spouse and children or our friends in need so we can pursue our own interests, we’re not loving God. If we persist in anger, bitterness, judging others, self pity, anxiety, or fear, we aren’t living in obedience to the one who calls us to freedom. Obedience is listening to the voice of God and doing what he says right then. Sadly, I can remember too many times he prompted me to pray WITH someone, not just for them later, but I chickened out; how many times I had opportunity to comfort and encourage others who were sick and lonely but instead stayed away. What is God calling you to do differently?  You may feel you’ve given the steering wheel of your life to God, but have you taken your foot off the accelerator and brake? Trust God to lead you in complete obedience even if it’s out of your comfort zone.


Finally, the obedient heart learns to keep believing. Believing God over our emotions and feelings allows us to remain content in him. It believes that Christ-in-us is a reality that changes everything, that it’s Jesus who makes us complete, not anyone or anything else. When we keep on believing, we start to look for God to show up in our daily life. Our former pursuits grow gradually more dim as we come to be more satisfied being in his presence.


Though I graduated from crawling to walking as a toddler, it seems learning to walk in cooperation with the Spirit of God is a lifetime pursuit. Thanks for sharing the path with me as we walk together.


Of mountain tops and valleys


Do you beat yourself up or get discouraged when you fail in your Christian walk? You shouldn’t.


One of the lies of Christian living is that we are able to live perfect human lives with the power of the Holy Spirit. But it’s not true. We’re reminded in Romans 3:20, no one is righteous, not even one. Being filled with the Spirit and walking perfectly in step with the Spirit are not the same. Yes, the Spirit gives power for victorious living, true guidance, comfort, and more. He draws us ever closer to God if we let him, but it’s a life long process of being molded into his likeness. Think of it like marriage. You fall in love and then come to that glorious wedding day. You wonder if you could possibly love each other more than you do right now. And yet, years later, hopefully you are still discovering new depths of love that come from your marriage relationship. Probably also you discover how easy it is to trip up over simple stumbling blocks like communication, selfishness, thoughtlessness and pride. It’s an ongoing process.


Walking in step with God is like that. It involves dealing with the dark, unpleasant side of our personality. Call it your old self, the way you typically behaved before you came to know Jesus.  This old self may include traits like envy, self-pity, pride, self indulgence, disobedience, impatience, and an unwillingness to forgive others or self. I’m sure you add a few to the list. My old self used to think my way was the best way and became irritable when my plans were thwarted. That led to anger and bitterness which gave way to unforgiveness. I surrendered that to God, “crucified” it on the cross so to speak. But still the memory of that old behavior returns, not for long or to any great degree now, but enough to sometimes sidetrack me momentarily.


With trials come disappointment, confusion, doubts and despair. We start to ask where God is in all this, and why can’t we overcome these issues with his Spirit on our side? Actually, when we insist on dwelling on these attitudes and behaviors we keep God from working in our lives. If we persist in doubt, where will we find faith? If we continue in our anxiety, where will we find peace? If we insist on justifying our anger and bitterness, where will we find the humility of a surrendered heart? If we insist in rebelling against God, how will we join forces with the one we’re resisting?


If we turn to the Spirit for guidance he is faithful to lead us, shape us, and mold us into God’s likeness. It might not look like perfection on this side of heaven. The good news is God isn’t looking for perfection. He’s looking for faithfulness. He’s waiting for you to let go of your busy schedule and simply be available. He longs to find a teachable spirit in you and me. Do you think he’s interested in our excuses of why we don’t have time, or aren’t available? Do you suppose he’s eager to hear how we feel justified in our self seeking behaviors and apathy toward his other children? More likely, he’s looking for a humble heart willing to obey him. Whoever really loves him obeys him.


Scripture consistently portrays God as a loving father waiting for his wandering child to return home to him. He looks for repentance, not perfection. He seeks a humble spirit that invites him to “search my heart O God and see if there is any wrong way in it so I can surrender it to your control.”


The faith journey of a spirit-filled believer will include both exhilarating mountain top experiences and dark lonely valleys. It’s an ongoing process that requires humility, surrender of self, a desire beyond self interests, obedience, and a faith that continues to believe. We’ll look at how to develop and nurture these characteristics tomorrow.

I’m very much still learning to live one day – one moment – at a time, in the Spirit’s power. On the mountain tops and through the valleys, like you, I’m learning to depend on God’s Word to be true and profitable for EVERYTHING I encounter, turning more quickly to the Spirit’s guidance and responding more eagerly in a way that seeks to honor him.


Stop holding on and just be held


One of the misunderstandings of the Christian life is that we are always strong. We say, “In Christ I can do all things” as if it means we can jump tall buildings and stop speeding locomotives at our whim. Really, it speaks about learning the secret of being content and practicing the discipline of endurance. The heart of its message is depending on and being fully satisfied with God. When we are weak we need to hold on to God because he is our only real strength, the one who is faithful to us through all circumstances, however unbearable they seem.


But the premise is that we have enough strength to even hold on. If we could always hold on until things got better, would we need a great God to help us? In fact, many of you know by experience, there are times when you have no strength even to hold on. Life beats you up to the point you feel like you’re at the end of your rope and you are so weak, you can’t even hold on to the rope. You feel your faith is not enough and you want to give up, and let go. I’ve been there myself many times.


The good news is it’s not up to us to cling to God in our own strength. In fact, his strength is made perfect in our weakness. It’s his Spirit who empowers us (Acts 1:8) when we cooperate with him. It’s not all up to your effort. Instead of always holding on, there are sometimes you just need to let go and be held in his arms. Jesus says, “Come to me all of you who are tired and I will give you rest.”


Sometimes we’re called to be strong. But when you aren’t, stop holding on and just be held by your mighty and ever loving Father – the one who knows you, who sees you where you are, and longs to draw you close to him.  Let go and let yourself be held in his loving arms. Let him show you “your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place,” as you let him hold onto you.


Reflect on the lyrics of “Just Be Held” by Casting Crowns:

Hold it all together, everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere and barely leaves you holding on

And when you’re tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There’s freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held
Just be held

If your eyes are on the storm you’ll wonder if I love you still
But if your eyes are on the cross you’ll know I always have and I always will

And not a tear is wasted
In time, you’ll understand
I’m painting beauty with the ashes
Your life is in My hands

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held
Just be held

Lift your hands, lift your eyes
In the storm is where you’ll find Me
And where you are, I’ll hold your heart
I’ll hold your heart
Come to Me, find your rest
In the arms of the God who won’t let go

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held (stop holding on)
Just be held
Just be held



One word to change your prayers


Do you find your prayer list filled with specific requests to make things better? Lord, fix this cancer. Help my friend get a good job. Sell my house. Ease this pain. Of course, there’s nothing  wrong with praying for specific needs. Jesus commends us to let our requests be known to God and promises that whatever we ask in his name (i.e. according to his will) will be granted. Jesus himself healed a number of people, not just to make their pain go away but “that the work of God might be displayed” in their lives. More often, Jesus prayed for eternal things: thy kingdom come, thy will be done, may they (his disciples – and us) be one just as he is one with the Father. Additionally, we often see the work of God displayed through the suffering of his saints, not the release from it,


The apostle Paul who experienced no shortage of serious physical and emotional sufferings prayed three times to have a “thorn in his side” removed. Other than that, he sets the same example of praying for eternal things, not the “temporary and light afflictions,” The secret of his prayers was in counting everything as loss except knowing Jesus and the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings. That’s not the stuff we find on our normal prayer lists.


So why do we focus our prayer on our “light and momentary afflictions” when we know that we should set our vision higher and pray for God’s mission to advance the gospel across the globe? And why are we so quick to pray away hardships when it’s the trials of life that cause us to mature and grow closer to Jesus?


God doesn’t waste pain. He uses our suffering to mold us to who we are meant to be. In John Piper’s little book, Don’t Waste Your Life, we’re commended to use all of our life for God’s purpose and glory. (Colossians 3:17) Not just the good times, but the painful ones too…the times when we feel least productive for the kingdom and perhaps least satisfied with life – and maybe with him. It seems none of us have the complete answer to all our questions about this. But I like Piper’s approach. Don’t waste the opportunities that God has allowed in our lives, as difficult and challenging as they may be.


Bronwyn Lea says it this way in her blog post “One little word that radically changed my prayers.”  Here it is:

“Instead of praying “God, make it better”, I need to pray “God, make it count.”

God, my friend is dying. Don’t just make it better, make it COUNT. If she can be better, let it be so, but don’t let this suffering have been wasted. Work it for good. Please show up and show your grace. Make it count.

God, I’m so busy and so tired. I so badly want to pray “make it better! Make it stop!”, but I’m going to pray “make it count, please,” instead. Let me learn grace under fire. Let me learn to say no to the bad and even the good so that there is time enough to say yes to the best. Show your strength in my weakness. Make it count.

God, thanks for a lovely, sweet season in my marriage. Rather than saying “thanks, keep it up, make it better”, please Father, make it count. Help us to be thankful and still work hard at our marriage, not leaving prayer for the tough times alone. Let this good season count.”

God, now that I think about it, please don’t just make it better. Not if it doesn’t count.

Please make it count, so that these light and momentary afflictions do the work of preparing us for a weight of glory that outweighs then all.

God, this is my life: in all it’s gritty, knotted and messy glory.

These are my loved ones.

These are my tears.

Please, please, please… Make it count.”


(Thanks Bronwyn. Powerful words for a powerful prayer life.)

“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love.” Galatians 5:6