Not Exactly the Avengers

In spite of the fact that I travel internationally and minister to individuals and large crowds; regular believers and leaders; non-Christians and people of many faiths … I often feel inadequate or unqualified. When that happens I remember that God called Moses, a murderer. And that He called David, an adulterer. And Rahab, a prostitute. Not only did God call people who did really bad things, but He also called unusual, insecure, and inconsistent people.

Just consider some of God’s chosen messengers, ministers, prophets, and leaders. There’s Noah, who got drunk; Isaac, who was a daydreamer; Joseph, who was abandoned; and Gideon, who was afraid. There’s Jeremiah, who was too young, and Abraham, who was too old. Elijah, who battled depression. Naomi, who became bitter. Martha, who was a worrywart. And John the Baptist, who ate bugs.

Not exactly the Avengers, these folks. A far cry from any collection of super-saints. But still God called the and used them even though they were far from perfect.

God has not changed. The same God who called imperfect people still does. Now He’s calling you. Inviting you, nudging you, pulling you. God’s call prompts you to live beyond yourself,, to not just be about your own comfort but to completely surrender to His call and bidding. To go. To serve. To build. To love. To fight. To pray. To give. To lead. 

So how do you respond when God calls you? In the Old Testament we see at least three different responses. 

1> The prophet Jonah represents one of the most common responses: “Here I am, Lord, but I’n not going.”

When the God of the universe saw a need in the city of Nineveh, He chose Jonah to go preach to the sinful and rebellious people there. Now Jonah had the gifts. He had the power. He had the ability. The problem is that he didn’t have the availability. Jonah wasn’t willing and flat-out told God, “No.” And please understand, when God spoke, his assignment was clear: “Go to the city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before Me.” (Jonah 1:2)

Jonah could have said, “Yes, anything for You, God. You are my Lord, and I will do what you ask.” But that didn’t happen. Instead of a willing heart, Jonah balked. He didn’t just hesitate or make excuses; he ran away from God (see Jonah 1:3). And I have to wonder, did Jonah really think he could go far enough away? Or was it just a case of cultivating moment-by-moment denial to avoid the truth and the call of God on his life? Putting your head in the sand, or in Jonah’s case, in the belly of a big fish. Trying to pretend – hoping – that God will just go away. Or change His mind about what He’s called you to do.

Have you ever responded this way?

2> The leader Moses also responded as some of us do still today

The second response to God’s call may not be as outwardly rebellious, but it’s just as dangerous to our spiritual health. When God saw the oppressive power of Pharaoh to God’s chosen people, He called Moses. God said, “So now go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring My people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:10). Couldn’t be clearer, right? God said, “I’m sending you! Now go! Out of all the people alive today, you’re the one I selected. You’re the one I called. You have what it takes. I’m sending you.”

But Moses has a different response than Jonah. Instead of living in the confidence of God’s calling, Moses was buried in his own insecurities. When God called His chosen vessel, Moses respond, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? (Exodus 3:11). Then Moses quickly told God all the reasons that he wasn’t the right person. “I’m not a good speaker. I stutter. I’m not good enough. Someone else would be way better than me.”

We still do this today.  When God prompts us to do something, we’re tempted to tell Him all the reasons we aren’t His best person for the task. We don’t know enough. We aren’t talented enough. We aren’t good enough. There are so many others better qualified for this than us. “Here I am, God but send someone else.”

3> The third response is, “Here am I, send me.”

This third response is the one that God wants to hear from us. This one isn’t just a statement to God, it is a prayer from the heart. It’s dangerous. It’s not a safe, benign, or self-centered prayer. This prayer requires great faith. It’s risky because it will almost always move you to action. It will probably lead you to do something that may not seem natural or easy. It will cause you to step out of your comfort zone.

Isaiah prayed such a prayer of unreserved availability in the presence of God. The Old Testament prophet retells of his encounter with the Holy One when God asked, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8a) And without knowing the details, without knowing when or where, Isaiah prayer this stunning, life-altering prayer: “Here am I. Send me” (Isaiah 6:8b).

Isaiah was not a super-saint nor a member of an earlier Avengers team. He was just an ordinary person willing to give his all to God. 

Where do you stand today? As a Jonah? As a Moses? Or as a Isaiah?

God Is So Good

In all the years that I have known, worshipped, and served the living God He has been faithful and totally trustworthy. And, this morning I was simply reflecting on that fact. It is not just some theory or theology that I believe. It is a fact. God is faithful and trustworthy. Or, as the chorus believers sing states: “God is so good and He is good all the time.”

Here are my thoughts for the day. When we see how good God is, we become acutely aware of how good we are not. His holiness reveals our sinfulness. This is what happened to Isaiah, and this is what happens to us in God’s presence. (See Isaiah 6:1-5)

When the prophet saw the glory of God, he didn’t cry out, “I am amazing. I’m holy and perfect like God.” No, Isaiah recognized the depths of his own depravity and shouted, “Woe to me! … I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

Isaiah didn’t just say, “I messed up. I did a few bad things.” He cried from a heart of despair, “Woe to me!” The awareness of the depths of his sin brought sadness, remorse, grief, and a spirit of sincere repentance. In God’s presence, Isaiah said, “I’m ruined.” Another version translates the original Hebrew text as “I’m undone.”

In a similar response, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look upon God (Exodus 3:6). Job said he despised or abhorred himself when he saw the power of God (Job 42:6). Peter fell facedown at the Lord’s feet and told Jesus to depart from him because of his sinfulness (Luke 5:8). None of us are any better than Moses, Job, or Peter. And some of us even had similar experiences when we prayed to God for salvation. Even if you didn’t fall facedown, giving your life to Jesus begins with an awareness of your need for salvation from sin.

But why do we need to recognize our sin? Can’t we just start following Jesus and move on? What’s the big deal about looking at how selfish and rebellious we are? Because until we see ourselves as sinners, we’ll never fully understand Jesus as the Saviour. 

For years, I tried to rationalize my own sinfulness, even after I became a follower of God. After all, I knew people who were way worse than I was. I never murdered anyone. I wasn’t a gang member or an abuser. But when I started my journey of coming to know – really know – God … crying out to God and getting to really know who He was and is. When I started asking the Holy Spirit to bring revelation to my heart and mind – revealing the One True God to me and removing all religious understanding and ideas of God … Wow! My self-confidence grew into self-awareness. God is righteous. I’m unrighteous. God is full of glory. I’m full of myself. I had to face the brutal truth about my selfishness. I was selfish. I often told lies, and occasionally I took things that were not mine. I envied others, lusted, and wanted the shiny things this world offered.

But when you really come to know the One True God – the Living God – who was fully revealed in Jesus then we come to see and know our true self. When we see God for who He really is it changes everything. Isiah saw it. Maybe you will too. When the angelic beings sang of the holiness of God, Isaiah knew his own lips were sinful and unclean. We see our sinfulness in full only when we embrace God’s holiness. As long as we compare ourselves with other people, we can deceive ourselves that we are not bad. But when we compare ourselves to God, we see just how unrighteous we truly are. Like Isaiah, as I experienced the presence of God, I became truly aware of the depth of my sin. This awareness then led me to a fuller understanding of God’s amazing grace.

Preaching Without a Pulpit

The idea of preaching without a pulpit might seem a little crazy to some, evoking images of shouty people standing on street corners, waving Bibles at pedestrians. But the concept of pulpit-less preaching is not so narrow not so strange.

Jesus did not have a pulpit. He simply taught and shared with people who were hungry enough to take the time to listen. And, preaching without a pulpit is one of the callings God has placed on each of our lives. Not only are we called to share the gospel with the nations, but we are also called it do it in a fearless way: “Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold” (2 Corinthians 3:12).

A question to consider: If you were to ask yourself when the last time you shared Jesus with someone was, what would the answer be? The answer will tell you a lot about your relationship with Him. After all, He did say, “follow Me and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19). So, if you are not fishing then you are truly not following Him who came to fish – to seek and save the lost (Luke 10:19). 

I work with young people in most places where I am honoured to minister. I love seeing teenagers who are fired up for Jesus sharing His story with people at malls, schools, and grocery stores. Many of today’s youth have more audacity and boldness than those who claim to be mature believers in Christ. 

The quietness of those who are older and more mature in the faith may be the result of “growing up,” and being told to chill out over the years and act more mature. But I believe this is something my generation needs to evaluate and change our view on. We need to go back to being radical. I believe, we can keep that radical way of living in our hearts. We can keep living an audacious life in the Name of Jesus. We are called to be radical. There is no other way to live the Christian life. So, those of us who were once wild stations for Jesus and were tamed and told to be still and be quiet need to regain the enthusiasm and boldness that we once had. Today’s youth are an example of how it should be – how we should be living our lives as believers and disciples of Jesus.

I see youth groups and young believers excited to use the people around them as personal mission fields. I would hope to see my generation and beyond once again passionate for the same thing.

So why do so many of us hold on to the idea that we need a church building, or some sort of official sanction or title to preach the Word of God? There are many events in the Bible where Jesus preaches to the masses. Not in a church building, temple, or religious organization, but in the open for all to hear. Jesus constantly used His surroundings as a platform to share truth and religious liberation. 

One of the most classic examples of this is described in the book of Matthew. The story goes, “One day as He saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around Him, and He began to teach them” (5:1-2). No pulpit, No ushers. No printed bulletins. Jesus saw the people, and dug in for the long haul. He must have looked around and seen the faces of hundreds of people who were hurting – who needed hope. And He reacted with a set of teachings we now call the Sermon on the Mount. It’s one of the most intense streams of wisdom in the Bible. All from a dusty and windy hillside in Judea. 

When you are at work. When you are at home in your neighbourhood and community. When you are out with friends. You don’t need a pulpit. We simple need to share boldly and with confidence what the Lord has done and is doing in our lives. As Paul the apostle wrote: “Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold” (2 Corinthians 3:12).

Be the Change

The world changed completely with the arrival of Jesus, and ultimately will end with Jesus too. But the real question is, what lies between those two points? In order for positive change to happen now, shouldn’t we first make sure we have been changed ourselves?

The fact is, we can’t bring positive change to the world if we ourselves have not first been changed. There’s a popular saying: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” To us, that means being like Jesus. Throughout Scripture we see that we are called to be like Jesus, we are called to be the difference, and that will make the world look a little bit more like Him. As Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Until Jesus returns with a major disruption in every day life, we are called to “be the change.”

Our world often relies on a sense of comfort and stability; change is the last thing most people want to think about. Research shows millions fear change. It even has a name – neophobia, or the fear of new things. Yes, it’s a real phobia, and yes, it says a lot about human nature. But the danger is that when we cave to our fears and avoid change, we get so comfortable where we are that we ignore the very new things God has initiated to get us where we are heading in life. Sure, we can all dream of things we would like to change about the world, about ourselves, but we are scared to be the ones to step out and do it – be it. When the excuses, “I’m not ready for that” or “I’m just not called to do that” come out of our mouths, that could be a sign of neophobia.

It has been said, “Partial obedience is disobedience.” And I believe that to be true. If we are truly living like Jesus, then why are we still doing ‘that’ (insert sin here)? Why are we refusing to change our ways, when change is what we need most? We cannot go about our lives half-hearting our walk with God, in hopes that He will give us a full-heart transformation. Since we don’t automatically have a nature like Jesus’, and constantly have to deal with our human failings, we must accept that to be more like Him, we will have to change. 

What does it even mean to live like Jesus? The phrase “live like Jesus” means so many things, and if we put it into practice, it will cause a change in us of immeasurable depth. Yet so many of us are running around like a chicken with its head cut off, only hoping we are living like Him.

C.S. Lewis had this to say: “To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says. There would be no sense in saying you trusted a person if you would not take his advice. Thus is you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing those things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.”

God never intended us to remain the same, but instead to remain faithful – to take His advice. For in remaining faithful, we will not remain the same. 

There is incredible hope in this. You can be different than you were. You can break the mold of your family’s past. You can be different from what everyone else has labeled you. You are made in God’s image, for His will. And no human opinion can get in the way of a God-given destination. 

Stop listening to the foolish lies of this world, and start appreciating and accepting the truth of God’s Word and the freedom that comes with it. I am sure you have encountered flaws, failures, and mistakes in your life. But that doesn’t mean you have to put up with them, or that you have to stay that way. They don’t need to define you. In fact, if you consider yourself a follower of Jesus Christ, you are called to overcome these very things. This does not mean you will find perfection, but you will undoubtedly find progression on the path of righteousness. 

Just because it’s how you grew up, doesn’t mean it’s how you should stay. With Christ comes renewal and a new way of living.

Scripture confirms this hope:

Ezekiel 36:26 “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”

Romans 12:2 “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

  

The Word “Christian”

It’s sad to sit back back and watch the media cover nothing but the faults and failures of proclaimed “Christ-followers,” instead of getting down to the truth of what 98 percent of us do differently than the 2 percent who make us look bad. If the negativity that the media portrays is in fact the world’s view of what it means to be a Christian, please don’t call me one. I’d rather call myself a Christ-follower than be thrown into the twisted view of what we’ve made “Christians” out to be. I understand that Christian actually means Christ-follower, but you get where I am going with this I am sure.

The word ‘Christian’ has become too common over the years. Not for the sake of spreading the good news of Jesus, like we’d hoped for, but instead that of comfort and ease. People say “I’m a Christian” as easily as they would “I like hamburgers.”

For many reasons, the word Christian has stopped being associated with the word “love.” It’s stopped being associated with “grace.” This isn’t a matter of theology, doctrine, or philosophy, but instead of the actions people take – or don’t take – in the name of Christ. Jesus called us to love one another as He has loved us (John 13:34). Simple. This means we are to relentlessly, passionately, and fervently love one another just as He has loved us, no matter the circumstances. But does this really happen?

The ideology of “hate the sin, not the sinner” has not converted well into today’s culture. If you take a moment to look around, you’ll notice that we are very good at showing hate to the people whom God has called us to love. Regardless of what the Bible says about cursing, drinking, drunkenness, homosexuality, sex, cheating, lying, or stealing, we are still called to ‘love one another.’ It’s that simple. No questions asked, regardless of how you interpret Scriptures.

Does this frustrate anyone the way it frustrates me? And before you say anything about seeking to keep your brother or sister accountable, please remember that you and I both sin as much as the next person. The goal isn’t to look away when someone is struggling, but instead to engage and embrace people in a way that reflects the loving comfort of Christ. A way that shows the love of Jesus. A way that turns from anything to do with hate, rejection, and judgmentalism. Period.

So, we are to love without limits. You know, I can’t ever recall a person who came to know Jesus because of hate. And, I am certain you cannot argue someone into the Kingdom, either. Jesus clearly stated that the non-believers and skeptics would come to know that we are His disciples by the way that we love one another and most certainly they way we treat others who are not believers and thus do not yet share fellowship with us and with our Heavenly Father. 

As I have been thinking about this in the last few days I realized that there are four things that God’s love won’t hold against you…

1> Your past

2> Your mistakes

3> Your confusion

4> Your addictions

Let’s look at those next time we are together…

So, You Don’t Fit! Then, Stand Out!!

There are many times that I feel like I just don’t fit. Like I am marching to the beat of a different drummer than every one else. Like my values, morals, and world perspective simply don’t jive with the people I live among. In other words, I am different. I simply don’t like what others like, watch what others watch, do what others do…

I have done a lot of thinking about this over the years. And, I have come to understand that realizing you don’t fit in is a good thing. You and I were not made to fit in. We were made to fulfill our calling in Christ. We were made to fit out not fit in. To stand out. You know, like a city on a hill (Matthew 5:14). To go against the grain. And to not only bring change to the community and relationships but to be the change for a world that lacks hope.

Since Jesus laid down His life for me, the least I can do is stand up and stand out for Him. The same is true for you if you are a true believer and disciple of Jesus. In today’s worth-seeking world, being liked and wanted is something we all yearn for. And regardless of whether it comes naturally, it’s how our culture forces us to feel – even by advertising popularity.

The world says:

Failure is not an option (I believe it originated with NASA)

If you are not first, you’re last (from a Sony picture 2006)

If you’re not somebody, you are nobody (popular saying)

But when we begin to look into the depth of Scripture, we’ll realize that none of those things are actually true. Literally, none of them.

Where NASA says, “Failure is not an option,” Scripture starts, “For everyone has sinned (failed); we all fall short of God’s glorious standard” (Romans 3:23)

Where Ricky Bobby in the movie, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” says, If you are not first, you’re last,” Jesus says, “So those who are last now will be first then, and those who are first will be last” (Matthew 20:16)

For everyone that tells you, “If you’re not somebody, you are nobody,” the Bible’s clear answer is: “God does not show favouritism” (Romans 2:11) Everyone is a somebody.

God has called us to go against the grain. To be the salt. To be the city on the hill. To be the light of the world.

Some of us walk, talk, read, and tweet like the most spiritual people ever to inhabit the earth. But behind the plastic mask we call “Christianity” is often merely personal modification rather than actual heart transformation. We seek more width than actual depth, and this show can only go on for so long.

Before you were born, you were called to be different. You were given potential for being a world changer. To walk so differently than the world that others will notice. And although being different might sometimes look lonely or unpopular, you must come to see that no matter the circumstances, God is still with you. Why on earth would we continue to cheat ourselves out of God’s love, and try to fill the void with worldly acceptance?

So, I’ve come to understand that my purpose on this earth isn’t to be loved and cherished by everyone around me. My purpose is to share the love of Jesus, show relentless grace, and always be willing to help my neighbour. Surprisingly enough, not everyone likes that. 

If you want to fully embrace the life that Jesus offers, be willing to ignore the opinions of man while you engage in the righteous pursuit of Christ. This will mean discussing touchy subjects. This means not ignoring the truth that most others seems to miss in the situation. It means purposely talk about the tough stuff in order to bring light to a situation that might be drowning in fear and darkness. It will mean swimming upstream while everyone else is floating downstream. However, remember that dead fish float downstream.

If we hide behind smooth words and shallow theology, we are indirectly telling God we are not bold enough to speak the truth. But, as I said earlier, “Since Jesus laid down His life for me, the least I can do is stand up and stand out for Him.”

So, a final question: Do you represent Jesus in a way that reflects timidity, or are you speaking the truth boldly and in love, unshaken by the opinions of others?

It is time to evaluate your life as a believer; your speech, your conduct, your lifestyle. There is no neutrality in the eyes of Jesus. You and I are required to pick a side, no exception. 

Living For Jesus! Really?

We are all busy trying to live life for Jesus. Live a life-style pleasing to Him. Fulfilling His command to love God with everything we are. Loving others as He would love them. We are “living for Jesus” or, at least, trying to. 

But, I had a thought the other day. Yes, I do think and often think deeply about things we simply take for granted or look at but only with a surface glance. I hate living life on the surface. I detest life being an inch deep and a mile wide. So, I give a great deal of thought to a great many things.

Why are we “living for Jesus?” After all, most times we would have to admit that we fail when we try and life life for Jesus. We simply are not Jesus. We don’t love like He does. We don’t forgive as freely and deeply as He does. We are not as accepting and understanding as He is. So, we try to be like Him and end up, most times, failing. Then we feel guilty We condemn ourselves. We feel like we failed again. 

Here’s a question… Where in the Bible does it say we are to be “living for Jesus?” You know what? It isn’t in the Bible. It is something man has made up and we were taught to do because it sounds biblical and spiritual. Could it be simply more religion?

How did I get started going down this path of thought? Good question. I was reading my Bible and I saw that Paul said: “I have been crucified with Christ (so we are dead). It is no longer I who live (because we are dead), but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loves me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

The Passion Translation puts it this way… “And now the essence of this new life is no longer mine, for the Anointed One lives His life through me – we live in union as one! My new life is empowered by the faith of the Son of God who loves me so much that He gave Himself for me, and dispenses His life into mine!”

So, instead of living for Jesus we are to die to self and let Christ live His life through us. That is much more biblical than the former way of trying to live life.  

This means we must yield to Him and trust Him. This is what Ephesians 5:18 is all about. “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit.” Paul is stating that just as the alcohol in the wine, when you are drunk, controls your thoughts, words, actions, and attitude. So, yield to the Holy Spirit and trust Him so that He can live life through you and your words, thoughts, actions, and attitude would be that of Christ Himself. 

Henry Blackaby wrote, “We are so activity oriented that we assume we were saved for a task we are to perform rather than for a relationship to enjoy.” I agree. Remembering that out of that amazing relationship with Jesus will come things He will want us to become involved in (Ephesians 2:10). These involvements are so we are in the right place at the right time to release Him to minister through us.

Thus the initial call and ministry of every believer is to “Follow Me.” As we do He works in us to form and mould us into people with hearts for the lost. Then He works through us touching lives with His love, acceptance, and forgiveness. We simply yield and follow His lead allowing the Spirit who lives in us to flow from us touching others and setting them free. This was plainly set out for us through the teaching and words of Jesus…

John 7:38-39a “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of the hear will flow rivers of living water.’ Now this He said about the Spirit…”

“Believe in Me so that rivers of living water will burst out from within you, flowing from your innermost being, just like the Scripture says! Jesus was prophesying about the Holy Spirit…” (The Passion Translation)

Again, please note, it is the Spirit flowing from within you not you trying to live for Jesus or being like Jesus. Just trust Him and follow Him as He said. And He will live His life through you and touch many others with His love. Jesus

To Set On Fire

After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to a number of disciples individually and then to the disciples as they were fishing. He had told them recently (Luke 24:49) that they were to go and wait in Jerusalem until they received the promised baptism in the Holy Spirit. But instead of doing as He had asked seven of them went out fishing. 

One wonders if the reason they did not catch any fish was because they were not suppose to be fishing – but waiting in Jerusalem. So, after a whole night of fishing and catching nothing, Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the starboard side and they catch so many fish that they have an issue bringing the net into the boat. It is then that John realizes that it is the Lord who has spoken to them from the shore. He tells Peter. Peter jumps in and swims to shore. Interesting to note: Peter began to follow Jesus because of a great catch of fish (Luke 5:2-10). So Jesus now repeats that miracle inviting Peter to begin to follow Him again. 

A time of cooking a meal begins. Jesus has already begun to broil fish and He has some bread. But He asks them to add to the fish from their catch. They do so and settle in for a meal around the campfire. After they had eaten their breakfast together Jesus says to Simon (John 21:15) “Simon, son of John, do you burn with love for me more than these?”

When Jesus announced that He would be crucified and die, Peter had said that he would never leave Jesus nor deny he was a disciple even if it cost him (Peter) his life. He then said that even if no one else followed, he would. Jesus told him he would actually deny Him three times before the morning sunrise. And, that is what happened. Now, Jesus asks him, in front of the other disciples, if he loved Him more than the other disciples (referencing Peter’s comment “even if they – the other disciples – do not follow…”)

Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love Me?” Because Peter had denied knowing Jesus or being His disciple three times that eventful night. The Aramaic word for “love” is hooba and it is taken from a root word that means “to set on fire.” So, Jesus is asking Peter, “Do you burn with love for Me?”

The message for us today: Our love for Jesus must be passionate and kindle a holy fire within our hearts.

Peter denied Jesus three times and so Jesus asks Peter three times if he had a burning passion for Him. Only the third time does Peter actually give an affirmative answer… “You know that I burn with love for you!” (John 21:17) 

The story goes on and at the end of John 21 Jesus prophesies over Peter telling him how he would, in his old age, die for the faith and glorify God. Again, building on Peter’s initial denial of Jesus, the Lord now completes the circle and ends with – “You were right however Peter, you will lay down your life for me.” 

I love the way the Scriptures simply fall together in such an amazing way. 

So, do we, His disciples, truly “burn with love” for Jesus? Loving Him with our whole being? Is He first in our lives? Does He have our whole heart? 

As we quickly come to the close of the first month in the new year 2020 it would be a good time to get honest and real and see if we truly “burn with love.” If we do, then we need to add more fuel to that flame. If we don’t, then we need to blow on the embers and “fan into flames” the love that was once there. 

Don’t enter the next month without taking some time to see what or who you burn with passion for.

Teach Us To Pray

It is amazing what we think the Bible is saying when really it is not. So many passages become so familiar to those of us who read it daily and have done so over the years, even decades. So, we read the words but they don’t speak to us because we assume we know what they say. We know the story. We know the teaching of Jesus. We have been here, read that before. It is almost like we are wearing “religious glasses” that prevent us from seeing old truths in new ways. And, that definitely prevent us from seeing any real new truth. 

But God’’s Word states that it is living, active, alive and working inside us.

Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

The Passion Translation: “For we have the living Word of God, which is full of energy, and it pierces more sharply than a two-edged sword. It will even penetrate to the very core of our being where soul and spirit, bone and marrow meet! It interprets and reveals the true thoughts and secret motives of our hearts.”

So, maybe, just maybe, we need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to remove our traditional or religious glasses and give us new eyes – spiritual eyes – to see new truths and even old truths in a new light.

One personal example I have recently experienced is found in Luke, Chapter 11…

Luke 11:1 says, “One day Jesus was praying in a certain place and when He finished one of His disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray just as John taught his disciples.’”

Notice it does not say “teach us how to pray,” which is often misquoted. It says “teach us to pray.”

The disciples had been with Jesus in one of His times of prayer. And, as they watched Him and listened to how He was praying and what He was praying they recognized something. There was a revelation. Something deep inside these young men who were following Jesus clicked and they realized that what they called prayer was really nothing like what Jesus experienced as prayer. They came to the realization (revelation) that they totally misunderstood what prayer was and how prayer worked. So, they realized that there were, in Jesus’ terms, prayerless.

So, they turned to Jesus and said, “teach us to pray.” In other words, obviously what we have been doing over the years – the traditional prayers of the Jewish faith – is not prayer as you experience it, Lord. So, teach us to pray. Not “how to pray” but “to pray.” Basic reality.

I would suggest that this is a dangerous, powerful prayer to pray. We should not pray this request unless we really mean it, because God will often use trials and hardships and difficulties to teach us to pray. He will totally change what we view as prayer and revolutionize our time with the Father that we now call our “quiet time” or “devotional life.” 

I, for one, want to have Jesus totally stir up and change my prayer life. I am praying “Lord, teach me to pray (as you prayed and continue to pray today at the right hand of the Father.” 

The Start of a New Year

Here is what I know about the new year – it won’t turn out the way you hope it does.  It won’t be near as good as you want it to be. It will not be the fulfillment of your fondest dream. It will not be anything like what you think it should be. How do I know that? Well, after 70+ years of life I simply have come to that conclusion. And, it is not negative – it is simply truthful and realistic. And, approaching a new year with this attitude means I recognize that bad things do happen to good people. And, there are many up and downs in any given 12 month period. 

Life is filled with ups and downs. The problem is that what most of us want is ups and ups. That’s not possible. I think it’s pretty obvious that no one gets to escape bad experiences. But, we must remember that God is in control and that He is with us and will see us through no matter what the new year brings our way. And, that as a result of our faith in Him we will be stronger and better off at the end of the year than at the start.

There is an old saying: ‘Some days you’re the pigeon; some days you’re the statue!”

We can do everything in our power to avoid negative experiences and not be the statue, but they (the pigeons) have a way of finding us. I love the quote, “I try to take life one day at a time, but lately several days have attacked me at once.” No matter who you are, where you live, what you do, or what your background is, you will have to deal with bad experiences in 2020.

As television host and author observed, “Expecting the world to treat you fairly just because you’re a good person is a little like expecting the bull not to charge you because you’re a vegetarian.” You have to have realistic expectations when it comes to pain and problems. You can’t avoid them. Everyone has bad experiences. Starting a fresh, new year does not alter that truth.

But, my observation is that there are few people, even few believers, who make bad experiences positive experiences.

Life’s difficulties do not allow us to stay the same. They move us. The question is in which direction will we be moved: forward or backward? When we have bad experiences, do we become better or bitter? Will those experiences limit us or lead us to grow? As Warren Lester remarked, “Success in life comes not from holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well.”

When tough times and bad experiences come, many people don’t respond well. Some seem to have the motto that I once saw on a bumper sticker: “When the going gets tough, it’s time to take a nap.” What a shame. We need to be examining the bad experience, looking for lessons that will help us to grow. Yes, bad experiences can be painful. But don’t waste the experience or the pain. Learn from them. Most successful people will point to the hard times in their lives as key points in their journey of development and growth. If you are dedicated to growth and becoming more mature, then you must be committed to managing your bad experiences well and learning from them. 

So, let your discomfort and disappointment in 2020 be a catalyst for your development. Growth is the best possible outcome for any negative experience. 

So a story to drive home the point:

There was this chicken farmer whose land was flooded nearly every spring. He didn’t want to give up the farm and move, but when the water backed up onto his land and flooded his chicken coops, it was always a struggle to get his chickens to higher ground. Some years he couldn’t move fast enough and hundreds of his chickens drowned.

After the worst spring he’s ever experienced and losing his entire flock, he came into the farmhouse and told his wife. “I’ve had it. I can’t afford another place. I can’t sell this one. I don’t know what to do.”

His wife replied, “Buy ducks.”

The people who make the most out of bad experiences are the ones who find creative ways to meet them, like the farmer’s wife in the story. They see possibilities within their problems. 

Author Neale Donald Walsh asserted, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I believe that creativity begins at the end of your comfort zone. When you feel the pain of bad experiences, creativity gives you the opportunity to turn that pain into gain. The secret to doing that is to use the energy that comes from either adrenaline or anger and use it to solve problems and learn lessons. 

When you have had a bad experience, instead of letting it discourage you or make you angry, try to find ways to let it prompt your creativity.