Devotional Posts

The Spiritual Wilderness

What do you do when you don’t feel like God is there?

To be honest with you, there are times where I don’t feel super fired up, spiritually. I love Jesus, I’ve embraced the gospel, but I’m just having a hard time.

I think it’s easy for many people to compartmentalize. If you’re having a bad day, you set it aside, go to school or work, do your job and deal with it when you get home.

One of the difficulties with being in ministry is you can’t really set aside your faith and then go to work, exchange time for money and then come back and work on your spiritual life, because it’s all so interwoven.

As a pastor, especially, if I’m feeling good or bad spiritually, if I’m having a good day or bad, if I’m doing well with my wife or not, I still have to teach tomorrow. And with my personality, I want answers. I want solutions. I want to fix it.

But maybe God wants me to just sit in it.

Regardless of whether you’re in ministry or not, some days are just tough. When you’re in a wilderness experience with God, when you aren’t feeling it or feeling Him, what would it look like for you to just allow yourself to be with God in the darkness? Just be with God in the wilderness. Just enjoy God there. Because theologically, God is with you. And theologically, even in those wilderness times, God is going to show you things about His character that you would never learn if life was awesome all the time.

What if we could learn to be with Him and abide in Him – in all circumstances?

Keeping Him in Our Sights

In Isaiah 6, Isaiah sees a vision of the Lord seated on His throne with the train of His robe filling the temple, and he has an interesting reaction. In the presence of holiness, Isaiah recognizes the lack of holiness in himself. He falls on his face in confession, in worship and in an acknowledgment of his own depravity as he says:

“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.”

Then the Lord reaches out, purifies him, makes him righteous and asks, “Whom shall I send?” In brokenness, Isaiah responds, “Here am I. Send me!” And the Lord sends him out in ministry.

What struck me in this passage was Isaiah’s recognition of the Lord. I think it’s easy for us to get so caught up in what we do that we fail to see Him in His holiness on the throne and have a proper response to Him. We can go all day and not even think about the Lord. It can be really easy to do our jobs but lose sight of Him.

What would it look like if we kept Jesus before us? Could we keep His holiness and His righteousness before us so that as we’re doing what God has gifted us to do, it’s more of an expression of our gifting out of response to the Lord and not just doing our job?

Whatever you do, keep the Lord your focal point. As you go about your day, continually think about Him and turn to Him. If you get a minute, read and reread those few verses of Isaiah’s interaction with the Lord. Let’s put ourselves in perspective before Him as we do what we do today, serving the Lord in whatever we do in response to the bigness of Him, giving our time and energy and effort all for His glory.

High Places and Action Figures

Psalm 78 is a look back at Old Testament history. There’s so much in this chapter about clear obedience and clear disobedience. Yet through these verses you continue to see the presence of small compromises in the form of high places.

These high places are sneaky little things. They don’t seem like much at first, but they slowly grow to woo the hearts of the people away from undistracted devotion to the Lord. Though the people seem to serve the Lord with all of their hearts, they also offer sacrifices on these high places.

It has been said that big things are just the accumulation of the little things. In this case, that may be right. As these high places take root in the hearts of the community, the larger sins of idolatry soon follow. Not only do the people of God find themselves offering sacrifices on these high places, but now they take idolatry to the next level and begin to worship graven images and action figure gods.

Of course this brought about the judgment of God who, by His very nature, does not share His glory with anyone or anything. Their small compromises multiply into wholesale departure from the Lord. In return, the Lord was “filled with wrath and greatly abhorred”[1] them. That’s powerful!

So what are the high places in your life? The little things. The small compromises. What are the areas of your life that have subtly led you away from devotion to the Lord?

What about the large departures? Have you allowed anything in your life to become an ultimate thing? Have you bestowed ultimate value on anything, putting it above the Lord?

Big or small, repent and turn to Him for forgiveness. God is merciful and gracious but will not share His glory with anyone or anything. We must diligently fight to keep Him as ultimate in our lives. It doesn’t matter if it is a high place or a graven image; both bring dishonor to the Lord and should be repented of immediately. But if/when you turn to Him, you will find grace and mercy.

[1] See Psalm 78:58-59 (NASB)

Watch Over Your Heart: A Closer Look at Proverbs 4

What does it mean to watch over your heart? Proverbs 4:23 tells the reader to do just that:

Watch over your heart with all diligence,
For from it flow the springs of life.
– Proverbs 4:23 (NASB)

The heart is the root of emotion. It is the seat of desires. It is the place where passion is born and where every action finds its origin – thus the admonition to watch over your heart.

Your heart is influenced by input. The things you watch, listen to and interact with directly influence the state of your heart. From a spiritual standpoint, what’s going on at the heart level will eventually show in life. It cannot be hidden or covered. It will eventually come out.

If your heart is full of the things of God, that cannot be hidden either. If your input is godly and your heart is full of the Lord, then your life will reflect that.

As in water face reflects face,
So the heart of man reflects man.
– Proverbs 27:19 (NASB)

However, our steps are not guaranteed to be honoring to the Lord. Obedience is still a choice and the outworking of the heart is often full of challenges.

Proverbs 4 continues, challenging us to be diligent to watch over our hearts, but then to also watch over the outworking of the heart in life. And from this guarding of the heart, three cautions arise:

  1. Watch what you say.
  2. Watch what you see.
  3. Watch what you do.[1]

Not only do these reflect the state of your heart, they also serve as potential inputs. If you want your life to reflect Christ, being mindful of these three potential inputs is a great place to start. They serve as indicators and warning signs. If what you say, see and do are honoring to the Lord, it indicates a right heart. However, if what you say, see or do is dishonoring to the Lord, it reveals a heart in need of the transforming power of the gospel.

The truth is this is a fluid process. You will have your victories and defeats, but the end goal is a greater awareness of what God is doing in your heart and how that is being played out in the world around you.

Here are a few questions to consider:

  • What is the status of your heart? Have you thought about that lately? If not, take a few moments and dig a bit. What do you sense on the inside? Is there an abiding peace with the Lord or are you in disarray on the inside? If you find yourself struggling, turn to the Lord and invite him into the chaos. Remember, Jesus is Lord of creation and has the ability to calm the storms of life – even the ones in your own heart.
  • What do you say? What do your language, tone and content of speech say about your heart? We are called to show love for one another and to speak in a way that builds others up. How are you doing in the battle with your tongue?
  • What do you see? Are the things you are watching honoring to the Lord? It’s worth exploring the very root of desire that causes you to “want” to look at the things that have your attention. What is driving the desire to see what you are seeing? Is it to honor the Lord or are you driven by the flesh? If what you are looking at, or the very desire to look is not brought into submission to the Lord, you are fighting a losing battle. Invite the Lord into your temptation and see if He will help move your desires to other things.
  • What do you do? Actions and environments speak volumes of the state of the heart. What do you find yourself doing and where do you find yourself going? If the places you invest your time are not influencing you toward Christ, why are you there? If the circumstances in which you find yourself are not moving you to Jesus, find other environments to invest in. If bad company corrupts good character,[2] find people and places that fill your heart with godliness.

[1] Proverbs 4:24-27
[2]1 Corinthians 15:33

 

Born to Die

As you read through the pages of the New Testament it becomes very clear very quickly that Jesus was indeed born to die. The cross was not an oops. He didn’t just get sold out by the priests of His day. He was not ambushed by the Romans. His entire time on earth was about living a perfect life, a sinless life, so that when the day came, as painful as it was, He could provide for us the greatest gift we’d ever be offered, and that is eternal life through Him.

He didn’t want it, by the way. When you look at Jesus in Gethsemane the night He was betrayed, He prays and He says, God, if there is any other way, I am totally down for that. If there’s any other way, let me know. But, not my will but yours be done (Mark 14:35-36).

And so the plan of redemption from the very beginning was faith in Jesus Christ. The gospel is actually not very complicated, but it’s incredibly powerful. It forces us to recognize we are sinners and we cannot do what we need to do to please God. There’s nothing good in us. Even our good deeds are like filthy rags to God. And it takes humility to recognize the depth of our own depravity. It takes a certain honesty to recognize we are dirtbags, and without Jesus, we are a mess.

Without Jesus, we have no hope in and of ourselves. By ourselves, we are doomed to go to hell. There are no good works in us, not even one. There’s nothing we can contribute. And when we finally come to the realization that we’re idiots and can do nothing to please God, and confess that we need Him in our life, then. Then Christ is appropriated in our life. That’s the beauty of the gift of Christ.

I remember sitting at a banquet where I came to faith in Christ. I went for free food and left with eternal life. It was the consummate Christian bait and switch. They didn’t tell me there was going to be a speaker there who was going to talk about the Bible a little bit, but the food was pretty good so I put up with it. And a guy talked about the gospel of Jesus Christ and what it meant to follow Him, and I remember coming to faith in Christ that night. But I was looking around going, if these people knew about me what God must know about me, they’d throw me out of this place.

And I’d say, friend, it’s in those moments that you understand the gospel. Because when Jesus says He came to seek and save the lost, He’s talking about us, the least of these, the most messed up, jacked up people in all the world.

But thanks be to God that who we were is not who we are in Christ. Anything good in us is Christ. Anything of redeeming value, of beauty, of noble purpose is Christ. Anything honoring is Christ. Anything we have that is endearing at all is Christ – because we’ve accepted the free gift He offers. Born in a manger. Born to die. That’s what Christmas is about.

I’m thankful that in Christ there’s newness. In Christ there’s refreshment, hope, peace, purpose, beauty and honor. As you consider the gift of Jesus, may you just sink deeply into Him who humbly became one of us, lived among us, died and rose from the dead for us. And as we celebrate Christmas, may we celebrate Him.

The Lonely Work

Blog Posts 9-29

For an athlete, the hardest part of the year is the off-season. To most spectators this doesn’t make sense. A casual observer would assume that the hardest part of an athlete’s year is season competition, but any athlete will tell you that competition is the payoff. On the field performance is a direct reward and affirmation of the hard work done in the off-season. Tireless hours in the gym, on the field, and in meeting rooms prepare them for their time in the spotlight. This “lonely work,” as some have called it, serves as the foundation for every successful competitive endeavor.

Unrewarding as it is in the moment, these dark hours of lonely work prepare an athlete for critical moments when more is demanded of them. Those long hours of preparation in obscurity create the deep deposits which an athlete will draw from when the spotlight is on them. Show me someone who has success on the field and I’ll show you someone who has invested in the lonely work.

The spiritual life is no different. Our investment in the lonely work creates a foundation from which we can stand on when the demands of life increase. As stress rises and crisis invades, our lonely work is what gives us the strength to endure.

God meets us in the lonely work. As much as we see God moving when we are in the spotlight, the real strength is forged in obscurity. Our time invested in quiet moments with God, solitary moments in prayer, heartfelt moments of private worship, silent recognitions of God’s creative design, investigative moments of reading through the text – this is the lonely work of the spiritual life.

As you sit daily to read, pray, and reflect, recognize that you are not necessarily doing these things for the joy of the moment, but in preparation for a moment yet to come. Our daily time in the lonely work prepare us for crisis. This time gives us words to say in tragedy and the presence of mind to trust God when chaos looms. The real payoff will come when circumstances demand more than you think you are capable of enduring. When you endure the trails and tests of life, you are able to see the results of the lonely work.

So be encouraged, press on, sit quietly, and invest in the lonely work. You may not see the fruit today, but you are developing strength and perspective for tomorrow.

5 Books That Have Changed My Life

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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team 

Patrick Lencioni

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This is a must-read for anyone in leadership.

 

In the Name of Jesus

Henri Nouwen

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This was a total ambush. I never saw it coming. Nouwen exposed me to a way of thinking I would have never given myself permission to pursue. He was a Catholic priest and an educator at Notre Dame. He forsook a prolific Catholic writing and teaching career to live in a home for the mentally disabled. He wrote this book as a reflection of that time; he wrote of his own personal irrelevance, and how liberating and enlightening it was to realize how insignificant we truly are.

 

The Bride

Chuck Swindoll

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This gave me hope at a time in my life when I was wrecked and wondering if I should quit ministry. I was poor and I couldn’t afford to buy a book, so the owner of Fresno Bible House said, “anything you want to read or use to study, read it, study it here and just put it back on the shelf.”

Swindoll gave me light in a dark time when I wanted to crawl under a rock and die; he gave me hope for what the church was supposed to be, and he reminded me of the beauty of God’s church when it’s functioning in health. A lot of our staff values – why we do what we do – came from this book.

I read one chapter at a time trying not to spill coffee on it, so I could put it back.

 

Ordering Your Private World

Gordan MacDonald

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I read this book 10 years ago, but I’m still talking about it. Fantastic book  – especially the chapter on being driven versus being called. MacDonald makes a great comparison between the leadership style of Saul and the leadership style of David. It’s a good caution for leaders to not rely merely on talent but to rely on the calling of God. I also loved his chapter called “The Sinkhole Syndrome,” where he talks about how we can create sinkholes in our lives when it’s all output and no intake.

 

Spiritual Leadership

J. Oswald Sanders

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If there was a 67th Book of the Bible, it would be this one. Phenomenal book on what leadership needs to be from a spiritual standpoint. The thrust of a leader is not merely his competence or his skill, but what’s going on underneath.

 

*plus one bonus

Unbroken

Laura Hillenbrand

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I did get totally sucked in to one book unrelated to leadership. It’s about a World War II pilot who ends up on a blow-up raft in the Pacific with a buddy. The raft has a hole in it, and they are taking shifts overnight, blowing into the raft to keep it from sinking, while using an oar in one hand to hit the sharks on the head. We think we’re tough – these guys were studs. Ultimately, it’s a story about how this guy forgives his captor and tormentor.

What are some books that have changed your life?

The One Word I Want to Define My Life

The One Word

I had been coming home a little on edge. I was not necessarily fun to be around, from my wife’s perspective. And I was missing my kids’ soccer practices since I was so busy. So they weren’t happy with me. I was cranking, working hard, giving a lot, and under a ton of stress. I was handling things outside of my comfort zone, so I didn’t feel competent, making decisions that have huge implications on people’s lives, and I didn’t feel with certainty it was the right call. And I had to teach, and honestly, the last thing I wanted to do was teach. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die.

I prepped. And I studied. And I taught. And it felt like flesh. It felt like me. It felt like the message was a giant run-on sentence, one ginormous blah, blah, blah, blah. I finished the message, went home, and of course, I couldn’t sleep, beating myself up: You shouldn’t have said that, you should have said that, you missed that, you misquoted that, you said um 150 times. What the heck is wrong with you?

Some assume it happens over decades. I love Jesus, then not as much the next year, and then not as much the next year, and the next year not as much. But it can happen in a moment. Literally, overnight.

I go to bed and realize I have to get back with the Lord. He hasn’t gone anywhere. The problem is not the Lord; the problem is me. I’m trying to do this in my own strength, I’m trying to wrestle my life to the ground on my own – and it’s too much.

I began to look at my spiritual life. What does my time in the word look like? What does my time in prayer look like? And I realize it’s scarce, if not non-existent. So I spend good time with the Lord, and good time in prayer and good time in my Bible – and the funny thing is, my wife likes me more, and it’s fascinating how my kids want to snuggle with me now, and I actually have the time. When my life gets crazy, I get very selfish. I need this. I need that. When my life is about other people, that’s where I find joy.

I walked into OSH, and I saw this guy with his wife sitting on patio furniture. I was feeling full, so I said, “Oh dude, you have got to have it.”

“Yeah, it’s like three grand,” he said.

“Well, happy wife, happy life.”

“If I buy this, you have to come party with us later.”

“If you need a truck, let me know.” And I walked away.

Five minutes later, this guy walked up and asks, “Were you serious?”

“That’s why I bought a truck, so I could help people. Do you need it?”

“I do.”

I loaded his furniture into my truck – and while he didn’t live right down the street, but way down the street, I left with joy. And that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I love. If I’m in myself, if I’m in the flesh, if I’m being selfish, I’m not going to offer that guy anything. I don’t have time for that guy.

Don’t forget your first love. Recognize from where you have fallen, repent, and do the deeds that you did at first (see Revelation 2:4-5). 

The challenge is to check our hearts day by day, moment by moment, and process what it means to stay connected to Him.

If there is stress, frustration, fruitlessness, then you are not abiding. You are not being filled by Him and His strength.

If there’s a word that I would like to define my life, it’s abide. Because when I abide in Him and He abides in me – and literally, abide means to sink deeply into, to remain in – when I remain in Him, and He remains in me, and when I sink deeply into Him, and He sinks deeply into me, I bear much fruit. But apart from Him, I can do nothing. Not that I can’t do some things or I’m not as effective. No. You can’t do jack without Him (see John 15:5).

Bullet Points:

  • Slow down
  • Pray
  • Go for a walk
  • Enjoy the breeze
  • Read your Bible – not for the mind, for the heart
  • And make sure what you’re doing, you’re doing out of an abiding, connective relationship with Him

A Bonus Easter Message From The Holy Land

Israel Easter Message from The Well Community Church on Vimeo.

Here’s a bonus Easter message we recorded on our last trip to Israel. The stories in our Bible are not fictional stories. They took place in a real place, at a real time. And the story continues. Christ will come back and He’s coming back to a specific place, at a time yet to be revealed.

Are You a Peter or a Paul?

When I first came to know Christ I was obsessed with the Apostle Paul. Reading through the book of Acts and his conversion experience in chapter 9 reminded me of my own story. I can vividly remember telling my friend, Joe Broussard, that I was “just like Paul.” Little did I know how arrogant it was for me to claim any such resemblance. He was quick to point out, actually, that I was more like Peter. And little did I know how insulting that was.

Peter was a man of tremendous passion. He was ready, fire, aim in most situations. He was often the first to speak and the first to be rebuked. His impulsive nature got him in a ton of trouble.

I think that’s why Joe was right. As I look back at my faith journey, it has been much more like Peter than Paul. Peter was a roughneck. He was a calloused-handed fisherman who boasted of his great faith and commitment, yet found himself denying Christ after His arrest (Matthew 26). My testimony was full of these moments of regret. Walking with God was a very tumultuous experience for me in the early days. Old habits were hard to break and I often found myself crying out to God through tears. Again.

This statue is on the campus of Dallas Theological Seminary. During my time there I would often sit and reflect upon Peter and his tendency to speak so boldly and cower so quickly. I was taken by the veins on Peter’s arms and the look on his face. The frail Jesus wipes the dirty feet of the burly fisherman. I was also reminded that the real beauty in Peter’s story is not how he started but how he finished.

Tucked in the recesses of John 21 is a section of Scripture that focuses on the restoration of Peter. It takes place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee near the hot spring of Tabgha. It was on this very shore that Jesus took the crumbled Peter and restored him once more.

Peter had imploded under the pressure of the arrest of Jesus and had denied Him three times. It was on these very shores that Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love me?” Complete restoration.

Peter had a rocky start, but his brokenness made him a man of God refined in the fire! Peter takes the gospel and becomes the figurehead of the church. From Acts 2-10, he is the star of the text. The difference is that he’s not drawing attention to himself, but rather walking in the brokenness of his past. His humility and the understanding of that suffering had forever changed him.

My Reminder:

I keep this rock (below) in my office as a reminder of the breaking and restoration of my hero. Though I have grown a bit, I’m not immune to repeating the sins of my past. I picked this rock out of the stream you see above. It serves as a strong reminder that God uses broken, impetuous, tenacious men for His own glory – but only after breaking them deeply. I am grateful for the pain of my past and thankful for the work God has done in my life through many tears.

I wanted to write this post to give some of you hope. You may find yourself repeating the same mistakes you’ve made over and over again. Be encouraged. God is a faithful God who will continue to move you to repentance. But also beware. The consequences of sin are out of your hands. Until God breaks you deeply, you will never be used mightily for Him.

So lean into the Lord. Do not resist His hand of refinement. He is shaping you. It is painful, but it is worth it. Once we are through the furnace, we are brought out of the other side with a greater understanding of the love of God.

My friends, never forget where you came from. Our past shapes who we are today and motivates us to never live like that again!

Here’s to the restoration of Peter – and the hope of continued restoration of the broken.