Two Nights, Same Dream

I will be preaching every Sunday for the rest of this month.  I’d love to see you guys in person if you should get the chance to come to a service.  My schedule is as follows:

 

July 12 at White Stone Freedom Fellowship
July 19 at Open Door Baptist Church
July 26 at Mt Freedom Baptist in Mountain Rest

 

Two Nights, Same Dream

 

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.  – Joel 2:28

 

Many of His disciples turned and followed Him no more. – John 6:66

 

Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. – Luke 9:24

 

I had this dream.  I had the same dream last night, but I didn’t realize I had the dream last night until I had the dream again.  It was the exact same dream.  I already know what it means.  Even though I’m crazy sleepy and really, really want to go back to sleep, I know I’m supposed to write it down.  I know I will forget if I go back to sleep.

 

In the dream, I’m climbing this crazy tall tree.  When I look up, I can’t see a top.  It just keeps going and going.  Something in me knows to never look down.  I know how far I’ve come.  I know that I’ve been climbing this tree for years, and I know that I’ve seen things only because I’ve climbed this tree.  I also know that if I slip and fall, I’m a goner.  However, I never think about that.  As I climb there are three types of obvious branches.  There are branches that I know that if I use them, they will break very easily.  Sometimes I simply avoid them, and other times I break them off.  There are iffy branches that I may or may not be able to use.  They simply need to be tested with my weight.  If I need to test them, there is always a sturdy branch that I can hold to so I know that I won’t fall.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  Then there are nice, sturdy branches.  I can trust them.  I do trust them.  In my dream, I’m very aware of all of this.  In my dream, I’m really enjoying the view right where I am.  I’m sitting comfortably on a sturdy limb, but I know that it is time to go further.

 

As soon as I get ready to go, there is this obnoxious kid just above me.  He is kind of transparent.  I know that I could climb right through him.  He starts telling me not to look down.  He starts talking about each limb and convincing me that good limbs are bad limbs, and bad limbs are good limbs.  I ignore him for a bit, but there is this section where I have to reach up to grab a good limb while stepping on an iffy limb.  The kid just constantly laughs at me and tells me how I’m never going to make it.  All of a sudden, I’m worried about falling.  I’m paralyzed with fear.  I start believing that I’m never going to make it.  I wake up.

 

I don’t think it is some big secret that something big is coming down the pike.  People right now, especially Christians, are wondering if life as we know it is about to be considerably altered.  There are so many sub-groups of people wanting different things.  They are fighting for these things.  They are willing to steal, kill, and destroy to get what they want.  I’ve always thought that the thief in John 10:10 was Satan.  Yet, when Jesus was talking about the thief, he was talking to a group of religious leaders.  He was calling them the thieves.  He was basically saying, “People who follow me know my voice, and they can easily recognize when some other shepherd comes along and does not have their best interest in mind.”  He goes on to say that lousy shepherds allow wolves in to attack and scatter the flocks.  Read John 10 slowly and carefully and tell me whether or not you believe the thief is Satan.

 

Here is what I know for sure.  In my dream, I was so high above the ground that I didn’t even bother with what was on the ground.  I heard a preacher say a phrase last week that I haven’t heard in a long time.  He said that were people right now that were “so heavenly minded that they were no earthly good.”  I used to believe that.  I used to say that.  This is not the problem with American Christians right now.  The overwhelming majority of American Christians are so earthly minded that they are no heavenly good.  I knew that if I climbed down that tree, I’d lose so much.  I also knew that climbing down would be just as difficult as continuing my climb up.  I knew if I didn’t advance, I’d regret it.  I knew if I fell that I would die.  I know what I have to do.  I must speak to that discouraging voice, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”  (Matthew 16:23)

 

I bet you know to whom Jesus spoke those words.  He spoke them to Peter.  Peter was one of the good guys, right?  In context, all Peter did was argue against the bad things that Jesus said were coming.  Jesus basically said, “Religious leaders are about to kill me.  Dark days are coming, but I will be raised back to life.”  Peter said, “No they are not!  We will help prevent it.”  It is at this precise moment that Jesus speaks those words in Matthew 16:23.

 

What am I trying to say?  Be very careful who you listen to.  Pay close attention to what the shepherds and leaders of the church say and do.  Peter was a good guy, but he had to be checked when he let his emotions and feelings take over.  The Pharisees thought they were the good guys, but Jesus quickly let them know that they were thieves and robbers keeping people from coming into good pastureland.  Christians right now are making well-meaning posts on Facebook, but they are wrong in their motives.  I’ve made them myself.  You should filter everything that I write and say through the lens of Christ Jesus and the Word of God.  Test my words!  I’ve said things in God’s Name that I wish I could take back simply because I said them when I was hurt.  The most important thing is that you keep climbing the tree.   Test every branch as you climb.  You will know which ones you can step on and which ones you can’t.  Rebuke those voices that are trying to call bad branches good and good branches bad.  The Bible says it like this, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20)

 

You and I can navigate this life.  You and I can enjoy safe pastureland.  You and I can make it to our eternal home.  My heavenly home is bright and fair, I feel like traveling on.

 

Lord, please, please, please help us keep our eyes on the prize!  We think it is all about leaving a better earth for future generations.  The prize is to receive a crown that lasts forever.  Help us to be the true light who guides others well and points them in Your direction.  May you use us to inspire others to climb up there with You!  May you use us to help others live for what is unseen.  For eyes have not seen, nor ears heard.  It has not entered into the hearts of people the things that you have prepared for us who truly love You.  Help us to live in light of eternity.

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The Beatitudes Book

 

I am in the process of reading, re-reading, and editing my book.  I’m really hoping to have it out by the end of this year.  Along with it, I’m trying to compile 365 of my WMD’s and put them in a book as well.  We will see how it goes.  For WMD this morning, I thought I would copy and paste an excerpt from the book.  It is a story that I tell quite often.

 

The Ten Dollars

 

I have to include this story in this book.  I hate that it highlights my disobedience, but I love that it teaches us that, even in our failure and disobedience, God can still more than complete His purposes.

 

I was a bus driver at Tamassee-Salem High School in Salem, SC.  It was my afternoon route and I was about to drop off my last kid.  In my mind, I clearly out of nowhere heard God say, “Give him the ten dollars.”  I knew exactly what He was talking about.  That particular morning I had found a perfectly laundered ten dollar bill in the back pocket of my jeans.  It just so happened to be Friday and I was in super high spirits.

 

Looking back, I honestly had no problem giving him the ten dollars.  Unfortunately, my mind immediately went to the consequences of my actions.  I pictured the parents asking him where he got the money.  If he said, “my bus driver,” I thought they might think I was some creep luring him for some sort of sexual favors or something.  The demons must have been working overtime because by the time his stop came, I had made my mind up that I just couldn’t give it to him.  He got off the bus.  I reasoned that it wasn’t God talking, it was just my own mind.  Please tell me that you know what I’m talking about!

 

Anyway, I didn’t think about it again all weekend.  Monday came and I simply asked him, “How was your weekend?”

 

“Terrible,” he said.

 

“Why?” I asked.

 

“Well, my dad had given me ten dollars to go to Gattitown (think Chuck-e-Cheese).  The youth group was going there on Saturday.  I still got to go, but dad needed the money that morning to buy gas for his truck.  It kind of sucked being there without any money.”

 

I felt two centimeters tall.  I left and went to be alone with God.  “I’m so sorry, Lord.  I’m so sorry,” was all I could say as tears literally streamed down my face.  I collected myself, went to my truck, got out my wallet, and pulled out a twenty.  I went and pulled the kid out of class.

 

“Man, I just want you to know that God was looking out for you.  He asked me Friday to give you a ten-dollar bill that I didn’t even know existed because it got washed in the laundry.  I disobeyed because I thought your parents would think I was a predator or something.  It is my fault you had to go with the youth group with no money to have fun with.  God did not ask me to do this, but here is twice as much money as He asked me to give you.  Please forgive me.  God is good, but me . . . not so much.”

 

All he said was, “That is so cool that God was looking out for me.”  That was on a Monday.  Thursday, he came in and told me that he had walked to the church near his house and attended the Wednesday evening service.  He gave his heart and life to the Lord.  Today, he is a college graduate and I see him as my own son and one of my best friends.

 

Yes, God knows how to work despite our disobedience.  His ways are simply not our ways.  He is holy.  He is mighty.  He is so wonderful!

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Half

 

Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil.  It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow.  But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.  Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.  – Matthew 13:5-7

 

There are four groups in the Parable of the Sower.  The first is a group of people who don’t receive the word at all.  They don’t claim to know God or even care to know Him.  They are easy to spot.  The last is a group of people that obviously love God and are productive in His kingdom.  There is no doubt where their allegiance lies.  Then, there are the middle two groups mentioned in the verses that I used for this morning’s devotional.  They are the half consuming my mind as I write this morning.

 

I’m pretty sure everyone taking the time to read this is in one of the last three groups.  I doubt that someone who doesn’t give a rip about God at all would take the time the read this.  Assuming this is true, that puts you and I in one of the last three categories.  We think we are Christians but have no root, we think we are Christians and the cares of this life are choking us, or we think we are productive Christians.  Where would you categorize yourself right now?

 

Today is my birthday and I’m 45 years old.  That sounds so crazy to me.  I’ve been a Christian now for 29 of those years.  Over the past decade or so, I’ve learned that I go in and out of these last two categories.  I have to be honest about where I am with God.  If I don’t know, I pray the Psalm 139:23-24 prayer.  Most of the time, I know where I am and where I stand.  I used to measure where I was in terms of how much I was doing for God.  How much was I reading the Bible?  How often was I going to church?  How much am I praying?  It seemed like if I wasn’t doing these things often, then I wasn’t where I needed to be and wasn’t doing what I needed to do.  Now, I measure where I am in terms of How much I’m enjoying just being with Him and just being His.  Like, right now as I’m writing, I don’t want to leave this sense of being right there with Him in His Presence.  I measure it in terms of just overall contentment with where He has chosen to place me right here, right now in life.  If I’ve truly placed all things in His hands . . . whom shall I fear?  What reason could I possibly have to be worried?

 

The problem you and I have is that we hardly ever rate ourselves poorly.  Now, there are these exceptions of genuinely saved people who rate themselves poorly all the time and never find any positives . . . that has to stop as well.  But, for the most part, in my experience, we tend to gravitate towards granting ourselves immunity from any kind of negativity.  We do the same for others we love and respect.  A man can be a flat-out premeditated murderer, and yet someone who loves him will say, “He is a good man with a good heart.”  I haven’t been to a funeral yet where the person buried was described as less than a good person who deserves Heaven.  Yet, the Bible flat out tells us that there are no good people.  All of us like sheep have gone astray.  What would possibly make you and I believe that we are incapable of pride, greed, malice, and a multitude of other sins growing in our hearts?

 

One out of the twelve closest followers of Jesus cared more about money than about Him.  He literally sold Him out.  Half of the virgins waiting on the Bridegroom didn’t take care of their lamps and missed out on the actual wedding.  There was this one guy who was actually at the wedding.  Everyone there, including him, must have thought he was meant to be there.  Yet, the king asked him straight up, “How did you get in here without having your wedding garment?” (Matthew 22:12).  The man was dumbfounded.  Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 by all appearances seemed totally legit.  Yet, they dropped dead at Peter’s feet because Satan had filled their hearts to lie to the Holy Spirit.  Could that be us?  Is it possible that you and I could lie to the Holy Spirit right now about where we stand with God?

 

Oh Lord!  Many are invited, but few are chosen.  These are Your words.  I don’t want the cares of this life to choke out Your word that lives inside of me.  I don’t want to go through life believing everything is ok when it isn’t.  Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Try me and know what I am thinking.  If there be any wicked way in me, show me the way everlasting.  Grant me a heart that wants to follow Your way above all else.  Help me to remain on the narrow path that leads to life.  As You have loved me and given Yourself to me, help me to love You back and give myself to You.  May I hide myself in You for the rest of my days.  Let me be a tree that produces a hundred-fold for You, my God and my salvation. Amen.

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Fishing

 

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.”  — Matthew 4:19

 

This morning, I want to talk about how one purposefully tries to win people to God.  After reading my thoughts, I’d like for you to reply to this email or leave in the comments exactly how you try to win people.  I like the fishing aspect that Jesus uses.  It helps me to visualize the exact moment that I’m purposefully casting the lure into the water and waiting for a fish to bite.

 

First and foremost, I believe you have to be interested in the people that you want to reach.  You have to genuinely care about them.  If there is a subgroup of people you couldn’t care less about, you will never reach them for the Lord.  I would even say that for many religious people today that there are people they are glad will go to hell and “get what they deserve.”  Think about that for a moment!  Jesus got blasted for reaching out to people many believed were not worth the time or the effort.

 

Not everyone we are to fish for is completely lost.  Here in the South, most people claim to believe in God.  I would even say that most of them have said the “sinner’s prayer” and have been “saved.”  This means that there are people who do believe; but they need to be caught and helped to move forward in their faith.  This also means that there are Christians who are just down and defeated in life.  We must be looking to catch them as well and encourage them to keep moving forward.  I think of it as “catch and release.”  I’m purposefully trying to draw you in for a conversation about the Lord.  Then, I’m going to release you back into the world hopefully a little bit closer to the Lord than you were before our conversation.

 

As I befriend people who are far from God, I never mention God at first.  I want to let them talk about themselves.  I fight the urge to talk about myself.  I want them to know that I am interested in them and care about them first and foremost.  When the conversation eventually gets around to talking about me, I will attempt to briefly mention what the Lord has done in my life and what He means to me.  I definitely don’t go for overkill at this point.  Over time, it is inevitable that something happens in their life.  It may be a sick family member, it may be a health scare, it may be a court appearance, or it may be a vast array of other things weighing on their hearts and minds.  Eventually, they will either ask for help or, if I really get a good bite, prayer.  At this moment, and only at this moment, do I feel free to tell them how to place complete trust in Him.  If they ask for prayer, I’m going for the gold . . . “Lord, show them Your power!  Break through, Lord, in a way that my friend knows it was You and only You!”  I completely leave the ball in God’s court.  I threw the lure out, I got a bite, it is now up to Him to clean them up.  I’m so glad He does this.  I hate cleaning fish, literally and figuratively.

 

I remember one time that I had a friend who wanted me to loan him some money.  I don’t remember how much it was, maybe $50.  I told him that I’d straight up give him the money if he would come to church and sit through the service.  I guess he really needed the money because he came and sat through the service.  I don’t think he is saved, but we have had many really good conversations about what it means and looks like to really live for the Lord.

 

Lately God has given me a new way to fish that’s kind of gotten me blasted a little bit.  For whatever reason, there are songs that I learned to play and sing years ago that I’ve just never forgotten.  I’m talking like scores of songs.  Well, my aunt and uncle have opened a brewery.  It is an amazing place to just sit and chill.  Even if you don’t drink alcohol, you can do like me and drink a cherry cola and eat a soft pretzel.  They are both crazy good.  Anyway, I’ve been going up there on Thursdays when the crowd is small to medium, setting my stuff up, and playing music.  I mostly play the 80’s and 90’s stuff that I remember and play a vast array of stuff with my daughter.  However, at some point, I throw out the fishing lure.  I don’t announce it or anything, but I just close my eyes and sing to the Lord like it is just Him and me.  Most of the time, it gets ignored and I don’t get a bite.  However, I want to tell you about two bites that I have gotten.

 

The first was around the Christmas holidays.  I played what is probably my favorite Christmas song, “Born in Bethlehem,” by Third Day.  It didn’t seem like anyone was paying attention, but when I was finished this guy asked me, “Hey, what was that song?  It was amazing!  I’ve got to learn it.”  We talked about Third Day.  I talked about how I started listening to that music in the first place after God changed my heart, mind, and life.  After he left, I prayed for him.  I still pray for him as he comes to my mind like right now.

 

The last one was this past Thursday.  Some of you may have watched my little mini Facebook live session.  Towards the end, I played “All I Need,” by Shawn McDonald.  I didn’t think anyone was paying attention to that one at all.  I said, “Hey, is there anything you guys want me to play?  I may know it.”  Then, this guy said, “Play some more Shawn McDonald.”  I was blown away that someone even knew who he was.  So, I had a little worship session right there and played “Take My Hand,” and “Open Me.”  Afterwards, he said, “You love the Lord, don’t you?”  I said, “Yes sir, I do.”  He said, “I would have never expected in a million years to come here and hear Shawn McDonald.”  We had a great conversation about the Lord.

 

What about you?  How do you do it?  Share with me ways that you purposefully fish for people.  Maybe you do something that I can do as well.  Here is what I know . . . we need to be intentional about it right now more than ever.

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The Devastating Condition of Lukewarm

 

So because you are lukewarm – neither hot or cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. – Revelation 3:16

 

This was written to the church of Laodicea.  Even though this particular church no longer exists, the warning remains for the church today.  Churches in general seem to naturally regress to the temperature of lukewarm.   It takes no effort at all to reach this temperature.  All one needs to do is nothing at all.  There is no stoking of the fire nor fanning of the flame.  There is no refrigeration or adding of ice to make it cold.  Inside the lukewarm Christian, there is a not so obvious indifference that lies at the point of lukewarm.  It is very easy to deceive yourself into believing that you are OK when you are lukewarm.  It isn’t like the Christian in this position doesn’t care at all, but neither does he care immensely.  Here is what C.H. Spurgeon had to say back in 1874:

 

They were not infidels, nor were they earnest believers.

 

They did not oppose the gospel, neither did they defend it.

 

They weren’t working mischief, nor were they working any great good.

 

They were not disreputable for moral character, but neither were they distinguished for holiness.

 

They were not irreligious, but they were not enthusiastic in piety nor eminent for zeal.

 

They were neither bigots nor Puritans.

 

They were prudent and avoided fanaticism, respectable and averse to excitement.

 

They had prayer meetings, but very few were present, for they cherished their evenings at home.

 

I’ve heard many pastors and children’s workers say some form of this one:  they don’t mind going to church on Sundays, but neither are they going to commit to helping in the back, volunteering for a team, or being there every Sunday, for they like being able to come and go as they please.

 

It seems that the early church, as well as the church from 146 years ago, were predisposed to becoming lukewarm.  We would be fools to believe that it couldn’t happen to us today.  If the fire of God was burning in our hearts right now absolutely nothing could pry us away from Him.  If we were cold and completely lost in our sin, we might would recognize our dreadful state and repent, take up our cross, and follow Him.  As it stands, the church is content.  As it stands, the church is “fine.”  When we are content with our finances, we are considered rich.  Yet, when we are content with our relationship with God, we could not possibly be in a more wretched state.  Blessed are the poor in spirit.  That is to say, “Blessed are those who know their desperate need for Christ and His Holy Spirit.”  Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 

I am about to spew you out of my mouth.

 

Why is the church in His mouth to begin with?  Could it be that individual Christians are His sermons?  Does He speak through a group of people called “The body of Christ?”  When others see the once cold wretch now on fire for God, there is no denying the existence of a great, mighty, and powerful God who really does change hearts, minds and lives.  There is no denying His power when a red-hot soul is looked upon.  Yet, when the world sees a church full of indifference, why should they believe in God?  Why should He not spew the lukewarm out of His mouth?  They can no longer be used as a witness to His greatness!  Who cares if you are simply better than you used to be?  You may not be cold in sin, but neither are you burning with the fire and the Holy Spirit of Almighty God.  Would to God that you and I would be one or the other.

 

Lord, set my spirit ablaze!  I want to love You with all my heart.  I don’t want to be lukewarm.  I want to want You.  I want you to be the ultimate desire of my heart.  Don’t spew me out of Your mouth.  Use my life.  Use it to speak to others of Your greatness and Your holiness.

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Examine Yourselves

Examine yourselves, to see if you are in the faith. – 2 Corinthians 13:5

 

In context, this verse comes just after Paul is defending himself against people who were accusing him of being a false apostle.  Take a moment to let that sink in.  The author of the majority of our New Testament had people back in the day who said he was a false prophet and that Christ was not speaking through him.

 

Today we have no shortage of Christians who love to examine other Christians.  Joel Osteen comes to mind as a favorite target.  I have joined right in with others and said things about him that I now wish I could take back.  As I think about it now, I don’t get to evaluate what is in another man’s heart.  Plus, I’ve had it happen to me and it doesn’t feel so good.  Someone once told me flat out that when I preached or led worship, it appeared to them that I was all about Adam Hopkins . . . not about God.  Of course, this stung and cut straight through my heart.  I did the only thing I knew to do.  I examined myself to see if I really was in the faith and asked God to show me if I wasn’t doing things for the right reasons.

 

I watch people preach, lead worship, lead on a team, and sometimes my mind makes judgements and I wonder if certain individuals are just going through the motions.  Sometimes I ask myself “Does this person really know God?”  Every time I do this, when I get alone with God, I’m convicted like crazy.  He lets me know pretty quickly that the only person I need to worry about staying close to Him and staying in love with Him is myself.  I end up begging God to burn that judgmental crap out of me.  I ask Him to wash over me with His Holy Spirit and fill me up so that this filth gets power washed out of my heart and mind.

 

I told you how I’m doing.  How are you doing?  Examine yourself today.  How is your speech?  How is your overall attitude?  How do you treat people you don’t necessarily like or agree with?  What is your attitude towards prayer lately?  What is your relationship like with His written Word at the moment?  I don’t believe we are necessarily supposed to suck it up and try harder to do better.  I believe when we become aware that we are deteriorating in certain areas of our walk that we are simply supposed to agree with God that our hearts, minds, behaviors, and attitudes are all wrong.  Acknowledge what He already knows and ask Him for help.  He never fails to come through in this type of request.

 

Examine yourself.  You only have this opportunity while you have breath in your lungs.  One day you and I will draw our last one and it will be too late.  One day, we will have had our last opportunity.

 

Examine yourselves and make sure you are in the faith.

 

Seek Him while He may be found.

 

Call upon Him while He is near.

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Your Own Salvation

 

Therefore my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. – Philippians 2:12

 

I just read where another Christian musician has stepped away from his faith.  This seems to be occurring more and more frequently.  In this latest case, anyone looking at the guy at any time up until his lengthy Twitter post would have sworn that he was just a solid Christian.  Every youth leader on the planet would have had no problem driving miles and miles to see the band Hawk Nelson.  Just about every Christian parent would want their kids at one of their concerts. Why?  Because by all appearances, they said and did the right thing.  They looked the part.

 

Despite the lead singer revealing that he no longer believes in God, there is one paragraph of his letter that I really like.  It says this:

 

I’m open to the idea that God is there, I’d prefer it if he was.  I suspect if he is there, he is very different than I was taught.  I know my parents pray that God reveals himself to me.  If he is there, I hope he does. 

 

All that seemed to happen to the guy is that he felt he couldn’t ask some hard questions.  When he did finally ask a preacher he thought could help, the preacher gave a terrible answer . . . at least in my opinion.  It is the answer of a preacher who hasn’t wrestled with God and sought out really, really hard answers.  The other problem is what terrifies me even right now.  It terrifies me for my own children as well as the children of countless “church” people.  It is the proverbial question of “How do we train up our children in the way they should go?”

 

It is very easy to “force” children into looking the part of a Christian.  Once again, everyone would have thought that Jonathan Steingard, lead singer of Hawk Nelson, was fine.  He was a pastor’s kid, he knew the church language, he got started by playing in the worship band at church, and even grew to be the successful singer of a Christian rock band who played all the youth conferences and Winter Jams.  Everyone thought he was fine.  Yet, in his own heart, he was struggling with some questions that he was afraid to ask.  Questions that can all be legitimately answered.  I read his questions and would love to sit down with him for a few hours and just give him the conclusions I’ve come to over the years.  I’ve asked the same questions and wanted answers as well.  Unlike him, I went straight to the source and said, “God, I need for you to answer me this!”  Of course, my answers didn’t come immediately, but over time He has given me satisfactory answers that I can accept and that allow me to move forward in my faith.  Here is the thing, not one time did God ever say, “How dare you ask me that?” or “How could you ask such a thing, do you even believe in Me?”  He is the God of the Universe and of all time . . . You really think He is afraid of any question that man brings to Him?

 

I do believe that the church world suffocates a lot of children.  If you don’t look like the majority believe you should look, or if you don’t fit the mold that many denominations want to put you in, then it is very easy to be excommunicated.  At the very least, it is very easy to feel as if every eye is closely watching you, your life is on display, and everybody is airing their opinions of your every move.  If you ask certain questions, you could immediately be judged and told that you “ought not ask such things.”  If you misbehave, read Harry Potter, or listen to rock music that isn’t labeled “Christian,” then may God Himself help you because most religious church people will write you off very quickly.  It will be interesting to see how the church as he perceives it responds to Jonathan Steingard.  Will they simply pray for him?  Will they send him “hate mail?”  Personally, I’m going to pray that God does reveal Himself to him and that his faith does become personal.  I’m also going to pray for what is probably a countless number of others who are struggling with making faith their own.

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The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved

 

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” – John 21:27

 

In this verse there are two men in two different places as it relates to who they are in Christ.  They are about to have an encounter with the resurrected Lord.  John, who refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” is the first to recognize Him.  Peter, whose last encounter with Jesus was his infamous denials, literally leaps at the chance to see Jesus again.  What is striking me this morning as I write is the fact that John is confident in His position of being loved by Jesus.  On the other hand, Peter is doubting Christ’s love for him because of his past performance.  Jesus is about to restore Peter.

 

This quarantine has given me a lot of time to be in my own mind.  I miss being a preacher and being able to play praise and worship consistently like crazy.  But, for some reason, I think that I thought God was happier with me when I was doing that stuff.  No wonder He took all that away.  There is no way that the God of the Universe is going to allow one of His children to think they are being favored or not favored because of their performance.  I think I might have had a bit of Peter’s attitude.  Even if everyone else fell away, Peter swore that he would be the only one who died with Jesus.  When he couldn’t live up to that standard, Peter felt undeserving of God’s love.  John, on the other hand, even at a distance, is the first to recognize, “It is the Lord.”

 

For months now, I have been going back and forth from where Peter is at this moment in the story, and where John is.  One moment, I feel the peace and presence of God like crazy.  The next, I’m wondering what I did wrong and what I need to do to fix it.  Yet, right now at this very moment, I have perfect peace.  I don’t want to leave this moment right here, right now.  God is not upset with me.  God does not give His love away based on performances.  If I never preach another sermon or play another praise and worship song, I am the disciple whom Jesus loves.

 

I don’t know what this realization does to you, but for me it makes me want to just be with Him.  It makes me want to get alone with Him more than anything and just exist.  I don’t have to say anything or do anything . . . just be.   Life is no fun and peace is so scarce when I’m trying to win His affection.

 

Lord, I’m sorry for trying to make you some horrible earthly father who is only proud of his children when they are behaving well.  You had every right to ditch Peter after he denied You.  Yet, you lovingly restored Him, not because Peter deserved it, but because You love Him.  Every time I do wrong, it is You who have come to me.  It is You who sent just the right word at just the right time to let me know You haven’t gone anywhere.  It has always been You.  Help me to always know who I am in You.  Help me to always know that I’m in Your mighty hands . . . even when I’m not performing well.  I love You, Lord. 

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Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?

 

Is anything too hard for the Lord?  I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.  – Genesis 18:14

 

When God asked Abraham this question, it would have been difficult to answer.  You and I can draw upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection of Lazarus, the crossing of the Red Sea, Daniel in the lion’s den, and many, many other killer awesome stories in the Bible.  Abraham and Sarah didn’t have the luxury of knowing these stories because they haven’t happened yet.  When confronted with the question, “Is it too hard for God to give a couple with a combined age of almost 200 a son?” they laughed, they questioned, and honestly, they just didn’t know.

 

God has done so much over the course of history.  He has even done so much in my own heart, mind, and life.  I’m thinking back to a time when I was having to learn to trust Him.  I’ve never really had a problem believing that God can and will come through for you and for others.  I’ve had a tremendously hard time believing that God will come through for me.  In my heart, I know that He will forgive you for anything.  Yet, when I do the slightest thing wrong or I miss the mark, I wonder if He could possibly forgive me.  It does not really matter how much God has done and accomplished in His Word.  It doesn’t matter how many people tell you amazing stories of what God has done in their lives.  Until God comes through for you on a personal level, it is so hard to believe that God loves you, will come through for you in His time, and that absolutely nothing is too hard for Him.

 

I remember watching my friends get married in my early 20’s.  I remember being alone and wondering if I was destined to stay that way.  Years later, I remember wondering why God would not allow me and my wife to have children.  Years later, I remember praying for my dangerously sick child and wondering if God would heal her?  In one hundred percent of these cases, God came through in a way that I will never forget.  I’m so thankful for the days where I began to learn that absolutely nothing is too hard for the Lord.  He has come through for me so many times now that it would be difficult to not trust Him.

 

Last week, I posted a WMD that I wish I had just kept to myself.  In fact, I’ve been airing for a while now that I’ve been hurt.  I was honestly beginning to wonder if I’d carry that hurt for the rest of my life.  I had a friend tell me that I simply needed to pray for the people that hurt me.  I thought about it for a while, and then I knelt down to spend some serious time with my heavenly Father.  God showed me a picture of fallow ground.  I honestly didn’t know what I was looking at.  I researched a bit and found out that He was showing me a picture of ground that had been plowed up and prepared for planting, but the seeds were withheld this season so that fertility could be restored.  He showed me that this was my heart.  I saw that I was in a season of rest so that I could be restored.  I saw that no one person hurt me.  The ones that I thought did hurt me, God allowed me to see into their hearts.  What I saw made my heart break and drove me to pray for them.  I saw that all that I’m going through right now was and is ordained by God Himself.  One more time, He has come through for me.  One more time, I can say, “Nothing is too hard for the Lord!”

 

Having said all that, I want you guys to say a prayer for one of my friends.  He is right now at the point where he believes in God, trusts in God, knows God can, but he is wondering if God really cares.  He is wondering if God will come through for Him.  I can tell my friend all day to trust in God and that, in His time, He will come through, but saying those kinds of things just doesn’t help him right now.  Right now, my friend needs to experience God.  He needs to feel that peace where you just feel so wrapped up in Him that you know, no matter what, that you are in His hands and that this is the safest place you will ever be.

 

Lord, make Yourself real to my friend.  Start those one by one miracles where his trust in You begins to grow so much.  You did it for me. You did it for Abraham and Sarah.  You’ve done it for so many people, Lord.   I know You can and will do it for my friend.  I pray that you will do it for any reader today who wonders if it is too difficult for You to come through for them in their situation.  Pour out miracles, signs, and wonders upon us, Lord, so that a new generation of believers will emerge who just know that You are the God who can do anything.  Let us all begin to learn that there is absolutely no one like You, for You are the living God.

 

Amen

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Judged More Strictly

Judged More Strictly

 

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. – James 3:1

 

For the longest time I believed that if I became a teacher of the Word, then when I stood before God at the end of my life, I would be judged more strictly.  I thought that if I sinned as a preacher, it would be worse in God’s eyes than if I was just a regular dude claiming to be a Christian.  Though there may be an element of that to it, I now believe that the “judged more strictly” part comes not from God, but from other believers.

 

The worst things that I have endured spiritually since becoming a follower of Christ have come at the hands of other Christians.  If you think about it, Jesus endured crucifixion at the hands of other people who claimed to know and follow God.  Christ endured all kinds of crap for some really dumb reasons.  Religious people jumped on His followers for not washing their hands (Matthew 15:2).  I guess you can still get into trouble for that one . . . especially today.  Jesus was trashed for healing on Saturday instead of one of the other six days of the week (Mark 3:1-6).  There were just all these trivial traditions that the super religious expected everyone who claimed to know God to follow.  If you didn’t follow these rules on top of the rules, then you were deemed unworthy of God’s acceptance.  How idiotic is it to think that you or I would be allowed to make such calls?  Since Jesus claimed He was God’s Son, He was judged very harshly.  Interestingly enough, sinners thought He was a lifeline, while Pharisees thought He was a hindrance.  Jesus claimed to be the ultimate teacher, which He was, and He was judged more strictly for it.

 

Someone told me once, “If I ever sin and really need someone to care and simply talk to, send me to a bar . . . not a church.”  How condemning is this?  We really are the only group of people that kill our wounded.  If you’ve had an abortion, struggle with homosexuality, struggle with pornography, or struggle with a myriad of other what we would call “obvious” sins, then may you find grace and mercy at the foot of the cross because God knows it is rarely found amongst His followers.  I see so many posts that imply that salvation is dependent on behavior.  Many Christians claim that if you don’t stop this very moment and turn from all of your sins, then you are still lost in them.  Does the person who has the guts to say this type of thing honestly struggle with nothing?  Have they honestly stopped all sinning?  Who reading this has not sinned since asking Christ into their lives?  Who reading hasn’t sinned this week so far?  Are we really better off asking Jesus to remember us when He comes into His kingdom, and then dying like the thief beside Him on the cross did?  I don’t know about you, but there are sins that took decades for me to conquer.  At the end of it all, I can honestly say that I didn’t even conquer them, Christ literally changed my heart and mind in His own time and made it so that I didn’t care about them anymore.  Up until that point, all I could do was agree with Him that I was sinning, ask for His forgiveness over and over, and beg Him to help me stop.  He gets all the praise, honor and glory!  Thy will be done!  I did nothing but place my trust in Him and His finished work on the cross.  If you want a sin to condemn me for, I’ll be straight up and tell you one.  I’m struggling with unforgiveness in my heart right now.  I’m struggling with the only sin that Jesus Himself says, “If you don’t forgive them, then I won’t forgive you! (Matthew 6:15). Honestly, no matter how hard I try, how many times I say it, or how badly I want to not even think or care about it, I just can’t make the feelings go away.  It is like a recurring weed in the flower bed of my heart.  I pull it and think I got the root and all, but then it pops right back up.  Therefore, I do the only thing I know to do.  I say, “Jesus, help me to forgive.”  When I finally do forgive and forget, and I eventually will, who will get the credit?  You guessed it!  Him, not me.

 

In Matthew 3:17 God speaks down from heaven these words about Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I’m well pleased?”  Do you know what is so cool about this?  Up until this point, Jesus hasn’t preached a sermon, He hasn’t done a miracle, and hasn’t even gone public in any kind of ministry.  His Father being pleased with Him had absolutely nothing to do with His performance.  He loved Him even before He did any type of ministering.

 

Doesn’t God love me the same?  Is He not pleased with me right now regardless of whether or not I have performed well?  I believe He is.  I am incredibly aware that I get things wrong more than I get them right.  I’m aware of just how unworthy I am to be called His.  I am also incredibly aware that I love Him and need Him desperately to work in my heart, mind, and life if I am going to be used to make a difference in anyone’s life at all.  I’m thankful that salvation is a free gift.  Who would want to be a part of a religious system where the best performers could brag?

 

Surely not I.

 

Pray for me.

 

I need it.

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