The Father Ran

hugging-571076_1280How do you picture God the Father? Long white hair, golden crown, sitting on a heavenly throne? Calm, in control? Do you picture Him running? The Bible does not describe the Father as being in a hurry at any time except once: The Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the father sees his son at a distance, he can’t wait to embrace him so he runs. That was very undignified for a family patriarch to hitch up his robes and run down the street, yet that is the picture Jesus gives us of the emotion of our heavenly Father in welcoming us back. God meets us more than half way. He is not holding a grudge for all the dumb things I have done. Coming to God does not mean condemnation but rather celebration.

When our children were small we took them camping frequently. Once when our youngest daughter was about 5, she went to the restroom and came out a different door than she had gone in. She became disoriented and couldn’t find her way back to our campsite. After half an hour we became concerned. We started searching and soon had other campers and the park rangers involved in the search. Do you think after 15 minutes, I would turn to my wife and say, “Don’t you think we’ve looked long enough?” Imagine a child getting lost in the mall while Christmas shopping. Even if her parents had to search for hours and hours, would they give up on trying to find her?

I’ve messed up big time. I’ve failed over and over and over. So God is really angry with me, right? Wrong. My failure is not bigger than God’s grace. Romans 8:31 (NIV) says: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Isn’t that something to get excited about?

Despite my failures, God invites me into relationship. Who am I in Christ? I am forgiven, loved, righteous and chosen. Being right on the inside empowers me to be right on the outside. I am a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17) but with the same thinking I will not see the newness in my spirit express itself in my life.

Winston Churchill said in the darkest days of World War II, “Never, never, never give up.” It’s easy to give up. That takes no anointing or empowerment by the Holy Spirit. John 10:10 tells us Jesus came to give abundant life. What is stealing that abundant life from me? I don’t have to be talented. I don’t have to be smart. I do have to not give up.

What is my level of obedience? “I know I shouldn’t watch that on TV but…” “I know I shouldn’t go there, but…” “I know those friends are bad for me but…” It’s not that I don’t hear from God.  I just want my own way and I will have to live with the consequence of that choice. I go to church, but what do I do the rest of the week? This is not about being weird. It’s about making choices that will bring good fruit in my life. God meets me where I am but He doesn’t leave me where I am. God loves me too much for that.

I have plenty of opportunities to feel sorry for myself, but where will that get me? I was laid off at 54. It is tough to find a good job at that age. God opened new doors for me. It is never too late to begin again. I count these as the best years of my life.

My future has no room for my past. Samuel anointed Saul as king, mentored him yet he was a failure as king. He became haughty and proud. God spoke to Samuel and told him not to mourn the failure but get a new vision for David as king. That choice was a historic success. God is never without a plan. That includes my future as long as I don’t adopt a bad attitude. How long will I live in regret? God is not the Great I Was or the Great I Will Be. He is the Great I Am, the God of now. Everything will change the moment I head in the right direction.

Philippians 3:14 tells us to forget what lies behind. Instead we are to be reaching, straining toward our future. I will not stroll into God’s destiny for me. I will not slide into it. Press! The past is trying to pull me back. It takes a strong effort to reach for that future that God has for me.

“I’m going through hell!” No you’re not. Sure there are hard times but this is not hell. And if you are going through difficult times, don’t pitch a tent and camp there. Get up and move forward.  I may wonder if this season will ever end. The answer is to keep moving forward.

When our son was killed, we faced a choice to focus on his death or move into a new beginning. When Moses died, the nation mourned his loss, but at the end of the mourning period God challenged Joshua to move forward. “I need a miracle, I need a miracle.” Get up and move forward. Too much of society today has a welfare mentality, dependent on the government, dependent on others. “Somebody feed me. Somebody house me. Somebody take care of me.” God says, “Get up and move forward.” That is when God will move.

Am I going to live cowering in the corner, hiding from the devil? “Oh, don’t talk about the devil. I don’t want him to notice me.” If I am a Christian he notices me, be assured.

A lion tamer uses a chair when he enters the cage with the big cats. Why is that? The four legs make it difficult for the lion to focus on one thing, particularly on the man. What is the devil waving in front of me? Sex, drugs, power, acceptance. I need to look at who is really behind those.

Is Satan putting a lot of temptations in front of you? That is a good sign. If I don’t come face to face with the devil, it means I’m going the same direction he is. The closer I get to God the more Satan will fight. Before I came to God I was doing a great job of messing up my own life, Satan didn’t need to help out. Now he is coming at me to trip me up. He wants to make an example of me. “You remember Joe, the guy who was always talking about God? He just got picked up for meth.” Satan has a victory.

The devil doesn’t want me to connect with God’s love because that is where my strength is. “Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.” (Ephesians 3:17 NLT)

Years of hearing negative voices, and years of replaying negative events have placed deep in my mind a negative view of myself. My mind replays these voices and events without consciously thinking about them. It replays them automatically.

I have to cut the umbilical cord, cut ties with the old life. My father spoke negative words over me: “You just don’t follow through.” “You’re weak.” “You won’t follow instructions.” Will I still be a prisoner to those hurtful words? Just as the doctor cut the cord to my mother at birth, I also need to cut the cord to those hurtful words. Otherwise negative power will continue to flow into my life today.

In Papua New Guinea, monkey meat is a staple of their diet. When the natives hunt, they place a banana in a narrow mouthed jar. The monkey will reach into the jar and grab the banana, but he cannot get his hand back out while holding the banana. The hunter can come right up to the monkey and club him but he will not let go of the banana. Am I holding onto something from my past that is bringing me death?

The more I face struggles in this life, the more my perseverance, character, and hope grows. Like the baby learning to crawl, I must to move forward with the hope that God is using my challenges to prepare me for bigger things to come. Dissatisfaction is the first step for transformation. Difficult times have a purpose: they push me into my destiny, shape my character, move me out of my comfort zone, made me trust God.

1Corinthians 2:9 (NLT): “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” The blessing is already prepared. God has to prepare me so when I get there I am ready to handle it. I can ask for a good wife but if I am not ready to be a good husband, what happens? A blessing given too soon is not a blessing at all. Give car keys to a 10 year old and what happens? The prodigal son received his inheritance but he didn’t have the character to handle it. We need to stop being angry and instead give thanks in all things. In the challenges I learn what I could not learn any other way. I press through rejection, I press through fear, I press through loneliness. When the devil thinks he has me down, I press. The devil wants me to sit down and shut up, but I will press.

I might not be able to change my circumstances but I can change how I think about them. God is more interested in changing my mind than He is in changing my circumstances. Change my circumstances without changing my mind and I will soon find myself back in the same place with the same problems and the same defeat. With too many lottery winners its “Easy come, easy go.” 70 percent of them lose or spend all their money in five years or less. My thoughts control my life. A thought doesn’t have to be true to direct my life. The mind is the battleground. Romans 8:6 (NLT) tells us, “Letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

In Philippians 1:6 (NLT), Paul encourages us with: “I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” What God starts He finishes. I may feel discouraged and want to give up. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9 NIV)

The world has its value system promoted by advertisers that say life is all about me. The transformation we seek is from Self-centered to God-centered, from “Give me my stuff” to serving God and others. 2Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) describes it this way: “We are being transformed into His image with ever increasing glory.” It doesn’t happen overnight. Psalm 37:23 (NKJV) says, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” “Steps” means it is a process.

Change is a process. Shortcuts are the devil trying to get me to take the easy way. What is the Lottery but a tempting shortcut to prosperity that is only an empty promise? Help a chick break through its shell and it will die. Why? The struggle strengthens him. A withdrawal first requires a deposit. Otherwise it is called bank robbery. The struggle is the deposit I make to qualify for the victory.

God hasn’t given up on me. I am not so far away that His arms can’t reach me. If I am willing to step away from the pigpen, to humbly seek Him, He will be running with His arms outstretched. I don’t have to run to God. I only need to turn toward Him and He will run to embrace me.

Crack in the Foundation

crackA few years ago we lived in a home where on occasion we would step into the basement family room and feel the squish, squish of water in the carpet. We eventually correlated the problem to times of heavy rain or overwatering the front lawn. In other words, there was a crack in the foundation. We chose to ignore the problem for some time but eventually we had to go to the expense of excavating the foundation, sealing the leak and installing drainage piping to pull the water away from the foundation.

It is so important that we be careful of the foundation upon which we build our lives. Build on the wrong values and we are headed for disaster. The only foundation that will never crack or weaken is Jesus Christ. He is our unchanging God. Hebrews 13:8 promises He is “the same yesterday, today and forever.” I can build my life and my eternal destiny on a foundation that is unshakable and unmovable.

There are times when we feel our foundation beginning to crumble; we know we are on shaky ground. If you have ever experienced an earthquake, it is an unnerving experience. Living in California we experienced a few. The earth that we always think of as stable and unmovable is suddenly rolling and lurching like a ship on the ocean. Pastor Casey Treat of Christian Faith Center in Seattle, Washington says, “If you are ever in an earthquake, stand on your Bible. It is the only thing that is unshakeable.” No other foundation will stand the storms of life. The foundation of Jesus will stand forever. Jesus is our only firm foundation.

1Corinthians 3:11-15 (NKJV) warns, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” Each option that Paul describes becomes less and less stable, less and less durable. Allow me to offer my thoughts on these building materials.

  • Straw – I suggest this describes those that say they are Christian but don’t live by Christian values. They try to find their identity in job or possessions, living for what feels good.
  • Hay – We seek salvation based on works. We hope to earn our way to heaven because we have lost sight of God’s grace. We set our own agenda, and we no longer listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit trying to speak to us.
  • Wood – We begin to compromise and make excuses. “I’m not as bad as so-and-so.” We have lost focus.
  • Precious stones – Here our foundation is no longer “in Christ” but in the trappings of the Christian lifestyle: going to church, wearing a cross, saying “Praise the Lord”, listening to Christian music. We might even pray when we’re in trouble but it is no longer a close personal relationship.
  • Silver – This is where we put our trust in past experience, not a vibrant, living relationship. We have ceased to grow and aggressively pursue God.
  • Gold – At this level we are building with the best. This can be many things. Among them are undivided worship, fervent prayer, consistent Bible meditation, selfless service and unconditional submission.

This reminds me of the story of The Three Little Pigs. Straw and wood could not stand up to the wolf (a picture of the devil). Only brick had the durability. When we rely more on our works to get to heaven than on the grace of God, we have a crack in our foundation. As a Christian gets farther from the Lord as the center of their life, the more they will look for other things to act as the foundation.

A crack in our spiritual foundation can take many forms:

  • Thinking – I am trying to justify my wrong choices. I look for my identity in the values of the world.
  • Character – I am falling down in areas of integrity and compassion. I am compromising what I know is right.
  • Focus – I have moved away from the call on my life, allowing distraction to get my eyes off of moving closer to God.
  • Faith – I lose vision and hope. I spend less and less time in my Bible because it just seems to highlight my failures.
  • And on and on…

If I have a crack in my spiritual foundation, I don’t want to stuff it full of straw. I don’t want to use it as a setting for precious stones. I don’t even want to gold plate it. I want to get the right foundation that is going to hold up through the storms of life. Psalm 40:2 (NKJV) says, “He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay. He set my feet on a rock, and gave me a firm place to stand.”

If I ignore the crack, my life will become a ruinous heap. My life will return to chaos without my constant oversight, just like darkness returns when light is diminished. Isaiah 60:1 “Arise, shine; For your light has come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon you.” I am called to be a light in a dark world, a crack repairer in a cracked world. How will I repair the crack? How about with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, in other words the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)?

Thank God, I can build my life and my eternal destiny upon a foundation that is unshakable and unmovable. If I build on Jesus Christ as the absolute focus of my life, then I can rest assured that I will not fall. The Holy Spirit is helping me to build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ one spiritual lesson at a time. Jesus is the cornerstone. 1Peter 2:5a (NLT) says, “And now God is building you, as living stones, into His spiritual temple.”

I want to accomplish the vision God has for me. The vision of the world for my life is to find fulfillment in a job and in stuff. The vision of the devil for my life is defeat, despair and hopelessness. The vision of God for my life is victory, joy and an eternity with Him. To get there I must keep my eye on the prize, the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14)

Past present and future are all “now” to an eternal God. He will reach into the past to heal the abuse, to heal the abandonment or rejection. When I think of eternity I think of endless days and endless years forever. That’s wrong. Eternity is not endless time. Eternity is where time has no meaning. In eternity there is no future, no past, only now. How can God promise me heaven in my future? Because He is eternal. How can God heal the hurt of my past? Because He is eternal.

The Everlasting God is supreme over the future and the past. By Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice 2000 years ago, we were bought back, redeemed from slavery to sin, slavery to the kingdom of darkness. Medicines have expiration dates; medical isotopes have half-lives; milk will sour if kept too long. The Blood of Jesus never loses its power.

The cracks don’t happen quickly. They develop slowly, almost imperceptibly. It happens with the choice of compromise: “I forgive everyone who has hurt me except…”, “I surrender every area of my life to God but…”

Matthew 7:24-27 (NIV) warns, “Therefore, everyone who hears what I say and obeys it will be like a wise person who built a house on rock. Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and beat against that house. But it did not collapse, because its foundation was on rock. “Everyone who hears what I say but doesn’t obey it will be like a foolish person who built a house on sand. Rain poured, and floods came. Winds blew and struck that house. It collapsed, and the result was a total disaster.” Jesus wasn’t concerned about thunderstorms or flash floods. He was asking how we would stand against financial crisis, legal problems, broken relationships or death of a loved one. Before the storm came, both houses looked identical. It is the storm that reveals the foundation. It’s easier to build on the sand; digging to the rock takes extra effort. It’s easier to just show up at church for an hour a week than to develop deep spiritual roots. Everybody sounds like a believer when times are good. True faith is shown when we must trust Him in the dark, when the storm clouds hang heavy over our lives.

In 1Samuel 17:40, we are told before David confronted Goliath he took up his staff. Now I thought that a little odd since he didn’t use his staff in the fight, but recently it was explained to me that in that time they would carve pictures into their staff to depict past victories perhaps like an Old West gunslinger would put notches on his gun to show his kills. On that staff was David’s reminder of the lion and the bear he had defeated. He had a strong foundation. The staff wasn’t used in the battle but he needed to take his history of past victories into the battle. Don’t have a Godly history? God would say to you, “Start building tomorrow’s history today.”

The people of Jesus’ time would be familiar with the slave markets, the hopelessness and despair. Some of His listeners were likely slaves themselves. Today if you are a slave of anger – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of bitterness – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of alcohol – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of drugs – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of porn – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of fear – God says, “Redeemed!” Slave of rejection – God says, “Redeemed!” When the devil comes against us with his lies and deception, we can declare boldly, “My foundation is secure. I am redeemed!”

Fresh Start

Sunset streakI love mornings: the chill of the morning air before the heat of the day, the brilliant oranges and yellows of the sunrise, the promise each new day holds. Despite the disappointments and failures of yesterday, today I can start fresh. I think God is a morning person. Lamentations 3:22-23 (NIV) says, “The LORD’S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” A new day means a fresh start.

Jesus is in the business of giving people a fresh start. He encountered many people during His ministry. It wasn’t the religious people who got a fresh start. It was the woman caught in adultery (John 8). It was Peter who declared himself a sinful man (Luke 5:8). It was Zacchaeus who was a despised tax collector but turned around (Luke 19). It was the criminal crucified next to Him on Calvary (Luke 23). The apostle Peter says, “Because Jesus was raised from the dead, we’ve been given a brand-new life, and have everything to live for, including a future in heaven” (1 Peter 1:3-4 MSG).

2Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV): “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”

“If anyone” means no limitations, no one is excluded. “Is in Christ” says the only requirement for God to erase my past and make me new is for me to come to Jesus, to accept him as Lord of my life. “Everything that we have – right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start – comes from God by way of Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:30 MSG) We reach the point of frustration and despair where we cry out, “Oh God, something’s gotta change.” That’s right; the something is me.

Each of us is composed of spirit, soul and body. Our spirit is our connection to God. Before salvation our spirit was corrupted by the stain of sin. When we are born again, as it says in Colossians 1:13, we were rescued out of kingdom of darkness. It’s like an On/Off switch: We were in darkness, now we are in the kingdom of God. Our body, which is our flesh, on the other hand, will not be changed until the last trumpet sounds. Until then we will experience conflict between spirit and body. Our soul (that’s our mind, will and emotions) is caught in a tug-of-war between our spirits wanting to do God’s will and our bodies wanting to satisfy fleshly desires. Romans 8:5 (GNTD) says, “Those who live as their human nature tells them to, have their minds controlled by what human nature wants. Those who live as the Spirit tells them to, have their minds controlled by what the Spirit wants.” We continue to experience condemnation if we continue to walk according to the flesh.

1John 1:9 (NKJV) promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is not surprised, disgusted or caught off guard. When David hit Goliath with that stone, Goliath was heard to say as he fell, “I didn’t see that coming.” (Not really) God won’t say that. He cleanses not just what society considers minor, not just the misdemeanors. He takes it all. “Faithful” – He is true to His word; I can depend on it. “Just” – how is that just? Because Jesus paid the price. Jesus stepped between me and the judgment of God.

2Corinthians 5:17 (Phillips): “For if a man is in Christ he becomes a new person altogether—the past is finished and gone, everything has become fresh and new.”

I am cleansed. It is like getting out of the shower after a sweaty day’s work; refreshed, renewed. Romans 6:4 GNTD “By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life.” I am never going to be good enough to get into heaven because it’s perfect and I have never been perfect. It is Christ’s goodness in me that makes me acceptable.

The devil is definitely not a morning person. His is a kingdom of darkness. The devil, when he has us down, keeps piling on: late fees, interest, penalties. God has something different for us. Matthew 11:28-30 promises that His yoke is easy, His burden is light. Colossians 3:10 challenges us to “put on the new man created in righteousness and holiness.”

The real cause of depression is not where we are, but our attitude about where we find ourselves. That’s why the devil wants to make you feel like you’re worthless and rejected. Philippians 4:4 encourages us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” When we’re focused on God, rejoicing in Him, depression has no place in us. So the next time the enemy tries to make you feel low or sad, choose to rejoice in the Lord.

2Corinthians 5:17 (NLT): “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!”

New life has begun! Get off the bench! In Matthew 4, when Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they “at once they left their nets.” When he called James and John, “immediately they left the boat.” It’s time to turn the page and get on with life. Being in a perpetual state of whining and negativism gets me nowhere. I am not what I used to be. I am a new creation.

We allow setbacks and failures to enslave us. Listen to Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV): “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. I am doing a new thing. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” Don’t think about the past, it’s over. God is more interested in my future than in my past.

I am 67 years old. Do I have 67 years of experience? Not necessarily. How many times has it been the same experience repeated over and over? The more time I spend regretting my past, the more of my future is wasted. I set myself up for more failure by focusing on past failures, because what I focus on tends to reproduce in my life. Recognize that real success is built on failure. Look at Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers or Alexander Graham Bell. The life of each one was characterized by failure after failure until breakthrough occurred.

Maybe we think if we feel guilty enough, we will earn a fresh start. If we dwell on our mistakes long enough, better things will happen. Feeling bad about myself is not enough. A fresh start is not found in a new job or a new location or new spouse. Our fresh start comes in living as a new creation.

2Corinthians 5:17 (God’s Word): “Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation. The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence.”

To make a fresh start, I need to stop making excuses and blaming others. Proverbs 28:13 (Living Bible) “A man who refuses to admit his mistakes can never be successful. But if he confesses and forsakes them, he gets another chance.” I have a choice how I will respond to hurt, rejection, failure, disappointment. It’s easy to blame a father who wasn’t home, a teacher who didn’t care, a spouse who cheated, a drinking buddy who didn’t know when to stop. In reality, nothing will change until I take responsibility for my life. God confronted Adam for his disobedience and Adam said, “It was the woman You gave me.” In that he was blaming both Eve and God in one short sentence. We live in a culture that loves to shift the blame, pass the buck. We blame the government, our parents, the schools, the stars. “I’d better check my horoscope to see if I should go out of the house today.” Benjamin Franklin wrote, “He who is good at making excuses is seldom good at anything else.”

A fresh start means a totally new direction. If I were given a fresh start but didn’t change my thinking, I would just mess everything up all over again. God isn’t interested in redecorating; He is after radical change, new construction. He will take the wrecking ball to the strongholds we have constructed and start anew. A fresh start is a whole new person. Jesus takes the whole mess that described my life and makes it right.

The Bible does not say, “You shall read this book…” It doesn’t say, “You shall listen to this book…” It says, “You shall meditate on this book…” (Joshua 1:8) Good intentions are not enough. If we maintain the same thoughts, the same actions, the same habits we will end up right back in the same place. That happens enough times and hopelessness sets in. 1Corinthians 13 (NLT), the “love” chapter concludes with verse 13: “Three things will last forever–faith, hope, and love–and the greatest of these is love.” If the devil tried to take my faith, I would say, “No, I’m standing strong.” If he tried to take my love, I’d say, “Devil, that belongs to me.” But the devil tries to take my hope and I tend to say, “I guess that’s the way life is.”

We call ourselves people of faith. More importantly we need to be people of hope. Can I give you hope? Can God give you hope? He has given us the book of hope. Our responsibility is to meditated on His Word until hope takes hold of our soul. I won’t let the devil steal my faith. I won’t let the devil steal my love. It is just as important that I don’t let him steal my hope. It’s time to get ahold of hope. I can change. My life can be different. I am a new creation.

Cinderella had it easy because she had a fairy godmother with a magic wand. “Bibbidi bobbidi boo” and she could see the changes: a new dress, a new hairdo, a new carriage. I don’t look new but God says I am. By faith, it’s time to live it.

2Corinthians 5:17 (Cotton Patch): “Therefore, if a man is a Christian, he is a brand new creation. The old guy is gone: Look, a new man has appeared.”

Upside Down

Upside Down
Lots of things can be upside down. There is the Kamikaze carnival ride, a kid on the monkey bars, a pineapple upside-down cake (one of my favorites) or a home mortgage. How about the world?  In Acts 17:6 (NKJV), Paul and those with him were described as those “who have turned the world upside down.” That was really quite a compliment that a small band of men bringing the truth of God’s Good News was in fact impacting the whole world.

We live in an upside down world. Drugs and violence are celebrated. Purity and honesty are ridiculed. In truth, the Gospel turns the world’s thinking upside down. Jesus taught “The last shall be first and the first shall be last” (Matthew 20:16), “Whoever wants to be great must be the servant of all” (Mark 10:43), “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Jesus loved to rattle the religious cage of the leaders of His day. His teachings such as the Good Samaritan or the widow’s mite were contrary to accepted thought. He healed on the Sabbath. He was the king who comes riding humbly on a donkey instead as triumphant on a horse. And the biggest upside down of all: the cross. It was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1Corinthians 1:23)

1Corinthians 1:27-29 (WEB) says, “God chose the foolish things of the world that He might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world, that He might put to shame the things that are strong, and God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that are not, that He might bring to nothing the things that are: that no flesh should boast before God.” We are living examples of that. When God called us to start Your Personalized Bible, our reaction was “What do we know about publishing? What do we know about binding? What do we know about marketing?” I guess we kind of sounded like Moses arguing with God at the burning bush (Exodus 3). Am I willing to align my thinking with God’s Word even when it seems upside down, that is, contrary to the world’s way?

The beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-9 (NKJV) are a good example of how Jesus turned the religious thinking of His day upside down. He changes the very framework of how we look at life. Before we look at each beatitude, let’s see how the Amplified Bible defines “blessed”: happy, enviably fortunate, and spiritually prosperous—possessing the happiness produced by the experience of God’s favor and especially conditioned by the revelation of His grace, regardless of their outward conditions.” In other words, a joy that is not shaken by circumstances, that goes beyond surface emotions. With that as a background, we will look at the beatitudes:

–“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”–

The world looks for happiness in the next new thing: a shiny car, a new romance. Those things bring momentary bits of happiness but they lose their shine and we have to look for the next fix of some kind. Jesus teaches that happiness comes from humility. We must recognize our absolute need for Him. Our culture teaches self-reliance; God demands a poverty of spirit.

–“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”–

Blessed and mourn: isn’t that an oxymoron? We mourn the separation from God caused by sin. We mourn the direct connection to Daddy God that was lost through disobedience. Nothing can fill that void except a loving God and the eternal Comforter, the Holy Spirit.

–“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”–

The world views meekness as synonymous with weakness. The Biblical meaning is quite different. Meekness brings the picture of a powerful horse trained to a bridle, in other words, power under control. In Numbers 12:3, Moses was called the meekest man on earth, yet he stood up to Pharaoh demanding his people be released and then he dealt with the rebellious nation during 40 years of leadership. Jesus faced the cross without lashing out at His tormentors. That was power under control. A.W. Tozer said, “The rest Christ offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend.”

–“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”–

The Pharisees taught that righteousness was a matter of externals: ritual washings, following a set of legalistic rules, fasting, etc. Jesus brought righteousness to a question of relationship with the Father and accepting the gift of right standing by faith. 2Corinthians 5:21 brings the truth home: “For Him (Jesus) who knew no sin He (the Father) made to be sin on Gill’s behalf; so that in Him Gill might become the righteousness of God.”

–“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”–

From Genesis to Revelations, God reveals His mercy culminating in the greatest act of mercy in human history – the cross. We are called to show that same mercy to others. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Gill is to be kind to others, tenderhearted, forgiving others, just as God also in Christ forgave Gill.”

–“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”–

The Pharisees were all about the externals. God is interested in right motives. Acceptance of Jesus as Lord means I became a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17). The stains of the past were wiped away. To maintain that purity I need single minded devotion. A pure heart begins with Jesus.

–“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”–

The world celebrates the warrior: Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Patton. As Christians we celebrate the Prince of Peace. Man has no ability to achieve peace of himself. There can be no peace until we are at peace with the One who created us. Philippians 4:7 promises, “The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard Gill’s heart and thoughts in Christ Jesus.” With that peace in our being we can become ambassadors of peace, thereby peacemakers.

A Boy Scout is taught to find the North Star to navigate at night. It is the only one that is not going to move. Orion may be easy to spot with its bright stars and distinctive pattern, but it will be in the east at one time, in the west later. We need the solid rock of God’s Word to navigate this life. The world wants heroes. They look to sports stars, movie stars, even politicians.  Jesus says, “Follow Me.”

Jesus was willing to reach out and touch the leper (Matthew 8:3). As ministers of the Gospel (that’s every Christian) we are challenged to see the person, not a label. Today’s leper, the outcast of today’s society, is the sex offender. A few years ago, I was invited to minister in a group home that was transitional housing for men coming out of jail. As a jail chaplain that seemed an easy transition until I was told many of them were sex offenders. I wanted to pull back but I felt God calling me to meet that need. In the ensuing years that I have worked with that home I have come to know those men not as a label but as good-willed men searching for God.

Take something that is upside down and turn it upside down what do you get? Right side up! That I think is the key of the Gospel. To the one who has lived upside down long enough the one who is right side up looks upside down. Several years ago the U.S. military conducted an experiment. They gave each participant special glasses that inverted what they saw. At first they were disoriented and nauseous, but remarkably quickly their brains adjusted and they were able to function normally with the ground up and the sky down. It became the norm for them.

We face a choice: to live like the world upside down or to stand on the rock of the Word and live upright before God. Do you have the courage to go against the world’s way? James 4:4 warns to be friends with the world is to be an enemy of God. To paraphrase Romans 12:2, “Don’t be conformed to the upside down world but be turned right side up by the renewal of your mind.”

Bloodline of a Champion

Did you have a pet growing up? I remember Butch, half German shepherd, half whatever climbed over the fence one night, but he was a great dog for a boy growing up. He would wrestle, swim and fetch. Our daughter’s family has Edgar, a pug. He is unbelievably ugly, still he is a purebred, and therefore expensive.

I was speaking with a friend recently and he related an experience he had as a young man. He had worked at a ranch one summer and as the summer was drawing to a close, the owners told him they might not have the cash to pay him but instead were considering giving him a colt that had recently been born. He thought, “What am I going to do with a horse?” He was relieved when they were able to come up with the cash instead, but he came back to the ranch a couple of years later and learned the colt they were going to give him was now was worth over $1 million. Why? He was in the bloodline of a champion.

In Numbers 13, the Israelites sent twelve spies into the Promised Land. Ten of the spies forgot God’s covenant; they forgot their bloodline. Joshua and Caleb kept focus. They were ready to follow God to victory. Christ died once for all. In doing so He established a new covenant. Hebrews 10:4 explains that all other sacrifices fall short, only the blood of Jesus can take away sin. Colossians 1:13 promises the God “delivered Gill out of the power of darkness, and translated him into the kingdom of the Son of His love.” My life is different because of what Jesus did. 1Peter 2:9 says, “Gill is a member of a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that Gill may show forth the excellencies of Him who called him out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Does that sound like we are second class citizens?

We give the devil far too much credit. Our biggest battle is not outside but rather on the inside; it is the battle for our mind. Remember, the devil was defeated 2,000 years ago. It is not the devil’s goal to get me to sin. I will just repent and get back on track. Rather he wants to change the way I think. If he can control my thoughts, he can control my destiny. You see thoughts produce actions. Actions form habits. Habits establish character. Character determines destiny.

Phil 4:6-7 tells us, “Gill is not to be anxious in anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, Gill is to let his requests be made known to God. The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard Gill’s heart and thoughts in Christ Jesus.” God’s peace comes as I allow His Word to direct my thoughts. 2Corinthians 5:17 promises that the old has passed away. I can live in the victory of a life made new. I am in the line of a champion.
1Peter 1:18-19 tells us we were redeemed by the blood. Today that has become little more than a religious cliché but to Paul’s readers it meant much more. Redeemed was a term from the slave market. They knew it meant rescued from a life of misery and certain death and set free to live the life God meant for them.

According to Revelations 12:10, the devil is the accuser. What about God? We are told in Romans 8:33-34, “Who could bring a charge against Gill, because he is one of God’s elect? It is God who justifies Gill. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and more than that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God and makes intercession for Gill.” Because of Jesus’s blood, we are free from condemnation. Colossians 1:19-20 tells us we have peace through the blood. When I need peace, I need to remember the blood. Rev. 12:1 says, “They overcame by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.” We need both parts: what Jesus did on the cross and what we do by our words.

Being in the bloodline does not guarantee a champion. We must grow into a champion.
Whether it be in sports, apprentice for a trade or any skill, we must be trained and practice. It is the process of Tell/Show/ Do. We recently hired a new employee and had to take her through an extensive training process to learn all of the details of our business.
1. Tell – Training starts by telling the person what is expected, what must be done. In our spiritual walk, the Bible is our training manual. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “The word of God is living, active and sharper than any two-edged sword.” God provides the direction and wisdom that we need.
2. Show – After telling what is needed, we need to demonstrate the actions. We need pastors, leaders and godly friends in our lives to live out the Christian walk for us to follow. In 1Corinthians 13:1 Paul makes a remarkable declaration, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” He understood the need for not just preaching the Gospel, but also living it out in front of those he taught.
3. Do – Before a new skill is really ours, we must practice, we must “do it”. That means incorporating it into daily living. Daily living Philippians 4:9 says, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
4. Coach – The final step is we need correction and accountability. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus instructs us to ‘make disciples’. He isn’t just looking for numbers; He wants dedicated followers who are learning and growing. We must be teachable as well as accountable not only to God but to whomever He establishes over us.

To reach a goal takes focus. I recently read “No Easy Day” about Seal Team 6 and the killing of Osama ben Laden. That operation took planning, training, and focus. What I focus on becomes magnified in my life. If I focus on the negative, it will get bigger. If I focus on God’s blessings, they will be also be magnified.

Did you know that I can foretell the future? There is nothing magical about it. If you don’t change, if you don’t focus, your future will look a lot like your past. The important question is does that give you a warm, contented feeling or does it strike terror?

Where should I have my focus?
1. Focus on Christ: Heb 12:2 commands us to “look unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. If I focus on sin, it gets bigger, if I focus on Jesus, He gets bigger.
2. Focus on others: Luke 19:10 tells us Jesus came to seek and save the lost. If my focus is on me, “I want, I need, I feel”, how can I be a positive influence in the world?
3. Focus on the power of God: When David faced Goliath, he needed that focus. In the natural, he would have said, “Who am I kidding? This rock isn’t big enough!” (1Sam 17) But he knew it wasn’t about his slingshot but the power of God working in and through him.

Let me leave you today with one last Scripture. The doormat in front of our house proclaims Joshua 24:15: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” When you were born again, you were born into a new bloodline, that of a champion. Are you going to live like the world and become a plow horse or will you choose to serve the Lord, live by His leading and experience His victory?