What I Learned From Rocky, Part 2

boxingIn 1976, a low budget film starring an unknown actor was released that immediately became a classic: Rocky. We experienced the exhilaration of his dancing at the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We experienced his pain in the grueling training. We experienced the satisfaction of a goal met. We felt his pain and his joy because he was no superhero. He was just one of us.

There are a number of life lessons conveyed in this movie. Last time we looked at “Don’t let the world define what success looks like” and “Believe in yourself.” Let’s continue on:

#3 Don’t give up

Rocky faced setbacks, ridicule and obstacles that should have ended his dream, but he refused to give up. From the minute we are born life is a struggle, it always was and always will be. We are reminded as we watch our newest grandchild, Caleb. He started life by struggling to breath, to roll over and then to crawl. He would try to stand up but fall down time and time again until he learned to balance. Then came walking and running along with its scrapes and bruises. Did he stop? No, in spite of the struggles, in spite of the falls, he pressed through. Now mom has to run to keep up with him! Ahead is still bicycle and baseball, grades and graduation. Still further is job, marriage, children, aging, loss of loved ones. Reality is life is going to knock him down.

We can rest assured we will encounter pain and struggle. Everyone does. But it is the one who gets up before they are counted out who has a chance at seeing victory. These people look toward the prize. They know that failure is not about getting hit and knocked down; that is to be expected when you are in a fight. Failure is when you stay down. One of my favorite toys when the kids were small was an inflatable punching bag that was weighted at the bottom. When you hit it, it would fall over but then pop right back up. Down and back up, down and back up. The bottom line is: we get knocked down and we get back up.

There will be times when we try hard, give it all we’ve got and still get beat up by life. Rocky Balboa tells us: “It’s not about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…that’s how winning is done.” That goes along with the Bible in Philippians 3:14 (NKJV); “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

#4 Use what I have

Rocky didn’t have it all growing up in a troubled Philadelphia neighborhood. He trained by running the trash strewn streets. Who could forget the classic scene of Rocky pounding a side of beef in a meat locker? While his opponent trained with the finest equipment and latest technology, Rocky used what he had. I can’t expect to always have the best tools at work, so I must learn to work with –and appreciate – what I have and trust God to do what I can’t.

Paul said in Philippians 4:13 (NKJV), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” My strength comes from God but it is still up to me to step out and put action to my faith. If I don’t have the desire to make something happen, then it’s not going to happen. Success comes when preparation meets opportunity. Rocky was fortunate in that his opportunity allowed him plenty of time for training, for preparation. Most of the opportunities we encounter will require advance preparation.

You have probably never heard of Shamgar. He only gets one verse in the Bible: Judges 3:31. One day he was attacked by the enemy Philistines. All he had to defend himself with was an ox goad, a pointy wooden stick, but with it he killed 600 Philistines. That happened not because he was highly skilled at using a pointy stick as a weapon but because he depended on God and used what he had.

Samson picked up the jawbone of an ass. David had just a sling and 5 stones when he faced Goliath. A young boy had a lunch of 5 loves and 2 fish that he gave to Jesus. Each used what he had and great things resulted. Their obedience allowed God to put His super on their natural.

Everything I hold in my hand is either a burden or a blessing depending on what I do with it. When I hold on, it becomes a problem. When I yield it to the Lord, He is able to release its potential for blessing in my life.

#5 People matter

According to Rocky, “You hang around coconuts you get nowhere…. You hang out with nice people you get nice friends. You hang out with smart people you get smart friends. You hang out with yo-yo people you end up with yo-yo friends. You see? It’s simple mathematics.” That goes along with Proverbs 27:17 (NKJV), “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Imagine yourself standing on a chair surrounded by four friends. Your job is to lift all four up onto the chair while their job is to pull you off of the chair. Who is most likely to succeed? It is impossible to associate regularly with evil people and not be contaminated by their ideas and habits. 1Corinthians 15:33 (NKJV) warns, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” When someone influences us to make a choice we know is wrong, we have, in effect, decided that their approval is more important to us than God’s.

We constantly face the temptation to follow the crowd, but not all who smile at us are going in the same direction. We need discernment and a willingness to distance ourselves when needed. That is when unity with other believes is so important. Being in relationship with like-minded friends shields us from that pressure. We need to choose a few fellow disciples to be with us. You might call them “lifeboat buddies”. Eccl 4:9-12 Proverbs 18:24 (NIV) tells us, “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

I don’t live in a vacuum. I need to ask myself who is influencing me. Are they moving me closer to the cross or further away?

Finally, we need to allow the Word of God to transform our thinking. That is where our guidance, our strength and our hope comes from. Psalm 118:6 promises, “The LORD is on my side.” Perhaps in a boxing match we cannot expect that but certainly in the battles of life we can depend on that promise. Paul, in 1Corinthians 5:59a (NIV) admonishes, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you.” Sounds like Rocky read that verse.

What I Learned From Rocky, Part 1

boxersIn 1976, a low budget film starring an unknown actor was released that immediately became a classic winning 3 Academy Awards: Rocky. We experienced the exhilaration of his dancing at the top of the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. We experienced his pain in the grueling training. We experienced the satisfaction of a goal met. We felt his pain and his joy because he was no superhero. He was just one of us.

There are a lot of life lessons I learned from Rocky:

#1 Don’t let the world define what success looks like

What does winning look like? In boxing, you’d think winning means knocking out your opponent. For Rocky, in his first movie, it was about “going the distance”, which meant lasting all 15 rounds with Apollo Creed, the world champion. Winning shouldn’t be what others define it to be, it’s a goal I set for myself. As a Christian my fulfilling God’s purpose for my life marks success.

There will always be people around telling me what constitutes success. The world says success lies in what I have accomplished and what I have accumulated. If I buy into their standards, those same people will be happy to inform me when I’ve failed.

The Bible tells of a young man who was his father’s favorite. Jealous brothers sold him into slavery. Falsely accused of rape, he spent years in prison. Through the trials, rejection and suffering, he remained faithful to God. His name was Joseph. Was he a success? His actions saved his family, the very ones who had betrayed him. In Genesis 50:20 (NLT), Joseph told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” He fulfilled God’s purpose for him.

Another man served as God’s prophet for 40 years. He was rejected by his neighbors and family. He suffered deprivation and imprisonment, but he remained faithful and courageous in proclaiming God’s word. His name was Jeremiah. Was he a success? As one of the major authors of the Old Testament that we still read today, he fulfilled God’s purpose for him.

Finally we can read about a man who had little in material possession. He was rejected and hated. His family thought he was crazy, religious leaders ridiculed him and his closest friends deserted him. Finally, he was tortured and killed. His name was Jesus. Was he a success? In God’s eyes, the redemption of all mankind was accomplished that day on Calvary. Philippians 2:7-11 (NKJV) says, “(He) made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Jesus too fulfilled God’s purpose for Him.

There will always be adverse forces trying to thwart our goals. There will be contrary winds. The world pushes in on us. The Phillips translation of Rom 12:2 warns us that the world will try to “squeeze you into its own mold.” The world considers power, prestige and prosperity to be the highest goals, but when my security and value rests on my own wisdom and performance, success has become an idol. 1John 2:15 (NIV) warns, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” Stephen Covey said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

Proverbs 21:21 (NLT) declares, “Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love will find life, righteousness, and honor.” What is your definition of success? Mine is fulfilling God’s purpose for my life.

#2 Believe in myself

Rocky was just another run of the mill boxer, a bum in his words. The only thing that got him a shot at the title was his nickname, “The Italian Stallion”. As long as he saw himself as a bum, he would stay there. The story of Rocky is the odyssey of change as he begins to believe in himself.

In the hard times we need an anchor that grips on solid rock. We once chartered a small boat with two other couples. The skipper put down the anchor when we stopped to snorkel but when we went to leave, the anchor was hung up on a rock and no amount of pulling would free it. Finally he had to dive down to free it. As Christians we are anchored to the rock of Jesus Christ. The strength of that anchor enables us to believe in God and believe in ourselves.

As I minister weekly in the county jail, the men I encounter believe in God but many don’t believe in themselves. We have been made new creations, but religion and tradition develops a mindset of unworthiness and failure. As long as we are trapped in sin consciousness we cannot live in the revelation of our identity in Christ. If I truly believe in God then I should believe what His Word says about me, that I am loved, forgiven, chosen and victorious. I am the righteousness of God in Christ. God has so much confidence in me that he made me His ambassador.

The devil goes about like a roaring lion trying to stir up fear in people with his roars (1Peter 5:8). But the people who are not devourable are those who refuse to be intimidated by his roars because they know the true Lion of Judah, Jesus Christ (Revelation 5:5), has already come and rendered powerless him who had the power of death. (Hebrews 2:14)

Many churches use a declaration: “I am who God says I am. I can do what God says I can do. I have what God says I have.” That is a declaration of “Christ in me” and it strengthens my belief in myself.

Next time we will look at other life lessons further.


Great Wall of China

I want to tell you about Joanna Grace.  That is not her real name, at least not yet. Her real name is… No, that’s not important because that is part of who she was. What is important to us is who she is becoming.

Our daughter and son-in-law are in the final days of adopting a 3 year old from China. It has been a long, frustrating process for them, but in just a few days we will welcome our newest grandchild, Joanna Grace. I am sure that little girl has no comprehension of what will become hers in a few days with a new name and a new inheritance.

I have been adopted into the family of God. Therefore I have the rights and privileges of a son, just like Jesus. The intimacy that was broken by Adam’s sin has been restored through the blood of Jesus. Just as Joanna lived the first three years of her life with no knowledge of my daughter’s family, so I had lived my life apart from Christ. But now I have been adopted into a new family with the rights and privileges that come with that adoption.

Just as Joanna did not seek out my daughter’s family, I did not first come to God seeking salvation. He first sought me out offering it to me. I may not be the choice of the world but I am the choice of God. When someone asks me who I am, I can say, “I’m one of the chosen.” “Oh, chosen by whom?” “God.” “Really, when?” “Forever.” “Why?” “It had nothing to do with me. There was no me when God decided it.” I am temporarily living in the earth but I am a citizen of heaven.

Ephesians 1:3-8 (NLT) – “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” Let’s take a quick look at some of the key spiritual blessings referenced in this passage:

  • Chosen: My daughter looked through hundreds of profiles from dozens of countries before choosing Joanna. God had you and me in mind since before the creation of the world. No one is a mistake or an accident, despite what someone might have said. My mom was 42 when I was born. A surprise, yes, but not a mistake. It doesn’t matter what a miserable life we may have had: rejected by family, abandoned by loved ones, betrayed by friends. In Christ each of us is chosen.
  • Adopted: I have been brought into a new family with its rights and privileges. Through adoption, I am a son of God. This is not a relationship of “Oh, Heavenly Father, high above the earth in unapproachable light!” but it allows me to cry out “Daddy!” and run into His arms. That is the meaning of “Abba” in Romans 8:15b (NLT): “You received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’”. Let’s not pass by that statement without thinking about it. To the first century reader it was a radical concept. God had never been addressed in such a personal way.
  • Grace: One of the translations of the Greek word for grace is empowerment. In Christ, I am empowered to live a new life, empowered to break the bondage of sin and empowered to impact those around me with the Gospel.
  • Purchased: Other translations use the word redeemed. That means bought out of slavery to sin and given freedom through Jesus’ blood. When my future was the hopelessness of death and damnation, God picked me up and set my feet on a new course.
  • Forgiven: Jesus took upon Himself the punishment for my sin so that I can stand before the Father holy and without fault. In other words, righteous. Because of His sacrifice in my place, I am forgiven.

2Corinthians 5:17 declares that I am a new creation. What do I receive as a new creation?

  • A new name. In Biblical times great emphasis was placed on the meaning of a name. Hosea named his children as a means of prophesying against Israel. He named one Lo-Ruhamah (which means “not loved”); the next he named Lo-Ammi (which means “not my people”). Just as Joanna received a new name so also Revelations 2:17 promises those who are victorious will receive a new name. “I don’t feel very victorious.” The Bible tells me that in Christ I am victorious. (Romans 8:37(NIV)) The walk of faith means I believe the promises of God regardless of my feelings.
  • A new family. Colossians 1:13 (NLT) tells us, “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.” Just as Joanna is being brought into a new family, in Christ, I too have a new family in a new kingdom. I am no longer in bondage to the bitterness and defeat of the past but I now come to the Father as my daddy. Who I was before is gone, wiped out.
  • A new inheritance. Romans 8:17a (NLT) promises, “And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory.” Joanna is entitled to an equal inheritance with her new brothers and sister.  I may not receive a great inheritance of money or land, but my inheritance as a joint heir with Christ is untouchable, unchanging, and inexhaustible.
  • A new destiny. I once was destined for hell. My destiny now is heaven. Ahead of Joanna lies opportunities that could not be imagined in a remote Chinese orphanage. I can get far too focused on the here and now and lose an eternal perspective. Life comes with trials. “We must pass through many troubles to enter the Kingdom of God,” (Acts 14:22 GNT)  Endurance is based on perspective. If I focus on just today, I can become discouraged and defeated. An eternal perspective reminds me that the present troubles fade in the view of heaven.

Has Joanna’s past left scars? Certainly, and they will take time to heal: scars of loneliness, rejection and hopelessness. The promised land was a land of rest where God promised His people would receive “large and beautiful cities which you did not build, houses full of all good things, which you did not fill, hewn-out wells which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant”. (Deuteronomy 6:10–11 (NKJV)) but the scars of their life as slaves kept them from having the faith they needed to enter.  I have a new destiny, a new relationship with my Heavenly Father and the family of God. I can choose to enter or, like the Israelites, wander in a wilderness of despair and hopelessness. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:11 NIV)

My heart breaks for the thousands upon thousands in orphanages around the world, many in abject poverty and deprivation. The problem is overwhelming but the life of one little girl will be changed forever because our daughter is willing to make a tangible sacrifice. There is a story of a little boy who came across thousands of starfish washed up on the beach. He began throwing them back into the water when an old man came by. The old man said, “Look at all those starfish. Do you really think you can make a difference?” The little boy picked up a starfish and said as he threw it into the water, “I can make a difference for this one.” Where can I make a difference today? I may not be able to impact the world but I can impact one life.

Let me tell you, my daughter has become an amazing mom. I know of no one more dedicated or self-sacrificing: home schooling four kids, laundry, meals, ball games and practices, constant demands and constant stress. And she always does all this with a cheerful attitude? Well, I said she was amazing, not perfect. God isn’t looking for perfection; He is looking for growth. At the end of the day, can I say I’ve grown closer to God that day? Has it been a day of progress or retreat? Have I pressed toward the goal of His high calling?

Hebrews 12:2 describes a great cloud of witnesses that is cheering me on in my earthly race. That is my family, not just my mother or father, but the family of God, the one I was adopted into when I made Jesus Lord of my life. That place is secure.

“The way of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, which shines ever brighter until the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18 NLT) Joanna is beginning a new path. I too am challenged to continue my pilgrimage through this life fulfilling God’s purposes and drawing closer to Him each day, knowing that I am a son of God, a joint

A House on I Can Do It Street

san-franciscoImagine with me God the Father seated on His golden throne, His feet resting comfortably on a velvet foot stool. The air is heavy with the fragrance of flowers; Hillsong music is playing quietly in the background. He looks over the side of His throne down to earth and suddenly His eyes widen in horror, His feet drop to the floor with a thunder that shakes heaven and He says with a slight edge of panic in His voice, “Jesus, My Son, come quickly. Look at what Joe just did! Did Your sacrifice cover that?!” Jesus extends a nail-scarred hand to rest gently on the Father’s shoulder, “Yes, Father, My blood covers even that.” No, that conversation just ain’t gonna happen.

If I told you some of the things of my past would you be shocked!? Perhaps. Is God shocked? Of course not. If I could look into the future and see everything I will do someday would I be shocked? Undoubtedly. Is God? No. The truth is I cannot shock God. There is nothing God can’t fix through the blood of Jesus. More than that, there is nothing He hasn’t already fixed through the cross.

There is nothing spiritual about guilt and condemnation. God does not expect a penance of beating ourselves up for a period before he will forgive us. Guilt is just unforgiveness of myself and, like unforgiveness, it keeps me chained to the past and the devil loves it. Why would I continue whipping myself when Jesus took the whip for me?

When our oldest son, our firstborn, was little we made a lot of mistakes. We used negativity to motivate and we disciplined out of anger. We basically followed what was modeled to us by our parents. Today he is bitter and angry. The choices he has made sadden me but we have asked his forgiveness and God’s forgiveness. That is something “behind” (Philippians 3:14) and I will not be chained to feeling guilty about the past I can’t change. Not forgiving myself would be destructive to my destiny. I could not be a light of God’s love if I remained under a burden of guilt for every sin and failure of my life.

I was burdened by guilt and condemnation for many years after I became a Christian. Then I read a verse that changed my life: Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” The key is to repent and let go. 1John 1:9 promises, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Once we confess, once we repent, they’re gone. Why would I keep holding on to them? That just sucks me back in.

I will never be who God wants me to be if I am loaded down with guilt. There is a difference between healthy grief and carrying a burden of guilt and condemnation. Sorrow for sin is normal but a burden of guilt drains my energy and my desire to grow and serve God. I will be held back from going where God wants me until I am willing to let go of my past.

Isaiah 43:25 promises, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Why am I still talking to God about things He has forgotten. Am I waiting for God to do something in my life? He has already done all He is going to do. Now it is up to me. I can’t change yesterday but I can change today and changes made today will change my tomorrows.

When our children were small we would load them in a backpack and hike with them. Problem was as they got older, they were darn heavy. So often I carry around a sack of guilt. I may put it down for a while when I go to church, shove it under the seat in front of me but after the closing prayer I pick it up again and carry it out with me. I may feel energized to carry that burden more easily for the moment but it is still there. It weighs me down and soon I am stumbling and shuffling under the unbearable weight again. That is the time I need to remember Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Ever feel like you can never do anything right and please God? Romans 5:20 promises, “Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.” Grace is the empowerment from the Holy Spirit to overcome sin.

When Derek Jeter of the New York Yankees strikes out, do you think he comes off the field saying, “I’m such a loser. I can’t do anything right.” Or is he saying, “OK, I’ll do better next time. What do I need to change? I better be out for batting practice early tomorrow.” He is not dwelling on the past; he is focused on the future and that focus makes him an overcomer. Forward focused. When I sin I need to be asking: What was the trigger? What do I need to be doing differently? Every failure can become a launching pad to growth.

Guilt starts as a thought, becomes a feeling and we too often live by our feelings. When I live by what I know is true and not my feelings, my feelings will eventually change to line up with truth. All problems can be traced back to the way I think. That is why the Bible talks so much about our thoughts: Be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2), As a man thinks in his heart so is he (Proverbs 23:7), Bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2Corinthians 10:5). Meditating on the word of God will change my thinking, change my feelings and ultimately change my life.

Romans 6:2 declares I died to sin. Yet sin seems to be alive and well, screaming at me every day. Here is the difference: The new me does not want to sin. Sin has been taken care of. I am a new creation (2Corinthians 5:17). I have a new heart to replace a stony heart (Ezekiel 36:26). I am the temple of the Holy Spirit (1Corinthians 6:19). Is God giving me a license to sin? No! (You wouldn’t be reading this if you were looking for an excuse to sin.) God sees my heart. I have a new heart, a new desire to please God.

Jesus was my substitute in taking sin to the cross. All sin was taken care of. I don’t need to pay for it because Jesus paid for it.  In God’s eyes that was me on the cross. That is not, “I hope so, maybe it’s so, I wish it were so.” It is a fact. My name is written in heaven. Romans 6:3 promises that I can live in newness of life. That comes from knowing who I am in Christ.

What do I think are God’s expectations of me? God is not as hard to get along with as I may think. Matthew 5:48 says, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Whoa, that’s a pretty high standard, impossible in reality. I can get discouraged pretty quickly trying to live to that standard, but the Amplified Bible gives a fuller picture, defining perfect as “growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity.” Life is not about having arrived but about growing. It is time to leave the city of regret which includes thought like, “I should have…” “I shouldn’t have…” “I did it again!” “I should know better.” “I’m never going to change.”

I died with Christ and now I live with Him.  The closer I am to God the more strength I will have to do the right thing and reject the wrong thing. When I fail, I repent, recognize that I have more growing to do in that area and keep moving. I don’t need to fear sin because it can’t conquer me.

According to 1John 2:1, if I should sin I have an advocate, a lawyer, someone on my side. When our son was killed, we hired a lawyer to help with the insurance settlement. He was the one on our side though all negotiations.  That is who Jesus is for me before the Father. He was the atoning sacrifice.

Hebrews 12:1 describes a cloud of witnesses that are cheering us on in this race. That is my son, my mom, the child we lost to miscarriage.  You may finish reading today and make a nasty comment to someone or dwell on a selfish thought, and the devil is right in your face saying, “How can you do that when you just came from church! You are never going to change!” “Devil, shut up. I am growing.” Hebrew 9:12 (NIV) says, “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” The work of redemption is complete. That promise is not just for Billy Graham or your pastor or Roy the gal in the next row at church. It’s for you!  Every stain removed. We have been set free.

Let’s start building that house on I Can Do It Street. Here are some construction materials to use:

  • I am a friend of God. (John 15:15)
  • God is on my side. (Psalm 118:6)
  • God lives inside me. (1Corinthians 3:16)
  • I have been made alive with Christ. (Ephesians 2:5)
  • Nothing can separate me from God’s love. (Romans 8:35-37, 39)
  • I am more than a conqueror in Christ. (Romans 8:37)
  • I am a new creation. (1Corinthians 5:17)
  • I am the righteousness of God in Christ. (1Corinthians 5:21)
  • I am free of condemnation because I am in Christ. (Romans 8:1)
  • The Father loves me as much as He loves Jesus. (John 17:23)

Tunnel Vision

TunnelI recently saw a video used in police officer training. In it the officer was directing a suspect to put down the rifle he had in his left hand. The suspect was compliant but the officer was so fixated on the rifle that he didn’t see the suspect reach with his right hand for the handgun that was in the small of his back. It is called tunnel vision as the field of vision narrows and the individual is blinded to all distractions and other threats.

Tunnel vision is what a wide receiver has, not thinking about crowd noise only the football as it spirals toward him. Or the batter as he concentrates on the baseball hurling toward the plate. Even the Anheiser Bush Clydesdales wear blinders to block out distractions.

In 1994, Tom Amberly set a world record by making 2,750 free throws in a row. Some important facts about this record are:

  • He was not a professional basketball player, he was a foot doctor.
  • He was 71 at the time.
  • He did not miss number 2,751. The building manager shut off the lights and closed the gym.
  • According to Amberly, “The only thing limiting you is yourself….we are more limited by our beliefs than our ability.”

Tunnel vision on the right things can be good, on the wrong things it is a disaster, because what I focus on gets bigger in my life. A man is so focused on getting ahead in his career that he neglects his family. A mother is devoted to her children at the expense of her relationship with her husband. A teenager emphasizes sports and lets the grades slip. We get so busy with the cares of life that we lose sight of what is of eternal value. Matthew 6:33 (NKJV) tells us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

Samson (Judges 13-16) could have been one of the greatest leaders of Jewish history, but his focus was in the wrong place. He allowed the anointing of testosterone to overpower the anointing of the Holy Spirit. A man who could not be defeated from without was trapped by what was within.

Naomi (Ruth 1) returned to Israel after the death of her husband and sons and said God has dealt bitterly with me. She lost sight of the bigger picture that led to Obed, Jessie and David, the beginning of the generational line that would lead to Jesus. Tunnel vision gets us to focus on the pain and disappointment of today.

In Matthew 19:16-22, Jesus is approached by a young man who asks, “What must I do to have eternal life?” “Obey the commandments.” “I’ve done that all my life.” Jesus then hits at the heart issue for the young man, “One thing you lack. Sell what you have, give it to the poor so you will have treasure in heaven then come, follow Me.” The young man couldn’t do it. His focus was on possessions, not on following Jesus.

Matthew 13:22 warns that the thorns of power, fame or wealth will choke out the seed if we don’t have the right focus. Life is a race to be run. An athlete is focused on the finish line. In Paul’s day, the prize was a crown of olive branches, a perishable crown that soon wilted. Our prize is eternal life. We must live life with a sense of urgency. That requires ignoring the distractions of the world.

In Luke 10, Martha complains to Jesus because she is doing all the work and Mary had tunnel vision on Jesus. His reply in verse 42 (NKJV, emphasis added) is, “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The Garden of Eden was beautiful with all of the trees and all of the animals. God would walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. But Eve focused on only one tree and therefore lost sight of God’s plan.

Peter walked on water as long as he had tunnel vision on Jesus, but as soon as he allowed the wind and waves to distract him and took his eyes of Jesus, he went down. (Matthew 14:39)

In Psalm 27:4 (NKJV, emphasis added) King David declared, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” Tunnel vision.

In Luke 9:51 we read that Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem and the cross. He knew his purpose; He knew His Father’s plan and He would keep His focus on fulfilling that despite the suffering and shame involved. Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV) tells us, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

We can read Paul’s take on tunnel vision in Philippians 3:13-14 (NKJV, emphasis added), “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,  I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

“I do not count myself to have apprehended”

Picture a police office in pursuit of a suspect running down the street. “Officer Jones, what is your status?” “I have not yet apprehended, but I am in pursuit.”

Paul was a Jew of Jews, a teacher of teachers yet he counted all that as rubbish. He was imprisoned, whipped, stoned, shipwrecked, in danger of death throughout his travels. He had given it all yet he says “I do not count myself to have apprehended.” Paul spent much of his life in prison, but he did not sit there feeling sorry for himself or thinking about what he would do when he got out. Much of the New Testament was written while he was in prison.

How often do we get wrapped up in the “little” picture: a focus on today, how we feel, the present circumstances and forget tomorrow’s hopes.

“One thing I do”

Not 10 rules, not 5 steps, not 3 points, one thing. God keeps it simple: one thing. Tunnel vision. Another word is intensity. There was a time we were intense in pursuit of the devil’s plan for our lives. Are we now just going to be bench warmers? Someone does not become a winning athlete by listening to lectures or reading books or cheering from the sidelines. We must get in the game.

Paul did not say, “One thing I will do…” or “One thing I’m going to do…” He was living and acting in the present. What is the busiest day in the world? It’s not Christmas. It’s not Super Bowl Sunday. It’s not even Black Friday. It’s tomorrow! Tomorrow I’ll start that diet. Tomorrow I’ll put in that job application. Tomorrow I’ll start that Bible reading plan. Tomorrow I’ll really get my act together! Tomorrow, tomorrow.

“Forgetting those things which are behind”

There are times when I just want to feel sorry for myself. Sometimes I want to have a nice little pity party, sing a little “Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song” and just pout. Joseph in the Old Testament was sold into slavery and then spent years in prison. He could have been bitter but instead he told his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20a NLT)

Is it easy to “forget the things behind”? Of course not, but if I wallow in the sorrows of the past, I hinder my outlook on the future. Paul could have walked around all his life with a tremendous burden of guilt for his persecution of the church, but instead he used it to motivate himself to press forward.

“Reaching forward to those things which are ahead”

I don’t want to stay the same. I refuse to become satisfied or complacent. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1Corinthians 15:19 NIV) Joy does not come from external circumstances; it comes from the assurance of what I have in Christ and who I am in Christ.

“I press toward the goal”

When our son Paul was in grade school, he was active in competitive swimming. He was pretty good at it but he had one fault: when he was ahead he would look to the right or look to the left to see who was there and as a result lose time. We can’t be worried about what somebody else is doing. Like an athlete in the 100 yard dash, I don’t have time to look around comparing myself to others. I need to keep my eyes fixed on the finish line.

“For the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

This is a call to a higher way of living. I cannot stay the same. I cannot become satisfied or complacent. “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2 NLT) The things that sidetrack me now are trivial compared to eternity.

Press toward the goal:

  • “I just don’t feel it.” – Faith is not about feelings; it’s about choice. Press!
  • “I don’t think I can do it.” – With God all things are possible. (Mark 10:27) Press!
  • “I’ve failed so many times.” – His mercies are new every morning. (Lamentations 3:23) Press!
  • “The devil has such a grip on my life.” – Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world. (1John 4:4) Press!

Finally I ask that we reflect on the old hymn:

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full into His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.”

Intensity in our calling. Tunnel vision on Jesus.

Slippery Slope

golf-244041_1280I haven’t played golf since I was 18. I didn’t enjoy the game but my dad was a fanatic so, if I wanted to spend time with him it was golf or nothing. I will always remember a Par 3 that turned into a disaster. Only 150 yards but with a water hazard right in front of the green and it was straight into the wind. I hit a beautiful shot straight for the pin and… blonk into the water. I walked up to the edge of the pond and threw my second ball down in disgust. To my horror it hit the hard dirt, bounced once and rolled over the edge toward the pond. Unwilling to lose a second ball I dove for it catching it just before it reached the water. Then disaster struck. I was head down on a slippery slope. I started to slide into the water, up to my knuckles, up to my wrist, up to my forearm. That’s when I yelled, “Dad! Help!” Fortunately he was nearby and dragged me out by my ankles. I’m sure he always had a little chuckle thinking about that incident.

Psalm 40:2 (NIV) promises, “He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” If you have ever experienced a slippery slope, that is a good promise to have. Ever been on a water park slide? Now there is a slippery slope! Once on you are committed. No turning back. Every one of us was on a greased pole to hell, helpless and hopeless. Then God reached forth His hand to remove our guilt placing it on Jesus, rescuing us when we could do nothing for ourselves.

Ephesians 6:10-17 (NIV) tells us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

I want to focus on verse 15: “Feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.” In wrestling is being on your back a good thing or a bad thing? In football what if your quarterback is on his back at the end of every play? For a Roman soldier if he was on his back he was in serious trouble. It is essential that a soldier stay on his feet. The movie 300 began the main battle with the massive Persian army pushing against the ranks of the Spartans. They had to stand against a tremendous force.

The Roman soldier had an answer for the slippery slope. The sandals of the Roman soldier had spikes in them to give good traction. His very life depended on them. Those spikes in our sandals are how we have prepared by making the Gospel a part of our soul. If I don’t get it down deep on the inside, when I need it for traction it won’t be there. My sandals will be slick. Does it do any good for me to carry around a pocket full of spikes? No. Just carrying around my Bible is just as useless if I am not working to make it impact the way I live. The devil wants me to fall. 1Peter 5:8 (NLT) warns, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” He is looking for the Christian whose sandals are slick, unable to help him stand.

A classic example of the slippery slope is in 2Samuel 11. David first decides not to lead his army when they go out to war. Maybe this was irresponsibility or neglect of duty or just laziness, but it led to lust when he saw Bathsheba bathing. The slippery slope took him into adultery, deceit when he called Uriah back to cover up Bathsheba’s pregnancy, and finally murder when he ordered Uriah killed.  Jesus said that a man who looks on a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in his heart (Matt. 5:27, 28). He knew the slippery slope that it could lead to. If we tolerate sin, soon we rationalize the behavior and compromise what we know is right.

Jesus hinted at a slippery slope in the Sermon on the Mount when He said to cut off your right hand or pluck out your eye to avoid sin (Matthew 5:29-30), and Scriptures are filled with admonitions to avoid temptation at all cost.

We may be firm in our purpose and intentions but outside influences start to exercise their impact. 2Kings 11:4 tells us Solomon’s wives turned his heart. Amos 5:14a (NLT) warns, “Do what is good and run from evil — that you may live!” In Hebrews 2:1 (NIV) we further read, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.”

In Mark 8-22-26 Jesus healed a blind man. He warns the man not to go back into the village, back into the old environment, the old influences that will suck you right back to old ways of thinking and acting. Will I choose to live by what my Papa taught me, or what Uncle Joe told me? Am I going to live by what Oprah says, or Dr. Phil, or Bart Simpson? “Oh, I may watch The Simpson’s, but that’s just for entertainment. I don’t let it influence the way I live.” If I listen to it, even if I don’t consciously follow what it is saying, it is getting into my subconscious and influencing my choices. Even if I depend on what my Pastor says, all can be shaky ground, a slippery slope. I must live by the Word of God.

What examples of “slippery slope” can you think of?

“Yea, I’m having a beer, but I’ll stop at one.”

“I’m moving in with my girlfriend, but we have agreed that we will not have sex.”

“I’m going to the bar with my friends tonight, but I won’t drink.”

“Sure there will be weed at the party, but I don’t use anymore.”

“My friends at the club like to gossip, but I just don’t listen.”

Watch for the but. B-U-T spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

I have the privilege of helping our daughter homeschool our grandkids by teaching science. Recently we were studying friction. We looked at when friction is minimized (Winter Olympics need a slippery slope for bobsled, skiing or snowboarding) and when it is important (braking, steering, even walking). To have spiritual “friction” takes preparation, getting those spikes in our sandals.

Today we’re obsessed with speed, but God is more interested in strength and stability than swiftness. We want the quick fix, the shortcut but that does not produce character. One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 4:18 (NIV): “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” Growth is a process.

Life is a series of seasons: seasons of preparation and seasons of trial. There is seed time and harvest time. There is a time to prepare and a time to stand. Now is the time to prepare. Those that are best prepared will stand. “Champions do not become champions when they win the event, but in the hours, weeks, months and years they spend preparing for it.” – T. Alan Armstrong.

We fear change, even if our old ways are self-destructive because, like a worn out pair of shoes, they are comfortable and familiar. My recliner’s worn mechanism can be rebellious; the upholstery is torn in places but I don’t want to replace it. It’s comfortable. I must let go of old ways in order to experience the new.

We can get very comfortable in church, but when we step out into the world, the going can be very slippery. It’s easy to get complacent. “Oh, it’s so nice and peaceful here. I want to stay here forever.” Well, you can’t. Look at the horizon. The dark clouds are gathering. A storm is coming. It’s time to get ready.

Every time I memorize a Bible verse, every time I meditate on God’s truth, I am adding a spike to my sandals. What are some of those verses?

  • I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. (2Corinthians 5:21)
  • Nothing can separate me from the love of God. (Romans 8:39)
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)
  • There is therefore now no condemnation because I am in Christ. (Romans 8:1)
  • I am a new creation; the old things have passed away. (2Corinthians 5:17)
  • This one thing I do, forgetting what is behind and looking to what is ahead I press toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

I want us all to become cobblers, shoe makers. I can’t make sandals for you. We can’t go to the store and gat a pair of “made in China” spiritual sandals. Every morning when I put on my shoes I want to ask, “Are my feet shod with the Gospel?” At night when I take off my shoes off I want to ask, “Did I add a spike to my sandals today?”

Pulling Down Strongholds

hohensalzburg-fortress“Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” I’m sure you have seen that bumper sticker. Our issues have different names but the question is the same. I am “more than a conqueror” (Romans 8:37) yet I still struggle daily. I’ve lost more than my share of battles to worry, fear, unbelief, pride or lustful thoughts. Maybe someone has said to you, “If you really wanted to change you could.” Or “You must not really be saved.” And there is a little demon on your shoulder saying, “Yea, that’s right!”

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13 NLT) Everything except live victorious it seems. “For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us.” (2Corinthians 1:20 NKJV) Yet I seem to experience some of God’s promises are yes and amen while others are just hit and miss.

In Romans 7:15 (NIV), Paul cries out, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” Why can’t I overcome trust issues? Why am I so selfish? Why, if I’m promised perfect peace, do certain fears seem to have such a grip on me? Why do I struggle with pride, anger, bitterness? Why do I continue to struggle with “old things” rather than they’re being entirely gone? Why can’t I seem to be what God’s Word says? Because as long as strongholds remain, it is difficult to be truly free.

I lived in bondage to a stronghold for years: the belief that I had to earn my way into heaven. If I could just be good enough, do enough good things to counterbalance the bad, God would accept me. The dirty little secret that I hid from everyone was that I knew I was failing miserably.

What strongholds have you overcome? What are you still fighting?

  • “This is all a big cosmic accident.”
  • “My identity is in my job.”
  • “I have to look out for me. No one else will.”

A paradigm is a mindset, a filter for my actions that becomes a prison, a stronghold or negative destructive thought pattern tattooed on my mind. If allowed to develop it can imprison me for life. We are not controlled by truth; we are controlled by what we believe to be true. What happens to me (the facts and events) is not really what creates the stronghold; what I believe about what happened creates a stronghold. Parents divorce: “It was my fault.” Not chosen for a sport’s team: “I’m not good enough.” I use coping mechanisms to minimize the pain I feel and end up reinforcing the stronghold and adding another brick to Satan’s fortress inside my soul.

Strongholds produce involuntary actions. Consciously choosing to believe something contrary to what’s in my subconscious doesn’t bring lasting differences. Zig Ziglar said, “You cannot consistently perform in a manner that is inconsistent with the way you see yourself.” The subconscious is not changed simply by a conscious choice. Because of those strongholds, it is difficult for me to accept new truth. We all know those who came forward to the altar for salvation and within a few weeks were right back living full on for the world. What happened? Their spirit was reborn but it never impacted their soul.

My soul needs realignment. You’ve probably driven in a car that was out of alignment. It can be very tiring to constantly pull on the wheel to keep that car on the road. If my soul is out of alignment with God’s truth, I will need to work extra hard to stay on track.

I am already a new creation in my spirit; I am becoming a new creation in my soul. My spirit is new; my soul is being made new. 1Timothy 6:12 says we must “lay hold of eternal life.” What God has already given me in my spirit I can fail to experience in my mind, emotion and will unless I “lay hold”. But it’s not too late for breakthrough. We must become who we are. Becoming is a process.

2 Corinthians 3:18 (NIV) declares we are “being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory.” My spirit may declare “I believe.”, but my soul instinctively says “Prove it.” My soul will constantly seek to haunt me with reminders of the old sinful nature. It will try to paralyze me with fear over all of the “what ifs”.

Romans 12:1 declares that we are to be “living sacrifices”. To do that we must take those old belief systems and strongholds to the cross. That requires that we “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” according to Romans 12:2. I can’t afford to accept the blueprints that the world around me and my past experiences have drawn. It is time for transformation.

John 12:24–26 (NKJV) says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.  He who loves his life will lose it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also. If anyone serves Me, him My Father will honor.” Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross was as a substitute for me but in another sense He insists I go there too. We hear too often a “what’s in it for me” gospel but transformation will not occur without dying to self and crucifying the flesh. For me to experience victory, my will and emotions must die.

2Corinthians 10:4 (NKJV) tells us, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds.” It is in taking up my cross daily (Luke 9:23) that I experience the daily release of power and life. Jesus calls me to join him in the crucifixion so that I may have life. We are not called to stop thinking or to squelch our feelings, but we are called to bring our thinking and feelings under the control of our spirit. It is then that we can say no to pride, to revenge, to dishonesty, to addiction, to fear, to the spectrum of self-centered attitudes and choices.

In 2Corinthians 12:9, God tells us, “My power is made perfect in weakness.” Paul recognizes the inherent weakness of his flesh and is forced to rely on God’s ability working in his spirit. The soul cannot heal itself. The power for healing is only found at the cross. My reborn spirit is stuck behind a carnal soul determined to get its own way. It’s trapped behind thick walls fortified by pain, sadness and suffering.

My soul has been in the driver seat for a long time and it does not enjoy taking a back seat. My mind, will and emotions by their nature do not like to be held in check or corrected. We can react in one of two ways to Christ’s offer of rest: whine, cry and scream about wanting our way, or settle down, take His yoke and know that He’ll come through. My soul says “I want what I want, and I want it now!!” but that is not the path to freedom and life.

How do I see myself in the mirror of my mind? Fat? Unwanted? Stupid? Perhaps I’ve experienced abandonment or rejection. Then there is verbal, emotional and sexual abuse. All of that creates a self-image, beliefs that are formed and then control me, whether true or not. Until the mirror in my mind is transformed it will trump God’s view of me. Casual daily Bible reading or hearing a sermon on Sunday will not do it. The Word is to us spiritually what natural food is to our body (Matthew 4:4). As a cow chewing her cud, we need to get everything out of the Word. When we digest God’s Word we are receiving His life.

Hebrews 4:12–14 (NKJV): “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.” It’s not enough to simply think about it; we must say it. Planting the seed of God’s word in our soul involves confession: saying what God says about me. The first step in confession is agreement – to acknowledge the truth of something.  The second step is to submit, to obey. This allows the Holy Spirit to make the written word become the living word. As we abide in God’s Word the Spirit begins to enable us to truly understand and embrace it.

We will not experience growth and maturity unless we are willing to embrace the process that yields them. We long for the finished product but we must embrace a passion for the journey. Life is a process. Our journey is not going to be a quick fix. 1Corinthians 2:9 (NKJV) promises, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Keep that promise in mind as you press forward.

I have had experiences that I have walked away saying, “I’ll never be the same!” And a few days later I was the same. Why was that? All truth comes in seed form. As I abide in God’s Word, I will see the fruit of that seed tomorrow. I shouldn’t expect freedom while short-circuiting the process. Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) that if the seed is nurtured and protected, it will grow to produce fruit. Abiding in the Word means meditating on the Word, memorizing it, singing it, writing it out, and declaring it. In a word: perseverance. Galatians 6:9 (NIV) promises, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

If we fail to carry the process of freedom all the way to its completion, sooner or later that remnant of the stronghold will grow back to its former size. When I pull a weed in my garden, I have to be sure to dig down and get the entire root or that weed will just grow back stronger. The same is true of strongholds: if I leave part of it behind, I will pay a price later.

Pastor Rick Warren  says, “I am a product of my past but I am not a prisoner of it.” I can rewire my brain by overwriting old memories. It requires focus. Just like sunlight focused by a magnifying glass, increases the sunlight’s power, I need focus to overcome stronghholds. In Philippians 3:13-14, Paul declares: “This one thing I do…” That’s focus!

When The Going Gets Tough

“When the going gets tough…Kayak

…run to mama.” (It worked when we were kids.)

…go shopping, eat chocolate, do anything but the hard stuff.”

…it’s OK to quit. It’s probably too hard for you anyway.”

I like a quote by Tommy Lasorda, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 70’s and 80’s: “When the going gets easy, watch out! You may be going downhill.”

Here is the most important one, “When the going gets tough…the Christian leans on God.” Psalms 18:2 (NIV) declares, “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” God is my source of strength through the inevitable hard times.

Recently we were channel surfing and came across an old episode of Colombo. What caught my eye was that Jonny Cash was making a guest appearance. In the show he sang the Hank Williams classic from 1948 “I Saw the Light”. What struck me was the line, “Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight.” The problem with that is I think it is warped Christianity. It may get someone in the door of the church but it won’t keep them there. If I walk into the county jail and declare, “Give your heart to Jesus and tomorrow you will walk out a free man.” I might get quite a few takers, but what happens tomorrow when they are still locked up. I better not show my face in there for quite a while.

Jesus talked about it in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13:20-21: “But he who received the seed on stony places, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures only for a while. For when tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he stumbles.” When trials come they fall away.

The whole notion that being a Christian means an easy life has only come forth in the last 200 years. Before that Christians generally recognized that life included trials and suffering. The pivotal moment in the Gospels is the suffering and death of Jesus. The balance of the New Testament is a chronicle of the suffering of the early church and encouragement to hang in there.

If you think you have it hard, read Hebrews 11. Early Christians were stoned, sawed in half, killed by the sword, destitute, oppressed. Paul described his life this way in 1Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” Jesus warned us in John 16:33, in this world we will have tribulation, troubles, sorrows, suffering. (Are we having fun yet?) But He doesn’t just tell us, “Deal with it.” He gives us the good news at the end of that verse, “But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (NLT)

I’ve had my share of problems: on the job, relational, financial, death of loved ones. But there is a joy, a peace, a sense of fulfillment and purpose that the world can’t offer. It’s not about the outside; it’s about the inside. C. S. Lewis once said “God whispers to us in our pleasures…, but shouts in our pain.” The more I look at Jesus the more the Spirit can mold me, because in the fire I am softened and more moldable.

Nowhere does the Bible promise an easy, comfortable life. Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT) warns us, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” General Dwight Eisenhower, commanding general of Allied forces in World War II, said, “There is no victory at bargain basement prices.”

Instead God promises strength for the inevitable battles that are part of life. Ephesians 6:10-19 describes the armor of God. It isn’t given to us so we can play dress up or just sit back in our Lazy-Boy. (That Lazy-Boy would probably be pretty uncomfortable with the breastplate shoving up against my chin and the hilt of the sword poking me in the ribs.) Armor is given to be used, because we face a battle.

Romans 8:37 says we are more than conquerors through Christ. “More than a conqueror” implies there will be a battle. We can’t be victorious without one. How do I live victorious?

  • Recognize the battle is in my mind. Lottery tickets are sold not based on the odds or the taxes that will be due or the ruined lives that can come with sudden wealth. No, they paint a picture of carefree luxury to lure people in. Romans 12:2 warns us that we must renew our mind, renew our thinking. Before 1954, sport authorities said the human body was incapable of running a 4 minute mile. They said the runner’s heart would explode. Yet on May 6, 1954 Roger Bannister ran a 3:59.4 mile, because he changed his thinking. Today the Olympics require a qualifying time of 3:55. When you know who you are in Christ, worldly obstacles won’t matter anymore. 2Corinthians 10:4-5 (NKJV) declares, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” The battle is in my mind.
  • Recognize Jesus already won the victory. The cross looked like defeat; the tomb looked like the end. When Jesus stepped out of that tomb, it wasn’t just His victory. According to Ephesians 2:6, in Christ I was raised with Him. That was my victory too. God causes things to happen at exactly the right time! My job is not to figure out when, but to make up my mind that I won’t give up until I cross the finish line.
  • Recognize that we conquer through praise. In 2Chronicles 20, Jerusalem was faced with an impossible situation surrounded by a vast army. Under God’s guidance, Jehoshaphat sent out singers ahead of the army. The result was the enemy turned on itself and Jerusalem was victorious. Praise may not change the outward circumstances but it will change our inward attitude. Psalm 150:6 declares, “Let everything that has breath, praise the Lord!”
  • Recognize that the reward is worth it. I enjoy hiking not because the sweat and strain of climbing a steep trail is so much fun, but the view and the surroundings at the end are rewarding. No mother will tell you that she enjoys childbirth, but to hold that little one makes it all worth it. 1Corinthians 2:9 promises, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” Think about that… and smile
  • Recognize we need each other. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up. Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Palm trees can withstand high winds and intense desert storms. Their secret is how they intertwine their roots. Alone a palm tree doesn’t stand much of a chance but together with other palm trees they gain strength from each other. We are no different in needing each other for the strength to stand.

James 1:2-4 tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Skipping to verse 12: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” Perseverance is not being delivered from the storm but the ability to get to the other side.

Pain is inevitable but misery is optional. In 1873 Horatio Spafford had lost most of his property to the great Chicago fire. He had lost a son to scarlet fever. While he finished up some last minute business details, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him to Europe. The ship carrying his family sank with only his wife surviving. A short time later as his ship passed over the spot where his daughters had drowned, he wrote the hymn: “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

When the going gets tough… remember where you’re going. When the going gets tough… lean on Jesus.

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.”