Speaking And Stepping

imageIn Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, there is a scene where Indiana has to cross a great ravine, but there seems to be no safe way to do so. Do you recall what he did? He literally had to take a leap of faith and walk off the ledge. As he does, he suddenly discovers a way to cross was there all the time, hidden from sight by an optical illusion. However, it took faith mixed with action to reveal it.

How can we ensure we do likewise and never allow our faith to stagnate. Three reminders can help reveal how active we’re allowing our faith to be:

Usefulness: Does our faith contribute to any impact in our own lives, or the lives of others (1 Thessalonians 1:3)? For example, there was a time in my own life I claimed to be a Christian, but frankly, I wasn’t living for anyone but myself. I neglected my health for work, my family for work and my faith for work. Achieving more praise and promotion was my idol and everything of true value was being sacrificed in order to accomplish these shallow goals. It wasn’t until I was faced with a poor health diagnosis due to stress and lack of exercise, unrest in my family due to unintentional neglect, and an emptiness in my soul due to God being misaligned in my priorities that I collapsed to my knees in complete surrender to God, begging for His intervention. Today, by the grace of God, my health is good, my family is blossoming, God remains my highest priority and work is no longer an idol, but a gift that allows me to help others and share Christ. Therefore, the question we can all consider during our lifetime is how useful are we allowing our faith to be?

Heartlessness: Do we believe in Jesus? Good. However, even the demons believe (Mark 1:24). So, does that make them Christian? Clearly not, for they do not combine their belief with surrender, or obedience. Rather, it serves to fuel their rebellion. Thus, who are we serving when we claim belief, but continue to live in rebellion to Christ? This is why knowledge isn’t enough, and why Jesus declares we need to be born again. This occurs when we surrender our lives to Christ, receive His Spirit and our hearts are renewed – a miraculous transformation only Jesus can accomplish.

Fruitfulness: During my days as a “cultural” Christian, there wasn’t much eternal fruit being produced. Even though I had a good job, was in a respected leadership position, had a beautiful family and was a friendly guy, there wasn’t much being generated for God’s kingdom – it was all for my own. Therefore, may we always consider our actions – do they indicate we are living for ourselves, or for Christ? For God’s children, regardless of what is professed, will always be known by their fruit (Matthew 7:20-21).

Application: “Sound Of Silence” – Genesis 3:6
Where was Adam when Satan approached Eve in the garden? We might initially think she was alone. However, the truth is, Adam right there with her. Yet, he remained silent. He knew the truth, but he took no action. He did nothing with it. We too know the truth, but how often do we remain silent, or take no action? Like Adam, our silence has dire consequences. Thus, may we always seek to mix our walk with the talk.

Is The Golden Rule Still Cool?

imageIntegrity stems from the word, integer, which is a mathematical term used to describe a whole number. Thus, the word integrity can be used to define one who is also whole, or undivided and uncompromising in their convictions. Said another way, a person with high integrity isn’t wishy washy – and although a person’s level of integrity may not always be immediately visible to others, there are three primary ways it can be measured over time:

Abuse: We don’t have to develop an elaborate Pozzi scheme in order to take advantage of others, for it can be accomplished in much more subtle ways (Zechariah 7:10). For example, during a recent visit to a busy ice cream shop at the beach, I was awarded $15 in change, when I was only due $6. It was an innocent error by the cashier that I failed to notice since I quickly shoved the dollars in my pocket in order to keep the line moving. However, after I left and went to place the dollars in my wallet, I noticed the mistake. I now faced the choice many of us have encountered before. Do I keep the change and justify it as being their fault, or do I inconveniently turn around and go all the back to return the money? Honestly, my mind shamed me by trying to find some rational excuse to keep moving; but thankfully, I quickly flushed those ideas and am happy to share that the money was returned, the cashier was extremely grateful and my kids learned a valuable lesson in never compromising their integrity – a reward no amount of money could ever replace!

Avoid: Another way integrity is manifested is in our areas of service to others. No other illustration captures this better than Jesus’ story of the good Samaritan. For as we know, many “good” people in the story justified their reasons for passing by the injured man and not disrupting their schedules. Likewise, how many times are we presented with opportunities to help others with our time, talents, or treasures, but instead seek valid reasons as to why we can’t, or shouldn’t (James 2:17)?

Assist: In the same story, integrity of course, was demonstrated by the Samaritan who did stop to help and even went so far as to make a monetary investment in the injured man’s well-being (Luke 10:33-35). Similarly, how many needs are there all around us, and how willing and available are we to be used by God for their benefit over our own – even when it’s not convenient, or comfortable?

Application: “Dare To Care” – Matthew 7:12
What if we were the cashier who gave too much change to a customer and faced potential consequences with their boss, or if we were the injured person in need of care, but no one stopped to help? Now consider if we experienced someone returning the money, or helping to bind our wounds. What would the impact be, especially if we discovered they were Christians? Would we be more open to the gospel, and more willing to receive the truth? May we therefore always seek and cherish those opportunities that come our way to live lives of integrity and distribute the blessings of the “golden rule”.

“Special Forces”

imageI recently attended a conference where a former Special Forces soldier shared the arduous process candidates must endure in order to graduate. Although difficult to imagine how they even survive some of the challenges, they are strategically designed to accomplish specific purposes. The larger objectives being to equip the soldiers on how to best accomplish their mission, defeat their enemy, and if captured, overcome the various tortures they would most likely receive.

As I listened, I couldn’t help but reflect on how God also allows us to face various trials for the purposes of maturing our faith, overcoming our enemy and receiving victory in our own lives (James 1:4). Therefore, three mindsets can help us stay on course during our most difficult days of trial:

Training: Our challenges often serve as our most valuable training grounds. Just like the soldiers must learn to endure hardships, struggles and difficulties that may appear extreme, they all work together to help the soldier enhance their battle and survival tactics. Thus, as believers, we need not get discouraged by our trials (Psalm 144:1). For when we are in God’s hands, these times are purposeful in our development to be more like Christ.

Tackles: These are the pains and hard-hits we take in life.  Just like the soldiers in training camp can expect hits, so should we. We need not be surprised by hardship. Rather, we should anticipate them so that when the tough times come we are in a place of preparation and protection – never taken off-guard, but always standing ready (1 Peter 4:12-13).

Transformation: It is nearly impossible to successfully complete Special Forces training without a physical and mental transformation taking place. Likewise, when we accept Jesus as our Savior and surrender to Him as our Lord, we are completely transformed by being born again with a new source of power and strength. Thus, we are equipped to face our trials with a new confidence, trusting that they are purposeful and serve as His precious training grounds in making us more like Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Application: “Choosing To Not ‘Ring’ Out” – Matthew 7:13
The individuals participating in these elite trainings can choose to quit at any time. All they need to do is ring a bell and with no questions asked and with no condemnation, they are free to walk away. This is much like our walk with Christ. For we can always ring the bell and choose to walk away from the opportunities He sends our way, or we can maintain our faith in God’s promises and the eternal rewards that lie ahead as we confidently rely on Christ to see us through every step of the way in becoming His special forces in the world.

“Casting” Crowns?

imageThis title is not referencing the Christian band, although I do appreciate their music ministry. What I’m referring to is the meaning of the word “casting” and how it relates to the way we live out our life. For example, the dictionary provides various definitions for casting. In one sense, it involves the act of throwing off, or throwing away. Thus, when we cast our crowns, we are throwing away something of worldly value, ridding ourselves of pride and of our selfishness for our lives now belong to Christ and He is the only reward we need.

However, the other description involves an object’s formation and hardening process. This type of casting involves those times we’re tempted to construct our own rewards, promotions and/or treasures. Sadly, these acts are typically generated by pride and can eventually lead to a hardening of our hearts. Thankfully, this doesn’t have to be the case as we learn to guard ourselves from the three vulnerable areas we’re most likely to attempt casting our own crowns:

Castles: These are our possessions, for many times, even Christians fall into the trap of materialism. This is manifested when we begin focusing on what we drive, where we live, our brand of clothes and where we vacation – but in the end, does any of this truly matter? Of course not, but let’s be honest, these trophies and crowns can be very appealing to our flesh and even though they are not wrong to have, our obsession for these earthly treasures can begin to harden our hearts to the things of God (1 Timothy 6:10).

Conquests: These can also be seen as our pursuit for positions of power. Clearly influence is a potent tool God places in the hands of His children, but what began as a blessing can quickly become a burden when we begin using it to fulfill our own desires over God’s. Thus, what is the purpose behind our desire for power and promotion? Is it to simply gain more control, or are we surrendered to the point of trusting God to place us where He wants us, when He’s ready and for His promotion (2 Corinthians 16:9)?

Kingdoms: These are the agendas we seek to promote. For example, are we more concerned with which political party is in control rather than the morals and character of the individuals elected? God does not prefer one social class, culture, or skin color over another. For as believers, we are all His children. Thus, whose kingdoms are we striving to expand and promote – His, the world’s, or our own (1 Chronicles 4:10)?

Application: “Avoid Turing Blessings To Burdens” – James 5:2
Many times, we appropriately share God’s blessings with others, but there may be occasions, we feel tempted to begin hoarding these blessings for ourselves, rather than using them to spread God’s agenda. This is when we begin the construction of our crowns rather than casting them for God’s glory. As we know, all good things flow from God, but even those good things can quickly become burdens when they get pursued and prioritized before Him.

Prospecting For Peace?

imageI am always grateful for any time my family is blessed with the opportunity to head to the beach. However, no matter how much I enjoy our time there, it’s interesting to consider how my motivation for going has changed over the years. For example, before my walk with Christ deepened, I sought the beach as a sort of refuge – a place to find peace and renewal. Yet, these days, I simply appreciate the opportunity to invest uninterrupted time with my wife and kids, and the tranquil backdrop of the ocean now serves as another reason for praise rather than a fleeting source of peace. This is because once we know where our lasting source of peace comes from, all other attractions, no matter how beautiful they may be, gain their proper position in our life:

Creation: God’s creation is truly magnificent. At times, I have even found it difficult to articulate and visually absorb the indescribable beauty some sceneries provide. However, no matter how inspiring a setting may be, our Creator is even more so. Therefore, nature is not there to replace our worship for God, but rather to reflect His glory and promote our praise (Psalm 19:1).

Carnality: In addition to nature, we may also be tempted to seek peace through sensual gratifications, such as possessions, power, popularity, parties and/or physical intimacy. However, once again, whatever temporary highs these things may provide, they are followed by even deeper lows and eventually result in spiritual poverty (1 John 2:16-17). Only the things of Christ can last forever.

Ceremony: No system, or acts of ritual can serve as a substitute for the peace only Christ can provide to those surrendered to His Lorship. Although, some may seek it through meditations, or mechanics, we know, only Jesus can serve as our lasting source of peace (John 14:27). People have been described as having a hole in their soul, and often times we may attempt to fill this hole with various pleasures, but Jesus is the only solution to attaining the lasting fulfillment and peace we seek.

Application: “Thirst Quencher” – John 4:14
When we are extremely thirsty, only one drink can satisfy – water. Nothing else can quench deep thirst, for our bodies are built to need it. It craves it, and if we go long enough without water, our bodies eventually shut down and die. Our spirits are no different. We are made for God and our internal unrest is a build-in reflex like our thirst. It’s a craving that nothing can fully satisfy, nothing but Jesus.