Beyond The Wildest Dreams

imageMy parents separated when I was young. So, whenever I learn of a marriage ending, I always relate to the children involved.  As a child, I recall lying in bed at night dreaming of the day I was grown. I didn’t know what I wanted to do yetbut I did know what I wanted to be. I wanted to be surrounded one day with my loving wife and kids. I wanted to be enveloped in their love and they in mine. I dreamed of being a dad and a husband. I dreamed of having a family united, because that is what I lacked.

Although my parents and step parents were kind, gentle and loving and did the best they could under the circumstances, there was still something about a divorced home that calloused my heart – and as I grew, so did my skepticism. I began to doubt marriage, for I saw very few long-term successes. Sadly, in time, I ditched my childish dream, thinking instead, who needs the headache and heartbreak of marriage (Psalms 146:3)!

The Dream: Thankfully, despite all this growing pessimism, God intervened and introduced me to a person I fell completely in love with. For the first time, in a long time, I once again had dreams of marriage and family. Yet, we both carried baggage into our relationship and faced many rocky roads – some we feared could lead to our own separation. It was then, when faced with my worst fear of repeating the life I so desperately wanted to avoid, I realized how hopeless I was without Christ. I believed in Jesus, but I was not surrendered to Him as my Lord. For, I was consumed and distracted by worldly pursuits and didn’t understand the power an intimate relationship with Christ provided (1 John 2:15-17).

The Dependence: Broken and desperate for hope, I surrendered my life, my marriage, my children, my career, my money, my everything to Him. It was no longer mine to try to control and keep, but His. It was His to direct, His to protect and His to sustain. As a result, God has restored every aspect of my life and has blessed my marriage in ways that surpasses all my wildest dreams.

The Deliverance: Clearly, everything is not perfect, but despite imperfections, our home is filled with the love and joy only God can provide. I now have unwavering hope for the future and for others who have grown discouraged with their dreams. For when we are in Christ, He wants to give us the righteous desires of our heart, because He is the One who plants them there (Psalm 37:4-5).

Application: “Christ Restores Faith, Families and FuturesJoel 2:25-26
When our Lord is Jesus Christ, we are never without hope. For even though there are consequences to past decisions, when we seek and surrender our lives to Him, He knows how to restore brokenness, mend wounds, heal homes and refresh dreams.

Relying On The Reliable

imageReliability is defined as being able to depend confidently in something – and to put complete trust in it. As we consider the world we live in today, what could possibly fit this description? Clearly, nothing and no one, but Jesus Christ can even come close. Therefore, whenever we feel like everything around us is falling apart, let us look to Him and remember all the reasons we have to never lose hope:

Provision: Over and over again, the Bible reminds us that our primary source of provision is God, not our jobs, not our clever maneuvering and not our abilities (Philippians 4:19). This type of thinking however is difficult for the world to accept. For humanly speaking, we are taught to believe that only the strongest and fiercest competitors can survive and thrive. Yet, as believers, we learn just the opposite. It’s when we are weak, He becomes our strength. When we are reliant, He gets to prove reliable, and when we are humble, He gets to be our promotion. Thus, the remaining question for us to consider is who do we trust in most to provide for our every need – ourselves, others, or God?

Protection: Many times, the more we have, the more we fear losing. It may be our health, our loved ones, our possessions and/or our positions we crave to protect. And clearly, we are called to be good stewards with what we’ve been given, but this is not the same as worrying and obsessing. For example, we should care for our bodies by eating well, exercising and getting plenty of rest. We should be wise with our finances by saving, tithing and being cautious to the pitfalls of debt. We should invest to protect our relationships, and we should strive to always give our best, but there is a healthy balance in all these things. Therefore, as we acknowledge all we have comes from God, we can look to Him to also be the protector of all these things as we seek to use them for His glory (Psalms 121). However, when there’s loss, we mustn’t fret, for if all comes from Him, it is also His to take. Therefore, the opportunities for us are to trust God’s purposes and glean all we can from our situations in order to strengthen our walk with God and serve as stronger encouragers to others.

Preparation: To help us make the greatest impact for His Kingdom and serve as faithful stewards, everything we need to know to lead good and productive lives are revealed in His word (Psalms 119:97-100). Do we desire to be better friends, parents, spouses, leaders, workers, money managers and disciples? If so, let us invest to consistently studying His word, spending time in prayer and engaging in productive fellowships.

Application: “Trustworthy with Time?” – Ephesians 5:15-16
We don’t know how much time we have left on this planet. Neither do we know the day of Christ’s return. As a result, we may unknowingly squander the precious moments we do have on frivolous pursuits, worries and fears. However, when we rely on God to help us number our days so that we can make the most of every opportunity, we receive our blessings with open hands of gratitude. He is then reliable in making us better stewards of the time, talents, treasures and testimonies He has given us.

Constructive Collaborations

imageThe Message translation of Proverbs 18:21 states matter directly that “words kill, words give life; they’re either poison, or fruit – you choose“. In fact, there are numerous passages in the Bible highlighting the impact, importance and impediments our words can create. Thankfully, the Spirit transforms our heart so that the things that come out of our mouth can also be transformational and a proper reflection of the Holy within. We then receive further guidance and direction in God’s word to help us construct our conversations in the most impactful way:

Illustrate: Jesus was the best communicator to ever live, and He provides us with several insights to learn from. For example, we know He strategically used parables and stories to help illustrate His points (Mark 4:33). Therefore, so can we. When we are speaking, or in conversation, it helps those we’re engaging with when we use examples, either real life, or descriptive to illustrate and emphasize our key points.

Instruct: When we speak, are we simply rambling, or paying careful attention to the impact we desire to make (Ephesians 4:29). We risk numbing those we speak with when our communication is weak, wandering, or whiny. Therefore, let us look to speak with clarity and with content. Or as one communicator once shared – “may our talks be as brief, blunt and brilliant as possible“.

Intercede: When we engage in conversations and collaborations, are we seeking to advantage ourselves solely, or is there benefit for others (1 Timothy 2:1)? Many times, we may be tempted to fight for our own causes, but is the greater good being served this way? As Jesus always demonstrated, He was seeking the best interests of others – not soley His own. If so, He would have kept quiet, rather than sacrificing it all for the sake of saving souls.

Application: “Witness Stand” – 2 Timothy 2:24
Whenever we speak, we have an opportunity to take a stand for truth and serve as a witness for Christ and His agenda, over our own. This doesn’t mean we don’t take time to laugh and enjoy casual conversation. However, it does mean we should be generous with encouraging and constructive words that are void of gossip and complaining. For what and how we communicate can serve as a powerful testimonies in a world of ridicule, propaganda and opposition.

To G.R.O.W.

imageThere’s a proverb in the agricultural community that advises farmers to grow what they know. No doubt, good advice. For farming is risky enough, without adding to it by making an investment in something you know nothing about. However, this is exactly what so many of us do when it comes to our stewardship. For example, some of the key financial principals I speak on at town-halls can also be applied to us spiritually. Ideally, when we make an investment, we should know what we’re investing in. Likewise, when we understand the profound investment God has made in each of us, we are positioned to make better decisions that ultimately help us G.R.O.W. in our stewardship & Kingdom impact:

Goals: The first step before making any investment is determining your goals. What do we desire to achieve? For example, is it to retire by a certain age, pay for a wedding, buy a home and/or pursue an advanced education? As Christians, what are our goals for Jesus? Consider – are all our goals self-focused, or do we possess goals to grow in our faith, our trust in God and our impact for Christ (Philippians 3:13-14)?

Risk Tolerance: Once we know our goals, we can best determine the steps necessary to achieve them. However, this involves knowing how much risk we are willing to take. For example, knowing how much financial risk we’re comfortable with greatly determines the investment options we have. Likewise, how much risk we’re willing to take for Jesus, greatly impacts the options and opportunities we get entrusted with. Will we choose to limit ourselves and our opportunities, or will we trust God and surrender ourselves fully with “reckless abandonment” for Christ (Luke 14:33)?

Options: Once we know our risk tolerance, we can begin reviewing our remaining choices. In financial terms, this may mean we’re limited to shoving our cash under a mattress, or it could be more expansive to include saving accounts, CDs, bonds and/or stocks. Spiritually speaking, how many Kingdom options has our risk tolerance allowed God to give us? Will we stretch to serve, steward and sacrifice for Him in all we do, or have we chosen to restrict ourselves to sitting, soaking and souring like the servant who fearfully buried his talent(s) in the ground (Matthew 25:25-29)?

Work It: This is the most vital component we have. If we don’t engage our options and actually do something with what we’ve been given, it’s meaningless. Likewise, if we don’t engage for the gospel, mix our faith with our actions and actually go where He sends us and do what He asks us, nothing happens (Hebrews 4:2). Potential goes to waste and “what could have beens” are all that remain.

Application: “Miss The Risk” – Psalms 40:4-5
We can miss the risk of “missing out” by investing time in prayer to solidify our Kingdom goals, surrendering our wills to God, discerning the opportunities He gives us and then committing ourselves to action. This process not only establishes sound stewardship behaviors, but more importantly, it helps us avoid missing out on the many adventures God prepares for us – all designed for His glory and our eternal benefit.

Entangled By Entitlements

imageAllowing ourselves to believe this life owes us anything sets unrealistic expectations of fairness that only fuels our feelings of frustration and discontentment. For it’s been correctly stated that gratitude begins where entitlement ends. Thankfully, God’s word directs us on how we can best break the entanglements entitlement can create in order to experience a fulfilled life centered in Christ:

Seek: Clearly, we seek what we desire – and if we aren’t careful, this may become more possessions, more pleasures, more promotions and/or more power. Granted, these things aren’t necessarily wrong and God may even provide them in time, but our ultimate desire and pursuit must always be Christ-centered, rather than self-centered (Matthew 6:33). When Christ is first, we begin to see whatever we have and/or are given as gifts to steward and whatever we don’t have as opportunities to trust in His timing and perfect intent.

Steward: A steward is defined as a person who manages another’s possessions and/or affairs. With this in mind, how do we handle the time, talents, treasures and testimony we’ve been given? God does not provide us with such responsibilities in order to overwhelm our worries and workload. Instead, He desires to shift our self-reliance to Christ-reliance. This means we seek His direction over our own (Luke 16:10). As a result, He becomes responsible for helping us with all He’s entrusted to us. Just consider – how many things might have been done differently if we had only sought God’s guidance first?

Serve: Just as the Bible tells of the donkey that was untied and freed from his earthly master to serve Christ’s purposes, we are likewise untangled and freed from the mastery of sin to serve God in all we do. Yet, do we respond to this gift by living for Christ and for His glory, or to win the praises and promotions of man? To desire praises over Christ is to be as foolish as that donkey coveting the praises given to Jesus as he served his duty in carrying Christ into Jerusalem (Luke 19:35). Rather, may we always rejoice in simply having the blessed opportunity to participate in any of His purposes.

Application: “Loosed Living?” – Philippians 2:8
Even though we are no longer bound by sin as Christians, there remains a continuous battle to restrict our impact and witness for the Kingdom. For if we fix our eyes on self, others and the world, we will no doubt become entangled with pride, worry, fear, discontentment and selfishness. However, when we focus on Jesus, He frees us from the chains designed to stifle us. As a result, His desires become our desires and we are empowered to humble ourselves in obedience so that we can avoid the various impostors biding for our devotions.