Resolutions

The Lord is the one who goes ahead of you. He will be with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.

~ Deuteronomy 31:8 NASB  ~

Even before accepting Christ as my personal Lord and Savior – I had a problem with resolutions. Some believe they are gateways to new horizons and a plumbline to keep us on the straight and narrow. I never felt disciplined enough to keep them on my own for an entire year unless it was something I enjoyed. Here’s a question. What describes a resolution? Webster says many things but a few stuck out to me. The act or process of reducing to a simpler form; the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones;  A mended way or firmness to a thing; a formal expression of opinion, will, or intent. Most of us think of them as just a promise to do something different in the new year.

Maybe you are like me, asking where the thought of a New Year’s Resolution began. Is it just a tradition we often attempt to but fail to maintain? New Year is not a Western tradition but began in Eastern culture. Around 2000 B.C., the Babylonians celebrated a twelve-day festival called Akitu- though for them, the year began not in January but in mid-march. This festival was the start of the farming season when crops were grown. The Babylonians crowned a new king to reaffirm their loyalty to the reigning king. Also, promises are made to the gods to pay debts and return borrowed farm equipment. The Babylonians believed if they kept their word, their (pagan) gods would bestow favor on them for the coming year. The ancient Romans adopted this same theme with resolutions. The Julian calendar in 46 B.C. declared January 1st as the start of the New Year, and changes to the god Janus were promised during this time. (whom January is named)

No matter how hard we attempt to keep these partial promises, we often fall short, whether your resolution involves a new workout routine, new diet, new relationships, new outlooks on life, career, or success. Resolutions are great, but there has to be something more driving us to want to change behaviors, habits, character, and even our outlook. It is good to have resolved as if in a debate with myself to change directions or come to a finalized conclusion, but honestly, I discipline for a little while, but I can become weary. Have you ever found yourself in similar thoughts regarding new year plans and things you want to be different or change?

Our intentions are good, but I would like you to consider whether this is enough. Friends, we cannot maintain these promises in our power and skill but with the help of a loving Lord. Our Lord has made the greatest resolution for us all, one that will never fall short, change or disappoint. He has promised that his resolve will last longer than two weeks or six months; in fact, he desires us to trust Him with our best resolutions. Meaning we must put them in His hands and leave them there. It does not require lip service and mental preparation as much as surrender, but surrendering our best attempts to a gracious, loving Lord, who takes a little bit and creates fantastic outcomes.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding, seek His will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.

~ Proverbs 3:5-6 NASB ~

Former President Kim B. Clark of BYU- Idaho was quoted in a 2006 devotional as saying, Well doing occurs through small things; great things come from small things. It is natural to grow weary in doing small things; but if we give our hearts and minds to the Lord, we will not grow weary, we will do the small things that make great things happen, and we will build Zion.

Perhaps you have become weary in this season- give Christ a try. I challenge you to allow His resolution to become yours this January. Take faith, weave it into daily life practicality and see the beauty that it creates. Let the Lord teach you in this season how to stick with the commitments we profess. Trust him to be your strength and the fulfillment of all we set out to change, create or cultivate in this New Year.

The Gift in Giving

We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters. If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person?

~ 1 John 3:16-17 NASB ~

This time of year brings joy and laughter for many reasons. For children, it is exciting because it means new toys and clothes. For us adults, it is a time of reflection, getting together with family, and (if blessed to do so) taking off from work for a few weeks. But for others, this time of year brings sadness and highlights them being alone and less fortunate.

A few years ago, while driving home from work. I encountered a homeless man while stopped at a red light. He wore a tattered, brown trench coat and dusty black sweatpants. From the looks of him, he appeared to be handicapped as well. I began to see him more consistently. I began to give him a dollar or two when I traveled that way. This day around Christmas, I felt the Holy Spirit tell me to ask him his name. I obeyed. One thing led to another, and I told him I was going to bring him some items for him to have. What stood out was that he had one foot covered in newspaper clippings wrapped with rubber bands; on the other, he wore a cardboard box. Immediately, I asked him what size he wore in shoes and where did he stay? He obliged and gave me an address. I was so excited and went straight home and believed the Lord had told me to put a package together for this man. I still remember what I gave him – three bags of chips, three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a jacket I barely wore, and a pair of black Jordans. I was elated to bless someone who appeared to be in need

I jumped back in my SUV and headed to the address he had given. When I turned on the street, I was a bit confused because the house address he provided was nonexistent. I thought I misunderstood what he said for a second, and then I saw him. However, “the him” I saw was almost unrecognizable. The person I saw with the unkept brown trench coat, black sweatpants, and distinct shuffle was now moving with a more pronounced stride. He had a baby blue shirt, blue jean shorts with a small tear in the left pocket, with a new pair of grey New Balance on his feet. I was shocked and confused. This scenario did not end as I thought. And for a while, I asked the Lord where the purpose was. It tested my heart’s condition to see if I was giving with the right intentions and God’s love. He took the items I brought for him ashamed, but I genuinely believe it was not about him… but me. I never saw him again.

1 John gives us a blueprint of a true example of selfless love in one sentence. “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us” (16). This scripture is a perfect depiction of Agape’ or unconditional love. Strong’s dictionary of Bible Words defines Agape’ as this, Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren or toward men generally. It is not an impulse from the feelings; it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. In short, real love expresses action, not just a feeling. And Christ showed the world love in motion when he took on our sin. I am thankful for His love for me daily. When I reflect – to be honest, it overwhelms me at times. Because when I see those that are less fortunate or perhaps have lost a loved one, I may not always take a moment to think about how I can show love for another human, but Christ did. That is so powerful to me. Love in action is the gift that we all can give during this season. Jesus gave it all up for us so let us consider what we can provide for someone else.  

For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord.

~ 2 Corinthians 8:5 NASB ~

Apostle John wants us to know without a doubt what it means to live as a Child of God and how we, as his Children, should love one another. It requires two words selfless and sacrifice. We have a choice to make. Here is a closing thought. The gift of giving is not contingent upon whether the person we decide to give to is in need; it is based on our heart’s condition.

During this season, will you represent as a child of God? Do you know someone that is in need? If so, what are you willing to give up for them?

Lord, thank you for the person reading this at this very moment. Reveal to them someone who is in need of your love and allow them to be a blessing and share the Gift in Giving. Thank you for your son, Jesus Christ, loving us enough to show in Action. Help us to imitate and show others in our community, workspaces, and the World the gift that you give so freely – If we would just embrace it. Thank you for this Christmas season and thank you again for the gift of your Son, Jesus Christ.

In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Spilled Milk

I am a die-hard Washington Commanders fan. Growing up in the Washington Metropolitan area, fans knew them by a different name. I began the season believing this year would be different from the last. Most fans of the iconic hogs would state the same. No matter how bad last season was for the NFC contenders – I shake it off and believe this year will be different. Beyond the taunting and sarcasm as the season gets underway – I turn my gaze forward. Whether they win by ten or lose by twenty, I look to see who is the next team they will face. Usually, I can catch ESPN highlights from the previous game on Monday morning in case I missed something. Even then, there is no going back and running plays to change the outcome of that particular game. The only thing we can do is review where our team went wrong and pray the coaches will make proper adjustments to try and win the next game. But some fans can’t let it go and are still talking about particular game weeks (even years) later. It may have been a win or a loss, nevertheless, they still reference the game and give a play-by-play of what took place. For me I try to let it go, prepare for next week’s fun, and not cry over spilled milk.

Now the Lord said to Samuel; you have mourned long enough for Saul.

~ 1 Samuel 16:1 NLT ~

King Saul was Israel’s choice for King, and Samuel was the prophetic voice of that day, giving Godly counsel to Saul. Most kings had a prophetic voice during the monarchical era to help guide them. The prophets, appointed by the Lord, were a plumbline for the kingdom if they followed in obedience or disobeyed the commands of the Lord. Saul became disobedient and defiant of the laws and authorities of the Lord (1 Samuel 15). Samuel grieved when Saul lost the kingdom, but the Lord had moved on.

I know what you are thinking – that sounds harsh, but in essence, this was Saul’s consequence. If only he had done things the Lord’s way. I am reflecting on some of my own decisions and the consequences of those decisions. I, perhaps like you, tend to dwell on them too long, causing me sadness or grief, but I am learning that we must not focus on what we cannot change. Because if we stay there, very seldom is it for our benefit. These are moments of prudence. I am not talking about if we learn from the lesson and do better. Like Samuel, we can focus on the past, and the Lord says I am moving on. Have you ever felt like Samuel? Mourning for something that there is nothing we can do to fix, change or re-create.

Friend, here are two perspectives. One is regret, and the other is a new beginning. Remember, spilled milk cannot be poured back into the container once it is out. We can decide to clean it up and move on from there. Some decisions are costly, and sometimes we wish we could go back and do better. That is not always available to us.

Consider this – the Lord knows what is best. Do we believe this? I know we react with lip service but are we convinced by faith that this is true? I always say this, but I do not always exercise it. We must know unequivocally that the Lord knows what is best. He knows that if we dwell somewhere too long, we risk becoming stuck, unable to see past the embarrassment, the regret, the pain, or our pride. At times, I can find myself drifting to a pastime and replaying a scenario involving my children, my church, or just life – that leaves me sad because of the outcome. Then the Lord gently whispers, I know what is best. When we follow His promptings, we do not miss His promises.

The Lord will work out His plans for my life, for your faithful love, O Lord, endures forever. Don’t abandon me, for you made me.

~ Psalms 138:8 NLT ~

Secondly, when the Lord speaks, we must move on. Regret can keep our minds tied to the past while our eyes see a glimpse of the future. So you missed the opportunity because of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, or maybe just sheer disobedience. The Lord knows and tells us we have dwelt here long enough that it is time to move our thoughts, behavior, and attitude forward. Moving on is different for many of us; it may require us to ask for repentance, seek forgiveness from another or truly make peace with ourselves and understand the Lord has spoken. Friend, you are not able to fix some situations. Sometimes, we can only seek true repentance from the Father, make up our minds that we will respond better, and purpose our hearts toward change.

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

~ Ezekiel 36:26 NLT ~

No matter where you find yourself, you can start fresh and receive the blessings from the life the Lord wants us to live. A fulfilled life – the new life that only He can offer when we surrender our pain, regrets, mourning, and sinfulness to Him. The Lord gives us a fresh start by washing our sins away, just like spilled milk.

Storm Survivor

On October 12, 1979, one of the earth’s (if not the strongest) most massive storms ever, named Typhoon Tip, formed off the coast of southern Japan in the Western pacific. Typhoon Tip had the lowest sea level pressure ever observed on the earth. Peak wind gusts reached 190 mph while the storm churned and decimated the western pacific. This massive typhoon holds the record for the most enormous storm on earth. The diameter of circulation spanned approximately 1,380 miles. The diameter was the distance from New York City to Dallas, Texas. It weakened just before landfall in southern Japan on October 19, 1979. Extensive flooding destroyed more than 20,000 homes in Japan, and eighty-six people lost their lives.  

He threw stones at David and all the servants of King David; and all the people and all the mighty men were at his right hand and at his left. (v.6)

~ 2 Samuel 16:6-12 NASB ~

The world has been facing storms since the beginning of time. Some of us can attest that we have either been in a storm, survived a storm, or will endure a storm. Storms are not a respecter of persons; they are equal opportunists. You never know where a storm will occur. We can say in one’s lifetime, we will experience a few. Do you remember a time when you went through a physical storm? And how did you respond? Were you cool, calm, and collected; were you the anxious type; were you the take charge type, or perhaps you can remember becoming paralyzed with fear?

Once while driving, a storm raged, and I observed all types of reactions in those few moments. Some continued traveling as they had been, regardless of the torrential downpour. Others put their hazards on and slowed what seemed to be a slow idle. You had also those that pulled over completely under bridges and decided to wait for the storm to pass. Last but not least, we have those who appear careless and speed up as if to challenge the storm to prove who is more dangerous.

King David found himself in many storms, but the Lord was always with him to carry him through. From sinning with Bathsheba, murdering her husband Uriah, and losing a love child. To the rebuke by the prophet Nathan causing the penning of the Fifty-first division of Psalms, considered a penitential psalm to the Lord. From his son Absalom organizing a coup against his daddy and taking over Jerusalem. Stemming from anger by a family tragedy in the rape of Tamar, David’s daughter, by her brother Amnon. David had to flee and found himself in the town of Bahurim. Shimei, son of Gera (from the clan of Saul’s family), is here tormenting and berating David. Talk about storms going from bad to worse.    

Can I propose how we view a physical storm; it will affect how we go through a spiritual one. I am not saying just tense up and act willy-nilly, but I believe there are lessons we can learn from King David about surviving storms. First, remember they are inevitable and that our God is invincible while going through them. There is purpose in a storm.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

~ 1 Peter 1:6-7 NASB ~

We must remember a storm can appear anywhere, and sometimes the only thing we can do is ride it out. Shimei was tormenting David as he traveled. Let me ask you, have you ever faced a Shimei, perhaps a situation that bothers you or maybe an individual that constantly creates situational anxiousness? The intentional stones others cast around or at us can cause damage if we allow them to.

We must search for the high road or the best action to take. Friend, running is not always the best strategy, but there are times that we must. David did not fall into the trap of attempting to prove who he was, and we must not allow a few haters to take us out of character. Stand tall and know who you are. Then David said…let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him too. Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day (v.11-12).  The king knew his place, and his strength and validation came from God, not what Shimei was attempting to control. Why? Because David was standing on sure footing.

Let me encourage you not to believe all the hype but validate the storm by your weatherman. Growing up, we listened to our local weatherman in the morning before school to get the play-by-play of the day’s forecast. The physical weatherman’s job is to try to give accurate information about the storm that is on the horizon, upon us, or about to be over. The spiritual weatherman is the Lord for those facing storms – He is never wrong about His forecast.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for our good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

~ Romans 8:28 NASB ~

Sometimes we may not understand why we are going through a storm, but with the proper perspective, there is a distinct discerning of the will of God while there. Friend, Jesus Christ is with us, and he knows how to help us navigate the rushing winds at our back and the torrential rain of others’ words that can take our visibility from us and leave us afraid, or so it seems.

I challenge you next time while going through a storm, no matter how difficult or nasty; allow the Lord to whisper to your spirit– it is only for a moment, and He is with you every step of the way.

Invited or Not?

God, I invite your searching gaze into my heart. Examine me through and through; find out everything that may be hidden within me. Put me to the test and sift through all my anxious cares.

~ Psalms 139:23 TPT ~

Imagine getting the call, a family member wanting to see you is making an impromptu visit to your home.  You quickly begin to straighten up (hopefully) because we want them to see the neat and tidy version and not the messy, day-to-day us. I do not know about you but the truth is I am not always neat and tidy. No, my house is never messy but sometimes we leave things out of place because we believe no one will see what’s inside unless we let them in.

However, as we look at our key verse, we see this is not what David is saying, in fact, it is the opposite. He desires the Lord to come inside and visit.

For me, this can be a challenge from day to day. I know it is a crucial element to make sure that I am allowing openly for the Holy Spirit to take a look (not a peek) inside my heart. This is a sign of surrender and a declaration of transparency that we, just like David, have to relinquish to the Lord. I can say this is not always easy for me? What about you?

The Passion translation emphasizes “gaze”, meaning almost a steady, intent look for a long time, in curiosity or wonder. The Lord wants to know what is going on inside of us, as He looks with a searching gaze. He wants to know those things that are not revealed in a moment but take a studying over. Like an art critic looking over a masterpiece in the gallery, to see intricate details missed by the naked eye.

I ask myself sometimes, “Why Lord?, I am not that interesting”, in fact, from where I stand, I feel like I embarrass him. But even in these moments of uncertainty or inadequacy, I especially need Him to come in. This verse in the Psalter is asking God to come over and look around. To see what is really going on behind closed doors “as is” because we want and need His presence to help us do better.

David says something interesting after he prays for the initial invite. Examine me through and through. To Examine means to inspect in detail and determine the nature and condition of a thing. David invited God’s searching gaze into his deepest, sensitive parts. He wants the Lord to look at his thoughts and feelings. David was saying, what do my actions convey? David wanted the Lord to check his outward motives first and then take another gaze.

In the Mosaic law, the priests were to come into God’s presence, without the blemish of sin or disobedience. If sin is committed and not confessed before the time they entered the tabernacle, they were struck down by the Almighty. If they were found to be unclean, the priests could not proceed and they were pulled out of the presence of God.

The actions may have changed but the principle of coming into the presence of the Lord pure is still the goal today. Now we confess our sins directly to the Father. Let us not be afraid to come into the presence of the Lord, like David. And not only just come in but allow Him to look around and stay awhile. I know from my own encounters with the Lord, though challenging, they have truly left me with more joy, more purpose, and more fulfillment in the end. Take a moment today and ask yourself how would a visit from the Lord leave you feeling? And if He stopped by today what would He find?

Continue to stay encouraged friends.

Refined

“Forged In Fire” is a popular show that consists of four bladesmiths competing in three rounds of elimination contests that test their skills with steel and/or other metals. The four contestants must compete in an area known as “the Forge” to create a blade (or another weapon) of the judges choosing. After the smith’s blades are put through a series of tests to demonstrate their durability, sharpness, and endurance. The judges critique and give the Smiths back their blades to address any refining issues, consisting of addressing the blemishes or issues pointed out by the judges.

Refined in Hebrew is Zaqaq, meaning to strain, extract or clarify. The word refined, according to Webster, means impurities or unwanted elements having been removed by processing. The process of refinement is necessary for this Christian walk.

For you have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water, Yet you brought us out into a place of abundance.

Psalms 66:10-12 NASB

We have a tendency to forget that process does not always feel good and just like the refinement of the blades created on “Forged in Fire, ” there is a price. I have disappointed the Lord more than a few times and have caused some of the dearest, closest people in my life much pain. I am not proud of it at all. When I think of the actions and people I have hurt, I am grateful for God’s grace. I reminds me how imperfect I am without His touch. I am thankful for His compassion and love. Yes, we suffer for our disobedience and sometimes we carry the scars of that disobedience for the rest of our lives. However, I am thankful for Him looking beyond our blemishes and dark spots allowing us a spot at the Master’s table to be refined and not discarded. The truth is without Him there can be no refinement.

Like a careful craftsman, the Lord put Israel through the furnace and removes the impurities plaguing them. Israel has disobeyed God and the Lord has punished them for their sin. The Jews had turned and departed from the instruction of God. They fell in a backslidden state and instead of pursuing the right relationship with God- the Lord turns from His chosen people, leaving them to their own consequences for a moment. But when they turned back to the Lord (wholeheartedly), He transformed their shortcomings into abundant blessings.

This was encouraging because God’s punishment for Israel is only a moment but His mercy is everlasting. Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

But because of his great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions-it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:4-5 NASB

Here is the gift that the Lord gives each and every one of us to experience when we allow Him to reign in our lives. Jerusalem experienced suffering for their disobedience but the Lord’s mercy prevailed in the end. He removed their punishment, he defeated their enemies, and Jew and Gentile were accepted by the Almighty. This is the refining work that we are promised that sin will be removed and our repentance leads to salvation.

Even when I reflect or feel regret for past mistakes and disobedience. Even when I do not deserve mercy, The Lord whispers in my thoughts that He has refined me. There is no need to walk back down the road of rebuke. It is a new day, a new mindset, and a new season. This is what we tell ourselves but often we find ourselves looking back down that road. I do not know about you friend, but I am striving daily to walk in the will of the Lord (even when I am bombarded with thoughts of failure). This is when we must allow “the mighty Warrior” to battle for us – battle against our thoughts, our insecurities, and our doubt. So that we are victorious.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

Psalms 51:17

The practical for me is that if we have strayed away from the Lord’s will and experienced His discipline. When we turn in repentance with a broken and contrite heart, confessing our wrongdoing then the Lord will receive us again and make us stronger than ever before.

Thank you, Lord, for rejoicing over me because I can remember a time when you did not and were not pleased. We pray for those of us that are going through refining now, let us feel your presence and hope. I ask you to delight in each and every person reading this prayer. You are the “Mighty warrior that saves”. What I deserve is nothing but you have offered me redemption. I am grateful for your love and for forgiving me. Please Lord remind us of this truth daily- that you are with us daily, moment by moment, in dark and dry seasons. Give us a fresh perspective and let us appreciate the refining you are doing in us. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

New Focus, New Mindset

Remember ye, not the former things, neither consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.

Isaiah 43:18-19

Well, Christmas is over, and we are on the horizon of a new year. 2021 has been everything short of unpredictable. There have been some tragedies, some hurdles we had to cross while others we did not. Nevertheless, we are still here. Even through hardships, we have had some victories, friends. This year for me has been constant testing of my Faith. It has been a lot to handle, but we are still here by the grace of God.  

This scripture spoke to me a few days ago. God reminded me of the new thing he wants to do for us if we just allow Him. I am not referring to something that brings us more finances, friends, or fame. I am talking about a new mindset.

Changing our mindset is not always easy or without work, yet here we are on the brink of 2022, and I believe that better is coming- the better that God desires for our future.

“Remember not the former things,” neither consider the things of old.” 

Sometimes we have a tendency to think of God as the God who was and the God who will be but not God who is. We focus on things he has done previously, but what about now? He is the great I AM- God of the present, and HE is relevant now. He does not want us to focus on the things that were. This is your opportunity for God to let you know that He cares about the now and He is telling us, not asking us (as he told the children of Israel) to forget the previous and look forward to the future.

The Lord is explicitly concerned about you. Yes, You! It is time to move out and not stay stuck in the past’s failure, sin, and discouragement. No matter what this year has brought to your doorstep that appeared to overwhelm you, there is a new day coming. If we constantly are stuck in the past, we cannot reach our potential.

Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

Philippians 3:13

“Behold, I will do a new thing”

Behold means to look up and pay attention. God desires our focus today as we prepare for the new thing, the new year, and the new mindset. The background of this text was God desired to free Israel from being stuck in the discouragement and seduction of Babylon; they would never be free from Babylon if they did not lookup. If they did not look ahead and see what could be theirs to embrace. Will we stay connected to the Lord for the new thing? Will we stay in tune with His Spirit and free ourselves from what is holding us hostage? That could be past friendships, relationships, attitudes, habits, hurts, or former ways of thinking.

“I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert,”

The Lord desires us to trust him so that He will make a way out of what appears difficult. When God makes a promise, often we worry about the details or what is to come. The Lord turns what looks like problems into blessings. His resources and ways are above our ways. We

Will we trust Him as we go into the new year and new territory? Yes, some things are still unchanged, but will we grasp the new focus for the New Year. Make a choice to see what is ahead from God’s perspective of Faith instead of looking back to what was. No matter what last year did or did not bring, turn your focus to what is to come and see the Lord work on your behalf.

Be Encouraged…

Take Nothing for the Journey

The show “Naked and Afraid” is a popular television series. Not only because of the unknown, but also the level of competition between the contestant and the unknown. It consists of two individuals (male and female) dropped in a remote location for twenty-one days to survive in the wild. Combatting elements and nature, each individual without food, water, clothing and only one survival item is left to fend for themselves. Those that make the twenty-one-day trek receive a grand prize of five thousand dollars for their troubles. That does not seem like very much money to put yourself through such a grueling obstacle course with a stranger for almost a month. The participants do this not for the tangible compensation of cash, but for the challenge.

Over these twenty-one days, I can only imagine what they endure and the level of mental toughness necessary to make it. I don’t mind camping out in my backyard for a night, but we are talking about three weeks in the wild. I wonder where along the journey they realize, it will take more than just physical strength, mental toughness or experience to get them through. There is a level of preparation that they must have before embarking on such a challenge.

I have never watched an entire season of the show, but I have seen a few episodes. A lot of what they are up against is a mystery until they find themselves face to face with nature. Just like in the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus is preparing the disciples for a journey. The disciples have no idea what they will encounter. However, he tells them to take nothing for the journey and they obey. The difference between the show and disciples is that one is dependent on self and the latter is dependent on an Omnipresent God.

Calling the twelve to Him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits. These were his instructions, Take nothing for the journey except a staff – no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust of your feet as a testimony against them.

~ Mark 6:7-12 NIV~

Preparation for any journey is hard work and requires much discipline. It will require their faith and trust. The Messiah is not only summoning but is commissioning them with purpose.  Today, we also have been commissioned and purposed with a challenge to reach places and people we have never seen before.

To reach these accomplishments there are a few things that we can learn from Jesus and the disciples.  First, the commandments of God always lead to stretching moments. Stretching means learning how to be bendable, flexible and refined in the hands of God. This does not always feel good. I can imagine the disciples as Christ is summoning them. Jesus never asked them their qualifications. He just sent them out in pairs and gave them authority. This encourages us to be ready to step out into new territory if the Lord is calling.

Unlike the contestants on the show who prepare for the twenty-one-day challenge, we must rely on Jesus Christ as our guide. I wonder, are we prepared? Do we follow the commandments? There have been times where I have said, God what is the point of this? The Lord leaves us to ourselves only to realize our dependency is solely on Him. And only when we are willing to do it His way, do we find and fulfill purpose.

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.

~ Matthew 6:33 NASB ~

As I reflect on the disciples and how they lived their lives, I see that they weren’t concerned with the latest cellphone or the how many followers they had on social media. They were not worried with their 401(k), account status or if they were aggressive enough or too conservative with their portfolio. They lived focused lives. I wonder is it safe to say living by faith means leaving the extra behind? Including our thoughts, concerns, anxieties, worries and fears. I think about what Jesus gave the disciples. He freed them to go forward without anything holding them back. He told them take nothing for the journey except a mere staff. (v.8) Here is a question for us. How are we living? Have we exchanged faith for the familiar or fancy?

In Christ we learn the importance of provision on the journey. This begins when we accept the Lord leading us in a faith-based life. The disciples took nothing for where they were going. They simply rely on provision as they enter the nearby towns. There was no salary or benefits package, just the lifetime guarantee of heaven and the gratification of becoming a vessel for Jesus Christ. Talk about crazy faith at work.  Provision in the natural is what most live for, but the disciples relied solely on those whom they testified too.

It is recorded in Matthew’s gospel, when the disciples left a home if it was worthy, they were instructed to give it a peace blessing in Hebrew, Shalom. Shalom was a sign of peace but not just any peace. This peace represents a sense of wholeness and well-being. It identifies all in one’s life balanced and working as should. This peace was not constructed from outward things but internal priority. This was learned behavior and we too can experience this inner peace-no matter what occurs around us. I would say this is one of the priceless gifts we obtain on this journey with Jesus that unless you experience it – we won’t understand the blessing.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace that surpasses all understanding will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

~ Philippians 4:8 NASB ~

Friends, significance is not in things that feed our flesh, but in the things that fulfill the plan for our lives. Can we stop looking for stuff to gratify us in the moment and look for our purpose in Jesus? Make the choice to accept the best life that one can only find in Jesus Christ. Not in things that excite for the moment or the latest challenge to be conquered. But when we take the step to take nothing for the journey, except Christ – we open ourselves to the greatest and most rewarding challenges ever.

Insurmountable Odds

I do not know about you, but I tend to root for the underdog in many cases. Whether in sports, movies or even in real-life situations – I tend to have a soft spot for the one that seems they will not be the victor. Growing up, I use to love to watch cartoons and how it seems that the superhero was losing to the villain, but in the end, I knew the superhero would come out on top. I love watching a good basketball game (especially around the playoffs) when the losing team seems counted out, and they make a final come back in the last minute of the game. But the most remarkable example of an underdog that I can think of is that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who went to a cross and died. He looked defeated by death, but victory came in three days when he arose. Oh yes, the story appeared to be defeat, but that is not the end of the story.

Recently I was studying the book of Second Chronicles and was revisiting the story of King Jehoshaphat. Here is another occurrence that seems to face insurmountable odds.

You need not fight in this battle, station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem, Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the Lord is with you.

~ 2 Chronicles 20:17 ~

King Jehoshaphat is facing an impossible situation that is out of his control. An army has risen against him because he decides to do what was right in the Lord’s eyes. Things are so bad that in the story, it says that Jehoshaphat was afraid, but then it says he turned his attention to seek the Lord. How about that, talking about an underdog. This army consists of various tribes, but they have one thing in common, King Jehoshaphat is their enemy. Sometimes the thing we face is not because of what we have done wrong, but because we have stood up for what is right. Deciding to stand for the right thing often comes with a price that is worth being paid. Did you catch that?

This King that was on a mission from the Lord is afraid. Have you ever been there? Or maybe not scared, but perhaps emotions are running rampant, and we forget that God is with us. This underdog is going through, and it appears that he will lose the battle, but Jehoshaphat fixes his eyes on something more significant than what is surrounding him, His God.

When we stand for what is right, God’s eyes are upon us, and He has proven time and time again that He will fight for us. No matter if your boss is threatening to fire you for standing up against corruption, or maybe taking a stand for being a Christ-follower with friends and family, or perhaps expressing Christian beliefs in a blog and standing for God’s way and not the world’s way. Maybe this is not your story, but if it is, be encouraged by the thought that you are not alone.

It took me a while to learn this, but we will always come out better pleasing God than trying to appease those around us. Do not get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with making folks feel happy and making them feel special, but when this becomes the focus of our lives, we can miss God’s best. There have been numerous times I have missed God in a moment. But I am so grateful for God’s redemptive love and how He redeems the time. When I think about past times I attempted to circumvent God and please people, how far off I ended. It saddens me just thinking about it. God is like a parent watching a child make one wrong decision after another, and it just breaks the heart, knowing that there is a better way if only we would listen. In society today, we have plenty following their way of thinking and making their own decisions breaking God’s heart. From government to community to our households, we have gotten away from listening to the voice of God and turned to what we believe is right, individually. Well, let me say, God is looking for a remnant that is not afraid to stand for what is considered unpopular and not be moved.

Let’s face it, we will encounter situations, but we can prevail as long as we keep our trust in the Lord. Friend, let us remember the example of Jehosophat and the children of Israel. It was not popular, but he did what was right in the Lord’s eyes. I wonder what the king thought when he heard about the multitude that gathered against him? Now put yourself in the king’s shoes. Think about it, you take a stand on your job for being a Christ-follower and decide not to go along with the norm, and the whole office comes against you. They go against you, and they threaten to remove you because you are against what they believe.

I will lead the blind by a way they do not know, in paths they do not know, I will guide them. I will make darkness into light before them and rugged places into plains. These are the things I will do.

Isaiah 42:16

I want to encourage us to realize that, like King Jehosophat, confidence in God trumps whatever we are facing. We can meet some pretty tough situations at times, and they can leave us asking, “God, where are you?” But I encourage us that even if we do not see God working, we can always know He is. Remember that God desires to change us, and often that comes through us going through the tough times because standing for Christ is not always easy, but it is purposed. Jehosophat found his purpose through fasting and prayer corporately. With Jehosophat and Judah telling God with transparency, they do not know what to do.

For we are powerless against this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

2 Chronicles 20:12

After reading this passage initially, I had to ask myself, Charles, what do you see? Am I focused on what I see, or am I looking up to the Lord? It is easy to get caught up on what we are going through to the point where it can deafen the Holy Spirit’s whisper that I am here and fighting for you. Dr. Tony Evans often says, If all you see is what you see, then you do not see all there is to be seen. There is much more to focus on, friend. Don’t focus so much on the impossible, but keep your eyes on the Father. Don’t focus on the naysayers and the odds stacked against you; focus on the Father. Don’t focus on the likes or shares (or lack of) on social media posts, but focus on the Father. The Lord loves the underdog because He can do his best work when all appears to be lost. Or when we seem to be standing alone, find solace in the fact, we are not alone. We can find comfort in knowing that when we serve the God that provides, protects, and promises to be with us in every situation. We come out victorious.

Yes, the insurmountable odds are pretty cool.

The Power in a Trial

The proverbial phrase, when life hands you lemons, make lemonade, is one I am sure we all have heard a time or two.

 It is easy to hear and even smile about but did you know it is biblical? If we follow this essential thinking. What it is saying is, instead of being victims, become victors. No matter what we face, perhaps the trial on the outside or the temptation on the inside, we can experience victory through our faith in Christ.

I will be the first to say it is a challenge to endure some tests and temptations. I believe that the Father knows this beforehand, which is part of the reason He allows the stretching. Jesus’ omniscience has no boundaries and His love for us, in the trial or when we are up against a temptation again. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it hard to solve problems with a smile on my face because sometimes they are hard.

The standard definition of a trial is a process of testing or investigation to prove innocence or guilt in a court of law. If anyone has ever sat through or been the center of a trial, then you know it can get intense. Just the thought of being on trial is stressful from a mental perspective but do me a favor. I want you to think about a trial from a spiritual perspective to test our faith through different ways used to build our inner man.

James 1:2-6 gives some imperatives for us to think on. If I did not know any better, it appears that James (one of the four brothers of Jesus Christ) is coming across a bit testy and so sure of himself but what he is explaining is the blueprint for how to go through the difficult times.

The truth is we are going through some tough times now as humans, a nation, and a world. There are four simple statements I want to point out that James has reminded us all of to stay encouraged through these times.

The first is to count a joyful attitude. Stop and think about this statement, Outlook determines the outcome, and attitude determines action. I had heard this statement from a professor when I was in college, and it stuck with me. Can I tell you something? We cannot expect everything to go our way. Jesus said to us in John 16:33, In the world, ye shall have tribulation. Some trials come because we are human- sickness, accidents, disappointments, even some tragedies. Sometimes this is hard to fathom and understand because God takes care of us through some pretty rough times.

This leads to my second point; some trials come because there is a test that we need to pass.

I know there were some that I failed, and I am not broadcasting or happy about these, but I might as well be transparent with you. Some of the simplest tests that the Lord placed before I failed because I did not study or thought I could handle. Such arrogance and thank God for deliverance and grace.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials. James is telling us the importance of thinking carefully about a thing or evaluating it correctly. Do you know we are to assess our problems in the midst of what we value? Our values determine our evaluation. In other words, if I value comfort over character or if I value material and physical over spiritual, I cannot consider it all joy because what I value is more important than what I cannot see right now.  

The second James tells us it is when you encounter various trials. I know this probably not a new revelation for us, but let us take a look one more time. What James is informing us of is we will; trials are inevitably a part of life, and they are like mosquitos; they keep coming. Some translations may say, fall into. When you least expect and want them, they will appear out of nowhere, but guess what? They are building our inner man. A trial is like lifting weights. The more weight you take on, the stronger you become; the process consists of ripping the very thing you are trying to build (from the inside) first before the growth can appear outwardly. The muscle tissue stretches, and then it repairs, but when it restores, it is that much stronger. Did you catch that?

Knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2

“To know” means that we are to have an understanding mind. We must know faith constantly is tested. Testing helps to prove something. Remember when we take examines of various sorts, well tests are taken to approve a thing. I watch the show Gold Rush sometimes, any fans reading this? Well, the show’s premise is they are searching (excavating land for gold) and when they find what they call “pay dirt,” they run it through a dredging machine that separates it from the dirt. The separation is necessary to relinquish the gold. The process is not easy and requires endurance. They put in some serious work that sometimes appears to be for naught. After a while, the prospectors reap the benefit of their work, gold ore. The gold prospector brings his ore sample into an assayer’s office for approval. The purpose of the Assayer tests a metal to see how pure it is. 1 Peter 1:7 is the scripture reference of this testing of faith. Endurance is not attained by reading a book, listening to a sermon, or even praying. They help but only going through the difficult situation life presents for us; trusting God and obeying Him is the point. James reminds us not to waver or have any doubt in who or what our responsibility should be.

And let endurance have its perfect result so that you may be perfect and complete lacking nothing.

The word “let” means a surrendered will or to relinquish control. God cannot build character without cooperation in the trial from us. Letting go of control is hard, especially when the trial appears to be intensifying, whether Covid, political and social injustice of any kind, or perhaps individually the problems we face. This word is for all of us; let endurance have its perfect result. Say that a few times to yourself or write it down today, but remind yourself that God is building our character and strength in the trials we continuously face. I think about times before when something has come up out of nowhere (it seems), and at the moment, it breaks me, but upon closer inspection, God is with me. And he is with you too.

James gives us insider information letting us know God desires to build our character before He calls us into service for Him. That is why the surrendering of ourselves to His will is essential. Ephesians 6:6 tells us we are to be surrendered not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as God pleasers, doing the will of God from the heart. There is the perfect and complete, lacking in nothing because when connected to our Lord, just like a caterpillar to a cocoon, we are equipped and built up for the journey ahead. The trial that we find ourselves in today, tomorrow, or yesterday is all perfecting us, friend.

Last but surely not least, James tells us But if any you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. Why did James say this? Does not he know if we are human, we lack wisdom in many areas? To some, the book of James is a guide for following the path to life, avoiding the way that leads to pain and heartache. And in doing so, it offers us something more, a consideration of the nature of faith. It can only be found in the Son of God and only when we truly desire wisdom or insight to be our goal. Insight helps us understand how to use these trials for our good and to bring God glory. Wisdom is the qualitative factor determining if we have evaluated the trial we are in, just came out, or about to enter correctly. Only when we seek God’s wisdom of handling or approaching even the trial are we able to win.

Maybe you are like me, that I have to remind myself of this very thing. James opens the book hot off the press with the power in a trial. Having to ask God for help, I believed, showed a lack of growth but no friend; that is the wisdom that Jesus wants to give when we ask. That is the accurate measure of our development- when we stop attempting to go through these circumstances alone and depend, even throw ourselves in the arms of Jesus. He knows what to do and will always bring us out more robust than when we went in.

Be encouraged.