Praying in the Tension

A little while ago we spoke about Fight Time. It is the idea that there comes a time when the bell rings and its go time. We spoke about how we fight from a place of victory in Christ and being sealed with the Holy Spirit. We also mentioned how the fight is a fight and it can be hard. Today I think we should pick back up on that idea of tension. Specifically, I think we should look at praying in the tension.

When the bell rings there is this initial excitement where we are ready to go and have the faith to move mountains. We are ready for whatever the world, the enemy, or our flesh throws at us. Like He-man we proclaim, “I have the power!” but the problem is that same excitement and proclamation of power does not last. Maybe after a week, two weeks, three weeks, or four weeks we start to get tired. We wonder why the victory is not yet won. We start to question what God said. We start to wonder if we missed something. Surely if God was speaking, He would have wrapped this up by now. Surely if God was in this it would be easier right?

Well no, not necessarily. The tension we feel between what God said and what we see could be part of the plan. It could be that God is using this tension for a purpose. Honestly, I don’t want to list possible reasons why because I don’t want you to limit God, but He can use the tension for His glory and purposes.

The Apostle Paul has some words of encouragement for us. Writing to the church in Philippi from prison he says, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil 1:12). Paul was in jail for doing exactly what God told him to do. He was following the path placed before him and it got him locked up. I am guessing that Paul had his moments of wrestling with the tension of following God’s call and being in jail. A few verses later after talking about how people are trying to make it worse for him, he says, “yes, and I will rejoice” (1:18b). There is tension there, but Paul was praying through and telling us to pray through the tension.

It is not easy, and I am going through it right now, but we have to keep coming back to the place of praying through the tension between what God has said and what we see. One the first Bible verses I ever learned was Numbers 23:19 which says “God is not a man that He should lie nor a son of man that He should repent. Has He not said, and will He not do, or has He not spoken, and will He not make it good?” the verse has always come back to me as a reminder that God is God and I am not. I cannot understand His ways, but I can trust Him.

I believe that one of the reasons God allows the tension is so that we will keep coming back to Him. The tension is hard, but it is necessary. For me, I can see part of the reason is for humility. It is humbling to ask for help. It is humbling to ask for support. It is humbling to not be able to accomplish the task on my own. So, I accept the tension. I don’t really want it but I accept it because I trust that God is good. If we are going to fight then we have to accept that God is good because He is the one leading the battle, and He is the source of strength. So, the tension is real but so is God. Pray in the tension. Pray to the God of peace. Use the tension to draw near to God and He will draw near to you.

Just a thought,

Mike

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Fight Time

Growing up I loved watching wrestling and boxing. One of my favorite moments was when they announced the fight was going to start. It didn’t matter if it was a bell or an announcer saying something. The start was this magical moment when the story that had been building reached its climax and the fight would begin. My favorite wrestler was Sting (Steve Borden). He just carried himself in a great way. By the way, if Steve happens to see this feel free to pop over to the site and grab a mission’s t-shirt. Anyway, my point in telling you this is that we have similar things going on in our lives. For each of us, God is always building us up for something that he wants to do. For our family it is missions but for you, it might be something different. Either way, things have been building and growing or maybe they are still building and growing but there comes a moment when its go time.

The thing to remember is that you don’t go it alone. Ephesians 1:3 and 1:13 say that we are blessed in Christ and that we are sealed with the Holy Spirit. It’s a done deal. So yes, there is a go time, but we go from a place of being blessed and sealed. We don’t fight some wild fight out of anywhere. It has been building, growing, and waiting for the right time for you to move. Whatever God is doing in you and moving you to, you will have a fight time, but you fight with God for His mission.

That is amazing when we really think about it. We fight from a place of Christ’s victory. It is still scary, but it is awesome too. When we start to get scared because it doesn’t seem like things are going the right way, we have to remember three very important things. First is that Hebrews 11:1 says that faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen. If you could see it then it wouldn’t be faith. Second, is Hebrews 11:6. I like the way the Message version reads – God cares enough to respond to those who seek him. Third is that failure is an option. If it wasn’t then it would not be a fight. I know that is not comforting to some, but it always makes me feel good. To know I could fail means I need to be that much more determined not too.

So, wherever you are at in the battle or whether the story is still building, it is going to be great in the end. Keep pushing into Christ. Keep fighting the good fight of faith. Keep pressing into Jesus. It might hurt and it might be scary, but God is so worth it.

Just a thought,

Mike

Missions

I usually don’t like to talk about what is going on in my own life, but I am going to make an exception today. As a family, we have been praying about missions for years but the question of where and when has alluded us. About a year about ago we knew that it was time to start the process of moving forward in this but again the where was unclear. Originally it started with a desire to serve in Western Europe and we were thinking Berlin. Through a series of events that only God could orchestrate it became clear that it was not Berlin or Germany but France. So, we started a process and as of a week ago, we were approved to be missionaries to France. We will be starting with a 4-month apprentice to Paris and then will be going back in Spring/Summer of 2020. We are over the moon excited and humbled.

I want to take just a minute to talk about missions and why it is so humbling. It is humbling to be involved in missions because God is allowing us to partner with Him. The mission is God’s missions. There is a term for it called Missio Dei which is Latin for The Mission of God. God is the originator of missions and was the first missionary in the Garden, then to Abraham, then Moses, and finally Jesus. Jesus said He came to seek and save the lost. It is His mission and that He asks us to serve in His plan is so humbling because we were the lost, He came to save. One of my favorite passages of Scripture when it comes to missions is John 4:4 which says, “He had to travel through Samaria.”

It is such an easy passage to read over but if we think about it is an amazing passage. Jews did not associate with or have anything to do with people of Samaria. They would avoid contact at all cost. While the trip Jesus was taking was faster to go through Samaria you always went around. You avoided them at all cost. You never had to go through Samaria. Jesus, on the other hand, said He had to go through there. Jesus had to proclaim the Gospel to these people. He had to. I could talk about this for a long time, but that verse answers the question when I wonder why missions. I have to.

It is not a question or should or would like to but have to. There are so many people who are hurting in the world around us and France is on that list. You can check out the Missions page to see more but the fact is Missions exists because there are people God loves and He wants them to receive His greatest gift. This causes us to respond.

Now I get it not everyone can be a missionary, but we are all called to do our part. Some go and dedicate their life to the call. Some stay and serve locally. Some serve locally and support those who go. Some do many things. The point is, we are all involved. We met a young lady a year or so ago who was going to Germany to do missions. We wanted to help but did not think would could. That changed when our perceptive changed. We realized we could not do as much as we wanted to do but we could do something. So, we signed on as monthly partners to do a little. You know what? It has made all the difference. Our amount is not big but when she announced she was fully funded we wept tears of joy with her. Its not about the money or the amount it is about being in it together. We are part of what she is doing, and I wish I would have gotten this sooner because it is an amazing feeling.

My question is simple what are you doing about missions? This is not a pledge drive question because we trust God’s got what we need (feel free to help though we won’t say no) but a question for your own fulfillment. If God wants us all to participate in missions with Him what are you doing and how can you serve Him? I encourage you, no I beg of you be involved in some way, with someone, with some service because the feeling is amazing. You will connect with God in amazing ways when you are involved in His mission. Maybe God is calling to you cross-cultural missions, maybe to serve in a food bank, maybe to give financially to someone, anything just ask Him and see where He leads you. It will be so great, and I am excited to see what God does in you.

Just a thought,

Mike

Fasting and Emptying

To fast or not to fast. That is not my question. I think we should fast, and I think the Bible assumes we are going to fast. In the Gospels, Jesus seems to talk about fasting as a given. Three times in Matthew 6 he says, “when you fast,” Matthew 17:21 talks about fasting and prayer for exorcizing a demon (different topic but still), in Mark 2:20 Jesus says the wedding guest will fast after the groom is taken away, and so on. In my humble opinion, the Bible highly assumes and possibly even expects that Christians will fast. But why?

Well, there are a few reasons for fasting and most often what is thought of is during times of intense pressure or lamenting (weeping, sadness, etc.) we fast to seek God or to move Him to hear our prayers. That is an excellent conversation and one that is worth having. For now, I want to go a different way. I want to look at one reason for fasting that has to do with what you get. Yes, you get something out of fasting too. You get hungry.

I know that one is a no brainer you get hungry, no duh Mike. To be more specific you get empty. When you fast for blood work you are doing it so that the blood test is not tainted by anything you have eaten or drunk. Everything we take in has vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Those things can show up in our blood test and change the results. Look at an obvious example, if you are taking a blood test to see where your iron levels are then eating liver before the test will not give you the right results. You need to go into that test empty to get the right results. Fasting for spiritual reasons is similar. By neglecting our body of food, entertainment, pleasure, or whatever we are emptying ourselves of things that we need and desire in order to see where we are at. We come to God with that hunger and see what is going on with Him and with us. We strip away the other things for a time to become empty before Him. In that emptying and presenting we are offering ourselves as vessels to be filled back up. This is one of the reasons we do not show off our fast to other people.

Jesus in Matthew 6:18 says that those who parade their fast before men are filled up with praises from those men. They have their reward. They emptied themselves and the people around them filled them back up. A fast that is dedicated to God and that seeks Him will be filled back up by God. It is really just a simple math problem. Fasting is you minus food/pleasure/etc. or 1-1=0.  0 is the empty state and anything you add to 0 is the reward. But it starts with being empty.

I have had fasts where I find God new and fresh and others where nothing major really happens. I am ok with that. The point for me has become to present myself as an empty vessel before the God of the Universe and day here I am Lord so with me as you please. It is not the easiest thing but it sure is worth it.

Just a thought,

Mike

Willing

2018 has come and gone and that means it is time for a new word. If you don’t know I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. I feel like they are lacking but a word, a word can carry so much more than a resolution can. For example, maybe you decide your resolution is to lose weight. Great have fun with that, but what about eating right, maintaining a proper body image, learning what type of daily eating works best for you, loving your neighbor, being a good parent, a good spouse, spending time receiving your identity from God. A resolution of weight loss cannot help you achieve those things but striving to live out the word healthy can. Healthy can be healthy relationships, a healthy body, and a healthy relationship with God. A word can carry so much more than a simple resolution can because it can be applied to every single area of your life and regardless of where you are at in life every area can always be improved on.

My word this past year was shalom. Not peace, but shalom. Shalom means more than peace it means soundness or completeness and I feel like this year was pretty sound. My relationship with my wife was better than ever, my daughter still likes me, we fostered another little boy who I still love dearly and cry for at times, but I am ok with the situation. I am almost done with my degree, and we are in the process of doing something huge and stressful but through it all, I feel content and fully at rest in Christ. It has been hard, but I have been able to keep going back to God to ask for His peace and soundness in my life. Like my past words (stronger, audacious, inspire, and indomitable) I will keep shalom with me and it helps it is tatted on my arm. I will keep going back to a desire to be complete in Christ, but it is time for a new word.

For 2019 I desire to be willing. If you know me, you might be thinking I don’t need to be any more willing but hear me out. Yes, I do love an adventure, but I am not always willing to do what I want or should. First, I want to be willing to have my faith make me uncomfortable. I want to be willing to do more for my wife and family. I want to be willing to do things I have not done so I can do things I have not done. I want to be willing to seek God so honestly that if He wrecks my plans, I am ok with it. I want to be willing to be open to new ideas and new ways of attacking life. I want to be willing to go or to stay. I am not going all Jim Carry in Yes Man, but you get the idea. I want to be willing.

It is not like the idea is way out there either. The disciples gathered and prayed for boldness. Paul prayed that he might be bold. I understand that bold and willing are two different words, but I want that same willingness that they had to ask for boldness. I want to be willing to seek God for direction, support, and blessing. I want to be willing to be told no to things I desire. Jesus says the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, and I want my spirit and my flesh to be willing. If an opportunity arises, I want to be willing to seize it (after prayer of course). I want to be willing to see what God would do this year. Who knows maybe nothing great or amazing happens, maybe I just find myself more willing to trust God and do hard things for my family. But maybe just maybe something amazing happens. Either way, I am willing.

Just a thought,

Mike

Expert Status…

I have heard that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert. That is a lot of hours. To put it into perspective if you wanted to become an expert at guitar or piano and played for 4 hours every day it would take 2,500 days to be an expert. That is almost 7 years to reach expert status. That is no breaks, no sick days, and no vacations. 4 hours every day for almost 7 years. That also does not take into account everything you need to learn to practice the new stuff. Things like reading up on new chords, scales, or whatever. Obviously, I am not an expert (I cannot even play). But I think we get the picture. Expert status takes a drive, dedication, determination, and time. It does not happen overnight. But why am I talking about becoming an expert at playing an instrument? I am not, I just wanted to put the idea in perspective.

I do want to talk about becoming expert Christians. More specifically what it means for you to be an expert in your walk with Christ. I say your walk because each one of us should be striving for expert status in our walk with Christ. We should be the foremost leading expert (besides God Himself) on all things pertaining to our walk with Christ. If we use the 10,000-hour rule as a guide we can add in the things we are actually doing to practice our walk and see when we can expect to reach expert status.

My initial thought was “I always have the Holy Spirit in me so subtract sleep and divide.” WOW, that was simple – 588 days or 1.6 years. But then I found a problem. I don’t remember being an expert in my walk with Christ all those years ago. In fact, I am still learning things.

The Bible is not silent on this 2 Corinthians 8:7, for example, says that we should “excel in everything—faith, speech, knowledge.” So it seems clear that we cannot become an expert just by existing as Christians. That would be nice but it does not seem to actually work. Well, maybe it makes a good hypocrite but that’s another story…

Instead, I want to offer three categories that I think we need to practice to help reach expert status. Also, I am going to keep the bad/good news for the end.

First up is obedience because I think a lot of the things we are supposed to practice fall into the obedience category. Giving, for example, is about obedience. Serving is another item that deals with obedience. Come to think of it the Bible is so insistent on obedience that it says that obedience is better than sacrifice. It also Jesus was obedient to the point of death. Obedience is like John says “walking as He (Jesus) walked.” That means obedience is pretty high up on the list of things to practice. So how much obedience do we need to do to reach our 10,000 hours? My guess is roughly 10,000 hours. Yeah, I don’t think we can split this one up. Sorry, it is a one for one ratio on obedience. So let’s make the math simple and say that overall each obedient act counts as one hour because some are longer and some much shorter. We only need 10,000 acts of obedience. That’s really not too bad. If we do one obedient act a day we can become experts in 27 years. But there is a problem.

The problem is it is not just about obedience. There are two other major categories and the next one is discipleship. I thought about maybe putting this one with obedience but Jesus was pretty insistent on this one thing before He ascended back to heaven so I think it should get its own practice hours. Mind you this is not evangelism. You cannot just say well I told 10,000 people so I met my hours. Sorry, wrong answer. Discipleship is taking time to invest in the spiritual formation and maturity of other believers. Discipleship is about being involved in other peoples lives and allowing them to be involved in yours. It is a process and as such, it takes time to complete these hours. So the question – what’s the ratio. Come on Mike how many hours of discipleship do I need to complete to reach expert status? Well, let’s keep this train rolling and say it’s one-to-one. So 10,000 hours or one hour a day or 27 years of discipling others and you have your hours. Again that is no breaks, vacations, or time off. But still, it’s a number.

Lastly, we come to prayer. Prayer is time between you and God. Paul says we should be praying always so there is a good reason to pray. The Bible is full of commands to pray, examples about prayer, stories of God hearing prayers. Jesus even taught the 12 to pray. I would suggest that not only is prayer a big deal it is a progressive act. The more we pray the more we need to pray. The more focused and disciplined our prayers become the more focus and discipline they need to be for us. One of my favorite passages on prayer is when Jesus says that we should keep asking, keep knocking, and keep seeking. I find that very confusing and very exciting. We have to continue to pray. In the beginning, only praying I want prayers is OK. Nothing wrong with that. It is like learning to walk and holding onto the couch or learning to ride a bike with training wheels. It is perfectly OK. But at some point, our prayers need to shift into something deeper. Something more intimate. Our prayer life reflects our spiritual maturity. So can you guess what the ratio is? Go ahead guess… That’s right it’s one-to-one. You might be thinking that this is an easy one right but the problem is the more you pray the more God delights in you and the more He refines you. The more you pray and grow in prayer the deeper your intimacy with Him becomes. The number might as well be 6 billon because the more you pray the more you become dependent on God. Besides, do you feel you have given 10,000 hours of prayer?

In the end, at best we can become experts at what it means for us to be a Christian in 27 years if we practice every single day. No breaks, no vacations, no sick days. This is nearly impossible. Nearly. The joyful thing is that the journey is part of the process. Learning what it means to be obedient, helping others in their walk with Christ, praying and leaning into the Father is the Christian life. That is what it is about. Paul says in his letter to the Philippians that was written towards the end of his life that he had not reached the goal of being fully mature or an expert but that he is pushing forward towards the goal. We keep moving forward and driving towards the end goal of maturity in Christ.

Just a thought,

Mike

Obedience and the Mundane

It seems to me that obedience is found in the mundane and the small things. If we cannot be obedient in the day to day and the little things, then how can we expect to be obedient in the big things? Jesus seems to think so too. In Luke 16:10 He says that whoever is trusted with little can be trusted with much and that makes sense when you think about it. If you cannot handle being obedient with the day to day how can you be trusted with something that requires more of you?

Part of the problem is that daily obedience is hard. Not just because it requires you to keep it up but because there is no applause for daily obedience. I mean we have social media where we can broadcast our obedience, but nobody really cares. You might get some likes, some hearts, maybe a few comments but in reality, it really just doesn’t matter to people. I don’t think it should either and I am just as guilty as anyone else. We want to be seen for our obedience in the mundane and small, but truth be told we should only care that we are being obedient. Not because we want to be trusted with more but so that we are being obedient. If we are only chasing more, we miss something beautiful. We miss the joy of obedience.

There is a joy that comes in mundane obedience because it connects us to the heart of God. When we are obedient to God in the day to day, we get closer to God. When we go about our day doing what is right because it is right, He is present. God tells Abraham that He is Abrahams great and mighty reward. The relationship with God and God Himself is the reward. By being obedient to what God has called us to right now we are looking for Him to be our reward. It’s not glamorous or flashy but it is intimate and that is much better. Sure, we can be open to more. Joseph never stopped wanting to be free, but he was still obedient in the mundane.

Obedience does not mean you pretend either. Be honest with God when you want something different but obedient anyway. If it is hard, tell God it is hard but be obedient anyway. If it scary tell God it is scary, but be obedient anyway. The more you are honest with God the more you draw near to Him and Him to you. Obedience is not about being a mindless zombie but about doing the right thing and drawing close to God when you do it. Mundane obedience is not the most fun you will have but it is one of the most rewarding things you can do.

Just a thought,

Mike