When Suffering and Worship Collide

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The last few years have felt in many ways like being caught up in a tornado.  Spinning round and round, with no way to get out, yet debris keeps slamming into you and things and people you are emotionally tied to get ripped away…all at the same time.  Some of the things that are slamming against you are hard truths that you have conditioned yourself to ignore, like character flaws, poor boundaries, unhealthy habits, and poor discipline.  Some of things that you are clutching on to and end up being ripped away, taking a little flesh along with it, are those difficult to identify codependent relationships, a facade that you have allowed people to believe is really you.  But in the end, this is the journey of faith!

I have come to realize that my Father is less interested in my immediate feelings and more interested in refining me to be effective in His Kingdom. As Oswald Chambers says in his famous work My Utmost for His Highest, “If you are going to be used by God, He will take you through a multitude of experiences that are not meant for you at all, they are meant to make you useful in His hands, and to enable you to understand what transpires in other souls so you will never be surprised at what you come across.” And this truth is exactly where I have begun to discover that suffering and worship blur a little bit. “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:13)  When we are allowed to suffer a little bit (never fully understanding the sufferings of our Savior), when we experience that refiner’s fire, we begin to realize that worship is more of a lifestyle than an experience.

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose—all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable.” – Archbishop William Temple

These past few years, I (along with my entire family) have experienced a lot of transition.  I have had relationships that I believed were healthy and beneficial be exposed for what they were; manipulative and selfish in many ways…leaving me wondering what in the hell just happened. I have struggled with self discipline; losing my love for running and spending quiet time with my Heavenly Father out on the roads.  This loss of discipline has caused an erosion of physical, mental, and spiritual health…

BUT, as I said before…through the challenges a new definition of worship has arose in my spirit.  I am learning to worship in everything I do, regardless of what it feels like.  Only when we begin to realize our Father is sovereign, can we embrace the difficult situations for what they are, and rest our forehead on His chest in humble thankfulness for the breaths we take.

In this journey of loss, change, and self-discovery, I have met friends who love me for who I am and have no agenda.  I have had friendships restored that I thought were lost forever.  I have discovered my love for running again.  I am gaining the discipline I lost.  I am surrounded by people who push me because they see the potential in me.  And, I am learning to worship Him in everything I do, with everything I am, with everything I have, every hour of the day.  I am convinced that only through pain, suffering, and discomfort can we even get the slightest glimpse of the love our Father has for us…the same love that drove Jesus in obedience and joy to the cross.  Only when we begin to understand that kind of love does worship become a way of life, not an experience.

Blessings…

Scott

 

Life Without Rules…

thumb_6291_default_1600_FotorI am constantly amazed at God’s faithfulness in our family’s journey.  Every time we step off the proverbial cliff on the path the Lord has called our family to, it is tough, but He is so faithful.  This path to Texas has been a difficult one for our family, but if you know me well enough, you know I have this side of me that anticipates and looks forward to life’s challenges. The challenging seasons are where we grow in character and bond as families.

The last month has been no different.  The Lord has challenged me in the area of mixing the old covenant (covenant between God and the Jewish people) and the new covenant (Jesus) in my faith.  This is an area that I believe many of us who grew up in the church struggle with.  This is also a massive topic and one that has many facets that need to be discussed, but I want to share one piece that has affected me deeply this past week.  It is pretty basic and in theory many of us know it, but do we live it?

We shared communion together with our family this past Sunday.  As I was contemplating the meaning of communion, I went through the same exercise I do every time, I mentally walked through my list of sins and asked my Father to forgive me.  I was struck by the impression the Lord put on my heart at that moment… “Scott, it is not about the one sin that caused you to miss the mark, your entire life misses the mark…you fall short of My glory.”  This is a principle that I know, I have read, and I am keenly aware of the fact that I fall short in every way! Yet, in my desire to develop a personal list of rules and guidelines (my own personal old covenant) to follow in order to stay in God’s good graces I have allowed pride into my life.  Pride you ask?  Yes, by me going through my “list of sins,” I inadvertently communicate the rest of my life is just fine and worthy of God’s glory. NOTHING IS FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH.  I am messed up, I am broken, I am as Paul would say the worst of all sinners in my eyes, and only by His grace am I worthy of a relationship with my Heavenly Father.

When we walk through life trying to live up to a list of rules and regulations, we miss the ability to fully surrender ourselves to the Grace of God.  Why? Because we are constantly measuring ourselves against the list of rules and regulations and we simply cannot measure up…this was proven over and over throughout history!  There is no inbetween if you want to be successful; you either surrender your mind to complete depravity and live like hell or you surrender yourself to the grace of a loving and forgiving God…the inbetween will be a constant battle of trying to live up to something that is unreachable.  The only way to fully surrender ourself to the Grace of God is to recognize that we completely fall short, there is not one area of your life that is worthy of Him.  But, like the loving and perfect Father He is, He is waiting for you with a coat of love in His hands to wrap around our broken bodies and a ring of heirship to put on our finger.

Living life while trying to follow a list of rules is so restrictive and will never allow us to experience the freedom Christ brought to us. Jesus brought the ability to be united with the Father without barrier through faith in Him.  Only when we realize our complete inability to live up to any standard will we be able to live fully alive and fully free in Christ Jesus.  This is where the reality sets in that you are no longer a slave to this world and the rules you try to live up to, but you are God’s son and daughter, and you are an heir to everything that is HIS….PERIOD!

Join with me this year by pursuing God’s highest ideal, not a list of rules and regulations we have created.  Let’s see where it takes us.

Your brother,

Scott

The Storms of Life

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We hear (and say) a statement often that goes something like this…”God never gives us more than we can handle.” How many of us have said this in an attempt to be encouraging to those around us?  Often it is out of a compassionate spirit we say this, but quite honestly it is a bunch of bunk, completely unscriptural.  The Bible does tell us that He will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Cor 10:13), but that applies to temptations that man is susceptible to, not everyday struggles and hardships.  I believe we consistently encounter situations that are far beyond our capabilities.  In fact, the Bible tells us that God chooses the ones who are not mighty, wise, or noble as to allow His grace to work in a way that is completely counter cultural to what the world knows (1 Cor 1:26,27).  God uses the meek because He desires teamwork…He knows those who understand their limitations will look to Him for strength, wisdom, and companionship.  He knows there is far greater joy in overcoming obstacles together, rather than alone.

This blog post has been stiring in me over the past two weeks.  The company (family) I am blessed to be a part of embarked on a journey of making some significant technological changes.  We knew this would not be easy and would require every employee to rally in order to pull it off, but we also understood it was a necessity.  The last year was about preparation for a single weekend where significant change would be made…that was last weekend.  Without going into great detail, we accomplished the goal and will continue to refine the new system, but like any significant change, it came with significant challenges.  This post is not about the details of what occured, but rather it is meant to focus on our human nature during times of significant stress and change; specifically what I learned from the experience.

There were three major stages I went through over twelve straight days of long hours…

  1. The calm before the storm
  2. The storm
  3. Peace in the midst of the storm

I am not sure when, but over my 41 years the Lord has instilled in me that I am nothing by myself, but with Him and those He surrounds me with, we are able to tackle any challenge we are faced with.  My hope is found in Him alone; I am keenly aware that the storm gets really bad at times, but His light always shines in order to guide us through the roughest of seas.

The Calm Before the Storm…

The days leading up to the weekend were filled with lots of planning and even more prayers.  I know that myself and others were commited to praying for this event.  Leading up to the weekend, I would walk through the warehouse simply praying for our company and our people.  There were times when I could physically feel His presence in the building…yes, God’s presence rests wherever His people are and cry out for Him, not simply within the church building.  His grace is always abundant before the storms of life; it is preparation and a reminder of His faithfulness.  Psalm 91:4 (TPT) reminds us that “His massive arms are wrapped around you, protecting you.  You can run under his covering of majesty and hide. His arms of faithfulness are a shield keeping you from harm.”

The Storm…

Remember, He never promises to save us from the storms of life, yet He always is there guiding us through the storms.  The weekend was long, we accomplished a lot, just not all we had hoped to accomplish.  So coming into Monday morning we were behind schedule and quickly being presented with the pressures of taking care of our customers.  On a side note, there are so many things I love about our team, but one of the greatest attributes I respect above all is their desire to serve our customers.  When you are behind and confronted with additional pressures at every phone call and conversation you can quickly become overwhelmed with the task ahead of you.  The key is taking one hurdle, one challenge at a time.  I am so thankful for God’s grace because I knew we would see the light soon, but as with any difficult situation it can take a toll on human emotions.  I recall one tangeble example of His amazing grace…I was sitting in a co-workers office feeling overwhelmed.  Not knowing how to pray, I sent a quick text to some close friends and simply asked them to pray.  Within minutes, the pressure released and God’s peace overwhelmed me to the point of tears.  Our Father LOVES us and is awaiting your call for help…He will wrap His arms around you and bring you comfort in the storm…all you need to do is ask.

Peace in the Midst of the Storm…

Much of life is a storm.  There are constant pressures from the world around us…bills, kids, spouse, health, jobs, etc.  I have come to the conclusion that I am extremely thankful for the struggles in life.  Through the struggles I have gleaned more strength and wisdom than anything else.  There is no book, no school, which can teach us what good old fashion struggles teach us.  On Wednesday morning I walked into work and even though the pressure had not released and we were still behind, something changed inside of me.  The turmoil and stress on the inside had left and all that was in front of me was a series of hurdles we needed to strategically take, one at a time.  With every problem solved we were coming closer to our new normal and though we are not there yet, we are well on our way to the strongest our company and our team has ever been.

The deal is, if all we ever do is seek the easy way out and never learn to walk straight through a storm, we will never grow.  When storms hit, we will not be prepared and resentment and fear will take over.  We will NEVER reach the mountain tops that God has planned for us to climb.  Life is full of storms, God never promised that we would be able to face them alone…He does however invite us to walk through the storms of life along side of Him.  And when we do, we come out on the other side with a strength and confidence that only comes with being in communion with a loving, compassionate, and grace-filled God…my Father.

“Lord, even when your path takes me through
the valley of deepest darkness,
fear will never conquer me, for you already have!
You remain close to me and lead me through it all the way.
Your authority is my strength and my peace.
The comfort of your love takes away my fear.
I’ll never be lonely, for you are near.” (Psalm 23:4 TPT)

 

Valleys are Just Spiritual Mountains

mountain-reflection_FotorI am going to stray from Nehemiah on this blog and talk about a subject the Lord put on my heart this morning.  My hope is, although a tough subject for some, I can help us change our perspective a little and give someone hope who is walking through the valley of the shadow of death.

We all go through tough times, but our experience is often dictated by our perception What do I mean?  You can walk through the experience feeling like it is hell. Your emotions and your ability to learn will follow; your brain will record the experience from that vantage point, risking a hardening of the heart.  Conversely, you can seek the depths of God through the valley experiences and allow them to shape and form who you are, essentially strengthening your character and ability to endure all the while maintaining a soft and pliable heart.

Many of us are overwhelmed by the challenges we encounter and our natural proclivity can be to enter survivalist patterns.  Have you ever met a “doomsdayer” or a “prepper” who had a positive outlook on life?  Why is that? In many cases they are preparing for the worst, not stopping along the way to reflect on the beauty of creation, and far more importantly not looking out further than death.  When I say further than death, I mean into the eternal home we have in Christ.  I heard it said by someone (I think John Bevere) that one characteristic of Americans is that our hope ends at death, even in the church.  We do not look forward to the hope of eternity with our Father.  We focus on a 70-80 year temporal perspective.  In summary, we are short sighted and it effects our attitude negatively.

I want to give you a practical example of what I am talking about.  About 12 years ago, Danielle and I found ourselves seeking the “American” dream.  We had two vehicles and just moved into our nice country house with 3.5 acres and a large pole barn.  It was a beautiful country setting and from a visual perspective was the epitome of relaxing.  Pictures of sitting in the back yard, sipping lemonade and watching the sunset over the corn fields is exactly what I imagined.  It was the exact opposite.  We were laden in debt, drove a combined 150 miles per day, and Danielle was pregnant with Sidney (our second).  This was the valley of the shadow of death for me; I was a giant ball of anxiety.  In the end, we let the house go (stressing relationships), sold a car, Danielle quit her job, and we moved into an apartment about 13 miles from my work.  We lived on $29k a year.  Danielle would take me to work when I didn’t ride my bike, and we ate at home for every meal.  Danielle and I learned how to be good stewards of what God had provided for us.  We met amazing friends, became members at a Daybreak Church, whose leadership truly changed my life, and I went back to college to finish my degree.  Out of the valley of the shadow of death came life and hope.  I would not trade any of this for any worldly blessing we could imagine.  Nothing was more valuable than walking through the valley with a positive perspective.  Was it always easy?  No!  But my brain has recorded that event as significant personal growth…a blessing in disguise.  Out of the ashes came life.

Jesus fully understood this.  He was fully God, but fully human in His earthly home.  He understood that through suffering, perfection came.  Yes, he was already perfect, but perfection in this case is a kind of completion.  Suffering completed Him and us.

“For it became him, for whom are all things, and through who are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings.” (Hebrews 2:10)

Jesus Christ is the Author of our Salvation!  If he could walk through the valley of the shadow of death and come out on the other side bearing the scars of trial, yet healed and whole, how much more can we?  He did it for us.  He provided the path for life.  He single-handedly offered us the path to walk through the valley of the shadow of death triumphantly.  Now, do not give the enemy one single ounce of credit for the valley, because the valley was offered to bring you to full completion, not to give the enemy glory for stealing something that never belonged to you in the first place.  Christ arose from the dead, so that we could be renewed.  Hear Paul’s words…

“And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable.  This is truly the way to worship him.  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Change your view to one that is eternal, not temporal…focus on the lessons of completion through all seasons of life, NOT on the loss of worldly things.

Blessings in the name of Jesus Christ, the Author of our Salvation…

Scott

 

 

One Scary Word

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I have a natural tendency to question everything around me, including myself.  This is one of those traits that is both blessing and curse.  My questions usually sound like, “what if we (I) did this a little different, what if there is a better way, what if we (I) have allowed what we (I) see and experience around us (me) to blind us (me) to real truth?”  Most of my life I have been driven by a deep curiosity for all things around me and a desire to do things differently…a desire to live my life serving God’s mission how He wants me to, not how I necessarily want to. I will never claim to have gotten it perfect and I do believe this pursuit has been perceived by some as unstable or unconventional…but, I am more interested in pleasing my Father rather than others’ perceptions.

Lately, I have been challenged in my quiet time to pursue holiness.  And if I am completely honest with myself, that word puts a little fear in my heart.  Fear of what I must give up or what I must start doing in order to confront this challenge head-on in my faith walk.  The sense I have in this challenge is the measure of righteousness pursued is a direct reflection on how God will use me in His mission/ministry and if there is one thing I want in life…it is for God to use me to glorify Himself.  Before I go too far, I fully understand the fact I am already made righteous through my Savior, Jesus Christ.  But this pursuit of holiness is causing me to ask questions, evaluate, and challenge myself in many ways I would not previously have done.

Let me give you a tangible example.  I have a friend who has brought up multiple times how he believes Paul was a “man’s man” and probably used language that was peppered with various “adjectives” and other bad language.  The only thing I can think of is this – it is an attempt to justify his own use of crass language and seeking affirmation.  Here is the part that I am challenged with, a few years back, I would have said the same thing justifying my occasional use of crass language.  These conversations caused me to dig in and truly look at Paul’s life from a biblical perspective.  I am no theologian, but I do have a Bible and a pretty solid understanding of how to study it.  When I need answers…that is where I go.

As I dug into this topic, I could not get away from Ephesians 4:29 (Amp), “Do not let unwholesome [foul, profane, worthless, vulgar] words ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good for building up others, according to the need and the occasion, so that it will be a blessing to those who hear [you speak].”  As I read this over and over again, I consider Paul’s life; his desire to reach the lost with the Gospel message, his understanding of freedom in Christ, yet his willingness to give it up so he didn’t make a brother stumble.  I have to come to the conclusion that Paul was a real person, made real mistakes, but charged all of us (and himself, because most preachers are speaking to themselves at the same time) with ensuring our words build up others and are a blessing to everyone who hears us.  That seems pretty straight forward to me.

I can’t stop there though because Ephesians 4:29 is but one verse, surrounded by other verses that must be taken into account.  We must study in context of surrounding scripture.  The general topic is how we should walk in this life of following Christ.  I should completely discard my past self.  I should reject all falsehood; lying, defrauding, telling half-truths (ouch, no more fishing stories), and spreading rumors (Eph 4:25 Amp).  I can be angry, but I cannot allow it to cause me to sin, let the sun go down while remaining angry, allow my anger to cause resentment, or lead to bitterness (Eph 4:26,27 Amp).  As I read, it all comes back full circle to the challenge of holiness in my life.  Holiness does not come overnight and I am not convinced it can completely come this side of eternity, BUT that does not give me an excuse to not pursue it.

Hebrews 12:14 says we must, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” (NKJV).  Other versions use the word strive, work towards, work at, all telling me that it is not easy to find peace with all people and the holiness that God calls us to.  This is something that must be practiced daily and in every area of my life (church, home, business, friends, etc.).  I must work hard at ensuring my actions, my words, my life demonstrates holiness.  Does that mean I don’t screw up?  Nope!  God looks at the intent of our heart and he has grace for us when we come humbly before him and admit our shortfalls, His grace is sufficient (2 Cor 12:9).

Let me end on this thought.  All my questions, this call to evaluate everything in my life and to pursue holiness, are not me looking at others and condemning their actions.  It is simply me trying my best to walk the path the Lord has called me to.  Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”  This charge by Paul gives me extreme hope and assurance I am on the right path.  If we consistently challenge ourselves, ask ourselves if we are simply copying the behaviors and customs of the world or allowing God to change our perspective, then we will understand God’s will for us.  However, the latter must be true then, if all we do is copy the world in our actions, words, and life, then we will NOT understand God’s will for our lives and live in deception.  Holiness is unattainable separated from the Blood of Christ, but that does not mean we can sit back and relax once we have a relationship with Jesus.  My faith is worked out daily as I encounter different situations, learn and study the Bible more, and simply spend time with my Father in prayer.

My challenge to myself and you…Do not fit in.  Be different.  Study the life of Jesus (even His own family took offense at him, Mark 6:3).  Pursue holiness in all you do and you will understand God’s good, pleasing, and perfect will for you.  When I stand before my Father in heaven, I don’t believe it is the things I did do that will concern me…rather the things He called me to do that I didn’t take action on.

With love, grace, and peace,

Scott