Idols In Disguise…

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As usual, this 21 day fast has rendered some amazing self-reflection and correction in me.  Throughout this period, I read a book by John Bevere, Killing Kryptonite.  God has used John’s message to flat out correct some of my personal theology.  Primarily, as John intended in the book, killing the idols in my life. An idol is truly anything that we give our attention to or allow to steal our attention from God…ALL of God and ALL of His characteristics.  Like so many of us, I like to focus on the characteristics of God that suit me and make me feel the best about myself.  That my friends, is a false Gospel, an incomplete Gospel, and quit honestly not the Gospel at all…that is heresy on my part.

John brings up a story which caused me to see something in my own life.  Exodus 32 is a story we all know pretty well…it is the story of the golden calf.  The Israelites had just been miraculously rescued by God from the Egyptians.  God had taken care of His people by providing divine direction through the wilderness, feeding them with heavenly manna and miraculously providing quail, because the people wanted meat. As Moses was on Mt Sinai encountering God and being given the Ten Commandments, the people were down below trying to fit God into their personal-sized box; one they could comprehend with their own limited minds.  Aaron and the people took all their gold jewelry and formed the golden calf.  In Exodus 32:4 Aaron says, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!”.  The word “god” is actually Yahweh. They were not necessarily creating an image to wholly replace God with a golden calf, they were simply fashioning an image of God…the golden calf…something they could see with their own eyes.  They were trying to focus on a single characteristic of God, His image.  They lost their faith and created an idol.

And did you know that God’s grace could become an idol?  I have allowed over the years, mostly because of mainstream teaching and my own desire to not “offend” anyone, to accept God’s grace in favor of true repentance.  It is much easier to talk of God’s grace, rather than about the fact we should turn from our wicked ways and live a holy life.  Paul says,

“So that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.  What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not!  How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 5:21 – 6:2)

 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived.  Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

I will be honest, as I was reading God’s word, a holy fear struck my heart.  I had allowed God’s message of grace to overshadow all his other characteristics.  I have allowed my thought process to be that I would simply allow the Holy Spirit to speak to that person and deal with their sin.  While there is not anything inherently wrong with that, I was making the assumption that only the Holy Spirit can speak truth, when in fact God gave us His Word to speak.  The Holy Spirit speaks to people through the WHOLE WORD of GOD, not just the message of grace.  When all I do is speak of God’s grace and not repentance of sin, I risk seeing someone who I thought was my brother or sister turned away at the seat of judgement.  That hurts me even typing those words…

Here is my problem…my brain likes to focus on one thing at a time, it gets stuck in the this OR that mode.  But when we are talking about the character of God, you cannot focus on only this or that.  It is not either grace or repentance, it is both.  It is both turning from our sin and accepting the grace of God.  It is speaking the TRUTH of the Word of God, as Paul was doing to the Corinthian church, in a compassionate way.  Do you think Paul was speaking those words in a demeaning way, talking down to them, speaking in a hateful manner, telling them they were going to burn?  Absolutely not, Philippians 3:18 says, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ”.  Paul called people to repent, but he wept for them at the same time.  He loved them so much that his conscience would not allow him to only speak of God’s grace; it mandated him to talk about repentance of sin.

God is changing me in some pretty crazy ways, challenging a lot of what I believe, but leveraging the compassion and love for His people that he built into my DNA.  My challenge to you is do not run from that which makes you uncomfortable.  Back to what I said in the last blog post, do not allow a short-sighted perspective to cause you to forget that we are dealing with eternity.  When we choose to not talk about the whole Gospel message, we are risking someone’s eternity.  Love dictates that we push through discomfort to deliver truth with a compassionate heart just as Jesus did.

Blessings while you seek out the whole character of God!

Scott

Fasting For Breakthrough

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Todays post is written by my friend and pastor, Matt Wagner.  I met Matt in 2001, while Danielle and I lived in Bartow, Florida. Matt is an amazing leader who is driven to make disciples who make disciples.  He has church planting flowing through his veins, successfully planting six churches to date, with another 999,994 on his heart.

Exodus 33:15

Over the years I have not blogged much but have found myself standing at the window peaking in, desiring to experience the power and transformation that comes from a consistent and steady diet of articulating thought.  So, here goes!

As many of you know, we as a church recently started a 21 day fast.  What is interesting is that I have done fasts for many years now.  I have fasted for a few days and I have fasted for 21 days.  I have fasted and fallen off the wagon and I have fasted for some breakthrough only to find that my discipline ended up being nothing more than a glorified diet.

You see, historically speaking, when I have fasted in the past my goal has been for the hand of God to be extended in some area of my life, but not necessarily Him.  I have wanted the impact of God but not necessarily the presence of God.  I have wanted the faithfulness of God, the dream of God, the power of God, the influence of God, but not necessarily His presence.

This is a new-found revelation for me, for if you would have asked me in years past if I desired the presence of the Lord I would have said, “Of course I do.”  It was just that my prayers to God communicated something different.

In Exodus 33, we find a young man by the name of Moses sitting on Mt. Sinai with the Lord.  And it is here that we read Moses had an intimate relationship with God.  As a matter of fact, the Bible makes it clear that Moses was a friend of God.  He experienced God in a personal way.  It was that personal understanding of God that allowed Moses to remain humble and aware of the presence of the Lord.

In this passage, God tells Moses that He is going to keep His promise to the nation of Israel, and He will continue to watch after them, but He himself would not go with them due to them constantly violating His standards.  It is here that Moses makes a powerful declaration, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.  For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight.” (Ex. 33:15, NKJV)

As I read those words, my heart was cut because suddenly I realized that I wanted the impact of God in my life, but did not necessarily want Him.  I guess I would say I could not honestly answer whether or not I would have said the same thing Moses did.  I probably would have said, “Lord, we are going to miss you.  Thank you for blessing us.  We will come visit often.”  You see, I wanted the promised land, without the promise keeper.  Here is the problem with that…if you ever want to forfeit your impact, then short change your intimacy with God.

This fasting season, I encourage you not to focus so much on the breakthrough but rather focus on His Presence.

The Black Sheep of Spiritual Disciplines

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How many of us make decisions on something small, significant, or somewhere in between then pause to pray about our decision moments before taking action?  In my late teens and early 20’s I developed a bad habit of making decision based on my feelings at the time.  I am, by nature, an emotional person.  That means if I am not careful, I will make decisions based on how I am feeling.  The danger of that…our feelings betray us at times.  Feelings are not concrete, not based on fact.  They are based on circumstance, hormones, and a host of other factors.  When we make decisions based on feeling the results can be devastating…massive debt, divorce, job loss, obesity, addictions.  The list is endless.

Imagine with me for a moment an alternate earth.  In this parallel world, the citizens of a specific region were god’s chosen people, he and he alone wanted to lead them in the ways that were righteous and would result in their blessing.  Instead of following him they cried out for a worldly leader and in god’s love for them, he provided a king.  Over the years they wandered further and further down the path of doing what feels good and fulfills their every desire.  Due to continuously feeding the desires of the flesh and seeking out leaders who would continue to give them the same, they ended up with a long line of wicked leaders.  Eventually, the wickedness of the culture caused their national security to be severely compromised and they fell into enslavement to a foreign government.  This foreign government took the citizens of a once great country captive and removed everyone from their homeland.  They destroyed the once beautiful capital city.

Fast forward 90 plus years.  The dictator of the country who took the other country captive had groomed a high-level employee to provide his house the best and safest food and drink.  Unbeknownst to the dictator, the head chef was a godly man, who constantly sought out his god for wisdom to perform his job to the best of his ability.  Why?  Because he knew that if he failed at his job it meant his life…failure was NEVER an option in this world.  The head chef was speaking to a relative, who was relaying to him the disarray of the homeland.  He told him how the capital was still in ruins and not rebuilt, even though the foreign government had begun to allow citizens of the chef’s country to return to their homes. The chef was grieved.  He was devastated and emotionally broken, that his fellow people had not realized the blessing they had received by being allowed to return to their homeland.  He was broken that his people chose to live in disarray, devastation and disobedience, instead of being thankful for the opportunity to go home and begin reconstruction.

At that very moment, the chef knew something must be done in the homeland.  He knew his people needed to set their hearts and eyes on their god and begin the restoration process.  He thought to himself, I am of well regard with my boss, the dictator; I need to plead my case and see if he will allow me to go to my homeland for a short period of time to encourage and lead my people.  But instead of taking matters into his own hands, he laid down his own desires for the desires of his god and over the next 4 months he prayed and fasted for his people.  He patiently prayed and fasted daily while waiting for an answer from his god, never taking matters into his own hands.  Then in a split second, everything changed and his prayer was answered…his patience, his faithfulness, his laying down his own desires was being honored.

This fictional story, was birthed from the story of Nehemiah in the Old Testament.  Over the next 21 days we are going to dive deep into the heart and mind of Nehemiah; one of God’s faithful in the Old Testament.  Nehemiah is often studied for his example of leadership, but if all we ever do is focus on Nehemiah the leader, we will miss much of the wisdom the 13-chapter Old Testament book holds.

Fortunately, our God has more grace then I will ever understand and in His goodness, He has displayed to me a better way over the past few years.  There is value in being patient, slowing down, and seeking God prior to making decisions.  When we encounter an emotional response, we must pause and pray while our mind is still flexible and open to the wisdom of a Father who truly does want the best for us.  We must be willing to sacrifice our fleshly desires through the discipline of fasting and praying to hear our Father’s voice clearly.  Please join us on a prayer and fasting journey (January 1st through the 21st) as we look at the prayers of Nehemiah; a man who sought out his Heavenly Father with patience and faithfulness, believing He would answer his prayers.

Blessings and hope in Him for the new year,

Scott

Man’s Best Friend

ZoeFotorI do not believe in coincidence and I do believe in general revelation.  A little over four years ago, on my oldest daughter’s birthday, we picked up Zoe. Zoe was our first family dog and a beautiful Golden Retriever.  From the beginning she was mischievous, like most Golden puppies, yet she grew into being one of the sweetest dogs I have ever known. She was always the first to greet me at the door with a big happy puppy smile and her bushy wagging tail. Zoe was our family dog, but I was her alpha, and that meant she looked to me for protection and affirmation. It was no coincidence we picked up the little puppy on June 29th 2013, but now we are on the brink of watching Zoe pass away. She has developed a pretty aggressive lymphoma and is in the last days of her short life.

I say it was no coincidence, because pets can be instant common ground that is the beginning of many great relationships. Having a Golden Retriever who is happy to see everybody and stands in your front yard to greet whomever walks by is the easiest way to get to know your neighbors. We developed some great relationships simply by Zoe greeting people in the front yard. Specifically our friends Paul and Sheena whose Goldendoodle bounded into our yard to greet Zoe, and the first conversation started. And now at the end, we had the opportunity to meet one of the most amazing and sweetest veterinarians I have ever met, Dr. Proshek at Kingsbridge Animal Clinic in Garland, Texas.  We have seen him and his amazing team pretty much once per week over the past 3 months as we have walked this journey with Zoe. We have become “regulars” at Kingsbridge and enjoy seeing everybody’s smiling faces as we drop Zoe off for her weekly visit. Zoe hangs out for the day and follows them around the office, takes a nap in Dr. Proshek’s office on the carpet, and simply shares her sweetness with the staff…Zoe has become one of their own. And we are so incredibly thankful for the care and love they have shared with Zoe and our family.

I believe in general revelation. General revelation is the belief that the Father (the Creator) is revealed throughout all his creation. Somebody said that “if I could be half the human my dog is, I would be twice the human I am.” While I am not entirely sure that is true, I definitely get what they were trying to say. Zoe is the sweetest and most forgiving dog I have met…that is something I could learn so much from. I was impacted to my core yesterday reading through the Gospel of Mark, specifically chapter 15. Mark states 4 times how Jesus was mocked and criticized, and yet He never retaliated…He did not seek out justice at a justified point in time; He simply turned the other cheek, and said “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Jesus was more interested in sacrificing Himself so that those who mocked Him had an opportunity to turn from their ways and pursue a relationship with God. Zoe represents the all too familiar unconditional love of a dog. General revelation of God is very clear, we simply need to open our eyes to the beauty around us.

Zoe is an amazing family pet, one we will never forget and cherish the many memories she blessed us with.  In death and in life there is mourning and joy, we simply have to look in the right places. There are no coincidence, there is only a plan leading to hope in the One who knows all and will bring an end to death and restore His perfect creation forever. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for (divinely guaranteed) will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see (Hebrews 11:1). What I know is loss is NEVER for nothing, we must stop and look around us for the opportunities of relationships with those who are in need of Hope.

Hope, Love and Blessings,

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

Day 3 – Leadership

We live in a fallen world and to think any different, one has to walk the planet blind. Every single person needs Jesus and the continual sanctification that only comes from a relationship with the Father. This human condition shows up in every country regardless of its state of development.
Our day started off at Services sitting through a “committee” meeting. This was a long meeting where every single person needed their time on the stand. Everybody wants to be involved and everybody wants a piece of the action or at least their sticker/branding on the action. They wanted distribution to happen at the Services camp and not out in the field. BUT, this is why I love WHI…they listen patiently, then go back to the field to get the work done. The people in need are more important then making a committee happy. Context right? We always have to remember context. This country works differently than ours and change is never dictated, but modeled. Saidu and his team “model” leadership and compassion!

From here we went to the field with another NGO to distribute water filters to households in need. This was a far different experience than traveling with people under Saidu’s leadership. Not necessarily bad just different. The group we traveled with were far less organized and allowed outside influence to alter the plan of distribution. In the end, through heated conversations we got out in field.

In the field our first experience was walking up on a body being pulled from the river. Considering we are almost 2 weeks past the disaster it was good we did not see details. It is simply a painful reminder to the community they lost so many family and friends. As a side note, out of respect we took no photos of this location. From there we went climbing in and around the very rocky surroundings of the river basin. We went from house to house training families on how to use and clean the water filters. This is a rewarding experience when you see a family with a look of astonishment on their face when you convert tainted river water to pure drinking water. Understand, they believe the water from the river is untouchable due to the decomposing bodies. We hiked in approximately 1.5 miles, then back out through some intense trails by our standard.  

From there were picked up by Saidu, had dinner, and enjoyed the very efficient traffic of Freetown. Honestly, I would prefer to live in a nice quiet farming village, rather than anywhere close to this traffic:)

This was a day of contrast. People were helped, they have clean water. But this is the contrast of great leadership and… I don’t know the leadership of the people we traveled with today, but I do know the “fruit” was far different. World Hope International, Saidu’s leadership in Sierra Leone, their people, and their compassion are what makes a huge difference. I am so thankful they are Jesus following people who simply want to serve their communities and demonstrate the Father’s love!

Blessings From Sierra Leone…we are coming home tomorrow. Please pray for safe and on time flights home!

Scott

His Grace > My Imperfections

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The Apostle Paul is my Biblical Hero. You may say, well what about Jesus? I love Jesus with all of my heart, soul, and body. He is my Savior and my man crush; Paul does not even hold a candle to Jesus…and that is why Paul is my Biblical Hero.  He was a deeply faulted man, a man who had rage against Followers of the Way to the point he would either torture and kill them or have his people do it for him. Paul was the lowest of the low by his own admission. He was a man who was deeply aware of his many faults…he is a man I want to be like.

We live in a society where we are successful for our individualism and our appearance. We are successful when we climb the corporate ladder, make lots of money, marry the trophy husband or wife, have beautiful and gifted children, own a massive house that exceeds our budget, have the perfect body to the point we are willing to buy it, drive new cars, and have all the toys. We are successful for what is on the outside and quite honestly nobody really gives a crap what is going on in the inside as long as you keep it there and don’t expose it. NEVER EXPOSE IT…to the point you cannot live with the internal pain any longer and you begin to consider or worse…commit suicide. We live in a world right now where we are willing to risk mental breakdown to maintain the perfect image. Willing to risk our marriages, our health, our soul…over an image…What the…!

Paul was a man who was so disillusioned with what he thought was truth, he became a feared murderer. Until the day that Jesus stood before him and asked him one simple question, “Why are you persecuting me?” That was the day Paul’s perspective changed and he began to see the corruption and filth that was interwoven in his own flesh.  His eyes were opened to his brokenness. That day the Lord humbled him to save his soul. Paul was made blind and had to be led to a Christian, who he was going to persecute, in order to regain his sight through prayer. From that day on, Paul became a lover of Jesus to the point he was willing to go anywhere and do anything, simply to share the love of Christ with the world. He risked his life, his well-being, and he worked hard to bring the message of Grace to the world.  Paul says in Romans 7 (see the chapter for exact words), he did what he didn’t want to do, even though he knew what was right. He was keenly aware that NOTHING good lived in him and he fully admitted he was a miserable person, yet he found faith and hope in Jesus Christ.

That is why he is my hero; because he knew in and of himself, he had nothing. His only hope was Jesus. I am a deeply broken person. I have struggled with pornography. I have used drugs. I have abused alcohol. I have anger issues at times. My kids are not perfect. I am keenly aware the only person who thinks I am a trophy husband is…who am I kidding?! I may swear occasionally (more so in my head). I speed a lot. Dave Ramsey would never hire me. I like clothes a little too much. I can easily obsess about anything.  And the list goes on and on. I am a deeply wounded and damaged individual, but I know one thing…I must strive every day to be more like Jesus. His grace is not a reason for me to go on in my sin, but I am thankful His grace covers my sin.

The most damaging lie we tell is the one that attempts to portray perfection…the “I have it all together” attitude. That lie is one that has both earthly and eternal consequences. There was only one who stepped on this earth that was perfect, for the rest of us…imperfection is in our DNA and the only hope we have is Jesus. Be honest, be open, find a friend to pour your heart out to, and pursue the love of Jesus over your own faults. His grace is greater than your imperfections…learn to give yourself the same amount of grace.

I love you!

Scott