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Archive for May, 2016

The most recent JO sermon, about taming your tongue, resonated very powerfully with me. I have a very strong personality, and it has been my fate that the people closest to me have often been of the belligerently argumentative variety, so, as you might imagine, I’ve spent a great deal of time in heated argument… and WINNING, yes, but the point is, although there are certainly times to speak vehemently and persuasively against opposition, and God has been training me for decades to be ready for those times, in personal relationships, God clearly wants us to exercise patience and gentleness rather than killer debate tactics. As JO so often says, the Bible does not say that whoever wins an argument is blessed, or that the person who argues the longest or best is blessed, or that the person who is right is blessed, or that the person who dominates others by the force of their personality is blessed, it says:

Matthew 5:9 (NIV)

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,

    for they will be called children of God.

It also says:

Romans 12:16-18 (NIV)

16 Live in harmony with one another… 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

That’s a pretty clear message. But how does one do this in practice? A strange idea came to me, which often means that it is of divine origin; whether it is or not, I’m giving it a try. I made labels to stick to the upper frame of my monitor. First, I put “flesh” in one corner, and “spirit” in the other corner; this will keep in the upper part of my mind all day long that I have to make the constant choice between the 2 every time a conversation develops the potential to veer away from the productive and the positive. 

Then, I needed a reply for when someone makes an unpleasant pronouncement about what they’re going to do, a decision they’ve made, or some wrong-headed way that they think or feel. I’ll respond with a sentence that begins with what I wrote on my third label, “I’m sorry that you’ve chosen to…” followed by do, not do, believe, etc, and that’s it; no argument, no debate, no discussion, just a polite ending of that line of conversation that might, just MIGHT, cause them to rethink their choices, or at the very least realize that these decisions ARE choices, not requirements, for which they bear full responsibility. 

And finally, if they throw something belligerent at me, or try to push my buttons and get me to participate in a negative conversation, I’ll shut it down with something along the lines of what I put on my fourth label, “There’s no gracious way to…” followed by “discuss this,” “respond to that,” etc. Again, that politely shuts down the conversation, and it has the possibility of getting them thinking about what the gracious things to do and say might be.

These labels will be right in my line of sight all day every day; this will get them down into my spirit. If I can consistently implement their ideas, that will constitute spectacular spiritual progress for me… and allow me to pass what I think might be the final test before God brings me to my next level of restoration. Pray for me!!

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Praise God!!

My previous best day had been 3 months ago, with 891 hits. Starting early in the day yesterday, I felt certain that I was going to have a top day, because the level of hits was well above where it usually was at that time. As the day progressed, not only was I certain that I would have a new best day, but I became certain that I would beat 1000 hits… which I did well before the end of the day, with 1083 total. Not bad for a blog that got 76 hits in the entire first YEAR!!

Because WordPress unfortunately does not show the source of many of the hits, I can’t be sure what I owe this upsurge to. Because Google alone accounted for about 700 of those hits, more hits than I normally get total in a day, which currently is usually 500-600, my best guess is that either Google just bumped me up in the search listings, or they are resorting their results, which often leads to some websites having atypical rankings for a while. Either way, I’ll take it!!

Thank you to everyone whose links to me on Facebook and Pinterest added to the total, and welcome to any new readers that just arrived!!

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from JO’s sermon tonight:

one of the main reasons people get stuck in life is because they haven’t learned how to control their mouth; they say hurtful things, put people down, argue, gossip. they don’t realize, their tongue is keeping them from rising higher; God won’t promote you if you don’t have the character to back it up. you don’t have to be perfect, but we shouldn’t be where we were 5 years ago; we should be improving.  pay attention to what you’re saying; sometimes, we’ve done it so long, we don’t realize we’ve become harsh, condescending, sarcastic, saying things just to please our flesh. Paul said:

Ephesians 4:29 (NET Bible)

29 You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need,

before you say something, you need to ask; is this going to be beneficial to someone, build them up, or tear them down? is this comment going to make my spouse feel better about themselves, or is it just going to feed my ego? some people, the only thing that’s holding them back from a healthy marriage, good relationships, a promotion, is their mouth; they’re talented, skillful, but they pop off, they’re sarcastic, stir up strife. you can’t say everything you feel; your emotions will get you into trouble. when somebody gets on your nerves, you feel irritated, annoyed; instead of popping off and saying things that you know you’re going to regret later, you need to step back, take a deep breath, pause for 30 seconds, think about what you’re going to say. don’t speak out of your emotions, let your tongue run wild; that’s the easy way out. you have to be disciplined, and tame your tongue. the scripture says:

James 1:19 (NIV)

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry

if you’ll pause for a moment, let your emotions calm down, you’ll realize, some things are better left unsaid. you don’t have to win every argument, comment on every situation, straighten everyone out. you may know they’re wrong and you’re right, but you have to ask yourself; is this worth starting World War III over? just bite your tongue and walk away. I’ve heard it said, the reason we have 2 ears and one mouth is because we’re supposed to listen twice as much as we speak. do you know how many headaches you could save yourself if you’d just zip it up, not say things you’ll regret later?

it’s easy, in the heat of the moment, to make hurtful comments; it takes 10 seconds to say it, but 10 years later the pain is still being felt. it’s like a burn; the fire goes away, but the mark is still there. we can apologize, say we’re sorry, that’s good, that’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t remove the scar, doesn’t make the pain go away. it’s much better to tame your tongue, be slow to speak, not say things out of our emotions; that damages relationships. you’ve heard the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” that’s not a true statement; words can leave scars, tear people apart, make them feel inferior, insecure. there are people today not reaching their potential because of hurtful words spoken over them. they heard their parents, over and over; “you can’t do anything right. you’re not smart.” or a spouse; “you’re unattractive, you’re not talented.” now those words are limiting their life. David prayed:

Psalms 64:3 (NLT)

3 Sharp tongues are the swords they wield; bitter words are the arrows they aim.

he referred to hurtful words as swords; are you building people up with your words, or are you cutting people up with you words? are you encouraging them, making them stronger, more confident, or pushing them down, leaving them wounded and scarred? many times, we recover from a physical wound much quicker than an emotional one.

parents, we have a responsibility to speak words of life, faith, encouragement, into our children. yes, we have to correct them, but don’t do it angry, in a disrespectful way. don’t say derogatory things to your children that are going to damage their self-image. even small children; you should never say, “you’re a bad boy/girl,” don’t get that into their spirit. they’ve been made in the image of God, He breathed His life into them; they may have bad behavior at times, but your children are good. correct them in a loving, kind way; don’t start cutting them up early in life with hurtful words. they have enough to overcome already; they have enough people, circumstances, coming against them. let’s be parents that speak life into our children, push them into their destiny, help release their dreams. our children are a gift from God, and with that gift comes a responsibility; God is counting on us to guide, nurture, help them become who they were created to be. 

taming the tongue starts at home; husbands, make sure you’re treating your wife with respect and honor. if you’re saying hurtful, demeaning things, pushing her down, really, you’re pushing yourself down; you’re not just hurting her, you’re hurting you. the scripture says:

1 Peter 3:7 (TLB)

7 … Remember that you and your wife are partners in receiving God’s blessings, and if you don’t treat her as you should, your prayers will not get ready answers.

you won’t reach your destiny, accomplish your goals, if you’re always cutting her up. I read a study that said, one of the main reasons women fall into depression is because they don’t have the blessing from their husband; they don’t feel valued and appreciated. I know men that treat strangers better than they treat their own spouse; they’re kind and gracious to coworkers, but they’re sarcastic, condescending to their own family. Jesus said:

Matthew 12:36 (NLT)

36 And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak

idle word means negative, condescending, hurtful words. when we come to the end of life, God is going to ask; “what did you do with that spouse I gave you? did you help them grow, become more confident? did you challenge them to reach to the next level? if your spouse is not better than before you met them, you need to step it up a notch; check up on what you’re saying. are you speaking the blessing? every time you tell your wife, “you’re beautiful,” she shines a little bit brighter. every time you say, “I love you, I’m so glad you’re mine,” not only is your marriage getting stronger, but she’s getting stronger. when you tell your children, “I’m proud of you. you’re going to do great things in life,” those are not just kind words, those are seeds that will move them toward their purpose.

if you had to give an account now, for your spouse, children, friends, are they better today than they were 5 years ago?  are they stronger, happier, more fulfilled, more successful? if not, you need to make some changes. God gave them to you; He’s expecting you to give them back better. as a husband, I would hate to have to tell you that my wife is not as happy, confident, secure, fulfilled as before we met. that wouldn’t be her fault; it would be my fault. as her husband, as her covering, it’s my responsibility to keep her encouraged, strong, fulfilled, passionate about life. scripture says:

1 Corinthians 11:7 (NLT)

7 … woman reflects man’s glory

if your wife is not shining, if you’re harsh, condemning, sarcastic, it’s not only making her look bad, it’s making you look bad. for some people, when they have to give an account, it’ll be a sad day.  God will look at their spouse, children, friends, and all He’ll see is wounds, cut up from sarcasm, disrespect, condescending remarks. don’t let that be you. use your words to bless people, build them up, make them feel better about themselves. in relationships, we all have conflicts, things that we don’t like. I’m not saying you should never have a disagreement, no tension, no stress. I’m saying, in the heat of the moment, step back and don’t make hurtful comments; that damages relationships. 

“if my spouse wouldn’t push my buttons, then I wouldn’t say things that I know I shouldn’t. if my kids would just straighten up, if these coworkers wouldn’t get on my nerves, then I wouldn’t be so disrespectful.” these are tests that we have to pass. the people in your life are never going to be perfect. you have to learn to tame your tongue; that means, you don’t say everything you feel. you may think it, but you’re disciplined enough to zip it up. maybe your boss is rude to you; you’re about to let him have it, tell him what you think. here’s the problem; he’s the boss, and you’re not. after you speak out of your emotions, give him a piece your mind, you’ll be on a high for about 10 minutes, feeling good, giving high-fives; then you’ll realize, “he still has his job, and I don’t.” it’s much better to tame your tongue; then, you won’t have to live in regrets, thinking, “oh man, why did I say that? what was I thinking?” 

love makes allowances for people’s weaknesses, overlooks a wrong that was done to it. you have to rise above these petty things that are pulling you apart. give people room to have a bad day every once in a while. if they’re rude, don’t sink down to that level; be an eagle and rise above it. life is too short to live at odds, contentious, arguing about things that don’t matter. some people have to have the last word in every argument; they’re so hardheaded, they’ll argue for 27 days just to have that final word. let it go. you have a destiny to fulfill, an assignment to accomplish; those are distractions trying to pull you off course. don’t waste your valuable time and energy on something that’s not moving you toward your purpose. if you argue long enough, you’ll end up saying something you’ll regret later; a 10 minute argument can set a relationship back 10 years. you have to learn to walk away; you’re not going to accomplish anything positive in a heated, disrespectful situation. let them have the last word, and you’ll keep your peace, your joy. “that’d make me look weak.” it’s just the opposite; the strongest person is the one that humbles themselves and steps away. the scripture says:

Romans 12:21 (NIV)

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

you don’t overcome disrespect with more disrespect, insults with more insults, shouting with more shouting; the way you do it is by taking high road, being the bigger person, staying respectful.

Proverbs 20:3 (NLT)

3 Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor

it doesn’t say it’s a mark of honor to win the fight, get the last word, put the person down; the honorable thing to do is not start the fight in the first place.

in the scripture, when David was a teenager, he was stuck in the shepherd’s fields, taking care of his father’s sheep. one day, his father sent him out to take lunch to his brothers; they were in the army, on the front lines where it was exciting:

1 Samuel 17:28 (NIV)

28 When Eliab, David’s oldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, “Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.”

Eliab was condescending, sarcastic, trying to pick a fight with David. some people will make it their agenda in life to try to bait you into conflict. they see the favor on your life, know you’re going to do great things; instead of being happy for you, knowing that God has a destiny for them as well, they’ll be jealous, and try to draw you into conflict. don’t take that bait.

David probably felt like telling his brother off; his emotions said, “let him have it.” I’m sure he had his speech all lined up:  “Eliab, you think you’re hot stuff, but you’re nothing. God anointed me to be the King; you’re just jealous, you’re going to end up serving me.” he could have lit into him, but David understood this principle; he didn’t get in there and fight, curse his brother, try to have the last word. he kept his mouth closed, turned and walked away:

1 Samuel 17:30 (NIV)

30 He then turned away to someone else

no wonder David took the throne. no wonder God entrusted him to do great things; he had the character to back up the anointing on his life. God can give you a great anointing, have a big future in store for you, but if you don’t develop your character, you won’t step into all that He has. taming the tongue is a major factor in reaching our destiny. because our mouth, more than about just anything else, gets us into trouble, you can’t use your words as a sword cutting people up, disrespectful, sarcastic, and expect to reach the fullness of your destiny.

I wonder how much higher we would go if we would do like David, and not have to have the last word, be right, cause some big scene; instead, we just keep quietly honoring God, taking the high road, staying respectful. you do that, and God will fight your battles; that’s putting yourself in position for promotion.

David faced a lot of opposition in his life. he had plenty of opportunities to get upset, lose his cool, tell people off, but he prayed an interesting prayer in Psalm 141; he didn’t ask God to defeat his enemies, remove all of his challenges, he said:

Psalm 141:3 (NLT)

3 Take control of what I say, O Lord,

    and guard my lips.

Psalm 141:3 (TLB)

3 Help me, Lord, to keep my mouth shut and my lips sealed.

he was saying, “God, I have a lot of people coming against me, and I know I’m going to be tempted to be rude, sarcastic, argumentative, so God, I’m asking You in advance; help me to keep it zipped up.” what a great prayer; every morning when we wake up, “God, help me to not say things that are going to get me into trouble, to not be disrespectful, argumentative, condescending. Lord, help me to keep my lips sealed.” this is especially important when we’re in stressful times: the traffic is bad, you’re dealing with a difficult coworker. when you’re in these pressured situations, when you know you’re going to be tempted to say things that you shouldn’t, you need to decide ahead of time that you’re going to watch your words carefully. all through the day, like David, “God, help me to keep my lips sealed.” 

this is what Jesus did. toward the end of his life, he knew he was coming into one of his most difficult seasons; he knew he would be betrayed, sold for 30 pieces of silver, arrested, mistreated, and crucified. he said to his disciples:

John 14:30 (NIV)

30 I will not say much more to you, for the prince of this world is coming

he was smart enough to realize that he was going to be under incredible pressure, so he let them know, “I’ve already made up my mind; I’m not going to be talking a lot.” he was saying, in effect, “I’ve already decided; I’m not going to complain when I’m betrayed, be rude to Judas, argue with the soldiers, be condescending to my accusers. I’m going to be careful with my words.”

when you know you’re going to be under pressure, a stressful situation at work, before you leave the house, you need to decide; “I’m not going to say everything I feel today. I’m going to be extra careful.” when you’re going to be discussing a sensitive issue with your spouse, decide ahead of time, “I’m not going to lose my cool, open the door to strife, arguing.” if Jesus, the son of God, who has all power, said, “I’m not going to be talking much in this pressured situation,” how much more should we be careful what we say when we’re under pressure?

it’s easy to make excuses; “I was rude to them because they were rude to me. I said some things I know I shouldn’t have, but it’s because I was under a lot of stress.” no, you have the grace to be where you are and not be rude, complain, say hurtful things. you can either feed the flesh and say what you feel, or you can you feed your spirit, and keep your mouth closed. the problem is, if you keep feeding the flesh, saying everything you want, you won’t grow up; you will stay a baby. the scripture says, “even though you’re an heir, and God has an incredible inheritance that belongs to you, joy, peace, favor, promotion, abundance; as long as you stay a baby, that inheritance will not be released.” (I was unable to find this passage in the Bible.)

taming the tongue is not just about being disciplined; it’s about growing up, seeing the inheritance that has your name on it released in your life. I know people, they’re 47 years old, but they’re still a baby; they haven’t learned to control their mouth. sometimes, it’s not big things that keep us from God’s best, it’s small things: in the big picture, it’s a small thing to not argue with a spouse, to not be sarcastic, put people down. God’s not asking us to give away our belongings, move to a difficult place, He’s simply asking us to tame our tongues, use our words to bless and not curse, build people up and not tear them down. 

this is one of the reasons the Israelites didn’t make it into the Promised Land. God brought them out of slavery, they were headed to the land flowing with milk and honey, but along the way, when they came under pressure, instead of taming their tongues, they started complaining, criticizing Moses:

Exodus 14:11 (NIV)

11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?

it was an 11 day journey to the Promised Land, but because of their negative words, they went around the same mountain for 40 years, and never did make it in. 

if you can’t say something beneficial, that’s going to edify, build up, do yourself a favor, and zip it up. it’s not only affecting the other person; that’s keeping you from your destiny. God will put us in situations to test us: if we’re harsh, critical, complaining, condescending, we have to take the test again, we have to go around the same mountain. don’t do like they did, and go around that mountain for the next 40 years. next time you’re tempted to say something that you shouldn’t, pause for a moment; under your breath, “God, help me to control my mouth, keep my lips sealed.” if you’ll be slow to speak, and ask God to help you, you’ll start passing these tests. as you grow up, God will release more of the inheritance that belongs to you; you will see more of His favor. the point here is, you can’t be critical and make it into your Promised Land. you can’t be disrespectful to the boss or your spouse and become all you were created to be. that’s why Proverbs says:

Proverbs 18:21 (HCSB)

21 Life and death are in the power of the tongue

are you speaking life over your future, or are you speaking death? 

one time, Moses’ sister Miriam didn’t like the woman that Moses married. this young lady didn’t meet Miriam’s approval; she was an Ethiopian girl, came from a different nationality. Miriam started talking bad about Moses, stirring up trouble, sowing discord. what’s interesting is, the scripture says:

Numbers 12:1-10 (NIV)

12 Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite…. And the Lord heard this…10 When the cloud lifted from above the tent, Miriam’s skin was leprous—it became as white as snow.

(Only Miriam was punished because she was the instigator, and because if Aaron had been struck with leprosy, he could no longer have functioned as a priest, and could not have interceded for Miriam to get her healing.)

leprosy was contagious; she immediately had to leave the camp. it will help us to have the right perspective when we remember that God hears what we say, when we bless people and when we curse them, when we encourage, compliment, push them forward, and when we’re harsh and disrespectful. Proverbs said:

Proverbs 18:21 (NIRV)

21 … those who love to talk will eat the fruit of their words.

this means, if you sow disrespect, you’ll reap disrespect. if you sow discord, sarcasm, judgment, you’ll reap those things. but when you sow kindness, compliments, encouragement, mercy, people are going to be good to you.

James said:

James 3:5 (PHILLIPS)

5 … A whole forest can be set ablaze by a tiny spark of fire, and the tongue is as dangerous as any fire

one word can start a major problem, or a major blessing. I’m asking you to start some good fires; ignite people’s dreams, hopes, passions. your words have the ability to put people on their feet, to breathe new life into their spirit. be a healer, encourager, lifter. and when you’re tempted to say things, and we all are, to be condescending, sarcastic, argumentative, be disciplined enough to zip it up. put that sword down; don’t go through life cutting people up with hurtful words, go through life building people up with encouraging words. if you’ll do this, because you’re taming your tongue, you will enjoy your life more, you will have better relationships, you will receive your inheritance, and become everything God’s created you to be.

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from JO’s sermon tonight:

we all love when a dream comes to pass: we get the promotion, move into the new house, meet the right person. we know that’s the favor of God. but with every blessing comes a burden. life is full of contradictions: it’s a blessing to move into that bigger house; it’s a burden to have more to clean. it’s a blessing to have that baby; it’s a burden to get up in the middle of the night. God blessed me with a large ministry, opportunity, influence, but with this big blessing came big burdens: more critics, more opposition, more funds to raise, more responsibility.

the mistake we make is, we want the blessing without the burden; that’s not reality, they come as a package. the key is to learn to enjoy the blessing while the burden is still there. some burdens are not going to go away. not being negative, but you’ll never get to a place where you’re problem-free: nobody’s talking about you, no conflict, no traffic, no bills. if you’re always trying to pray away the burdens, you’ll be frustrated; God wouldn’t have given you the blessing if you couldn’t handle the burden. it all boils down to; what are we focusing on? “when my baby gets out of diapers, when they’re not so much work, then I’ll be happy again”; that child is a gift from God, some people would give anything to have a baby like yours. don’t stay focused on the burden and miss the blessing. “when these people stop talking about me, then I won’t be upset”; the reason they’re talking about you is because you’re making a difference.

God has blessed you with influence; with that blessing comes opposition.  it’s a part of the package; don’t be frustrated by it. “if I didn’t have to deal with these coworkers, take all my time and energy, then I wouldn’t be stressed out”; you prayed for a promotion, God answered your prayer, gave you a management position. don’t pray for a bigger blessing if you’re going to complain about a bigger burden. the problem is, you’re focused on the burden; you need to change your perspective, start looking for what’s right, seeing what’s good. you have the grace to be where you are with a good attitude; not sour, discouraged, “why is this taking so long?” no, enjoy where you are on the way to where you’re going.

life is a journey; after you accomplish this goal, there’ll be another mountain to climb, another set of burdens to deal with. don’t get so caught up in where you’re going that you miss the beauty of this moment; enjoy the season that you’re in. if we’re not careful, we won’t enjoy our teens; we’re in a hurry to get out of school. we won’t enjoy our 20s; we’re stressed out, trying to find a job, meet the right person. we won’t enjoy our 30s; we’re pressured raising these kids, trying to be good parents. we won’t enjoy our 40s; we’re trying to get into management, get that promotion, make sure we have savings. at some point, you have to put your foot down, and say, “this is the day the Lord has made. I’m going to enjoy where I am right now. I may have a few burdens, but I know it’s because I have big blessings, because God has been good to me.”

you could be in one of the best seasons of your life and not realize it, because you’re focused on what you don’t like, how long it’s taking, somebody that’s not doing right. instead of enjoying the blessing, you’re letting the burdens weigh you down. are you trying to hurry through a season, focused on what you don’t like, upset, frustrated? there’s a blessing in that season. God wouldn’t have you there if wasn’t something good. if you would change your perspective, instead of focusing on the burdens, start focusing on the blessing, then you’ll enjoy your life, and not just endure it.

I heard about this college student, she wrote her parents a letter: “dear mom and dad; there was a riot on campus. from the smoke I inhaled, I developed a life-threatening lung disease. at the hospital, I met a parking lot attendant; we fell in love. our baby is on the way. after one month, when he gets off of probation, I’m going to drop out of college; we’re going to move to Alaska and get married. signed your, loving daughter.” at the bottom, there was a PS; it said, “none of this is true, but I did fail chemistry.” she wanted to make sure her parents had the right perspective. 

could it be, the things that are bothering you, stealing your joy, in the big picture, it’s not as bad as you think? you’ve magnified it, made it bigger than it really is? you need to shift your focus from the burdens to the blessings, from what you don’t have to what you do have, from what’s wrong in your life to what’s right in your life. maybe you’re at a challenging time at work; instead of complaining, focusing on the burden, the right attitude is, “Lord, I’m grateful to have this job. I know people that are unemployed. Father, thank you for blessing me with this opportunity.” instead of complaining about your spouse, focusing on what you don’t like; “Lord, thank you for blessing me with my spouse. they’re not perfect, they have some flaws, but so do I. I’m grateful that I have somebody in my life to love.”

if you stay focused on the burdens, on what you don’t like, over time, it’s going to sour your relationships. a mature person knows how to enjoy the blessing while the burden is still there. don’t put your life on hold waiting for everything to be perfect, then you’re going to be happy, start being your best; the way to pass the test is to be your best right where you are, in the mist of the difficulty, when you’re not being treated right, when the medical report wasn’t good. life is flying by; we have no guarantee that we’re going to be here tomorrow. make the most of this day. there will always be something to deal with, worry about: people, traffic, opposition, health issues. if you stay focused on your burdens, you won’t enjoy your blessings.

in the book of Luke, an angel appeared to a young lady named Mary. he said:

Luke 1:27-32 (NIV)

27 …The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” … 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David

you couldn’t get any more favored; you’ve just been told that you’re going to give birth to the Savior of the world. Mary was blessed, but with that blessing came a burden, a contradiction; she was favored, but misunderstood, controversial, talked about. everywhere she went, people whispered, “there’s that young lady; she says she’s having a baby without a man, yeah right, we’ve heard that before.” on one hand, she was excited, couldn’t believe it was happening; on the other hand, her life was much more complicated. she had to tell her fiancé what happened. I can imagine she said, “Joseph, honey, when you have a moment, we need to talk.” he says, “fine, let’s talk right now.” she says, “well, I don’t really know how to tell you this, but somebody stopped by the house the other day, and now I’m pregnant. it’s not what you think; it’s all good, I’m faithful, but I’m going to have a baby.” after she picked Joseph up off the floor, he said, “I’ll tell you what; we’ll just call off the wedding. I won’t tell anybody, I won’t embarrass you, let’s just go our separate ways.”

you can be favored and have complicated situations, be talked about, frustrated. don’t let the fact that you have difficulties, opposition, things you don’t understand, make you think that you don’t have God’s blessing; it’s just the opposite. the fact that those things are coming against you is a sign that you are favored, blessed; that’s why you have some burdens, it’s a part of the package. Mary could have stayed focused on the burden, tried to prove to people that she was faithful, protect her reputation, lived stressed out. she didn’t do that; she accepted the burden as a part of God’s plan. she knew, with this big burden comes a big blessing. here’s the whole key: she was ok with it. she didn’t get upset, live worried; she stayed in peace, kept doing the right thing, running her race, and God brought the promise to pass. Mary’s life would’ve been a lot easier if the angel had not appeared to her; she wouldn’t have had to deal with the opposition, ridicule, stress. but, she would’ve never reached the fullness of her destiny. 

sometimes, God will ask us to do things that are difficult.  it’s much easier to stay in our comfort zone, play it safe, but God loves you too much to let you miss your destiny. He’s saying today, “you are highly favored. I’m going to take you further than you can imagine, open doors that no man can shut.” you can handle the blessing, that’s easy; the question is, can you handle the burden? will you do like Mary and keep a good attitude, knowing that that difficulty is a part of the package? will you keep yourself encouraged, and not be frustrated by the process?

what’s interesting is, Mary never asked to have this baby. she never prayed that she would be the one to carry Jesus. she was not looking for fame, notoriety; she was happy with who she was. she was about to get married, making wedding plans; it was one of the most exciting times of her life. right in the middle, she was interrupted; now, she has to tell friends and family members that she’s pregnant outside of wedlock. it went from being a very celebratory, exciting time to being a very stressful, discouraging time. but you never read where Mary complained. she never said, “God, why is this happening to me?” at one point, it almost seemed like the burden was bigger than the blessing; she’s having a baby, but nobody knows whose child it is. they didn’t hear the angel; all they know is, this young girl is supposed to be a virgin, but now she’s pregnant, she’s about to have a child. that said one thing to them; she’s not telling the truth, she hasn’t been faithful.

it was a heavy burden to carry having your reputation tarnished, having to make excuses to family and friends. it was embarrassing, humiliating. it would’ve been different if Mary would have prayed, “God, please let me have this baby,” but she didn’t do that. the reason God chose Mary is because He knew He could trust her, that she would carry that burden with a good attitude, without complaining or having a chip on her shoulder. as God was searching for who it would be, when He came to Mary, He said, “there’s somebody I can count on to be uncomfortable for a season to carry out my purpose, to not understand what I’m doing, to have her plans interrupted, have her life not make sense temporarily, so I can bring about the Messiah.” 

we talk a lot about us trusting God and believing that He’s in control, that’s important, but my question today is; can God trust you? can He count on you to be uncomfortable for a season, to go through things you don’t understand, to have it take longer than you thought, yet you still have an attitude of faith and a smile on your face, you still come to church, you’re still good to other people? like Job, your attitude is: 

Job 13:15 (KJV)

15 Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him

the burdens you have to carry, the child that’s difficult to raise, the trouble at work; when God laid out the plan for mankind, He passed over this one and another and another, and when he came to you, He said like with Mary, “I can trust them. I know what they’re made of; they’re not weak, complainers, they don’t try to figure everything out. I can count on them to bring about My purpose.” when you face difficulties, the burden seems heavy, you didn’t ask for it, keep the right perspective; it’s because God can trust you.

“why am I having to raise this child that’s hard? this is not what I had planned in life.” do you know how many people God passed over before He got to you? He chose you because you can handle it; you’re strong, tenacious, filled with can-do power. other people would’ve given up. complainers would’ve gotten bitter, some would have a chip on their shoulder. but God looked at you and said, “I can count on them.” put your shoulders back, hold your head up high; if it was easy, anybody would do it. if you were ordinary, you wouldn’t have an extraordinary challenge. if you were average, you wouldn’t be facing Goliath. the reason the burden is so big is because you are big, a giant killer, a history-maker. you were destined to leave your mark on this generation. 

when you face tough times, things you don’t understand, the pressure seems strong, remember; that’s not random. God chose you because He knows you have what it takes, you’re not average. He passed over people with less faith, strength, tenacity. He chose you on purpose. He knew, when the going got tough, you’d get going, when it was all said and done, you’d still be standing strong, you wouldn’t let the critics talk you out of it, that you would have a Mary spirit, that said, “I may not understand it, it may not seem fair, I may be uncomfortable, but bring it on, let it happen; I am well able. God, I not only trust You, but You can trust me.”

our attitude should be, “God, You can trust me to stay faithful when I don’t feel like it, to do the right thing when the wrong thing is happening. You can trust me like Paul and Silas, to sing praises in a midnight hour. You can trust me like Esther, to not compromise even though my life is on the line. You can trust me like David, to face Goliath without fear. You can trust me like Abraham and Sarah, to believe even when it seems impossible.”

I know that today, I’m looking at people that not only trust God, but can I tell you, God can trust you. He’s hand-picked you, given you grace for every season, strength for every battle. sometimes, when the burden seems heavy, you didn’t ask for it, it doesn’t seem fair, you have to keep reminding yourself; the reason it’s you, and not somebody else, is because God can count on you. you have what it takes. I’ve learned, the bigger the burden, the bigger the blessing. like with Mary, people may be making fun, making light, don’t worry, your time is coming; the baby is en route, the promise is headed your way. when you give birth to that promise, you’re going to forget all about the burden; the blessing God has coming your way will far overshadow anything that you’ve been through. the blessing, joy, fulfillment that comes from staying faithful, enduring hardships, passing the test, is more rewarding than you can imagine. you’ll say like Paul,

2 Corinthians 4:17 (NKJV)

17 For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory

if Mary were here today, she would tell you, “it was a heavy burden to carry the Messiah, but it was well worth it.” the burdens you’re having to endure, one day you’ll look back and say, “I wouldn’t change a thing. I didn’t like it, I was uncomfortable, but God used it to propel me into my destiny. yes, it was a heavy burden, but it brought me into a heavy blessing.”

this is what happened with David. he was anointed to be the next king of Israel, chosen by the prophet Samuel to lead God’s people. he went out and defeated Goliath, and overnight became a national hero. he was highly favored, but with that big blessing came his share of burdens. King Saul was jealous of him; he spent months chasing David through the desert, trying to kill him. David could’ve said, “God, I thought you anointed me to be king. you didn’t tell me with this blessing came this burden, that even though I was doing the right thing, this man that’s supposed to be my friend would make it his life mission to try to keep me off the throne.” that was all a part of God’s plan; God hand-picked David because He knew He could trust him. other people would’ve gotten bitter, discouraged, tried to take revenge; not David. he wasn’t a complainer. he knew he had grace for every season. he kept doing the right thing, and at the right time, God took care of Saul, and David took the throne. 

it’s easy to handle the blessing; we love giving birth to the dream, taking the throne, but God is looking for people who can not only handle the blessing, but who can handle the burden. people who won’t give up because they had a bad break, came down with an illness, the business didn’t make it; you wouldn’t have that opposition if you weren’t highly favored. that Saul wouldn’t be trying to stop you if you didn’t have royalty in your blood. the enemy wouldn’t be working overtime if you weren’t about to take the throne. don’t get discouraged by the burden. keep doing the right thing; the blessing, baby, health, promise is coming, victory is on the way. I know God can trust you with the blessing; make sure He can trust you with the burden. Paul said this:

1 Corinthians 16:9 (AMPC)

9 For a wide door of opportunity for effectual [service] has opened to me [there, a great and promising one], and [there are] many adversaries.

with every wide door, there will be plenty of opposition. instead of being discouraged by it, you can be encouraged, knowing that that’s a sign that new doors are opening, breakthroughs are headed your way, favor is in your future. our attitude should be, “I am in it to win it. I am not going to get discouraged because it’s taking longer than I thought. I’m not to give up because people have come against me. I’m not going to live frustrated because I’m disappointed, lonely, I’ve had some tough times. no, I know I’ve been armed with strength for this battle, I know that the forces that are for me are greater than the forces that are against me.” like Mary, you may be carrying a burden that you didn’t ask for; remember, it’s because God can trust you. keep the right perspective; you are highly favored. your time is coming. the burden you’re having to endure is going to pale in comparison to the blessing God is about to release. you’re going to give birth to promises that are going to take you further than you have imagined. God is going to propel you where you could not go on your own. like David, you’re going outlast the opposition, take your throne, and become everything God’s created you to be.

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It’s all good

from JO’s sermon last night:

life is full of things that we don’t like: disappointments, a friend betrayed us, we didn’t get the promotion. we see these things as being negative, thinking, “that was bad, it didn’t work out, my prayers weren’t answered.” but God won’t allow a difficulty unless He’s going to somehow use it for our good. this means that everything that happens in life, we may not understand it, but if you’ll keep the right attitude, it’ll push you further into your destiny. every closed door, the delays, the person that did you wrong, the loan that didn’t go through, God says, “it’s all good. I’m in control. it may not feel good, but trust Me and I’ll use it for your good.”

when you understand this principle, life is much more free. you don’t get upset because a coworker is playing politics, trying to keep you down; you know it’s all good. God allowed it, and He’s going to use it. you tried, but the business didn’t make it; you don’t give up on your dreams, you know it’s all good, it’s a part of the process. even simple things; you get stuck in traffic, you don’t let it frustrate you, ruin the rest of your day. you know God is directing your steps; He may be keeping you from an accident, or developing patience in you. whatever it is, keep the right perspective; it’s all good.

this boils down to trusting God. we’re never going to understand everything that happens in life. if you try to figure it all out, you’ll be frustrated. God has an advantage;  He can see the big picture for our lives. He knows where the dead ends, shortcuts, bumpy roads are. sometimes, He’ll close a door that we’re asking him to open because He knows it would be a waste of time. when you’re a mature person, instead of getting bitter, you say, “God, I trust you. I may not like it, but I believe You know what’s best for me.” some of the things that God has in your future, if He gave them to you right now, you couldn’t handle it; He loves you too much to let it happen. He’s developing your character, growing you up.

that boss that gets on your nerves, doesn’t treat you right, you keep trying to pray him away; the reason he’s not going anywhere is because God’s using him like sandpaper to rub the rough edges off of you. as you keep doing the right thing, keeping your mouth closed, being respectful, that’s doing a work in you; you couldn’t develop your character without him. you may not like it, but it’s good; it’s getting you prepared for the next level. God is asking us, “do you trust Me with your closed doors, unanswered questions, things you don’t understand?” instead of fighting everything you don’t like, why don’t you have this new perspective; it’s all good? “this grouchy boss, I can’t stand him, but I know he’s good for me.” “this child that’s hard to raise, this sickness I’m dealing with, this dream that’s taking forever, I don’t like it, but I’m not going to live bitter; I know God is on the throne. He’s in control of my life. it may have been meant for my harm, but He’s promised He will use it to my advantage.” Paul said:

Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God

not some things, but all things. they may not be good at the time; it’s painful to go through a loss, discouraging when a dream doesn’t work out. by itself, that may not be good, but God’s promised He’s going to bring it all together; one day. you’ll look back, and say, “that was good.” “I’m discouraged because I lost a loved one. I’m bitter because a business partner cheated me. that wasn’t good”; the problem is, you’re isolating that one incident. God hasn’t brought it all together yet; if that difficulty was going to keep you from your destiny, God would’ve never permitted it. that setback was really a setup for God to show out in your life. but you have to get rid of a victim mentality, and have a victor mentality. when you have this attitude, that it’s all good, you don’t go around with a chip on your shoulder because you had some bad breaks; you know no weapon formed against you will prosper, weeping endures for a night, but joy is coming in the morning, it’s just a matter of time before God brings it all together.

we celebrated Good Friday recently. we call it good today, but 2000 years ago, when Jesus was crucified, it didn’t look like a Good Friday; the disciples thought it was the worst day of their lives. their dreams were shattered; the man they had given their lives to was gone. doubts filled their minds; “maybe he wasn’t who he said he was. maybe he tricked us, and we wasted all this time.” I can imagine Mary, the mother of Christ, weeping and weeping as she sees her son on the cross; she’s heartbroken, in so much pain. if someone would’ve suggested, “Mary, this is a Good Friday,” she’d have thought, “what are you talking about good, look what’s happening?”

we all face these times when life doesn’t make sense: a dream dies, a relationship comes to an end, we come down with an illness. nothing about the situation seems good. good would’ve been the last word we would’ve used to describe this Friday; a better description would’ve been tragic, lonely, betrayed Friday. in the heat of the battle, it’s easy to get discouraged. the disciples could’ve said, “God, why did you let Judas betray him? why did you let the soldiers crucify him? God, why did you abandon your son in his time of greatest need?” but a few days later, after he arose from the grave, cooked them breakfast on the beach, appeared to them in the upper room, they realized he was who he said he was. they looked back on that Friday and said, “it wasn’t what we thought. it wasn’t depressing Friday, tragic Friday, it was all a part of His plan. it was Good Friday.” they looked back on what they thought was the darkest day of their lives, and they called it good. 

what am I saying? it’s all good.  it may not be good right now, it may not make sense on its own, but God knows how to bring it all together. what you think is going to stop you, hold you back, can I tell you, if you will stay in faith, one day you will look back and say that it was good. if Judas had not betrayed Jesus, we wouldn’t have salvation. God used the betrayal to move Jesus toward his destiny. the betrayal at the time didn’t seem good; it hurts when somebody does you wrong, walks out on you, breaks your heart. you may not see it at the time, but without that betrayal, like Jesus, you couldn’t become who you were created to be. if they left you, you didn’t need them; if they walked away, they weren’t a part of your destiny. it may be painful Friday right now, but keep moving forward; Sunday is coming, new beginnings are on the way, a resurrection is in your future. 

when God brings it all together, when you meet that person of your dreams, somebody better than you ever imagined, you’ll look back and say with a smile, “it was a good Friday when that man left.” that supervisor that’s tried to keep you down for years, you didn’t realize it, but staying there with a good attitude, giving it your best, doing the right thing when the wrong thing was happening, that was developing your character, getting you prepared for the next level. you wouldn’t be who you are today without that difficulty. you may not have liked it, but you can look back and say, “that was a good Friday.”

God’s ways are better than our ways. the right way to pray is, “God, this is what I want, what I’m believing for, but God, You know what’s best for me. I trust You.” if you’re only going to be happy if God does it your way, that’s not really trusting. that’s not praying, that’s giving God orders; “God, here’s what I want You to do, when to do it, where to do it, who to use.” I’ve found, God doesn’t take orders. this is one of the main reasons we get frustrated, discouraged, because it’s not happening our way. but when you develop this trust, you let God do it His way; you know it’s all good. if the door opens, you thank God; if it doesn’t open, you still thank Him.

God can see things that we can’t see. sometimes, God will close a door because we’re believing too small. you may have dreams that haven’t worked out yet, you’ve had some disappointed Fridays; don’t get discouraged, God knows what He’s doing. keep honoring Him; your Sunday is coming. He’s going to open doors bigger and better than you ever imagined. just as God opens doors, God closes doors; we love the open doors, we celebrate God’s favor, but when the door closes, it takes maturity to say, “I don’t understand it, but I’m not going to fight it or get bitter. God, I trust you.”

when you’re hurting, disappointed, every thought will tell you, “this isn’t fair. God, why did You let this happen to me?” I’m asking you to trust God; He knows what He’s doing. it may not seem good, but when He brings it all together, you’ll look back and say it was a good Friday. Jesus would tell you, “it was good that Judas betrayed me”; sometimes, your enemies will do more to promote you than your friends. my enemies thought they were going to stop me, discourage me, intimidate me; they don’t realize God used them to light a fire on the inside. they helped me learn how to pray bold prayers, declare God’s favor, be a victor and not a victim, stand strong and fight the good fight of faith. they meant it for harm; God used it to my advantage. it’s all good. even your enemies; quit complaining about the opposition, people trying to push you down, make you look bad;  they don’t control your destiny, God does.

you may be in a Friday today. nothing in your life seems good: you’re dealing with an illness, struggling in a relationship, you have people coming against you; it seems dark, lonely, discouraging, you don’t see how it could ever work out. stay in faith; God wouldn’t have allowed that if it wasn’t going to move you toward your destiny. you’re in Friday; the good news is, Sunday is coming. when you see your resurrection, when God vindicates, promotes, heals, restores you, when He pays you back double for that unfair situation, that’s what turns defeated Friday into Good Friday. no more betrayed, disappointed Friday, no, it’s blessed, joyful, victorious Friday.  it’s all good; even things that at the time seem bad. God wouldn’t have allowed it if He wasn’t going to use it for good.

we may not always see it; “I don’t believe this, I’ve had bad things happen, and it did nothing but pull me down.” you don’t know what God was doing behind-the-scenes. or maybe God hasn’t brought it all together yet. this is what is faith is all about; when things happen that we don’t like, disappointments, bad breaks, betrayal, we can get negative, live bitter, or we can say, “God, I trust You. I don’t understand it, but I believe when You bring it together, it’s going to work for me and not against me.”

sometimes, God will inconvenience us so we can help somebody else. instead of being frustrated when our plans don’t work out, we have to remember, it’s not all about us. “these people at work, they’re negative, they complain, compromise; when is God ever going to move me out?”  have you ever thought maybe God has you there on purpose, to let your light shine? maybe God’s counting on you to be a good influence on them; quit fighting it. the Psalmist said: 

Psalm 37:23 (KJV)

23 The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord

if God has you there, He’s ordered your steps. the delays, inconveniences, the bad breaks, we may not like it, it may be uncomfortable, but instead of trying to pray it away, resisting it, why don’t you embrace it, and say, “God, this is where You have me right now, so I’m going to be my best, keep a good attitude. I may not like it, it seems bad, but I know a secret; it’s all good.”

this is what Joseph did in the scripture. nobody had more bad breaks than him: as a teenager, his brothers betrayed him, threw him into a pit, sold him into slavery, he was lied about, falsely accused, spent years in prison for something that he didn’t do. it was one bad break after another. he could’ve lived negative, bitter, but he understood this principle; even though it may look bad, feel bad, be unfair, when it comes together, God’s going to use it for our good. after 13 years of trouble, God not only vindicated Joseph, but he promoted him; he was put second in command of the whole nation. looking back, Joseph would tell you, the whole time, God was directing his steps. all of those bad breaks were part of God’s plan to get him to where he was supposed to be. the betrayal felt bad, but the truth was, is it was good; it was another step toward his destiny. being sold into slavery, that was unfair, wrong, he didn’t like it, but he wouldn’t change it; without that disappointment, he would’ve never become who God created him to be.

quit fighting everything you don’t like; God wouldn’t have allowed it if it wasn’t going to move you forward. the right attitude is, “God, this doesn’t make sense to me, but I believe when You bring it all together, one day it will make sense.” all those years, Joseph was doing the right thing when the wrong thing was happening; that was getting him prepared for his destiny, developing his character, strengthening his spiritual muscles. he was proving to God that he could handle it. what we all must do when we face things we don’t understand; quit seeing it as being negative, and embrace it as a part of God’s plan for your life. God will never give you something that you cannot handle. Joseph would say that those difficulties looked like setbacks, but really they were setups to push him into his destiny. he would tell you that it’s all good. 

you may not see it at the time, but the closed doors, disappointments are good. the bad breaks, they may be uncomfortable, but when God brings it all together, it’s not going to work against you, it’s going to work for you. I’m asking you to trust Him. it may be Friday in your life, you don’t see anything good; don’t worry, Sunday is coming. God is in control; everything that was meant to stop you, God is going to use it to push you forward. He’s bringing it all together right now; you’re coming into Good Friday, blessed Friday, healthy Friday, victorious Friday.

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(No new sermon this week.)

During my Pastor’s sermon last week, I was sitting and listening intently; my mind wasn’t wandering, I wasn’t looking around see what other people were doing, I was paying attention to what he was saying. And then, with no warning…:

1 Kings 19:12 (WEB)

12 … there was a still small voice

It said that I should pray in my prayer closet first thing after I get up every day, in addition to doing so in the evening (which I have been doing every single day for months). This dropped into my mind completely out of a clear blue sky; I wasn’t thinking anything about prayer, the prayer closet, my schedule, or anything remotely connected with these topics… I was just listening to the sermon. I can’t remember what Pastor was talking about at that exact moment, but the topic was prosperity; he wasn’t saying anything about prayers, prayer closets, or schedules either. I specifically thought at the time how what popped into my head had absolutely nothing to do with anything Pastor had spoken about… and I knew that it was God giving me what most of us hope passionately for all the time… instructions!!

Interestingly, as part of the sermon, Pastor gave one of his rare mentions of the original languages; it was an interesting point that was EXACTLY what I had emailed to him a month earlier, which he had never seen because his wife is a little bit unreliable in passing things along. That’s way beyond the bounds of coincidence, so I think it was a sign that I received a true word… not that I had had any doubts.

Needless to say, I had been praying from the moment I woke up every morning anyways, but if God wants me to be more formal about it and actually be in my prayer closet, that’s what I’m going to do, every day for the rest of my life. That is the sort of obedience God is looking for.

A few days later, I’d had a terrible nighttime prayer closet session because I’d had a major personal issue come up that evening, and it had overwhelmed my mind. I’d had some bad sessions before, when I was exhausted or had too many things going on and was babbling rather than focusing, but this was worse. I always feel bad, frustrated, when prayer does not go well, but I’d never done anything about it. This time, however, maybe half an hour or so after I left the prayer closet, here came the still small voice once more: it told me to go back and do it again. I’d never done that before, it had never even OCCURRED to me to do it, so there was no doubt in my mind as to the source of this request; needless to say, I did it. 

Why did I get TWO instructions in such close proximity, and about the same thing, my prayer closet? Clearly, God wants me to go to a new level in my prayer life. Why, or why NOW? I think that something big is coming, and that this is preparation and/or a test… Time will tell.

The takeaway from this is: God will sometimes tell you, in actual words, something that He wants you to do. He won’t shout it, He won’t beat you over the head with it, you’ll just get that one, quiet instruction… and then the rest is up to you. It’s easy to let doubt take over, to talk yourself out of it, to let it just slip out of your mind; God generally will not do anything to prevent this. He’s not looking to force you into doing anything, He wants you to do something for your benefit, and He wants you to demonstrate your obedience by doing it just based on that single request. You might not WANT to do it, because you don’t feel like you have the time or the energy; I’ll admit to having had a sort of mental whimper at the idea of adding another formal prayer session to my jam-packed schedule. God understands that, He even expects it, because after all He made us and knows us intimately; the important thing is that you make the immediate decision to obey, and that you carry out. 

If you want God to give you more instructions as to what you should be doing in your life, and don’t we ALL want that, you need to pay attention and be ready to take action; God will do the rest.

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