Category Archives: Quiet Time

Reality Emerges

It’s often difficult to tell when and where reality emerges with life– the moment a thought manifests itself in motion or when an idea coming to fruition in action. Perhaps the trauma of pain, anguish and uncertainty becomes the epicenter of an unspeakable reality.

Unequivocally, reality hits hard and is inexpressibly tangible, rocking the very depth of our souls and leaving our spirits broken or solidifying the heartfelt resolve of earnest faith. However, we too easily credit our joyfully temporal realities to our own power and strength; and similarly, we point accusatory fingers at God for realities that hamper our perceived happy realities. We have the tendency to perceive only the reality we want to see and so we live in a reality of twisted fantasies.

Walk about Zion, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever. -Psalm 48:12-14
Zion is the mountain on which Jerusalem is built. Zion is symbol of where the reality of God’s kingdom touches the physical world in which we dwell. It was on Zion that David built his home, where Solomon built God’s Temple, where Jesus dies and overcomes death by becoming the sin and ultimate sacrifice for our shortcomings and imperfections. Zion is the place in our lives where God’s reality emerges and begins to unfold in our lives. It is not just a spiritual reality, but it is a tangible physical one.

Zion was built for you and for me, a place where we can dwell with God in the realities that define our lives. It is the physical representation of who God is for us in our lives– the insurmountable stronghold. The Psalmist writes that we should examine our Zion; the place where God manifests in our lives.

You will notice that God manifests all aspects of our lives when we examine ourselves carefully. Our examination compels us to recount who He is as the guide to our reality. The good and the bad of what we perceive in an unfair life is found emerging from Zion. I am not going to rationalize senselessness in our lives, where the pieces and parts just don’t add up to anything a good God would do; but it doesn’t mean that God’s reality can’t be found through those circumstances. Simply said, your reality may suck tremendously right now, but it doesn’t mean that your life reality has to be defined by it or even that you are prisoner held by it. This means the pain and anguish you are currently suffering is the point where God’s reality emerges in your journey of faith to replace your current hopeless reality.

We have a hard time swallowing all of that. Especially since God is not tangible like a fortified city. But reality is what emerges from Him, not the terror that seizes our lips when people attack and come to pillage our lives. God calls you to His city everyday, but we are not ready to leave our fantasy, we don’t want reality to emerge in our lives. Yet deep down inside, we know we should accept it.

How do we accept God’s reality? We begin by taking a look at the towers, ramparts and citadels in our lives placed strategically by God for us. The “towers” of where God places us are the friends, family, acquaintances, colleagues that stand watch over our lives, guarding against predators and attacks. We usually don’t listen to these people and resent them when our fantasies are struck by reality, but they are part of the reality God places us in.

The “ramparts” or shelters in life are provided for you in the form of reliability– these are people are the love givers whom dependability is proven when you face difficulties. You may very well be a rampart to another person and that is a reality of His kingdom, because you and I fortify each other.

Let’s not forget the “citadels” in our lives, those people that influence our lives deeply and meaningfully. Like a citadel provides direction and guidance for a fortress, living citadels provide for hope, they are an essential part of God’s reality. They are there for you by the will of God to change your reality into His own.

God is the embodiment of all these things. He is the mover and shaker of all people. Because our God is forever and ever, His reality is never ending. God is all these things to reality as reality emerges from who He is and His providence alone. God’s reality is the only one worth tangibly living. We need to find where that reality emerges in our lives from God. Come with me and see God’s reality emerging from where you are placed today.

The Life Assigned

Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. – 1 Corinthians 7:17

This is not a message about being “okay” with going nowhere with your life. This is definitely not a message condoning you to not change or an excuse giving you a way of not seeking personal growth. This is a message, however, about not becoming who you are not.

You should not pretend, nor should you strive to be somebody you’re not for the sake of pleasing other people or for the purposes of impressing God in some type of religiousness. That doesn’t mean you should feel comfortable not rooting out sin in your life, so let’s stay away from an attitude of anemic, apathy toward our sinful appetites.

In our daily lives, we get so caught up in becoming something, that we become unrecognizable, even to ourselves. We try to become something, for some reason, but only know that we should become something, and haven’t figured out the “what” of who we should become.

A friend told me, “Jonathan, you can change everything about you, from what you do, and who you mingle with, and where you go, but that won’t stop God from calling you to who you should be.” My friend was absolutely right. I can change all those things, but the most important thing is to be myself in God. God made us the way we are, He absolutely did, but He makes us and crafts our existence to be more and more like Him– perfectly creative and unique. Get this straight, God doesn’t create opportunities to sin, but He does create opportunities for us to define ourselves in moments where we can make decisions and either walk into His calling or to walk away from it.

We need to start walking into His calling, and I know a lot of us have no idea what that even means or how that looks. We only know how to be people we know we’re not. We’re only these people because everybody else prescribes us to be them and we fool ourselves into believing that it is really who we should become; but let’s get it straight, the opinion of everybody is not the opinion of God.

The opinion of God is culmination of experiences and opportunities He gives you. The opinion of God is made manifest in what you are doing now– the way you’re serving, the way you are living, the lives you are pouring into. You become who you are called to be when you allow people to move you into your life and when you start changing their lives with the love of God, the love which compelled Jesus to die for us, the love that broke the tyranny of sin. You can only be you.

You can be you now, as God calls you, that is, as imperfect as you are, but willing to add love into the life of others here and now; or you can pretend you are somebody else and ruminate through life and figure out later you were just acting for everybody who doesn’t really matter. We all have lives assigned. We all have people who need our love and need our talents and need us to be who we are and travel with them and journey with them. You have been called and that is who you are, embrace it and live into it, and enjoy the exciting ride.

Don’t Turn Back

Why do we always seem to go back to the things we said we were finished with? It always happens.

We quit smoking, but then trouble strikes, stress burns through us, and we’re standing in the cold chain smoking. We stop drinking, and we get not a fight, so we shotgun bottles of whiskey. We stop running our credit cards, and you want something you don’t need but somebody else absolutely has.

It’s the same thing with any and every new years resolution we make, every Lenten sacrifice we conjure, and every attempt to fix our lives to some type of behavioral modification– the body succumbs to the pressure of unwillingness and it beats our minds. Perhaps it’s more than that.

It may be that in our behavioral modifications we also become legalistically enamored with allowing people to enter into our community who display the same types of faults we have modified out of our lives. Perhaps it is us who turn back and place burdensome expectations on other people, who are striving to become faithful, that can never be met.

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? – Galatians 4:9

When I entitled this quiet time, “Don’t Turn Back” I wanted to evoke two responses because there are definitely two responses we can have as “seasoned” Christians — by “seasoned” I just mean those of us who have been “Christian” longer than a day.

The first response is this: why do we fall back into old habits, a lifestyle we wanted to leave behind in our conversion when we face the stress of life? Isn’t the stress from life, that we face as Christians, just the circumstances left over from our life as non-Christians? So why do we foolishly add to that existing stress by falling back to our old ways that innately add stress we never wanted?

The second response: how is it that we expect others to meet our expectations when we don’t mean our own expectations ourselves? Yeah, so what is it that makes us think we somehow become these aged, season, veterans of Christianity on our own, like it wasn’t the good graces of God and the people who love us that walked through our own unbearableness?

Paul writes to these Churches, “did I waste my time preaching the gospel that sets you free without behavioral modification? (my paraphrase). He also writes, “falling back sucks, but don’t stay there because it is not who you are.” (again my own paraphrase).

The problem is with us these two statements seem so easy, almost too easy, for people whose problems far outweigh the possibility of redemption through God’s love alone.

Whether we are reckless and constantly go back to a life we gave us (pointing at myself), or we place unrealistic expectations on others to be perfect (again pointing to myself) one thing is clear– God has brought us this far in life and given us this much insight into faith and opened doors and opportunities that are not afforded to slaves owned by somebody else. In fact, with the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, we became heirs to the kingdom of God and despite who we once were or still are, God gives us what is His– that is, He gives us life, a new chance, a new opportunity, a new beginning, and a new hope to make much of Him and His love for us.

This morning, let us appreciate at that grace and mercy that sets us free, not by something we do, but something we freely receive. It is a love and mercy that knows our names and feels our pain and struggles with us as it sanctifies us.

We have to stop looking back, there is nothing there, our hope, joy and our life lies here in the present and we must look forward as we link our arms with each other and press forward with our savior.

Our Place of Hope

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. – Hebrews 10:23

Where we place our hope often determines our reaction toward the unexpected circumstances of life. I know that sounds like common sense, and it is, but what we often forget is how a misplacing of our hopes can produce disastrous and very negative effects in our lives. It’s not that we don’t know that our reaction and direction to life is located where our hope lies. Rather, what we can’t seem to figure out is where we need to put our hope in so that we never lose hope and have a direction in our lives that will never cease, that will constantly reframe the lens through which we see our experiences.

For example, if our hope is placed on our kids, as most helicopter parents will do, what happens when your kids are one day gone? Doesn’t this lead to a hopelessness? When we place our hope in our children, we tend to overreact when things outside of our control debunk our kids, then we coddle them and wrap them in suffocating bubbles so that every part of their lives are controlled and within our grasp. People whose hope is in their kids live for their kids. But to us single people, that is a ridiculous placement of hope.

Instead place our hope into our careers, our friends, our money, our cars, our prospective love interest, our physical appearance. When that thing we place our hope in falls off the map, we lose hope and become lost and cant figure out what to do with our lives.

If our hope was in our jobs and we lose it? Forget about it. If our hope was in a love interest and they happen to be at dinner with somebody other than you, you’re crushed and react like an insanely jealous moron.

Some of us religious people even place hope with our own righteousness. When we fail, because we will, we find ourselves hopeless again, like we were before we leveraged religion to soothe our iniquities.

The author of the Hebrews makes it really clear, we, as Christians, need to “hold fast,”– that is to cling tight to the faith we profess as our identity in Christ. Simply put, we need to constantly be holding all possible hope in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, nothing more and nothing less.

The writer says this knowing that a lot of us became Christian because when our hope was in something other than the promise signified by the resurrection, we were found wanting and decimated by a hopelessness. Life has a tendency to break people subtly through time and traumatically most other times. One thing is certain, without the hope of eternity offered by God through Jesus Christ, hope gets dimmer and dimmer as we get older and older.

A hope rightly placed in Jesus, as our Savior, helps us endure life. The sufferings, the trials, the pain, the hardship of life becomes bearable, if not entirely laughable because these things do not break us and our vision and sights are set higher, beyond what is happening.

Additionally, having anchored our hope in the eternal Son gives us an ability to comfort and level with people who have no hope because life decimated whatever they were clinging to. A rightly placed hope in God, who loves you through good times and bad times, can become the source of your confidence through life which will never run dry or expire. God gives us this privilege of place our hope in Him freely through mere faith and simple belief.

We don’t need to build up a hope with a deck of cards under a glass house, we just need to receive God’s promises and hope in it with gladness and joy because His are steady, unchanging and unmovable.

Are you ready to give up hope on things that will fail you and instead place your hope in God who fulfills all His promises?

Our Former Lives

I don’t know what you were in the past, weather it was a drug addict, racist, liar, thief, batterer, abused, backbiter, gossip, pornophile, promiscuous, cowardly, divorced, dropout, atheist, moralistic deist, Christian, etc.

You could even be the pastor who taught about Jesus but didn’t recognize Jesus on the street even when you rubbed shoulders on the subway.

Everybody has a past that defines who we are now. Our tendencies, habits and actions are bred by our former lives. I can’t tell you how each thing in your past defines you, but what I do know is that whatever you once were, but in Christ, you are no longer defined by that.

Whatever the former way, does not have to be your future way.

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. – Galatians 1:13

The Apostle Paul, responsible for writing half the New Testament, in his former life was a merciless persecutor of Christian people. He was there giving the lynch mob a “thumbs up” when they stoned the first Christian martyr to death on the streets of Jerusalem. In Paul’s former life, he had the religious rulers give him a letter, sealed and signed, to murder, pillage and flog any publicly confessing Christian. Before his conversion to the Christian faith, Paul, was actually on his way to a murderous rampage.

Paul is admitting his past to the entire people groups of Galatia. The reason he does this is to stop people from defining themselves, their futures by things in their past. We all understand that we have former lives. Yet God, fully knowing our past, embraces us and our pasts to give us miraculous futures. The problem is that we get too plagued and bogged down by our pasts and so we never recover from it, we never let go of it. We never embrace the God who overcomes it.

Today, if you are allowing your past define where your future is headed, think about the Apostle Paul– you weren’t a murderer like he was; you didn’t conspire against a whole people group for their faith; hell, you didn’t love your religion so much that you violated the laws of your religion to uphold your religion. Even being the monster Paul was in his former life, Jesus saves. With that being said, you have been redeemed, you are being sanctified by the blood of Jesus, our Christ.

Your life doesn’t have to be the way it was, you have a new opportunity to be you without all the burdens. Take God’s offer up and be made anew. You used to live in your former way, let your present glorify the One who provides a new life.

Stiff Necked No More

Do you know somebody tenaciously unwilling? Perhaps the best way to describe that person is obstinate, stubborn, and unregenerate? It doesn’t matter whether this person does it with the best intentions or with the worse motives, it just matters that this person will and frequently stonewall people and their counsel to him/her and very rarely yields. It also doesn’t count if you personally know me to be all of these things I mentioned.

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. – Deuteronomy 10:16

To be “stiff-neck” is to see the truth of reality and yet be determined to go about life against reality. The people of Israel wanted to go back to their lives slavery after they had been liberated from it. They complained about how much better their lives were as slaves, where they had no opportunity for the hope of a bright future. The journey toward God’s promised land was hard, but the rewards of getting there were infinitely greater than being enslaved by a group of people who hated you.

Yet, they couldn’t see past themselves and stubbornly rebelled against the very God who loved them despite of who they were and how they lived. What stiff-necked ingratitude?! Goodness, you were dirty slaves and God set it to His heart to pour out His love and you can’t see it? Moses tells his people to “circumcise” their hearts– that is, to cleanse themselves spiritually. But it wasn’t cleansing for religiousness sake.

It is a cleansing because the journey toward a new life in God’s promise leads us into dirty situations where only clean perception from the heart would suffice for navigation’s purposes. Much like those people who are stubborn have tunnel vision and cannot see beyond what they forcefully see in a pseudo-reality, people whose hearts are not cleansed cannot feel what God wants them to feel in their life experiences.

We are all guilty of being stiff-necked. It’s time to circumcise our hearts, that is to let go of our past crimes, our mistakes, our pain, our anger, our anguish, our pride, and feel what God is moving in our hearts. It’s not about our struggle, it’s about our reception of God’s life through it. We all need to be stiff-necked no longer.

Sinful Expectation of Grace

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? – Romans 6:1-2

Have you ever continued doing something you knew was wrong just because you could get away with it? You continue to lie because it doesn’t hurt anybody and because nobody will call you out on it.

You continue to watch porn because it doesn’t hurt anybody in the middle of the night. You continue to do drugs because it takes the edge off and nobody really cares. But perhaps we can take this paradigm into more of a grey areas of relationships.

We piss off our friends because we know they’ll forgive us. How about disregard our parents words because they would never throw us out of the house. We bash the self esteems of our significant others because they would never leave us.

The point is that if we know we can get away with it, we would take advantage of it and push the limits of whatever it is that we’re trying to do without suffering the scathing consequences.

We do this exact same thing with God. We know that Jesus died for our sins past, present and future; and therefore our mistakes and actions are forgivable, so we use that as license to do whatever we want uninhibited. Why not? The grace of God covers a multitude of sins right? It’s kind of ridiculous logic, but we are kind of ridiculous as a culture.

In thinking about this, because I am certainly guilty of this, and I am sure we all are, I ask: why do we want to continue to live in bondage this way? Isn’t intentionally living in bondage after being set free a sin in itself? Isn’t the expectation of grace a self entitled load of disrespect to the one bestowing it so generously?

It’s time to come clean and fix up our attitudes and behaviors. It’s time to weigh the worthiness of the grace we receive and leverage our lives toward it.

We need to stop living in the sinful expectation of receiving grace for our sins.

Your Will Be Done

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10

What would happen if we prayed to God asking for His promises to become realities in our lives? I’m not playing a mental exercise to stretch the limits of what our desires are for God, rather, I’m suggesting that we should be praying the will of God to unfold in our lives. I know it’s a little abstract right now so allow me to expound on this thought.

When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come,” he is instructing them to pray with the precision of a building blueprint. Jesus is saying God has specific plans in heaven that are unfolded and realities, those realities should become manifest in our lives here and now.

God’s plans for our lives aren’t the same abstract generalities we use to speak of concept ideas we’re trying to sell; they are tangible objects designed specifically for a purpose. This raises the question of how can we specifically know what God’s plans are that we can pray about them specifically.

In fact, this may be an abstract exercise to those of us who kind of live life without any semblance of purpose. So to those of us who don’t have a clue to where they are going, you need to pray specifically for God to show you where you should be headed. If you know where you should be headed already because you chose a career path, then you should be asking God where it is He is working so that you can experience His kingdom.

For those of us who are a little older and know where we’re going but don’t know who you’re going there with, you need to pray specifically for the person God chooses you to journey life with. People don’t just fall in your lap and when they do, it’s usually the wrong person, don’t waste your time with trying out people like you try out clothes at the mall. There are people who come in and out of your life and that’s okay, but there are people who stick around for the long haul.

God has a specific plan for these things and we should be praying for these things in our lives because God wants to give it to us, but we have to want it. Just imagine your life clicking on every cylinder God wants for you.

He knows what that looks like, the question is do want it to click or are we okay living aimlessly to nowhere? Pray God’s will be done in our lives and we’ll get a taste of heaven every single moment of our lives.

The Zero Hour

I had a haunting thought last night: what the heck am I waiting for? Doesn’t it seem that we’re always waiting for the right moment, the right circumstances for something to blow open that would force us into a reaction?

It’s like we keep talking about doing something and that’s the extent of it– we talk about it. Shoot, we talk about getting back into church, but only when our lives get some semblance of normalcy; we discuss reading the Bible, but when we’re less tired. We talk about losing more weight and about getting healthy, but only after we had our next last hotdog.

What the heck are we waiting for? The more you think about it, the more mysterious and elusive this “thing” we’re waiting for actually becomes. It fills us with delusions and pushes us further along to a place where we never intended, living into circumstances we never dreamed of.

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. – John 4:23

Jesus stops his journey to intervene into the life of a woman experiencing the absolute futility of waiting for an opportunity. She has no idea what she is waiting around for. She’s been waiting for something to happen in her life for so long she forgotten what an opportunity actually looked like.

It was like she forgot why the heck she was even living! Let me describe her social situation: she was subject to prejudice for being of mixed races and to further that inequity, she was outcast for her past decisions. She was out of ideas because she was trapped in a corner and held hostage by her own life circumstances.

This is how we feel about our jobs, families and even unavoidably awkward social situations, isn’t it? It’s suffocating!

Jesus comes to intervene in our lives in these moments of lost-ness because it is zero hour; it is time for action and seize life as God intended for us. If we’re waiting for the perfect moment to get out in order, we’ll never get it together.

If we’re hoping that our past actions will somehow fix our future, we’re deeply mistaken. If we’re looking for an opportunity after we are established, we will never get around to doing anything. The moments we have been waiting for are moments at the well, meeting the unexpected guest. When we start drawing water with our hands to give drink to somebody other than ourselves that we begin to find the spirit in which we need to live. Worship to God happens when we throw our buckets down a deep well– that is, when we do what we would normally only do for ourselves and do it for somebody who can’t.

God has always been looking for you to make this moment zero hour. God is interrupting your ordinary to make for an extraordinary experience. He does this to give you a taste of real worship.

He does this to fill you with a power to influence change in people’s lives. Your zero hour is now. Jump at a powerful chance in breaking open God’s circumstances in your life.

Cost of Profits

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? – Mark 8:36-37

Such a common saying. We hear it all the time. Yet because of it’s commonplace nature, we often skip over it and take it lightly in our conquest of material things and possessions.

When we think of these two verses, two important questions come to mind; the first being– what is that which is my soul; and the second question, how do we know we traded our soul away?

The second question is a lot easier to answer in that we know in hindsight, after we have traded it away, there is an emptiness pervading our being that can’t be subsumed by all that we have in the world. However, the goal is not to trade away our soul, so we have to find answers to the first question to minimize the possibility of finding the realities of the second question.

Unfortunately, the first question is much more complicated, as our souls are the essence of our very being. So what is a “person’s soul?” Is it our relationships? Is it our character? Is it our logic? Is it our vision? Perhaps it is our experiences and memories? More likely, it is probably all of the above?

My take is that all these things are the things held in our soul because they define who we are, what we do and how we do. It is the unique and independently concocted mixture of life experience and God given skills that gives us life and pumps our hearts to do what we do on a daily basis. Jesus says that trading away your soul for everything in this world is a bad trade. The funny thing is that he only says this after he asks the people who are listening to give up everything and follow him.

He implies that anything less than willing submission to follow God for our lives is the equivalent of selling away our very being for temporary and fleeting pleasure. When we lose even one aspect of these areas of our soul to do something in this world out of intrinsic ambition in our lives, we tear apart who we are. Nothing in life comes free and nothing worth having is ever easy. In fact, even when we get nothing, we trade away our souls.

I mean just take a look at our broken past relationships or our failed business endeavors. Those things brought us nothing in return for the blood, sweat and soul we poured into them.

I look back and I have nothing to show but emptiness because I took out that part of my soul that God wanted to place there by His grace. So Jesus asks his followers, how much of your soul will you give up for something that has no long lasting value? He wants to know what price will you pay for a happiness and satisfaction that pales in comparison to what he wants to offer.

He says this knowing that there is no going back once we make our trades. There is no return policy and there are no exchanges. The cost of profits is high and will cost us our lives. Just ask any martyr still alive.

But following Jesus into a vision for our lives, saves our souls from a worthless ROI and gives us new life. I want us to consider our decisions. I want us to consider our ambitions.

I want us to ask ourselves whether we’re willing to part ways with who we are for something that can never complete us.