A few days ago I was at Macy’s trying to find suitable replacements to three of my very tattered and unwearable slacks (it wasn’t a good pants week for me). So obviously I don’t do this often, nor should I be allowed to go on my own to a clothing store– mostly out of fear of what my style and fashion may havoc. But all of us have to grow up some time. I’m thinking I look incredibly lost or at least I look beyond bewildered because the next thing I know, I have two personal shoppers from the Macy’s men’s clothing department standing next to me, telling me what to try on. Luckily for them, I like obnoxiously uncomfortable scenes and so I humored them, heeding their advice on what brand does what according to size and what effect inseams have on the way it makes legs elongate and etc, etc. I didn’t learn much. But nonetheless, they provided guidance to a fashion challenged individual. I share this story, not to make you red with jealousy about how I allowed two impersonal shoppers choose my pants, but to mark out what an opportunity to God’s work may look like. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” – Acts 8:29-30 A lot of us have a hard time discerning God’s Will for our lives. But that’s understandable because a vision from God is like putting together the pieces of a puzzle. It can be a lifetime and then you feel like maybe you’re only at the beginning. Even more problematic than that is our inability to find the right puzzle pieces, that is God’s opportunities, to fit together on any given day. In this chapter of Acts we find the disciple Philip, who is led by God to His opportunities time and time again. It seems so easy too. I mean, God’s Spirit simply tells him. If God’s Spirit simply vocalized what we need to do, life would be much easier. It would be way easier than the minutiae we have to wade through now; so how do we even apply this? God says “go” and so Philip “goes.” God doesn’t say why, Philip is just told to go. Then, as Philip is in the situation, he perceives the need– the dude is reading Scripture but doesn’t know what it means. The salespeople at Macy’s hawked on me the same way, they saw me make perplexed faces at the pants. I’m looking at the clothes (two black slacks) and I can’t decipher what the dimension tags mean! God’s opportunity for us is plainly out there, we just can’t see the simplicity of it. In perceiving the “need,” Philip fulfills it in asking the eunuch if he wants it explained. God’s will for us daily is simply finding and giving directions to people on their journeys. We all have something to offer. We have an unique perspective that only we can bring into somebody’s life– that is a God given gift! You also have a circle of people in your life and then there are constantly people coming in and out of your lives whose needs go unmet daily. This is God’s calling/vision for you right now– to fill the need of people requiring your unique perspective and input. A lot of us will rather pass that up because our two cents is none of their business, but really that’s just overtly selfish. The same way you have people speak into your life, make sure you are speaking into theirs or at least into the lives of people around you right now. This is God’s Will for you and there’s no question about it. Be bold and dare to ask somebody how you can speak into their lives. You’ll be more than surprised by what you have to offer.
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” – Joshua 1:9 Being strong and courageous is a command from God. God commands this because this what we need to be to “inherit” what God envisioned for our lives before we were even an afterthought in our parents’ minds. Being and strong and courageous allows us to step into our sweet spot, the place where we make the most difference, where we have the most influence. We hit our sweet spot because God goes with us to wherever he leads us. When God is with us, there is no reason to fear and there is definitively no reason to become flustered or saddened. Jesus was strong and courageous when in his innocence, carried the burden of a guilty man’s cross to Calvary. It was by being strong enough to endure the death unbefitting of God that we saw courage to to take a risk on people who may not even love him in return. I know what you are thinking right now: how do I become strong and courageous because those two qualities are not innate within me. I totally know what you mean. To understand how we can become strong and courageous in a very practical way, we need to examine verse 7 in this chapter. It says, “Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.” If you don’t want to read the Book of Deuteronomy (the law of Moses) then we can go to what Jesus says to the lawyers in Matthew, Mark and Luke as the summary of the “law of Moses”, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” You are strong when openly and ardently love God, who provides for you. You openly and ardently love God when you honor Him, that is, when you start looking at the world from His perspective by being transformed and having the presence of God with you in prayer, making your body a temple, a living sacrifice. You are courageous when you come out of your self-centeredness and love somebody in a way you would love yourself in your self-centeredness. Simply put, what would happen if you started to give and do to other people that which you would do and give to yourself? I’m not talking about charity, I’m talking about treating other people how you would treat yourself. Going back to verse 7, the writer continues to say about loving God and loving your neighbor, “do not turn from it.” We make so many exceptions to doing these two things in our lives. For example, we pick and choose when God is convenient for us and love Him in worship when we have nothing better to do or when we are in trouble. Or we hold back our love for God before some of our non-Christian friends because we fear alienating them with “our religion” and so we alienate God because He will understand. In this way, we turn from loving God strongly and courageously. Then there is the issue of making exceptions to which neighbors we love plainly because we don’t “like” them. This is another example of turning from the Law of Moses. This morning I want to encourage you to be strong and courageous by following the law of Moses– that is of Christ. I want you to set aside your fear, your disappointment, and your anxiety because you are in the presence of God who is traveling with you, directing you to your sweet spot. God will not leave you or forsake you and that is a promise, so be strong and courageous. I pray this morning that we can be strong and courageous so that we can receive what God sets apart for us. I pray that we can meditate on God’s laws and be strong and courageous enough not to turn from it. Another quiet time will be available later this afternoon, keep your eyes open.
I remember the first time I learned how to swim. It was about twenty some odd years ago at Virginia Beach and my pops threw me into the deep end of the pool and said, “move your arms and kick your legs and come in this direction.” For some reason, I was able to muster enough flapping to tread water and make it to where I needed to go. I’m writing this Quiet Time now so I’m glad it turned out alright. But I just can’t stop thinking what would have happened if I were too afraid to drown and was too petrified to swim? Would I have been able swim if I didn’t know that my dad was there with me? Maybe. However, the one thing that can’t be denied is that knowing my dad was there provided enough confidence within me to actually swim. Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen. It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through. – Ezekiel 47:5 Ezekiel, in this passage, is being shown the multiple levels of blessings and favors that flow from God. Essentially there are four levels of blessing and you only receive the level of blessing you are willing to step into. The metaphor here being water as the outpouring of blessings. The lowest level of blessing from God is ankle-deep. You can compare this type of blessing as just getting your feet wet. It is a marginal type of blessing. You will feel God’s presence when your feet are dipped in the water, but you begin to move around and you lose God’s blessing because you’ve taken your foot out of the blessing. Then there is the second level of blessing which comes up knee deep. You can compare this to the first level in that, you can still come out of God’s blessing if you step tall enough. But at the same time, you feel more of his blessing when you are legs are in the water. This is a safe type of blessing because you can still touch the floor and you are relatively free to move about– it’s like being a grown up hanging out in the kiddie pool. The third level of blessing is waist deep. You feel comfortable receiving God’s blessing as long as it only comes waist deep. Again, here you’re still playing on the children’s side of the pool. There is no danger here. You are still in full control of how God’s blessing takes you or doesn’t take you and that’s because the water is only waist deep. At the same time, you’re only getting half the blessings of God on your life. However, you’re probably okay with that because you’re in deep enough to witness God’s power in His blessing and you’re willing to receive some of it, just not all of it. Unfortunately, this is where a lot of us will stay because we feel comfortable with this level of God’s intervention into our lives. I understand why, it’s because you’re not ready to put our whole body in the water of blessing. The fourth level of blessing is where the blessings from God begin to overwhelm a person. It is here where God’s blessings overtake our ability to “play it safe” and allow us to learn to swim in the riches of His blessings. When Ezekiel says this blessing is like “a river that could not be passed through,” he is saying that you can’t touch the floor in this blessing. It completely and consummately submerges your life within it– you can only swim in it. This is the type of blessing that God wants us to jump into. The problem is that we are too afraid of drowning in God’s blessing and losing ourselves. It’s our inability to commit which keeps us from jumping into God’s blessing. Thus, we away discount ourselves from this level of blessing. Self-sabotage is really sad. This morning I pray wherever you are in blessing that you can jump into the deep end of blessings and swim in it. Don’t be afraid to drown in it. Your heavenly Father is there and He has confidence in your ability to swim in His blessings.
Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. – Matthew 7:6 This is probably the most sensible thing Jesus said in his sermon on the mount. Not that it’s easy to accomplish practically, but by far the easiest of the things he said logically. That is only because everything else Jesus said was so countercultural to what we learned about life and power in this life. However I digress. So dogs and pigs are affectionately symbols of men, at least they are to the majority of women who have been victim to the animal-like behavior of men, and we all know this. If you’re man, you can feel comfortable and safe enough to admit you know you sometimes act like stupid dogs, and your room, according to your mom or sister, looks like a pigpen. People in general despite all their creativity and mental prowess can act like animals. Am I right? We sometimes don’t show mercy to others. At best, we decide to settle out of court as opposed to suing outright. We almost never show gratitude because nothing is ever on par with our expectations. We can’t admire beauty so we knock it down and build a characterless strip mall. Are these not true? Let’s ask ourselves, how forgiving were we the last time somebody crossed us like a black cat underneath a ladder? If memory serves me right, you’re still not on speaking terms! I mean, sure you’ll “like” Facebook posts but you won’t dare leave a comment. I mean you’re still complaining about how the waiter at the restaurant brought you a bottle of Poland Spring as opposed to Aquafina. Shall I continue? I shall. I want you to think about what you did with that watch your grandfather gave you. Do you even have it? What about your mother’s ring that was passed down for 14 generations, where’s that at? Let’s scale it down to a lessor degree, are you using your iPhone to protect you from the elements? Was it me, or did you just throw that cell phone, your parents bought you into the wall because their conversation with you, once a month mind you, disturbed your so called inner peace? All of this boils down to appropriateness. God ain’t a fool. Just because you ask God for a Maserati, doesn’t mean He’s going to give it to you. It’s especially true if you can’t handle the pinto. Some of you tell me that when you pray, you receive nothing from God. I tell you that you receive His hearing you out, but you can’t receive His things if you’re going to act like dogs and pigs because animals don’t understand what to do with people things, let alone, God things. God’s things are not only holy, but they’re also valuable. Next time you ask God, because you you know He gives, ask yourself: am I human enough to receive or just a dog and a pig. Then reflect on, with somber judgement, without logs in your eyes whether you shall be able to find God’s gift in your search for it. I pray that we appropriately understand the gifts God wants to bestow on us.
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. – James 1:12 What is courage under fire? It is having the steady resolve to face your challenges, difficulties and opposition with a faith so strong that cannot be broken. If we read this passage in context, we will see the most courageous act we can embody in the midst of fire is the act of standing up against our own desires and personal wishes. James says that the the trial is facing that which we ourselves entice into being. Here’s the one thing we have to understand about that though– “courage” is not something you are born with and not innately given. It is something we work up towards. That means even if there are times when we fail, we shouldn’t give up on standing tough in the midst of our trials. In verse 18 James writes, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” God, knowing you can’t ever courageously stand up to your own desires, gives you Jesus’ blood and the presence of the Holy Spirit to persevere so that you can receive the “promise of God.” So today I want you to move forward in facing your trials and doing exactly what you know needs to be done to overcome your temptations, oppositions and difficulties knowing fully well that God brings us out in His own will to be victors for the sake of His glory. Therefore, whatever it is that you are facing in the present, know that you have already received the victory in Jesus, your Christ. You have courage and when it is under fire, you will remain steadfast in facing it and overcoming it. This is something we need to pray about and believe together because this is our source of hope and strength. Be courageous.
I think back to the last time I was stabbed in the back… not literally of course, but figuratively. That pain sent me sideways and to the left, doing somersaults over pins and needles and left me in so much anguish that I gave myself pain. Betrayal like this is painful. It shatters your worldview and makes you re-evaluate every relationship you have with everybody you know. It forces you to take account of who you can trust and who you can expect to stab you next. It painfully changes your perceptions of people and cut ties with people who you never believed would pain you. Despite all of that, pain can be a good thing.
This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. – Psalm 119:50
Pain is a bad thing when you don’t have hope to carry you through the pain to a place when pain will no longer hurt. The good thing about pain is God’s promise of life through the pain. It is hope to carry you through the painfully trying times. This doesn’t come from thin air. Absolutely not! Let’s look at verse 71 where the Psalmist writes, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” Painfully trying experiences can be leveraged as an opportunity to experience God through the Bible in a way like never before. Not many of us do that though. Instead we drink our pain into a stupor or lull the pain through food into a coma. Some of us even circumvent dealing with our pain by pretending it doesn’t hurt. What we should be doing in these times is digging deeper into God’s “statutes” — that is searching for the very reasons why Jesus Christ would come into the affliction of humanity to redeem us. If you’re in pain right now, you need to say to God, “I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!” (v107). It’s in the Bible! The promise of new life amidst the pain and suffering. The favor of God which exists only for us who are in pain is the hope we need to receive justice through God in our lives. In our pain, let us worship God even more so that we can receive a good thing– a hope for us who are hopelessly in pain. Let us be the comfort and companion for those who are in pain. Let God light the paths of our feet. Let passion for God’s word fill every emotion and anchor our hearts with a renewed life. Pain can be a good thing, but only if we allow God’s Word fill our hearts and open our eyes. Let’s pray that the pain in your life can be used to find God’s good thing for our lives.
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. – Psalm 119:18
This is the longest Psalm in the Bible– it stretches 176 verses and is written beautifully according the Hebrew Alphabet in 8 line acrostics. The most amazing thing about this Psalm is that the entire passage is about understanding the Bible through 22 different lenses of favor. I’m not going to go into all the nerdy details of it, but I want to highlight some aspects to get you kick started in the right direction to receive the full favor of God in your life. The Psalm starts by asking God for the endurance, will power and grace to study and meditate over the words of God. I know it’s hard to open up the Bible and actually read it. For those of us with self-diagnosed ADHD, it’s nearly impossible. For others of us, we’re just really bad at opening up the Bible and finding a passage in there that doesn’t read like the latest US Jobs report. Then there are those of us who sat in so many Sunday School classes where the magical somehow equals God and becomes on par with the magic beansprout and Rumpelstiltskin– it becomes a nice fairy tale. However, there is one guarantee when you ask God for the power, endurance and tenacity to study His Word– that is you will never be put to shame because God will NEVER let you go. That is an assurance we all can use in light of our flipping and flopping personal commitments and employment statuses. This brings us to verse 18, which is our meditation verse for today– “open my eyes so that I can see the wonder.” This is favor. If you compare “favor” as having an edge, then this is it. Here’s the deal, when you read, and I mean read, not skim, you open your eyes to something wonderful, an “edge” that is embedded in Scripture specifically for you by God. It is this “edge” you see that makes you impervious, by the grace of God, from falling at your own mistakes. I’m not going to even address people who have bad intentions for us because we’re our own worst enemy and we beat ourselves most of the time! Here’s where our “opened eyes” hits the road in practice. When you see things from the perspective of God through Scripture, you begin to find your heart being enlarged (v32). When your heart is enlarged, the petty, stupid things of life, matter less. The anxiety and stress fall off and break away from the gray matter in your brain. Your “enlarged heart” allows God to “turn [our] eyes from looking at worthless things; and give [us] life in [God’s] ways” (v37). This is essentially the same as having new life. It’s having a fresh perspective and being able to act in accordance to it. Your small, selfish heart will undoubtedly open new realms of possibility in your world when your heart is enlarged to be bigger than itself. It is like having power that once was never yours. This is the favor of God as you open your eyes to Scripture for observing the wonders contained within it. This morning, I pray and I adamantly encourage you to open your eyes to God’s Word in Scripture and spend time with Him. I guarantee that if you stick with it, the presence of God will fill your heart and you can gain the edge God gives to those who trust in Him and walk in His ways. Part 2 will be available at noon.
Here’s an abstract and counterintuitive thought– empty yourself out and find yourself filled up. Some people would say that this is just a mental effect similar to when you empathize with somebody, you find yourself being blessed with the opportunity of the experience and companionship. The Bible goes further than the common shared experience found in empathy. If you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail. – Isaiah 58:10-11 I can get into the post-modern nonsense of “who is the hungry” and “what is the desire of the afflicted” but that would take too much time. Rather I want to simply say– forget giving a lot, just give it all. Stop holding back because you worry about what happens to you when there’s nothing left. This applies to our money, time, resources, but just as important, our hearts, minds and souls. I know it’s human nature to worry about such things because of economics, emotions and ego, but I want you to give it a shot. Just imagine what would happen if you went beyond what was asked of you and poured everything you received and everything you earned for the sake of something, somebody other than yourself. What would you see? What would you hear? More importantly who would hear from? If you can’t imagine what type of favor this unleashes into your life from God, I just want you to imagine your relationships. See your legacy on the very people you interact with. When you pour yourself out onto them, I am not telling you to flood them with your problems, so don’t say I told you to do that and it caused a rift that tore into a chasm. When you pour yourself out, you are making somebody else the priority over your own desires, wishes and needs. You’re doing this without reservation or any expectation of reciprocation. This is not the same as a compromise. This is giving everything you got despite what it is going to cost you. (Please don’t use this to cheat on a spouse and call it Biblical). When you do pour it all out for somebody, you would see life change, for you and for the person you poured yourself into. This would change the dynamic of any relationship entirely and ultimately redefine what you knew or had in that relationship. I know some of you have been hurt in the past while doing this, but don’t let that keep you from the favor that comes with trying it anew, but also don’t be foolish either. What would happen if you applied this to your business, professional life, school? Yes, you would be taking a huge risk by showing all your cards and playing them as you said you would, but look the reward God is offering for this type of obedience–He says, “you will be like spring waters that do not fail.” I haven’t even gotten to the best part of emptying yourself yet. These were just appetizers. Here’s what really fills you up: “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.'” God’s presence is your favor and He will be found by you as you pour everything out. Let’s pour ourselves out an re-imagine possible.
And I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, for the men who were with me did not see the vision, but a great trembling fell upon them, and they fled to hide themselves….Then he said to me, “Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. – Daniel 10:7, 12 The picture that is being painted by Daniel in this chapter is simple: he had images, dark blurry visions he didn’t quite understand. The biggest question he had was what he was supposed to do with those vague inclinations of things that he sees and fills his heart and mind. In verse 2, Daniel says he was so distraught over what he was supposed to be doing with these visions that he went into mourning. He continues on to say in verse 3 that the “mourning” caused him to stop eating– that is, he deprived himself of eating nothing except to keep himself alive so that he can inquire of God and spend time inquiring of God the meaning of the vision. I can probably guess or tell you right now that some of us are deeply distraught, to the point of mourning, about the vision of our own futures. There is so much thrown into the air and left up for grabs and we just don’t know with any amount of certainty or even confidence whether we’re jumping into loops of fire for the vision God puts into our hearts or if it’s some bad joke. The good news is that there is a way to get a moment of clarity. This moment of clarity only comes when you stand firm and hold the course of seeking God’s will through the uncertainty. We learn from Daniel 10:12 that God is listening from the very onset you humble yourself enough to seek God for an answer to the vision He has for you. In fact, not only does God hear your words, your pleas, your cries, He responds to them. He is sending you messages back. I know for many of us, we just can’t see it. We just don’t get it. We just don’t want to accept the message. That is not uncommon. Some of us have even received a moment of clarity from God and shirked back from it. I would even say that some of us even fled the scene of the vision and the place where God sends His answers and we wonder why we can’t find God’s favor where we are hiding. That is not acceptable! Daniel wasn’t blessed because he was more holy or pious than the rest of us. He was blessed and favored by God because he humbled himself and asked God for a moment of clarity and was brave enough to stand and wait for God’s answer. When everybody else fled the scene of God’s response, he was the only one left to be favored. This morning I want you to humble yourself and ask God for clarity. I pray that you and I are bold enough and brave enough to face God’s response because you will need His favor to live into God’s vision for your life.
In the movie, “Wizard of Oz” the cowardly lion says, “What makes a king out of a slave? Courage! What makes the flag on the mast to wave? Courage! What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk?” Just the cowardly lion has multiple iterations of the word, when we think of the word “courage” we find ourselves questioning the intrinsic value because all of the connotations and implications surrounding the word. But we know that the “right” partner is somebody who embodies a visible courage and an invisible faith charging his or her own courageous action. Today I want to radically redefine what an act of courage is. The reason I want to do this is because we often overlook practical, everyday courage that can be embodied by those of us who are seemingly weak by the world’s standards. Who is weak without my feeling that weakness? Who is led astray, and I do not burn with anger? – 2 Corinthians 11:29 What does this statement made by the Apostle Paul mean? Isn’t this just empathy? Isn’t it just jealousy? It may seem that way; but I dare you to ask whether you ever had these feelings and thoughts and done anything about them. The reality is that we probably felt these things at some point but was petrified from the thought of them and did nothing. So we are cowardly and constantly not courageous. In the Book of Hebrews we learn Jesus was so courageous that he embodied humanity to walk in our shoes and amongst our sin and through the world as we experience the fallenness of it. This becomes our model of courage, to embody the weakness of those feeling weak and to walk with them and to journey through life with them. I am not saying we need to be weak for them, but I am saying we need to embrace the weakness of them and work at it with them. This is everyday courage. It is a courage that loses itself in the lives of people and finds strength to persevere through it together. Courage is the anger rising out of love for another person which does more than allow somebody make bad decisions. It is the move towards intervention in spite of feelings being hurt. We been there, standing in between friendships and somebody’s self destruction, we need to do something and be the “right” partner for them in their circumstances. The cowardly lion concludes his monologue, “What makes the dawn come up like thunder? Courage!… What have they got that I ain’t got?” If you can’t find yourself walking with the weak around you, you have no courage. If you can’t be angry enough to correct somebody close to you, then you have no courage. I write this for people like me, who don’t care enough and don’t want to be bothered by other people on most days– have courage and be the “right” partner for somebody who desperately is crying out for one.