Nothing Can Separate

There are many things in our lives we want separation from and other things we want connection to.

In light of our current US presidential race, you may be wishing you could separate from social media altogether.

Or maybe you want to connect with a friend you haven’t spoken to in years.

But what about God?

Deep down, do you want connection to God or separation from God?

Do you think you’ve done something to cause God to separate from you?

Or do you think God isn’t strong enough to stay connected to you?

Take a few minutes and see that once you’re connected with God nothing can separate you from Him.

 

 

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For Those Who Don’t Know It All Part 2

Last week I wrote a post entitled “For Those Who Don’t Know It All.” (Go ahead and read that post if you haven’t already done so. It will help this post make more sense.)

In it, I posed a simple question: “What if _______?” When you or I ask those 2 words followed by a specific instance in our own lives, it causes us to begin to wonder about the possibility of it actually happening or being true.

But the catch is this: we cannot simply stay at wonder. We have to move into wander.

I had some pushback on this idea of wander,” so let’s look at this word for a second.

Here are a few definitions from Merriam-Webster: “to move around or go to different places usually without having a particular purpose or direction;” “to move about without a fixed course, aim, or goal;” “to go idly about;” “to ramble.”

Now maybe you are saying to yourself, “I don’t want to be purposeless or ramble, so why would I wander?”

Great question.

But here’s another question to consider that I posed in last week’s blog post:

“What if instead of thinking you had to have the perfect idea and plan of action, you allowed the wonder of your idea to compel you to wander into action?”

See, after having multiple conversations with various groups of people I’m convinced that those who are struggling with some aspect of their life are at one of two places. They’ve either never begun to wonder or they’re paralyzed by thinking they have to have all the answers or have a perfect plan of action.

If you’ve never asked the “What if____?” question, start there.

But if you have and you’re sitting still. If you’re paralyzed by not having all the answers or having a plan of action. Then start to wander.

Start trying out certain things that your wonder is calling you towards.

Let’s take two common examples: diet and faith.

“What if I went on a diet?” By asking that question, you are beginning to think about what your life could be like if you were healthier. You are compelled to do something about it. But then, the mountain seems too tall. The temptation is too real. The diet seems too rigid. So you don’t even try. But what if you just started wandering through different diets to find one that worked for you? What if you tried a few different ones for a couple weeks?

“What if there is a God?” By asking that question, you are beginning to think about the possibilities and implications of there being a higher power. You are compelled by it. But then, the countless number of world religions overwhelm you. The hypocrites that claim to be “religious” disappoint you. Bad things happen all around you making you angry at that potential God or at least causing you to doubt even more. But what if you started wandering through the claims of the major world religions? What if you began to examine whether or not they contradicted each other and if there was some historical reliability of certain faith’s claims?

See, wouldn’t you rather wander about and risk being called aimless, purposeless, a rambler, etc. instead of sitting still, becoming apathetic and doing nothing with your wonder? Doing nothing with your life?

I know I would.

Actually, I did.

And my wife, Rachel, did too. Maybe you can relate to her story.

If I can say so myself as her husband, Rachel is a very talented graphic designer. She didn’t major in graphic design in college and she sure didn’t have a plan for how she was going to get to where she is now before starting. But one day while volunteering at her local church, someone was talking about how they needed a design done. And Rachel must have said to herself, “What if I tried?” So you know what she did? She said to that staff person, “I’ll give it try.” Wonder led to wander. Her first design wasn’t that great. But it was the start of something. She loved it and was compelled to keep trying. More wonder led to more wandering which eventually led to a sustained plan of action. She now stays quite busy with clients doing graphic design work and absolutely loves it.

I can’t promise your wandering will lead to success. Characteristics like discipline and determination matter. And I’m not, nor would I ever, advocate a constant state of wandering. Certainly, you need to eventually figure out a sustained plan of action for your life and commit. But to get started, all you need to do is wander. And by wandering, you will find that sustained plan of action. But by sitting still, you never will.

Start wondering your way into wander today!

For Those Who Don’t Know It All

“What if?”

Have you ever asked that question in regards to some aspect of your life?

If you’ve already arrived and have no need to grow, then this blog post isn’t for you.

But I’m guessing you haven’t.

I know I haven’t.

So no matter who you are or where you are it’s one of the best questions you could ask yourself.

And you should ask it today.

A “What if?” question is pregnant with possibility.

Once you ask it, you’ll start to wonder.

“Could this really happen? Is this really possible? Wow, what life would be like if…”

Then you’ll quickly experience a tension. And it’s painful to wrestle with.

This tension is so strong that millions of dollars have been left on the table. Relationships that could have been haven’t. Businesses were never started. An invention never developed. A book never written. An apology never said. A difference never made. A God never explored.

It’s the tension between an idea and action

You don’t have to be brilliant or clever to stir up an idea. And you don’t have to be strong or disciplined to step into action.

You must only wonder your way into wander.

What if instead of thinking you had to have the perfect idea and plan of action, you allowed the wonder of your idea to compel you to wander into action?

Don’t worry about not having a detailed plan or a stellar track record in the past.

Simply wander into doing something about that possibility you sense.

Start walking.

Make some kind of move even if you don’t know why or what you’re doing. Even if it’s aimless.

Take a baby step in the direction you long to know more about or desire to be true for your life.

I don’t know the exact “What if?” question you should ask yourself. But below are several to give you an idea of some you could ask.

What if life’s not all about me?

What if I switched my college major?

What if I tried harder in school?

What if there’s more to life than living the American dream?

What if there is a God?

What if I could beat this addiction?

What if I was a better father?

What if I was a better husband?

What if I went on a diet?

What if I ran a marathon?

What if I wasn’t in debt?

What if I invited my neighbor over for dinner?

What if I wasn’t so empty inside?

What if I went for what I’ve always felt called to do?

What if I got a new job?

What if I apologized to my friend?

What if Jesus really is who he claimed to be?

What if __________?

So. What “What if?” question do you need to ask?

Don’t wait until tomorrow or 20 years from now.

Ask it today.

Begin to wonder.

Move into wander.

Then tell me a year from now how thankful you–and those who know you–are that you asked that simple question.

What if?

When God Says “No”

photo-4

This past Monday, my daughter, Avonlea, turned 1 year old. ONE! It’s crazy how quickly this last year flew by. And it’s been too. much. fun!

I’ve held her.

Changed her diaper.

Given her baths.

Fed her.

Tickled her.

Read to her.

Prayed with her.

Laughed with her.

Cheered her on as she learned to crawl.

Tried to keep up with her as she’s learned to walk.

Picked her up after she’s fallen and bumped her head.

Said the phrase “Say _________” hundreds of times as we are teaching her words.

Been amazed by her HUGE personality!

Cleaned up after her mischievous adventures (the picture above shows that quite well).

And I’ve fallen more and more in love with her as each day passes.

She’s my “Avie Rose.”

The last couple of weeks I’ve noticed 2 new things.

First, I’ve repeated a tiny, 2-letter word more than any other time in my life. Every parent knows which word I’m talking about.

“No.”

And the funny thing is, I’ve had to say “No” in connection with other words I rarely had to before.

Toilet. Toilet paper. Outside. Leaves. Eat. Mouth. Etc.

You get the picture.

Second, Avonlea isn’t just developing mentally and physically, she’s developing her will. That precious gift given to us by God to freely use. That ability to make choices. To act and react. Yup. She’s learning that quickly. And I knew it would come, although I, like every naive first-time parent, thought it wouldn’t be as pronounced with my child. Ha!

With those 2 things in mind, get this story. It was dinner time and we had all 3 sat down at the table. Rachel and I began to eat, but Avonlea’s food was still a bit too hot. As Avonlea reached for her food, I pulled it back and said to her “Not yet, Avonlea. It’s too hot.” She got distracted by something and maybe 15 seconds later reached for it again. It was out of her reach this time and she was growing frustrated as she strained for it. I looked at her and said in a serious, slightly raised and concerned voice, “No.” She immediately started crying and then made a face that I’m pretty sure had we been filming could have won her an Oscar. It was dramatic to say the least!

I was shocked by her ridiculous reaction to that 2-letter word. Rachel and I both laughed a bit, as we watched Avonlea transform into a drama queen. And then I quickly became bothered by it all. I thought, “I know she’s only 1, but shouldn’t she be obeying me when I ask her to do something? I mean doesn’t she love me? And not only doesn’t she obey me, but she gets upset at me for just saying ‘No.’ And not just upset, but in tears. I’m not even mad at her. What’s going on?” 

As I began to rationalize with my 1 year old, I was immediately confronted by how I react when God says “No” to me.

Have you ever been there?

Maybe you’ve prayed for something and the answer, by way of the prayer not going your way, seems to be “No.”

Maybe you see what everyone else is doing around you and you want to do it, but it goes against a verse in the Bible where God has said “No” to doing that very thing, and you get angry.

Maybe it “feels right” to do what you are being enticed to do, but you know God has said “No” to doing it. Maybe you give in.

Maybe you feel stuck in this season of life and there is a shortcut you could say “yes” to, but God is saying “no.”

Maybe you want to do something right now, in the moment, but God is saying “No. Later is better. Wait. Be patient”

Maybe you are tired of even considering following God, because you feel he’s all about the rules. He’s judgmental. And the answer is always “no.”

Let’s be real: maybe you’re done feeling guilty for doing what everyone else seems perfectly content doing. And if God would just get out of your conscience life would be much easier. You could watch porn, have pre-marital sex, lie, cheat, steal, etc. with no worries.

If any of these describe you, I’m with you. I’ve been there. But hold on, take a deep breath and keep reading.

In each moment we all ideally want all of our desires to be answered “yes” and for that “yes” to not be delayed. We want what we want right now. Immediate gratification is the name of the game. And daily we are marketed to in countless ways with messages that reinforce our desires: “You deserve it. Take all you want. Enjoy it. No boundaries. Don’t wait. Do it now. The answer is ‘yes.'” 

The scary things is there are obvious consequences to this way of thinking and living.

The scarier thing is since God doesn’t at all operate like this, we often get upset with him, see his answers as irrelevant and irrational, and in the end, see no need for him at all.

What we are really doing is distrusting God’s character. And we are missing out on a much better life.

What if the next time God says “No” to your desire, you stopped and considered that maybe he knows something that you don’t? Maybe he knows what’s best for you and a “No” answer is exactly what you need.

When I was in seminary, one of my professor’s said this: “God’s commandments are to keep us from something bad and to save us for something better.”

That has stuck with me to this day. And I believe it always will.

When God says “No,” he is not trying to make your life miserable. He is not trying to make you miss out on what everyone else is doing. He is not punishing you. He is not trying to put fear in you. He is not mad at you. He is not trying to give you unattainable standards. He is not all about rules.

He actually cares about your life more than you or I ever will.

When I said “No” to Avonlea eating the hot food it was because at my core, I wanted what was best for her. I didn’t want her to get burnt and I wanted her to enjoy her food at the right time. It was an act of grace for me to warn her and give her boundaries.

Have you ever considered it’s the same way with God?

It is.

So, the next time God says “No” to something in your life, remind yourself of 3 things:

1. God wants what’s best for me.

2. God wants to keep me from something bad.

3. God wants to save me for something better.

Then obey his “No” and see how that works out for you. I’m betting it goes better than obeying your own “yes.”

Don’t Wait Until Next Easter

It included the Easter bunny,

peeps,

Easter baskets,

hiding and dying eggs and

dressing up nice for family pictures and get-togethers.

And for millions of people it also included going to a church service.

Why?

Well, Easter is a day each year that is honored as “special” by most people. Believers and non-believers alike pour in to church services because there is still, although it’s fading quickly, an engrained conviction that going to church matters on Easter. It’s a day that honors a man named Jesus, who, 2,000 years ago lived and claimed to be God, died, and then proved it by rising from the dead. His resurrection is what is specifically celebrated on Easter.

It is a day to celebrate because this event in history is what the Christian faith is founded upon. The Apostle Paul who wrote much of the New Testament said it best in 1 Corinthians 15:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third dayaccording to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born….And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

The resurrection is what it’s all about. It’s the whole reason to even believe. It’s what validates the Christian faith. And it’s worth celebrating, not just on Easter, but every day!

It reminds us that we serve a God who has the power over death. He is not dead. And we have hope for the future.

I was reminded last Saturday night as I listened to Lee Strobel, a former atheist turned Christian author and speaker, that if you are a skeptic to not give up on examining the resurrection of Jesus. He went through a 2 year investigation of the historical evidence for Jesus living, dying and rising from the dead. You know what he found after his journey? That it would take more faith to be an atheist than to be a Christian. The historical evidence was too strong.

If you’re reading this, I don’t know what you believe. I don’t know what you’ve been through. I don’t know where you were on Easter Sunday. But what I do know is this: Jesus’ resurrection is no more true and no more worth celebrating on Easter than any other day of the year.

So if you’re skeptical about Jesus, don’t wait until next year to check out the claims of the resurrection. Check it out right now! If he really did rise from the dead then that means Jesus was not just an ordinary man. He was far more than that. He would be…well…God. And that would mean that what he said would be truth and have authority. And that reality would have huge implications for your life. Don’t worry about the other questions you have about faith and religion. Just focus on one question: Did Jesus rise from the dead? In the end, it’s the only question that matters.

To read more on this, check out: Lee Strobel, The Case for Easter: A Journalist Investigates the Evidence for the Resurrection.

And for followers of Christ, let’s not wait until next Easter to celebrate. Let’s live each day as if Jesus really is alive and his resurrection has changed everything. How could we live any other way?

Have a Quiet Time

bible-reading

Last week I wrote a post titled “The Reason You May Be Struggling to Believe in God.” While there are lots of reasons people struggle, the reason I talked through was this: most people haven’t tried a relationship with him. I went on to show how a relationship with God can come before belief and can actually be what helps many to believe in him. And then I clarified that’s it’s not just a “whenever I feel like it” relationship, but a personal, daily one. If you haven’t had a chance to read that post you can check it out HERE.

At the end of the last post I asked the obvious question: “This all sounds great, but how can I have a personal, daily relationship with God? What does that look like?” I’ve heard from many people who said last week’s post was encouraging and challenging and were looking forward to today’s post. So let’s jump in.

You can have a personal, daily relationship with God by following Jesus’ example in Mark 1:35. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Now I just lost many of you with the “very early in the morning” part. But stay with me. Before Jesus started his day he personally connected with God, his heavenly father. It wasn’t something done with a large group of people. It wasn’t something he did in public for everyone to see. It was just a designated time for him and God to relationally connect through prayer. You could say he had a “quiet time.”

Several years ago I was taught to have a quiet time each day. I was told that more than anything else in my life a quiet time would grow my faith the most. I was told it would be a tool to having a personal, daily relationship with God. And it has been.

So how can you have one? It’s not complicated. It’s quite simple actually. And there are many different ways to have one. But what I wanted to do is give you a way so that you could begin having a quiet time if you don’t already.

What You Need

Place. Find a place where you can be uninterrupted for a period of time. It should be familiar to you and somewhere where you can stay awake and engage with God. Laying down in your bed is probably a bad idea. For me, it’s my study at my house.

Time. For Jesus, that was first thing in the morning. That’s what I do and prefer. By doing it first thing, it shapes my perspective on the day and allows me to pray for what is ahead of me. It also ensures that I do it. I know for me, it would be easy to forget or be distracted from having a quiet time daily if it wasn’t first thing in the morning. You may have another time of day that works better. Maybe you are more alert in the afternoon and have a break where you could work it in. Try that. The time of day isn’t as important as having some time during the day. Also, the length of time will vary. For some people they spend 15 minutes and for others they spend an hour. Again, the length isn’t as important as devoting some period of time each day.

Readable Bible in print. You shouldn’t have trouble understanding what’s being said. If you are, try a different version. That might mean moving away from the KJV. Versions that I use are the NLT, NIV and ESV. It should also probably be a physical Bible in print. I have a Bible App on my iPhone and iPad and love it. But when I do my quiet time, I use a physical copy of the Bible so I don’t get distracted by notifications popping up, texts, phone calls, etc.

– Notebook and Pen.

What You Do: One Example of a Quiet Time to Try

Pray: Say a short prayer asking God to speak to you through his Word. I regularly pray through Matthew 4:4, “It is written, Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” That reminds me of my daily need to connect with God and hear from him.

Read: Pick a passage of Scripture to read through. It can be 5 verses, a paragraph, a chapter, or more. If you’re just starting out, try reading where the chapters are divided with headers in each chapter. In the past I’ve gone through one chapter of Proverbs each day that corresponds to the day of the month. I recently read through Jeremiah and now I’m going through Matthew one chapter at a time. Whatever passage you choose read through it slowly, at least once, trying to digest what is being said.

Write: Now, try and boil down 1 main idea from the passage you just read and write it down. If it’s a longer passage there may be more than 1 thing you write. Then, I try and answer a couple more questions:
-What does this passage show me about myself?
-What does this passage show me about God?
-What does this passage tell me to do? / How can I apply what I’ve learned?

Pray: Now you are ready to pray. In the book, “Rick Warren’s Bible Study Methods” a very helpful prayer guide is given for your quiet time. It models Jesus’ teaching on how to pray in Matthew 6:5-14. Here it is:

-Praise. Start by thanking God for who he is and what he has done for you in your life. Take time to specifically acknowledge how he has provided for you. Tell him why and what you are most thankful for. Express your love for him.

-Repent. To “repent” means to agree with God that what you have done that he says is sinful is so, to be remorseful for it, and to ask him for help turning away from it. Take time to repent for specific sins that God brings to your mind.

-Ask. Ask God to answer personal prayer requests you have. They can be for you, friends, family, others you don’t know, situations you believe God should step into, etc. Writing these down helps you to remember who you’ve prayed for and helps you look back and see the prayers God has answered.

Yield. Acknowledge that God is God and you are not. That you want his will to be done on this earth. Commit to trusting in him for the prayers you have offered, the sins you need to avoid, and for providing for you. Ask that he will help you to obey what it is he has revealed to you today through your quiet time. Finish with thanking him again.

So how can you have a personal, daily relationship with God? Have a quiet time. It will be a game-changer for your faith. And you will begin to connect with the God of the universe, your heavenly father, like never before.

I’m not perfect. I miss days having a quiet time. And on those days, I miss out on what God wants for my life. So what do you say? Give it a try. What do you have to lose? And what might you gain?

Pic Credit HERE

The Reason You May Be Struggling To Believe in God

young man pulling funny face on white backgroundOver the past year I’ve had multiple conversations with people who do not currently believe in God. (I say currently, because even after walking away from a less-than-stellar conversation I pray expectantly that they one day will.) Some of these non-believers I’ve met only once and others are long-time friends. Some have never believed in God and others confess that they used to.

When I talk with these people I do my best to speak the truth in love and present the “clues of a creator God” that are all around us. I try to clarify their misconceptions and present the facts of Jesus. And I let them know that they can doubt and ask questions to God directly. I’ve written about that HERE.

What I’ve realized is that I’ve not been helping people take another step…especially those who used to believe. And not taking that step may be the exact reason people struggle believing. What’s that step?

Try being in a relationship with God.

Now before you say, “You can’t be in a relationship with God before you believe in him!” Chill out. I’m not saying that you can be made right with God and be in a saving relationship without belief.

But what if “relating” to God and pursuing him might be what brings someone to belief.

I mean get this: I didn’t love my wife before I got to know her. I met her. We started dating. Then I loved her. The relationship came before my love for her. It’s the same way with any close relationship you have, especially a relationship with God.

Even Jesus called people to follow him (be in a relationship with him) before they believed the right things about him. Belief wasn’t a prerequisite for a relationship. But through the relationship many of the people who followed him believed.

The truth is, belief in God is strengthened by a relationship with God.

The more you get to know God through relationship the deeper your belief in him will become. Telling people to “just believe” is unhelpful. And trying to believe more doesn’t make the relationship deeper. It doesn’t make it better. Belief only grows and is established when there is a relationship.

For several years I’ve counseled students that the number 1 way to grow in their faith is to have a personal, daily relationship with God. And I still stand by that.

It will be what keeps them anchored when the circumstances surrounding them go bad and they doubt God’s existence.

It will even keep them anchored when their circumstances are going great and they are tempted to see no need for God.

It will sustain their faith when the “mountain top highs” of camp dissipate after a few weeks.

It will sustain their faith when their friends cave to peer pressure at school.

But trying a personal, daily relationship with God can also potentially bring someone to belief. Not having one could be the reason they are struggling to believe.

Recently a student approached me and confessed that they were struggling to believe in God. God felt distant to them. I empathized with the student as they had been going through some difficult circumstances. Then I asked, “When is the last time you spent time with God?” This student couldn’t remember. It had been a long time. A daily, personal relationship had fallen off their radar. And then I asked, “Do you think you’re struggling to believe because it’s been so long since you’ve talked to God?” The student shrugged, feeling down and defeated. They were ready to give up on believing in God. So I tried a different angle.

I asked, “Do you remember having a best friend in kindergarten or early elementary school?” The student smiled and nodded. Then I said, “Are you still friends with them today?” The student responded, “No. We don’t live in the same city anymore.” Then I asked, “Do you believe they are still alive.” The student responded, “Of course.” And then I said, “And if you could talk to them, you’d believe even more, right?” Then the student saw where I was going. If they could believe a friend was still alive even though they hadn’t been in a relationship with the friend for over 10 years, maybe they could still believe in God. And if that belief would be made stronger if this student could talk to their friend, maybe their belief in God would grow if they began a relationship with him too.

Maybe you’re struggling to believe in God.
Maybe you believe, but your faith hasn’t been growing for some time. The answer for the skeptic and the believer is the same—try having a personal, daily relationship with God. It will be awkward at first. But don’t give up. Push through. And you just may find belief on the other side.

Now maybe you’re thinking, “This all sounds great, but how can I have a personal, daily relationship with God? What does that look like?” We will look at that in the next blog post. Can’t wait!

PIC Credit HERE