Seek. Pursue. Love.

imageBy the age of 14 I had a concrete, if unrealistic, dream. I wanted to play Division I (now FBS) football. Let me rephrase that. I HAD to play. I was consumed with desire.

Desire was about all I had, though.

  • I was small.
  • My town was small — population 1200 in southeastern Kansas (think wheat, everywhere). One blinking traffic light.
  • My high school was small — approximately 120 students. Total. 9-12.
  • No one on either side of my extended family had played college sports, let alone D-I football.
  • Neither of my parents graduated from college.
  • Major colleges did not recruit my high school. Ever.

What I did was what I could. I prayed and I worked. I made a promise to myself. I vowed that I would do something every day to help fulfill my dream.

I did. Every. Single. Day. Four straight years. Hot. Cold. Rain. Shine. By the end of my freshman year I had a key to the gym because I showed up every morning at 6:30 am to lift. By myself. In the summers I climbed the fence to the locked football stadium/cinder track (you may need to look that one up, cinder tracks have gone the way of the 8-track and rotary dial phone — imagine super sharp gravel) so I could run. I worked all day on a farm, so I’d go to the track in the dark. I’d run the home side straightaway, do push-ups on the curve, run the next straightaway, do pull-ups on the visitor side, and repeat. It’s called interval training now. I called it passion.

imageIn short, I pursued.

What have you pursued? What has driven you to a singular focus and limitless energy and effort? What were the results?

In the end, I played football at Temple University in Philadelphia. I got there through doors that God opened. I met my beautiful wife at TU. She taught me how to love. I met my lifelong best friend on that journey. He taught me how to live. Blessing upon blessing. The truth is, though, that my dream was not guaranteed. Pursuit of this world often leads to heartache, disappointment, and disillusionment.

Since Temple, I’ve pursued other ends. Some good. Some bad. None fulfilled me.

But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11)

I’ve finally decided to direct that singular effort toward pursuing God. More specifically, a deeper relationship with God. I want to know and love him fully. Every. Single. Day.

This is our only pursuit that comes with a promise. It will not fail.

Deuteronomy 4:29 says (this is from Moses’ farewell address to the Israelites before they entered Canaan under Joshua’s leadership):

But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul.

David tells us in Psalm 34 that:

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
5 Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
6 This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.

Jesus said:

7“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)

May I encourage you? Whatever you are pursuing, replace it with God. You are guaranteed to reach your goal. You will not miss out on the rest.

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

Seek. Pursue. Love.

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When you’ve reached the end

Pain is no fun. I’m very sorry if you are hurting. Here’s what I know, though. No matter you circumstances, God’s mercy and love are there for you.

Listen to this passage from Lamentations.

GOD’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up. They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! I’m sticking with GOD (I say it over and over). He’s all I’ve got left.
(Lamentations 3:22-23 MSG)

Even if God is all you have left, he is more than enough. Lean on him — he’s the strong God and he loves you very much!

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A moving walkway life

imageDo you ever dwell on the past? Have you ever caught yourself reliving previous mistakes over

and over

and over

again?

Give me five minutes of quiet, particularly between 3 am and 6 am, and I’ll give you 10 of my most embarrassing errors or destructive sins.

Frankly, I’m a little tired of this internal rhetoric. The plain truth is that two of my most powerful enemies live in the past: pride in prior accomplishments and shame over a multitude of bad choices. I desire neither.

I have a new plan.

Have you ridden a moving walkway? Perhaps at an airport? You step on and then move forward at a little less than normal walking pace. It’s convenient, but you must choose where to direct your gaze. Ahead, behind, people watching (you know you do it).

In reality, we are all being carried forward at a constant rate… in time. We are all standing on the unavoidable, temporal moving walkway with the past behind and the future ahead. I’ve already discussed the past and its pitfalls; I can’t know the future. It would be a hopeless situation if not for my current location on the belt: the present.

I exist in the present and only in the present. So do you. On the walkway, my perspective dictates my focus. Will I look to the past that I can’t change or to the future that I can’t see? Or will I spend my time in the present where I can… do, affect, produce?

I choose the present.

Paul teaches us this in Ephesians 4.

20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

We are to put off, or throw away, our old self, the past. That should not be our focus. We are to put on our new self, in pursuit of Jesus. Since we only exist in the present, this is exactly the time to put on our new self. There is, in fact, no other.

Plant your feet firmly on the moving walkway. Live where you are. Embrace the present. Don’t be imprisoned by your past. Don’t waste your time on the future.

Oh, and stand to the right. Someone may be running for a flight.

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An arm long enough

imageI’ve been studying in Numbers. It follows Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt through the desert toward Canaan, the land God promised them. My strategy is to put myself in their story. Not surprisingly, I often find that my own challenges mimic those recorded in the word.

What? Did you not know that God is trying to teach us? Don’t you know that the purpose of scripture is to get us to believe him without making our own mistakes? He’s a good father. He doesn’t want us to learn in the cruel classroom of experience. It’s so much less painful and time-consuming to simply trust his word and believe — we call that faith.

Now to Moses and God’s people…

The Israelites cried out for food in the desert. God provided manna each day. Just enough for that day. He was teaching them to rely fully on him. You know, just like we need to learn.

Numbers 11

4 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

Have you ever asked God for anything, only to take it for granted later? Have you ever craved more, even when God has provided all you need? Yeah, me too.

18 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’”

Oops. God heard their complaining and answered. Have you ever gotten what you begged for only to learn that it didn’t satisfy or fulfill you like you had dreamed? Perhaps it was not only a disappointment, but it was absolutely awful. Check. I’ve been there and done that. It will cause you to question everything. God will use your disillusionment to guide you back to him, though. He’s a good father.

21 But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ 22 Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?”

Moses was sick of the people’s whining immaturity. He was angry at God for giving him this enormous responsibility. He was overwhelmed. So, he did a little of his own complaining sprinkled with a measure of doubt. It’s funny how often doubt and complaining go arm-in-arm. Have you ever complained because you doubted? Yep, me too. I love God’s response to Moses.

23 The Lord answered Moses, “Is the Lord’s arm too short? Now you will see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”

Did God’s long arm provide? Read for yourself.

31 Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. 32 All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail.

imageTwo cubits is about three feet. Like thigh high in quail. It took over a million people two days to pick them up. Dude, that’s a LOT of quail. Let me assure you of something. Listen. Whatever your difficulty or need right now, turn to God. He wants to hear from his precious child. Ask and he will answer… he’ll answer big! His arm is more than long enough to gather you in, hug you, and make you safe. Love you much!

 

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Don’t mourn the seed

bean_seedIn Matthew 13, Jesus teaches about our response to him and his message of sacrificial salvation using sown seed:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

He then explains to his disciples that “seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Verse 23)

The thing about seed it that it must be buried, in the dark and out of sight, for a season before it produces new life. By the time the new green shoot appears out of the ground, the seed is gone. The value is not in the seed, but what grows from the seed.

Why would we mourn the seed? It has done its job. New life is present because it was buried.

Do you have a past? Have you experienced pain, rejection, loss, or shame? Did it lead you to change your perspective? Did it cause you to seek God? Are you seeking God now because you realized the old way won’t work? If so, the seed fell on good soil! Be prepared to grow.

I encourage you today to celebrate your new path, your new life, and don’t mourn the seed, your past. Jesus offers new life, forgiveness of sin without condemnation, a new start. Celebrate — you are dearly loved and a mighty crop is on the way! Here’s how Jesus summarizes it:

“I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples. (John 15:5 MSG)

 

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A road through the ocean in 17

img_0482This is what GOD says, the God who builds a road right through the ocean, who carves a path through pounding waves, The God who summons horses and chariots and armies— they lie down and then can’t get up; they’re snuffed out like so many candles: “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands. Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’ —the coyotes and the buzzards— Because I provided water in the desert, rivers through the sun-baked earth, Drinking water for the people I chose, the people I made especially for myself, a people custom-made to praise me.
Isaiah 43:19 MSG

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The two Ws: all you can offer

imageIn Matthew 2 we meet the Magi who traveled from the East (probably Persia) to worship the child Jesus.

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

These wise men from another culture traveled a great distance and, on entering the presence of the child Messiah, were so overwhelmed that their natural response was to fall to their knees and offer him their greatest treasures. These represented Jesus’ kingship (gold), priesthood (frankincense), and death on the cross (myrrh, a burial spice).

In studying this story, I wondered: “What do I have to offer?” My conclusion was that we have two gifts of true value to place at Jesus’ feet.

First, we can Worship. We can sing praise to our Savior and Lord both corporately (in church) and on our own. We can begin and end our day with hands and voice raised in honor of our king.

Second, we can offer our Will. God gave us free will. We are free to choose him or self. The self-choice is called pride and is the most basic sin, the root of the mess that surrounds us. When we surrender the will he gave us by submitting it back to Jesus, we are rewarded with freedom to live in peace with an unshakeable joy.

Unlike the Magi, these are not one-time gifts. We offer our two Ws with each new sunrise. In this new year, try pursuing a deeper relationship with Jesus through the daily offerings of Will and Worship. I know that great blessings await you. Happy 2017!

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