Sunday, July 20, 2014

The 3 Greatest Struggles in Following Jesus

Since late April, I’ve found myself gripped by the simplicity of Jesus’ words in Mark 1:16-20 and the incredible response of Simon, Andrew, James & John.
"Follow Me" -- they forsook their nets, they left their Dad and all that they knew up to this point in their life to respond to Jesus' call.
When He calls/leads us somewhere, we usually don't know the end.  That's why it's called "walking by faith."  Our confidence must ALWAYS rest in the One who is leading.  I've found that the greatest challenges to following Him are usually a result of where I'm looking.  My tendencies that have caused me to get off track when following Him, if I don't keep my flesh under subjection, usually fall into one of these 3 categories:

1) While following Him, I find myself looking back to a "better, more appealing, yesterday."
There is nothing wrong with periodic reflection and holding to precious memories; however, when following Christ, the greatest hope is ALWAYS in what lies ahead.  When I put my trust in Him and have confidence in His leading, I look forward to today and where He'll lead me.  Too much focus on yesterday delays the present journey that He intends.  I had been in Arkansas for more than a year before I ever had a conversation beyond casual church greeting and exchange with Jason Gibson.  It was a Sunday night at the back of the sanctuary when he made a statement to me about praying and some job struggles. In that “casual” conversation I recognized an immediate door of ministry open.  For the next 2 years, almost every single time we were together, there was a constant flow of ministry between us.  We began traveling together twice a week to help establish a church an hour and a half away.  We have both since realized that planting that church was as much or more about he and I spending those 3 hours (round-trip) together as it was about the congregation in that city.  Jason has periodically bemoaned the fact that we had been in Arkansas in the same church for more than a year but never connected.  In his words, he lost a year.  The sad reality to me is that we both lost a year.  In honesty before God, I spent that 1st year there in Arkansas looking back at what I'd left in Wapato (the precious congregation that had been growing and flourishing), in Harrah (our country home with a pool and a great view that we loved), and all of our relationships that were the result of almost 12 years in WA state.  I was viewing everything in Arkansas through the lens of my yesterday in WA.  It was a huge distraction to me following Him.  To follow Him, my eyes must be ON HIM.  When I live looking back it delays the journey.  When I live looking back it causes me to miss opportunities for ministry.  Has your yesterday become more of a focus than following Jesus Christ today?

2) While following Him, I find myself looking at all the circumstances around me.
We all know the story of Peter walking on the water.  He took his eyes off of Jesus and began to sink.  Life can be a raging storm about us many times.  My peace is simply in the fact that I have all
confidence that Jesus controls the storm.  The only way the storm can go from around me to within me is if I allow it.  Circumstances are real.  I know this.  I, like you all, deal with them every day.  In my short life, I've realized that when my eyes, ears, mind & heart spend too much time on circumstances, it's a sure indicator that I've taken my eyes off of Him - the one I'm following.  When I follow Him and trust His leading, I understand that He knew the circumstances He was going to lead me through.  He won't lead me to leave me.  His leading in and through difficult and trying circumstances only serves to strengthen my resolve to fix my eyes, ears, mind and heart on Him whom I am following.  In the most difficult of circumstances, when it takes every ounce of faith to see Him as he leads, we must purpose to get as close to Him as possible so we don't lose sight of Him.  The closer I am to Him, the less distracting my circumstances become.  I believe it's one of the ways He intends to use circumstances to draw us into deeper relationship.  Have your circumstances distracted you from He who is greater than every circumstance?  If you feel like you’re sinking, like Peter, look to Jesus and start following afresh.

3) While following Him, I find myself looking past Him to try and figure out where He's leading.
TRUST.  "I know the thoughts I think toward give you an expected end."  "He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it..."  When my thoughts are always toward the future, I begin to lose sight of the One I'm following.  Likewise, I am expressing my struggle with trusting Him to lead me.  When I look past He whom I'm following, I can easily get my eyes fixed on a future destination.  The danger with this is that I often see in a straight line.  I often see what I desire the end to be.  My will begins to cloud my discernment of His will and following becomes difficult.  When He takes a turn that I didn't foresee I can easily struggle with resentment or feelings of hopelessness because I've put my hope in a future rather than Him.  I firmly believe in a God who gives vision for the future.  I firmly believe the scripture, "where there is no vision the people perish."  Vision is something God uses to plant a seed and set a course.  We must trust Him and follow Him as He leads us to the fulfillment of that vision in His way and in His time.  Has your focus on the future caused you to look past Jesus Christ the one leading you into your future?

The common thread hidden in these 3 challenges to following him won't surprise you.  It certainly came clearly to me when the Lord was dealing with my heart.  In my life, the common thread in each of those challenges was a selfish pursuit of my comfort, my happiness, my desires - what pleased ME.  Sadly, it blinded me to the myriad opportunities for ministry & kingdom relationships all around me for over a year.  Furthermore, it caused a temporary stagnation in my relationship with Jesus Christ as He patiently waited for me to fix my eyes, mind and heart on Him again.

You need the Word of God for this journey of life.  When you find yourself drifting in the following process, purpose to stand on the word that God gave in the most recent season of the journey.  That word is the confidence that He is leading you.  It is a journey.  The seasons and the view as you travel will change.  Purpose afresh and anew to fix your eyes on Him and continue to follow.  That's exactly what took you to your present location.  Don't despair.  You can still trust Him completely.  He knows where you are.  His plans for you haven't changed.

Some of you know I have a love for old songs.  There's a few pouring through my heart this morning.

"Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face;

And the things of this world will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace."

"Lead me Lord, I will follow.

Lead me Lord, I will go.

YOU have called me.

I will answer.

Lead me Lord, I will go."

"Where He leads me I will follow

Where He leads me I will follow

Where He leads me I will follow

I'll go with Him, with Him, ALL THE WAY."

Today, why not re-visit Mark 1:16-20?  Why not purpose anew to follow Christ?  Let’s agree together to fix our eyes on Him.  He knows exactly where He’s leading.

My personal book recommendations on the subject:
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Pursuit of Knowledge vs. Love of Truth

There’s an icebreaker game that I’ve played at different business meetings or training classes.  Maybe you’ve played it before as well.  Here’s how it works:  Each person takes their turn sharing three things about themselves.  One of the three things shared is NOT true.  The rest of the group has to determine which one of the “factoids” is untrue.  It’s harmless enough and the icebreaker serves its purpose, usually, of getting people to open up and talk to each other.  This simple game reminded me of the dangers we face in the world that we live in today.

You and I live in a day of unprecedented information.  Everywhere we turn there is information bombardment.  At our fingertips, through smartphones, tablets and computers, we have a plethora of knowledge.  In less than 100 years we’ve gone from newspaper and radios to a world of data download and push notifications.  Events that would take at least 1-2 days to reach our eyes or ears in the past are now at our disposal in minutes, even when they happen on the other side of the world.  One recent ad even mocks delayed information with lines such as “that was so 11 seconds ago.”

This constant availability of knowledge hasn’t curbed our desire for more information.  In many cases, it has whetted our appetite to know, hear or see some new thing.  Even though separated by centuries, this pursuit of knowledge sounds eerily similar to what is described in Acts 17.

18 And some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him and began to engage in discussion. And some said, What is this babbler with his scrap-heap learning trying to say? Others said, He seems to be an announcer of foreign deities—because he preached Jesus and the resurrection.
19 And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus [Mars Hill meeting place], saying, May we know what this novel (unheard of and unprecedented) teaching is which you are openly declaring?
20 For you set forth some startling things, foreign and strange to our ears; we wish to know therefore just what these things mean.
21 (For the Athenians, all of them, and the foreign residents and visitors among them spent all their leisure time in nothing except telling or hearing something newer than the last.)(AMP version)

This scripture setting speaks of the danger I was reminded of in the simple icebreaker game that was played.  When provided with multiple pieces of information that all seem credible, or that all seem far-fetched, it is extremely difficult to discern the truth.  In some cases, it causes one to question whether any truth exists at all.  It is a subtle, drawn-out ploy of the enemy of our soul.  Overwhelm with information, give an insatiable desire for more “knowledge” and in so doing, dilute the ability to discern truth.

We readily grab snippets of information from Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, CNN, Fox, USAToday, Huffington, Google, Wikipedia, money blogs, car blogs, health blogs, food blogs…and the list goes on and on.  So easily, and with limited filters or thought, we allow our minds to be filled with this world’s knowledge.  On the surface it seems so harmless. It is easily justified as “a means of staying connected” or “finding inexpensive ways to decorate” or “keeping up with the news” or ______________. (You fill in the blank) Somehow there is a transition from finding information to information overload.  Rather than shutting it off we become numb and gluttonous all at the same time.  It’s the trap of “telling or hearing something newer than the last.”

Please look at those three verses again, especially verse 18.  Do you see why some said he was a “babbler” and a “setter forth of strange deities?”


The Epicureans and Stoicks, philosophers, men filled with worldly knowledge of the day, viewed the preaching of Jesus and His resurrection as babble, scrap-heap learning and the setting forth of strange gods.  There excessive in-gathering of information had diluted their ability to recognize truth!  In their pursuit of this world’s knowledge they lost sight of the value of truth.

Consider this: With the lightning speed that “news” is now communicated via the multiple means already mentioned, how do we know if it’s true or not.  By the time something is realized to be untrue it is “so last week’s news” therefore no one pays attention to the retraction or correction.  As a result, the misinformation (aka lie) is perpetrated and truth is of little value because it isn’t current once discovered.  


There are warnings throughout scripture.   
See II Timothy 3:12-15, Matthew 24:3-5, 10-14, 23-24 and II Thessalonians 2. 
Each one is letting us know the dangers of deception and the dangers of losing a love for truth.
There is no doubt that I use and am thankful for the ready access to information provided in today’s world.  It’s important that I temper my pursuit with hard, honest questions.  Some of which can only be answered through spending time in prayer and the Word.

Here are a few questions I like to ask myself:
o    Is my time best spent pursuing this information?
o    How well do I know the source of this blog, article or reference?
o    Am I giving more time to knowledge pursuit than I am giving to biblical pursuit?
o    Am I pursuing worldly knowledge or God’s Kingdom knowledge?

Why is all of this so important you might still ask?  Let’s look at the very next verse in Acts 17.  I believe it will help answer that question.

22 So Paul, standing in the center of the Areopagus [Mars Hill meeting place], said: Men of Athens, I perceive in every way [on every hand and with every turn I make] that you are most religious or very reverent to demons.(AMP version)

In the Athenians pursuit of knowledge they failed to realize what they were entertaining. 

I’m thankful that we live in an age of increased knowledge.  It has opened doors to spread the Gospel like never before.  Let us not allow the gift of knowledge to become the detriment to life as Adam and Eve did.  Let us pursue knowledge as the Holy Spirit leads.  Above all, let us learn well from Peter & John in Acts 4:13.  They were “ignorant and unlearned” but people took knowledge of them that THEY HAD BEEN WITH JESUS. He is the way, the TRUTH, and the life!

Friday, October 28, 2011

I'm Not a Big Believer in Personal Soul Winning

There's a man I met a few months ago who we'll call Ricardo. (Not his real name, but, you knew that.) We first met in a home with about 20 other people that had showed up for a home bible study.  This wasn't your typical Sunday or mid-week crowd, that may be why I was so excited to be there.  Ricardo & his girl friend, "Cindy", showed up late.  We had already ate some food and L.R. was teaching the study already.  People sat around the small, dimly lit living room on couches and wooden folding chairs from the 50's.  A few stood in the small kitchen looking through the doorway to see and to listen.  Since Ricardo was late he and his girl friend sat in the narrow, dark hallway off to the side of the kitchen in front of the bathroom.  Both he and she are in their late 30's, early 40's, which made them part of us older people that were there.  Three or four of the late teen, early 20-something guys that were there were obligatorily attending so that they could receive MMA training after the study.  This was a MIXED group to say the least.

The BEST part: Sinners outnumbered Saints.  Ideally, our churches should be representative of the cultures, peoples, & ethnicity of the cities we are in.  In the cities we work in, sinners outnumber saints.  It was reflected in this night's crowd, but, I digress.  Back to Ricardo and Cindy.

They sat through the study.  He interrupted with a question from time to time.  He was definitely not shy.  He may have been slightly intoxicated.  Not real sure.  There's some things I know that he and Cindy both were.  They were hungry, broken, empty and searching.  It was undeniable.

L.R. finished the bible study.  At his request, I made a few comments from the couch and then L.R. asked if anyone wanted to be prayed for.  Ricardo got up, walked from the hallway into the living room area, stepped between legs and stood in front of L.R. and S.G.  He talked about not getting it right but needing to.  He was as open and honest about his condition as anyone could be.  We began to pray, he began to weep.  Many in the room bowed their heads respectfully, unsure of this process they had never witnessed before.  Jesus Christ was ministering.

Ricardo & Cindy showed from time to time but never really stuck.  She was desperate for him to change for fear of death.  He was known to get involved in altercations and gang violence is rampant in the communities he walks in.  Cindy's desperation turned to frustration at times. He would get prayed for when he made periodic appearances. She was seeing more and more in the word.  Four weeks ago, we baptized Cindy, along with three others, in Jesus name in the front yard of that same house.  Ricardo wasn't there to witness it.

Friday night, while in a church service, I received a text from S.G.  It read "Pray for 'Ricardo' shot himself."  My mind raced.  I wanted to race out of the service.  (Don't judge me now.  You've checked your phone in service before.)  What did the message mean?  How was he?  What happened?  Where is he?  Questions of concern flooded my mind for fear of a soul that could slip through the grasp of grace.

It turns out that Ricardo had shot himself in the leg and foot with a sawed off shotgun.  I'll spare you the details, but he did just finish his 4th surgery yesterday with more to come.  I stood in the hospital with Cindy on Saturday.  Ricardo was in and out of it.  I talked to him, prayed to God for his healing, pleaded for his soul.

My phone rang last night on the way home from a bible study.  It was Ricardo on the line from his hospital room.  He wasn't even aware I had been there a few days before.  He spoke.  I wept.  He wept.  I spoke.  Above all, God ministered.  It's a turning point.  I believe that, by faith, with all that is in me by the power of Jesus Christ.

I've realized something through this road with Ricardo.  I'm not a big believer in PERSONAL soul winning.  I believe in it - sure, BUT, I'm a HUGE believer in CORPORATE SOUL WINNING.

Paul said, "Apollos planted, I watered, but God gives the increase."  In Acts 8, Philip preached, healed, baptized.  Peter & John came and prayed and people received the Holy Ghost.  People that came to Priscilla and Aquilla's house were touched by more than just those two people in the church.  I believe in GROUP soul winning.

You see, I didn't teach Ricardo his first bible study.  S.G. did.  I'm not the only one who visited Ricardo in the hospital.  More than five others have.  His life has been specifically touched with the word and prayer by at least eight or nine people with the same compassion and cause.  Why?  Because we all believe IT TAKES A CHURCH TO WIN A LIFE to Christ.  Not a building, but a group of people with a clear focus on reaching people and leading them to Christ.  No one is concerned with who gets the credit.  Ricardo's not my recruit or his recruit or her recruit.  Let's just get people to Jesus.

In S.G.'s home where I first met Ricardo, we've baptized nine people in the last month.  This past Tuesday night, after my wife and I left S.G.'s home, I received a text from him.  It read "Travis & John received the Holy Ghost."  I'll update you when Ricardo receives the Holy Ghost.  You know it's just a matter of time when a whole group of people are reaching, teaching, giving and praying for him.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

I Love Math

With school starting back, my thoughts have been on the three R's lately.  You know, Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic.  (Who ever thought of calling them the three R's wasn't a spelling major, that's for sure!)  I've especially been thinking about Math.  It was always my favorite subject in school.  I can hear some of you through cyberspace saying "Ugh!" and "You're crazy!"  Think about this for just a moment and you'll understand some key reasons why I loved math. 

First and foremost - MATH DIDN'T HAVE GRAY AREAS!
  • In 1st grade - 2 + 2 = 4
  • In 5th grade - 2 + 2 = 4
  • Believe it or not, even when new math after I graduated  - 2 + 2 = 4
You can probably figure out that I hated English. ('I' before 'E' except after.... Drove me crazy!) Math was not given to any private interpretation. In math, we all understood and agreed (sometimes after a little debate) there was only one answer.

The 2nd reason I loved math is because there were formulas.  There was always a pattern, a process or a principle that helped you determine the answer.  Once you understood, believed and followed the formula you could solve more complex questions.  Remember adding double, triple and quadruple digits?  Once you grasped the concept of addition and carrying it didn't matter how long the numbers were.  You just stuck to the principle you learned.  Ahhh, math.  Now that's a subject that's easy to love.

The final reason I loved math is really just a combination of the first two reasons.  The lack of gray areas and the principle of formulas remained whether it was addition, subtraction, multiplication, division... As a matter of fact, the same principle of formulas remained in Algebra (stop all the groaning), Geometry, Trigonometry and Pre-Calculus (that's as far as I got in High School).  You see, the principle of success didn't change because the problems became more complex.  You simply had to be willing to stay with the teacher long enough to learn the process.

Can you see the math in God's Word?  Think about it with me for a few minutes.
  • God's Word doesn't have gray areas.  It's not given to any private interpretation. (2 Peter 1:20)
  • No matter how difficult or complex life's challenges and problems, once you learn the principles you can always come through with the answer. (Note: Important to stay tuned in to the teacher to learn the process!)
  • The word of God is full of formulas.  Simple, direct, applicable formulas.  When learned and followed you always arrive at the Answer. Let me finish out with a few formulas I've found for you to think on.
  • Jesus + you = Majority
  • Jesus + you + belief = All things are possible  (Mark 9:23)
  • Jesus + you + me = 10,000 of the enemy to flight (Deuteronomy 32:30)
  • 1 Cross + 3 Nails = 4 Given (John 3:16, Luke 23:34)
  • Death + Burial + Resurrection = Saving Message (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
  • Repentace + Baptism in Jesus Name = You will receive gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38)
  • One of my personal favorites -  JESUS in me > he that's in the world (1 John 4:4)
You may have noticed, every "math" problem presented above has a common denominator.  JESUS.  He is the Answer.

I'd welcome your comments and ADDitional formulas you've gleaned from the Bible in the comments section below.  Have a blessed Back to School season.