Archive for the “Passion for Christ” Category

As I read through Jeremiah 17 a few weeks ago, this passage stopped me in my tracks:

4“The wonderful possession I have reserved for you will slip from your hands. I will tell your enemies to take you as captives to a foreign land. For my anger blazes like a fire that will burn forever.” 5This is what the LORD says: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD. 6They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.
Jeremiah 17:4-6 (NLT)

It’s not one of those verses that make you feel all warm and fuzzy. It’s not one of those verses you hang on to when things get tough. Nevertheless, it’s the Word of God – God-breathed “is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NLT). This would fall into the category of correcting us when we’re wrong. We need that sometimes. At least I do. I’m assuming you do, too.

As soon as I finished this paragraph, the Holy Spirit posed a question to me: “Who do you think you are that you can participate in the promises of God without also being subject to His judgment?” We stress the promises of God, but we turn our backs on the discipleship that Jesus calls us to. Discipleship requires obedience and discipline.

Verse 5 makes a strong statement “Cursed are those who put their trust in human effort.” Cursed. That’s a strong word. Think back to (or take a 60 second side trip to go read) Deuteronomy 28, the chapter of blessings and curses. There’s a long list of blessings that accompany obedience. There’s an even longer list of curses that follow those who are disobedient.

We put ourselves in that cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Be sure you get that sentence down – we put ourselves in the cursed category when we put our trust in human effort. Remember, it is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. We move ourselves out of position to receive it.

In what ways are we trusting in human effort? In the times we live, I believe the most significant way we rely on human strength is when we set our own agendas and determine how we will use our time, money and talents. When we make these decisions on our own, it’s the equivalent of saying “I don’t have time to ask God how He wants me to spend my time.” Or put more bluntly, “I don’t have for the Lord.” Whether it’s not having enough time to worship, read, pray or serve, it all adds up to the same thing – we’re trusting in our own efforts or the efforts of others instead of subordinating our to do list to God’s priorities. We are trusting in mere humans.

As I considered this, I began to think about how much time I spend with God. Let me share with you the calculations I did. There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s say I spend 2 hours on Sunday morning and half an hour each day with God – that would be 5.5 hours each week. (Now in all honesty, I’m being a little generous because I don’t always spend 2 hours at church on Sunday morning and it’s not all that unusual for me to spend less than half an hour in morning devotions.) But if that were my pattern, I would be spending 5.5 hours with God each week. That’s less that 3.3% of my week! If your pattern is like mine, you spend less than 3.3% of your week with God!

Now you may say “but I pray throughout the day.” OK. But be honest with yourself and with God. How much time, really, are you in fellowship with God? My guess is that if you added up all the time throughout the day that you are praying – talking and listening – you’d have another half hour or so each day. So when we add that in, we’re up to spending about 5.5% of our week with God.

Do I really think God is honored by that? No, I don’t. What do you think?

Another important question to ask is “Do I really believe that God will bless that person?”

Out of His goodness, He will bless that person. But not in all the fullness and richness of blessings He offers.

Both the Old Testament Israelites and the New Testament Church lived in community that centered around God and His presence and His commands. Today, our lives center around our jobs and our families and our hobbies with God attached on the side. Most of our lives don’t reflect God as the central focus.

What did the passage say? Verse 4 said “The wonderful possession He has reserved for us slips through our fingers.” And verse 6: “We live lives that are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. We live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land.”

If you feel like that, perhaps it’s because you’re only giving God 3.5 or 5.5% of your time.

Friends, it’s not my intention or desire to bring condemnation on you. That’s not God’s desire either. It might, however, be His desire to bring conviction. If we want to see revival in our lives and in our land, it’s time to up our game. It’s time to pursue God more wholeheartedly.

I wrote most of this blog about three weeks ago. In the past week, I’ve read a letter and a blog from two very different sources – but they were on the same topic: The need for the church to feel a sense of urgency about our mission. I didn’t go looking for these articles. One came in a regular newsletter I get from a missionary. Another came through a Christian ministry group I belong to on LinkedIn.

Church, it’s time to set aside some of the good things in our lives for that which is better. I love the story of Mary and Martha. Scripture says that Mary chose the “better” part. Martha wasn’t choosing a bad thing, she just wasn’t choosing the better thing. She wasn’t choosing to spend her time with Jesus.

We can’t give more to God unless we specifically set aside those things that aren’t the better part – that is, sitting at Jesus’ feet. We can’t give more to God unless we specifically and purposefully schedule times throughout the week to be with Him and to serve Him. Pause to look at your calendar. When during the coming week can you sit at Jesus’ feet? Write it in ink on your calendar. Make it a “#1 priority” in your electronic calendar. Do whatever it takes to choose the better part.

Turning Our Hearts Away From God
There was another phrase in verse 5 that caught my attention: “Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the LORD.”

Friends, the very act of relying on human strength turns our hearts away from the Lord. The two go together. One thing I’m learning is that there are actions that have the direct result of pulling us away from God. Worry is one of those things. We can’t hold on to faith when we are worried because worry is like a force that pulls the suction cups of faith loose from the hope to which it’s attached.

Trusting in ourself or others is like that as well. It has the direct result of pulling us away from the Lord. As your worry rises, your faith falls. As your trust in yourself rises, your trust in God falls.

You can make a conscious decision to turn your heart from the Lord, but what I think happens more often is that our hearts are turned from the Lord as a byproduct of placing our trust in what we can do on our own.

And that leaves us no hope for the future. There is no hope because we have put ourselves under a curse.

Curses or Blessings
In Deuteronomy 28, God identifies the blessings for those who follow God’s ways and then describes the curses for those who disobey. Jeremiah 17 follows the opposite pattern. We’ve just looked at the curses for those who trust in human effort instead of God. God’s prophecy to the Israelites balances them out those curses starting in verse 7.

7“But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. 8They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 (NLT)

This is a familiar passage that many people love: I’m guessing the earlier verses have been passed over by most of us. I love verse 8. I want to have roots that reach deep into the water. I don’t want to be bothered by my environment. I’d rather produce good fruit than be a stunted shrub. The key is trusting in God – putting all our hope and confidence in Him, not in our own effort.

It is God’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. His desire is to bless us. When we trust Him, we put ourselves in the place of receiving His blessing, His Kingdom. God has been encouraging me and I want to encourage all of us to give more of your day to God, to give more of your week to Him. Challenge yourself this week – start with just a week – and this afternoon look at your calendar and carve out an evening or a morning to spend a longer period of time with God.

Don’t put yourself under a curse by relying on your own strength. Put yourself in a position to receive God’s tremendous blessings.

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One of the ministries we follow and support is Orphans Unlimited in Mozambique, Africa. It was started by one woman, Pastor Brenda Sue Lange, in 1993. It has grown to serve many orphans and villages in the country, and it has grown as many come to Christ on a regular basis. This morning, her weekly update touched my heart. It was written by one of their newer staff members, Melissa Olmsdahl. Let this portion of her letter touch your heart and change the way you view the children in your life and ministry.

Footprints under the mango tree

If you go to our recreation centre, you will find thousands of little foot prints all over the show. When I look at these prints, during a quiet time, I always smile as I think of the kid’s joyful play in this area. The kids can be so silly, it’s so cute. There are so many activities that we have running up at the centre. We do sports programs for the bigger kids, during which, the little munchkins will often come and mischievously snatch the basket ball away. I’ll admit, most of the time I will hand the ball over to them, I can’t help myself sometimes Its getting it back that’s the challenge, some of these little guys know how to run, good golly!

We have the basket ball court and the soccer field up there, and at 8am and 3pm every day, our youth director, Bertino, runs the sports program. He is really reliable. Whenever I get a chance, I go up and play with them. I’m not the best athlete, but surprisingly, the boys let me in their games. It makes me feel really special.

Teenage Boys Ministered to by Orphans Unlimited

I really love those boys! They have all crept into my heart. They are the teenage orphans that are part of our orphanage. They are real teenagers, take chances, get into trouble, but they all are so special.

There are eight of them, they are all super different, but each of them have a special something lovely. They all help out with our Sunday school programs each week. They help with the lessons, and with controlling the kiddies. This week that passed they did a puppet show to tell the story of Jesus and Zacchaes in the tree. The little kids really love the puppets; they really get involved in what the “puppets” are saying.

Puppet Show at Orphans Unlimited Children's Sunday School Our Sunday school is always packed on a Sunday morning. Actually our churches are filled with mostly children. But a wise man once taught me that the kids are Jesus’s little evangelists. A child on fire is the best catalyst. If you could only hear the vibration in that little room when these kids sing, when they scream hallelujah! It’s intensely moving. Now imagine with me, all these children scattering after Sunday school, as little feet do, and go and play outside their huts, outside their friend’s huts, singing the praises to Jesus that they learned, all over the village…

These little foot prints in the sand are the foot prints of our little evangelists. Whenever I see these little foot prints, I feel the face of God smiling down, as a proud father, recounting the steps of His little children… Thanks you Jesus for these little babes.

Melissa Olmsdahl, Orphans Unlimited Staff Member I have started teaching them English words as well. Only three a day, I really love to watch their little brains soak up all they can. I have been teaching them body parts, and they really get a kick out of watching me use my body to show them the parts. I really enjoy spending time with them. And of course, play time under the mango tree is very action packed. I’ve been taken down and tickled, had ten little girls play with my hair, at the same time… and played horsy. As I said, it’s a dream come true.


Melissa letter stirred my heart for the children.

“A child on fire is the best catalyst…Now imagine with me, all these children scattering after Sunday school, as little feet do, and go and play outside their huts, outside their friend’s huts, singing the praises to Jesus that they learned, all over the village…”

I am not child-oriented, but what a vision to grab hold of and pray into – that the children of our churches would be on fire for the Lord and that they would run out with the enthusiasm and freedom that only a child has, telling the world about this wonderful man named Jesus.

And may we adults learn from them. Jesus said:

16Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.”
Luke 18:16-17 (NLT)

The Kingdom belongs to those who are like children – eager to be near Christ and tell others about him.

To learn more about Orphans Unlimited, visit their website. It’s a great ministry to give an offering to! They steward the Lord’s money well.

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Yes, I’d like to be one who radically trusts God…but my lifestyle doesn’t always reflect that. I have read this blog from several times, and it’s become material for meditation in between readings.

The first habit – “They accept suffering” – is one that caught my attention. As a middle-class American, suffering isn’t high on the list of spiritual disciplines I practice…OK, it doesn’t even make my list. It makes my list of “things I’m trying to avoid.” What a radically different perspective these radical Christians had.

Yet what I see over and over again in people like Brother Yun is that they have crystal clarity on the fact that suffering is not the worst evil — sin is. Yes, they would prefer not to suffer, and do sometimes pray for the relief of suffering. But they prioritize it lower than the rest of us do — they focus far more on not sinning than on not suffering.

Read more about this habit and the other six here.

The 7 Habits of People Who Place Radical Trust in God has identified several habits I need to improve on. How about you?

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Phil and I have been taking ballroom dancing lessons for about four months. Tonight is our first recital! Yes, I thought only children had dance recitals. Guess I was wrong about that. We’ll be dancing the rhumba and the waltz. Earlier this week I wrote about lessons from the battlefield and how they can be applied to our spiritual life. In honor of our dance recital tonight, I thought I’d share some lessons from the ballroom.

There are a few lessons our instructor, Michael, has been working on with us every single week. We’ve taken about twelve lessons and I don’t think a week’s gone by that he hasn’t mentioned all three of these things. And like our battlefield lessons, I find them applicable to my spiritual life. In fact, since I have someone harping on me about these lessons each week and we practice a couple of other times a week, these lessons are in the front of my mind and are serving as reminders of how I ought to live.

Lesson 1: Stand Tall

When you stand tall you command authority. You think and act differently.

Do you know who you are in Christ? We are many things, but I like the description in 1 Peter:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
1 Peter 2:9 (NASB)

We are chosen by God, he has made us a part of His royal priesthood, and he’s given us a calling. What a privileged position we hold! Cherished by the creator of the universe! Knowing that ought to make us stand tall. There’s no slouching from insecurity in the King’s Kingdom. Yet when we are tempted to be downhearted, we can remember King David’s words:

But you, O LORD, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
Psalm 3:3 (NLT)

We may be as Paul described – hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted and struck down, but we are not crushed, in despair, abandoned or destroyed (2 Corinthians 4:8-9, NIV). Why? Because God is the lifter of our head. He is the one who holds our head high. I ought to be living as that royal priesthood, as a person for God’s own possession.

A person who lives like that doesn’t slouch. That person has a regalness about them. Not an arrogance, but a regalness.

And it’s not all about how we walk, there is a spiritual application of this that goes deeper. Spiritually, we ought to be standing up. When we face the enemy, we’re not to be worn down, defeated, expecting to lose, afraid of being seen.

No, we should be standing tall in confidence and command because we are God’s holy nation, we are His ambassador. We’ve been called out of darkness, given the assignment of proclaiming His excellencies, His supremacy, and His great love.

We ought to stand tall. Because God is the lifter of our heads.

Lesson 2: Follow the Leader

Oh, I’m not always good at this one. Phil lifts his arm indicating that I’m supposed to go under it for an underarm turn and I just keep dancing my little box step. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t recognize his lead. I just didn’t feel like doing it. I needed a break from the last step we did.

Except for the fact that sometimes Phil’s leads are a bit indefinite and Gods leads are always perfect, the rest is about the same. Sometimes I miss the lead. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to stay in my routine. I wasn’t paying attention to Him and missed the lead. Or I wanted to take a break from the last battle he put me in.

I did a search in the Bible on the phrase “Follow me.” One of the things that jumped out at me was Jesus’ calling his Disciples. He met Peter and said “Follow me.” He met Matthew and said “Follow me.”

He said this as he called another disciple:

21  Another disciple said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”    
22  But Jesus told him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”
Matthew 8:21-22 (NIV)

And His message was the same to the rich young ruler:

21  Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”
Matthew 19:21 (NKJV)

Follow me. That’s what God says.

If we move this command into the battlefield, there’s a good reason to follow Him. There’s a good reason not to take the lead away from Him – because it is His battle to win, not ours.

David knew this when he fought Goliath. He met Goliath with these words

“Today, all those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the Lord saves; for the battle is the Lord’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”
1 Samuel 17:47 (NIV)

When we stop following, we put the battle into our own hands. When we stop following, we take the plan for the day and put it into our own hands. It doesn’t belong in our hands. It belongs in the Lord’s hands and He will give the victory

Lesson 3: It’s Not All About the Footwork

You know, I want it to be all about the footwork. Because I can get the footwork down. Slow, quick, quick. Slow, quick, quick. The footwork is the easy part. Michael is always telling us that the reason we take lessons isn’t to learn the footwork, we could get that from a video. The reason we take lessons is to learn style – to put the polish on the footwork.

What he’s talking about is adding passion to dance. Putting our feet in the right place at the right time is just a small part of dancing. An important one, but still a small one.

When we translate that into our walk with the Lord, we say that it’s not all about the fundamentals. The fundamentals are important – reading our Bibles daily, praying, serving, being thankful, worshipping, tithing, and many other things – they’re the fundamentals – they’re getting our feet in the right place at the right time. They’re very important, but it’s not all about the footwork – it’s not all about the fundamentals. It’s about the passion of the dance – it’s loving the Lord with our whole heart. It’s serving Him whole heartedly.

King David gave this advice to his son Solomon as he was handing over the plans for building the Lord’s temple:

“And Solomon, my son, learn to know the God of your ancestors intimately. Worship and serve him with your whole heart and a willing mind. For the LORD sees every heart and knows every plan and thought. If you seek him, you will find him.
1 Chronicles 28:9a (NLT)

That’s more than footwork. Learn to know your God intimately.

Lesson 4: It Takes Practice to Get it Right

We’re taking lessons because we want to know how to dance well. I’m shocked that we’ve spent the bulk of our lessons learning one dance. I would have guessed we could learn the rhumba in about three weeks. Yet here we are at week ten and we’re still learning the rhumba. The more we practice, the better we get.

The same is true in our spiritual life. Somehow we have the expectation that we ought to be good at it immediately. After all, we love the Lord – shouldn’t the rest come naturally. Uh – no. It didn’t for the Apostle Paul:

15I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

18And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22I love God’s law with all my heart. 23But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.
Romans 7:15-23 (NLT)

Yes, I don’t really understand it – I want my feet and my body to go one direction, but they repeatedly go the other way. Well, on the dance floor, it’s not that big a deal. But in life, much more so. Yet living the life God wants us to live doesn’t come naturally. Sinning comes naturally. Living in holiness takes practice and requires listening to the Holy Spirit. Don’t be disheartened when you don’t get it right the first time. Keep practicing!

4 Lessons from the Ballroom:

Lesson 1: Stand Tall
Lesson 2: Follow the Leader
Lesson 3: It’s Not All About the Footwork
Lesson 4: It Takes Practice to Get it Right

Let me encourage you, friends, to live out my ballroom lessons in your spiritual life. God is worth it.

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart

8Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9and become one with him.
Philippians 3:8-9a (NLT)

The Apostle Paul puts everything in perspective in these two sentences – when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ everything else is worthless, and as such, seeking Him wholeheartedly is the only appropriate response. Paul says that he has discarded everything so that he might gain Christ – that he might become one with Him.

That’s what a seeking heart looks like.

It is the heart that lays aside everything else to pursue what is most important. Earlier in the chapter Paul exhorts the Philippians to “put no confidence in human effort” but to rely wholly on Jesus. Paul had plenty of human effort he could put confidence in – he was born into the right family, went to the best schools, got the best grades, lived the most righteous life, and was more zealous than all – but he had come to understand that all those thing which he formerly considered of utmost importance were rubbish when compared to knowing Christ.

The things were not bad in and of themselves. They were just worthless in obtaining salvation and rubbish compared to knowing Christ. There’s nothing wrong with being from a “good family,” going to good schools, studying to get good grades, living a holy life and/or being zealous. I have a masters’ degree in Christian ministries. That’s a good thing. I value it. But I don’t put confidence in it to earn my salvation and compared to knowing Christ – it’s nothing – it’s a representation of human effort and knowing Christ is a spiritual journey.

Paul continues in the chapter that he wants to know Christ in all ways –

10I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
Philippians 3:10-11 (NLT)

Paul wants to experience the mighty power that raised Christ from the dead – that’s the mountain top experience. He also wants to suffer with Christ, sharing in His death – that’s the valley experience. Paul wants to experience – to be as one with – Christ. He wants to know Him.

I do too.

Paul goes on to tell how he pursues God:

12I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.
Philippians 3:12-14

Do you feel the intensity in Paul’s efforts? “I press on.” “I focus on one thing.” “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead.” “I press on.” Paul is pushing forward full speed ahead. Paul’s letter agrees with the letter written to Hebrews:

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith [that is, all the saints who have gone before us], let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.
Hebrews 12:1-2 (NLT)

Again there is a palpable sense of intensity to the words: “Let us strip off every weight that slows us down.” “Run with endurance.”

That’s wholehearted seeking that honors God.

That’s wholehearted seeking that God honors.

Next week we’ll look at how our heart changes when we wholehearted seek God. This week, let’s pray and pursue God wholeheartedly – with the intensity of Paul and the writer of Hebrews. Let’s “press on.”

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Watching Eye - Gray Background

1I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven.
2We keep looking to the LORD our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal.
Psalm 123:1-2 (NLT)

Verse one made me smile. Because I love the imagery, He is enthroned in heaven and I know the peace that lifting my eyes to Him can bring.

Verse two challenged me. Because I know I don’t keep my eyes on the Lord as closely as servants watch their masters for the slightest signals.

All those movies about body guards and the Secret Service come to mind. Movies in which the protector watches the one being protected closely – their eyes constantly moving over the crowd for the slightest move or item out of place that might indicate a threat. Ready to spring into action. Always watching.

That’s how we’re to be with the Lord. Not watching the crowd for a disturbance as the Secret Service, but always watching the Lord for the slightest signal – watching for His mercy – watching so that we will recognize it when it arrives, watching so that we’ll be in the right place to receive it.

Of course we’re to watch for more than His mercy. We’re to watch for His signal to act, watch for opportunities to serve Him, watch for hints of His grace in our every day lives.

Are your eyes on Him so constantly that you see His hand in your circumstances? Are your eyes on Him so constantly that you see the sliver of light as He begins to crack open doors in the process of flinging them wide open? Are your eyes on Him so constantly that you see the twinkles of humor and love in His eyes as He watches over you and leads you?

Lord, teach me to keep my eyes on You.

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Circus TentsAnd I can’t wait! I’ve been looking forward to it since the last time I went – about four years ago! Phil and I were so surprised at how much fun we had that we’ve been watching the circus schedules ever since and this is the first opportunity we’ve had to go back.

I’ve been telling everyone about my upcoming plans. The Animal Open House starts at 5:30. The Circus Pre-show starts at 6 and the circus starts at 7. We plan to arrive by 5:15. I don’t want to miss a bit of it.

And God’s been speaking to me about it for the past few days. He’s been tapping me on the shoulder and asking questions like this:

“Are you this excited about our times together?”

“Do you tell everyone how much you’re looking forward to our time together?”

Our God is such a wonderful God. He isn’t bringing condemnation upon me – there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He’s gently nudging me toward the person He created me to be. His calling is so much higher than my calling. So he’s asking me if I’ve lost my first love and if I’m willing to tell others about my first love…or if I’ve started to take my time with God for granted.

Now granted, going to the circus is something I’ve only done a couple of times before, and only once in the past thirty years. But even so, I have the awesome opportunity to hear from the God of the universe every day. To hear Him say (usually through His Word, not through an audible sound) how precious I am to Him. To learn about what He has in store for me in this life and beyond. To discover some of the mysteries of the Godhead. To be myself and know I am totally loved.

So I’m excited about going to the circus tomorrow. It will be an evening of fun and adventure.

But even before then, I get to have an adventure with God – today, tomorrow and every day! How about you? Are you as excited about your time with God as other things in your life? If not, spice things up a bit by trying something new – a different pattern to your time with God, a different Bible translation, a different type of prayer, a different activity…or just sitting and listening more. Blessings on your adventure!

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5I remember your genuine faith, for you share the faith that first filled your grandmother Lois and your mother, Eunice. And I know that same faith continues strong in you. 6This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. 7For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.
2 Timothy 1:5-7 (NLT)

When I read this introduction to Paul’s letter to Timothy, it seems to me that Timothy was at a low point in his walk with the Lord. Paul is reminding him that his faith is genuine and he is reminding him of the faith of his ancestors. He is telling Timothy that he has confidence in Timothy’s faith. Then Paul gives Timothy a prescription for restoring the spark in his relationship with God. It’s a prescription we all need from time to time. Paul tells Timothy to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you” (NLT). Other translations read “stir up the gift of God which is in you” (NKJV) and “rekindle the gift of God” (NRSV). That’s the prescription. Not quite as easy as “take two pills and rest.” What does it mean to “fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you”? Perhaps Paul didn’t answer the question because the answer varies from person to person.

Anyone who has experienced a down cycle in their spiritual life has wondered “how do I get back to where I was? How do I return to the passion I once had for God?” The good news is that once you’ve started asking that question, you can have confidence that God is there to help. God wants you back more than you do. Yes, He requires that you return to Him, but He’s been there waiting for you. Like the father of the prodigal son, He’s been watching for you and the moment He sees your repentant heart, the moment He sees you walking toward him, He will run toward you (Luke 15:11-32).

But how do you go about making that change – returning to God when you’ve slipped from the intimacy you once had? What are the details behind Paul’s prescription? Here’s five steps that will help restore the passion you once had for the Lord.

First. In rekindling the gift of God, first repent that you have fallen, that your spiritual disciplines have grown lax, that you have allowed the world to take a more prominent place in your heart, or that you have done things in your own strength instead of God’s and given the enemy an opening. Spend time asking God how you ended up where you are, listen for His answer, then repent of those actions or inactions that were not pleasing to Him.

Second. After repenting, have confidence that God will restore you! That’s called faith, and faith pleases God. In fact, Scripture says that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). To grow your faith, study the story of the prodigal son, first imagining yourself in the place of the son, then imagining yourself in the place of the father. This study will grow your faith by helping you see the attitude of the son and the response of the father. Then simply choose to believe that God is like the prodigal son’s father and that He will honor your actions and you will again experience His presence.

Third. If you’ve fallen lapse in your personal spiritual disciplines of reading your Bible, praying and attending church, return to them. While there are many more spiritual disciplines, these three are critical to a healthy life with God. If there are other disciplines that you once consistently practiced, return to them. Some other disciplines that may have fallen by the wayside in your journey away from the Lord are tithing, fasting, meditating, and practicing a weekly Sabbath.

Fourth. Do those things that you once did to build and feed your passion for God. Beyond the disciplines I mentioned in the third step, there are things you can do – things you probably did at one time – that fanned the flame of your passion for Christ. They might be attending the occasional retreat or conference, scheduling an extended time of study or worship periodically or getting together with fellow believers who challenge your faith. There are certain people Phil and I enjoy being around because we always leave their presence encouraged to pursue God more.

Fifth. Finally, don’t hoard what you’re receiving from God – serve Him and others by using the gifts He’s given you. If you have the gift of teaching, teach. If you have the gift of giving, give. If you have the gift of encouragement, encourage others. Consistently taking in without giving out leads to spiritual sluggishness. Being used by God is the best antidote to spiritual boredom. So step out and step up. Find (or start) a ministry that uses your gifts.

It encourages me to know that those who have gone before me – even those in the Bible – experienced down times in their walk with the Lord. It encourages me more that God and I have the same goal – for me (and you) to pursue Him wholeheartedly. Scripture says that He rewards those who diligently seek him (Hebrews 11:6). I’m looking for the reward! I’m looking for a greater intimacy with God.

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Bleeding HeartI love the Book of Hosea!
Its beautiful language and touching story illustrate allegorically the love God has for His people – people who again and again prostitute themselves with other gods. I am convicted as I read about the people of Israel chasing after other gods – because I know that I am as easily swayed by bright shiny objects as they were. And I fall in love with God again and again as I read His enduring and tender love for Israel.

When I read Hosea, my journal becomes filled with passages that speak to me. Let me share some of them with you. The only commentary I’ll add are subheads because God’s Word tells the story best.

God Punishes Israel…and Restores Her…and In the Restoration Betroths Her to Himself Forever

13    I will punish her for the days
    she burned incense to the Baals;
    she decked herself with rings and jewelry,
    and went after her lovers,
    but me she forgot,”
    declares the LORD.

14    “Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the desert
    and speak tenderly to her.

15    There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
    There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

16    “In that day,” declares the LORD,
    “you will call me ‘my husband’;
    you will no longer call me ‘my master.’

17    I will remove the names of the Baals from her lips;
    no longer will their names be invoked.

18    In that day I will make a covenant for them
    with the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
    and the creatures that move along the ground.
    Bow and sword and battle
    I will abolish from the land,
    so that all may lie down in safety.

19    I will betroth you to me forever;
    I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
    in love and compassion.

20    I will betroth you in faithfulness,
    and you will acknowledge the LORD.

21    “In that day I will respond,”
    declares the LORD—
    “I will respond to the skies,
    and they will respond to the earth;

22    and the earth will respond to the grain,
    the new wine and oil,
    and they will respond to Jezreel.

23    I will plant her for myself in the land;
    I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’
    I will say to those called ‘Not my people, ‘‘You are my people’;
    and they will say, ‘You are my God.’”
Hosea 2:13-23 (NIV)

The Cause of Destruction

my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Hosea 4:6a (NIV)

My people are being destroyed because they don’t know me. Hosea 4:6a (NLT)

Israel’s Desire…God’s Desire

1“Come, let us return to the LORD! He has torn us in pieces; now he will heal us. He has injured us; now he will bandage our wounds. 2In just a short time, he will restore us so we can live in his presence. 3Oh, that we might know the LORD! Let us press on to know him! Then he will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”

4“O Israel and Judah, what should I do with you?” asks the LORD. “For your love vanishes like the morning mist and disappears like dew in the sunlight. 5I sent my prophets to cut you to pieces. I have slaughtered you with my words, threatening you with death. My judgment will strike you as surely as day follows night. 6I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.
Hosea 6:1-6 (NLT)

False Worship by People Who Have Forgotten God

11“Israel has built many altars to take away sin, but these very altars became places for sinning! 12Even though I gave them all my laws, they act as if those laws don’t apply to them. 13The people of Israel love their rituals of sacrifice, but to me their sacrifices are all meaningless! I will call my people to account for their sins, and I will punish them. They will go back down to Egypt.

14“Israel has built great palaces, and Judah has fortified its cities. But they have both forgotten their Maker. Therefore, I will send down fire on their palaces and burn their fortresses.”
Hosea 8:11-14 (NLT)

Plough Up the Hard Ground of Your Heart – Now is the Time to Seek the Lord

11“Israel is like a trained heifer accustomed to treading out the grain—an easy job that she loves. Now I will put a heavy yoke on her tender neck. I will drive her in front of the plow. Israel and Judah must now break up the hard ground; their days of ease are gone. 12I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness, and you will harvest a crop of my love. Plow up the hard ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you.’
Hosea 10:11-12 (NLT)

The Heart of God – I Love This Picture

1“When Israel was a child, I loved him as a son, and I called my son out of Egypt. 2But the more I called to him, the more he rebelled, offering sacrifices to the images of Baal and burning incense to idols. 3It was I who taught Israel how to walk, leading him along by the hand. But he doesn’t know or even care that it was I who took care of him. 4I led Israel along with my ropes of kindness and love. I lifted the yoke from his neck, and I myself stooped to feed him.

5“But since my people refuse to return to me, they will go back to Egypt and will be forced to serve Assyria. 6War will swirl through their cities; their enemies will crash through their gates and destroy them, trapping them in their own evil plans. 7For my people are determined to desert me. They call me the Most High, but they don’t truly honor me.

8“Oh, how can I give you up, Israel? How can I let you go? How can I destroy you like Admah and Zeboiim? My heart is torn within me, and my compassion overflows. 9No, I will not punish you as much as my burning anger tells me to. I will not completely destroy Israel, for I am God and not a mere mortal. I am the Holy One living among you, and I will not come to destroy.

10“For someday the people will follow the LORD. I will roar like a lion, and my people will return trembling from the west. 11Like a flock of birds, they will come from Egypt. Flying like doves, they will return from Assyria. And I will bring them home again,” says the LORD.
Hosea 11:1-11 (NLT)

Come back to your God

      6So now, come back to your God! Act on the principles of love and justice, and always live in confident dependence on your God.
Hosea 12:6 (NLT)

Listen Carefully…Hear God’s Love

1Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God, for your sins have brought you down. 2Bring your petitions, and return to the LORD. Say to him, “Forgive all our sins and graciously receive us, so that we may offer you the sacrifice of praise…

4The LORD says, “Then I will heal you of your idolatry and faithlessness, and my love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever! 5I will be to Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven. It will blossom like the lily; it will send roots deep into the soil like the cedars in Lebanon. 6Its branches will spread out like those of beautiful olive trees, as fragrant as the cedar forests of Lebanon…

8“O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who looks after you and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green, giving my fruit to you all through the year.”

9Let those who are wise understand these things. Let those who are discerning listen carefully. The paths of the LORD are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But sinners stumble and fall along the way.
Hosea 14:1-9

Let’s Return to the Lord
Friends, let’s return to the Lord wholeheartedly. Let’s step away from the things of this world that we hold tightly and that keep us from pursuing Him – things that keep us from loving Him and stepping out to follow Him more deliberately. Let’s just do it!

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Last week Phil and I visited The Holy Land Experience in Orlando, FL. We’d heard good things about it and we weren’t disappointed. We both experienced an increase in our love for God that we can’t contribute to any specific attraction – it was the overall, cumulative experience that had the impact.

Worship & The Bible
We started with outdoor worship in the Temple Plaza. After that it was a combination of watching live plays and looking at static displays. The first display we walked through was The Scriptorium. Filled with authentic and ancient artifacts from around the world this display provides a history of how we got to the Bible we have today. What a new respect it gave me for the Word of God! Prior to walking through the exhibit I knew most of what was presented, but seeing the artifacts as we walked from room to room, time period to time period had a greater impact than studying in a classroom. Here’s a tidbit for you: Did you know that the first Bible printed in the United States was printed in the Algonquin language? That tells me that as a nation, we have in our origin – in our roots – a love for God and a heart to share that love with others. Yes, we have made a mess of it at times, but our roots are strong and good.

Live Shows
The live shows were excellent. Phil particularly liked the production Four Women Who Loved Jesus. The scenes occur while Jesus is on trial and four women are see what’s being done with Jesus and to testify for Him. The widow of Nain, the woman with the issue of blood for twelve years, the woman caught in the act of adultery and Mary bring their stories to life as they share with the audience why they loved Jesus so passionately. God’s mercy, forgiveness and love was expressed in a way that touched Phil’s heart. And if God is that merciful, forgiving and loving to these women, He is no less merciful, forgiving and loving to each of us today.

I am not a person who typically focuses on the passion of Christ. Yes, I saw the movie The Passion of the Christ, but I don’t need to see it again. I understand the horrific death that my Savior experienced for me. I don’t need to see it graphically portrayed over and over again. So I was not looking forward to the live show titled We Shall Behold Him. It is performed in two parts, and both had great impact. In the first location, we see bits and pieces from Jesus’ life, trial and crucifixion. What impressed me the most about this play was the authentic joy and grief on the faces of Jesus’ disciples. When He performed miracles, they raced through the audience in jubilation. As He died on the cross, they stood grief-stricken at a distance watching. The emotion brought the Bible to life for me in a new way. After the crucifixion, we moved to the Temple Plaza and Christ returns with great fanfare from angels, praising saints and a robe that fills the temple. I couldn’t stay seated as He slowly walked down the aisle and angels knelt before Him. What a glorious time it will be when we truly see Jesus!

Exhibits and Closing Worship
There were other exhibits, walking areas, praying areas, a restaurant, food stands and of course gift shops. One comment that Phil made was how refreshing it was to be in a Christian theme park. The vibe was definitely good! We spoke with someone who had worked there about three months. He said he loved his job, viewed it as a ministry and that he had led about fifteen people to Christ in the last three months. Hallelujah. Since coming home, I told a friend about the park and she had a cousin who had come to the Lord while visiting the park.

Closing worship and ministry time was excellent. The song from that time of worship that has been playing in our hearts and on our lips since we left (a week ago) is How He Loves Us.

Yep, I guess this is an ad for The Holy Land Experience. I do recommend a visit there, but there’s an underlying message in our experience: Pursue God. We don’t always know what will increase our love for the Lord, so open yourself to new experiences. Visit places you haven’t visited before, attend a service at a church other than your own, put yourself in a place to experience a different kind of prayer or worship experience. Any of these things can touch your heart in a new way and grow your love for God. And that’s a very good thing!

BTW: We didn’t see anywhere on their site that mentions it, but if you visit The Holy Land Experience and have ministerial credentials, go to the customer service window instead of the ticket windows and you’ll receive a discount on admission.

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