The Target of Our Search

On January 1, I started the Read Through the Bible in a Year Plan and right now I’m camped out in Psalms.

As I attempt to dive in and consume some of the Scriptures each morning, I’m asking God for wisdom and insight into his Word. And that he would speak right into my heart this day.

The tremendous benefit of the Psalms is that I can know that my prayer will be answered. God will speak. The emotions of my heart will be stirred.

My life’s deepest desires, secrets, worries and insecurities will be echoed in the lines of David.

Today was no different because of Psalm 63.

O God, you are my God: I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in your sanctuary and gazed upon your power and glory. Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you! I will praise you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. You satisfy me more than the richest feast. I will praise you with songs of joy. I lie awake thinking of you, meditating on you through the night” (Psalm 63:1-6)

I read this and my truest desire in the core of my being is connected, welded — to these words.

My soul says, “Amen!’ and YES!”

So often, I’m in hot pursuit of purpose and meaning, value and affirmation, truth and satisfaction — in the wrong direction. It is God, and only God! — Whom can satisfy, heal, redeem, fulfill — and who can receive praise as my worthy God.

Today, we must recognize what our body and soul is truly longing for and run back to Him in hot pursuit to offer praise overflowing. He’s waiting. It’s been Him all along.

God, you are my God.

My target of search has always needed to be You as my soul thirsts for You and my skin and bones long for You.

Your love is better than anything in life. 

I will praise You and pray to You with hands lifted.

You sustain me and satisfy me more than any feast could.

I am so giddy with expectation to hear Your voice and experience Your presence that I am up at night thinking about You!

These are words from one who has tasted true life and I want to cling to them just the same. This is the word that I need today, tomorrow, daily and forevermore.

Hope Where There Was None: A Review

I haven’t written a blog post in quite some time, but listening to Loud Harp’s new album Hope Where There Was None has inspired me to return to the computer (just this once for now) to endorse this album.

Hope Where There Was None, which was just released today, is a demonstration of Loud Harp’s growing ability to take biblical truths and weave them into atmospheric music that is approachable, especially for those going through genuine hurt. The entire theme of the album is Immanuel, God with us. The reality of God’s presence in the midst of every crisis we face is the simple but profound truth that every song breathes out. “Weeping Mary” introduces the album with a call to all those who are weeping, sinking, and doubting. The subsequent songs point the listener to God as the one who provides strength, joy, peace, and hope when we come to the end of ourselves and turn to Him. The final song, “Sew My Heart,” ends the album with a prayer to God, asking Him to sew our hearts to His Word with the expectation that our worries will fade away as we focus on His truth.

As a Bible college graduate, I greatly appreciate Loud Harp’s talent in incorporating profound truths from Scripture into beautifully crafted music. Take these lyrics from the song “Steady” as an example:

You’re the joy in the middle of my pain (James 1:2)
You’re the peace I cannot explain (Philippians 4:7)
You’re the love I’ll never escape (Romans 8:38-39)
You are, You are God (Psalm 46:10)

I added biblical references at the end of each line to demonstrate how saturated this album is with God’s truth. As I listened through this album, I was reminded of the many promises and truths in Scripture that I literally clung to during a time of trial. I was led to praise many times during the past two weeks while listening to this album, remembering God’s faithfulness during seasons of trouble.

Hope Where There Was None is a much needed antidote to our culture’s prevailing advice to turn inward and trust in yourself during times of trouble. The message of Loud Harp’s new album rejects this notion, turning instead to God, His Word, and His faithful presence for sustenance during the trials of life. I would say that this album is especially needed for those in hurt. The prayerful and worshipful tone of HWFWN makes the album so approachable. Loud Harp seems to understand that some people are in need of an alternative to the upbeat CCM songs that are constantly played on Christian radio. Several of the songs follow the pattern of many psalms, acknowledging the difficulty of a situation but calling to mind God’s truth and praising him for the strength He provides. Loud Harp’s talents are much needed for those walking through difficult times, as they ultimately point the listener back to God.

Whether or not you are going through tough times, Hope Where There Was None is worth buying and listening to. The album has been greatly encouraging for me, and I hope that you find it an encouragement as well.

Together

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A major highlight of my life and story is rooted in soul-ties. Shortly after reading that Jonathan eliminated a multitude of enemy soldiers with a smidgen of help from his armor-caddy (1 Sam. 14:14), and then David’s historic victory over the towering Goliath (1 Sam. 17:50) – I find that these two strangers, with similar faith, experience their souls becoming knit together after engaging in their original acquaintanceship.

Translation, they became bros and best friends on day one.

I can attribute this soul tie effect to a gent I consider my best friend. He now lives in Orlando since he left Ohio for a position at Cru headquarters. These past few days I got to visit in Florida to see my sister graduate high school, so the David to my Jonathan made sure we reunited while I was in town.

More than that:

  1. He drove an hour to pick me up
  2. Let me crash at his place for the night before my early morning flight
  3. Gave me a fresh new haircut
  4. Made me coffee and his famous smoothie
  5. Processed life stuff with me
  6. Dropped me off at the airport
  7. For FREE

I believe that we are provided opportunities to receive life-giving soul-ties in the stories that are being written for us by our Author. I can honestly say I love this friend that I have been given the privilege to have a life intersection with. I’ve been given a gift.

11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Mt. 7:11)

17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

My bro is not just a ridiculous friend to me. He’s one of the most impressive human beings I’ve ever known because of the high-quality friend he is toward everyone in his life. A few weeks before I took this trip, he sent me a sound clip of the very first spoken word project he wrote and recorded. It was phenomenal, brilliant, and poetic. Furthermore, it was for a friend. A friend who was producing an album called “Together”. In all his artistic prowess and finesse, he came up with this idea that he would create this art piece for her to introduce her new album in stunning fashion. Nobody requested this act of kindness and love or prodded it from him. He simply dug into his own artistic heart and found a literally perfect idea that he could manifest to honor her and the work she was about to put out. His opening act and her headlining message are designed to promote the reality of God-defined and designed relationships and community. That influences, sharpens, and motivates me just to see from the outside looking in, him doing something like that. And that is what true friendship hinges on, influencing each other’s growth.

We need these relationships. Our God lives in community and has wired us for amazing, joy-jolting friendships in his image. Embrace the message of Together and recognize the soul-ties that may have already been placed in your life. Cherish and revel in the gifts that they are. And if you haven’t experienced this yet, be on the lookout and in the pursuit, because there’s nothing like a good friend to do this crazy life with. Together.

The Balance Between Planning and Provision

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When my wife and I moved into our apartment nearly a year ago, I had a pallet that a friend helped me turn into a tabletop. That is what it remained for a good while, simply the surface of what could be a coffee table. Finally, we found two castor wheels that could work as legs in a shop. But we could only find two! For this project to become Pinterest-worthy, it would need all four. I mounted the two wheels on the table in hopes that two more of the same wheels would show themselves somewhere soon. Weeks turned to a few months and all I had was a lop-sided coffee table stored away in the garage with no purpose in life, no way to hold our mugs in the morning. I needed a solution and I was terrified because I’m really only a handy-man in my imagination.

My wife and I are off-beat decorators of sorts and instead of traditional lamps, we had clamp work lights that provided illumination to our home as well as an industrial, rustic aesthetic. They were old and from a garage sale, so the electrical chords in them gave out making them useless after only some short use. Unlike the lamps, a light bulb flipped on above my head and I went to get the tabletop. I cut the electrical chords out of the brushed steel lights, and placed them under the table where the other two castor wheels should have been. Voilà! A solution was found as the height of the work lights perfectly matched the height of the wheels on the other side and we had a working coffee table that maintained the look that we wanted for our living room. It finally worked when I wasn’t leaning on my own creative strategy or skillset. It just, sort of, happened.

We often try to employ strategies, especially in ministry, in ways that bank on our own skills and creativity. We may grow things through strategic planning, and we may get our name out there – but is the purpose we were aiming for really being accomplished? Things may look new and put together, but people may miss out on Jesus in the process.

There’s a balance to our planning and God’s provision.

When Jesus saw a large and hungry crowd following him, he looked up and asked his disciple Phillip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (Jn. 6:5). He said this to test him because Jesus already knew what he was going to do. Phillip responded, “‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little’(6:7). Then another of his disciples, Andrew, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?(6:9).

The reality of our creative strategy apart from partnering with God in his perfect work, no matter the outward appearance of growth or progression, ultimately looks like the strategic plans Phillip and Andrew had to offer. We either have no real solution and claim it cannot be done logically, or we present a game plan that logically won’t work with even the time, talent and treasure available us.

Jesus has the disciples seat the people down and they go on to pass the bread and fish they already had there and it was multiplied by Jesus. The disciples got to participate in the work, but it was God who provided and accomplished the plan. Jesus says that he is the solution and the strategy. The disciples were looking at what they had and thinking about only what they could do with it. When we understand that what we have – our time, talent and resources; and strategies – can be multiplied exponentially when we ask Jesus to take the main role in them, that is when we experience the illogical in our lives and ministries. That is when the work you wanted to see come together, just sort of happen, and then some. And then a lot more!

We must not think like those disciples who only thought of what they could do with what was available. But as disciples who know that God can do anything with what we have been given.

Take a Hike.

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A few days ago, I made a commitment to get away from everything and everyone to seek a soul revamp. I heard about some fun trails about a fifteen minute drive from my hometown that I had never been to before so I headed that way. Eighty degrees, crisp sky blue, lush green and that distinct summer aroma in the air made for a perfect opportunity to pursue the Lord’s presence and stillness.

If you know me, you know that I don’t really enjoy being alone; And if you ask me how life is going, I don’t tend to unravel my intimacy with the heavenly Father. By default, I ramble about what God could be preparing me for and about the next steps he may have. That is not unhealthy in it of itself, of course we should seek our Lord’s Spirit for guidance and obedience. However, if our relationship scales down to seeing him simply as a God of directions instead of the God of our souls, then we have serious issue to work through.

So here I am 1) alone, and 2) fumbling through attempting to pray intimately. At first, I experienced heavy difficulty trying to get my mind and soul quiet. I wanted so badly to ask God what’s next in life and what I need to do to make sure I was a world-changer as well as my wife. As I said before, I’m always looking ahead and asking what’s next, so my life is always lacking a good pause. My mind frantically searches for the most efficient and impressive way to do life. Creative ideas and plans are in a constant spin cycle in my head and I desire God to just affirm one and provide the finances and faith to go and accomplish it — So I can experience a fulfilling purpose, and so I can just hit the off button on that cycle. I often feel like a disciple in the boat in John 6, headed to destination Capernaum when it is dark and the sea is rough due to strong winds. Jesus comes walking on the water and says, “It is I; do not be afraid.” I gladly take him into the boat but I still don’t know how to get to where I am going. I feel like I have a good destination in mind, but it is still choppy and cloudy around my thought and prayer life.

The funny thing about the disciples in the boat and I is we know our God can do anything (he just walked on water!) yet the what’s next question is still at the forefront of our minds more than the presence of the Creator of the universe who has come to be with us.

It took me an entire hour to just chill and enjoy God’s creation as well as his voice. Standing at a hilltop overlook, among the trees elevated by God himself towering before me, his Spirit spoke gently. The impression communicated “Stop seeing me as just a compass in our relationship. Enjoy my presence. Be near today, that is all. You don’t need to process everything today.”

That was all I needed and it was so relieving. The spin cycle slowed and again I realized that being near to God is of infinite value compared to what I do with my life. I’m the only one putting myself in that boat of confusion when God is the destination. “Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going” (Jn, 6:21). There is no true purpose or destination until we are with God and he is taking us on the hike with him.

Not-So-Superheroes

P_20170403_112228_1“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” – Lord Acton

I think comic-cons and opening nights for Marvel movies are so popularized because in some weird way, superhero universes are so relatable. I know that sounds so backwards since we know it is completely unrealistic to scroll Twitter and catch a teenager actually slinging through Manhattan with web-powers. But really think about it, most of us love some kind of super-powerful story: Dragonball Z, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Marvel or DC. . . And think about how crazy praised TV shows like the Flash and Green Arrow are becoming. Whether we are publicly known for our love of these superheroes or they are our guilty pleasure, most of us can admit we get sucked into the character building that is so familiar and interesting. And of course, we are all living in a common world experiencing an epic tale of Good vs. Evil.

Recently, I skimmed an article about some of the most powerful superheroes who won’t use their power to their full potential. Originally thinking “I would want to use all my powers if I was them, what’s the deal?”, the point made total sense by the end. Glancing through the vibrant comic book pictures of some of my favorite all-time heroes and with the nostalgia of their backstory in mind, I started to read about how they purposefully limited their power use for good reason. The common thread I found was that they did this in order to never become that which they hate. Villains are the ones without boundaries, who crave unlimited power with a heart bent on evil. The real heroes remain steadfast in utmost character and caliber by limiting themselves for the sake of saving themselves from becoming all-powerful because absolute power corrupts absolutely. Their commitment to good and to putting others first outweighed the maximizing of their abilities even if it meant it would be much more exhausting to destroy evil-doers. Truly, they know their role; Humbling themselves enough to not play God.

There’s a God-fearing man in the Bible named Gideon who was a normal guy like you and me who felt like he was the least capable in not just his entire clan, but even just his immediate family. He felt small and pretty much the opposite of intimidating. And then one day something happened . . . (Sounds like the perfect set up to a prototypical superhero plot line, eh?) . . . The Angel of the Lord came from Heaven assigning Gideon to a heroic task far beyond him and his current ability. God was going to take this underdog and make him a great leader over armies to destroy his enemies.

With the power of God, not of Gideon.

After some negotiating, Gideon finally believed the Lord and trusted that it was not he who could take on such a duty, but it would depend on God with him. So he went. With God’s power on him, he put armies of hundreds of thousands to flight with only 300 men! Like anyone else (including you or I), those who witnessed Gideon’s success and supernatural ability to fight and lead thought he was a perfect fit to rule and to govern them. After putting several victories in the W column, “the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, you and your son and your grandson also, for you have saved us from the hand of Midian'” (Judges 8:22). His people who doubted him and thought little of him before, wanted an immediate election to put him in office to lord over them. They wanted to give him absolute power. Knowing this would corrupt him and remembering where his strength came from, ‘Gideon said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, and my son will not rule over you; the Lord will rule over you'” (8:23). He limited his own power. Gideon illustrates the same high level of character as that of our favorite fictional supermen and there’s something unique about him that makes us desire a way to get in on this too.

Gideon is an underdog, has doubting thoughts, desires something to change in the world of rampant evil around him but knows he has no ability to carry it out. But he trusts God’s ability to put his Super on his natural. God could be calling to you in a radical way to make a dent in his perfect work to thwart evil. Just like Gideon. You’re allowed to doubt, wrestle, find his word illogical. But obey and see what he does. With the power of God, not of you.