When God Touches Our Lives – A Christmas Message

jm_200_NT2.pd-P17.tiffWe all know the Christmas story and most of us are familiar with the events that led up to that wonderful, blessed, and holy night.  We know how the angel Gabriel appeared to a young girl named Mary and informed her that she would be the earthly vessel that God would use to bring His Son into a lost and dying world.

We are told in Luke chapter 1 that this confused Mary.  How could she become a mother when she was still a virgin?

Some of you may have a similar story where you knew God was directing you to something beyond what humanly made sense.  As a result of following God, you became a first hand witness to God’s amazing love, grace, and power

However for many of us, we have only witnessed that life of faith and obedience from afar.   We have, to this point, remained comfortable in our Christian life, not ever doing something drastic that did not make logical sense.  Sure we exhibit a measure of faith from time to time and we occasionally are witness to God’s supernatural provision.   But how often do we step out in faith and trust God for the impossible?

That was part of a discussion we recently had in the small group that I’m a part of. And that left me wondering how do we know when God is asking us to step out of our comfort zone and believe Him for greater things?  On the one hand, it is easy to say that God always wants us out of our comfort zone and relying on Him.   Not only is that very spiritual sounding, but it’s very true.  However, I think we all agree that this is not the same for every person.   For some, it might be selling everything and moving to a third world country. For others, it might be leaving a job they have been comfortable in to pursue something else.  It may be starting your own business, always a risky endeavor. Or perhaps for you, it is beginning a new ministry. Whatever it is, my question has always been how do you know if it is God calling you to step out in faith or if it is merely an emotional ideal or something we think we are supposed to do as our next step in our spiritual maturity.

I’ve always marveled at God’s Word, the Bible.  It is almost uncanny how that each time I go through some questioning in my life, the answers are found in whatever part of the Bible I am studying at the time.  Or on this case, being only a few days before Christmas, in the story that everyone is hearing at this time of year.

As I once again read Luke 1, I tried to imagine what Mary must have been feeling. Here she was a young woman with her whole life in front of her.  I’m sure she had her plans all laid out. She was going to marry Joseph in a great traditional Jewish wedding feast and they would settle into their life and live unobtrusively in the house that maybe Joseph himself had built.   They would have kids and friends and live a life of peace and relative comfort.

But all that changed the night Gabriel came to visit.   “You will conceive and give birth to a son.  But not just any son.  He will be God on Earth.  Mary, not only is your life going to be turned upside down, but the whole destiny of the world is about to be rocked.”

When God steps in and wants to alter our destiny, it is for reasons that are far bigger than just ourselves.  Too often we get caught up in an introspective view of God’s will and we miss the bigger picture of what God is doing.  I hate to be the one to break the bad news to you. But quite simply, when God does ask you to do something big and drastic, stepping out of your comfort zone, it’s not primarily for your happiness, security, and prosperity.   In fact it might not even lead to any of those.

It surely didn’t do that for Mary.  Do you think in her time and her culture that Mary’s pregnancy before she was married was an easy, happy, secure, and prosperous time?    Not a chance.  She was shamed, scorned, and ridiculed.  Yet she endured it all with joy in her heart because she did not focus on herself, but the greater good that was being given to the world.

What about us?  How do we know when God wants to use us for the greater good?  Mary had the constant reminder in the ever growing baby bump that God was at work.   But we don’t have that constant reassurance in the form of a baby bump that God is working.  How do we know that we didn’t fabricate the idea to step out on faith in any particular area.  We don’t have that same constant reminder that Mary had.

Or do we? Whereas Mary had God the Son living inside her as a constant reminder that God was doing something special through her, those of us who are followers of Christ have God, the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us as a constant comfort and reminder that God is working inside us.

However, as we examine Mary’s encounter with Gabriel, I believe we learn some deeper truths that help answer the questions as to how we know when God is asking us to step out on faith and move way beyond our comfort zone.

“How can this happen?” Mary asked Gabriel. “I am a virgin.”

We often ask God that same question. We feel that He is asking us to do something out of the ordinary, to step out of our comfort zone of life, and step out on faith. Sometimes that step we feel God is asking us to take just doesn’t make sense. “God how can this happen? How can I do what you are asking me to do? How can my family survive when we are giving up a guaranteed income? How can I step into this ministry when I don’t have the background or the training for it? How? How? How?”

In Luke 1:35, Gabriel responded to Mary’s question with the same answer that centuries later God is giving to us. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

When God calls you to step out of your everyday life and do something uncommon that humanly speaking doesn’t make sense, that call is always followed by the Holy Spirit touching your life in a way that cannot be denied.   We learn from Mary that when God touches our lives, He changes our plans, our passion, and our purpose.

Mary’s plans for her life changed drastically when God touched her life. Now she was pregnant and in many ways became the outcast of her society for getting pregnant before she was married. Her plans for a happy, comfortable, normal life changed the instant God touched her.

Many of us struggle with stepping out of our comfort zone to do something radical for God because it goes against the plans we have made for our lives.   That’s a natural reaction and a natural reason to question whether what we think God is saying is actually what we are supposed to do. There is nothing wrong with being sure about something before you change your lifelong plans. However, once we know this is what God is directing, then we must accept the fact that God is changing our plans. However, just as Mary’s plans were changed so that the Son of God would come to Earth to save the world, God has a greater plan to accomplish by changing our plans.

When God touches our lives, He changes our passion. When Mary heard everything that Gabriel had told her, she responded by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” In that instant her passion had changed. Not only did she now know what God wanted from her, but she now wanted it too.   When we get to the point in our lives that we are willing to take that step and get out of our comfort zone, it will not be something we do begrudgingly because God will have changed our passion.  We will now want it too.  Those things that excited us before, those things that we took comfort in, and those things that we held on to for security, will fade away in the midst of a new passion.

Some of you have experienced what I am talking about.   You have taken that step of faith and though there may still be at times some apprehension (don’t think for a minute that Mary did not have her moments of apprehension and feelings of inadequacy), you have felt that assurance that you were doing the right thing and you had an almost unexplained passion and excitement for what God was going to do. I know my family is going through those feelings right now in an area we believe God has called us to step out in faith. For those of you who know me well, you also know that this is a complete change in what I have believed in (not talking about a doctrinal thing). Yet, I feel a new passion and assurance that this step of faith is exactly what God wants us to do. As a result, I am excited to see how God is going to move and provide.

Finally, we learn from Mary, that when God touches our lives, He changes our purpose. No longer was she only going to be Mary, the wife of Joseph the carpenter.  She was now going to be Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Her whole purpose in life took a drastic change and her destiny would never be the same.

What is your purpose in life? Is it just to exist from day to day, not really making a difference in the world? God doesn’t call everyone to be a preacher or a missionary, but I do believe He calls everyone to make a difference in some positive way in their world.   I know many of you are making that difference. But I also know for some of us that God is directing us to get out of our comfort zone, take a step of faith, and let God change, redirect, or focus our purpose in life.

What is God asking you to do? He asked Mary to be the instrument He used to bring His Son into the world. As a result, her plans, her passion, and her purpose were completely changed and the destiny of the world fell into God’s plans.   If God is asking you to step out of your comfort zone and take a step of faith, then you don’t have to worry whether or not He is directing your or not. He will touch your life in a special way and your plans, your passion, and your purpose WILL also change.   Are you ready to fall into line with God’s direction?

In closing let me leave you with the same words that Gabriel left with Mary. Luke 1:37 says, “For the Word of God will never fail.”   Dare to trust God and take Him at His Word. He will not fail you.

Have a Merry Christmas and in these final days of the year may God surround you with His love, fill you with His grace, and capture your heart.


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Finding Your Soul Rest – A Look at Jeremiah 6:16


Finding Your Soul Rest

Can you believe it is that time of year where the days of summer will soon transition into a new school year?   Soon the roads that so many travel each morning to work will be filled with school busses, parents driving their kids to school, and the oh so dreaded high school student drivers.  Even parents who had grown accustomed to a summer routine will find themselves suddenly overwhelmed at the word, taxi driver is added to their job description.  Practices, games, clubs, organizations, church activities, parent conferences, etc. are added to their already busy schedule.  And somewhere in there, we are supposed to find time to spend in communing with God and helping people.

Sadly, in the coming months, many Christians will sacrifice the things God has called them to do on the altar of their busy schedules.  They will first let some of the little things slide and no one will blame them because they too feel the strain and stress of a saturated schedule.  They will forfeit their time with God just this one morning on the guise that a few moments of more sleep will benefit them just this one day.  They can always catch up with their God time later in the day or perhaps the next.

For many, the god of weekend football or soccer games demands an offering of the occasional absence from the Sunday worship service.  This is soon followed by the shrine of their own sanity requiring them to skip their small group gatherings to try to just stay afloat in the tossing sea of turmoil.

Before long, that one morning missed with God, that one Sunday of skipped church, and that one small group meeting not attended, opens the door a few weeks later for another.  Then another.  And before long, missing that integral glue that binds our hearts to the ways of God becomes the norm.

Unfortunately, this is a pattern repeated in Christians more often than it is not.  Between work, family, and other commitments, life has become just too busy.  Yet throughout Scriptures, we are repeatedly told to rest in the Lord.  But quite simply, the demands on our lives are so full that we do not have the time to rest in the Lord, much less minister to others.

I’ll be honest, this was a quandary I was in.  The past month or so, my church has been doing a series on resting in God.  However, it was a concept that I simply could not grasp.  Oh, theologically I believed in it.  I knew it was important to rest in the Lord, but what I never could understand was what that really means.  I know it could not simply mean sitting back and basking in God’s glory and how wonderful and deep His love for me is.  If that is all we did as Christians, then who would evangelize the world, feed the hungry, reach out to the hurting, teach the children, guide the youth, disciple the men, and mentor the women.  In other words, if everyone rested in the Lord, then how would ministry ever take place?  In fact, if resting in the Lord means not doing anything for His kingdom, then why not go straight to Heaven now!   There is no better place than Heaven to rest in the Lord.  Therefore, I simply could not match the concept of people and ministry with the idea of rest.

However, this past Sunday night as I sat discussing with my small group a verse that had been read earlier in the day during the worship service, things began to crystalize a bit more in my mind.  As we read and discussed Jeremiah 6:16, I began to see that our soul finding rest in God is not really inactivity, but is best described as a progression of things we do.


This is what the Lord says:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
    Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.”

                                    Jeremiah 6:16 (NLT)


In our small group discussion, we focused on the verbs in this verse.  As you probably remember from school, the most common definition of a verb was to say that it was an action word.  And action usually means doing something.  As I read this verse, it immediately began to resonate with me because I saw the soul’s rest is not simply a choice we make to rest, but it is the natural result of taking action.

The first action we are told to take is to Stop.  Any time we hear that command, we automatically know that there is a reason that such a statement was made.  Those who are followers of Christ know that when God tells us to stop, it is probably for our own good because we are about to step into something we shouldn’t.  I started this blog post by describing the busy schedule so many of keep and how especially in the next few months we are going to be tempted to temporarily (at least we tell ourselves it is only a temporary thing) step away from something we know God wants us to do.

I do not, nor will I ever, claim to be a prophet.  However, it does not take a prophetic word to say that on the eve of the busyness that will soon engulf us, God wants us to take a deep breath and STOP.  We are, just like the people of Judah we read about in Jeremiah 6:16, at a crossroads.  We will have decisions to make.  On the one hand, God is calling us in the middle of our busy schedule to be the light to our world, to reach out to those who are hurting, and to encourage those whom God has put in our spiritual circle of influence.  On the other hand, the demands of life scream at us to go above and beyond the call of duty for our careers, to push and push to better ourselves and our families, and then just before we hit exhaustion, to step away from God’s provisions (time with God, commitment to church, and the fellowship of a small group, to name a few) to take care of our own needs.

These are some of the crossroads we will be facing and Jeremiah 6:16 tells us that as we approach one of these crossroads we are to stop.

And then we are to Look.   Just as it when we were children when we learned to look both ways before we crossed the street, when we are at one of these crossroads in our lives, when the pressures of life are tugging at our hearts to compromise what deep down we know to be right, we need to take time to look.  Look both directions.  However, notice that this passage does not say when you come to a fork in the road.  It says when you come to a crossroad.  If it were merely a fork in the road, then you would have two choices – left or right.   Presumably, one way would be the right way and one would be the wrong way.

I suggest that in the case of a crossroad, there are at least three possible directions to take – right, left, or straight.  This is an important distinction to make from a fork in the road because when we are at crossroads in our lives, there are often more than two choices.  There is, of course, the wrong choice, the one that will lead us into pain, heartache, and perhaps destruction.  Most of us are good about avoiding that obvious turn.  When we see what is down that path, we are smart enough to know that there are no good results.  The good things is that we have no intention of doing those things we know are wrong.  We are not going to cheat on our spouse, stop going to church, drop our accountability with our small group, or throw the idea of prayer out the window.  Turning down that path is not even a consideration for us.

However, we sometimes think about turning down the second path.  This is the path of small compromise.  We aren’t going to sin.  We aren’t going to cheat on our spouse.  We are only going to flirt with someone who is not our spouse.  We aren’t going to stop going to church.  We are just going to miss occasional Sundays when we are too tired to go.  We aren’t going to drop out of our home group.  We are just not going to go when it is not convenient.  We aren’t going to stop reading the Bible.  We are simply going to read it when a better time arises.  It is especially important to look down this path, past the initial scenery and search for all the possible outcomes if you choose this path.  As you look down the path, ask yourself one simple question – are there truly any long term benefits of choosing this path?

We might think this path of compromise will lead our soul to rest.  We will get more sleep, we will take things off of our plate to free up more time, and we may even convince ourselves that this path will help our lives spiritually.  However, nowhere in Scripture does it even hint that compromise of any kind will have positive results.  In fact, there are stories after stories of Bible characters who prove the opposite is true.

Finally, there is the path that leads to our rest.  This is the path of righteousness that leads to peace, joy, and love.  However, the challenging part of this path is that at first glance, it might not look as pleasing as the second path.  It may not seem as fun.  Often times, when we stand at the crossroads, we cannot see the greatness that lies down this path.  At the moment, we might not be able to focus on the benefits that will come when we choose to do act in according to God’s ways.

That is where the all-important next step comes in.  We are told to ask for the old and godly ways.  The natural mind of man cannot always see down the right path, but God promises in James 1:5 that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it and He will generously give it to us.  As we stand at our daily crossroads, not sure which way to go, God tells us to ask Him for wisdom.  Ask for Him to show you the old ways, the ways that have been written not only in the Word of God, but also in our very spirits.  These ways are not hidden nor are they a secret, for they are always in view of those who ask for them.

For many  of us, the wisdom of the old ways, those ways of God recorded in Scripture are not really in question.  When we are at the crossroads, looking down every possible path, we usually know which path to choose.  However, so often we still fall because we decide to walk just a few steps down the road of compromise, never intending to journey too far before turning back to walk the right road.   Just one more step down that path leads to another and then another and before long, we are far away from the path we should have chosen.  Perhaps we are even too far down the path of compromise to find our way back to the crossroads.  We then find ourselves in a mess and we ask why and how we got there.   What could we have done to avoid going down the path so far?  Why is there no rest for our souls?

Jeremiah 6:16 gives us those answers.  We fell short in following the principles outlined in that verse.  Yes, we stopped, we looked, and perhaps we even asked, but we did not immediately follow through with the next progression on the road to soul rest.  Instead of flirting with the wrong path, we should have taken the steps to walk in the old ways.  That is so often the mistake Christian young people make when they take their first few steps into independence away from their parents and the church they grew up in.  They intend to walk in the old ways, but their first few weeks of college are not marked by following Christ.  Instead of immediately getting involved in a church,  they desire to see and experience the fullness of college life.  So they take those first few steps of compromise instead of immediately walking in God’s ways.

I encourage each of you, no matter where you are on your journey of faith, that the very instant you know the right path to take in any circumstances, begin to walk in that path.  If you choose to wait to walk in it, then the short amount of time you planned to wait will turn into a length of time that you never intended.

This verse goes on to tell us that once we take those first steps to walk in the right path, we then need to travel in it.  There is a difference between walking and traveling.  Walking is something you might casually do.  However, when you travel, you commit to the journey.  You aren’t going to turn around and go try another path.  You have committed in this particular area of your life to follow God’s plan and His ways.

And finally, we see the exciting part.  We find rest.  There is an important distinction I want to point out in this last phrase.  Remember, we have been looking at the verbs in this verse.   When I first read this verse, I misinterpreted it.  I did see the progression that we have talked about, but the way I first saw it, I read it with the following verbs:   Stop, Look, Ask, Walk, Travel, and then you will rest.   WRONG!   In our small group discussion last Sunday, my wife pointed out that the rest was not the end result of the progression.  The verse is actually telling us that as we travel on the right path, we will FIND rest.    Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.  The soul rest does not come at the end of the journey down God’s path.   Our soul finds rest because we are traveling down God’s path, doing the things He wants us to do.  Rest does not mean getting away from doing the things God has called us to do.  Soul Rest actually takes place when we are actively doing the things of God.


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What Does It Mean To Wait On The Lord?

flying eagle

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as Eagles. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

This was one of the verses  read in our church service this past week. It is a very popular verse that most Christians can quote and many even claim as their “life verse.”   And why not! It is both a comforting verse during times of weakness or depression and it is powerful verse when we are about to undertake something great. Who wouldn’t want to bask in the idea that if we just wait on God, then we will soar like the eagles soar. We will work hard for God without ever growing worry or even tired.   Instead of forging ahead under our own strength and our own timing, we simply have to wait on God to give the word and then we go.

This week in my small group, we briefly discussed this verse and what it means to “wait upon the Lord.” Most agre edthat waiting on God has to do with resting in His presence and not allowing the cares of the world to bother us.   For the record, I do believe it has a lot to do with that. With that said, I did bring up an interpretation of Isaish 40:31 that I once heard in  sermon that said that waiting on God did not mean sitting back, relaxing, and waiting on Him to do something. The word wait had more to do with what a waiter does at a restaurant. They wait on people. They serve them.   When I heard that sermon, I remember thinking that there were some great spiritual applications to that interpretation of the verse. When we wait on God, when we serve Him, that is when we are strengthened. However, even though the spiritual applications for that interpretation were wonderful, I remembered thinking then that before I bought into that interpretation of the verse, I would have to research into the Hebrew word that many English translations write as wait. But I never did the research.

However, after the brief discussion in my small group over Isaiah 40:31, I couldn’t shake it out of my mind. Funny thing is, earlier in the small group discussion, I mentioned that my biggest challenge of resting is not so much physical resting, but mental resting. I sometimes simply cannot turn off my mind to let it rest. Following the small group discussion, my mind would not rest until I sought God, both in prayer and studying the passage in order to see what it was that God was actually saying in this verse.

The first thing I did was look into numerous translations of the verse. Many said basically the same thing, using the words wait on the Lord. Others said things like, Those whose hope is in the Lord or Those who trust is in the Lord. To me, each of those words have slightly different connotations in the English language.   Yes, they are similar in some degree and all can work together, but they are still different. Let’s look at the dictionary definition of the words, wait, hope, and trust

Waitto remain inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens; to be available or in readiness; to postpone or delay something or to be postponed or delayed; to look forward to eagerly

Hopethe feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best; a person or thing in which expectations are centered; to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence

Trusta person on whom or thing on which one relies; confident expectation of something; to believe.

When closely examining the definition of each of these English words, I can see how, using any one of these definitions,  some very nice and practical sermons can be preached.  However, even though they all made somewhat sense to me, I still knew I had to dig a little bit deeper because something just wasn’t sitting right deep inside me. There was something within the context of this passage that left me unsatisfied as to what Isaiah really meant by using the word wait (or whatever other word our Bible translations might have used).

The first thing I looked at was the overall message of this passage. What was its central theme? What one main thought was God, through Isaiah, trying to convey. Once I read it again in the context of the verses surrounding this verse,  looking for the main idea or theme, the meaning of this passage began to come together.

This passage is focusing on strength. It talks about renewing our strength. It implies that eagles wings have strength. It mentions the strength needed to run without getting tired and to walk without becoming faint. It is the kind of strength we all need to effectively live our Christian life.

I think probably everyone reading this passage agrees with this theme. However, the question arises as to how we are to renew that strength. How are we to mount up with wings like an eagle? What do we need to do to run through our lives and not grow weary or to walk in God’s ways without growing faint? Most Christians don’t just automatically live in that kind of strength so we must have to do something in order to gain that strength.

Those who know this verse will quickly give the easy answer. They that WAIT upon the Lord will renew their strength.   But again, I was not satisfied with the English word wait. I knew it could not just mean to sit back and relax and wait for God to do something. That just didn’t seem to agree with the rest of the Scriptures. It is then that I decided to do what I should have done years ago when the concept of wait was first brought to my attention. I went to the original Hebrew word that many of our Bibles translated as wait.

The Hebrew word qavah is used in this passage and it has both a literal and figurative meaning. The literal definition of the word qavah is “to bind together like a cord.” This is not the same word that is used when tying something together with a cord. It literally is a picture of making a rope where you weave and bind different strands together to make a strong rope. A single strand, or string, does not have much strength. However, when several strands are woven together, it becomes a rope with a lot of strength. No one string bears the burden because that would cause the string to snap. Instead, all strings bind tightly together to give the rope strength.

The literal definition of the word qavah implies that there is strength in the number of strands that we bind ourselves to. It is very easy then to see that if we take the literal definition of qavah that if we bind ourselves with God and other spiritual strands that He has placed in our lives (the Word, the Church, etc.) that our strength will be renewed.

Now let’s look at the figurative definition of qavah. When used in a figurative sense, it means “to wait, hope, or expect. That is more in the line of what most people normally think of when they read Isaiah 40:31. To renew our strength, we should wait and hope expectantly on God. In the original Hebrew, it figuratively implies a certain amount of anticipation. It is the anticipation of something exciting that you have been looking forward to.

It is true that most Bible translators have chosen to translate qavah in its figurative and not its literal sense. Perhaps because they can convey this idea by using one simple word like wait. Had they chosen to use the literal definition, to bind together like a cord, it would have been much more difficult to convey the meaning. I cannot possibly pretend to be a better Bible translator than those scholars that translated the original Hebrew into some of our more modern translations, but in this case I have to ask whether or not they chose the best word in this case.

Remember what the main idea of this passage was. To renew our strength. To be able to mount up on wings as eagles. To run and not grow weary and to walk and not faint. All of those are active words. Where the concept of waiting is passive. However, if we use the literal definition of qavah, it is very active. What does waiting have to do with strength? On the other hand, what does binding together like a cord have to do with strength? Which one implies growing in  strength?

To help further illustrate why I believe it makes more sense to go with the literal definition of qavah, let’s continue to look at this passage to see what it says following the word qavah.

They will mount up with wings as eagles.   This is one of those examples where the figurative translation of qavah holds up. When we see an eagle soaring through the skies, it often seems so effortless as he rarely even flaps his wings, but just soars with his open wings through the sky. The reason the eagle does not have to flap his wings that often is that instead of flapping hard to fly, he waited for the thermal winds to blow by and carry him effortlessly across the sky. Those who cling to the figurative definition of qavah will point out that if we don’t try to flap our spiritual wings trying to take flight, but instead wait for God to bring His thermal winds by us, then we too can soar spiritually as if on spiritual wings of eagles. There are great spiritual lessons that we can learn from this concept. However, is it truly what this passage was talking about?

If we adhere more to the literal interpretation of qavah then there are spiritual lessons we can learn there as well. If we are weak and in need of strength, then we should bind ourselves together with God and those things He has put in our lives (the Bible, the Church, prayer, fellowship with others, etc.) and then the spiritual flight we take will not be characterized by the hard work of wing flapping, but instead will be more akin to effortless soaring. Why? Because there is a strength that comes from this kind of binding together with God and the things of God.

They shall run and not grow weary. Whereas soaring in the skies might be likened to where we are in our relationship with God, in that we can see things from God’s perspective from high on top of the world, I like to think of running as those big life altering things that God puts in our paths. It could be a ministry He puts before you or it could be a certain area of your life that He has called you into (work, ministry, family, etc.)   I have tried hard to see how by simply waiting, we will gain the strength to run without tiring. As a basketball coach, if I had my teams just sit around and wait for the game without any training, then they would not last more than a couple of minutes before their bodies and therefore their play would grow tired and weary. God, through Isaiah, chose the analogy of running for a reason and everyone knows that if you are going to run and not get tired, you need to work ahead of time to get in shape. Sitting back and waiting never does any good.   However, as a coach, I know that if you work to get in shape then you can run your race without growing tired. If an athlete binds together all the essential elements needed (working out, eating right, proper equipment, proper rest, etc.) then he or she can run without growing weary or tired. This makes much more sense to me than simply sitting by and waiting expectantly on something to happen to so that I can run.

They shall walk and not faint. Whereas it may be said that flying and running are things we do that is not part of our daily life, but reserved for those times when God is going to do something special in or through us, walking is something most of us do every single day. It is the day to day walk, or even sometimes a grind, of the Christian life. It is those spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship with others (the binding together as a cord) that we can walk through the day to day living without growing tired of the daily grind.   It is through that binding together that we can continue to minister to others, to pour out our lives into those around us, without growing faint. The more we pour the Holy Spirit into the world around us, the more He fills us up. We cannot minister to others in our daily lives by simply waiting for it to happen. While on earth, Jesus went around to people looking for people to minister to. He wants us to do the same. Therefore, I believe that if we are going to have the strength to walk through the daily grind of life ministering to people in our paths, then we need to bind ourselves with God and the tools and resources that God gives us.  I know for me, each time I bind myself together within the fellowship, Bible study, prayer, and encouragemnt of my small group that I leave their strengthened for the week at hand.

With all that said, in my opinion, a more accurate, yet more wordy translation of what the original Hebrew verse was trying to convey would be more like They that have their lives bound together and intertwined with God and His resources that He provides, much like the strands of a rope intertwine and bind together to form strength, will exchange their weakness of a single strand for the strength of the rope as a whole. With that binding, they will be able to soar like the eagle when bound to God on those spiritual thermals. They will train in such a way that when God gives them a job to do that takes endurance, they will be able to run through it without growing tired. Even in the day to day grind of their lives, when they are bound together with God and the resources He provides, they will be able to walk through life without fainting.

I am not negating that we have to take time to rest nor am I implying that there are not times that we need to simply sit back and wait for God to do something. However, those are not the normal things we should be doing as a Christian.  And I do not believe that is the message of Isaiah 40:31.  As a follower of Christ, we should be daily be strengthening ourselves by doing the works that God has called us to do and by taking advantages of the spiritual strengthening resources He provides for us. If we use the figurative definition of qavah, it implies that if we want to gain strength, we need to simply wait. The logical conclusion then would be that if we want to continue to gain strength, we should continue to wait. I don’t know about you, but I believe that God wants to use us more than He wants to see us simply waiting.

Bind yourself together like a cord with God and His resources. That is how you get stronger. That is how you spiritually soar like an eagle. That is how you will run through those assignments God puts before you without growing weary. That is how you walk through the daily life without faining.








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Life Lessons Learned From My Two Months In North Carolina

    I have spent at least parts of the last nine weeks in the great state of North Carolina. The calm beauty of this state (along with some other personal reasons) prompted me to post on Facebook, the Top 10 Reasons Why I Would Move to North Carolina. However, as I once again sit and bask in the beauty of the Smokey Mountains in the Asheville area, I realize that there are life lessons that I have learned from my nine weeks in North Carolina.



IMG_3806 IMG_3781 IMG_3779Often termed as the greatest college basketball conference in the country, the ACC has traditionally boasted some of the truly great college basketball programs. Very early in my basketball coaching career, I fell in love with ACC basketball and watched every ACC game that ESPN broadcasted. I wanted to be a great basketball coach so I watched and studied the teams and coaches of the ACC. Although I met only a handful of those legendary ACC coaches over the years, I feel like I sat at the feet and learned from some of the best basketball coaches in history. Thank you, Dean Smith (did I really say that being a big Duke fan?), Mike Krzyskewski, the late Jim Valvano, Bobby Cremmins (even though he didn’t coach in North Carolina), Dave Odem, etc. Because of what I learned from watching and studying these great coaches, I averaged 20 wins per season over my 21 years of coaching basketball (461-162 record).


Whatever your chosen career path is, or whatever you desire to be great in, you should find people who are great in that area and learn from them. The state of North Carolina has boasted in some of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time.




IMG_4091 IMG_3866 IMG_4085 IMG_4087The state of North Carolina boasts some great mountain lakes. On several occasions, I took a drive into the mountains to stop at some of those lakes to sit and just relax. Despite anxieties concerning my future, the weariness of living out of a suitcase in hotel rooms for 3-5 nights every week of the year, missing my family, missing the challenge and excitement of coaching basketball, missing the fellowship of my Church small group, etc., the peace of the mountain lakes could not help but calm any anxiety I felt.

Although the mountain lakes may not always be there for you during your times of anxiety, there is a peace that God can give that will calm you. The peace will not come during the rush of life, but will only come when you take time to be still, like the water of the mountain lakes, before God.





IMG_4126 IMG_4156 IMG_4161 IMG_4164 IMG_0950 IMG_0998On both the drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway and the top of Mount Mitchell (the highest peak east of the Mississippi river), I was once again awestruck by the vastness and glory of God’s creation. While staring out over several of the scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway and then culminating it with a 360 degree panoramic view from the top of Mount Mitchell, I realized once again how small I am compared to even just a fraction of the totality of God’s creation. And if I am that small, then in the grand scheme of things, so are my troubles. Yet despite it all, God still cares for me as a person. As I stood atop Mount Mitchell and turned slowly in a circle seeing the rest of the world below me, I was struck with the thought that even through the beauty of God’s creation, I was on top of the world. I am loved by God and I (and other people) am His crowning creation.


You too are God’s crowning creation and He wants nothing more than for you to not only realize it, but to learn to live your life as God’s child who is spiritually on top of the world.





 IMG_1004 IMG_4114 IMG_0780One of the first things that grabbed my attention in North Carolina was the tree-lined highways and roads. Whether it was the interstates, the state roads, or even downtown Charlotte, trees lined nearly every road. As I made my pilgrimages to different places across North Carolina, I could not help but think about what it could have looked like (what so many other states look like). The roads could have been lined with buildings and businesses that in some ways glorify the accomplishments of men. But not in North Carolina. These roads are lined with the beauty of God’s creation.

The next time you are tempted to succumb to the busy schedule and the manmade pressures you might face, take a few moments to remember the tree-lined roads of North Carolina and the lessons that they show us that God’s love and creation should always be visible in our eyes and hearts.








IMG_3814 IMG_3819 IMG_3826 IMG_3833 IMG_3834 IMG_3836 IMG_3828North Carolina is home to the greatest Evangelist of the 20th (and even into the 21st) century.   As I walked through the Billy Graham Memorial Library, I knew I was walking not just through history, but I was walking through His Story. I was walking through the story of how God took a simple farmer and turned him into the greatest preacher in America (and into the world).  

In a nation that disrespects God and so often His people, Billy Graham lived and preached with such integrity and power that even those people who are not followers of Christ respected this man.  


Less than a decade ago, within the very shadows of the place Billy Graham called home, God raised another preacher from humble beginnings in Moncks Corner, South Carolina (population less than 8,000 people) to start Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC. Elevation is one of the nation’s fastest growing and biggest churches. I have been listening to Pastor Steven Furtick’s podcasts for four years now and had the great privilege of attending Elevation Church one weekend while in Charlotte. I can see why God has blessed this church and its ministries.

God is in the business of using people to further and deepen His Kingdom. Sometimes He takes people with simple beginnings like Billy Graham or Steven Furtick and does incredible nation-wide things through them. Sometimes He takes people like you and me to accomplish something more local, but not any less important.   There are no excuses why God can’t work through you. It only takes the same heart that Billy Graham and Steven Furtick has – a heart that is committed to following God’s direction in their lives.




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A few times during my time in North Carolina, I drove then hiked to see waterfalls. Some were famous enough waterfalls that they have been featured in movies like The Hunger Games and The Last of the Mohicans. However, the fame of the waterfalls is not what impressed me the most. I realized as I stood near some beautiful waterfalls that God was giving me a picture of what our Christian life should look like. Watching the waterfalls both trickle and pour down cliffs, I saw that these waterfalls were a combination of power and peace. Isn’t that what Christ living inside of us gives us? We have His strength to not only deal with all that life throws at us, but we are given His serenity when we learn to rest in Him.  










If you are a follower of Christ, I urge you to let the power and peace of the North Carolina waterfalls remind you that your life should reflect both the strength and serenity of what God offers you.





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The Empty Promises of Easter


empty-promisesEaster Sunday is the busiest day for churches across our world.  It is this Sunday, above all other Sundays, that people who are not regular church attendees choose to attend church.  For many, it is the only Sunday of the year that they grace a church with their presence.  For this reason, most churches choose to put their best foot forward on this Sunday.  Some even plan an Easter Service Extravaganza in hopes to attract the unchurched people so that they might hear the wonderful message of the Gospel and find new life in Christ.


We talk in churches about the great celebration of Easter, the wonderful Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the triumphant salvation that is offered to us because of His death and resurrection.  And all that is true and should be celebrated.  However, the story of Easter goes way beyond the pomp and circumstances of the celebratory worship and the grand feelings we get when we hear the music and messages of Easter.  The story of Easter does not end when we leave the church building Sunday afternoon.  The real story of Easter, one that is so often missed in churches on that most populated Easter Sunday, really becomes real on Monday morning.  And this story is not so filled with the glitz and glitter that those who only attend church once a year see.  For the real story of Easter is a story of “Empty” Promises.


Yes, you read that correctly.  “Empty” Promises.  Now before you click the X button at the top of your computer screen to close this page down, give me a few minutes to explain.  You see, it is in these very “Empty” Promises that the essence of Christianity can be found.  It is in the truths of these “Empty” Promises that our Fears on Friday (represented by the death of Christ) can be turned into our Security on Sunday (the resurrection story).


This year in the midst of the Easter festivities, I am focusing not as much on the high that the Easter celebration gives us, but rather on the “empty” truths that come out the single most magnificent even in human history.


First, I want to focus on the promise of the Empty Cross.  Those of us who grew up in church know that when Jesus died on the cross, He took the sin of the world on Him.  We have said that so many times in our lives that it has become so much of a cliché that we not only fail to understand the magnitude of His sacrifice, we no longer see the depths of what it means to us.  In my life, this Easter season, I am dialing it back just a bit and not even focusing on what the empty cross means to the world.  Instead I am rediscovering what it means to me personally.   Jesus died on that cross for me, because of my sin.  No, I may not be the heinous sinner that makes the news, but I know myself well enough to recognize that my life is full of sin and MY sin nailed Him to the cross.  He paid the debt for me.   The Empty Cross for me must signify that my sin, both the individual acts of sin as well as the sin nature within, has been nailed to the cross with Christ.  As a result, my debt is paid and from this day forward, I can be free from my past.   And that is why Good Friday is so important.  The first “empty” promise that Easter gives us is the Empty Cross.


The second “empty” promise I want to focus on this Easter Season is the promise of the Empty Tomb.   Yes, this is the truth that Easter Sunday is all about.  This is the reason why churches celebrate on this Sunday more than any other Sunday.  Had Christ stayed buried in the tomb, then would He have really been a powerful Savior?   Again, this is something that those of us who have grown up in church have heard all of our lives.  Jesus rose from the dead.  That IS the Easter story.  But once again, I am taking this Easter season to focus on how the promise of the empty tomb affects more than just my theology and more than just the story we tell on Easter.   Just as Christ’s death is symbolic of the way He wants me to die to myself and my sin nature, His resurrection is symbolic of the new life that I have in Him.  In other words, I have through Christ, the power of the empty tomb.  Not only have my sins been forgiven, but I have a new life in Christ.  It is not just out with the old, but it is in with the new.  In other words, because I have the power of the empty tomb, I no longer have to subjugate myself to the power of death (sin), but I now have the ability through Christ to live victoriously.   This Easter, as I dwell on the second empty  promise of the empty tomb, I cannot help but be rejoice, not just because Christ is no longer in that empty tomb, but that I not only have the forgiveness of my sin,  I have the promise of a new and victorious life.


And finally, the third “empty” promise is the promise of an Empty Life.  Now I am not saying that the Easter story brings about an empty life, for this is one of those truly great spiritual paradoxes that Christ demonstrated while on earth.  There is no doubt that Jesus Christ has a life full of meaning.  However, He fulfilled that meaning by continually emptying Himself into the lives of the people around Him and ultimately saved the world when He totally emptied Himself of life on the cross.   His final words before dying say it all.   It is finished.  He had fulfilled His destiny.  Everything He was supposed to do had now been done.  It was finished.


And this is where the Fears of Friday (death) that were turned into the Security of Sunday (resurrection) transform into the Mission of Monday.  The story of Easter does not stop when we leave the church doors Easter Sunday.  The real story of Easter is what we do after we finish celebrating.  It’s what we take with us into our lives starting on Monday morning.  Just as Christ’s entire life, leading up to the Cross, was a life of continually emptying Himself into the world, so also should my life be poured out into my world .  But for me, it goes so much deeper than just giving of myself to meet the needs of others.  I need to learn to empty my life of myself.  Until I learn to empty my life of those things that keep me from fully focusing on what God wants in my life, then I will never experience true intimacy with God.  I will never fully have that empty tomb power to live victoriously.


This Easter, I challenge you to not only view the Easter story in the large scope of how it affects the world, but how it can change your life.  Look beyond your salvation experience and realize the personal and, yes, deeper side of what God shows us through The Greatest Story Ever Told.  Take a few minutes to examine how the “empty” promises of Easter can affect your life.  How the Empty Cross offers you forgiveness, how the Empty Tomb gives you the power to live victoriously, and how the Emptying of Your Life brings you into intimacy with God.  Ask God to reveal to you how He wants these truths to personally affect you this year.


In this Easter season, may you find your life richer and deeper as God surrounds you with His love, fills you with His grace, and captures your heart.


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How To Encourage Others Through Prayer


In the past year and a half, God has been teaching me a lot about prayer.  I don’t mean that He has been teaching me about the doctrine of prayer or what prayer means.  Instead, I am talking about God showing me the importance of prayer and how it affects not only my life, but those around me.

How many of us have said to people, “I’ll pray for you” and we say it with the best intentions.  But then we walk away and forget to pray for them.   And sometimes we don’t even think about it again.  We intended to.  We didn’t tell them a lie.  But we just forgot?  Please tell me I am not the only guilty party here.  We may have the best intentions, but then life gets in the way.  However, I bet if we were really serious about prayer, that wouldn’t happen. 

How do we fix that?  How do we make sure we pray for someone when we tell them we will?   Life is always going to get in the way.  It’s quite simple really.  The moment someone asks us to pray for them or we volunteer that we will pray for them, we don’t just say we will pray.  We do it.  Not later if and when we think about it.  Right then!  With them.  Don’t wait.  Do it right then.

This does two things.

  1. It ensures that we actually pray for them at least once.
  2. It encourages the other person when they know for sure we are praying for them.  The whole concept of the Church is built around the idea that we care for each other.  What better way to show that we care than to prove to them that we are investing in their lives through prayer.

I know for me personally there is great comfort and solace when I hear others praying for me.  Talk about building my faith!  What an incredible strength of God I feel simply by hearing others pray for me.  I know it sounds strange, but when I hear someone praying for me, my faith in God is increased far more than if it is just me praying for myself or even being told by others that they WILL pray for me.

And then we take it to the next level.  We pray regularly for them.  I don’t mean that we have to pray for them every single day, although God may ask some of us to do that for certain people.  But it does mean that we make it a habit to pray on a regular basis for them, whether that is daily, weekly, or whatever.  And please let them know you are praying for them.  Tell them specifically what you are praying.  It will be a great encouragement for them. 

This is just one aspect of prayer that God has shown me.  But I believe it is such a huge one that it has become a part of not only my life, but my ministry.  So many of these truths have found their way into not just my prayer life, but my work as well.

For instance, in my latest novel, Capturing the Heart, prayer is a vital theme to this Christian romance novel.  So many of the truths that I have preached in a video message series entitled, Revolutionizing Your Prayer Life, are seen throughout this wonderful story of God working in two people’s lives.

Here is an excerpt from the novel dealing with the subject of how prayer can encourage someone:

Choosing to momentarily ignore her attempt to bait him into divulging his personal thoughts about her, he explained, “I am not an expert on prayer nor am I a psychologist.  I am just a small town football coach.  But one thing I have learned in the time that I have been a Christian is that most people say they are going to pray for someone, but they usually don’t.  Maybe the closest they come is to think about them.”

“Yeah,” Jackie interrupted, “in fact, don’t we often even admit that is what we are doing.  Someone shares a need with us and we say, “I will be thinking about you.”  She started to laugh.  “Thinking about you?  What good does thinking about someone do?”

“That is my point exactly,” Matt joined her in laughter.  “How many people are ever really encouraged when we only tell them that we are praying for them?  We tell them we are praying for them and what they hear is that we are thinking about them.”  Without even realizing what he was doing, he reached across the storage compartment/cup-holder that divided the driver and passenger seat and placed his hand on top of hers.  Her hand momentarily stiffened before relaxing.  “Tonight I saw you answer God’s call and literally pray with Ellen Richmond.  You could see in her face how encouraged she was to know that someone was literally praying for her son, not just thinking about him.”



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The Carols of Christmas

Don’t you just love the Christmas season?  I know I do.  The lights, the tree, the decorations, and especially the music.  Nothing rings in the Christmas season like those wonderful old Christmas carols.


This year, I decided to record three different messages, all around 15 minutes long, and each one covering a different Christmas carol as I examined the messages and meanings of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, The Little Drummer Boy, and O Come All Ye Faithful.


In Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, we saw how this son showed us who Jesus Christ was and why He was sent to earth.

In the Little Drummer Boy, we examined how even the lowest among us can give a special gift to God.   And no matter how far down we might be, God is always waiting to take us in and bless us.

And finally, in O Come All Ye Faithful, we learned we answered the questions:

Who are the faithful?
How do we know if we are faithful?
Who can really “Come and Adore Him?”

If you missed any of those short Christmas messages, you can find them on my Video Messages tab on this website.  Enjoy and have a Merry Christmas.

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