“Let faith rise up. Oh heart, believe.”

(James 4: 2-3, NLT) …Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. 

Recently, some dear friends of mine received some amazing news — a blessing that is a direct answer to prayers, and an open door that only God could make happen.  I am so overjoyed for my friends, and I can’t help but reflect on who they are in Christ — faithful, humble, kind, generous, selfless, and supportive.  I can’t think of a couple that bears more evidence of spiritual growth and maturity, so it makes total sense to see them reaping the harvest of the seeds that they have sown. 

We all have desires and goals.  We all have those things that we pray over, and I think many of us are looking around for open doors — for answers.  I know that in my own life, I have asked God “why” and “when” a million times when it comes to the desires of my heart.  His response:  Why?  When?  He turns it right back around to me, because it truly is about motives. 

For the longest time, I thought what I needed was another child.  This was a time in my life where I walked through real darkness — truly the valley of the shadow of death.  I felt utterly helpless and very, very alone.  People around me — my peers, unmarried people much younger than myself, and even my fellow “infertile Myrtles” — were all getting pregnant like it was an epidemic to which I was somehow, heartbreakingly, immune.  Talk about disheartening.  So I, of course, began to question God.  I put Him on trial and I badgered Him like an angry lawyer!  God, WHY can’t I have another baby?  WHEN are You going to answer MY prayers?  I’m faithful!  I demand answers! Only to be met with total silence…

So I quit asking God for anything.  Oh, I prayed, but I left my requests in the recesses of my heart.  I had resolved that God was arbitrary and supplications just don’t matter.  He’s gonna do what He’s gonna do anyway, right?  That was the way I felt!  I thought God was being silent because I was somehow undeserving of an answered prayer, but it was during this time that I came across the above verse in James 4, “And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.”  Well, there was my answer folks.  I was humbled in that moment.  I realized that God’s plan for me is not always what I think I want.  It’s not about me!  I had been selfish.  I asked myself, “Why do I want another baby?  When have I truly set myself aside and given my all — my focus, my heart, my ability — over to the will of God?” 

Maybe you have been asking God for something, to no avail.  Maybe you’re like I was and feeling defeated and alone.  Please know this — YOU ARE NOT AT WAR WITH GOD!  If you feel defeated, it isn’t because God is keeping you under His thumb.  Don’t you for one moment believe that lie.  He loves you, and He has something beautiful and perfect planned out for your life.  It may not match what you have dreamed up in your human and imperfect heart, but when you let go of that stuff, when you relinquish the control to God, when you set your heart on being faithful to His commandments and precepts, He will begin to open those doors so wide that there will be no mistaking that it is Him and only Him! 

It’s funny how, in retrospect, things almost always make sense.  This past summer, it became evident to me that a former student of mine (a 9 year old little boy) needed a stable home and a family to raise him and provide for him.  Now, I work in public education in an inner-city elementary school, so I do see this a lot, but this time I felt that unmistakable pull that only comes from God.  This child would not get out of my thoughts and God would not leave me alone.  The door had opened, folks.  It all made sense.  We brought this child into our home, and we haven’t looked back, not even once.  All of my questions have been answered.  I asked God why — because…if I had another child of my own I would never have been receptive to opening our home to this little boy.  I asked God when — when everyone was ready. 

Like my friends, who stayed the course, whose focus was always on serving God and growing in Him — and like my own situation — when we are able to shift the focus from self to serving, when our motives are pure and selfless, that’s when things start to happen.  The doors begin to open, and we have but to walk on through them.  Sometimes we have to endure blind faith, but God is never going to leave us behind.  He’s carrying you.  I promise.  Keep your heart steady and pure.  He’ll do the rest.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I thank you that even in my doubt and hurt, when I could not see past my tears and frustration, You were there waiting and ready to meet me with every answer.  Help me to never forget what I have learned through the darkest times of my life, and help me to continue to walk in that wisdom.  Amen.

Let Us Go Also

Then after this He said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?”

[Jesus replied] “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”

Then Thomas, who is called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” — John 11:7-16

Loyalty is a word that has fallen out of favor and is not respected as highly as it once was. In fact, the most common place the word is used now is with Customer Loyalty Programs that might knock a couple bucks of your grocery bill, but are abandoned as soon as another store offers a lower price. In a society that looks at all forms of authority with suspicion, someone who is loyal is gullible—blindly believing what they are told, a “sheep”— or a fool denying themselves the benefits of hopping onto the next best thing. Even marriage vows, the most sacred, life-long commitment people should make, is viewed as something that is only honored as long as it is convenient.

For many, it is far more important to keep your options open, to be able to jump ship and position yourself to take advantage of whatever circumstance presents itself. Deep down we know that this is not right. It’s one of the reasons that we look down on “bandwagon fans,” who switch their loyalty all the time to make sure they are cheering for the winning team. We recognize the value of being a person of integrity, someone who stands by their words and follows through on their commitments, but we struggle when it comes to actually living that out.

In today’s Scripture, we see a great example of loyalty in action. Thomas had made a commitment to follow Jesus. He would go where Jesus led them, and do what Jesus told them to do. That meant he was even willing to follow him even unto death and encouraged the other disciples to do the same. He didn’t have to do that. In fact, many of Jesus’ other followers had abandoned him along the way, but not Thomas.

“Doubting” Thomas is most often remembered for his skepticism in the aftermath of Jesus’ death and resurrection. However, I think Thomas’ skepticism was just a natural consequence of his pessimistic/realist way of viewing things. It didn’t mean that he wasn’t committed. He was all in, but he just needed a little assurance along the way, which is something I can easily relate to. Because he was loyal, Thomas was able to witness one of the greatest miracles in recorded history, the resurrection of Lazarus!

Like most commitments, being a disciple of Christ requires a daily decision to follow through. Each day presents another opportunity to leave the path. It is full of exit ramps and road-side attractions to distract you. However, we must stay focused on the destination and committed to the journey. When we are faithful to our commitment, God is sure to reward that loyalty!

PRAYER: Father, thank you for always being faithful to us. We can always count on You. Help us to display that same level of faithfulness and loyalty, to You and to the people around us. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

“You Can Have It All, Lord”

(Isaiah 46: 3-4) 3 “Listen to me, descendants of Jacob, all you who remain in Israel. I have cared for you since you were born. Yes, I carried you before you were born. 4 I will be your God throughout your lifetime—until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you.

I occasionally catch myself in an ungrateful mindset.  I don’t mean to be that way, but I think sometimes my flesh just pushes me into wanting things to be a certain way, so I get unsettled and I see only the negative aspects of my surroundings.  It is easy to become engrossed in our everyday lives, and likewise distracted by feelings of displeasure and the desire to have it all just so. We busy ourselves with DIY projects and endless shopping excursions to find all of the perfect stuff to arrange in our homes, workspaces, and even our churches…just because we want things to be perfect.  We put thousands of dollars into education, savings…planning for a future we aren’t promised.  Hey, there’s nothing wrong with planning and bettering ourselves and our lives, but like they say, “all things in moderation.”  It can become a distraction…taking time, money, and effort away from what we should be doing.  Do our plans come from a Christ-centered place in our hearts, or from a place of worldliness? 

(James 1: 22-25) 22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

All of which to say, now is not the time to get caught up in the mundane worries of life.  So your house is not what you picture in your head.  So you are not at the weight and/or size you’d like.  So you’d like to have an updated car.  So you haven’t achieved the goals you had set to reach by now.  That kind of stuff…it’s just not as important as we’ve come to believe that it is.  Instead of focusing on what you wish for, what you don’t have…why not begin each day with a thank you for what you do have?  Are your basic human needs provided for?  Do you have friends and family who love you?  I am betting on yes to both.  You’re way more blessed than you realize.  And why are we blessed?  So we can live, work, retire, and die?  Not a chance.  We are blessed to be a blessing to others.  We receive so that we can turn around and sow seed…grow something beautiful…all the while magnifying God to the world. 

If you have chosen to remain with God…faithful to Him in all ways…then He will never let you fall from His arms.  That’s a promise.  Whether or not you get what you want out of life, that’s just not a given.  You’ll definitely get what you give…what you work for…and, as promised, you will be carried, cared for, and loved.  Hebrews 13:5 says, Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help me to begin each day more grateful to you than I have been before.  I refuse to allow the enemy to have that kind of leverage over me.  Whatever I have, whatever I do, I give and do it all unto You.  Amen.

“Let Me Walk Upon the Waters”

(Genesis 39: 2-5, NLT) The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. 3 Potiphar noticed this and realized that the Lord was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. 4 This pleased Potiphar, so he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned. 5 From the day Joseph was put in charge of his master’s household and property, the Lord began to bless Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake.

Wherever Joseph was, whether in slavery to Potiphar, imprisoned with the warden, or in service to Pharaoh, he flourished.  His life was blessed, and others were blessed through him, because of his obedience to God.  To the naked, human eye, many of Joseph’s circumstances in life were difficult, and downright unfair.  Yet when we zoom out and see things from the perspective of God, we are able to understand that each moment of hardship and affliction was but a cog in the intricate clockwork of his life.  God was piecing it all together…a planned contrivance with a purpose that would endure for all of time. 

Joseph’s life is one of the most familiar and relatable histories from the Bible.  We can all, at some point in our lives, identify with being rejected, mistreated, lied about, used, and manipulated.  It is through our ability to empathize with Joseph, as we read of his afflictions, that we are able to receive the story of redemption and victory that is established as a result.  His life is an inspiration to all who read of it, because we know that if Joseph was able to stay humble and obedient throughout these trials, then we can certainly persevere in our own life battles.  When we see the fruit of his commitment to obedience, we begin to feel that God does have a purpose for our pain — that God will provide for and bless us. 

This September, Jonathan, Benjamin and I will have been in Louisville for seven years.  We moved here with no home to settle into, and no jobs from which to earn money to support ourselves.  We literally just packed our things and came here — totally and completely at the mercy of God’s purpose and plan for us.  The only things we knew for certain were that God specifically told us to come here, and that He would never fail us in the process.  We didn’t come with any intentions other than being obedient to His call on our lives.  SpiritLife church, as many people see and know it today, did not even exist.  Some months prior to our decision to come here, Jonathan’s mom and dad had been placed (by God) into what looked like an impossible situation — a church that was facing both financial and spiritual bankruptcy.  When they shared with us the story of this church (what we all now know as SpiritLife Church), and the task that lay ahead, we knew that God was leading us to join them in this monumental labor of LOVE.  We didn’t know why, and we never questioned God on it.  We just hit the road!  There was no promise of employment at the church, or even any sort of ministry position.  There was no plan in place at all.  We were simply on a mission to help love this hurting body back to life.  We arrived on September 10, 2010.  Jonathan’s parents were living in a two bedroom patio home — so we all hunkered down and made the best of it.  Everything that we owned was placed in a storage unit.  We often had to drive over and climb around inside to find things that we needed from time to time.  We drove all over this large, unfamiliar city from one job interview to another…often several within one day.  We enrolled our first grader into a school system that scared the living daylights out of this small town mama!  I have to tell you, it was a little daunting and somewhat depressing at times — but we never stopped praying and trusting.  We had made a decision to operate in obedience, and we stuck to it. 

By September 20th (a mere 10 days later), we had secured a home in a neighborhood we felt reassured with, and within the month we both had jobs.  They weren’t the best jobs, but we had work and that felt like a huge victory to us!  The next few years brought on a lot of heartache and struggle for us as an immediate family, as well as in our collective families.  Financial strain, disease, death, marital strains, heartbreaking doctor reports — just a lot of loss and hurt was being served up in every facet of our lives. It was hard.  Yet in every tear that was and has been shed, lies a reminder that our pain has a purpose.  So we soldier on…because one day we will harvest the abundance that comes from every seed that we have sown.  One day we will see the blessing that is on the other side of the mountain.  For now?  For now we continue the climb.  There have been many blessings already, and we are beginning to see the fruit of our love and obedience to God. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father,  You have been so faithful over the years.  You promised that if we will just humble ourselves in obedience to You, You will never leave us to fight alone.  I pray today that my life will always be a testament to what You can and will do when we believe.  Like Joseph, may my heartaches always serve their purposes — to encourage others, and to bring honor and glory to Your name.  Amen.

“If you can use anything, Lord, You can use me.”

(Mark 11: 12-14) 12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”

There is a little apple tree in my back yard.  I’ve been told that it’s been around for over 40 years.  For decades, this apple tree provided bushel upon bushel of beautiful fruit, which was used to make pies and jellies, and was also the source of handy snacks for neighborhood kids playing outside (as well as for countless birds and squirrels).  As the years have crept by, the tree has become less of a resource and more of an eye sore.  Each spring it flowers less and has more and more yellow, speckled leaves.  Very few apples are produced, and many of it’s branches are stark and brittle.  It’s growth is very stunted.  Beside it grows a massive oak tree that is gradually taking over the apple tree’s root system, and whose majestic appendages are pushing into the personal space of the sad little apple tree’s shrinking branch area.  The apple tree really just needs to come down.  It is useless. 

Like an apple tree (or any fruit tree for that matter), we are all created with a purpose in mind.  Jeremiah 1:5 says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.”  God plans for our lives well in advance, and we come into this world as tiny, empty vessels, equipped with innate gifts and talents, ready to be filled with the love and spirit of God so that we can carry out our purpose.  Though we all produce different types of fruit, and though we all grow and mature at different rates and in various ways, the end result should always be the same — good and abundant fruit.  Just as a farmer or gardener gauges the value of a tree by its output, we can likewise judge our own merit and spiritual maturity by what we are producing.  In John 15:5, Jesus tells us: “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.”  If you’re at a stand-still, if you’re just kind of idling and taking up space, then what does that tell you about how close you are to Christ?  If you remove yourself from Him, little by little, through neglect and distraction, you will begin to dry up and stop producing any fruit (results) for the Kingdom of God.  You’re not doing your job anymore, so your tree is forgotten and sick and being shut out and overshadowed. 

Maybe you’ve heard someone say before that if you don’t use your talents and gifts you’ll lose them.  Well, no one just made that up just to have something to say to reluctant people — there’s actually some truth in it.  When Jesus was hungry and needed some fruit from the fig tree, yet he found it completely void of anything that could be of use to him, he cursed the tree to never be of use again.  Does this mean that God will curse you for life if you are in a rut?  Of course that’s not what it means.  It does mean, however, that if you waste, and waste, and waste your talents — if you continually hold yourself back — He will eventually move on to use someone else who is willing. 

If we truly desire to be used by God, to live our lives fulfilling His purpose for us (what was set-up long before we were ever even in our mothers’ wombs), then we have got to seek wisdom and utilize it every day.  We must not allow ourselves to be overly distracted and weak.  Instead, we have to continue to prune ourselves, ridding our lives of the stuff that we don’t need — allowing new growth to take place, so that we are bursting with life and beautiful, sweet fruit.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for every blessing, every gift, every talent, every bit of wisdom, and all of the grace that you have placed in my life.  Help me to use all of it in ways which are pleasing and useful to You.  Help me to keep my spiritual “tree” healthy and full of life, so that I never need to be chopped down and thrown in the fire.  My desire is to constantly bring, through my life, my best as an offering to You.  Amen. 

Eyes To See, Hands To Help!

(1 Chronicles 9:26-27 ESV) 26 for the four chief gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted to be over the chambers and the treasures of the house of God. 27 And they lodged around the house of God, for on them lay the duty of watching, and they had charge of opening it every morning.

God, in His infinite wisdom, has appointed and anointed the necessary laborers to carry out the day-to-day responsibilities of His kingdom on earth. 1 Chronicles is a detailed historical accounting of the genealogies and responsibilities of the clans and families of Israel.

Verses 26-27 introduce us to the four chief gatekeepers. We know they were Levites, and were given a very important task. They lodged in the house of the Lord and were entrusted with the responsibility of watching (guarding) and opening the treasures so they could be accessed for the work of the Lord. They faithfully performed this function everyday. Their eyes were used to see any inherent dangers, and their hands were used to open the chambers of blessing to those in need. Eyes to see… Hands to help!

At first glance, it doesn’t seem to be a very important task. But, the word “entrusted” heightens the value of the task. Their involvement kept the treasures safe, but also served as distributors of spiritual blessings.

When Donna and I were first married, we took on responsibilities that were natural extensions of who we were. For me, I took it upon myself to check the thermostat at bedtime, make sure the doors were locked, the lights were off; the things that would allow us to go to bed with a sense of security. I still do those things. Donna has her own list of responsibilities that she just naturally does. Both of us act within the perimeters of our “gifts” and provide a service that is beneficial to each other.

Truthfully, we have become so accustomed to benefiting from each others contributions that we take them for granted. I know what she contributes will get done, and she would never even think to lock a door because of her confidence in me to get it done. It’s a nice arrangement!

For me, the greatest take away from this passage of Scripture is the implied faithfulness of the Levites. They were like the Energizer Bunny. They just kept doing what they were asked to do. Everyday. Every week. Every year. No complaining. Just consistent service; doing the things they had been asked to do for the glory of God.

What do you contribute to the Kingdom of God? Your family? At your work place? Is it high profile or barely noticeable? Just be faithful! You never know when your faithfulness will result in someone else’s breakthrough!

PRAYER: Father, thank you for my calling! Even though it is not as visible as others, it has its place and purpose. Help me remain faithful. Don’t let me miss the opportunity to open the chambers that will produce blessings in the lives of others. Amen.


(Ecclesiastes 9:11 ESV) Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.

One of my earliest childhood memories was watching snails in our backyard flower garden. I was fascinated by this little creature with a shell, a slimy little tummy, and tiny eyes that turned like periscopes. But what really seemed unusual was how slowly a snail travels.

How slow does a snail go? One study clocked a snail at 0.00758 miles per hour—or 40 feet in one hour. No wonder we use the phrase moving at a snail’s pace to mean “slow.”

Although a snail does move at a “sluggish” pace, one virtue it does possess is perseverance. The great 19th-century preacher Charles Spurgeon wryly observed, “By perseverance the snail reached the ark.”

According to the apostle Paul, perseverance is a key component in character development. He explained that “tribulation produces perseverance” (Rom. 5:3). And upon that building block go character and hope (v.4). The original Greek word translated “perseverance” means “steadfastness, constancy, and endurance.” It was used of believers who endured in their walk of faith despite many painful trials.

Have setbacks slowed you down to a snail’s pace? Be encouraged. God doesn’t ask for a fast finish. He expects persevering progress.

When trials intrude to slow down your life, 
It would be easy for you to give in; 
But by perseverance you’ll overcome strife, 
So just keep on plodding—with Christ you can win.

Great achievement requires great perseverence! Keep moving even if it’s at a snail’s pace!

PRAYER: Father, give me the patience to keep moving in the direction You are leading. I realize that speed is not always as importance as consistency. Help me to keep the pace that will bring You the greatest glory. Amen.

With God We Shall Do Valiantly!

(Psalm 60:12 ESV) With God we shall do valiantly; it is He who will tread down our foes!

When I was appointed as pastor at SpiritLife Church, I selected this passage for my first sermon. I’ve always loved this verse and the positive message it conveys.

The context of this verse is interesting. David had just come through a very difficult defeat which saw 12,000 of his men struck down in battle. In his great disappointment, David began to question God’s faithfulness. He was convinced that the current difficulties were a direct result of God’s anger.

However, the more he talked about and rehearsed God’s blessings, the closer he came to realizing that his hope and his help was in God. He even expressed confidence in the future, and the victories God would give him. David expresses his new found faith through two thoughts.

(1) He uses the word valiantly. An adverb, the word means,possessing or showing courage or determination.” David would rise from this tragic event with renewed courage and vigor. It meant that he would not doubt his future conquests as he led Israel into battle.

(2) The words “tread down” describes God’s pursuit of David’s foes. It indicates an aggressive “chasing down” of those who stood in opposition to the advancement of Israel. It brings to mind the more contemporary statement, “You can run but you cannot hide!” The older I get, the more convinced I am of God’s involvement in my daily victories. As someone recently said, “He puts the super in your natural!”

I’ve made many mistakes in my short life. I’ve experienced disappointments that left me devastated. But, God has always stood by me and given hope that I would once again experience the joy of the Lord.

PRAYER: Father, even when life slaps me in the face, I can fix my hope upon You. I have always been encouraged when I consider the works of Your hands on my behalf. And today, I’m convinced that You will provide the necessary courage and determination I need. Thank You! Amen.

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