“We’re All in this Together”

(Luke 4: 1-13) 1 Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry. 3 Then the devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4 But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone.’” 5 Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 “I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,” the devil said, “because they are mine to give to anyone I please. 7 I will give it all to you if you will worship me.” 8 Jesus replied, “The Scriptures say,

‘You must worship the Lord your God

    and serve only him.’”

9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! 10 For the Scriptures say,

‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you.

11 And they will hold you up with their hands

    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’”

12 Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” 13 When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.

I was in a conversation not too long ago, in which I was listening to someone share with me about her current troubles and frustrations with life.  As I responded with the typical, “I understand” and “I know how you feel,” I felt as though I seemed apathetic…like I was simply filling the silence with meaningless responses because I didn’t know what to say, which was not the case at all.  Because so many seem to respond to the heartache and woes of others in much the same way, I felt the need to explain to this person why I actually do understand her, and how much I do actually know how she feels.

Sometimes people need to know your story, to hear your temptations and even your failures, because they long to have that connection with someone else…to know that they are not alone in their trials and temptations.  In the midst of drowning in a sea of guilt, people find comfort in knowing there’s a survivor in the distance…someone with a lifeline…a way out. 

This description of Jesus being tempted by Satan is strangely comforting to me, because I love knowing that my Savior, the Word in flesh, in all of His perfection and divinity, He was tempted.  Not only was He tempted, but the Spirit of God led Him into the wilderness to be tempted.  Why?  Why would the Holy Spirit wish to test Jesus in such a way?  It’s not that there was ever any doubt that the Son of God would resist the cunning words of Satan, rather it was done so that we could and would have that point of connection with Him.  He was fully human, and because temptation is such a monumental part of our existence…we are surrounded by it, and at times we are consumed with it…Jesus had to experience it.  In Christ, we find not only our Savior, fully God, righteous and blameless in every way, but we also find a man, filled with compassion and empathy, tested and tempted, who we may always look to as our example of victory and hope.  He is our survivor in the distance, reaching out to us through the storm.

(Hebrews 4: 14-16, The Message) Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for the grace that comes to us because Jesus understands our temptations.  He was victorious, therefore we too can be victorious!  Help us to remember that sometimes the best way to help someone else through their temptations and failures is to be transparent enough for them to see that we have also had our own share of tests.  Lord, we are all working toward the same goal…to one day look upon Your face.  May we always, “take the mercy, accept the help.”  Amen.

Can’t We All Just Get Along? 

(Psalm 133) 1 How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! 2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe. 3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.


I look back on some of the most difficult times of my life and I am amazed to think of how much better bad situations were made by simply choosing to be in unity with my family.  Discord only serves to exacerbate the negativity that is already at hand, but when we instead become unified, with one mind, we are bound together…made stronger by love. 

God hasn’t promised us that life will be perfect.  In fact, quite the opposite.  We are guaranteed, because of sin, to encounter hardship and temptation.  How we opt to react is entirely up to us.  “Good and pleasant” doesn’t refer to the circumstance, it refers to our reaction TO circumstance!    When you’re in the midst of opposition, whatever it may be, it’s always “good and pleasant” to be able to come home to a family who speak lovingly to you and to one another.  It’s “good and pleasant” to have a church family that is unified…that will edify one another in truth and love…that is a safe place to come to when your home life is falling apart. 

You know, we serve a loving God, but there are certain things that He cannot abide.  I bet you would never dream something YOU do would be on that list…but let’s have a look anyway.

(Proverbs 6: 16-19) 16 There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him, 17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

I don’t know about you, but if God hates it…I don’t want to be doing it!  A family is a delicate thing, and the church family is no different.  It is to be respected, each member treated with love and kindness.  This is where unity begins.  When you feel “good and pleasant” feelings toward your brothers and sisters, you are then able to come together as one, rather than a clique here and another clique there.  Setting all else aside, a body of believers can be a very powerful force in the lives of one another and more importantly in the world.  But…it takes unity…and unity requires love. 

We ought never allow Satan to send us on a detour through the desert by giving into our own pettiness and weakness of the flesh.  Instead, we have to bite back that untamed beast of a tongue, resist the temptation to have those whispered conversations in the church hallways and restrooms, and work together to create an atmosphere that is, yes you guessed it, “good and pleasant.”


Prayer:  Father in Heaven, I am humbled by the promises of Your word.  I know that through it, I am corrected, instructed, and made better.  Help me to never sow discord among Your people, but to always remember that unity is the lifeblood of Your church.  Amen.

No Separation Among Believers

Acts 10:27-29, 34, 44-45 – … “And as he (Peter) talked with him (Cornelius), he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean…” So Peter opened his mouth and said, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears Him and does what is right, is acceptable to Him…” While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles…”

Stereotypes and classifications circulate around us in every aspect of life. From the time a child is born they’re required to have regular checkups to see exactly where they are in their development; what percentile do they fall into? They grow up and are watched by teachers and staff to see if they belong to group A (more-advanced learning abilities) or group B (the “average” learner.) As they enter high-school, even their peers are taught to start categorizing each other; who is most likely to succeed? Who’s the class clown? Who’s the best dressed?

As they grow into adulthood, they’re immediately poisoned by the media. Exaggerations and bullying of certain political and/or religious groups are on news channels and talk shows everyday. Are they going to be a democrat or republican? Maybe a libertarian? Do they want to be Pentecostal or Baptist? What occupation best suits them? Where should they choose to live? What type of person should they marry?

Separation all day long… Some of these things truly do help us make better choices, and we do have to try and figure out where in life we’re called to be. However, sometimes it becomes so common to pick out the pros and cons of everything, that we do it even when it’s completely out of line- without even realizing it!

I’ve been “in church” my entire life, and I’ve seen people classify other people as “unspiritual,” “liberal,” and “unqualified for ministry,” etc. The sad thing is, they weren’t even making these judgments based on Biblical principles, but on preferences alone. This caused division in the church, hurt in people’s hearts, and roots of confusion, bitterness, and isolation to spring up in the worst of places.

That’s why I love reading this portion of Scripture. God speaks to Peter and prepares his heart. Peter was open and ready to hear what God had to say, and he learned an important lesson, that served a whole lot of good just days later. God shows no partiality. He loves all of His children with an unconditional love. He instructed Peter to never call any person common or unclean. If they fear (respect) God and do what is right, they are acceptable to Him. We have no business classifying them based on our opinions. Sure, we should use discernment, as anyone can claim to be anything… but, discernment is more than a 3 second opinion based on appearance, so be prayerful, kind, gentle, longsuffering… (basically, put those fruits of the spirit into use! Galatians 5:22-23)

God has such a large kingdom! Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could all learn to work and serve alongside each other with a Godly love and acceptance? Encouraging and supporting each other in our daily endeavors to do what He’s called us to do? It’s not too late to start!

Find a fellow Christian today that you’ve never really spoken with, or even met, and talk about the goodness of the Lord. Share your callings and desires. Start up a friendship that will accomplish great things for Heaven. We’re family. We’re in this together for one purpose- to cause His family to grow! Let’s spread the hope of the Gospel, the peace it brings, and the blessings that come with it!

Let’s forget about who’s the smartest, most talented, and/or most fun to be around. Let’s not focus on “who’s most likely to succeed” anymore. Instead, let’s remember how we’re going to get the most done for the kingdom of God… TOGETHER!

Prayer: Lord, I thank You for Your unconditional love for each one of Your children. Help us to bridge the gaps that lie between us. Bring us together so we can accomplish the most for You. In Your precious and mighty name, amen.

Two Are Better Than One

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” — Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

When I was growing up, I attended 7 different schools during my 12 year public education. In addition to the usual transitions from Elementary to Middle School and finally High School, I also had to change schools because my family moved several times. I remember telling my parents that I was glad that I had been to so many different schools because it forced me to learn how to navigate new social environments and make friends everywhere I went. Although my high school, like most, had different cliques, I did not limit myself to just one main group of friends. I could sit down at any table in the lunch room and be with friends.

One thing I have found to be true as I grow older is that it becomes harder and harder for me to make and keep friends. It’s not that I’m in any way less sociable, but my life no longer revolves around spending time with my friends. I have other obligations and responsibilities that come first, and so do my buddies. I’m sure many of you can relate to the experience of trying to plan some time with a friend, only to find that neither of you are available at the same times. It can be very frustrating! I think this is part of the reason that over time our social circle has a tendency to narrow to just family and a few close friends.

friends

One of the things that I absolutely love about the church, and SpiritLife in particular, is that it has extended my group of family and friends. I’m no longer limited to just one sibling (sorry, Sis!). Every week, I am living life with a bunch of brothers and sisters in Christ…worshipping, praying, teaching, learning, laughing & loving each other. These are people who are an important part of my life now that I may never have even met if it were not for this church!

Does this mean the church is nothing but a glorified religious social club? No, of course not! But it does make it much easier to develop relationships with others, especially the important relationships that make life much better and more fulfilling:

  • Spiritual Fathers & Mothers — It is so important to have someone in your life that can be there to love and support you unconditionally, to share their wisdom and experience, and to nudge you in the right direction when you get off track.
  • Companions & Prayer Warriors — We all need someone who will come alongside us and live in the trenches with us. These are the people that you can rely on to help, support, and cover you in prayer when life gets tough (and when isn’t it tough?!). They share in both your celebrations and your sorrows.
  • Spiritual Sons & Daughters — Scripture teaches us that it is imperative for us to instruct and invest in the generations that are coming behind us. It falls to us to show them the way of righteousness. When you sow into the life a young person, you will rejoice in the harvest for years to come!

In our increasingly private, segmented culture, it can be easy to keep all of our relationships superficial. We stick to talking about sports, weather, kids, and cars. But I encourage you to engage on a deeper level. Yes, you will have to open yourself up. That can be uncomfortable, but the potential rewards are worth the risk. When you have a posse with you, life isn’t nearly so scary or overwhelming!

Prayer: Father, thank you for inviting us into your family and for the righteous men and women who have poured into our lives. Help us to love each other, just as you have loved us. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

“Come Together”

(Psalm 65:8)

Those who live at the ends of the earth

    stand in awe of your wonders.

From where the sun rises to where it sets,

    you inspire shouts of joy.

With everything that is on television, in the movies, and plastered all over the covers of every magazine and newspaper that we see on display, it is easy to fall under the impression that we Christians are a dwindling population.  We are under scrutiny, no doubt, and when we look beyond our local surroundings, things look somewhat bleak.  I cannot speak for anyone else, but I have personally felt discouraged at times, in light of the overall decline of morality and of the Christian influence on the world.  It can often seem that for every Godly display of integrity and love, there are ten more instances of failure or of people who are turning from Christ.  Much of what we see tells us that, to the rest of the world, we are a joke. 

I guess if you look at things from a “churchy” or “religious” standpoint then yes, Christians have become somewhat of a travesty.  In many ways, the church has failed it’s God-given mission.  People do mock the way that we seem to have assimilated — how we are no longer set apart, and have melted into the world…trying not to make waves…trying to find a way to fit.  We seem to have forgotten that we must be square pegs, so to speak.  So, when we look around and feel outnumbered, that problem essentially falls on our own shoulders. 

But…beyond what we see, apart from what the world tries to feed into us, the fact still remains that we are NOT a fading flower!  Pew Forum reports, “As of 2010, Christianity was by far the world’s largest religion, with an estimated 2.2 billion adherents, nearly a third (31%) of all 6.9 billion people on Earth.”  Just because you cannot see them in the act of worship, just because you don’t know their names, does not mean that there aren’t people at every corner of this earth shouting the praises of our very same Father God.  His goodness knows no end — no boundaries.  His love endures forever!  It crosses over language barriers, it pierces into the darkest places and hearts, and it finds its way into every part of this world.  In world that He created, there is no keeping God on the outside.  Hearts all over the universe yearn to be one with their Creator, and one day they shall. 

21 “…For there is no other God but me,

a righteous God and Savior.

    There is none but me.

22 Let all the world look to me for salvation!

    For I am God; there is no other.

23 I have sworn by my own name;

    I have spoken the truth,

    and I will never go back on my word:

Every knee will bend to me,

    and every tongue will declare allegiance to me.” 

(Isaiah 45: 21-23)

As time progresses, we know that all who live in Christ will face persecution, but we will not be snuffed out or dissolved.  We cannot let the enemy use his wiles to deceive us into thinking otherwise.  Instead, we must guard our hearts and minds, and we have to use our greatest weapon to combat these lies — God’s truth — His word.  Remember also, and be encouraged, that there is strength in numbers.  We can’t allow ourselves to be divided by religious and denominational customs and rules.  Instead, let us try to breach the barriers, to tear down these man-built walls, because where there are just two or three gathered in the name of Jesus, He is there also — with us…for us.  Imagine what the unity of 2.2 billion souls could accomplish.  From the dawn of time, to the end of days, He will be praised and adored. 

So when you feel like this world has gone to pot, when you feel alone in your workplace or home, and when you feel like the world is laughing at what you hold most dear, know that this is a lie from the enemy of your soul.  We are not alone.  We are not few.  We will not be shaken.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, sometimes I need to be reminded just how great You truly are, and that there is no tongue that will not eventually confess that You are Lord.  Help me to stay encouraged in knowing that no matter how spread out we may be, those of us who love and serve You are great in number.  Help us to pull together in unity, across borders and limits, to make Your name and your love known to all.  Amen.

Hearts That Stir & Spirits That Move

Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. So they came, both men and women…All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the LORD had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the LORD. (Exodus 35:20, 29)

When I was younger, I spent many years playing horns in various symphonic, marching and jazz bands. I spent hours learning and practicing my part, teaching the members in my section, and rehearsing with the group to ensure we were all hitting our cues together. It required a lot of hard work and discipline, but when it all came together it was awesome. Everyone played their part, seamlessly blending with the other band members, and a group of goofy high school kids was able to create some truly beautiful performances.

In my last year of high school, our band was invited to a music competition several states away. We knew that we would be competing in multiple categories and we spent weeks preparing for the trip. We would stay after school to practice, sometimes until the janitors ran us out of the band room. Our director even enlisted a professor from the University of Illinois to bring some of his players over to do clinics with us. We did everything we could think of to prepare. When the competition finally arrived, all of our ensembles performed well, but it was our jazz band that outdid them all.

On the day of our performances, we played the songs like we always had so many times before, however this time was different. Everyone was moving and grooving together, perfectly in sync. There were no flubbed notes or missed cues, and even the soloists were hitting notes and adding flourishes beyond their normal ability. It was magical. We won our category and even took home the “Best In Show” for that jazz band performance. When we went back and listened to one judge’s commentary on the jazz portion of the competition, he sat through the entire performance without saying a single word of criticism, adding a simple “Bravo!” at the end. It was one of the highlights of my career as a musician.

There is something special about working “in concert” with others, when people from different walks of life come together for a common purpose or cause. We are so often caught up in the small things in life (the laundry, the lawn, the bills, caring for children, etc.), that it feels good to be involved in something bigger than ourselves. It is impressive when a group of people sets aside their differences to achieve something greater than their individual capacity. It can be a musical or athletic performance, a community program to help the less fortunate, or a missionary effort to build schools, orphanages, or churches on the other side of the world. When it all falls into place, it is a truly exhilarating experience.

Whenever I read this passage in Exodus about the Israelites coming together to build the Tabernacle, I imagine that they felt a similar excitement and pride about this project. They didn’t have to be forced to donate materials or time to the project. No one levied a tax, or guilted them into giving. The Bible says that their hearts were stirred, their spirits were moved, and the people joyously responded. In the next chapter, they brought so many offerings that Moses had to cut them off. It literally says that they had to be “restrained” from giving!

Like the conductor leading a band or orchestra, the Holy Spirit will move and direct God’s people. He will ensure that we are all playing our part and moving in harmony with one another. Throughout history, God has chosen to work through people that are willing to align themselves with his plan and purpose. Even today, he is inviting his people to join him in creating something beautiful, to manifest a little bit of his glorious future kingdom in the present hurting world. 

The question that remains is whether or not we will respond when he stirs our hearts and moves our spirits.  For me, it is a resounding “Yes!” and I pray it is the same for you!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, I pray that you will stir the hearts and move the spirits of your people. Help us to align ourselves with what you are doing in our homes, our church, our city and nation, and be united in this single purpose. Let us be sensitive the direction of the Holy Spirit and lead us to situations of need. Give us the desire to minister to others, to be your hands of grace and mercy to everyone we meet. This is the desire of our heart, and we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.