Monday, July 29, 2013


Week 31:

I Peter 5:9b ...because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
It is not unusual for us as Christians to suffer for the sake of Christ.  In fact, throughout the Bible we read of the sufferings we will face or the sufferings the people of God faced.  God called us to be different.  That difference goes against this world, the culture we live in, and ultimately what the evil one is attempting to accomplish.

Because of our stand to de different, suffering will occur.  We will be persecuted to some degree in our walk.  Some will face much more persecution than others.  We will face temptations because the evil one does not want us to be redeemed.  When I live in the Spirit, evil follows closely behind waiting on me to fall or slip.  Whatever the challenge may be, it is a given that I will suffer in some way for the cause of Christ. 
What a comfort there is in this passage to know that I am not alone in my sufferings.  Throughout the world others are facing similar struggles.  When I read about others sufferings and when I hear in groups other’s stories; I am constantly reminded that I am not alone in my sufferings.  I am also told, through God’s word, that I am blessed to suffer for His name. 
There is an underlying joy and peace involved with that kind of suffering because I know the end result.  No matter how bad it gets, a better eternity than this current life awaits.  However, as a Christian, I suffer in another way that underneath the surface does not have a joyful and peaceful undercurrent.  This type of suffering is what I call a self-inflicted suffering.  A friend and mentor to me, Dmitri Bilgere says it this way in his book Gateways to God:  “So too often, we don’t accept the gift of Christ’s sacrifice by committing ourselves to living every day in the grace and the joy he made available to us.  Instead, we try to balance Christ’s suffering by making ourselves suffer, too.”  He goes on to say, “…I should suffer to even the score.  We then live with a ‘low-grade fever’ of guilt and shame as we try to balance the books by suffering along with Christ.”   As I read this, I realized, “That’s me!” 
I beat myself up on a regular basis for the sin I struggle with.  Even when I am not in sin, I create a world of self-inflicted suffering around my shortcomings as a human.  All along, I am thinking that this is what I am supposed to do.  I am deceived to believe that this self-inflicted suffering will somehow release God’s grace and mercy.  If I suffer enough, He will eventually give me favor.  I do this…all along not recognizing that I already have His grace, mercy, and favor.  That was taken care of when His son Jesus went to the cross.  It is a gift.  And the strange part is…I block this gift by holding onto the shortcomings I have experienced.  By continually beating myself up, I rob myself of any joy that may come from suffering as a Christ-follower.  I will experience enough suffering just for following Christ without having to add my own self-inflicted abuse.
I now have the challenge of looking into my heart and finding where I beat myself up.  Where do I need to allow God’s mercy and grace to flow into my life?  The beginning for me is to write this passage on my heart and meditate on it until it is part of my everyday walk.  “…because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”
1.      What are some common sufferings you see for most western Christians today?
      2.      Where do you feel you have suffered for Christ?
      3.      Where do you self-inflict your suffering?  What do you beat yourself up over?
      4.      What was an “aha” moment for you when you read about self-inflicted suffering?
      5.      What changes in your life do you need to make in order to allow God’s love and grace   flow into your life?
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Monday, July 22, 2013

Hiding vs. fellowshp...

Week 30:

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
10 If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.  But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.  11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.  But how can one keep warm alone?  12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

I am made aware daily, in this individualistic culture, that we are in need of community...when I look around me and see all the pain, loneliness, and wounded lives...when I look around me and see absentee parenting...when I look around me and see teens (and many adults) looking for acceptance and initiation into adulthood through sex, addictions, and gangs...when I look around me and see men who are deeply wounded by life around them...I see a need for genuine community. Why are so many of us addicted to noise, television, texting and social media? I believe we are in search of that community. Why are the bars full? People are in search of community and connection.

Community builds strength. As the verse points out, two working together makes work more efficient. I’ve always heard the phrase, “Strength in numbers.” Teams win track meets when they enter large numbers of athletes in events. The more athletes in an event, the more points the team is able to score. Basketball teams that can run several players through a game wear down the opponent with fresh-legged players. By Christians banding together in strength, those in community can stand against the attacks by the evil one.  

Community fosters sharing. Sharing life together makes life more palatable. When I see that others are dealing with the same (or similar) struggles I am, I am comforted. I am more open to share my struggles and therefore gain some insight and healing around those struggles. Life is easier to handle knowing there are those thinking about me and praying for my situations.  

Community makes us less vulnerable to attacks. I sin most when I am alone. Community keeps me in check. Community holds me accountable to my agreement to follow Christ and his teachings. Satan loves nothing more than to get me alone so that he can cut me off from my strength and community. Predators single out sheep from the flock when they attack. When I am a sheep alone, I am susceptible to Satan’s attack. In his book Healing the Shame that Binds You, John Bradshaw offers this: "There is an ancient proverb that states, 'One man is no man.' This saying underscores our basic human need for community, which underscores our need for relationships and social life. Not one of us could have made it without someone being there for us. Human beings need help. Not one of us is so strong that he does not need love, intimacy and dialogue in community."

So, what keeps me from community? First of all, my shame gets in the way. I want to hide my darkness. I am afraid that if the community really knew me, it would reject me. I am ashamed of my sin and my thoughts. I feel that I have to have my life together before I join the saints in community. However, once I am in community, true community, authentic community, I see that I am not alone in how I live my life.  

A second barrier to community is my living out of past wounds. People have let me down. Because that was painful, I guard my heart from that pain. Avoiding community dulls that pain for me. As I grow older, I realize that much of the wounding I endured came from others who were wounded and they knew no other way but to wound others to dull their pain. They need my presence in community as much as I need a safe place.  

The final barrier for me is that I do not believe I belong. I’m not good enough, handsome enough, or I’m not smart enough to compare with those around me. Also, the reverse could occur. I can be feeling self-superior to those around me and not want to associate or connect with the community. I begin to compare myself to others and set up a false sense power. Truth is, I belong in both cases. When I am inferior, I am reminded that I am God’s creation and belong. When I am self-superior, I realize that there are skeletons I am hiding and that I am no place to be condescending toward others.  

As a Christian I need to be more about community and less about what our doctrine says. Doctrine is important...tradition is important...knowing God's Word is important...but I will never be able to reach those around me without creating a loving community. Furthermore, my community needs my strength, sharing, and accountability in order to build that strong cord of strands.

If I think community, offer community, and love as a community, then I will be more equipped to reach the lost and contribute to the strength of the community.


1. Which of the three barriers to community do you identify with?
2. What might be some other barriers to community? Explain.
3. Describe the circumstances where community was beneficial to you.
4. Describe a situation where you were beneficial to your community.
5. This week, if you are in community, reflect on how important that community is to you. Take time to voice that to your group. If you are not in community, look into your life and see why you have been avoiding community. Ask God to soften your heart toward community and look for a place to join.
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Friday, July 19, 2013


Week 29:

John 8:44b …He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

Satan works his power most through deception. He perverts and twists things that are good and godly into destructive and misleading outcomes for humanity. I particularly dislike how Satan uses scripture and twists it to deceive.  

In two past articles, both by the title “Overcoming Temptation” (One is on my Random Ramblings blog), I pointed out some ways Satan twists God’s word and written scripture to deceive. I will reference them as well as some other examples of Satan’s deception.  

From the beginning of what we know of God in Genesis, Satan has been twisting God’s word.  He did not have scripture to twist. However, he did twist God’s word. Notice in Genesis 3, 1b“…Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” Then again, 4”You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman, 5”for God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And they did not die…right away. They did die later, which I do not think was the plan. Satan twisted God’s word. God did not tell them when they would die if they ate of the tree. After the fact in 3:19 God tells Adam of his fate by ending the verse with…”for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Satan twisted scripture when Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days fasting. When tempting Jesus, Satan took Psalm 91:11-12 out of context. Satan was taking this passage totally out of context in order deceive and thwart God’s plan for redeeming His people. Still, Jesus was able to answer twisted scripture with truth in scripture.

Satan even twists scripture for me. For years I allowed Satan’s little twist of Romans 3:23 beat me down make me feel I will never have joy in the redemption that is in Christ. I could finish the phrase, “…for all have sinned…” by heart, “and fall short of the glory of God,”…then, God revealed to me that there was a comma at the end of the phrase. Not many know what the rest of the verse says…including me. Verse 24 finishes that phrase in the positive, “and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Satan commonly uses God’s word and twists and perverts it in order to draw us further away from God and the redemptive power of the blood of Jesus.

Through his deception, Satan also twists gifts from God to draw us into sin and further away from God. A huge area is in the arena of sex and sexual desires. Sex is a beautiful, intimate bonding between husband and wife. The desires we have are a gift from God. However, Satan has been bombarding humans with twists and deceptions around sex and desires throughout the history of humankind. Some current examples are obvious. Pornography, extramarital affairs, and same-sex attraction are twists on God’s plan for sexuality. A subtle twist I see amongst Christians has been how we treat sex as a church body. I have noticed that we have done two things: First, in many cases, we as a church have ignored sexuality as if it is taboo or too dirty to talk about sex. I have worked out of fear when I have ignored the subject. I fear that if I talk about it around youth, then I might arouse love too early. Second, which is related to the first, we have put sexuality into a shameful and negative light to the point that it cannot be fully enjoyed or appreciated within marriages. I know of too many couples who have struggled with shame around their sexuality within their marriage due to the negative light in which it was painted prior to marriage.  

Another gifted area for me and how I am misled by Satan’s deception is in the areas of the gift of eternity and freedom in Christ. So much of the time, I will live my life with no joy. Now, I realize that there will be sufferings, consequences for actions, and general evil that occurs in my life. However, what gets in the way of my joy are the lies, deceptions and shame from my past and prior wounds. I will begin to believe that I will never measure up, I’m not good enough, and I do not have what it takes to be in the kingdom of God. As I continue to allow the weight of past experiences pile on, I look at life through a negative view of myself. I realize that I am to lose self and be filled with Christ. This is not what I am talking about here. Even when I lose self for Christ’s gain, I have joy. It is when I am burdened with Satan’s lies and negative messages that I block the joy that comes through knowing my salvation in the blood of Jesus.  

There are so many other ways that Satan deceives and lies to us. He is a master of those deceptions as Jesus noted in this week’s verse. My challenge for myself is to hear God’s voice louder…and believe that voice.


1. When you think about Satan twisting scripture, what passages come to mind for you?
2. What gifts in your life do you see Satan twisting?
3. In what ways do you relate the two gifts I mentioned?
4. What lies or deceptions from Satan are blocking your Joy?
5. Pay attention this week to where Satan is twisting and using God’s word and gifts for his gain. Ask Jesus to awaken His Spirit within you to see these deceptions.

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Monday, July 15, 2013


Week 28:

Isaiah 41:10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Fear. Fear is such a powerful emotion. When I look at the basis for so many actions in this world, I see fear at the heart of those actions. I see fear both as motivator and paralyzer. Proof of fear being so prevalent in human nature can be noticed through its frequent mention in the Bible. There are those (through tongue and cheek) who note that the phrase, (or some variation of the phrase) “Do not fear” shows up hundreds of times in the Bible. Although that is hard to verify, it does show up a lot.

The frequency of the phrase tells me two things. First, it is common for humans to experience fear. Second, God is aware of our fear and is there at our side as we walk through our fear. Sometimes in my life, I look at the Bible as being uncommon, an ideal life somewhere in the distance. But, when I dive in and look at things like fear, I see where great men of the Bible had fear. I see where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Elijah, and many others acted out of fear. God saw their fear and walked with them through it. He showed them that He was in control. This makes the Bible come alive for me.  

So, God tells us in many ways and many times, “Do not fear”. I believe that many times I read this phrase (or one similar) and feel shame for my fear. Instead of admitting my fear to God and to others, I hide my fear…for fear of not being aligned with God. Therefore, I hide or deny or even repress my fear. But does it really go away? Not by doing one of those three acts. When I deny my fear that I am truly feeling, I am out of integrity with myself. I am not living in truth.

As I think about this and how God reacts to fear, I notice that God does not express that I will not fear…He says, “Do not fear”. Therein lays the difference. God allows for my fear yet tells me do not fear. Wait a minute, did I contradict myself? Not really. God knows I will have fear. In fact, I think Jesus even felt fear prior to the physical pain he was going to suffer and the separation from God he would endure carrying our sins to the cross. God knows I will have fear, but He tells me to not fear to remind me who is in control. Verse 9 of this passage points this out for me. God tells Isaiah that he is chosen and not rejected by God. Doesn’t God tell me the same if I am in Christ Jesus? That is what God reminds me when He tells me, “Do not fear”. God knows the end game.  

So, what do I do with my fear? First of all, I must admit I have fear. If I repress it, it does not go away. In fact, many times it will leak out of me in the form of unhealthy anger. By admitting my fear, I can do something with that fear. Better yet, I can let the Holy Spirit of God help me through my fear. Secondly, I look for the source of my fear. Does it come from within me? Is it tied to shame? Is it tied to a wound from my past? By examining what it is tied to, I can better manage the fear. Third, I use my fear to drive me. There is energy in fear. Most of the time, I use this energy to repress my fear. However, if I turn that energy toward action, I can push through my fear. Finally, I must remind myself that God has my back. Even if I fail, which I fear, God has a plan. Despite my shortcomings, God’s plan will prevail.  

I want to conclude by re-quoting a passage we use in in a group exercise from The Crucible Project from the book A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson:

     "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful            beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves,          “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be?          You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world."

Fear not, for God is with you!


1. What do you fear the most?
2. Where do you think that fear comes from?
3. What do you gain out of that fear?
4. What is at risk for you to give up that fear or fight through that fear?
5. What have you feared in the past that God saw you through and you recognized such?
6. This week, ask God to reveal to you His leading through your fear. Pay attention to how God helps you through that fear.

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Monday, July 1, 2013

Silence and presence...

Week 27:

I Kings 19:12-13 12After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  13When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

What does it mean to be present? How does being in the here and the now look? If you are like me, I spend a lot of time either reviewing what I have just experienced or day-dreaming about what is to come in the future. I find it difficult to live in the present at times.  

What also keeps me from being present is my thought process. When I am with another person, I often am formulating my response to their conversation to the point that I have not heard everything he has said. I am more worried about what I think and what I am going to say that I am no longer present for the person in front of me.  

I do notice that some activities create presence for me. If I am involved in an activity that requires some concentration, I am in the moment. Certain job tasks, service projects, speaking opportunities, and physical work situations keep me present. However, I need to be careful and aware that even though these tasks are good works, busyness does not always translate into presence. In fact, I may be present in the moment but not necessarily present for others.  

Elijah saw awesome wonders looking to see God. However, when it came down to hearing from God, in the silence is where God spoke in a gentle whisper. To hear that whisper, it requires silence and presence.  

There are two components that helped me to better my presence: Silence and emotional awareness. I believe these go hand and hand. In fact, I believe that Elijah had both in his moment with God. Elijah had to be silent to hear the whisper. Also notice that Elijah pulled his cloak over his face. Elijah felt fear in that moment. It could be scared fear or respectful fear in the presence of God. None the less, Elijah was emotionally present.  

For me to be present, I must quite my mind. I must push out all the distractions and thoughts that keep me from being in the moment. This is quite difficult. I have trained myself to be busy. Spending time in silence takes practice. I have found that when I put silence into practice, I become more present in the moment and for others. A side note here is the practice of silence when others are talking as well. I am working on listening more and responding less. And, also working toward my responses being a mirror of what has been said to me in order to be present for the person I am in conversation with.  

Beyond silence, I must be emotionally aware. Throughout the day, it is good for me to check-in with myself and note what emotions I am feeling. This can be difficult because I may not want to open up the feelings of fear, sadness, and anger. But, as I have noted before, if I numb those feelings, I also numb positive emotions like joy, happiness, excitement, and tenderness as well. By knowing how I am feeling in a moment, it allows me to be present in the here and now. This also allows me to be present for others and their emotions as well. It allows me to “hold” their space and allows them to be present in the moment.  

I believe that God looks to speak to us in our silence and presence. A challenge for me is to become more silent and present so that I can hear that gentle whisper. When I do, my life is never the same.


1. Explain why it is difficult for you to practice silence.
2. What do you personally gain for yourself out of the noise?
3. What might you be hiding from yourself through noise and emotional numbness?
4. Explain what it was like for you when you were truly present.
5. Take time each day this week to practice silence and emotional awareness. Notice what God does for you in those moments.

For men, a great place to learn more about silence and emotional awareness and how it can draw you closer to the grace of God, I invite you to join us on a Crucible Project men’s weekend in the near future.

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