Encouragement to Take a Leap of Faith and Continue the Journey

leaping

If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp. Judges 7:10-11 NIV

God looked into Gideon’s heart and saw that he needed some encouragement for the task ahead.

Gideon had already agreed to obey God. He had kept the three hundred men God had ordained for battle and sent the rest of the men home.

Still, God must have seen fear in Gideon’s heart, so God allowed Gideon to hear something, which gave him encouragement.

I deal with a lot of people on the brink of greatness for God. They are often pastors and church planters, missionaries, ministers or believers who know God is calling them to something, but one thing stands in the way — FEAR. I understand. Been there. Have several t-shirts.

Here’s a word of encouragement for you.

If uncertainty is causing you to fear your next move or to act upon what you believe God is calling you to do — learn a lesson from Gideon’s story.

Understand that God knows your strengths and your weaknesses. He knows where you most need encouragement. God ultimately wants you to trust Him completely, without having to depend on anything or anyone else, but He also knows you are still a work in progress. You’re still growing your faith. He will be patient. He is fully prepared to see you through your doubts to His glory. However long that takes.

Keep in mind that God’s ultimate goal is the complete control of your heart. Therefore, God often sends people your way to encourage you in your walk. He wants you to fully and completely trust in Him, so He will kindly allow you at times to see the good you are doing in ministry. God wants your complete obedience, so He occasionally allows you the privilege of seeing the direction He is taking you.

Many times, however, you and I are left to walk with God simply by faith.

I hope God sends you the encouragement you need today to allow you to move forward in obedience to Him, but if He allows you to wrestle with your own doubts today, may I be a voice of encouragement to tell you God is trustworthy? He proves faithful. Every time.

Step big into the awesomeness found in a life that is fully obedient to God’s will!

I wonder if Gideon could have read his story in reverse if he would have lived it all over again. Somehow I suspect He would!

Having a Gut-Honest Talk with Jesus

Jesus asleep

Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Mark 4:38 NIV

I have been told that the stern is the strongest part of the boat. The Creator of the universe was asleep there.

The One who made the waters and was there when the waters were parted; who led Moses as Moses led the people through on dry ground — that same One had His head on a cushion — sleeping soundly.

The One who walked with three guys in the fiery furnace — in all of His current humanity — had decided He needed some rest.

The disciples, however, had apparently lost sight of the fact that, Jesus was not only human — not only needing rest — He was also God. Creator. Master.

The One who was asleep was never out of control. He was never without a plan. (It was His idea to get in the boat.)

I am reminded that I forget the same thing at times. I accuse Jesus of not caring. Of not being aware of my current situation.

No, I don’t say that — at least not very loud. I have too much respect for the Creator to do that. So, I just mumble it under my breath — or think it loudly — as if He who reads the heart doesn’t already know.

Have you ever felt like the disciples felt?

Have you ever wondered if Jesus cared?

Has the thought crossed your mind that Jesus might not even be aware of your current situation?

Have you thought, “Jesus, I see my problems, don’t you?”

Or maybe, if you are completely honest, have you ever felt something like, “Jesus, don’t you care?”

Wow!

Of course, our spiritual piety would never allow us to admit our weakness in this area fully. Could I as a pastor really admit that I doubted His love?

Could you?

Yet if I am honest, sometimes from my perspective, it appears that Jesus is nowhere to be found when I need Him most and I am left all alone to wallow in my sorrows.

Did I just say that?

I think the best thing we can possibly do in those situations is to be like the disciples and admit our frailty to God.

And, here’s the truth we may know but not always live.

When we get gut honest with Jesus about our insufficiency — is often when He is most willing to do what only He can do.

Do you need to have an honest talk with Jesus today?

7 Ways to Better Enjoy Reading the Bible

Christian woman reading a Bible

I’ll never forget the day a young college-aged girl told me recently that she didn’t enjoy reading her Bible and asked if there was an alternative book.

At first, I didn’t know what to say. Then I realize she was very serious.

“Well…no!”, I thought, but didn’t say.

The Bible is THE BOOK!

There is no substitute. There are plenty of great Christian books, but none compare to this one.

That wasn’t a new concern. I’ve heard similar concerns many times. The Bible intimidates many people; even those who are avid readers of other books.

I did suggest this girl could listen to the Bible on a CD or mp3. YouVersion will even read the Bible to you. But then I told her I’d give her some more suggestions.

That’s what prompted this post. The reality is I think we need to figure out how to enjoy reading God’s Word. Part of maturing as a believer is to fall in love with the Bible.

Here are 7 suggestions which may help:

Pray – The Bible is not like any other book. You need God’s Spirit to help you understand and process it. You should always pray before and as you read it. Ask God to help you understand what you’re reading — even to help you enjoy it. Good news here! This appears, in my experience, to be one of God’s favorite prayers to answer.

Version – Pick a version easy for you to understand. I would suggest you read a more literal translation primarily, but the paraphrase versions are good for casual reading. I suggest HCSB, NIV or NLT for a more literal but very readable version, ESV or NKJV if you want a most literal translation, or for a paraphrase version, that’s extremely readable, try The Message Version. I read some of each of these for my studies and casual reading. (I wrote a post on how to select a version HERE.)

Sharing – It brings Scripture to life when we can share it with others. Find a small group. That’s what church is great for at providing. Or find a group of guys or girls at a coffee shop or a couple of people from work. Studying the Scripture with a community helps energize you as you learn. When you talk about what you’re reading, it helps you value it more. (Read Philemon 6 for an example of this.)

Journaling – Writing about your time in God’s Word will help you process your thoughts and keep a record of them. It’s exciting to go back over time and remember what you read before. It fuels your enthusiasm to study even more.

Timing – I love the idea of reading the Bible through in a year. I’ve done this many times. I think it’s more important, however, that you benefit from what you’re reading. I sometimes meditate on a few verses or a story for a day — or a week. I also recommend people start with an easier book to understand and move to more difficult passages from there. The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John are good places to start. And, find the right setting. A comfortable chair, an open field — morning, noon or night — what works best for you. And, for as long as you can. Don’t put a time limit on it that adds more burden to the experience.

Clarify – It’a best to have a study Bible for this part, but there are plenty of free online tools also. Look up words you don’t understand. Learn to use Bible dictionaries and commentaries. Use the Table of Contents. No shame. Look up passages, which aren’t clear, cross-referencing verses with other similar verses using footnotes. For some people, having a Bible study to work through along with reading the Bible is helpful. And, when you aren’t certain, ask someone you trust who understands the Bible.

Relationship – The best way to fall in love with God’s Word is to get to better know it’s Author. It’s cliche now, but read it as a love letter written to you. If someone writes you a love letter, you’ll read it continually until you figure out what it means, and maybe even memorize parts of it along the way. If you can’t figure out something, you’ll consult the author.
The greater your love grows with God the easier Bible reading becomes — and the more enjoyable. You may even someday say it’s “fun”!

What would you add to my list?

Facing Adversity and Being in God’s Will

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Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. 1 Samuel 19:1

David was minding his own business one day, tending sheep, when God called him to be a king. Talk about a God moment.

He didn’t ask to be king, but God said he was the one. He turned out to be a great king. Imagine that? God made a good pick! David had a heart modeled after God’s, according to the Bible.

So, since God had chosen to bless David in such a way, why do we later find Saul trying to kill David?

In fact, for some time Saul chased David. David hid out, all alone, which is the setting we find him in during the writings of many of the Psalms. David was God’s choice for king and yet he was placed in incredible adversity.

What does this tell us?

I think it says to me that sometimes God’s will for us will find us in the middle of trials in life.

That’s right. His will for our lives.

More importantly, I am learning that I cannot determine whether I am in God’s will based on whether or not my life is peaceful. Just because I have trials in my life, doesn’t mean I am not in the center of God’s will for my life.

I love how Alistair Begg once said it.

“We should not seek to confirm God’s will by the absence of adversity.”

Think about Biblical characters who faced great trials.

  • Abraham who faced the trial of leaving his homeland, then the years of infertility.
  • Moses wandered in the wilderness forty years.
  • Joseph was sold into slavery.
  • Ruth lost her husband.
  • Nehemiah had to fight off naysayers.
  • Daniel was thrown into a lion’s den.
  • John the Baptist was beheaded.
  • Paul wrote some of his best work in prison.

All of these great servants of God faced persecution, heartache, and trials beyond most of our imaginations. Yet, all them, during the adversity, were right where God wanted them to be, in the center of His will.

Yes, we would all like life to be peaceful. It is true that we can have inner peace and joy even in the middle of the storms of life. But God has not promised us a life free of problems.

In fact, we can be perfectly within His will and still be facing adversity. It is often through the process of life’s difficulties that God makes us more like Jesus., teaches us more about Him and ourselves. Our character is defined in

Trust Him today, regardless of your circumstances! He is always working a plan!

For more devotional thoughts, click HERE.

Who Do You Say That I Am?

This is a guest post by Jason Clark. Jason is a singer/songwriter, author, speaker, and pastor. Jason’s passion is to know the love of God more each day. He lives to see a generation step into their identity as sons and daughters of the King and establish His Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. He and his wife, Karen, live in North Carolina with their three children. Jason’s new book Prone To Love is available now: www.jasonclarkis.com

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Jesus pressed his disciples asking, “And how about you? Who do you say I am?”

Peter said, “You’re the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus responded, “…You didn’t get that answer out of books or from teachers. My Father in heaven, God himself, let you in on this secret of who I really am.”

Can you imagine how excited Jesus was about Peter’s revelation? Everywhere Jesus went, every breath He ever took, every smile, every tear, every gesture, every word was meant to reveal the Father. He said, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well (John 14:7),” and “I am in the Father and the Father is in me… (John 14:11)” Jesus life was an expression of the Fathers perfect love. But the disciples, and everyone else for that matter, never seemed able to really get it.

Then Peter has a revelation. He see’s and describes Jesus and in so doing meets His Dad!

What Jesus says next is amazing!

“And now I’m going to tell you who you are, really are.”

Don’t miss this. Peter, in relationship with Jesus, meets the Father, and then is given his identity.

“You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out.”

Can you imagine? Peter is given a perspective of how the Father saw him, what he was created for – his life’s purpose.
Jesus wasn’t finished.

“And that’s not all. You will have complete and free access to God’s kingdom, keys to open any and every door: no more barriers between heaven and earth, earth and heaven. A yes on earth is yes in heaven. A no on earth is no in heaven.”
(Matthew 16:15-19)

Not only is Peter given his identity, he is given his inheritance. “No barriers Peter, no measurable limits. You will live from the measureless revelation of heaven. You will have all the authority I have Peter.”

“Keys to open any and every door.” Or you could say it this way, “Love trumps any and every need.”

If we want to know who we are, if we want to know what we are called to, if we want to know what we have access to, all we have to do is say yes to Jesus – the perfection of our Fathers good love.

One revelation of the Father brings more clarity regarding call, promise, identity, destiny, power and authority than a lifetime of anything else including bible study and good messages – “You didn’t get this from a book or teachers… I’m not suggesting bible study and good messages aren’t valuable, I’m simply noting they should always lead to Jesus and reveal the Father.

“Who do you say that I am?” It’s an invitation to hear and know the Father and it’s an invitation to discover our identity and inheritance.

And Jesus is still asking today.

And Jesus is still revealing the Father today. He is still releasing the keys to “any and every door.” He is still empowering sons and daughters.

Jesus, may we know You, and in knowing You know our Father, and in knowing our Father become sure as sons and daughters.

When “This Kind” Can Only Come Out By Prayer

Here Are My Prayers

And he said to them, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

The disciples had tried to drive out the demon. They had watched Jesus many times before. It didn’t seem at the time like something they couldn’t do. Jesus had said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can move mountains.”

Everyone was watching, too! What would they think if they weren’t able to get rid of this evil spirit? People might have thought less of them. They may have said, “You’re not really His disciples.” or “Look at you, you can’t do anything by yourself.” or “Where’s your faith?”.

Have you ever been afraid of what others would think about the amount of your faith?

So, humbly and privately they ask Jesus, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” (verse 28)

Fair question, wouldn’t you agree? Why couldn’t they perform what seemed to be a simple task? Why couldn’t they do what they had been trained to do? What they had apparently already been given power to do?

“This kind”, Jesus said, “can only come out by prayer.”

Now there are plenty of commentaries on this passage, but what we can’t escape is the missing ingredient. Prayer.

I need to ask you to consider this next part of the post. The first part was about the disciples. This part is about you.

What are you trying to do today that can only happen…with success…by prayer?

Oh, you may be very spiritual. You may have great Biblical knowledge. You may even know the pastor personally. (Like that’s a big deal or something!) You may be a committed follower of Christ. You may have the “good attendance” pin. You may have a testimony. You know, the kind where everyone says “ooh” when you share it. You may be an example for others to follow. You may even give God the glory for great things He hath done!

But…you see — this kind — the kind you’re dealing with now — can only come out by prayer!

Today — whatever it is — no matter what people might think or say — turn it over to the God who loves you beyond your ability to understand! Let Him know you need Him and Him alone. Tell Him you realize that apart from Him you can do nothing!

PRAY! Pray like you’ve never prayed before.

Then get out of His way and let Him do His work!

You may now want to read THIS POST on prayer — Hezekiah’s example of effective prayer.

Is there something BIG that I can pray with you about?

How a Man After God’s Own Heart Responds to Naysayers

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Those who seek my life lay their snares;

those who seek my hurt speak of ruin

and meditate treachery all day long.

But I am like a deaf man; I do not hear,

like a mute man who does not open his mouth.

I have become like a man who does not hear,

and in whose mouth are no rebukes.

But for you, O Lord, do I wait;

it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer.

Psalm 38:12-15

Contrary to some leader’s advice, I listen to critics. I understand we have to lead with those who believe in the vision, but I always feel I can learn from everyone — even those who disagree with me. I allow those I’m supposed to lead to cast objections to my plans and open myself up for correction — and yes, sometimes it hurts.

King David seemed to lead this way. We see several instances in his life where he was open to correction and criticism. He allowed those he was leading to speak into the situation and challenge his plan in 1 Samuel 23. Totally rare in those days. In 2 Samuel 16, David appears to take being cursed by another man, a man named Shimei, like a man — like a man after God’s own heart. Kings in those days — especially with the power of David — didn’t have to allow others to correct them — especially not with such violent accusations.

As a leader, David did not shelter himself from criticism or correction.

But, there’s a reality in leadership we can’t ignore. David, a “man after God’s own heart”, must have understood it.

Leader, you will never make everyone happy.

Some of us will try. Some of us take it personal when everyone isn’t happy with us. Some of us dislike conflict more than others.

But, the truth is, some people will always disagree with the decisions you make, because they disagree with you. They can’t buy into your vision, because they haven’t bought into you as the leader. That’s natural. It’s normal. It was even true for Christ in His leadership.

We should be open to input of others — even negative input. We should build collaboration as much as possible. We should do all we can to bring people along. We should make sure what we are doing is honorable.

But, at some point we move forward. And turn a deaf ear to the naysayers.

Because — in the end, David was leading for an audience of one. That’s how a man (or woman) after God’s own heart leads.

Thank you David for that gentle reminder.

We need it. Often.

Learning to be Content with the Fences of Life

Jeune veau dans un champ

The day for building your walls will come, the day for extending your boundaries. Micah 7:11 NIV

Driving down a country road I saw something that reminded me of an important principle in life.

I passed a field full of cows grazing. Close to the road was a large metal gate covering the entrance to the field. At the gate was a little calf, seemingly trying desperately to get through the gate on to the other side of the fence.

It appeared to me this calf had seen some grass that looked better outside the fence. Sure enough, I looked and there was a patch of the greenest grass any calf could hope to find. Just feet outside the gate.

In the meantime, all the other cows appeared to patiently graze among the grass within the fence. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if the calf would have gotten past the gate.

It would obviously be unsafe. A calf…wondering in the road by itself…I would have probably felt inclined to stop had I seen it in the road. Innocent of the ways of the world. Helpless. I would have feared for its safety. And, I’m sure it would have missed it’s mother when the time came for milk. This calf had no business outside the gate. No business at all. Anyone knows that.

But, then the calf reminded me of how I am at times.

Just being honest, I’ve struggled most of my life with patience…contentment…being satisfied where I am now and waiting until God does something new. I have often thought the “grass looks greener on the other side”. It’s hard for me to be patient within the fences of life at times.

In that discontentment, I often find myself testing the boundaries…the fences…God has placed me in life…trying to create my own “opportunities”…only to find out later that what God had for me was best. A God-ordained wait is always purposeful. His fences are always for my good.

Have you learned some those hard lessons in life?

Have you found out that what you thought you so desperately wanted wasn’t really worth it once you got it?

Oh, thank God for boundaries. Thank God for fences.

Thank God for unanswered prayers.

Thank God for all the trouble and heartache He has kept me from…because I have surely brought enough on myself…by keeping me within the fence.

Lord, help us to find our contentment in life in You! In the fences you provide.

4 Reasons to Try a Discipleship App

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There are apps for almost everything we could physically need or want. I can order a pizza, check my bank account or rent a movie while on my phone standing in line at the grocery store.

But what about spiritual needs – is there an app for that?

Family Christian’s new ministry, iDisciple, is answering with a resounding YES. The new app offers a first-of-its kind discipleship experience, delivering your favorite Christian content from your favorite Christian leaders all in one place on any device. (I was honored to be one of the original contributors of content.)

I received a free trial from iDisciple, and here’s 4 reasons I think you should try it:

Daily Devotions – Three daily devotions are delivered to users from a selection of 20 leading Christian leaders. iDisciple content providers include Craig Groeschel, Andy Stanley, Dennis Rainey, Louie Giglio, Beth Moore and many more.

The content can be custom-tailored to me – Users of the free version have access to basic features including sermons and devotionals, but for $4.99 per month, I can create a personal profile that allows the iDisciple system to suggest appropriate content for my specific preferences, needs and interests, like managing finances or developing my faith.

It’s growing – iDisciple’s library currently features more than 30,000 sermons, devotionals, articles, Bible studies, blogs, podcasts and an in-app Bible. They’re always adding content, and Christian e-books and music will be available early this year.

It keeps on giving – Because iDisciple is a Family Christian Ministry, 100 percent of earnings will be donated to support Christian ministries and causes. Additionally, I can give to my favorite charity through a personal giving account within the app.

For more information on iDisciple, or to check out the free 14-day trial, visit www.idisciple.org.

To encourage you to give it a try, iDisciple will provide a free-subscription to one lucky reader of this blog. You can enter for this drawing by commenting on this post.

A representative from iDisciple provided this article.

My Additional Writings

I am consistently asked if I have a book written. I haven’t written a book yet. I hope to some day. But, I have written a lot.

Readers if this blog may not know that prior to blogging I spent over 10 years writing an online devotional. You can find it at mustardseedministry.com.

A few years ago, I published some of them into a book. You can find it HERE.

Mustard Seed

I’ve written a couple other resources also.

Recently, Lifeway published a Bible study on conflict. If your small group or Sunday school needs a study, we all deal with conflict. You can find it HERE.

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Finally, if you lead a men’s group, I have written a men’s Bible study titled “Questions In a Man’s Journey”. It’s a short, 9 week study, with lots of questions to help guide discussion and self-discovery. I wrote it years ago for personal use when leading groups, but in recent years other groups have requested to use it. You can find it HERE.

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I still hope to write a book someday. Until then, thanks for reading this blog and my other work.