Tag Archives: Holy Spirit

3 Ways to Avoid Awkward Holiday Conversations

Cue the Soft, Peaceful Music…
     I love the Christmas season. The deeper my walk with Christ, the more I appreciate the time when we celebrate His incarnation. Yes, I’m a foodie – all the foods, drinks, smells, and flavors of Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas create vivid, IMAX moments in my memory of seasons past. The most powerful thought that comes to my mind each year is that Jesus came to earth to deal with the source of our troubles – sin and death.

Sour Notes
     Everyone around you has the same problems. Sin and death. Some just experience louder and longer versions of the same struggles. Some just have layers and layers of problems piled on them. But, essentially it all comes down to the problem of living in a broken, Genesis 3 world. We’ve trained our oldest daughter to recognize one of the simplest results of the Fall – hurt people hurt people. And, we’re all hurt people, but grace means we don’t have to let the cycle continue and we don’t have to be the source of someone else’s hurt.

Enter “The Awkward Conversation”
     What does the intersection of Thanksgiving/Christmas and “hurt people” mean to you? Sometimes, it means running into someone you haven’t seen in a long time and asking one of those “awkward” questions:

“So, Sandy, you and Rick getting married soon?” Rick just left Sandy for his executive assistant. Oops.
“Hey, great to see you! Where’s Margaret?” Margaret died of cancer three weeks ago. Tragic silence.

Rewriting the Script:
    Too close to home? Been there. Done that. So, what do I do, show up and not say anything? Well. That’s an option… But, the bible offers several practical disciplines that God commands us to practice before that awkward conversation that will make it ten times easier to handle the kinds of situations that only exist in a fallen broken world filled with fallen broken people. Actors don’t just “learn lines”, they prepare their character. Athletes don’t just work out, they practice their craft. Wise disciples of Christ engage the Master and His wisdom.

1. Show up “Clean”.
     For years, Men Step Up’s table leaders have carried a card around in their wallets that demands of them 5 things, one of which is “Show up clean and on time.” “Clean” to these guys and to anyone as a disciple of Christ who disciples others, means asking themselves and the Lord this one question: “Lord, is there any unconfessed sin in my life?” David wrote “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139.22-24)” Jesus would later teach in the Beattitudes: “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

     Bottom line – sin clouds our vision and numbs us to not only the voice of the Holy Spirit, but the innate sensibilities God has impressed on our conscience and memory of Godly wisdom. This prevents us from paying attention to the fact that “Rick” isn’t in the room and Sandy looks a bit emotionally aloof or that Margaret, too, isn’t at the party and we recall her name showing up in a prayer chain email a few months back. What if we prayed those lines from Psalm 139 on the way to ever function and begged God to “create in [us] a clean heart?”

2. Stay Clean. 
     For personal reasons, Cristine and I have eliminated alcohol from our diet as of about two years ago. But, have you ever noticed that some of the most careless things can come out of our mouths after only one glass of wine or one snobby, locally-micro-brewed IPA? Scripture is replete with commands to “be alert”, “be sober minded”, “consider others better than yourselves”. When we’re not at peak performance, around tons of people (each of which bring their own “holiday” baggage to the room, not to mention our own), how can we possibly be as alert, sober minded, and attentive to the needs of others when we’re even mildly impaired? I could focus on the word “mildly”, but it’s used here to describe the word “impaired“. Are you with me?

     So, as a rule, I used to show up with a “two drink maximum”. But, since we are all easily blinded by the wiles of our own indiscretions, what would it look like if you took the number of drinks you consider “conservative” and cut it in half or quarter?

3. Got Dirty? Get Clean Fast.
     The most astounding prayer Jesus ever prayed was hanging on the cross while insults were being hurled at Him: “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” For you and I to get great at praying (and really meaning) that prayer is a major chunk of walking the Christian walk. Family times often bring awkward tensions brought about by unconfessed or unforgiven sins. Work parties can so easily turn into contests of who can suppress the urge to tell someone what they’ve wanted to say about unfair conditions the longest. But, forgiveness is the only true solution.
     John Woodall once asked me “are you aware of your subtle methods of seeking revenge?” That question stuck with me like a drop of gas fallen from the pump onto my shoe. Impossible to shake the smell, right? It’s true – you and I all share in Cain’s folly… “I’ll show you!” The regular practice of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation ought to flow from the believer with force.
     “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Have a great Thanksgiving and a Christmas season marked by incredible “un-awkwardness”.

in Christ,

AP

3 Steps Toward Getting Unstuck

Doing Two Things at Once…     Have you ever been on the phone with someone while you were driving to work, get to work and think “Wow, how did I get here?” 

Auto-Pilot Explained
     There’s great brain science out there that explains this phenomenon. Without getting hyper-biological, let’s just say that God designed our brains to do really great things. One of those things our brain yearns to do is to embed familiar routines into the “auto-pilot” section of our brain. We’ve subconsciously trained ourselves how to get to work by storing “directions to work” in the routine-function section of our minds (also called the basal ganglia). When we shifted our “full” attention to the phone conversation, auto-pilot is what helped us arrive at work instead of Peru.

     Much of what you and I have learned as children has been broken down into easily recalled “chunks” (how to go to the bathroom, how to lift a glass, what to say when someone gives you a toy, how to respond to someone who yells at you, etc.) and stored it in autopilot. This saves us from wasting time and energy rethinking the routine each time we have to do it.

    The Old Testament teaching from Proverbs 22:6 is echoed in Jesus’ teaching “…but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)” Which, begs the question:

Who (more often, what) has been your teacher?


We’ve All Been Discipled by Someone
     Many of my teachers growing up were contrary or marginally average examples of godly behavior. It took time in the Word and the Holy Spirit to expose to me the places where I’d learned wicked examples of auto pilot. Today, I was interviewing a mental health professional and he reminded me that when men and women are under great pressure they tend heavily to fall into default modes of thinking learned from their childhood/family of origin. The brain science I’m reading right now fully confirms this assertion: while we may have new ways of thinking and be a “new creation” in Christ, we don’t always let go of our old programming. Could this perhaps explain why some of the following passages appear in scripture:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12.2a)”

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)”

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil. 4:8)”

All Things New?
     When we come to faith in Christ, we do, indeed, become new creations, but this does not mean our most basic programming is completely erased. How much good would we be to God’s kingdom if our mind were erased, personality wiped clean, and we had to learn reading, writing, even potty training all over? We have been “trained up (Prov. 22:6)” for a reason. But, submission to God in all we do, abiding in Christ and walking by the Spirit, demands that we are constantly renewed in our minds. We have much to relearn and the Holy Spirit who is our teacher, but we must dedicate time and mental bandwidth to the process.

  1. Take an inventory of “pretension that set up against the knowledge of God” and pray – multiple times daily – that the Holy Spirit will renew those old, bad, faulty thought patterns, giving you a “new” auto pilot. But, make sure to do this on paper – soon, I’ll be posting on how your brain isn’t designed to hold too many important things in the forefront – there’s great practical value in getting things out of our heads and onto paper.
  2. Think on these things – don’t just say “I’m going to not do x.” There’s great truth to “garbage in, garbage out”. Ask God to fill you with new desires and that’s likely what you’ll get. We’re in charge of our minds and what we consciously let in. Memorize the fruits of the Spirit – (Gal 5.22-23) and Philippians 4:8 and actively pray that God leans you toward these new ways. Life in Christ is not about good behavior, rather a changed heart that puts out godly behavior. But, let’s at least have a Holy Spirit Wish List.
  3. Say “no” to self-condemnation when you “fall off the wagon”. Looking in any mirror can show any of us far more faults than we’d care to think about tackling. But, at least now, we’ve got a more exhaustive list of what to pray for. Remember that while you are imperfect, God is leading you to perfection that will only be complete in His Kingdom reign.While you will make mistakes, Christ already paid the price for them – no sense beating yourself up when Christ has already been beaten for you.


     This January, I’ll be running a half day workshop called “Getting Things Done God’s Way: Restoring Order to Your Mind, Your Work, and Your Life”, where we’ll be covering how this stuff is just as related to getting your inbox to “empty” as it is to sharing the gospel at work and loving your enemy while you’re under attack.

Be Encouraged
God wouldn’t have put this stuff in the Bible if He didn’t intend to help us on the journey.

in Christ,

AP

God without Rivals

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:3)

     What if we could just get this first commandment right all the time? Read that again… Would we work 80 hours a week? Would we abuse our bodies with junk food? Would we abuse people around us with harsh words? Would we neglect the people who need us most? Would we steal from our “neighbor”? Would we even covet our neighbor’s stuff?

     Tim Keller says “Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God.” When we elevate something lesser than god to a rival position above God, we are sinning… Ouch.

     So, how’s that going for ya?

     Me, too.

     The beauty of the Christian life, though, is that we’re all in the same boat – we “kill and covet” because we don’t have/get what we want, because what we want can never be fulfilled finally and fully by the 7,000,000 page menu of this world’s offerings. Yet, despite this brutal fact of our reality, God loves us enough to sacrifice Himself for us in Christ. God went “all in” for us at the poker table of redemption (awkward metaphor?).

Be Encouraged
     Today, you and I as followers of Christ can take comfort in the fact that God is a jealous God. Really? Yes! Perfect, holy, awesome, great, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God is better for you and I than all the stuff we could work for, covet, steal, or attain in this world and He’s so committed to that, that He made it the first command, sent Christ to suffer and die for our sins, and sent the Holy Spirit to help us do all He designed for us to do.

     By the Spirit, by the Spirit, by the Spirit… The first command is clearly a hurdle too high for any of us, yet God sent the Spirit to empower us to “do all things”. In a Genesis 3 world, none of us can truly expect to do this perfectly for any extended period of time. However, this is one of many voids the Spirit was sent to fill.

     Bigger than that is the fact that our God is bigger than all of this. We were not created by and are not pursued, loved, and empowered by a bumbling wannabe superhero. It is not a wee, man made, gold statue that’s offering you a good grain harvest who sent his little brother to help you plow the fields and do a few odds and ends on your honey-do list. It is the King of Kings, the ha olam – Master of the Universe – who sent the Spirit of Truth to walk along side you through everything from the valley of the shadow of death to loving God without rivals.

Wow. Amen.

AP

It’s in There

“If the Lord delights in a man’s way,
    he makes his steps firm;
 though he stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24)”

     OK, hermeneutical time out – a psalm is poetry, poetry is not a promise. However, throughout both Proverbs and Psalms are great nuggets of wisdom, insight into the character and nature of God, and a repletion of principles we can regard as “best practices” or “bet your 401K on it”. Are we tracking?

     Our family is at a very difficult crossroads right now. Over the weekend we were faced with a decision so big, I literally woke with a 6 hour headache and took two hours to write a 4 paragraph email. To say that we were mentally and emotionally taxed would be grossly understating things. Repeatedly, I found myself talking out loud to God, begging Him for either overall clarity or at least enough mental acuity to stir the pasta sauce on the stove – neither of which I felt any mastery over. There was nothing useful in my head. Just a pile of unorganizable, edgeless thoughts.

     I’m an external processor – my thoughts untangle themselves best outside my head, such as in discussion or writing. Saturday, I had no one I could talk to immediately who’d bring appropriate experience to the table and mere moments to move on some of the moving parts of the decision. I felt mentally stranded, struggling to find internal resources to bring to bear on the situation.

     On top of that, I had three toddlers running around the backyard, each asking me to play something different with them or screaming that one of the others wasn’t sharing. I felt as if I was holding a live bomb with both hands while having my legs pecked off by a chicken. “Lord, I’ve got nothing to add to the situation but my need for You. Help. Me. Please.”

     Out of respect for your time, I’ll skip to yesterday, when answers came – I opened a bible to Psalm 37 and began reading. If you’ve never had an experience where the words are jumping off the page, pray for one. It will blow… your… mind. With all the thoughts swarming through my head and all the background “noise” outside it, I have never experienced a moment where everything around me just seemed to stand still and the living word calmed my storm. I was flooded with encouragement (I mean, just read that thing!), perspective, counsel, and peace.

     Why does this matter to you?

     Glad you asked.

     The bible does not promise us a wrinkle free life. It does not promise that good things will only happen to good people and the wicked will fail in all of their evil endeavors. It’s never that cut and dried. You’re going to be lied to by people who believe wholeheartedly that if you’re not experiencing great prosperity and material abundance, it’s your fault and your faith is not strong enough. But, scripture speaks forcefully against this:
1 Thess 5:23-24:Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” God is in charge of outcomes and He will achieve His purposes

     Ultimately, the Lord upholds our hand. His plans, not ours apart from Him, will ultimately succeed. If calamity is on us, it is no surprise to Him and He can be trusted to bring us through it. We may fall, even fall off a cliff, hitting rocks and branches on the way down. This does not make scripture a liar. Remember, poetry is figurative literal, not word-for-word literal. In the end – after everything we try so desperately to preserve is turned to ash at the coming of the Lord and the new heavens and earth – we who are made righteous by the blood of Christ will have a “safe landing”.

     I’m not waxing eloquent today to tell you “God is in control” and leave you with that. I’m passing this on in hopes it will spark one of you to lean into God and beg him for the encouragement you need when you need it and to remind you “it’s in there”. God has not left us to wander without direction. He has sent the Holy Spirit to “come along side us” and comfort – one of the ways He does this is to illuminate scripture as we seek the living God who inspired it. Trust in the Lord, wring the truth out of His word. That’s why He put it there. That’s why He sent the Spirit.

in Christ,

AP

Maintaining Momentum – Forgetting Father’s Day?

Note:
Today’s post is longer than a minute. I won’t apologize. If you take the break required to watch the linked video and still read the whole post, we’re into about 7 or 8 minutes. If you only have a minute today, bookmark this and come back to it when you have four more minutes to watch and three more to read.

     Normally the week leading up to Christmas, I notice how cheery people are. Even some who wouldn’t consider themselves “church people” are wishing others well and forgiving things they’d otherwise harp on for days. It’s around that time I wish what you probably wish – “can’t we have the Christmas Spirit all year long?”

     But, we forget. Don’t we?

     We forget so quickly, that even a day after Veteran’s Day or Mother’s Day, we’re back to ignoring the vets or taking the Moms for granted again. This year, I’m going to prolong Father’s Day not because I’m a father, but because there is something about the Lord we need to remember “all year long”:


He invites us to call Him “Father”… not for a day, but for always.
I’ve got no verse for you today. Just read the Old Testament. Look at how many times “remember” and “Lord” appear together.

     Let me tell you a story to illustrate this.

     A son is wheelchair bound. Cerebral palsy – can’t talk, walk, etc., but through technology, can communicate via computer. Google “Team Hoyt” or “Rick & Dick Hoyt” when you can.

     The point for today is this: the son can’t run, bike, or swim, but His dad can – and at his son’s urging, went into training in his late 50s to do a 5K, and eventually a triathlon. This means he puts his crippled son in a raft and swims with son in tow, gets out of the water and onto a bike carrying his son in a seat on the bike, then runs, pushing a wheelchair that carries his son. For an Iron Man race, it’s a 2.5 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run – hard enough for one man to do on his own, but somehow this dad does them all for two.

     Father’s Day is a week behind us. Christmas is months away. Both can call us to reflect on our relationship with God in a unique and personal way. I’m not here to bother the single guys with thoughts of what it will be like, or isn’t yet like, to be a dad. I’m not here to challenge dads to “try harder”. My hope is that you’ll watch the video above and meditate on a couple of questions:

Q: What does the son really bring to the table when it comes to running an Iron Man Triathlon?
A: Could it be the same thing that you and I bring to the table when it comes to living righteously?

     It’s been said that the only thing we bring to the equation of our salvation is our need for a Savior. What do you think? Some of us suffer from the “liability of ability”: the more gifted we are the more we think we made it all happen. This only leads to self reliance. Smaller package than what God desires for us.

     In reality, we’re beggars telling other beggars where to get some bread. We’re quadriplegics being dragged, carried and pushed across the finish line of life. My favorite moment in this video is toward the end of the run where the son appears to be egging the crowd on as if to say “Look at my Dad! Give it up for my Dad!!!” His dad carried himself and his son through every mile of the race. What has God carried you through?

Humbled… How about you?

     What if it can be Father’s Day everyday, beneath the wings of the Father of all creation who loves us enough to reach out to us even we are enemies of the cross? For the rest of the year, can we do better than the “Christmas Spirit”? Can we have the Father’s Day Spirit all year long? Can we all, everyday, just shout “Look at my Dad!”?

Much love,

AP

Monday Morning Momentum Minute

Times of Trouble

     For those of you close to us, you know our family has been going through quite a time as our teenage daughter has begun an outward wrestling with her identity in Christ. She’s been given great tools and great teaching, but in the confusion of her adolescent brain (remember those days? I do… and shudder) has chosen destructive paths to express her long bottled up emotions. This is not an indictment against her, rather a recounting of the facts as she and we have discussed them. For her privacy’s sake, we’ll draw the line here in terms of detail. Let it just be said that we are fully committed to and currently engaged in getting her all the help she needs as she navigates this exponentially complicated season of her life. Her commitment to this process, moving forward over the next 90 days and beyond, is between her and her Savior – or, as we say “a vertical issue”.


Rest in Peace
     Recently, a friend and mentor of mine verbalized his observation of my “stable” state of mind and attitude in the wake of all she’s done to herself, and by extension, to us as a family. I didn’t even realize how stable & peaceful I was feeling at that moment. In fact, I was torn with whether or not to even mention it here so
publicly for fear of taking credit for something that was so far outside of my own doing. But, there you have it: it wasn’t my doing. I wasn’t keeping myself in peace [Is. 26.3] by intense concentration or fierce labor of the body, I had merely decided not to fight against the all powerful God whose name is “Master of the Universe” (Adonai, melech ha olam). With regard to all Brie is going through, Cristine and I have acknowledged that God is in control and despite the fact that we disagree with His methods of sanctifying our daughter (and again, by extension, us…) at this time, we trust Him to have a far better plan than we to accomplish His ends.

     Then, today, as I was reading Jim Cymbala’s “Spirit Rising”, I noticed Cristine had circled one line in Francis Chan’s introduction – “It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh is no help at all. (John 6.63)”

Praise the Lord.

The Truth

     The truth was right there in black and white. Mere paragraphs from one of my favorite and misquoted verses in scripture: “if you hold to my teachings, then you are truly my disciples. And, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. (John 8.31-32)” And, there I was – set free by the truth that my flesh (my natural tendency to do things in my own power and will) was of no help in bringing me peace and stability. At any given moment, we have a choice – we can wrestle with God (which very rarely pays off – see Gen. 32.35 and Gen. 18 for examples) in our own strength or we can yield to the Spirit.

The Hard Question:

     Are you striving or trusting, right now?

Be Encouraged:
     Jesus made a big deal about the Holy Spirit – “…it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. John 16.7)” If it was better for Him to go and the Spirit to come, shouldn’t we expect more of the Spirit in our lives? YES!!! I didn’t feel any tingling in my bones, didn’t glow in the dark, didn’t even speak in tongues – but when my mentor mentioned my demeanor, I did notice the peace that I had no part in creating. I simply yielded to the Spirit. That promise and peace are available to you, and all who call upon the name of Christ with a pure heart. Isn’t that NUTS?! Just for the asking and the yielding. You don’t have to wield an axe and chop down a forest, you just have to sit and rest.

So, sit. Rest. Know that He is sovereign and you are His.

Peace. Really – rest… in… peace.

in Christ,

AP

Monday Morning Momentum Minute

Why?
     Every week, I hope God squeezes some truth out of my fingertips and onto our blog that may encourage you. Often, He has given me the dubious honor of telling you about landmines in the road by pointing to the limbs I’ve blown off as a living mine-sweeper. Here’s a lesson that cost me an arm and a leg in a very figurative sense. I hope you don’t step in the same spot now.
 -AP


The End of Superman
     Last year, I believe God Himself brought me to a low point. Through a season of conflict in our home, confusion in our marriage, near-crisis in ministry, and crushing exhaustion, He made me keenly aware of my own weaknesses and limitations. I looked at my wife one afternoon, actual tears streaming down my face as I grieved the loss of a favorite illusion.
     “What’s wrong?” she asked.
     I pushed four, feeble words out of my mouth: “I’m not Superman anymore…”
     I fought God for years, on this, but had finally begun the process of submitting to Him “one last stronghold” in my life – busyness. I’d heard the Mary/Martha parable for years and reacted the same way every time – “that’s a great story, Jesus.” and walked away from it each time thinking “but, that’s a story for women. It’s not about me.” I’d even preached it to other men… Ironic, isn’t it?
     Oops. Only last year did I realize how narrow was the gap between “busy” and “burnout”.
Desperate for a Word
     Only in that low, exhausted, “feeling like butter that’s been spread over too much bread” time could I become so starkly aware of the fact that I was running on my own steam, my own agenda, and allowing the noisy world to drown out the clear and present voice of my Lord. I recall crying out to him for relief many times over a period of weeks only to run into the same wall again only days later with what seemed like no reply from the Spirit. “I’ve gotta hear from you, Lord.” became the preamble to my every prayer.
    Early one November morning, reading through Psalm 33:16-22 (roll over for reference HT: reftagger) came a reply from the Word and, I believe, a Word from the Lord.
   For some reason I paused at this like a flashing red light – looking both ways to see what was coming – and I swear, I heard the Lord say a bunch of thingsanswering question’s I’d laid out in prayer for the preceding weeks, capped off by three words: “Respond. Rely. Rest”
  1. Are you in a season where you’re so busy doing so many things, putting out so many fires, that the majority of what you do falls in the bucket of “react”? “Respond” carries a far more calculated and prudent meaning with it than “react”, wouldn’t you agree? Are you, somewhere, trying to save yourself by a large army or great strength, when a more calculated, wisdom-based approach could yield smarter, compounded results?
  2. My friend Steve’s favorite question to ask headstrong, overachieving men is: “who ya’ depending on?”  So, “who are you relying on, right now?” If your answer now, like mine then, is anything other than an immediate, resounding “God”, God is your co-pilot, when He’s offered to be your pilot. Switch seats. Rely. Really.
  3. Watching the movie “Grace Card” the other night, I was dumb-struck by a scene where a doctor tells a father he can’t donate his kidney to save his son’s life because he has hypertension. I thought of how badly I’ve treated my own body with lack of rest and a “sleep when you’re dead” mentality, not considering how heart-broken I’d be if a doctor told me I was ineligible to save my own son’s life because I’d abused my own body into some one of those self-inflicted “old people” diseases. Are you stuck in the performance track with no discernible periods of regular rest? Who is standing in your shadow right now that would be impacted by your demise, even if you were “merely sidelined temporarily”?
Be Encouraged:
     You’re not the first idiot to fall into the undesirable place you may be at. You’re not even the first smart, seasoned person to fall for it, either. God’s eye is on you, but you’ve got to fear Him, depend on His faithful love, and position yourself for delivery by waiting on Him, not relying on you, your strength, or false hope in your horse or large army. None of this is based on how long you’ve been following Jesus or how convoluted and confusing your current circumstance. It’s all based on the simplicity of hope in God.
Exhale.

Monday Morning Momentum Minute

Encouragement After That?

    Anyone who knows me knows when I’m talking sports, I’m way above my pay grade. So, it seems a bit ironic to me that God would have me posting on encouragement and with a sports analogy the morning after my team lost the Super Bowl. (Even moreso when this was hoped to be their vindication for the last loss to the Giants…) But, hey, everyone’s got their team and every team has wins and losses, right?

     Maybe.

     While it’s hard to watch Gronkowski and Hernandez drop the Hail Mary passes in the final moments of the game, I often have a harder time watching the nation of Israel drop the ball when God sets up perfect pass after perfect pass. God, the one, true, living God, who is Creator of the universe, looks down at Abraham and for no other reason than His mercy, says “I will make a nation of you. You will be my chosen people.” No other “team” hitherto had been given this distinction. “God’s team.” you could call them. God favored them more than the Broncos and they didn’t even Tebow to Him very often.

Quiet Time Armchair Quarterbacking:

    Frankly, I ache every time I read Judges, when Israel forsakes the God who delivered them from Egypt, the Red Sea, the Dessert, the Jordan River, the New York Middle East Giants, the Canaanites, etc. Instead, I’m doing what I tried to do last night after the 2 minute warning – watch something else. I’m reading 1 Samuel. Should have left the Bowl on. Here they are, a nation who’s learned the “turn back to God” lesson 7 times over the course of 400 years and their spiritual condition as a nation is so low that when things get tough on the battle field, the elders – the coaching staff of the nation, who should have known better – call the worst play in history:

“There’s no time for fasting and prayer – let’s force God’s hand to act on our behalf! God can fit in a box and do our bidding when we tell him to. GO GET THE ARK!!!” (See 1 Sam. 4.3)

     “NOOOOooooooOOOO!!!” I’m up on my feet, screaming at Tom Brady – uh, I mean, my bible… “Don’t do it!!!” Israel follows a pattern that gave this play its’ name: the essence of the “Hail Mary pass” is “throw first, pray while the ball is in the air”, isn’t it? Isn’t this the illustration of what the nation of Israel does at that very moment?! Let’s get on the hook with them… How often do you and I throw first, pray later? If you can’t say “amen”, you’d better say “ouch”.

Cut to the Chase:

     In Christ, there is no other team that God is rooting for. There is no other team that has His favor. There is no team other than those who are “in Christ” who have Christ “in them”. At any given moment today, you have the greatest power ever unleashed on the planet at your disposal, but you cannot wield it to your means or ends. The power of the Holy Spirit (the same Holy Spirit that empowered Israel from without) within you is not to be used for your team, but for God’s team. So…
    

So, What/What Now?

    Pray first, listen, and consider your next move. Jesus did it… often. He told the disciples is was better for Him to leave and the Holy Spirit to come and power to come upon them (Acts 1.8). “Is this decision [to stay with the girl, to close this deal, to make this next phone call, to hit “send”] for my glory or God’s glory?” Be encouraged, I’ll say it again: “there is no other team God is rooting for other than His Kingdom.” Take solace in the fact that if plans fail God’s not surprised. (If you lose, grieve the loss and don’t let well meaning people tell you to “get back on the horse” too early. Again, God is not surprised. An omniscient God has nothing to learn.)
     The Good News of the gospel is not that everything is going to go your way, my way, the Pats’ way, or even Tim Tebow’s way (quad erat deomonstratum). It’s that it’s all going God’s way. Get in the flow of His plan, listen for His next audible, and don’t snap that pass until He says “throw”. Oh, and pray the Pats are vindicated next year. Oh, brother.

Be encouraged.
in Christ,

AP

Backed Up and Restored – Cristine’s Story

Another Mouthpiece

     From the time of Moses, Aaron was always known as “the mouthpiece” for the prophet. As Executive Director and “Chief Tellum Boutitall” of Seasons of Life, It’s no surprise that I’ve been the mouthpiece of our organization and for our “prophet”. This year, considering all we’ve been through, I’ve felt the prompting of God to have Cristine share some of her story and give you an update on how she’s doing and what God has done for her, for us, and for those who call Seasons of Life their “running partner”. “Take it away, Cristine!” -AP

     I was sooo exhausted in July. It’s so weird to be so tired, but not being able to get a whole night of sleep. I was sleeping only about two hours a night for most of the month. I could tell I was starting to show signs of burnout from the nonstop pace we were living at.

     We had fasted in July – a “Daniel Fast” (no meat, no dairy, no bread, nothing to drink other than water, and no sugar). Fasting always exposes what’s going on in your life at a deeper level. But, my husband and I have four kids, 3 of them were under 3 then and they always got up at 7 o’clock and it was a lot to keep them going throughout the day. Aarron’s family lives in Massachusetts and my Mom lives in Florida, taking care of her parents, so we had almost no support to help with the kids. What our fast exposed was that we were nearing burnout, quickly. So, when the fast, the burnout, and a few really bad relationship explosions collided, the insomnia got worse.

If You’re not Sleeping Well, 

Try This… and THIS!

     A lot of people thought it was just nutrition and gave us all kinds of vitamins and supplements (St. John’s Wort, Valerian Root, L-theanine, B-12, Benadryl, Melatonin) to get me to sleep, but none of it even touched it [the sleeplessness]. I mean, I wasn’t drinking caffeine at all that month, but I was taking all these supplements and eating all this food that’s supposed to help, but I’m still awake at 2:00 in the morning.

     That’s because it wasn’t about insomnia. At all. Insomnia was just a symptom of what I really had, which is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – a severe form of constant “fight or flight”. Even with support groups and counseling, most people take years to recover from PTSD. So, we had to go see someone that knew the Lord, His word, and what they were talking about with PTSD. So, I started seeing Dr. Bob Montes and he had already treated people for PTSD with this thing called EMDR. It would have taken a few years to heal from what I had been through without it, but with prayer (a lot of yours, adds my husband) the power of God, and the EMDR, instead it only took a few months.


The Storm before the Calm:
     Before the recovery, I was reading a lot of books and praying like, all the time. “God, you’ve got to deliver me from this.” And I got really nasty. I was raging all the time over stuff that wasn’t really all that bad, but I just felt like nobody understood what I was going though, so I would explode screaming and throwing things.

     One Sunday in August, we were packing up for church and Aarron had put all the kids in the van and I was getting in, when Presleigh (our almost 3 year old) spilled her breakfast shake all over her and Aarron started cleaning it up. Then, I just lost it. I got out of the van and went back in the house and just grabbed the closest thing I could and threw it against the wall. It was these champagne glasses from our wedding and they just went flying into the wall and shattered. So, I reached for something else and threw that and finally Aarron came over and just hugged me really hard and kept telling me he loved me and I was like “Why?!”

Carry Each Others’ Burdens?
    I kept feeling guilty because my husband had to do all kinds of things that I just didn’t have the energy to do, activities of daily living – like 5 loads of laundry and cleaning the house and taking care of the kids and all of his own work and running the ministry. Then he kind of broke down one day and realized not only was I depressed and exhausted, but he was suffering from burnout.

     Some of the books we were reading talked about how to minister to people going through the deep wounding I was dealing with, but we both kind of got nervous when Aarron started to show signs of burnout. There was a lot of load to carry and he was carrying it, but if he couldn’t carry it suddenly, it would be a disaster. All the books we were reading talked about “the dark night of the soul”. They described it as something that when God says it’s time for you to go through it, you’d better go through it. But, we were like “how can we both go through it at the same time with four kids?”


Backup First, Then Restore
Would you save these wilting flowers?

     Aarron was telling me this morning that sometimes we have to defragment our computers or even “wipe” them clean, but first you have to back up the important files. Sometimes the computer gets a bunch of junk on it that slows it down. We had a lot of junk from our past slowing us down and just needed to have it wiped clean. But, isn’t that great that our Heavenly Father, who is making us look more like Jesus is already doing that?

     As things were getting really hard for me emotionally & physically, I had a moment where I took this vase of flowers my husband had given me and brought it outside. Some of the flowers had been wilting, so I chucked them on the far side of our lawn. Then, the Lord spoke to me so clearly – “Not all of those are done for… wilted to the point of no return.” As I picked several of them up, I discovered there were still gorgeous petals underneath some of the bad ones. I heard the Lord say “this was you and all the others like you.” The world would have tossed them.

The Wind Up of it Is… [Lessons Learned]

    In our lives, God already has a backup of the important files. As we walk through life, past hurts, fears, and brokenness leaves junk on our life. But, God knows the value we each have to Him. The world might throw us aside when our beauty doesn’t match up, but God hadn’t forgotten about them, me, or you.

     Today, I feel restored – almost 40 people who are very dear to me are about to show up for a late birthday party for me. Aarron was shocked that I would have a big party because he’s done surprises for me before and I didn’t like them because I usually hate being the center of attention. This time, it’s different – I want to celebrate this new season of my life with the people who mean the most to me and tell of the great things He has done. My recovery has been nothing shy of a miracle from God.

     We are stronger and better today because God has backed us up, wiped us clean, and restored us. But, like Job, I think He has made us better off than we were before. In order to face my dark night of the soul, I had to cancel a small group study I was going to lead. When I told the girls I’d have to bow out and why, they were more than supportive of me. But, three of those same girls emailed me back and said that they had been going through past hurts, too, but they hadn’t been willing to talk about them or seek help until they heard my story… God’s story. Today, I am grateful to my Abba-Father, Jehovah-Rapha “The LORD is my healer”, that He has healed me, but also restored me to be able to lock arms with other women who have yet to walk through their own dark night of the soul. (Now, if I can find time to meet with all of them, it will really be an act of God!!!)

Praise and honor to Him,

Cristine Pina

I Gave My Life to Porn… [Parental Warning]

This post is not appropriate for children
At What Cost?
     Michael Leahy’s story is easily Googleable (look, I invented a new form of the verb “Google”). Look it up or watch some of these clips on Vimeo. I won’t go far into his story for purposes of brevity. The short version is this: because of his addiction to pornography decades ago, he lost his job as a very successful software sales exec, his marriage, the respect (and relationship with, for a time) of his kids. Today, he stands as a man restored by God, often on a stage in front of hundreds, if not thousands, of college students, many of which come out to see veteran porn actor Ron Jeremy debate with him.
    He has been featured on 20/20, The View, Fox, Good Morning America, and a whole lot of college campuses, which his ministry “Bravehearts” spends a lot of time and attention raising the awareness of students to the dangers presented by the initial, short term, and even long term use of porn.
     I’m grateful to know Michael and to call him a friend. I had an opportunity to talk with Michael about my past addiction to porn several years ago when I was only a few years “clean and sober” of it. If you’ve watched his material at any of his events, you may even see his interview with me. Today, I want to return the favor, because if I’ve been meeting with you for discipleship or you’ve been meeting with my wife, Michael has had an indirect impact on our conversation(s).
     Tomorrow morning (Friday, 02.03.2012) he will give a 20 minute opener to about 100 men as a setup for “microgroup” discussion about porn, lust, and the truth of God’s word. Men will have an opportunity to explore deeply challenging questions and confront clear-cut truths of scripture. “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8.32)” Pray many of these men walk away even more free.
Andy Stanley on Porn
     I had a chance to catch up with Michael this summer as local pastor Andy Stanley was presenting a series called “New Rules for Love, Sex, and Dating”. While it wasn’t a deep exegesis of scripture, Andy does have a way of really “teasing out” the practical applications of the truth of God’s word. For this reason, I recommend the series (specifically, part 2 – “Gentlemen’s Club”) as a great teaching aid when it comes to biblical worldview regarding lust, porn, and what God has to say about the current hyper-sexualized climate of our culture.    

     While Andy is well known for his ability to simplify the complex, Michael, too brought porn down to the simplest terms. “I start out with just the basic dictionary definition for porn: ‘Any material created for the purpose of arousing you sexually’.” From there, he states, “But, when expanded, that means photo, video, writing, sexting, chat, conversation, and what I wore to school today. It can also mean the conversation with the girl in line in front of me at Starbuck’s – am I being suggestive in my innuendos just feeling her out to see what she’ll say?”

So, What’s the Problem. I’m Just Looking

     Almost every problem we face in this world can be traced back to a lie we once believed. “But, when you’re exposed to porn, especially repeatedly, you’re learning a new belief system”, says Leahy. Pornography is a discipleship – you’re being taught that sex is a commodity, “dehumanizes men – that men are just to be pleased, women are just for pleasure, and, it’s all about getting off”.

     For years, prior to my acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior I heard the term “dehumanizing” and denied it tooth and nail. You may have just completely tuned out when I said that term, too. If you did, I respect your choice, but I have a question for you that Michael shared with me in our interview:

“[When you watch pornography] you are not holding a woman in awe for anything more than her sexuality. When’s the last time you did that for something other than her sexuality, Mother Theresa?” – Michael Leahy

     When the answer is “no” it’s bold evidence of dehumanization – reducing a person to something far less than their humanity. Does porn encourage you to consider the needs of the performer(s)? Does it spur you on to “love them as Christ loved the church and laid himself down for her to make her holy”? Are we tracking?
     If you’re living with porn as your secret or you think it’s okay, my first question is “do you love Jesus and trust Him as your Lord and Savior” or are you counting on the popular belief that without Jesus you’ll get into heaven because you’re “good enough and God should just let you in or it’s unfair”. If you answered “a) Lord & Savior” then you’ve got a different question to wrestle with – “How are you dealing with the voice of the Holy Spirit when he tells you to leave the porn alone?” Second question: “what men are walking close enough to you to help you when you ignore the voice of the Spirit of God that is in you?” Call Michael. Call me. Call my wife.

     Get discipled in the truth. Yesterday.

     If you’re not a “Lord and Savior” guy, watch Andy’s series (especially part 2) for an understanding of what God has to say about women, their worth, and how He views them and then read the book of John, the book of Romans, confess Christ as your Lord, receive the Holy Spirit, and live by His power. Without His power I, too, would still have hooks deep in my life from pornography. Praise God for freedom in Christ.

Discipleship Implications:
     I have met with no less than two dozen men who have gotten honest with me about the impact of pornography in their lives. It. Is. Devastating. Sneaky, but devastating. Andy Stanley hits it on the head in one of his messages and I hope this truth sinks in like an anchor in your discipleship of the people around you:
“Every time you sit down and entertain yourself with pictures of naked women, you’re at school. And, in this particular school you’re learning three very important lessons:
1. A real body isn’t good enough.
2. One body isn’t good enough.
3. Your wife’s body isn’t good enough.”

– Andy Stanley

     Michael Leahy and Bravehearts Ministries works closely with one of the largest evangelistic college ministries in the country and shared with me some of the most difficult reality slapping I’d heard in a long time. I asked him “how did porn impact your ability to function in your spiritual gifts?”     Leahy: One of the most noticed things about people who struggle with that sin is forgiving themselves. You beat yourself up because you sinned against you. For me, it had a huge impact and barrier to my relationship w/ God. The average rational human being knows when they’re doing right & wrong, and the strength of my recovery is in direct proportion to my intimacy to God. I’m susceptible to sexual temptation when I’m out of fellowship w Him. That’s what sexual sin does. I literally remember praying to God with a gun in my mouth – ‘teach me how to pray again’.

     [More poignantly,] porn keeps totally qualified leaders on the sidelines [in college ministry]. The dirty little secret of college ministry is that 80-90% of guys who apply for staff or go on mission trips are disqualified because of this issue. If you were an HR mgr and you had to disqualify 80-90% of your workforce that you want to promote, how big a problem would that be? The top 10 ministries (groups of hundreds of students) have evaporated in a year because these guys witnesses has been so badly damaged by porn. Is it a ministry of Christ followers or a Christian club of “friends with benefits”? [It can make us] impotent in our power for God.
     So, think about it. Talk about it. Pray about it. And, listen/obey the Spirit of God. Then decide “what (more importantly who) do you want to give your life to?” Anyone can find something worth living for. Are you willing to find something worth dying for? Would that someone be willing to die for you?

Jesus did. Your thoughts?

in Christ,
AP