A great way to grow closer to the Lord is to read His word, pray, and write down what He is teaching you! Many of the people at Paradise Calvary Chapel do just that and we get to share them with you here!
Busy, busy, busy! For me, life is a little bit extra crazy right now. We have three kids at home full time—two boys in school and playing football, and a daughter in preschool and gymnastics—and my oldest son comes for visits on his school breaks. Not only that, but my husband travels every week for work and is only home on the weekends! We take our kids to and from school. We take them to their extracurricular activities. We work, attend Parent-Teacher Organization meetings, serve in ministry, and try to spend any extra time we have with our family. When did life become so busy? Needless to say, during the week, life can feel super overwhelming. Some days, I start to get grumpy. I can become short and impatient with the kids. My flesh begins to take over, and I am no longer in communication with the Lord. I am no longer walking in the spirit. That is why everything around me seems so overwhelming.
“I say then: Walk in the Spirit, you shall not fulfill the fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
I love Scripture so much because the Lord uses them to speak to us and teach us simple lessons every day. One of my favorite portions of Scripture is in Matthew, when Jesus walked on the water and “[Peter] said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’ And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased” (Matthew 14:28-32).
There are so many important lessons to be learned from this small portion of Scripture. Stay focused on the Lord. We never have to be afraid. The Lord will always be there to save us. Have faith. God is in control. Don’t let the busyness and craziness of life take your focus of of the Savior. When our focus is on Jesus, all the other things don’t seem to matter so much.
“Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it?” (Isaiah 43:19).
Over the summer, God gave me an impromptu opportunity to serve as a leader on a mission trip to Mexico. It was a youth group mission trip, so while we spent a lot of time mixing concrete and feeding snow cones to street kids, we also used the week as a sort of church retreat for the high schoolers.
The main theme emphasized in all the Bible studies was the idea of “breakthroughs.” A breakthrough is the result of an effort toward change, like what happens when you dive headfirst through the wall. The youth pastors really wanted the teens to utilize the week in Mexico as a time to address hidden sins, or to step out of their comfort zone, or to take the new environment as an opportunity to see God from a different angle. I’m glad God placed me in a position to join them, because this breakthrough idea really started to get to me, too.
I think we hear about a lot of breakthroughs in the Christian church. We hear about people suddenly freed from addiction the day they’re saved, or about financial worries getting solved with a single prayer. We hear the “I once was lost, now I’m found” kinds of stories. We see people barreling through walls left and right. To be honest, when I think of that kind of breakthrough, it leaves me looking at my own wall and thinking, “What’s the matter with my story?”
There’s a second kind of breakthrough, and it’s the kind far less told. The lead youth pastor let me in on the secret of it when he explained how the Mexico mission trips started. Twenty years ago, his mission trip to Mexico was lonely, and all he had with him was some sports equipment to entertain the street kids. Today, it’s a flourishing ministry of fifty-or-so high schoolers who are building churches and running evangelical crusades. That didn’t happen overnight.
This kind of breakthrough isn’t the kind done by barreling through the wall, but rather by picking apart the wall with your fingernails, one splinter at a time. It takes months, years, sometimes decades. It’s the kind brought about by cultivating soil, breaking up fallow ground, pouring into a situation and waiting for a result—watering and waiting, watering and waiting—and then watching the birds of doubt and fear and failure fly down and eat half the sprouts. It’s the kind of breakthrough that is gradual, a step by step sanctification, a day to day choice. This is the breakthrough, though, that I believe bears much fruit.
That’s the breakthrough I think I’ve had this past week: that I can live trusting that God is, in fact, giving me a breakthrough, even though I don’t see it in the fanfare of a single moment. More than that, if a breakthrough really is happening, I ought to have confidence in the future, and stop living as if it will never come to pass.
In January 2007, my husband and I left a lucrative life in Las Vegas. He was a chef and I was a blackjack dealer, and we were the typical American churchgoing family: living like saints on Sunday and like sinners for the rest of the week. After doing that for some time, we really tried hard to do the right thing. We went to a great church and started reading the Bible regularly, so you know who showed up? The devil, who was not happy about our progress. Before we knew it, we fell, and we fell fast. We found ourselves in a big, fat, marital mess, both of us doing things that we should not have been doing. It did not look good for us, but we chose God, we chose each other, and we ran straight to Arizona!
God was there every step of the way. The scary process of moving out of state was so smooth, and the timing for everything was perfect. It was clearly God’s direction. We were able to purchase a beautiful four-bedroom home with a big backyard, a pool, and a great neighborhood. It was a dream. Shortly after the move, we realized that the jobs in Arizona are not like in Las Vegas. On an incredibly low income, we used up our savings pretty quickly. God began to show us how to trust Him completely in everything.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Boy, did we cling to that one. We still do. We began an eight-year financial struggle that would shape our faith and begin to mold us into the image of God. It will forever be the foundation upon which God had and will continue to lay His trials and His plans. During those years, we found the faithfulness of God to be so true, the gentleness of God to be so sweet, and the patience of God to be so long. We almost lost our home to foreclosure during that time, but He showed us how to hold loosely to the things of this world.
Not only did He let us keep the house, but we raised up godly children in that home. God made miracles happen in that home. He called us to homeschooling in that home. We had life groups in that home. We fostered children in that home. Family members got saved in that home. We got to use our pool for baptisms!
Our marriage has flourished since those days so long ago. We know that God uses all things for good and that the struggles that we endured during those years can be used for His glory.
I am sentimental, and I'm not so proud that I won't admit it. I've kept things that I really have no business holding on to, whether they've gone unused or weren't needed in the first place.
I remember one particular item that I received as a gift, a sweater made out of Italian wool. It was special—so special, it had to be washed by hand. It was soft, smooth, and had a sense of worth and value to it. I never wore it, though, not even once. I thought to myself: “This is something of true worth. I better not ruin it.” So I put it in a drawer, careful to be certain where it was. For years, I knew exactly where to find it and what condition it was in, not that it did me any good.
By the time I tried to wear it, I was far too large for it to accommodate me. Disappointed, I passed it on to someone who could wear it. The experience taught me a lesson: a gift unused is a gift wasted.
Sometimes we have to ask ourselves a hard question: are we the sweater in the drawer? Are we a gift, or do we have one, that isn't being used? In not just one, but two separate parables, Jesus told His disciples about servants who had received money from their master. In one, they all received the same amount of money (Luke 19). In the other, they were given according to their measure (Matthew 25). Both stories had servants that used what they were given to bring their master increase, but also servants that wasted what was given by hiding it away. We all have talents, gifts, and skills that we've received from above; what good do they do for heaven if we never share them with earth?
I debated a long while about volunteering my gifts to the Lord's service. I have left some of the gifts He's given me hanging in a closet, thinking: “I may use it someday. I just don't want to use it until I know I won't mess it up.” A gift unused, though…
As I continue to pray and ask myself how I should use what the Lord has given me, I have to keep in mind that He will tell me. God wouldn't have given it to me if He were worried I might ruin it.
“Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6).
“A Song of Ascents. Of David. I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord.’ Our feet have been standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem!” (Psalms 122:1-2).
Last year I ventured to to Israel for the very first time. I knew it was going to be an experience, but I doubt that I truly comprehended what going there would be like. I gained an understanding and perspective of scriptures beyond any that ever had before; it’s like when you meet someone for the first time, after hearing about them for years. As my group ventured closer to the capital of Jerusalem, our excitement was quite apparent.
I think that it would behoove anyone that takes the bible seriously to go to Israel, even if just once. To be blunt, it makes the stories and everything we read and hear about becomes very real. Perhaps this was the reason why God commanded: “Three times in the year all your men shall appear before the Lord, the LORD God of Israel” (Exodus 34:23). During the time of Jesus, people were traveling from all over the world to visit Jerusalem; as observable at the feast of Pentecost (Acts 2).
True, the world was smaller back then compared to now, but travel also took much longer and was a far riskier endeavor. Unless these pilgrims lived in Israel, this kind of journey couldn’t be done on a whim; even today that would be difficult. The sojourn required investment, planning, and commitment, and was a good metric for one’s faith in their beliefs. If someone considered their work, their investments, or their family as a higher priority, then going on such a journey may not be of significant interest. However, to those that wanted to deepen their spiritual life, this was an opportunity to draw as physically as possibly near to the Lord and His promised land.
One may argue that those were Jewish traditions, and they don’t apply to us. Seeing how much the apostle Paul—at great personal risk—made visiting Jerusalem, I’d have to disagree. Paul was perhaps one of the most influential missionaries of his day, and even on his mission he took the time to pause and draw near the Lord (Acts 18:21). Paul recognized the spiritual significance of visiting the land and house of the Lord, and the value it brought him personally.
Maybe visiting Israel isn’t something in the cards for you right now, but after personally seeing it with my one eyes, walking on the roads with my own feet, touching it’s stones in my own hands, I will never say that making the trip is worth every effort
“Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Romans 6:6).
Every year, Las Vegas has a Renaissance Fair, a big fair where people dress up in medieval garb, talk in olde English, and maybe enjoy a turkey leg. It’s a fun occasion where people reenact days of yore, often with much more light than it deserves. Why is Renaissance Fair fun? Because it’s a sham: it’s all for play. No matter how authentic a fair like that is, once a person is done with it, they’re able to walk away looking at their phone, get into their air conditioned car, and maybe even pick up some fast food on the way home. If they were really in the days of the Renaissance, they statistically would have been poor, most days would be spent in working just to survive the winter, and they would have to deal with the little issue known as the black plague.
Having fun in a make-believe romanticized version is great, but nobody pretends that today isn’t categorically better than living in the era of lords and ladies. This was a problem that Israel had frequently, especially when they were wandering the desert. As they grumbled, they began wishing to return to Egypt, and longing for the comforts they had during that time. Sometimes I wonder if Moses ever just shouted at them: “Yeah, but you were slaves!”
The rose-colored lenses of nostalgia can make anything look better. When things get hard we look back to a time when they were easy, or we had some comfort, and miss it. Those nostalgia-glasses even take away the bad parts, and we start to ask ourselves, “Why’d we stop doing that?” We begin to miss the qualities that we liked, and then we become tempted to return to them. This is how people relapse into old vises or self-destructive lifestyles, and it’s something that we are all vulnerable to.
We were slaves to sin. It ruled in our hearts as it poisoned our lives, and yet sometimes we can say to ourselves: “I miss the good ol’ days.” Here’s the secret: those days weren’t as good as we remember, and if we ever find ourselves returning to them we inevitably discover that. We may miss those days, but just as the Israelites should have looked towards the promised land instead of Egypt, we should keep our hearts and eyes on the one who freed us of our slavery; and the promises He made us.
“But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:20-23).
I miss the light. I'm a night owl and I grew up stargazing, and for a significant portion of my life, night has been considered the time of escape. The light fixture in my bedroom has gone out, though, and even changing the bulb isn't fixing the problem. So, in my leisure hours at home, whether doing projects or just having fun, I am in the dark. I've taken steps to bring some kind of illumination, but still, I miss the light.
For the better part of mankind's history, we have been without light. Darkness obscured the world in a shroud of mystery and confusion; and then, we had a source of light in the night. Light brings comfort, it brings understanding, and it scatters the fears that fester in the dark. In one of my jobs, light was so important. I camped in the woods for work. This wasn't just casual camping; I was roughly six miles deep in the wilderness, utterly isolated for hours in any direction. One night, I was alone, guarding the camp and our food. I must have jumped at every creaking branch that resounded just beyond the reach of the campfire or my flashlight. Sleep came, but not easily, nor soundly. I was confused and scared, even when I told myself I was fine or reminded myself that I was going to be okay. My joy didn't return until sunrise—and what a glorious sunrise it was!
John has an impressively eloquent introduction to Jesus' origin: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:1-5). Jesus not only became life for us, but light; and there is nothing like having a light in the darkness.
The last part of verse five has always caught my eye: “and the darkness did not comprehend it.” We're all in the darkness at some point in our lives. Whether it's before we gain a relationship with Christ, or when we're tempted to hide ourselves in the shadows of this world in hopes that no one will see our sin. It takes a light to bring us understanding, and to cast away the fears that lurk in our hearts. God is light, and darkness, by definition, cannot exist in the light. We have a choice: we can revel in darkness, or we can seek the light and shine as a reflection of that light to others. We can either be blinded by God's brilliance, or we can come to Him in humility, saying, “I miss the light.”
“Down the road three miles, take a left at the gas station. After you see the third big rock, take a right. The driveway with the red mailbox is my house.” These sounds like very straightforward directions in a place like my hometown, where roadsigns were few and far in between. What would happen if I turned around in my seat and said, “You know what? I think I’ll take a left after the first big rock; I’ll get where I want to go”? If you were a passenger with me, you’d probably decide to take the wheel, because my way would almost certainly not get us where we’re going.
One of the most dangerous fallacies in logic that I have observed is an idea propagated by many, and it’s that “all roads lead to heaven,” or that “Allah, Jehovah, God all mean the same thing,” or that “I’m a good person; if there is a God, I’ll be fine.” In a world that continually becomes more specific and defined, it’s astounding that so many are willing to believe these erroneous, over-simplified assumptions.
Perhaps I’m a cynic. Those assumptions seem less of a form of salvation and more of a way to make allowances for complacency. That is, these assumptions grant a gratifying lie: “There’s no need to humble yourself and repent. You’re fine. It’ll all work out anyway. Don’t think about the guilt if it doesn’t make you feel good. Just keep doing what you’re doing.”
People may ask, “Why would a God punish so many people just because they don’t follow exactly what He said? They obeyed the broad strokes. Shouldn’t that be good enough?” I can’t help but wonder the opposite: “If there is a God, and He wanted a relationship with humans, why wouldn’t He provide a detailed how-to manual for us to follow so we could find Him?”
That thinking is more on course with the God of the Bible then any relativistic reasoning that I’ve ever heard. Whenever God gave instructions to the Israelites, they were always specific, and if the Israelites ignored the commands and went their own way, God listed the consequences. When Jesus was teaching, He told the people, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Assuming otherwise is the same as ignoring all directions to a house and wondering how you ended up in Nebraska.
We know the directions to get to the Lord’s address. It’s important that we not only follow them, but that also we share them with those who are convinced they know another route, because any other way eventually leads to a dead-end.
Do you have any idea how incredible bread is? Bread is amazing! Some time back, I was diagnosed with a gluten sensitivity; I didn’t have celiac, but I was told that if I wanted to improve my health I needed to cut wheat out of my diet. It was miserable! Now, I’m being somewhat facetious, after all, I got much healthier and dropped thirty pounds in two months, bringing me into a much better weight range. That said, those first few months when I cut the grain out were harsh. I began salivating at the mere sight of bread, and not to mention that my family went to my favorite pizza place twice in the first month that I was on my new dietary restriction.
It was at that time that I grew a special appreciation for the passages of the bible that referred to bread. There are many parts of the world where baking bread everyday is still commonly practiced, and it makes a major component in a day’s meal. It used to be even more significant than that; for many centuries bread wasn’t just an ingredient that conveniently goes with anything, but for some it was their basic sustenance.
When Israel sojourned through the desert, they were fed manna from heaven; a unique grain for which I envy them as I won’t try it in this life. It was from this substance from the Lord that the Israelites survived in the wilderness; it was where they got their daily bread. God forbade them from gathering more than they needed in a day, except on the eve of the sabbath, and when they tried to ignore Him, they found that it spoiled (Exodus 16). They were forced to rely on God and gather early every day what they needed to keep them alive.
We also have to remember to seek God for our sustenance every day. Not just our physical needs, but our spiritual ones. When Jesus taught His followers how to pray, part of it was to request God: “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). This supplication can just as easily be applied to our spiritual appetites as our physical ones; Jesus Himself noted just a few chapters earlier that man doesn’t live on bread alone, but on every word of God (Matthew 4:4).
Going without bread for the time that I did wasn’t fun, but going through life without the bread for our souls is much more difficult. It is incumbent on us not only to ask God for Him to provide for us what we need, but also to rise up early and seek what He has given us.
“Then Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you…This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53 & 58).
When I was offered a ministry internship, I’d been in a season of spiritual warfare in my thoughts. Working in the church sounded like a dream come true; serving in a place where closeness to God is your coworkers' paramount goal seemed like a good way to keep my mind distracted from the temptations. Besides, it felt good to know I was doing something right for once. All I wanted was to get back into focusing on God again, and going to church seemed like a good start.
The pastor I interned under told me he liked to give people jobs that allowed them to use their spiritual gifts. I wasn’t sure anymore what my gift was (come to find out I’ve got the gifts of helps and administration). I’m not any kind of prophet or evangelist, but I can serve those who are so they have more time to do what they’re good at doing. So I stepped up to plate, not waiting to be asked or told to do something, but taking initiative and serving where I saw it was needed.
I started out with simple things, like cleaning the bathroom, or bringing the pastor his afternoon coffee. The more I offered service, though, the more the pastor entrusted to me, and by the end of the internship, he dubbed me his personal assistant. Counseling sessions that needed to be scheduled, or documents that needed to be filed were filtered through me so they wouldn’t clutter his time in the Word.
Not only did this aid his ministry, but my ability to evangelize actually strengthened; it’s natural for people to talk about their own lives, and if a majority of your life is spent at church, it’s a whole lot easier to bring up the gospel in conversation.
There’s a Proverb that says, “Whoever keeps the fig tree will eat its fruit; so he who waits on his master will be honored” (Proverbs 27:18). In essence, if you submit yourself to taking initiative, if you dedicate yourself to service, then you’re going to eventually get a sort of tenure. You’ll gain trust. This is exactly what happened to me: I was given the role of assistant simply because I stepped into it when I saw assistance was needed. I wanted to serve for the sake of the simplicity, for the sake of being with God. If I were trying to earn my way to some lofty title, I wouldn’t be truly submissive—and a lack of submissiveness would actually hinder my ability to serve!
What about this concept on a larger scale, though? What if the master we’re waiting on isn’t a pastor in need of a secretary, but rather the God who has called us into obedience? What if we tended to the spiritual fruit in our lives, making sure we accurately represented He who saved us? What would it look like if we submitted ourselves in a way that we took initiative in serving Him? What doors of ministry would we open for ourselves and others? How much more focused on God would our minds be if we dedicated every day to His Church and Kingdom?