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!
I was raised in a non-Christian—or what some people would call an atheist—family. Being raised in this culture’s traditional household and public school’s education, I tended to lean more into a secular paradigm. Growing up, when I had big questions, I would turn to science more than I would to faith. Science was the thing that I held as true.
After becoming a believer, I found out that a lot of the scientific views that I held as true were the complete opposite of this biblical paradigm, which is something I struggled to reconcile. After reaching out to many different sources (such as Paster Chuck Missler, the Creation Science Institute, and a wonderful documentary called Is Genesis History?) I came to a new understanding that science never contradicts the Word of God; in fact, the Word of God substantiates science. For a long time, I studied science with this newfound view. It was definitely a paradigm shift! Looking at things from a biblical perspective before the a scientific perspective, I was able to find my vast love for science again. In this new light, I found more truth in it, since it was based on faith rather than speculation.
Recently, I have been experiencing another level of struggle that I have not yet faced since becoming a believer. Although I grow closer to God, I still find myself going to some of my old comforts: documentaries, advancements in new studies, and the wisdom of man. Even though this pursuit gives temporary reprieve, there are no answers to be found in it. In fact, sometimes I feel that they’ve been pulling me away from the paradigm shift I’d had.
Within a few days after I prayed for the Lord to help me clarify these thoughts, I opened my Bible and read the following passage: “Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (I Corinthians 1:20-21).
Again my perspective has been pulled away from the worldly and into the divine truth: our salvation is found through our Lord Jesus Christ. My confidence should always be in Him, not my own understanding.
At the very beginning of King Solomon’s reign, he decided to build a temple where people could offer sacrifices to the Lord, to worship and be reconciled to Him. He asked a nearby nation for supplies, writing in his letter, “Behold, I am building a temple for the name of the Lord my God….But who is able to build Him a temple, since heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him? Who am I then, that I should build Him a temple, except to burn sacrifice before Him?” (II Chronicles 2:4-6) Building God’s dwelling is a pretty big deal, and when Solomon said that he—a mere human—was unworthy to take on such a feat, he made a pretty good point.
A lot of times, I can relate to that feeling of insufficiency. I look at all the darkness and despair the world is in, and I see the people’s need for Jesus—but then I freeze. I don’t act as a light because, when I take a good look at myself, I see I’m not perfect, either. When I notice specks in other people’s eyes, I’m scared to address them because I assume I have a plank in my own. I worry I’m a hypocrite, or that I won’t have all the answers, or that—God forbid!—I’ll actually lead someone astray. I feel unworthy to be an ambassador for Christ. God is so big, His wisdom so profound. Who am I to step out, fill emptinesses, and shake things up? Who am I to build God’s kingdom, where people can worship and be reconciled?
However, Paul offers an entirely different perspective: “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph….Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant….Therefore, since we have such hope, we use great boldness” (II Corinthians 2:14; 3:5-6, 12).
That perspective encourages me to build God’s kingdom “heartily, as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23). Immediately after Solomon received the throne and a blessing of abundant wealth, he set to building the temple, putting all he had into the project—precious metals, beautiful wood, and the labor of his best craftsmen. Solomon’s first act as king was to honor God’s authority, and his first use of his gifts brought God glory. He could have started by changing laws he didn’t like, or he could have built his own palace first. Instead, Solomon wasn’t stingy with his time or gifts. He wasn’t selfish with his power, but rather used his position as a platform to point others to God.
Most importantly, I remember to follow the Holy Spirit’s gently whispered blueprints, asking what He wants me to say or do. As mere human, I know that "unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1).
Giving into temptations is so easy. Some people have radical testimonies, and they tell of how all former lusts and sins and addictions and behaviors were completely removed the moment they accepted Christ. Others of us, however, don’t have the “I used to, but now I don’t” kind of claim. Sometimes our testimonies sound more like crock-pot sanctification stories rather than fast-food salvation stories. Our brains aren’t on a switch, and sometimes when temptation comes, victory over a moment isn’t as quick as a drive-through prayer for help. Sometimes victory over sin takes more of a Thanksgiving dinner type of battle—chaotic, slow, and multifaceted. Not sinning takes effort, and in all honesty, sometimes it’s simpler to just fall.
How much effort are we willing to exert to avoid sin, though? Hebrews 12:4 says, “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” In other words, you want to resist sin, but where’s the blood, sweat, and tears? Are you so opposed to the cravings of the flesh, that you actually wouldn’t mind if your flesh actually got hurt in the process of denying it?
This isn’t a call to self-harm by any means, but rather a check on priorities. This is Moses fasting far longer than the human body is meant to last without food—for the sake of hearing God’s instruction. This is Joseph violently tearing away from Potiphar’s wife and leaving his cloak in her hands—for the sake of staying pure. This is Jesus in the garden, about to face His death, stressing over not caving in to what wouldn’t hurt, and raising his blood pressure so high that the capillaries in his forehead burst—for the sake of bowing to the Father’s loving will to save the world.
The greatest example of flesh-denying bloodshed, though, is simply the cross. Jesus engaged in the greatest battle against sin in all of history, even to the point of undeserved death—and He won.
In all our efforts to obey the spirit rather than the flesh, Christ’s victory is vital to remember. Just one verse earlier, Hebrews 12:3 says to “consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” Not sinning takes effort, and it can be painful, but when we remember what Jesus already did for us, our perspective and our priorities straighten out. Because of Him, our blood, sweat, and tears are not shed out of fear of failure, but out of love and a desire to be like the One who saved us. Whenever we strive against sin, we obey not out of obligation, but out of immense gratitude, and that’s worth working up a sweat over.
“Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus...who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
“A friend loves at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). Are you a best friend? Not do you have one, but are you one? A best friend is one that is always there, is ready to help, wants to spend time around you, and enriches your life. Perhaps one of the best examples of a best friend is Jonathan, son of King Saul. Jonathan was a unique person. He feared the Lord and was a brave warrior, but most of all, when he came face to face with the man who would replace him, he embraced him into his life. The Bible says that Jonathan knit his soul to David and, as if to demonstrate how much he valued him, he immediately gave David everything he had on him—even his belt (I Samual 18:1, 3-4). Very few people are so invested in the life of another that they'd go so far.
The depth of Jonathan's love for David is enough to shame even the most soft-hearted of Christians. Jonathan cared about David's success, even more than his own. When King Saul wanted to kill David, Jonathan helped David escape. When Jonathan came to recognize that David was destined to become king of Israel, he supported him, even though the throne was rightfully his. Jonathan was willing to humble himself so someone else could benefit from his own royalty. That doesn't sound so different from a particular carpenter from Galilee.
Strictly speaking, there was no advantage for Jesus to sacrifice Himself for us. He was the Son of the Most High King, yet He was willing to give up His privilege so that we could enjoy the royalty that He rightfully deserved. Jesus understood how much it would cost to give us royalty, yet He still chose to lift us up. He chose to be the very best of friends for us, so that we could decide to be friends with Him. It is with this passion for others that Jesus instructed His disciples, and us, to love one another.
He said in John 15:12-14, “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.”
Being a best friend isn't always easy—in fact, it implies to be friends even in the face of adversity—but Jesus didn't ask us to live an easy life. He asked us to live a life of compassion for others and of genuine care for their betterment. We do not all have friends like Jonathan, but we can all be one for others.
There are very few things in Scripture I find more elegant than the first two chapters of the Bible. As enthralling as the first six days of creation are, I’m most awed by the part when God created us. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7).
Have you seen dust? News flash: it’s dirty. Nonetheless, God chose this, something that has been considered the lowest and most insignificant thing on the planet, to form the thing He would breathe life into. It’s almost as if God knew from the very start that we would all be a bunch of dirtbags, yet He chose to give the essence of life to us anyway. Not only did He give us life, but He elevated us to rule His creation. Humans went from the lowest of the low to the highest of the high in one day!
Obviously, things didn’t stay perfect. Despite everything He did, we chose the path that would lead us back to the dust (Genesis 3:19). Thankfully, He didn’t leave us there. By sending Jesus, He again lifted us up and gave us eternal life, even though we were as insignificant and dirty as the dust. Not only did He breathe life into us, but He washed us of our sins.
As long as we go through this world, it’s hard not to pick up a little bit of the dust that gets kicked up along the way. Still, we can live knowing that, until He gives us robes of white, we can be continually cleansed from the grime of this world. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Corinthians 7:1). I look forward to the day when I no longer need a continual washing, when I’m able to see the One who gave me breath, lifted me out of the dust, and called me His own.
Once a month, Paradise Calvary Chapel’s college-aged group gets together to do an excursion. Someone suggested we go on a hike this time, and we were all excited. However—between exams at school, holiday work schedules, and the idea of meeting at sunrise to go on a hike—when the day finally came, only three of us showed up. Not only that, but the hike we picked was pretty strenuous. We didn’t get far down the trail before we started reconsidering whether a hike for just the few of us was even worth it.
In Genesis 25:19-34, Isaac and his wife had twins: the first was Esau, who grew up to be a mighty hunter, and the second was Jacob, who spent most of his time helping his mother around the house. Now, even though they were twins, Esau was the first twin to be born, so he would one day receive the birthright. That was a pretty big deal; it meant that someday, after his father died, he would inherit everything.
One day, after Esau had finished a long and exhausting hunt, he came home and smelled some soup that Jacob had made—and it smelled very good to him. Jacob was crafty, and told Esau he could have some soup in exchange for the birthright.
Esau took the bargain too lightly, though, and basically told Jacob, “I’m so tired, I feel like I’m going to die, and I won’t care about any kind of birthright if I’m dead. Give me the soup.”
So Jacob gave Esau the soup, and Esau unwittingly gave Jacob the birthright. That was a decision that would leave him practically empty-handed for the rest of his life. And for what? A bowl of soup.
Wisdom would have said to be patient, or to actually consider what was being haggled. Wisdom would’ve said that the birthright was much more valuable than a bowl of soup. Folly, though, listened to the flesh. The flesh was hungry! Folly wanted that soup now. And that soup probably tasted good for a moment, but Esau realized a few years later—maybe even a few hours later—that the bowl of soup was not nearly as satisfying as a family inheritance would have been.
Unlike Esau, the few of us on the hike chose to press on. The trail was difficult, there were only a few of us, and we were tired—our flesh was tired. We easily could have turned around, gone back, thrown in the towel—but we didn’t, and the photos we got of the landscape proved our endurance was worth it.
The calls of the flesh seems stronger in the moment, but wisdom endures longer. Folly is easy to see, but wisdom is a more beautiful picture. The world has flashing neon signs that are hard to ignore, but we must remember to seek God through His Word, otherwise we might become too distracted by folly to hear the gentle little whispers of wisdom. What beauties will we inherit if only we don’t give in to our own cravings?
“Love never fails” (I Corinthians 13:8).
If I were to summarize what love means, what it implies, and what can be observed from it, it would come off sounding much like the oh-so popular Beatles song All You Need is Love. Truly though, when practiced, exercised, and acted upon, love is the reasoning behind decisions that the world would call entirely irrational—perhaps even the cross itself, for that matter. After all, what is the benefit of choosing to embrace those who persecute you? To serve those that spitefully abuse you? To venture into the territory of the enemy for the enemy’s sake? The answer is nothing, and that’s the point. Love’s intention is to benefit the object of affection, not the one who loves it.
I am reminded of October 1st, because that’s the night that Las Vegas showed the world what should be at the heart of a city: love for fellow man. People opened up their homes, drove as many as would fit in their car, and embraced total strangers. Some even lost their lives for others. At one point, city officials were telling citizens, “Stay home! You’re getting in the way!” The days and weeks that followed were full of blood drives, charity campaigns, vigils, and likely more prayers for a unified purpose than this city has seen in a while. For once, Sin City chose to put itself in selfless danger. This intolerance for inaction is the best image I can conjure up to describe love.
People often have lofty ambitions about how to serve the Lord: become a missionary, open a school, clothe the poor, or evangelize on every street they cross, but what was the point of Paul’s focus on love in I Corinthians 13? It was that without love, without that heart for others, there is nothing any of us can ever do to serve God in a way that will amount to anything.
Conversely, acts of genuine love can radically transform lives. Take Paul, for example. By all accounts, he had it all together. He was on track to become perhaps the most prominent pharisee in his community; he stood by as Stephen was martyred and personally saw to the persecution of the early church. Then what did God’s love do to his life? It transformed him into the most influential missionary in history, and his pursuit of love likely culminated with the loss of his own life.
There are two loves that ever rule in a person’s heart: a love of self (pride) and a love for others. When we choose to love others above ourselves, there is nothing, all the way to the ends of the earth, that we’ll let stand in our way. Our hearts won’t allow it. Love is the single most powerful force that has ever tread the face of this earth. Above all else, it saves every single soul that chooses to accept Jesus Christ. It was love that compelled the God of all creation to suffer, just to give us the opportunity to be with Him.
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.