This week I had a few spare moments so I turned on ESPN to catch up on the daily sports news. For me, it’s a slow time of the year when it comes to sports. College football starts in 1 month and college basketball doesn’t start until November, so most the sports news right now is who is signing where and who got injured in practice, but on this day what I saw was something very different. Sitting for an interview on live TV was 10 time NBA All Star, Olympic Gold Medal winner, and 2003 Final Four MVP Carmelo Anthony. As a college basketball fanatic and all around basketball fan, getting to watch Carmelo from his National Championship at Syracuse in 2003 all the way through his NBA career has been amazing, but this interview was different. It didn’t take long to realize that instead of promoting the many accomplishments of Carmelo Anthony, the real reason for the interview was to answer all the questions surrounding his last few years on the court. As the discussion dived deeper into the misses and mistakes, you could almost see and feel Carmelo replaying those missteps on live TV. As a fan you never get to see the human side of the athletes we watch on TV, but in this moment I could see the vulnerability and humility of a man who has defined himself by the game in which he plays. At one particular moment, Stephen A Smith who is interviewing Carmelo, begins questioning the contracts Carmelo has signed and the teams that he has played for. As the camera focuses on Carmelo you can see him second guessing some of the directions that he had taken along his journey in the NBA, but sitting here now, 15 years later, there was nothing he could do to change the past. As I sat and watched, my mind went to a discussion Jesus was having with his disciples in John 16:13:
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. John 16:13 NKJV
I know it’s hard to feel sorry for someone who has had the opportunity to play professional basketball for 15 years and make over 150 million dollars doing it, but I did feel sympathy for Carmelo in this moment. You could hear the regret in his voice with some of his answers and see the desperation in his eyes for just wanting to play one more season. The “what could have beens” for him in this interview were championships, wins, and contracts but for me watching the TV I thought of all the memories I wish I could go back and change. Many decisions that I made were not harmful decisions, but could have been easier. For many of you reading this, you might never step foot on a basketball court, but you will step into a specific career or direction for your life. Wouldn’t you like to know that GOD is guiding you in all your decisions? I kept thinking about John 16:13 as the interview went on and I just couldn’t shake the thought that “what if we allowed ourselves to be led completely by the Holy Spirit?” Would we have these moments where we second guessed many of the decisions we made over the last 15 years? Would we look back on decades of our life and wish we could have done something different?
If you read the rest of John 16, Jesus is basically saying goodbye to his disciples and giving them guidance for when he is gone. In just a few short hours, Jesus would be standing before Pontius Pilot and his crucifixion would be at hand. Jesus knew that His time on Earth was winding down and in the short amount of time He had left, He gave the disciples a game changer when it came to living the rest of their lives. Of course, we now know Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit and the guidance that comes from being led by Him. As Christians, we have a huge advantage in this life because the GOD who created the entire universe lives on the inside of us and wants to lead us into all truth. We don’t have to wonder what direction we should go or decision we should make. The scripture says that “He will guide you into all truth” and “He will tell you things to come.” If He is telling us and guiding us, that means we need to ask and listen to what He is saying. Too often in our lives, we feel pressured to make an immediate decision and that ends up costing us in the future. Instead, let’s slow down and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirt. Let’s take some time to be still and listen to our Creator and really come to know where He wants to guide our life. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” GOD’s thoughts toward you are for peace, blessing, and hope, but we have to be listening. GOD wants to guide you and tell you the future of your life, the only question is, “Are you listening?”
This past week I was rebuilding part of the website for Anchor Movement and looking at ways to continue bringing quality content to our readers when my past suddenly flashed before my eyes. I sat there in silence reliving some of the worst mistakes that I had made over the last 33 years of my life and then there was a single comment that broke the silence, “You aren’t qualified to tell others about Jesus.” At that moment, a feeling of shame and overwhelming grief covered me like a cold wet blanket. I couldn’t shake it. I thought about giving up. The voice was right. I’m not qualified. I have made some huge mistakes in my life and I ran from GOD for a long time. I drank more alcohol than I care to remember. I partied at places that are unmentionable. On top of all that I don’t have the education to share the gospel. No seminary degree. No doctorate in Greek or Hebrew. No learned skill set in the hermeneutical, philosophical, or theological interpretation of the Bible. The voice was right. I am not at all qualified. As I sat there mediating and sulking over my past a story came to my mind. It was about another man who made some huge mistakes in his life, but GOD chose to use him anyway. This man was chosen by GOD before he was ever born to establish the nation in which GOD’s people would come from and ultimately the Messiah. He was a liar, a cheat, lacking in character, and mischievous, but GOD chose him anyway and used his unique skill set to continue the Blessing of GOD and to establish the twelve tribes of Israel. This man was Jacob and he wasn’t qualified either.
If you read the story of Jacob, many church people believe that Jacob stole the blessing from his brother Esau. In my Bible, the title heading for chapter 27 says, “Jacob’s stolen blessing.” Now keep in mind, that title was not put there by GOD, but by the people who interpreted the scriptures into various languages and organized the Bible so we can accurately find scriptures today. What that title should say is, “Jacob given the Blessing.” If you turn back a few pages in Genesis to the birth of Jacob and Esau, you’ll see what I mean. In Genesis 25, Rebekah is pregnant and in her womb the two babies are wrestling with each other. As a concerned mother, Rebekah goes to The Lord and ask what is going on. His response is key to understanding the rest of Jacob’s life:
“And the Lord told her, “The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son will serve your younger son.” And when the time came to give birth, Rebekah discovered that she did indeed have twins! The first one was very red at birth and covered with thick hair like a fur coat. So they named him Esau. Then the other twin was born with his hand grasping Esau’s heel. So they named him Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when the twins were born.” Genesis 25:23-26 NLT
Did you catch that? The older son will serve the younger son. Who was older? Esau. Who was younger? Jacob. Jacob was the son GOD chose to be the next in line for the Blessing not Esau. God chose Jacob before either child was ever born. During that time period, the older son was always the son of the family blessing. That usually meant his inheritance was double that of any of the other siblings, but in this case, GOD chose the youngest son, the second born, the least likely, to be the continuation of GOD’s great plan. His parents even named him Jacob which means: supplanter, schemer, and treachery. Wow! Talk about a promising start, but how many of us know that GOD is not concerned with what people say, but only what He says. For most of Jacob’s early life he lived up to what his parents had originally called him by blackmailing his brother for his birthright and “stealing” the blessing Isaac meant to give Esau. Jacob defined himself by what others called him and let his actions mirror those expectations, but GOD used these past experience to put Jacob on the road to becoming the father of the twelve original tribes of Israel. Jacob ran from his brother and family and fled to another land to a farm owned by his uncle Laban. There he married Laban’s two daughters and they had children. When it came time for Jacob to leave his uncle Laban and travel back to his home country, he was still the same man as before until he had an encounter with GOD. In what is one of the most interesting stories in all the Bible, Jacob physically wrestled with GOD all night. When morning came, in order to stop the wrestling, GOD dislocated Jacob’s hip and called him by another name:
“Your name is no longer Jacob. From now on it’s Israel; you’ve wrestled with God and you’ve come through.” Genesis 32:28 MSG
God looked at Jacob and said you are no longer who you think you are. You are now who I say you are. You are Israel. You are no longer defined by what others have said or what you think, but you are now defined by the future that I have for you. In the New Testament, Paul describes this transaction for us in 2 Corinthians 5:21:
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV
Just like Jacob, GOD doesn’t define us by our past mistakes or sins. He looks at our future and says, “You are the righteousness of GOD. You are made perfect in Me.” Before Jacob was ever born, GOD called him Israel and before you were ever born GOD called you by your distinct name. You were destined for greatness before you were ever formed in the womb. Satan always wants to remind us of our past, but your true past was destined before you ever took a breathe. When Satan tried to remind me of my past and how unqualified I am to be sharing the gospel through Anchor Movement, I just remind him of Jacob. When you read the genealogy of Jesus you see Jacob mentioned third from the top after his Grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac, but what you don’t see is anything mentioned about his past. GOD doesn’t record Jacob’s past when describes his future. GOD only remembers his future and that is the only thing he remembers in your life. GOD doesn’t look at your past and define you by your mistakes or sins, but he looks at your future and says, “you are chosen, loved, and intended for greatness.” The next time Satan tries to remind you of your past, just tell him, "My name is Jacob!"
My usual routine when I come home from work involves going to an outside window of our house, knocking on the window, and waiting for my daughter, Brooklyn, to show up at the window and get excited about seeing daddy. For about the next 2-3 minutes she tells me everything she has done for the day and then points to the front door for me to come in. A few weeks ago I had a different experience and it brought to mind many of the same situations that we are all in today. It was the same routine as usual: park the car, go to window, knock, wait for Brooklyn, talk through window, and then go to front door, except this time, Brooklyn wouldn’t let me in the door. I had a key and was able to unlock the door, but she had sat down right in front of the door and her body weight was blocking my entry into the house. Now, Brooklyn is only 35 pounds, but some how she had situated her body perfectly where the combination of body weight and leverage kept the door from opening. I could unlock the door, but I could not get it to open to come inside. I could hear her laughing through the door and I smiled at her playfulness. I stepped back from the door and remembered that there was another door in the garage to get into the house. I opened the garage, took the same key, opened the door inside the garage, and easily walked into the house still hearing the laughter of my daughter. When I got into the kitchen, GOD spoke to me and said, “Many of my children face the same difficulty when inheriting the promises I have given them. They don’t realize there’s more than one door.”
GOD has given each and every one of us specific promises that pertain to our life. Those might be personal promises or promises found throughout the Word of GOD, but we all have promises that have been spoken over our lives. Many times we give up on what GOD has said because the way we think it should be doesn’t work out. Essentially the door we want to go through is locked and just like my daughter was laughing at me on the other side, the enemy is laughing at you standing on the front porch, but Jesus addressed this very issue in Matthew 7: 7-11:
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. “You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”
I like the New Living Translation version because it uses the word, “keep.” This little four letter word carries big meaning when we apply it to our life and the promises of GOD. According to the online dictionary that comes with an Apple iPad the definition of keep is: persist, carry on, do something constantly or consistently, carry on. Many times, I have found, that GOD doesn’t answer prayers and give blessings the way I think it should be done. The whole reason Valerie and I started the podcast series “ Embrace the Delay” for Anchor Movement was because in our own marriage and family we were waiting on GOD to fulfill His promises, but we were in a delay. (To listen to our most recent podcast, click here). Delays are not fun and it’s in the delay that many times we get off course. The enemy likes to persuade us that GOD has forgotten about us or that His promises are for someone else more qualified and spiritual, but that is totally not true. It’s in the delays that we learn to lean on the faithfulness of GOD and remember His goodness. That’s why in Matthew 7 Jesus addressed the delay directly when he said, “keep.” Don’t stop asking. Don’t stop seeking. Don’t stop knocking. Keep on keeping on! GOD has good gifts stored up for you in His perfect timing. I love how the Psalmist puts it:
“Lord, how wonderful you are! You have stored up so many good things for us, like a treasure chest heaped up and spilling over with blessings— all for those who honor and worship you! Everybody knows what you can do for those who turn and hide themselves in you.” Psalms 31:19 TPT
GOD has more than one way to bless you and accomplish his promises in your life. Even if you have missed it because of sin or disobedience, GOD is still faithful to what He has said. Our job is to embrace these moments of delay and keep on seeking Him and remembering His goodness. We have the key and GOD will point us to the door that we should open in his timing. Don’t let anyone stop you from inheriting what GOD has for you. Remember what the Psalmist said, “You have stored up so many good things for us, like a treasure chest heaped up and spilling over with blessing!” Treasure chests aren’t something that lays out in the open. Most of the time you have to follow a map and diligently seek the treasure outlined on the map. Our treasure from GOD is found the same way, by diligently seeking Him and following His map. Don’t give up, Keep on going!
The toughest battle we face is not between other individuals or nations, but it’s the battle between our ears. How many books have been written about our mental health and defeating our adversaries in our mind. It’s why books like “The Battlefield of the mind” by Joyce Meyer and “Switch on Your Brain” by Dr. Caroline Leaf sell so many copies. People are starving for the ability to win the battle of thought in their mind. Statistics prove this out: suicide rates in America are up 24% since 2000 and almost 25 million Americans are on some sort of antidepressant. Now listen to me, all victory begins and ends with Jesus, but in between are steps we can take in order to capture the thoughts that want to hold us down. Everyday we are inundated with images, perspectives, and thoughts that can either harm us or help us and without a clear strategy for protection it becomes an overwhelming task. The screens on our desk, in our pocket, and hanging on our walls have become the barometer for a life well lived, but how can we attain something that is edited, cropped, and cleaned up for a mass audience? As a husband I see men who are in perfect shape, have ample time for their families, and have amazing jobs. How can I compare to that? As a father I compare myself to other fathers who never yell at their kids and have a constant petting zoo in the backyard. How can I compete with that? The truth is I can’t, but the truth is they can’t either. What I see on my Instagram feed is just a highlight reel of a moment in time, but I take it as a blanket affirmation of their entire life and a constant reminder of my deficiencies. This is a battle that we all face and what I want to do is give you three practical steps for conquering the battle between your ears.
1. Ignore them!
“When Saul returned to his home at Gibeah, a group of men whose hearts God had touched went with him. But there were some scoundrels who complained, “How can this man save us?” And they scorned him and refused to bring him gifts. But Saul ignored them. 1 Samuel 10:26-27A NLT
After Saul was made king by the prophet Samuel he went back home and the reception was not what you would suppose a newly announced king would receive. Many of the people who knew Saul growing up looked on his new occupation with scorn and contempt. In today’s world we call these people keyboard gangsters. These are the people who blow up your Facebook news feed with negative comments, misguided opinions, and asinine assumptions about you and your life. When these haters decide to unleash their useless jargon we have two options: respond or ignore. If we respond, we are no better than they are. If we ignore the battle begins in our mind. With each comment we must ask ourselves, does this truly define me or is this someone just being judgmental? If it’s the latter, which is what Saul faced, do what Saul did—ignore them. Your life is better without them and so is your mental health.
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,” II Corinthians 10:3-5 NKJV
Sometimes thoughts won’t leave and that is when you must go to battle. We can either let our thoughts control us or we can control our thoughts. I like what I heard a pastor say about thoughts, “you can’t control a bird from flying over your head, but you can control whether they build a nest.” Our thoughts are like the birds that fly over. Sometimes something might pop in your mind that you never even thought of before. How did that get in there? Where did that thought come from? I’ve felt that before. Especially when I’m making a big decision or a decision that I feel is going to have a big impact on my life. It’s in those moments that I wrestle with this verse. It’s wrestling with the thought and bringing it to GOD’s Word. If my thought says “you’re not good enough” I remind my thought “I am the righteousness of GOD through Christ or if my thoughts say “you’ll never have enough” I emphatically tell my thought, “my GOD shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory.” It’s not always easy especially when the thoughts come like a river, but I know when they do, it’s by bringing those thoughts to GOD’s Word that I find peace in my mind.
For me this is the hardest step in my mental struggles. It’s the ability to release what others have said or what my own thoughts say to me. Ignoring a constant battle sometimes becomes overwhelming and once I’ve captured the thought with the Word of GOD it becomes a situation of where to put it. Like a prisoner of war, I need somewhere to put this thought so that I can move on with my life. That is where this third step comes from: release. Release where? Glad you asked. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” A yoke is a wooden beam that is fastened between two animals, normally oxen, that enables them to pull together on a load. When we are struggling with our thoughts or that inner voice it’s like being hooked together to that thing with a yoke. You are trying to pull one way and the thought is pulling you in another direction. Jesus said let me pull that yoke with you. Release what is pulling you in the wrong direction and come pull my yoke. Jesus understands what feels like to have great sorrow and stress. He felt the loss of loved ones, the pain of betrayal, and the physics anguish of the cross. What better person to pull the yoke of life together with. Release your yoke and take hold of His. When we allow ourselves to do this, we will find out what it truly means to find rest for our souls.
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If you were to ask my wife what is the one thing that I can not live without (Excluding Jesus and her of course), she would emphatically tell you “coffee!” I am a coffee junkie. To me coffee is my water. I believe that GOD made Adam and Eve and when they had children he introduced them to the coffee bean. Because of my infatuation or better yet, need for coffee, I find myself inside coffee shops many times throughout the week. My usual routine when ordering coffee is pulling up the app on my phone, ordering my coffee, and then sitting inside on a nice comfy couch waiting to hear my name called. In the moments between ordering and picking up my amazingness, I typically just scroll through the news feed on my phone or text my wife back and forth. A few weeks ago GOD called my attention to the other patrons enjoying their cup of joe. As I scanned the room, I observed about 75% of the room either looking at their phone, iPad, or some sort of tech device. The other 25% were either in line or sitting with another person. I couldn’t help but think how connected we are online, but how disconnected we are in the real world. Coffee shops were meant for communion with friends, family, or complete strangers. A place to go and enjoy conversation and purposeful interaction with other physical human beings. I felt very misplaced at that moment. How many times have I slipped onto my comfy couch, immediately pulled out my cell phone or computer, and focused my attention to the bright light radiating from my screen. Who have I missed? What lonely individual had come looking for coffee just like myself, but needed to hear a simple “hello” or “how are you?” How many times have I stood in line without even noticing the person behind me or the name on the tag of the barista taking my order. “This will stop today,” I emphatically declared. No more missing the world going on around me for the world that is in my pocket. From that moment on, my aim is to not just be in the moment, but to thrive in the moment. I want to see eye color and pay attention to name tags. I want to hear someone’s voice and recognize the emotion behind it. I want to get out of my little world and see the world that GOD has divinely ordained around me.
Jesus is the perfect example of someone who connected with the people around Him and through those connections He was able to offer hope, healing, and salvation. One of my favorite stories about Jesus is more of a transition than a story. It’s a transition in Jesus life, but He used it as a great opportunity for intimate connection. In the last few verses of John 8, Jesus is having a pretty heated discussion with the religious leaders of the day presenting Himself as The Christ. The leaders in turn became very angry and picked up stones to kill Jesus, but Jesus just concealed Himself and left the temple where He had been teaching. Chapter 9 starts with this verse:
“Afterward, as Jesus walked down the street, he noticed a man blind from birth.” John 9:1 TPT
Afterward. After the heated discussion where the religious leaders tried to kill Jesus. Afterward. Jesus had just exchanged one of the most prominent examples to the Jews that He was not only The Christ, but that He existed with GOD from the very beginning. I am sure that emotions were running high for Jesus, the religious leaders, and His disciples, but Jesus didn’t dwell on what just happened. As He walked down the street He noticed a man blind from birth. Jesus was always looking for connections. Always looking for someone He could encourage or speak life into. There was never a wasted moment in the life of Jesus. If Jesus ministry was happening today, He would ignore the constant vibrating of His cell phone to connect with that person who is sitting alone at dinner. The rest of chapter 9 is an incredible story of the healing of this man who was born blind and the glory of GOD that was shown that day in Jerusalem. The same day that Jesus was in an emotional heated conversation with the religious leaders. The same day those same religious leaders tried to kill Him. That same day He noticed a man born blind and stopped everything to show the everlasting love of GOD. My question to you and myself is how can we be more like Jesus in our transitions? When life is busy and we are running from one place to the next, how can we slow down enough to notice? Let us not be people who are defined by the cross around our necks or the place we go on Sunday, but let us be defined by the actions we take in the transitions and the love that we show in the busyness of our day. My declaration will be this:
I will be more purposeful and intentional with my daily interactions—wether that’s with my wife, kids, family, or a complete stranger. I will take Jesus into every interaction, every conversation, every insignificant moment and let His grace and mercy move through me.
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