Taking Up Your Cross

Not everyone takes up their cross, not right away. It’s a hard thing to do. It’s easier – and more natural – to ask God for the things we want. But we also draw close to Him hoping that He will change us. We have a picture of what the life of a believer should look like, and we want it. We want to be fulfilled in God.

Maybe you’re not there yet. You believe in Jesus Christ and you have accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, and that was a huge deal. Now you might be asking, “Will God do something huge in my life? Will He speak to me?”

Yes. But we have to ask Him. We have to say, “God, I’m open.” We must take up our cross. We must say, “God, I’m ready to be changed.”

To let God change you, you have to truly give yourself up to Him. You have to let go of everything and surrender. You have to go to God and say, wholeheartedly, “I’m in, Lord, I’m in! I’m yours, and I’m willing. Mold me!”

It’s scary to do that! It can bring a lot of turmoil, and it may last a long time. Just look at David. God told David he was going to be king, but then waited decades to make it happen. The time did not pass easy for David. King Saul sent an entire army after him, with orders to kill him. David had to run for his life. He was hiding in caves, not sitting on a throne!

That wasn’t even the limit of the bad things that happened. Afraid for his life, David lied to Abimelech. Because of that lie, Abimelech and all the priests of the city were massacred!

Your pain and confusion will not come with a price like that, but picking up your cross does lead to tough times. I did it because I truly wanted it. I wanted to live the life that God wants for me, fully and completely dedicated to Him. So I asked Him. I said, “Okay God, I’m ready to change. Make me who you need me to be. I am your clay, ready to be molded.”

“Mold me.” I asked, and that’s what I got. And I went through fire. If you are hesitant to ask, I completely understand. Who wouldn’t be scared of going through fire? But fear is not from God, so go ahead and ask. Jesus is the Savior of your life. He’s got you. He has invited you to pick up your cross and follow Him. In other words, you get to be with Him.

It is totally worth it.


You’re in the Right Place

Last time, I reflected on the roadblocks that God puts in our way. I think it’s important to recognize that sometimes, the obstacles we meet come from Him. We might have something we really want to do, but He knows we’re not ready. Maybe He wants to prepare us before we tackle something. So He blocks our path.

I look back on my own career, and it’s clear to me that there were many points along the way when I needed to wait. When I broke into the big leagues, at 22 years of age, I thought I was on top of the world. If God had given me fame then, or World Series success, I think I would have considered myself unstoppable. Maybe I would have had a heart for some things, but back then, I didn’t have a heart for the poor. I thought homeless people were lazy. I told them to get a job!

Why would God allow me a platform in Him when I had that kind of attitude toward people in poverty? Why would He give me a voice before I understood about injustice? I wouldn’t have used my voice, platform, or money the way that He wanted me to. I simply wasn’t ready.

God made me struggle for six years in the big leagues before giving me success. Looking back, I realize He was waiting for the right time. He was waiting until I could handle big league success in a holy and righteous way. The struggle was hard, but now I can see that He loved me too much to let me succeed right away. He said, “It’s not worth it. I can give you influence in a lot of ways, but I’ll do it six years from now — when you’re ready.”

Now that I can look back and see His plan, I’m okay with it. Obviously!

You might be itching to do something that will help build the Kingdom. But then God blocks you — while letting other people go and do it! It’s frustrating, I know. It’s really hard! Why did God call David to be the King of Israel, instead of one of his brothers? They were all older, so theoretically at least, they were better prepared for it. Imagine how they felt when God chose David over all of them!

It’s hard for us to understand why God did that, because His ways are not our ways. But He explained it for us. He looks at the heart of every man.

But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

God knows the heart of every man. He knows I’m Kingdom-minded. He knows I want to help a lot of people by using my gifts. That’s why I try not to get frustrated when I hit roadblocks. Sometimes I fail! But I don’t give up. I’ve learned that He puts obstacles in my way for a reason. So I’m learning to be patient, and to help people from right where I am in life. I will work from here because this is where God has put me.

We are all right where God wants us to be! So if you’re feeling blocked, or frustrated, or thwarted, don’t feel bad. Be content! God has a purpose for you, right where you’re at. How about that? You’ve been chosen for it! So let it be. Once you understand that you are living the life that God has arranged for you, you will be joyful. You will be filled with praise and gratitude! You’ll say, “God, thank you!” It’s good to enjoy what God has for us. We enjoy doing Kingdom work because it’s joyful!

If you don’t believe you’re where you need to be, then tell Him. Knock on that door. Ask Him for your heart’s dream. Everything comes from Him. Our place in life comes from Him. The impact we have for the Kingdom comes from Him. So keep asking, and don’t give up.

See you Tuesday.

When God Blocks Your Path

Last time, I wrote about the joy to be found in waiting for God to fulfill His plans for us. Sometimes, like David, we have to wait. God may not fulfill our calling right away. But this doesn’t mean that we have to wait for joy. Part of waiting is the joy we can find in it! The joy is found in learning to be content with whatever He gives us, or wherever He puts us.

Sometimes, though, it’s not just a matter of waiting. Sometimes, we hit roadblocks. Sometimes, we find doors are closed to us. What then? Where is the joy in that?

When this happens to me, I have a hard time being content. I’ve got a vision, and there is so much that I want to do!

But I’ve also got a wife and three little boys that I love a lot. So when I hit a roadblock, I stop and think about it. What if that roadblock was put there by God? Maybe I’ve asked Him to open a door, and He has said no. Maybe that roadblock is Him saying, “It’s not worth it to you to chase that ministry out there. It will take you away from your number one ministry right here, which is your family.”

This isn’t usually my first thought, but I’ve learned to weigh its merits. Maybe God is blocking my path!

I do think that God closes doors. He closes them for all kinds of reasons. He might have something else He wants you to do. He might not think you’re ready. He might not want you to get so busy with new tasks that you forget what you were called to do in the first place. So sometimes He’s going to put up a wall, even if it means that you’re going to run right into it.

Whatever He does, you’re going to have to be okay with it.

I admit, I’m not necessarily content when this happens! It can be frustrating to hit a roadblock, or find a closed door. I might say, “God, I feel like you’re restraining me. Why won’t you let me run free? I can do some good here, if you’ll just let me!” But He hears me say that, and He says, “You can’t do anything good! You can only do good through me!”

That’s the real lesson here. It’s only through God and in Him that we can bring His Kingdom. We prepare the horse for battle, but the victory is His. (Prov. 21:31)

Does this mean we shouldn’t dream, plan, or set goals? Not at all! We should prepare for the things we want to do. We should dream and set goals. But let’s not forget: God delivers. If you hit a roadblock and He wants you to get around it, then He’ll just flick it out of the way.

If He doesn’t remove it, it’s for a good reason. If He’s saying not now, then it’s not now. And that’s okay.

Wouldn’t you prefer to wait until He says you’re ready? He doesn’t want you to go through a door when you’re not prepared, spiritually or mentally, to handle what will come. He knows when an opportunity is good, but He also knows when your heart is not ready. So He’ll block you if it’s not going to be good for you. And then, while you wait, He’ll prepare you.  

This is love! This is the tender love of a Father!

I know roadblocks can be frustrating. But if God is not removing them, then He’s put them in place for a reason. Getting frustrated with Him will not change that. And getting frustrated with God is not fun! Here’s an idea: if you find a closed door, ask Him to open it. If He doesn’t, then don’t fight it. Instead, try asking and listening. Then ask and listen some more. Tell Him, “God, here’s my heart. Here’s why I want to do this thing. Here’s why I’d like to get around that obstacle. I would really like to be able to do this thing, but I don’t want to do anything unless I can do it through you. So until you say it’s time, I’ll be content.”

God isn’t saying don’t plan. God says the opposite! He says that He directs your steps, but your heart plans the way. (Prov. 16:9) So let your heart dream. Ask, and listen. And then, just be open. When the time is right, and you are ready, He will make the way plain for you (Ps. 5:8). Meanwhile, there is joy in the waiting!

See you Friday.

Joy in Waiting, Being, Doing

And Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all the young men here?” Then he said, “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him. For we will not sit down till he comes here.” So he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, with bright eyes, and good-looking. And the Lord said, “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward. 1 Samuel 16:11-13

As a young shepherd in Bethlehem, David got his call – to be King of Israel! And what happened next? Nothing! He just went back to his sheep.

Fifteen years passed before David took the throne. It was an eventful life. He became a celebrated hero when he killed Goliath. He wrote beautiful music. He joined the household of the existing king Saul, and he made lifelong friends.

At the same time, not all of David’s life was good. I mean, not good at all! When King Saul found out that David had been chosen by God to replace him, things got rough for David. He was persecuted by Saul. It was so bad that David actually had to run and hide. He kept on the move, hid out in caves, and survived by his wits.

This was the life of the man who was already anointed king! He had been called to the throne, and yet he wasn’t ruling. He was hiding in caves!

David waited 15 years to become king. I think we want our call in 15 minutes. So David’s story is instructive. He had to wait, man. He had to wait a long time to become king.

Waiting for a call can be tough (although hopefully not as tough as it was for David). It’s so hard to wait! But there is so much joy to be found in waiting. You can still be filled with the Spirit of the Lord, just as David was. Open your heart up to God your Father, and say, “Alright, what do you want me to do? Anything you want me to do, I’ll do it. I just want to serve you.”

Tell Him, “I am a child of yours, and I would love to go out and be a part of something that’s just awesome. If now is not the time, okay! But I’d really like to go, if it would be okay with you. I would love it.” And then just see what He says. If He says no, then that’s okay. Keep doing what you’re doing. If He says yes, He’ll make it happen.

I think sometimes God wants you to ask. If you never ask, you’ll never know. That’s what the Bible says. “You have not because you ask not.” (James 4:2) But don’t forget, if you’re going to ask, you’d better be ready for the answer! If His answer is no, then you need to be okay with that. You may be disappointed, and it’s okay to be disappointed. But you need to accept His answer.

And if the answer’s yes, then get ready! You might find that you need to be accepting of that too!

And you know what? Right now, while you are waiting, God is still calling you to joy. Joy is found in doing, yes. But it is also found in waiting. And sometimes joy is simply found in being, right where you’re at. I think that’s important to God. Sometimes He wants you to just be. Be content. Be content for now. When He feels like you’re ready for what He has in store for you, He’ll call you. He’ll send you out. Trust Him on this, and until then, just be content.

In the long run, you’re going to be happier because you waited. If you do something that you think is great, but you do it outside of God, then you’re going to be disappointed. And if He lets you go before you’re ready, then you’re going to be miserable. You’re not going to like what you’re doing.

God doesn’t want that for you! What would be the point? God wants joy for you!

So wait until He calls. Find joy in the waiting. Find joy in the being. And when the call comes, you can be sure that you’ll find joy in the doing. Kingdom work is joyful work! And that’s what God wants for you.

More on this next time. See you Tuesday.

Living to Love

We’re here on this planet for the simplest of reasons: to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When we love our neighbors, we’re happy! Loving your neighbor as yourself is so fulfilling!

When you approach your life with the mentality of discipleship, you taste that fulfillment, and you are hooked. Salvation is awesome. When you realize what Jesus did for you, filling you with grace and bringing you into God’s kingdom, the joy will spill out of you. You’ll long to chase after Christ. You’ll long to hang out with him. You’ll read about all the things His disciples did, and you’ll want to do the same. You’ll want to do more!

Making the confession that Jesus died for you is just the start. What comes next?  Your life transformed by the Spirit! Just wait until you experience what it’s like to live your salvation. Living your salvation is living the lifestyle of Jesus. It’s having the discipleship mentality.

I truly, truly, truly, believe this. Salvation is not the whole story. It is fundamental, sure. It’s the key. It’s the beginning. You have to be saved. You have to recognize what Jesus Christ did. You have to know that He died on that cross. He took your sins. He took the blame. He took it all.

But He also taught us to pray for God’s kingdom on earth. He discipled us. He called us to live the life that He lived. He called us to bring the kingdom.

And that’s simple! All you have to do is keep His commandment. Love your neighbor as yourself. Whether you’re rich or poor or in between, your joy will come from the way you use the gifts you’ve been given to live the lifestyle of Jesus.

This is what I teach my children. Life isn’t about how much money you make. It’s not about fame, either.

Life is not about what you can get. Life is about what you can do. What can you do? You can love your neighbor as yourself! It’s really that simple!

Loving my neighbor as myself is the concept that I’ve built my life around. When I use my gifts to love my neighbor, I feel like I’m fulfilling my life’s goal. It’s fulfilling to do something good for somebody else, with no thought of a return.

Try it. Do something good, and do it simply to love. It feels great!

Do you believe in Jesus? If so, then how do you use your gifts? Do you use them to love others? Then congratulations! You’re on the course of discipleship. You are living the lifestyle of Jesus.

See you Tuesday.

I Will Show You My Faith

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. James 2:14-18

What is the goal of life, the thing most worth striving for? I strive to sit before the throne of God and hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Well done. This doesn’t mean that I have a works mentality. I truly don’t believe my works will get me to heaven. My faith will get me to heaven. That’s it. I’m justified by my faith.

But I will show you my faith, in the things that I do. The works I perform are the result of the faithful life I try to live, every single day. You can boil my whole theology down to one concept: discipleship. I try to live the lifestyle of Jesus.

We don’t have to resolve the works/faith “issue,” because there is no issue. When we live the lifestyle of Jesus, the relationship between faith and works takes care of itself. You see it in the letter of James. He said, “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

Some people say that James and Paul were having a disagreement, but they weren’t. They were talking about two different things. When Paul said that you aren’t saved by works, he meant that works alone will not get you into heaven. Paul said, “Look, you can’t work your way into heaven.” In my belief, that’s true.

James is talking about a whole different idea. James is talking about the believers, the ones that have already given up their souls to God. When James said, “I will show you my faith by my works,” he was talking about the lifestyle that you live when you’re a believer.

Once you confess that Jesus died for your sins, you are saved. But then what? Nothing? Do you say, “Oh, now I can just sit around and do whatever. My salvation is all about faith and I can just live my life however I want to live it.”

To that, James and the other disciples said an emphatic, “No!” They said, “Live like Jesus!”

They didn’t say, “Check me out. I’ve hung out with Jesus. Now I can just sit around and do whatever.”

The apostles did not just sit around. If they did, we’d have no Acts of the Apostles to read, would we?

Nor did the apostles go around doing whatever they wanted to do. Want proof? Look at the persecution they endured. They certainly weren’t persecuted because they were living for themselves. They were persecuted because they were living for Jesus. Discipleship was not easy!

Discipleship got them in trouble. It got them crucified upside down. It got them thrown into prison. It got them stoned to death. The apostles were living a lifestyle that shook people up! They walked into pagan Greece and pagan Rome and challenged people’s worldview. They walked into the temples of a ton of different Gods. They walked into places where people were having orgies. They walked into all these places and said, “Your life is unfulfilling! We have a new message for you. Come, and follow Jesus. Live like Jesus. Be filled with all good things, and become heirs to the kingdom of God!”

The disciples showed us how to live. And that’s what James is saying. Show me a believer that lives the lifestyle of Jesus. That’s Christianity. But what if you show me a lifestyle that is without works, a lifestyle where you don’t do anything? What is that?

You say you have faith. Let’s see it!

New Life

Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Galatians 3:2-4

Tuesday, I wrote about the self-righteousness of the Sadducees. The Sadducees believed that it was their own actions that made them holy and righteous. But they were wrong. No one can save themselves.

We are holy and righteous children of God, yes! But we get no credit for it. We can’t make ourselves holy and righteous. It’s impossible! We live in flesh! We’re imperfect. We make mistakes. We’re human. So it’s only through the blood of Jesus that we are adopted into God’s family and God’s kingdom.

The Bible says you must make a confession with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9). Good people aren’t saved in the absence of this confession. They may do good things, but the key to salvation is the acknowledgment and confession of who Jesus is.

I know this can make people uncomfortable. Am I saying that all you have to do is accept Jesus as your savior, and you’re done? Just say the prayer, and go on with your life?

Are we dangerously leading false converts with this message?

I do believe a confession needs to be made. I truly believe that Jesus died for you. You must confess that Jesus is Lord in order to be saved. There has to be an admission there, and it has to be real. But it needs to be a heart commitment, not just a verbal acknowledgement.

That has to happen, but like the Bible says, when we respond to God’s message, a new life begins. In the wake of salvation, you’ll see a lifestyle change. Saved by the Spirit, you will live by the Spirit. (Romans 8:13)

Imagine a guy who goes to a big conference, and while he is there, someone hits on something in a message that really touches him. It hits him hard. Maybe he’s been having a difficult time, or maybe the conference is allowing him to experience an emotional high. And then someone says, “Do you want to believe in Jesus? Do you want to be saved? Then come forward!” He goes forward. He says the prayers. And he is saved!

Imagine someone who goes through a really emotional time in her life. She meets a Christian who says something that touches her. She makes the confession. Jesus is Lord! She is saved!

What happens then? What if they go home, and nothing changes? What if their struggles continue? They’ve come from a time of high emotion, and they’ve said the words, but now, disappointment sets in.

Why? Because they need to do things differently. They need to live out their newly-found salvation.

A new life must begin.

If you really want to understand Jesus in your life, live in the mentality of discipleship. You won’t understand it if you don’t live it. You won’t understand it if you just say some words. Words don’t substitute for infinite passion. They can’t substitute for a relationship with your Creator and Savior. It has to be a relationship, and it has to be heartfelt.

Salvation is not just words. If you’ve been saved but you feel unfulfilled, try a little discipleship mentality.

And I’ll tell you about that next week!