Who’s in Control?

Jesus asked his followers a startling question one day: “Why do you call me ‘Lord’ and not do the things that I say?” Jesus was essentially saying, “Why do you insinuate that I am your king but don’t do what I’ve asked you?”

This question should pierce the heart of everyone who calls themselves a disciple of Jesus. Who is Jesus to you? Is He real? Is He someone you turn to only when times are hard, or merely someone that you look to because you had parents that steered you in the direction of Christianity? There is no way that we can declare He is real, and the Lord of our life, and still consistently withhold a portion of the control of our lives.

Jesus wants a relationship with you so bad that He was willing to die to get it. But living up to the greatest potential of that relationship requires a shift on your part. A shift in your thinking and in your doing – living your life as though it isn’t yours at all. Realizing that your life belongs to Jesus and He is in control. The Lord is a friend to those who fear Him – shifting your entire life to be a faithful follower of the only One worth following.


Recently I had the privilege of getting to know a Christian man who had lived under an oppressive communist regime in Europe for many years. He shared many harrowing stories with me about various hardships and how he smuggled Bibles without the authorities catching him. Although communism has since dissipated in that country and everyone living there has experienced freedom for many years, he said something that really hit me. He stated how he has realized that the hardest thing for any Christian is to just be faithful to Jesus. The temptation is always there to take control of our own lives, but our responsibility as a follower of Christ is to be faithful in our freedom or in persecution.

Let it be said of us
That the Lord was our passion
That with gladness we bore
Every cross we were given
That we fought the good fight
That we finished our course
Knowing within us the power of the risen Lord

Let the cross be our glory
And the Lord be our song
By mercy made holy
By the Spirit made strong

Let the cross be our glory
And the Lord be our song
‘Till the likeness of Jesus
Be through us made known
Let the cross be our glory
And the Lord be our song

(Steve Fry)

Your Real Dad

dad and son

Dad. The word probably means something different to each of us. Recently, I’ve encountered many who have no attachment to that word whatsoever. “Dad” means nothing to them because simply, well, they’ve never had one. Now, obviously there was a sperm donor and from a biological perspective they have a dad. But from a nurturing, relational, and emotional attachment perspective, they feel fatherless.

I really believe that’s why Jesus spent his time on earth trying to help us understand what God is like and who he is. Many times throughout the Bible God is referred to as a dad, and that’s a good thing, but Jesus took it a step further. It’s one thing to say “You care for us like a dad” or “You are our dad,” but to say “Good morning, Dad” takes on a whole new meaning. Jesus wasn’t just describing what God is like, but Jesus also was telling us to relate to God as our dad!

If you want to dig in a little deeper, many scholars teach that when Jesus taught us how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, and say “Our Father, who is in heaven…” that he was using the word “Abba” – the first word that a young child learns in the Middle East – “Daddy.” Think about what this implies. Even those who have had the best example of an earthly dad have been misunderstood and discouraged because of them. Your Dad in heaven knows you better than anyone else and he is the real Dad to those who have never had one. Not only are you very valuable to him, but he also knows what things you are in need of before you even ask!

Can you imagine the love your heavenly Dad has for you? If God delighted in his plan before he spoke the world into being, how much greater is his delight to witness the full fruition of his labor – a believing son or daughter. That’s why he longs for us to see him as he really is: our Dad. Once we make that connection our entire approach to our Creator should shift – which I believe was Jesus’ intention all along.

No Longer an Orphan

“I’m adopted.” Have you ever said that? I can’t say that I ever have, but I now have a boy who can make that claim. A boy that wasn’t born to my wife; a boy that doesn’t have my DNA; a boy that was once lost and alone; but now he’s mine – officially my son.

Don’t you realize that you were born the same way? Maybe you have a physical dad that cares for you, but I promise you that deep down, in the spiritual sense, you were born an orphan. You were lost, alone, and destined for death. The Apostle Paul reminded the Ephesians (and us) to “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”

Things were pretty bleak for the human race. But then our Creator decided it was time to adopt. He went out and made a way to be rescued from being a permanent castaway. But He didn’t stop there; He even actually changed the spiritual DNA of those who wanted to be adopted. “You have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when He adopted you as His own children. Now we call Him, “Daddy.” For His Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.”

My son.

My son.

The concept of adoption perfectly encapsulates the Gospel! If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ then you are adopted. You are officially His son or daughter. You once were an orphan devoid of a destiny but now, right now, you belong to Jesus. Can you think of anything more reassuring than having a Rescuer who made a way for us to join a family like His? So if we’re His children, let’s live like it.

The Universe and You

The Carina Nebula

I’m not sure if the Chinese language has a similar way of expressing this, but in English we have a saying (typically spoken as an exasperated reminder): “The world does not revolve around you!” Implying that you are only concerned about your personal needs and problems and want to be treated like the entitled ruler you believe you are. When analyzing ourselves objectively, we usually can realize the arrogance in living with that mindset. If you’re a Christian, then hopefully you can take James’, the brother of Jesus, reminder to heart: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

But what if we look at this even deeper? Part of living of like God is real is honoring Him for the holy and awesome creator that He is. We know that we are not the center of the universe, but how would we live if we fully understood how mighty this God is who with a word spoke the heavens into place, flung the stars, and gave the earth its frame? This point is emphasized in Psalm 89:6-7 – “For who in the skies is comparable to the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty is like the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be held in reverence by all those around Him.”

Feeling kind of small and unimportant yet? You should. Our God is mindful of us, loves us dearly (Psalm 8:3-5), and even tells us to boldly approach His throne (Hebrews 4:16) – but you cannot forget He is deserving of all your respect and devotion. If that doesn’t translate to a life that’s lived in humility then you’re still not recognizing the greatness of our King. With every new discovery that science makes, it simply confirms the complexity and awe of everything around us and tells of a magnificent designer (check out this “Scale of the Universe” if you want to have some fun with that topic).

Our God is great. Greater than we’ll ever realize – but that should not stop us from trying to realize or understand it. The minute we start treating God like an equal or even approaching Him like we’re entitled to something, we’re placing our Creator on a level that is blasphemous. You aren’t the center of the universe – but how about we all start living for the One who is.

Disclaimer: My apologies if this post comes off a little “preachy.” I recently had the opportunity to do a study on this topic, and since then it’s been hitting pretty close to my heart.

What Did You Expect?

I was watching “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian” with my daughter not long ago, when there was a scene that took place that I haven’t been able to get out of my mind. After the children arrive back in the fantasy world of Narnia, they find it’s changed drastically, and Aslan (the Jesus-type figure) is nowhere to be found – and it’s looking like he isn’t even in Narnia anymore.

As the kids start roaming the countryside, the youngest child, Lucy, looks across a deep gorge and claims to see Aslan. However, after her siblings look, Aslan isn’t there. Since no one believed Lucy, they took the long way around the gorge. Later that night, Lucy’s brother, Edmund, asks her “Why do you think I didn’t see Aslan?” Lucy responds with a very wise answer: “Maybe you didn’t really want to.”

Lucy trying to convince her siblings that she saw Aslan

The point is that Lucy probably first noticed Aslan across the gorge and over in the woods because she was expecting to see him in the first place. The other children were just going through the motions and weren’t sure if they even wanted to encounter Aslan. In the end, everyone meets up with Aslan, but some challenges could have been avoided if they had simply wandered through Narnia with a greater level of expectancy right from the start.

Now before you start believing that you’re the Lucy in this story, don’t forget that Jesus’ own followers were not even ready for Him after He rose from the dead. We’re talking about people that walked with Jesus face to face, heard Him say that He would die and rise again, and they still didn’t expect to see Him.

Walking through life with a heart full of faith isn’t an easy thing. Do I expect God to show up each day? Am I anticipating God to do the impossible even when God doesn’t seem anywhere to be found? The reality of living like God is real boils down to maintaining a level of expectancy that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him. The awe of our God is that He is still faithful despite our unbelief; nevertheless, do we really want to miss out on an encounter with our King merely because we were not expecting Him to show up?

Bigger is better?

“I want to be extraordinary!”Pile of Pancakes

“I’m going to do BIG things for God.”

How many of us can relate to those two statements? Even if you have never uttered those phrases, would you agree that the thought of it at least has entered your mind? Full disclosure: that mindset has been a part of my DNA for years now, and I am just now beginning to realize and admit it. It’s amazing how almost every person is determined to make a powerful impression on society or within their sphere of influence – and that’s not a bad thing! Nevertheless, what I’ve been wrestling with is how much that passion to be relevant has dictated my decisions and even affected the way that I view other people.

In the book, Go Small, Craig Gross points out that so many of us want to be revolutionaries and change the world; however, we’re so consumed with our desire to do big things that we often overlook the ordinary, bland things, and really miss the raw opportunities that are right in front of our face. If you look at Jesus’ life, He consistently flowed with the seemingly ordinary events of life – and oftentimes that’s where He would do His greatest works.

The challenge with this approach is that often I don’t get noticed when I’m doing the “small things.” I want to be involved in something that’s going to look good on my Facebook post; something that will win hundreds of people to Christ; something that will get me noticed by the masses. But it’s because of that mindset that I don’t notice, or have time for, the child playing around my house; the dirty dishes that are piling up in the sink; the friend at church that just needs someone to listen to them.

How about you? Can you be motivated to blossom right where God has planted you? Not worrying about if you get noticed or not? Live your life to the fullest in the same way Jesus did, in that He “made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” God isn’t focused on counting how many Facebook likes you get or worried about how slowly your small group is growing. Start noticing the “small things” that are sitting directly in front of you and stay faithful to that – you may be amazed at the ways God shows up and the contentment that follows!

Methodical Sheep

Lately, I’ve been taking a hard look at many of the statements that Jesus made. The more I dig, the more I realize that Jesus made so many definitive statements, but the fascinating part is that He hardly ever qualifies them. What do I mean by that? Take John 10:27 for example: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Now, that’s a passage that many people are familiar with, and anyone can argue that it’s a strong assertion made by our Savior. However, when you dig a little deeper, how many can fully identify how it works on a practical level?

What does Jesus mean when He says his sheep ‘hear’ His voice? Do Jesus’ sheep hear His voice audibly? Is Jesus always ‘speaking’ to His sheep? I can ask question after question, and even after digging into the original language and context, I’m still left with quite a bit of intrigue.

We as humans put a lot of stock into our minds. It is very easy for me to project what Jesus’ intentions were behind His many statements, but in reality – and if I’m intellectually honest – I really cannot put a solid method in place for what Jesus is saying, and many times that makes me feel somewhat uncomfortable. My mind wants to figure it out. I want to know the formula for hearing Jesus’ voice and then pass that secret onto others.

Sheep Formula1

Ultimately, I’ve come to believe that Jesus was very deliberate about the way He said things. He knows our minds, and He knows our hearts. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are constantly looking for ways to figure out this Christian process, which can very quickly turn into a religious attitude, similar to what the Pharisees struggled with. Not fully knowing what Jesus’ statements mean causes us to do one thing: press deeper into Him! If our heartcry is to encounter Jesus, then I believe His sheep will know on an individual level what ‘hearing’ Him really looks like. It may not look the same for everyone – and that’s okay. Stop trying to slap a formula on Jesus’ statements. He never did, and if we maintain the heart of a simple-minded sheep, then we won’t either.

Squirrels, Girls, and the Gospel

Savannah & Sissa“SAVANNAH, WHAT DID YOU DO?!” I was in shock. Sissa, the little baby squirrel that we had helped raise for the last few weeks was now laying in my hand, shaking violently and unable to stand up. Even after questioning my 4 year old daughter some more, it was apparent that Savannah was oblivious to how Sissa became injured. She claimed that they were “just playing together!”

Although this appeared to be an accident, inside my heart, I was boiling. I didn’t realize that I was so attached to our pet squirrel; however, my emotions now were revealing what this really meant to me. I could not believe that my cute little girl could do something so tragic, and worse yet, not even seem sad about it. My wife and I had told Savannah many times to be gentle with Sissa, and now here we stood, with an innocent baby squirrel struggling with an obvious spinal injury. Why hadn’t I trained my daughter to take better care of animals? Why wasn’t I more specific with how she should play with a baby squirrel? How could my own flesh and blood not show any remorse with what she had done?!

I knew what I had to do, and deep inside, I was furious. My wife and daughter went in the house, and I tried to get the courage to take care of Sissa and help him quickly get out of his misery. “I should make my daughter watch me do it,” I surprisingly thought to myself. “Why do I have to be the one to do the hard part?” It was then God spoke so clearly to me: “It’s not easy is it? Pouring your love into someone and then watching them make decisions with such devastating consequences – and then they don’t even see how much it hurts you.” My heart softened a bit and instantly I was convicted. How many times had I intentionally abused the gift graciously given to me from my Savior, and here I was angry at my daughter’s accidental carelessness?

This still wasn’t going to be easy. Burying Sissa’s lifeless body was very difficult, but even then, I was gently reminded that the heart of my little girl is much more valuable than many squirrels. Parenthood has provided many opportunities to observe what the Gospel really looks like, but going through this specific journey with Savannah has brought me to an even greater place of awe and thanksgiving for all that Jesus Christ’s sacrifice really means.

Illusory Coincidences

I have a friend that I have been mentoring for the last year and a half who has struggled with drug addiction for many years. He has moved around a few times to help him steer clear of former drug dealers and various influences from his past, all while he’s worked hard to try to rebuild his life. It’s been awesome to see him respond to God’s grace over the last few months, but an interesting situation occurred last month that has really tested him. After he made a purchase at an electronics store, he went to his home and waited for the product to be delivered. Showing up at his doorstep with the product he had purchased was a former drug dealer who was also working for the electronics company. This drug dealer not only began to try making some re-connections, but he also now had access to all of my friend’s personal information (through the computers at the electronics store). So tell me, are situations like this merely coincidence, is God just out to test us, or is there something more sinister going on behind the scenes?

We talk a lot at VOICE about how real our God is, but do you live your life with the awareness that you have a very real enemy as well? Satan wants to snuff out your life! If he can’t do that, then he wants to work his hardest to ensure that you are not able to walk truly in the Light of Gospel. Situations like my friend encountered are a stark reminder to me that there is no such thing as coincidence. Are you going to tell me that in a town of 100,000 people the one person you don’t want on your doorstep “just happens” to show up?

One note of caution: I’ll be the first to tell you that just because temptations and trials come, I don’t believe that indicates that there is a demon hiding behind every tree (Luke has some good thoughts on this very topic). Not only is that mentality nowhere in Scripture, but I also know the state of my own heart and what I naturally gravitate towards.

However, here’s the challenge: as we know, just believing that God is real does not really get you too far. The demons believe, and they’re even freaked out by the knowledge (James 2:19). If your eyes have been opened to the truth of the Gospel, you’re going to try to live it out. The same point exists regarding our enemy. Do you believe that Satan is real? That’s nice…so, what are you doing about it?

Be well balanced (temperate, sober of mind), be vigilant and cautious at all times; for that enemy of yours, the devil, roams around like a lion roaring [in fierce hunger], seeking someone to seize upon and devour.” (1 Peter 5:8 AMP)

Satan is real. Live like it.

Chopsticks vs. Forks

I had the blessed opportunity to spend about 8 days in Taiwan last week, and it was so good to be back. Visiting good friends, eating the food I love, and enjoying the beautiful sights were just a few the pleasures I was able to indulge in.

Throughout my visit, I had the chance to catch up with numerous relationships, and often we did that over a meal (did I mention I love the food?). It was during some of those meals that I realized how much I enjoy the Taiwanese way of dining together. In America, whenever you eat out, the food primarily is prepared for your plate alone. Meaning, a plate is set before me, and the food that is flirting with me is for my mouth only – merely exemplifying the individualistic tendencies of our Western culture.

However, in Taiwan, most often all of the food is placed in the middle of the table, and then friends “dive in” together to share bites of tasty morsels all while ensuing in fun dialog. This collective approach gives everyone a chance to taste some of the same things, and creates even more opportunities to have quality fellowship.

Why does it matter? Well, while I’m not going to say that one culture trumps the other, I do appreciate the Taiwanese perspective for one primary reason: it focuses on the relationship! Instead of encouraging you to look down at your own plate while you seek to scarf your food down, the Taiwanese approach reminds you that the mealtime is more about the friendships than just the food – because isn’t that what it’s really all about anyway?

I’ve been reading the book ‘With’ by Skye Jethani, and I’ve appreciated so much the reminder that our God is a relational God. However, so often, instead of pursuing my “Friend,” I focus on the “food,” and thereby miss out on what the “meal” is all about. As Skye puts it, my heart cry also is that our God “would cease to be how we acquire our treasure, and he would become our treasure.” Are we enjoying life with Him simply because of who He is, or is it more about the delicious taste of life that we are hoping to get from Him?