The Purpose of Failure

You try to be productive and focus. But a flood of thoughts come and your mind becomes a messy haze. It is hard to focus on any particular point. It is a moment when you have been told you have monumentally messed up and are going to lose something of immense value in your life, something similar to your job. Or a moment where your decision making reveals your lack of ethics.

You wrack your mind, asking how and why you came to a place where you went wrong. You consider every possible extreme scenario that could end up hurting you.

You wonder, “Why me? Why did I have to go and mess up so badly? Things could have been so much different for me if only I had made better decisions.” Or some version of that.

I was considering the purpose and impact of failure in the course of our lives. Why do we fail? Why does God allow us to go through seasons of failure and lack of success/progress?

I have been through such experiences to realize that failure and the lessons that arise from it can be the driving force to your success.

After down moments in life such as these, I’ve found it incredibly easy to hide in a corner and increasingly desire to be invisible and alone in your mire of despair.

But in hindsight alone is it discovered that the path to your God-intended purpose included this very troublesome but necessary step. The deep anxiety faced in your current struggle and the ability to overcome that arises are the very forces that ultimately propel you to your final purpose.

If you are in that place of failure and doubt about your future, don’t stay there. Move forward; stay focused and don’t let your past hold you back.

In the words of writer and theologian C.S. Lewis, “Failures, repeated failures, are finger posts on the road to achievement. One fails forward toward success.”

Transitory

As this decade winds to a close in just a few months and what is likely a wild start to the next one begins, 2019 on reflection thus far can be summed up with one word for me: transition.

At the beginning of April, I was working at a different agency for the State of Oklahoma and was in a rhythm of what seemed normal. In May, the winds of change began to move as I transitioned to a new job in Stillwater, Oklahoma, also with the state government. I moved to a residence there shortly after.

Suddenly, my sense of normal had shifted entirely.

As a person who absolutely does not handle change well, it has been a testing period to see how much transition I could handle at one time.

But in the middle of it all, I remembered the fundamental truth that God is a God of seasons; and in every season there is a purpose.

For anyone going through such a transitory time, some key lessons God has been touching me:

Trust God in the Unknown

Proverbs 3:5-6 English Standard Version (ESV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

These verses have been never more true than this year in my life. With every decision there was agony and fear, but when the time to decide came God always came through with clarity. And I have seen God make my paths straight in incredible ways.

I have been engaged in ministries such as ICPF and in my church and community for most of my life, but this year, taking time to reflect, I am in awe of the ways and paths God has opened to be an influence for the next generation. In a recent conference call, I was in awe that individuals on the call listened to someone much younger than them. One thing is clear: every step on my journey has been ordained by God, and I am thankful for every person who has been on this path.

And I know this story is only continuing in an exciting way in this season. I’m reminded of God’s words to Abram in Genesis 12:1 (Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.”) Without a clear direction and details and only armed with a command and promise from God, Abram and his clan set out. If only I could reach the faith of Abram in this life. May it be said of me, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Know the Power of Influence

In a typical Google search on influence today, the most common result is related to social media influencers, people who have reached a certain credibility and ability to sway followers.

But I have been recently been challenged by the words of God to Moses in Exodus: “What is in your hand?” We see in this short Scripture God reveals that through Moses’ availability God will reveal His power and glory.

The power of influence goes well beyond what we see in the social media world today. As many have passed from this world this year already, the constant reminder of how short our lives are is ever present. But in the short time we have, will we use what we have to leave a legacy that lasts beyond our lives?

So what do you have? Influence? Position? Friendship? Do you inspire hope in others? Are you a great organizer? A visionary? Are you using what you have within your sphere of influence for His glory?

We have a short lifespan to use our gifts and strengths for God. What will you do with the time you have? Will you answer the question, “What is in your hand?” and be faithful what is given to you?

Life is crazy. It is hard, full of change and transitions. But in every moment, we have an option to exercise positive, godly influence and be part of the story God is weaving. Will we get caught up in the pointless worries of life or will we focus on using what we have for God’s glory?

What are we hearing?

17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Romans 10:17 English Standard Version (ESV)

Thinking back to just a few weeks ago during our church retreat and the powerful time in God’s presence, I am still amazed at that night but have admittedly recently struggled with faith since that time in relation to our church and my own walk.

These words of Paul to the Roman church make a very basic but crucial point: faith comes by hearing the Word.

On Sundays, we are eager to praise and look like we have our faith strong and in practice. We have practiced and practiced the art of looking as if we have it all together.

But if we are being honest, most of us are not really turning to the Word in the crucial moments, when the flesh is tempting us.

We say we want revival but our actions and words Monday through Friday reveal otherwise. We fill our ears with everything and anything (doubt, music, entertainment, etc.) but the Word of God and somehow expect to grow in our faith. We speak words of faith and cursing with the same mouth.

Pr. Micheal Todd gave an example in a recent sermon about how a football team can have the best huddle – and discuss the plays and cheer loudly. But if they never move toward the field and play the game, it is all talk.

Pr. Jeremy Foster of Hope City Church (Houston) spoke of something called “hazy faith” this last Sunday. When you drive in fog, you can’t always see where you’re going because the visibility is limited. But you keep going because you have no option. I believe we are in a hazy faith moment of our church right now. We can’t always see the signs of how God is working but we are assured of one thing in Scripture, that He is always working things out for our good, as individuals and as the church.

So I simply ask: When it comes to our faith and moving with purpose, are we willing to move forward and give it everything? Do we truly love hearing from the Word? I believe the momentum from that moment at retreat is just getting started – but if we are not exercising that faith every day that movement will pass and we will remain in complacency. What will we choose this day?

Since the retreat we have returned to normal life and routines. But I close with a few thoughts highlighted by Bro. Bliss at our retreat:
– The enemy has distracted us from the place where we need to be.
– We get so busy in life we forget to reconnect and plug in.
– The enemy comes to attack your PRAISE first. When your praise is being silenced, there is lack of breakthrough.
– Lastly, what we need in this moment as Christ followers is an encounter not to be entertained. Have you had that encounter? If not, will you seek it?

SURROUNDED YET ALONE

You put on that manufactured smile and laugh at the joke you’ve probably heard many times. A youthful, exuberant student seeks your attention just for a few moments. But you are so caught up in your own sadness you can’t be fully present.

This is a reality many face on a daily, or weekly, basis. We have obligations, and we do our best to meet them. And we make sure we look okay for appearance sake.

But the truth is many people have a loneliness that can overwhelm them at times but they learn to put on a mask of happiness so people think everything is okay.

We can be surrounded by people every day whether in church or work life, and yet be more alone than ever before.

And in those moments of loneliness, it is more important than ever to activate the words of Paul to the Corinthians – “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).

We are in a spiritual battle – and those moments of loneliness are moments the enemy looks to use to bring us down – first in our thoughts.

A few steps to take when those moments arrive:

  • Recognize the moment. This moment where you can go in the direction or depression or growing in your faith in the moment is such a crucial time. The enemy knows at this point more than any other point he can bring you down. But when you are aware the enemy is prowling to bring you down, you can be prepared.
  • Know your identity. In this crucial moment we are tempted to believe we are worthless or bring no value to the world around us. But it is in this time we have to remind ourselves of we are in Christ:
    1. We are adopted as heirs through the work of Christ (Ephesians 1:5). Though we were sinners, God loved us enough to accept us – just as we were, no matter how sinful we may have been.
    2. Before we were born, God knew us and set us apart for His master plan (Jeremiah 1:5). We were set apart by God before we were born for something much greater than us.
    3. We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession – so we may declare His praises (1 Peter 2:9).
    4. We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). God specifically laid out plans for each of us to play a part in His Kingdom. So that thought that you are worthless or have no value – it is a lie and must be taken captive.
  • Reach out. After you recognize the significance of this moment and reaffirm your identity in Christ, it is not enough to just stop there. Take some time to reach out to a trusted friend and connect with them. We are not called to live this Christian life in isolation. Growth without community is impossible. Make the courageous choice to reach out to someone who can help build your faith in crucial moments.

Moving Out of the Wilderness

23 “But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land he promised on oath to our ancestors.” (NIV) – Deuteronomy 6:23

These are the words of Moses in an address to the people of Israel. In this specific section, Moses is describing a future conversation where an Israelite father answers this question from his son: “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” (v. 20, NIV).

In a future where the people of Israel would reflect on the path God led them down, Moses thought it important for a Jewish parent to remind their young son that God had indeed led them out of slavery in Egypt and on the path to the Promised Land.

Their path to the Promised Land led them through several wildernesses. There is immense significance in these places the Jews walked through and how we relate to these times today.

In their exodus from Egypt, the Israelites traversed the following wildernesses: Shur (Ex 15:22), Etham (Nm 33:8), Sin (Ex 16:1), Sinai (Ex 19:1, 2), Zin (Nm 13:21; 20:1), Paran (Nm 13:26), Kadesh (Ps 29:8), Moab (Dt 2:8), and Kedemoth (Dt 2:26).*1

Job refers to the wilderness as “a land where no man is” (38:26), it is a place for various animals and birds, such as wild donkeys, jackals, vultures, and owls (Ps 102:6; Jer 2:24; Is 13:22; 34:13–15).*2

It is basically described as a wild place, unfit for permanent settlement. Nobody would wake up one day and say, I want to spend time in a wilderness, or I want to spend time in a place where you can’t even farm and survive.

Yet as believers, many of us tend to be in such places for seasons and moments of our lives. And we often get stuck there without an idea of how to get out.

For many, this looks like coming to church meetings but having no true spiritual thirst or drive to pursue God on a deeper level. It may even involve serving in many capacities in a church setting, but really having no true passion to pursue Him. On some level, it may look like a general apathy toward your faith and spiritual growth. And you have to ask and be certain of the answer to this question: Is your faith on fire for God? Or are you stuck in a wilderness of apathy? And further, if you are in a state of apathy, is it a matter of urgency to get out of it?

There are many thoughts on getting out of a spiritually dry season but I’d like to point out a few key points:

RETURN TO YOUR FIRST LOVE

In his words to the church at Ephesus, John commends the believers for their endurance in the faith but gives them a warning as well: “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelation 2:4-5, NIV). 

Was there a moment in your life when your faith was active and passionate? That you would give anything to be in the presence of God and to serve? Is that the same for you now? Has your love for Jesus grown stronger or have you grown more complacent? Return to those passionate times of faith and loving Jesus.

This requires an intentionality and discipline on your part. But know there is a spiritual battle for your soul, and you have to fight, submitting yourself to God and fighting from a place of victory through Christ’s death on the cross. Remember, it is not about you in the end. You are part of God’s master plan; we all have a part to play and role in this battle.

DON’T GIVE UP

A lot of things may change through different seasons of life, but some things are unchangeable: God is your Father, and you are His child. This same God who created the entire universe, knows you and loves you. So even if you feel spiritually dry and disconnected, God desires you to return to him and sees you as His son or daughter.

Craig Sager, the beloved sports sideline reporter who passed away in 2016, discussed his passion and perseverance even in a trying time as he was dealing with cancer treatments. When he accepted the Jimmy V Perseverance Award, he said, “I will continue to keep fighting sucking the marrow out of life as life sucks the marrow out of me. I will live my life full of love and full of fun. It’s the only way I know how.”

It is easy to get so caught up in your struggles and doubts that you don’t feel like you want to live with passion when troubles come your way, but the words of Jesus ring   true and provide encouragement in those moments: “In this world you will have   trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NIV).

Lastly, let us take advantage of every moment we have to live, per the words of Sager:

“Time is something that cannot be bought, it cannot be wagered with God, it’s not in          endless supply. Time is simply how your live your life,” he said. “The way you think            influences the way you feel, and the way you feel determines how you act.”

  1. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Wilderness. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 2141). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  2. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). Wilderness. In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (Vol. 2, p. 2141). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.

The Time We Have

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

The man who gave the world The Hobbit (1937) and The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955), J.R.R. Tolkien of Bloemfontein, South Africa, gave the world these words uttered by Gandalf the Gray to Frodo Baggins. Tolkien was born 125 years ago this date in 1892.

As 2016 has departed and a new year begins, this same question comes before us: to what do we devote our time and energy? The life we are given, the precious moments before us, do we really value them and use them in the most useful and value-added ways?

2016 taught me many powerful lessons, but the strongest lesson was one that I hope will dominate your and my 2017: Find what your passion is and once you find it, pursue it with everything you have.

Life can throw a great number of opportunities your way, and they all seem like paths to take, but when is the last time you asked if you are working toward what is truly your God-given passion and purpose in this life?

In a work meeting a couple years back, I heard a question that still rings powerfully to my ears: What keeps you up at night? As I considered that question I discovered the interests and passions that drive me forward in pursuit of God’s purpose. What dominates your thought and consumes your attention? Is that a passion to pursue?

In the words of Jon Bloom (Desiring God, Dec. 19, 2014):

Tolkien never intended his tales of Middle-earth to be a desertion from reality, but a means of seeing beyond the confined walls of our perceptions to a much larger reality beyond. And he suffered no delusions that Middle-earth was that reality. But through the lenses of Middle-earth, Tolkien, an unashamed Christian, wanted to show us “a far-off gleam . . . of evangelium in the real world” (emphasis his, “On Fairy-stories”). His kind of fantasy was intended to help prisoners in the real world escape and go home. (Source)

One hundred and twenty-five years after his birth, Tolkien’s storytelling has truly impacted the world with the massive cinematic universes created and characters captured on screen.

Will the way we spend our lives leave a legacy long after we are gone? Will we be known for using our time pursuing God and His purpose or did we just work to get by?

Will 2017 be a year where you continue to just follow your routine and just get by or will you reflect and push for that crazy dream that seems impossible? Let’s hope you pursue your adventure and find yourself on a path to new heights come December.

The Walk of Freedom

So he said to the man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” (Mark 2:10b-11, NIV)

This story comes at the conclusion of the oft-told story from Mark 2 about the paralyzed man who was brought to a house where Jesus was preaching by four of his friends so he could be healed.

I have always marveled at many aspects of this story. How the zeal and passion of those four friends led them to create a way into the house when there was no normal way inside. How Jesus, upon seeing their faith, told the man, “Your sins are forgiven,” pointing to the fact Jesus deals with the root of the issue before the fruit of the issue.

But one aspect never stuck out to me until today, the final two words: “… go home.”

I’d imagine the buzz around town that evening as the house Jesus was ministering in began to get full. Whispers flew that Jesus was in this house and if you wanted to hear His teaching make your way there. If I was this paralyzed man, I would probably face the disillusionment that I likely would not be able to make it in because of the throngs of people in the house.

While in this place of disillusionment his circumstance changes when four of his friends were determined to see Jesus heal their friend. Suddenly his disposition changed. Somehow a new factor came into play: hope. Maybe today was the day things would change.

We arrive at the moment where the man is now healed and Jesus commands him to “get up, take your mat and go home.”

Can you imagine the feeling this man had when he walked home that day? I imagine his family, to their utter amazement they see this man walking on his two legs like he hadn’t done before.

Imagine it. Close your eyes and imagine you are this man. You have the ability to do something you never thought you would able to do before, and to do it knowing your life would never be the same again. Imagine the sheer joy and excitement flowing through your body. That mat you have will always remind you that you were down for a moment, but when you realize you are standing you will remember what Christ did for you.

I don’t know what may be holding you back at this moment in your life. But I hope and pray you have this moment; where you can truly get up and move on from whatever doubt or worries are blocking you from fully walking in Christ. You may believe your circumstances will never change and that you’ll be stuck forever in your current mess, but then you remember that Christ can and will work in your life and set you free in a way you have never known nor imagined.

What’s holding you back today? Are you willing to do whatever it takes today to come to Jesus and experience that walk of true freedom? Actually, it wouldn’t be a walk; it would be a run of celebration! But you won’t arrive there without a full surrender of your life. Come to Jesus with an open heart and see what He will do for you.

 

 

The Best is Yet to Come

IMG_1169.JPG

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

Tonight I stood in Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City as a stadium full of Oklahomans of different denominations and churches all stood out together and sang these powerful lyrics, in the song led by Taya Smith and Hillsong United.

I looked around the stadium and saw hands raised all over shouting this anthem.

And I considered, what if everyone actually meant these words that came out of their mouths?

If these words were meant by those in the arena, the churches represented would see revivals occurring, they would see lives being transformed by Christ in incredible ways, they would be stirred with a passion to be Christ to their neighbors and love them like they never have before. Those things start to happen when we can step out in faith and truly believe God can do incredible things through us.

In a season in America where there is much division and conflict, tonight was a powerful reminder that above all the tension America and the world is seeing right now, there is a God above the storms that has everything in His hands and that, no matter what doubts the enemy may put in front of us, the best is very much yet to come.

But this only happens when we intentionally step out in faith and trust God to accomplish the things beyond our ability. I sincerely pray and hope that many left the arena tonight with a sense of purpose and vision beyond anything they have considered before and are believing God to do things that are considered impossible through them. Then local churches will begin being stirred and passionate, and this city and this nation will begin to be transformed.

But an action is required of us in order for this to happen: we must step out in faith where God has called us and act with confidence.

What’s stopping you ?

 

Lessons from Junior

IMG_0406

Tonight as I was part of the memorial service for Junior, it hit me even more than it did earlier this week the impact this man had on the youth of our city. He was truly a giant of a leader that stood as the backbone of our community.

Some individuals do so much for a community that to narrowly define it is very difficult. At a first glance, it may seem that Junior was just very active in his church and community. But his impact went far and beyond that. His roles did not always involve a visible presence on the stage but you always could feel the touch that Junior brought to a project.

In 2003, OPYF started a journey of doing annual drama productions. In 2004, we conducted one of our largest productions, The Pharisee. From The Pharisee onto many other plays, Junior was always a giant force behind the scenes, making sure everything came to life despite any difficulties along the way. As it was stated at the memorial tonight, in a room full of 30-40 rambunctious kids, Junior could silence them all with his quiet but commanding voice because they all knew he loved them all and cared for them. That kind of leadership is rare and will be missed.

Junior was a big fan of being behind the scenes. For organizations like Future of a Child and others, Junior would work diligently and faithfully managing websites and always being a force behind the scenes. He encouraged the visions of those who had dreams and helped them accomplish those goals.

He was an excellent model of servant leadership. He didn’t do any of his leadership duties to lift himself up, but did all to glorify God.

I want to end this with a few final thoughts/lessons that I believe Junior would want us to know:

  1. KEEP FIGHTING. In all my experiences interacting with Junior, no matter how bad anything might be in his personal life or struggles, he never let it show and he flashed his trademark smile and reassured us all that things would work out. No matter how difficult a task seems or impossible it seems, keep fighting and work to finish what God has planned.
  2. SERVE GOD FULLY. Emphasis on “serve” … Junior exemplified what it was to serve God through serving his family, his church and his community, to the glory of God and not himself. He sought to bring unity and vision and growth in whatever he did. He proved this through word and deed. As was stated during the memorial, he was a faithful tither, giving every single month without fail. And if there was any need for help he always stepped up no matter what.
  3. KEEP DREAMING AND SUPPORT DREAMERS. Junior was a supporter of those with vision. If he knew he could support the ministry or business efforts of a young person, he would do everything in his power to support that effort and make it come alive. After I heard of his passing this week, one thing kept ringing through my head: keep working toward the visions and dreams I had; don’t quit. And I thank Junior for living that and showing me how important that is.

Lastly, to all OPYF youth, I believe Junior would want us to carry on his legacy. His father, Pr. K.E. Mathew, was instrumental in starting the early churches in Oklahoma City. And Junior knew he had to carry on that legacy to the next generation. And he did so, with a zeal and passion that was hard to find in most. But I believe he would want us in this generation to stand up and continue to fight for the right things, to expand the Kingdom of God.

Even in his last days, though he didn’t really need to, he recommitted himself to ministry. Let us daily recommit ourselves to the purpose of God and carry on the work and efforts Junior started, and keep his zeal and passion alive in our community.

Thank you so much, Junior, for your life and lasting impact on Oklahoma City.

Positioned For Victory

You’re not good enough. You don’t have the necessary skills to succeed. You are going to fail so you shouldn’t even try. There are too many obstacles in the way of this project succeeding.

These thoughts consistently prevailed in my mind over the course of a few days, following the previous days spent in prayer and reading, drawing closer to God.

This is a regular pattern in my life. The constant up and down of having faith in the God who created me to being depressed about not being good enough just a few days later.

But it is important to recognize what you are hearing when the spirit of discouragement hits: You are hearing the lies of the enemy, meant to tear you down and take you away from fulfilling your purpose.

In the words of Jesus, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10). We are ever under spiritual attack and we must position ourselves for victory, knowing how to defeat the enemy’s tactics and stand firm knowing we have victory through the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The words of Paul to the church at Corinth come to mind: “…we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Without delay, you must take a thought that is a lie from the enemy captive and declare the promises of God, which will never fail.

If you are struggling with these kinds of doubts or a sense of discouragement, be reminded of the faithfulness of the God who created you:

Psalms 119:90  Your  faithfulness endures to all generations;  you have established the earth, and it  stands fast.

2 Thessalonians 3:3 But  the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against  the evil one.

Jeremiah 1:5 Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart…

Philippians 1:6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.

You are positioned for victory when you know who you are in Christ and you “set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:2).

Be blessed.