How do you live for God?

We spend so much of our lives accomplishing goals.

Graduate middle school, high school, college. Land a high-paying entry-level job and work your way up the ladder. Go to church each Sunday, our weekly spiritual shot in the arm. Sing hymns, make it through announcements, pay attention to the sermon, go home feeling encouraged and ready for another week of taking care of business.

Maybe you wouldn’t feel too bad about the thought of ending up at the pearly gates after such a life. But according to Scripture, we’d be in danger of hearing God say he never knew us.

God doesn’t want converts to Christianity.

He doesn’t want every person in the world to pray a prayer of forgiveness on Sunday and then go about their business the rest of the week.

God wants lifetime worshipers.

Another way of thinking about it would be that he wants to transform us into his intimate lovers. People who would abandon anything just to love and cherish him.

The simple, yet profound, message of the Gospel (which really just means “good news”), is that Jesus died and rose again to empower us to experientially know him, and to choose him over everything else in the universe.

If our daily life is not built around spending time worshipping God, our life is a waste. Modern Christian spirituality has been perverted by Western culture. God doesn’t give a crap about how much money you make or how successful your ministry is if you ignore him in your personal life. If that offends you, you’re in deep trouble.

Life is not about writing uplifting songs for other people, or doing good work that has a positive impact. Life is not about following your dreams, or “doing you,” which was the original sin. It was also what got Lucifer shot like a bolt of lightning out of heaven.

If we pursue a life of empty platitudes and hard work, we shouldn’t wonder why we feel like chaff in the wind.

A constant grinding at the millstone of success leaves us hollowed of meaning and emptied of substance.

God made us to be filled with his Spirit, not filled with busy-ness. Unless we embrace worship as a daily focus, we will be throwing our hours into the proverbial toilet and happily smacking “flush.”

It’s so basic a concept repeated endlessly through Scripture. And yet we forget it.

What will be left after you die save the hours you spent in God’s arms? What thoughts will endure beyond his all-seeing gaze? What behavior will delight our all-powerful Creator?

Worship. Not success. Not positive encouragement. Not personal gain. Not even what you gave to others.

Worship is our lasting legacy.

And if that is our focus, our lives will align themselves into a much healthier balance.

God wants us to serve him because we can’t help not serving him. He wants joyful givers, not dutiful givers.

Duty is not greater than voluntary submission that flows from a heart brimming with love for God and others.

In our fallen nature, we hate God and we hate each other. There is no human who can force love. Love flows only from our Creator, and any small amount of love you are capable of exuding is a gift from him.

So the only hope for us to really live a life of true Godliness is to moor ourselves in worship, allowing his Spirit to transform us by renewing our minds and spirits.

Because the pull of our sinful nature is constant, and because we are immersed in the dirtiness of the world, we need to constantly re-center ourselves in God’s grace, love, and mercy.

As long as we live on this side of eternity, our hearts are prone to wander.

Battling the wayward spirit takes healthy habits formed through discipline, hearts set to longing for our Creator—or at least to mourning that we don’t long for him more deeply—along with the divine work of the Holy Spirit, which cannot be controlled.

Luckily, Scripture promises that if we seek him, we will find him. If we knock, the door will be opened. So daily let your knees knock on the floor of worship, and he will open the floodgates of glory. Seek his goodness and cherish his person, and he will wrap his arms around you.

What I have found in my own life is that I need at least a single hour every morning (7 days a week, 365 days a year) dedicated to reading Scripture, soaking myself in prayer, and worshiping God.

That’s my minimum. It’s just where I’m at. The more I talk with others, the more I see it’s pretty much everyone’s minimum. We just don’t want to admit it because our flesh hates God, and our sinful nature blinds us to seeing how much joy he promises us when we meet him in that sacred time.

I generally wake up at 5:00am to have this focus time, long before anyone else in my family awakens.

Though, to be honest, sometimes I fail and sleep in. The Scriptures I read during this time are taken from several areas of the Bible. Some passages from the Old Testament, some from the Psalms, some from the New Testament. It varies, but the focus of that Scripture reading time is to renew my mind and center myself in the truths of God’s person. Absolutely vital.

My prayer time is mainly focused on thanking him for who he is, and cherishing his patience with me.

I also spend time focusing on how I want to be transformed into his image, and asking him to help me embody the attributes he tells us we should embody in Scripture (such as the fruits of the spirit). My prayers are always simple. They are never profound. Always like a child smiling at his daddy, working with crude tools to express his love and thankfulness. God is impressed with neither our wit nor our vocabulary. Instead, he’s impressed with our desire for him.

Despite playing music professionally, my worship time hardly ever includes music.

It’s more so an extension of my prayer time, and is focused on enjoying his person. I marvel at his goodness and mercy, enjoying his presence, thanking him for his faithfulness, smiling at his wonderfulness. Once again, there is nothing profound taking place, save the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not a glamorous time, or a time to seem spiritual. It is a time to actually be spiritual. It is a time where we are focused 100% on God, and 0% on ourselves.

Worship is the merging of self with God in true intimate love and acceptance.

I suppose I should make a note that we cannot truly come to God in prayer and worship without first repenting of our sin and turning away from evil. But we must also remember that God is the one who empowers us to repent and turn away from sin. That we can do nothing apart from him.

So, whenever we experience forgiveness, the gift of renewed strength, or the goodness of God’s closeness, it is an occasion for celebration.

Meaning it’s just another reason to worship him!

Praying for blessings on your life today. Thanks for reading! If you found this post helpful, let me know by commenting below, or by sharing it to social media by smashing the social media icon buttons on the side. Also, if you want more content like this bi-monthly, feel free to subscribe to the blog.

Why I Haven’t Been Blogging

Sometimes life sucker-punches you, and you lose a tooth or two.

I’ve wavered back and forth on whether or not I should write this post for a number of reasons. But I think, in the end, that to not admit we’re broken is akin to blaspheming the Holy Spirit. We’re humans, each and every last one of us. And someday (sooner rather than later), our bodies will betray us.

Now that I have that out of the way. . .

My brother has been suffering for quite some time under some fairly severe psychological pressures. None of us knew how severe until a few weeks ago, when we found him in his apartment. He’d suffered a full-blown psychotic break that landed in the ER, then a locked hospital ward for the past 17 days.

He was probably a day away from not being alive. He hadn’t slept in over a week. Hadn’t eaten either. He was driving down the wrong side of the road, hallucinating, and suffering from bizarre delusions.

It’s strange. You think of mental illness as some sort of plague or demonic thing until someone you love and know experiences it.

Then you see it’s not at all how you thought it was.

My brother’s still here. Every bit of him. He’s not crazy. He just believes things that aren’t true right now.

It’s not “all in his mind.” It’s a real, physical illness, with real, physical causes. Like a broken femur, he’s got a broken brain, and it’s just in need of some TLC, medication, and rest.

Thank God, we expect him to make a full recovery. But it’s going to be a long road to recovery.

Since being admitted to the hospital, he’s been diagnosed for the first time with bipolar mood disorder. It makes sense of the last few decades. It also grieves me that he’s been suffering alone for so long.

I didn’t know this, but apparently it’s quite common for bipolar mood disorder to throw someone into a state of psychosis during a manic high.

No, he’s not violent. He’s a kind, tender-hearted man who loves deeply and has kept his struggles largely to himself because he felt incapable of opening his wounds to others.

Statistics say that 18.2% of the total adult population in the United States suffers from some mental illness every year. Likely the actual number is higher (when including undiagnosed cases).

That’s either 1 in every 5 people, or as high as 1 in every 4 people in the US.

Based on those statistics, we can be pretty confident that some of the people reading this post are suffering silently right now.

That breaks my heart.

What if 1 in 4 people was walking around with a broken wrist, untreated for fear of others looking down on them?

On a trip to see my brother while he’s been in the hospital, I saw a group of people downtown walking for “Mental Illness Awareness,” bearing signs that said, “Abandon the Stigma.”

So often, when we encounter people we don’t understand, we de-humanize, or worse, demonize them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done that, or seen fellow Christians do that.

Now I realize that Jesus would be ashamed of us.

Mental illness is nothing to be embarrassed about. Not anymore than wearing a cast on your leg.

I’m proud to be my brother’s brother. I love him. And love demands that I walk through this painful period with him. Between a full-time job, having an infant daughter and wife to spend time with, and being with my brother and supporting my parents, I’ve had neither the time nor the interest to keep up a public façade, to keep pumping out blogs and working on writing projects.

When real life hits hard, you shift to focusing on what’s most central to your existence. Namely, God and your family. So that’s what I’ve been doing. That’s why I haven’t been blogging.

I still plan on releasing my next full-length novel either the end of September or early October. I’ve got quite a lot of content already created, and I’m excited to share it.

In the meantime, with Father’s Day coming up, you should consider gifting Cain to someone. Right now the paperback is on sale for $9.54 on Amazon. Check it out and pick up a copy for a loved one.

But to close out the post. . .

It’s not my brother’s fault that he’s suffered.

It’s not your fault you’re suffering.

As uncomfortable as it can be, we all need to rely on the grace that God and other people freely offer. The Golden Rule really is golden.

If you want grace, give it. Because I guarantee you, you can’t live life without it.

Be blessed today. Walk in the peace of God, which transcends understanding, by resting in his good gifts and resigning yourself to thanksgiving and praise. And thanks for reading!

The Secret Sin That’s Destroying Our World. . . *HINT* It’s Not What You Think It Is!

There are more teachers in this world than I can count, all of whom know more than me.

There are countless men and women in this world, all of whom are stronger than me.

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in this world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27.

I write this letter openly admitting that I’ve spent the majority of my short life committing the secret sin that’s destroying our world.

The trouble is, I’m no different from you.

Because you’ve done the same. Only you don’t know it.

Neither of us ever really think much of it. And that’s exactly what makes it so insidious, so deadly.

You may not remember what I’m about to share with you, but you were there, 2,000 years ago. And I was there with you. I sat on his left. You on his right. A hammer in each of our hands. A nail in both of his. Continue Reading

God Made Dirt

I had an epiphany the other day that I believe has the power to change America. In fact, I think it’s such a powerful truth that if we truly understood its implications, the ripple effects would blast out over the entire planet, rocking the nations and impacting future generations for an indefinite sum of years.

So. . . you ready for it?

God made dirt.

Can you believe it? I almost couldn’t.

Because when we look at Christian subculture in America, it seems we hold the belief that God only made the Bible. Likewise, we seem to believe that Christians should not create or do anything that doesn’t have some direct correlation to the Bible, or going to church, or “accepting Jesus.” Continue Reading

READ IF U LUV JESUS—IGNORE IF YOU SERV SATAN

The first thing modern Christians need to realize is that we no longer live in the world the apostles lived in, where living out your Christianity meant discipling other people, living in community, loving others, and making sure to serve the needs of the poor and afflicted.

You might ask, “Why? Why are these things now irrelevant?”

Because social media has changed EVERYTHING. Now, our primary goal is to show people how spiritual we are on social media. Because how else will people know about Christianity? And how could they ever convert unless they know exactly what we Christians believe about all their sin? Continue Reading

Love is Greater than Truth

Western thought is pervaded by the idea that truth is the greatest of virtues. As if God were a cosmic computer testing our exam sheets and counting up the checks and crosses. As if we could look at the next person’s score sheet and tell whether or not they’ll receive a passing grade.

There’s an inherent arrogance in the belief that we can totally understand God. Because the truth is that God is an eternal mystery. Immutable. Knowable, yet transcendent.

He’s much too large to fit in our skulls. Much too powerful to be impacted by what we believe him to be.

It’s ultimately the sin of pride to think we can attain perfect knowledge of God. That we can take hold of absolute truth.

We cannot live our lives based on truth alone. We cannot move through this life without faith, which is trust in the absence of understanding. And an obsession with truth to the exclusion of (or selective amnesia) of faith and love is the very heart of the Pharisee.

Is it better for a child to trust his father implicitly, or for that child to only trust his father as far as he understands him?

Obviously, if the father is good, as ours is, it is much better to have faith than to have knowledge.

When we have faith in God, we draw near to him and allow him to modify our desires.

His greatest desire is to make himself our greatest desire. Our ultimate goal is not to have infinite head knowledge of who God is, but to have experiential, heart-level knowledge of God. To know him as a lover knows his spouse.

The Holy Spirit is the most intimate connection we have with God because he literally lives inside us and lets us hear the heartbeat of God.

And his heartbeat is love.

If we don’t take the time to daily listen to God’s heartbeat, we run the risk of preferring the sounds of our own voices.

If we don’t love first and strive to understand second, we run the risk of worshipping Knowledge instead of God.

But we can love people without forsaking truth and conviction.

I can give a gay man a hug and tell him I love him without endorsing his lifestyle. And I don’t need to tell him that I think he’s sinning, either.

I can give a Syrian refugee food and patch his wounds without promoting the Islamic religion. And I don’t need to tell him he needs to convert to Christianity either.

I can lobby for the rights of illegal refugees without promoting illegal immigration. And I don’t need to deport them either.

In fact, Jesus would tell us the same, and likely much more.

Truth and love are embodied in Christ. They are not mutually exclusive.

But we must never forget that love is the greatest of these (1 Corinthians 13:13). Treating people with compassion is more important than judging people based on the law. Because the law only brings death, where grace brings life and deliverance (Romans 7:8-11; Romans 3:21-31).

Life cannot be neatly packaged. Life is difficult, complex, and messy. Life is broken and filled with unspeakable darkness. And much of our understanding comes not through knowledge but through experience.

We don’t really feel compassion for a child slave unless we can somehow taste the horror of abuse that victims of human trafficking are subjected to.

We don’t really feel empathy for homeless men suffering from PTSD unless we can sample the soul-crushing psychological oppression they endure on a daily basis.

The reason why I write dark stories is because I need dark stories to help me feel just a portion of the tears God weeps over the brokenness of our world.

I do not write about violent events to endorse violence, but to empathize with the abused and the hollow.

I do not write about people doing terrible things to endorse them, but to try to understand and improve my own attempts to love people who do terrible things.

Because to think we’re different, that we’re better, is a lie.

We’re all broken. We’re all in need of love and compassion. We’re all in need of a Savior.

“Yeah, but I don’t murder people.”

Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up (1 Corinthians 8:1). You may be different in seeming, but your worth is the same.

Every person is valuable. Every person is loved by God and meant to love God in return. If life were about doing good, we’d all be damned to hell. But thank God that life is about loving God and receiving his mercy and forgiveness, and about being empowered by his Holy Spirit to turn away from sin (not in our own power, but in his–and for his glory!).

Don’t let your mouth become a hand-grenade. Let your heart be a magnet.

Every person falls short of perfect holiness. Our primary calling toward other people is not to tell them when they’re wrong, but to love them even when they are.

If this spoke to you, please, let me know. Comment or share.

Is A Happy Ending Always the Best Option?

I’m always disappointed when writers manipulate stories to serve their agendas rather than give their audience the most authentic entertainment. Stories are powerful because they contain all the ingredients necessary for emotional manipulation. However, the core purpose of story is not to manipulate, but to communicate truth.

Sometimes this can be an emotional truth—such as letting you feel the depth of sorrow a particular character feels when they lose a loved one. Other times an intellectual or spiritual truth—such as how little we understand of the universe, or how sometimes God allows pain to draw us closer to him.

But stories are the most powerful, the most profound, when they are internally consistent. When authors manipulate a story to serve an agenda, they are damaging the story’s internal consistency in favor of manipulating the audience to see something from a perspective that the story itself wouldn’t normally show.

Example: In the children’s animated series, The Legend of Korra, the very last scene of the series was wasted on Continue Reading

Hey Christians–Stop Practicing White Magic!

I can see the 60-year old church-goers already lighting their torches and brandishing their pitchforks. Good. They should be upset. But not at me. And not at Harry Potter, either.

“Magic is the use of rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language with the aim of exploiting supernatural forces.” Furthermore, White Magic is defined as “magic used for good or selfless purposes.”

“How could Christians be accused of practicing White Magic?”

I’m glad you asked. Or maybe I did. Doesn’t matter.

The key here is the phrase, “with the aim of exploiting supernatural forces.” Because the usage of “rituals, symbols, actions, gestures, and language” can mean prayer, the point here is that Continue Reading

A Different Kind of Broken

There was a progressive metal band in what used to be my local area that signed a fairly large record deal with a major label and experienced significant financial and critical success. It was a pretty big deal for me back when it first happened because it gave me a bit more faith for personal hopes and dreams that sometimes appeared a bit too idealistic.

What I didn’t know was that the founding band member was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia and would soon be found dead at the bottom of a bridge due to the toll the disease took on his psyche.

Back in college, I lived across the hall from a Pastoral Studies major from Nigeria who we called Uche (pronounced OOH-chay) because we couldn’t pronounce his weird Nigerian name. He weighed in at about 320 pounds (99 percent of which was muscle), and was known for being extremely kind.

But he was in denial about a condition that caused him to periodically have grand mal seizures. When I found him on the floor of his bedroom, Continue Reading

I know I’m too comfortable when . . .

I know I’m too comfortable when . . .

The greatest emotional pain I experience is caused by the failure of a package to arrive on my doorstep the day the tracking info says it’s “being delivered.”

I know I’m too comfortable when . . .

I complain about the hot water lasting only 20 minutes instead of 30.

I know I’m too comfortable when . . .

I’d rather stay home and play video games than attend a prayer meeting.

I know I’m too comfortable when . . .

My biggest problem is choosing between watching Netflix, reading a book, going to a movie, or complaining about how there’s absolutely nothing to do in the entire universe. (and I choose to do the latter)

I know I’m too comfortable when . . .

I have the urge to not spend time with someone who just experienced a loss because I won’t know how to comfort them.

 

I know I’m broken when . . .

I wake up two hours before I need to just to kneel at my bedside and pray for the protection of the hundreds of millions of neglected children in the world.

I know I’m broken when . . .

I labor to provide people I’ve never met access to clean water so that they don’t die from disease.

I know I’m broken when . . .

I desire to spend my free time worshipping God and thanking him for his mercy instead of pacifying my attention span with cheap entertainment.

I know I’m broken when . . .

My greatest problem is discerning how God wants me to best serve his people and his purposes.

I know I’m broken when . . .

I have enough momentary clarity to see that the struggles of others are more important than my own.

 

And the verdict is . . . I’m still way too comfortable.