measuring weight against Christ's strength

When we moved into our house, we had several giant, heavy rocks in our backyard. They were nice rocks, more like small boulders but they were oddly placed. We wanted to move them from the backyard to the front.

The only problem was I couldn't lift them. Not even close.

These obnoxious, decorative rocks were here to stay because I wasn't be able to move them. They were stuck and so was I.

I measured the weight of those rocks against my own strength and lost.

I was reminded of something a mentor once told me when I was facing some obstacles in my life. Measure the weight of what is before you against God's strength, not your own.

Trying to lift those rocks in my yard was impossible because I was measuring their weight against my strength. But what if I brought in a small tractor? And what if that tractor was rigged with a lift that was perfectly designed to carry and relocate heavy objects?

Measuring the weight of the rocks against the strength of the tractor evened the scales, even flipped them. This is doable!

My mindset shifted. Rest and relief would fall upon me and my lower back.

If we're not careful, looking at what's ahead -- treatments, difficult conversations, business travels, or ministry opportunities -- we'll measure what is before us according to our strength. No wonder despair, fatigue, and worry fall upon on our soul.

But if we measure what is before us according to the strength of Christ and His power within, well that changes things.

Sometimes we need to have faith way before the day we draw on God's strength.

In the moments before David and Goliath squared off, we can see our everyday lesson played out.

"Then Saul said to David, 'You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are but a youth while he has been a warrior from his youth (1 Sam 17:33)."  

Those rocks are too heavy to lift.

"David replied, 'The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." (v. 37)

Three little rocks will do.

Of course when Goliath sees David he looks at him and taunts him (v. 42).

I feel like I hear taunts all the time.

And then what I love most is David weighing the greatness of Goliath against the armies of the Living God. "You come to me with a sword, a spear and a javelin, but I come to you in the Name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, who you have taunted."

That phrase, In the Name, speaks of covenant union. David came in that name. He entered that situation weighing the obstacle not according to himself but according to the God to whom he was joined.

The beauty here is that we believers are in His great Name. We humbly come into every and any situation interconnected with the mighty power of God. Claiming and anticipating Christ's power casts a shadow on the opportunities and obstacles before you and me.

If you are coming before some heavy opportunities or obstacles, what might it look like to weigh those things against our union with the Living God?

What might happen if we allow just a little more time and margin to consider these things in light of Christ's loving, strong presence?

My prayer is to come upon every situation, conversation, opportunity, or obstacle in the Name of Christ.

Silence in May

Much of what I do is listen, teach deeper Gospel truths and help people experience in their heart what they know in their head.

Then, of course, we pray together.

Last year I met with a dear friend who brought a struggle with addiction to our conversation. We had a life-giving talk and then it was time to close in prayer. 

Something happened that I won't forget.

I asked my friend in closing out our time, "Do you want to pray?"

Upon reflection, there is something unclear about my question.

Am I asking: "Do you want to lead the prayer?" He being the one who prays.

Or am I asking: "Do you want to pray?" with the assumption that I will be the one praying.

My friend said yes but thought I was going to pray.
I thought my friend was going to pray.

We both closed our eyes and sat in complete silence, waiting for the other to pray.

The silence continued for 25 minutes.

I didn't realize what was happening. I thought he was going to pray and chose silence instead. Turns out, he was thinking the same thing. So we sat together in silence.

Yes, the first couple minutes were awkward, confusing, but after a bit of time, something in me began to settle down. It was as if we were silently sitting down with Jesus.

We rested in His presence and thought on our Christ-centered conversation.

I ended up closing the time. We both looked at each other in the midst of busy weeks and both agreed we needed that time.

We didn't figure all of this out until a week later. We laughed hard. But we also saw a need for companionship in silence, resting our soul and quietly receiving truth into our everyday hearts.

That was the most productive 25 minutes that whole week and was such a gift to my soul. I am reminded that life with Christ becomes a reality when we let truth sink from head to heart. Silence helps with this.

This story came to mind as our family heads into this first week of May.

With its busyness, the month of May has been considered the new December. Families are on the go, school is wrapping up, and summer is approaching. Tournaments, recitals, concerts, and award ceremonies are coming.

My friend and I stumbled upon something beautiful. But I am learning that the gift of silence is more available than I think and provides Christ-strength in the midst of busyness.

"In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. But you were unwilling, and you said, "No! We will flee upon horses…"   Isaiah 30:15-16

May we return and rest in the Gospel provision of Himself.

May the realities of our union with Christ become real for the everyday heart.

May quietness and trust be our strength. Amen!

 

obsession with how


"If you really want to know Christ, you must crucify the how."

When I heard the conference speaker say those words it really bothered me.

What if he's right? If all we focus on is how-to the live the Christian life, are we in danger of missing the deeper knowing of Jesus Christ?

I confess, in most areas of life my goal is to figure out how to do something. Doing something correct leads to success. Right?

In 2017 I want to learn how to cook and make my house more energy efficient.

I plan to organize thoughts toward discipleship for K-5th graders and write about the how-to's of soul care.

How-to's keeps the world turning. It solves problems and creates opportunities.

So, why do we need to beware the how?

The danger comes when I obsess over principles forgetting the Person.

My soul needs a greater Someone more than something.

Thomas in his confused excitement said to Jesus, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?

Heck, I want to know the way. Tell me and that's where I'll go!

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him" (John 14:5-7).

Thomas asked how do we move on? Show us the way. What's the next step?
How, how, how. Jesus answered: "I AM."

He turned Thomas' HOW into WHO. The same letters just in a different order.

Re-ordering is what I am talking about, it is shifting my life around the WHO to put HOW in its correct place.

Who is Jesus to me on this confusing and difficult day? The Way, the Truth and the Life.

I'm challenged to move from wondering how to the wonderment of who.

Time is needed to reorder my perspective.

It requires regular powering down and retrieving the command from Psalm 46:10:  "Be still and know that I am God."

Re-ordering is placing the who before the how. It is claiming Christ as my life and letting the how-to's tag along.

I have no idea how this may change my goals or resolutions this year but maybe that's the point.

Thank you for your partnership in my life and work.

John Freeman

 

Hope for the over-achievers

I'm feeling pretty sentimental this week. Five years ago I began Larry Crabb's school of soul care. Sweet memories and great content flowed from that healing week in Colorado Springs.

During one lecture Dr. Crabb stopped speaking, turned to me, and asked a question:  "John, you constantly take notes. Why are you writing so much?"

My pencil stopped and so did my heart.

A bit embarrassed I answered, "I don't want to miss anything."

His response: "I'm so curious as to why? Try not to write for a few minutes and see what happens."

I only lasted 10 minutes.

Something still resonates with me about his observation. In short, I tend to over-do things.

I over-swing the tennis racket, over-plan the family trip, over-shoot the basketball, over-fertilized the yard (killed parts of it this year) and over-prepare sermons.

It's like I am over-compensating or over-reaching for some greater purpose.

I'm wondering if there is a connection between over-achieving and under-affirmation?

I think working hard is important to life and existence. Successful businesses and countries are often the product of over-achievement.

Over-achievement can build a civilization but I am not so sure it can build a human identity. We are made for something bigger than that.

We are made to live from God's affirmation and blessing.

I wonder what it would look like to achieve great things from a place of full affirmation in Christ?

Before Jesus did a lick of ministry he rose from the waters of the Jordan and a voice from heaven boomed over him: "This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased (Mt. 3)."

 Of course we know that Satan himself challenged that in Matthew 4: show off your stuff, if you are who you say you are over-achieve, reveal your power. Jesus combated the temptation with His Father's words and humility. This is when his ministry began.

In Christ we can claim those affirming words spoken to our tired soul.

My soul is free to achieve not for affirmation but from it.

I am freely released to participate with the bigger work of Christ.

When I fertilize lightly, I participate with bigger elements: the sun and the rain.

When I plan a family trip, I can participate with bigger-than-me circumstances that sets up memorable spontaneity.

When I loosen the sermon outline, I am allowing thoughts to enter my mind through the indwelling Spirit.

When I sit and listen instead of feverishly taking notes, I am allowing the Spirit to burn truth in my mind and heart.

There is a lightness to my over-achievement. I like that. Work hard but from a place of already having the full affirmation in Christ.

May we be restful and thankful for this deep place of blessing in Christ.

 

Grace and the Next Generation

I couldn't do it alone.

My life radically changed in college. I accepted Christ and began this journey of walking with Him. During my college years, I was trying to figure out who I was and the big things of life. Maybe not much has changed. I often see my struggles replayed out in students.

That life stage brings out deep questions:

How do I live?
What will I end up doing?
Who are my true friends?
What is life about?

I believe with my whole heart these are discipleship questions.

I felt those same questions in college and wondered how to factor God and Gospel. But I needed help. I walked around with so many unanswered questions and unaddressed struggles.

In the late nineties I would often return to Greensboro between semesters at App State. I remember asking my family and friends who might be good to walk with me in a spiritually way.

Nearly all the seasons of my life I have experienced the blessing of a spiritual mentor walking with me. God has allowed me to have a long list of men who have influenced me over the years. Honestly, I tear up as I think of these men. No blessing exceeds a trusted mentor in Christ.

I somehow connected with a man from Westover Church named Gary. He had helped with the discipleship classes there in the mid-nineties. He was a radio DJ, had a mustache and a huge heart for Christ. I reached out to him and we met a few times. He helped me sort through the daily implications of God's amazing, staying grace.

I think we met at Shoney's on Wendover. Great time.

Another was Mike and he had started a ministry that had ties with a ministry my mom and sister were influenced by in Charlotte. He helped people understand how they were trying to make life work without God, leading them to discover their identity in Christ. My college-aged, transient soul ate up what these men put before me. Those were important, formidable years.

Being in youth ministry for 12 years has amazing perks. I developed relationships with so many people who are not necessarily "youth" anymore. Many of my recent students are still in college and this time of year they return to Greensboro and often touch base with me. I love this!

Many college students who return to Greensboro don't have community or even spiritual mentors to connect with. It can be a bummer for them especially if they aren't traveling much or not doing more than working.

Over the years, this has stirred me to step out in faith and try to connect with these students. Sometimes that means having coffee and other times, like last summer, it means huddling with a small group and talking about a deeper walk with Christ. I love being with this age group and consider it a big part of my work.

I feel called to care for the soul of the next generation and re-introduce deeper truths of God's grace.

Meeting with students during the summer is full circle kind of thing for me. I hope to be a blessing to students I cross paths with in the same way mature Christian men where to me.

By the way… the man named Gary who I met at Westover those many years ago? He is now my father-in-law. Yup, I met with Gary before even knowing my wife, Emily. Can you believe it?! He is truly my spiritual father!

And as many of you know, the Mike I mentioned before was Mike Moses who graciously allowed me to take over this non-profit ministry, Grace Discipleship: a soul care ministry teaching God's grace and the believer's union with Christ.

That is why our ministry's logo has "Established in 1995" - though I've only been at it about a year and a half, this ministry has been alive through Mike for decades. I am so proud to be apart of Mike's legacy.

So cool right?!
Thanks for your support and encouragement,

Love,
John

 

contentment

During the past couple months God has stirred in me a desire to be content. I've wondered why I have a frequent restlessness and need to sit down on the inside.

I remember when Evander Holyfield fought Mike Tyson a number of years ago. I recall Evander walking out in his red boxer robe with the Bible verse on the back: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That seemed funny to me. I mean all things are all things. If Christ is to strengthen Evander to beat up Mike Tyson then awesome. But what was on Paul's mind when he penned those words found in Philippians 4?

Christ's strength according to the context of this verse was for contentment. When Paul abounded circumstantially or when Paul experienced "suffering need" he leaned into Christ's strength to be content. Maybe that verse is relevant for a boxer who wants to win. But maybe the verse is especially relevant for the box who loses. Or the boxer who is knocked out early, embarrassed or even has his ear bitten off.

The power of Christ's strength is everything we need for contentment. When we trust Christ in this deeper way then He will impact how we live and relate.

Larry Crabb said this: "the deepest desire of the human heart matches perfectly with the provision of the divine heart." That is good news! Christ in you is the hope in any circumstance and therefore you can sit down on the inside.

So, may your busy new year be anchored by your contented heart.  May you discover that God's provision frees you to be present to those around you. May you rest in the one thing that couldn't be taken from Mary as she sat at Jesus' feet. And may you enjoy Christ more than anything this world offers.

 

Coming Alongside of Students and Families Part 3

In November 2007 I invited my friend and counselor Steve Lynam to speak to our staff in our youth ministry. He shared some helpful thoughts while my friend Kendra took some wonderful notes. Here is the third Q & A.

What are a few encouraging words for weary souls?

  • Hebrews 4:9,10 says there’s a Sabbath rest for the people of God. We’re meant to rest. We’re meant to enter into His rest. What does that mean? We think if I just rest and let God handle it (let go and let God) that nothing will get done; that’s believing that God is passive. God is full of divine activity. We’re like the glove and He’s the hand; the glove is animated by the hand. If we’re willing to be clothed in the activity of God, He’ll work through us. But we if we’re trying to do something for God, it becomes performance based.
  • Spend time in the Word and stay centered in Jesus and living in union life. We sometimes think we’re independent operators, but we should offer everything to Him. His yolk is easy and the burden is light; there’s still a yolk, but it’s light. How do you rest your soul with God? Jesus said that the man would save his life/soul will lose it. If we try and manage the outcome of every situation, we’ll wear ourselves out. But if we lose our life/soul by giving it and surrendering it to the Lord for His sake, we’ll find it. We’re not asking God to bless our works but to do His works through us. The work of God is to believe in the one He sent. Cooperate with Him; we’re not independent operators. We’re either operating under the influence of the flesh which is the stage for the devil and the world, or you’re operating under the influence of the Spirit – thinking His thoughts, feeling what He’s feeling, choosing what He chooses.
  • Our soul is always asking two things: Do I have worth and value or am I loved? Will I get my needs met or am I secure? If the flesh is involved, it will tell us to get busy and drive us by our fears. But we can turn our souls towards the Spirit and rest. He will come and will deliver and will bring rest.

Coming Alongside Students and Families Part 2

In November 2007 I invited my friend and counselor Steve Lynam to speak to our staff in our youth ministry. He shared some helpful thoughts while my friend Kendra took some wonderful notes. Here is the second Q & A.

What do you think teenagers really need… spiritually and beyond?

The obvious answer is that they need Jesus. Kids need people around them who help point them to Jesus. Teens at that stage of development, they’re struggling trying on different identities. They want to know they have a purpose in life and have a destiny. In Christ, we know they have an identity and a self-worth that’s beyond what they can imagine. They have a destiny in Christ. Parents are the ones, specifically fathers, who need to come alongside and be a voice of affirmation that kids have an identity. A lot of adults see teens as a problem. If you see kids as a problem, then you react to them and live in reaction to the problem and not in response to God toward the person. We need to develop a vision for their purpose. How do we do that? Ask God. Train up a child in the way they should go as a specific person; what did He have in mind when He created them? If we don’t ask God ourselves about who we are and who He has created us to be, we can begin to have God’s eyes to see others. 2 Cor.5:16 – We regard no one the way we used to see them; we are starting to see with the Spirit’s eyes and see people the way God sees them. Kids need to have a vision and have people who see them the way God does. Learning who they are in Christ and who they are to Jesus and because of Jesus is crucial. Kids are a unique expression of Jesus. We all are. If kids know that Christ is with them and in them, they know they have His mind, not their own. You notice people differently. You’re not thinking about what people are thinking about you but listening to what God is thinking about them. Think about God has in mind, and those thoughts changes things as simple as how to walk into a room. See kids according to how God sees them. Help them stand up in what God has in mind for them. It’s not about comparisons or appearances even though that’s what the world says. Live with the settled knowledge of who we are in Christ as unique expressions of God. They need to be loved, to be disciplined, to see a model of how their parents interact, to see how adults deal with struggles. Teens need to know what we need to know. Gal.5:6 – The only thing that matters is faith expressing itself in love. That’s what counts with kids.

Coming Alongside of Students and Families (Steve pt. 1)

In November 2007 I invited my friend and counselor Steve Lynam to speak to our staff in our youth ministry. He shared some helpful thoughts while my friend Kendra took some wonderful notes. Here is the first Q & A.

What is the best thing we can do in difficult situations to come alongside students and families?

  • Christ in you that is the hope of glory. (Col. 1:26-27) It’s not your knowledge but the reliance on Jesus. You can overcome because He has overcome; we count on the presence of Christ. When you wonder what to do, start praying. The problem is that we don’t believe He’ll say anything.
  • What did Jesus do in overwhelming situations? In the story of feeding the crowds, we learn from Jesus. First, He exposed the situation to the Father. Offer the situation to God in prayer and in the moment; factor God in. Second, He gave thanks. He thanked God for what He did, what He is doing, and what He will do. Remember that He is good. Third, He does the next thing in obedience and by faith. Each step is in obedience. Count God in. Sometimes we live as practical atheists and don’t believe that God will respond, but He will respond and will use us as we obey. Paul said “I know whom I believe,” not what. As we make ourselves available to God, He’ll make Himself available to us.