If: Trading Your If Only Regrets


If: Trading Your If Only Regrets (Baker Books, 2015)

If: Trading Your If Only Regrets for God’s What If Possibilities is the most recent book by Mark Batterson, lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington DC.  Although there are 1,784 ifs in the Bible, most of those ifs function as “conditional conjunctions at the front end of God’s promises.”  One little if is all that stands between your current circumstances and your wildest dreams. God’s promises frame your reimagined future.  With the help of the Holy Spirit, you become the best version of yourself possible.  It is within this context that If unpacks the promises of Romans 8.

Mark unpacks Romans 8 by discussing four sequential ifs: If Only; As If; What If; and No Ifs, Ands, or Buts about It.  Focusing on our deepest regrets puts us in the solitary confinement of living back then and there.  Rather, we must live in the here and now.  “Grace,” Pastor Batterson states, “is the catalyst that turns guilt into gratitude.”  When regret comes around, make a beeline for the cross.  A nuanced appreciation of God’s mercy begins with a nuanced confession of sin.

We tap into the power of as if by setting our minds on the things of the Spirit as we pray, meditate, and memorize the Word of God.  However, to be a quick study, you have to go slow.  By going slow, the Word will have a longer-lasting effect on you and the quicker your reaction will be to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  In order to accomplish your God-sized goals, keep in lockstep with the Holy Spirit.  God strategically places you in the right place at the right time.

Faith is putting God’s promises between you and your circumstances.  A God-idea is a divine what if that is beyond your ability to pull it off.  But, it isn’t necessarily grand and glorious.  The Holy Spirit will open the door to what if opportunity if you open the door to your heart.  What if will take longer and be harder to accomplish that you imagined.  Yet “waiting for it” strengthens your patience muscle.  As a result, the process is made more fulfilling.

Because the battle isn’t yours to lose, you are more than a conqueror.  That is your identifier.  The battle belongs to Christ , who already has conquered- no ifs, ands, or buts about it.  With Christ’s salvation, we go from the guttermost to the uttermost.  As Pastor Batterson concludes, “no matter what has died at the hands of sin or Satan, Jesus has rolled away the stone.”


Moving Mountains

MovingMountainsMoving Mountains (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Moving Mountains: Praying with Passion, Confidence, and Authority is the latest book by John Eldredge, director of Ransomed Heart.  Ransomed Heart is a ministry dedicated to restoring men and women in the love of God.  The foundation of this book is prayer that works.  In fact, the recurrent theme, or a suitable subtitle, would be: “There is a way things work.”

God understands where you are in your spiritual journey and is committed to growing you up.  Part of growing up is developing a mature- as opposed to naïve- view of prayer.  God wants to push you through to real, solid answers.  As Augustine once said: “Without God, we cannot, and without us, he will not.”  Until you learn to pray, you won’t know what breakthroughs are possible.  Because you come to the Lord as a partner in a shared mission, faith plays a critical role- maybe the critical role- in effective praying.

When we pray “In Jesus’ name” we are using His authority to enforce  the power of what we just have prayed.  Mr. Eldredge emphasizes that authority is one of the essential secrets to prayer that works.  Our greatest need is for God’s kingdom to invade our life and our world.  God is not a reluctant participant in our existence.  We must not go by the look of things, but by the reality behind the look.  Before praying, it is important for us to align ourselves with God, because it takes a whole heart to do effectual praying.

In order to be open to what God has to say as well as to seek the counsel of the Holy Spirit, it is essential that we let go of our constant attempts to figure things out and agonize at the lack of response.  If you are not sure how to pray, ask Jesus what you should pray.  At the same time, be careful how you bring your emotion or experience to the task at hand.  John states that you should not ignore your emotion and experience, yet you cannot allow them to dictate what you are praying.  Oswald Chambers notes that “identification with God is the key to intercession.”  Praying the promises of Scripture gives you the assurance you are praying in the center of God’s will.

We ache to be made whole again.  Only Jesus can do this for the heart and soul.  Mighty victory is staying true to God- where God means everything to you- in the midst of terrible affliction.  John concludes:

“For we are his sons and daughters, and he is maturing us to love all that he loves, to do all that he does.  To move mountains, and more.”

Finding God in the Ruins

FindingGodFinding God in the Ruins (David C. Cook, 2016)

Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain is the first book by Matt Bays.  Matt Bays is a writer, speaker, and a musician “with a passion for calling people out of their hiding places.”  Pastor Bays believes suffering and doubt are necessary components- even the very essence- of faith.  We can increase our understanding of who God is by allowing ourselves to ask the difficult questions.  Unexpressed doubt can be toxic.  Therefore, Matt states, “redemption is not an escape but rather a journey. . . . redemption will always be most powerful when we can trace God’s hand along the way.”

Discipline is a critical prerequisite to our journey inward.  Fear, however, keeps us from committing to true and lasting change.  As we courageously ask God “Where were you?” we find an honest place with God.  Getting all of God is equally delicious and painful.  When we are in an honest place with God, the sharp edges of our pain begin to soften.  Receptiveness to God’s comfort means being open to that comfort when we least expect it.  Specifically, God often is found mixed into what many consider life’s greatest disappointments.  Pastor Bays observes: “God’s core value is at its absolute highest when we are at our absolute lowest.”

Is God calling you to and for something that He needs you to make right in the world?  If so, don’t be too eager to punctuate your pain with an exclamation point before the time is right.  While your pain may remain, God also will remain.  You will find God’s grace beautifully on display in your storytold.  Acknowledging the truth of who you are actually can set you free.  While you can rewrite your story and definitely change the ending, you can’t rewrite the beginning or change the author.

Telling our stories is how we authenticate who we are and is our healing gift to others.  We will find God in the ruins once we understand we are worthy of love and understanding.  More than answers to our questions, we need the love of God.  Bathed in God’s love, we can accept the burden of responsibility to share our stories so someone else can be set free.  Matt concludes:

“Each of us has a calling that comes from the core ache within us- a calling to write with our lives the beautiful stories of God’s redemption.”


How to Forgive

HowtoforgiveHow to Forgive (Harvest House, 2007)

June Hunt, founder and CEO of Hope For The Heart- a worldwide biblical counseling ministry- wrote How to Forgive . . . When You Don’t Feel Like It in 2007.  When June first became a Christian while in her teens, she discovered God had one standard or commandment: love one another and even love your enemies.  In other words, hate no one.  Ms. Hunt emphasizes that God does not set aside that standard based on any one person’s specific situation.  There are no exceptions.  Those who don’t grasp this true meaning of forgiveness live with embedded bitterness.  Forgiveness, then, is not something we can accomplish with our own strength.  Forgiveness is supernatural.  We need Christ’s strength.

June states that “learning to forgive is nothing short of learning to think like God.”  As we learn to think like God, we renew our minds.  Without a proper understanding of God’s unconditional forgiveness, Ms. Hunt believes, it is almost impossible to forgive someone who has deeply hurt us.  Although forgiveness begins with pain, June underscores the idea that “pain should never stand in the way of forgiveness.”  Therefore, it is unproductive and unwise to hold God responsible for our pain.  Blaming God looks back and places the focus on our pain.  Trusting God, in contrast, looks forward and focuses on His plan.

Within God’s will, suffering has a purpose.  June stresses that our understanding of forgiveness must being with this truth: “By God’s design, you are the master of your mind  (italics author’s).”  Thinking and acting like God are necessary to sustain you throughout the process of complete forgiveness.  The process of complete forgiveness consists of four stages: facing the offense, feeling the offense, forgiving the offense, and finding oneness.  Deep wounds must heal from the inside out.  Forgiveness, then, is not a single event.  Forgiveness is a way of life.

Forgiveness is a gift.  When you forgive, you are blessed in giving that gift- whether or not your offender or wounder is willing to receive it.  Ms. Hunt comes back to her central theme:

“The primary reason God wants us to forgive is because forgiveness sets us free to be all He designed us to be.”

Forgiveness is powerful, purposeful, and pervasive.  It produces a change of heart.  You get yourself back.


Glory Days

GloryDaysGlory Days (Thomas Nelson, 2015)

Glory Days: Living Your Promised Land Life Now is the latest book by Max Lucado, teaching pastor at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas.  Max’s book is based on the Glory Days of Israel- seven glistening years sandwiched between the difficult days of Exodus and the dark days of the judges.  Canaan is a metaphor for the life we can have right now, a real state of the heart and mind, a spiritual reality.  Canaan is “a life defined by grace, refined by challenge, and aligned with a heavenly call.” God already has given us Canaan.  We have everything we need to be everything God desires.  In Canaan we don’t fight for victory, we fight from victory.

The most important tool in your spiritual growth is the Bible.  Pastor Lucado emphasizes that it is not enough for you to possess the Bible.  God wants the Bible to possess you.  In the Promised Land it is necessary to walk by faith, lean on grace, and hear God’s voice more.  Satan isn’t troubled at all by your wilderness days, but he steps up his attacks as you enter the Promised Land.  In order to see Jesus, your eyes cannot be on your Jericho and your lips cannot speak the language of impossibility.

Help comes when we lift our eyes to see Jesus and live out of our inheritance, not our circumstance.  In doing so, we move from false premises to God’s promises.  Although the blessing of God’s favor is no guarantee of an easy life, it is the assurance of God’s help.  It is essential to consult God in everything and call on God for great things.  As we apply this to God’s unique gifting for us, Max reminds us that God’s definition of a promotion isn’t a move up the corporate or educational ladder, but a move toward our call.

Promised Land people don’t naively deny the existence of problems.  They immerse their minds in God-thoughts.  Standing at the crossroads of faith and unbelief, Promised Land people choose faith and press into God’s promises.  God not only stays with you, He fights for you so you can live the Promised Land life He desires for you.  Max summarizes God’s goal for you:

“This is your inheritance: more victory than defeat, more joy than sadness, more hope than despair.  These days are Glory Days.”


The End of Me

endofme2The End of Me (David C. Cook, 2015)

The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-Down Ways of Jesus Begins is the most recent book by Kyle Idleman, teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.  In the first section, Kyle focuses on four specific beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount that lead us down the narrow path to real life.  The second section describes the great kingdom paradox- how we are in the best position to be used by God in significant ways when we get to the end of ourselves.

Jesus wants to go a little deeper, beyond the surface of life, to what’s inside us- what makes the surface the way it is.  This is a question of being broken , not a question of brokenness.  Pastor Idleman observes that the end of me often comes when our dreams come to an end.  Yet, it is possible to wake up from a nightmare to a dream, experiencing God’s presence as never before.  Because God looks at the heart as the true measure of who we are and nothing can be faked in His presence, there is no substitute for humbling ourselves before God.  This is a proactive, not passive process.

Kyle states that we struggle with authenticity- it’s a risk we don’t want to take.  Nevertheless, the author writes, “Jesus calls us to live one life and live it out in the open.”  Jesus’ name for that is purity of heart.  Our emptiness means God has us right where He wants us, for Jesus fills that emptiness with joy and abundance.  It is unnecessary to settle for the full life when we can pursue the filled life.  Jesus is our only hope.  All we need to do is bring Him our helplessness.  Jesus will meet us there at the end of ourselves.

God’s favorite time for this to happen is right now.  God simply asks for our faith and obedience.  Temporal pursuits will fade away.  Only God’s plan and will truly matter.  Contrary to limited finite thought, our “disqualifier” becomes God’s qualifier- and God doesn’t choose us without equipping us to carry out His unique mission for our life.  Human weakness creates the space God fill with His strength.



SimplifySimplify (Tyndale House, 2014)

Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul is the latest book by Bill Hybels, founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.  Simplified living requires uncluttering your soul, and there are no shortcuts.  Total honesty is necessary in crafting a custom replenishment plan to counter the price of toxic depletion.  The key question is: “How would you spend your time if God were in charge of it?”

Pastor Hybels emphasizes our schedule should be far less about what we want to get done and far more about who we want to become.  There is power in a single word written on one’s schedule and lived out with intentionality.  It is essential to put God first and keep our priorities on track.  In order to do this, a financial reconciliation with God may need to take place- where the power of God breaks the power of money in our life.  When we’re fully reconciled to God financially, we joyfully can accept God’s current level of provision.

Another key step in simplifying life is examining our work life.  Pastor Hybels finds it helpful to filter potential jobs through four foundational alignments: passion, culture, challenge, and compensation.  Ultimately each one of us must come to terms with our ministry downsizing or vocation loss, and we must forgive.  The author notes that forgiveness has two dimensions- internal release and extension of mercy.  Everyone’s forgiveness timetable is different.    Fear also is closely associated with job loss.  Life is simplified by eradicating pockets of fear running rampant beneath the surface.  The journey to overcoming fear is a joint venture in partnership with God.

To be a good steward of life, we need to surround ourselves with wise, mature, good people of high character and have a realistic understanding of others’ natural influence.  Furthermore, everyone needs a life verse.  A life verse must personally resonate, guide our path, give us a reference point, and reflect God’s guidance in our lives.  In addition, thinking of life in terms of temporary seasons helps us to recognize the active movement of God’s hand in our current season and that there’s purpose to His activity.  Moving on means saying yes to the unknown.  Pastor Hybels concludes:

“Be quick to say yes to the things that empower you – directly and indirectly- to lead a life of eternal significance.”



The Grave Robber

GraveRobberThe Grave Robber (Baker Books, 2014)

Mark Batterson’s most recent book is titled The Grave Robber: How Jesus Can Make Your Impossible Possible.  The book is based on seven miracles of Jesus reported in the gospel of John.  Each miracle represents a different dimension of Jesus’ power.  The prerequisite for a miracle is a problem, which then provides the perfect opportunity for God to reveal His glory.  The miracles in the gospel of John don’t just reveal what Jesus did, but what He wants to do in your life.  One of the truest tests of spiritual maturity is seeing miracles in the monotonous.  Pastor Batterson states that we would crack the joy code if we’d recognize the moment-by-moment miracles that surround us.

Whatever situation we’re in, God has us exactly where He wants us, even if that situation is not where we’d choose to be.  Mark notes that there are no accidents, only divine appointments.  Miracles and divine appointments happen at God Speed.  They never are early or late, but always right on time.  Only one assumption is true: God is able.  We need to keep taking steps of faith, what Eugene Peterson refers to as “obedience in the right direction.”  Rather than doing things differently, we need to see things differently- for God can take a little and make a lot.

God wants to stretch our faith so that someday our biggest dreams will seem incredibly small.  Paradoxically, the more we give, the more we enjoy what we keep.  While God’s blessings amplify joy, miracles fortify our faith.  Miracles are found on the other side of fear.  At some point in our life journey, we need to take a radical step of faith.  That moment will define every moment that follows.  No mater what we might think, when Jesus gets involved it’s never too little, never too late.

The ultimate goal of any miracle is not the miracle itself, but the glory of God.  Jesus is calling us out of our tomb, to resurrect what has died.  As Pastor Batterson concludes:

“He will give you your smile back.

He will give you your laugh back.

He will give you your life back.

Do you believe this?

If you do, He will make the impossible possible.”



Waiting on God

WaitingonGod2Waiting on God (Howard Books, 2015)

Waiting on God: Strength for Today and Hope for Tomorrow is the latest book from Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA since 1971.  He opens his book with the assertion that the word never can stir the deepest fear in the human heart.  Thus, the challenge of waiting on God is “the ability to keep hoping when the nevers of life bombard us.”  Dr. Stanley’s definition of waiting on the Lord provides the basic outline for this book.  Waiting on the Lord manifests an “expectant endurance that is demonstrated by a directed, purposeful, active, and courageous attitude of prayer.”

Our focus must be directed toward God, our Provider, rather than the object of our desire.  We need to center our thoughts less on our questions and more on the Father’s ability to answer them.  Even though we are tempted to figure out God’s plan and speed it along, we are to demonstrate confident trust that God is committed to seeing us through every trial we face and is raising up an answer to our prayers.

The second characteristic of godly prayer in waiting is being purposeful in pursuing the Lord’s plan.  When our main objective is a personal and intimate relationship with God, everything else will fall into place as the Holy Spirit directs us- bringing out the very best of who we were created to be.  God’s Word, prayer, and godly counsel are an integral part of this process.

Dr. Stanley notes that waiting passively is not what the Lord intended for us as believers.  While we are to be still in allowing the Father to work through our circumstances, we must be active in growing spiritually.  Perseverance is the key to receiving the very best God has planned for us and helping us endure the delay.

The fourth characteristic of waiting on the Lord, being courageous, is stretched and refined during our darkest times.  Yet, it is when we feel most unworthy and defeated that the Father is closest to us.  We are in a spiritual battle with Satan.  Our weapon is the sword of the Spirit- God’s Word.  The Father is “moving us toward the light on the most efficient and effective route possible.”  Confidently wait on the Lord, for the best is yet to come . . . always.



How Can I Possibly Forgive?

PossiblyForgiveHow Can I Possibly Forgive? (Harvest House, 2014)

How Can I Possibly Forgive? Rescuing Your Heart from Resentment and Regret is that latest book by Sara Horn.  Sara begins by stating that in order for us to appreciate the unconditional love God gives us and in turn asks us o give others, we need a better understanding of forgiveness.  To achieve that understanding we need to identify  the white noise in our life drowning out that the Lord wants us to hear.  As Sara notes, “what distracts our hearts distracts our souls.”  When we only see our pain, we cannot see God’s plan.  Focusing on our pain leads to bitterness.  We quickly can move from sadness to resentment and from denial to anger.

Bitterness, though, is not easy to hide.  Eventually we expose ourselves and our soul feelings come out.  Although we have big hurts, we have a bigger God.  People and situations fail us, but God never fails us.  Healing is a process, and forgiveness aids in that process.  Forgiveness involves dealing with the really hard stuff that is more difficult to forgive, let go, or even think about and discuss.  However, we are not left alone to figure out what to do- we have the Holy Spirit.  With God’s help and grace, we can see His righteousness in our hearts and lives.

Sara emphasizes that full satisfaction cannot be reached when our goal ends in us.  “What about me?” needs to change to “What about Him?”.  While forgiveness is not easy for us,  forgiveness is possible with God.  When we forgive, we make room for what God wants to do.  Forgiveness means giving up our claim for justice and our need to be right.  And sometimes we must recognize that we have to move on. Through it all, it is essential for us to rely on God’s forgiveness, faithfulness, and favor.

Sara cautions us that it is futile to stay angry with God- nothing good comes of it.  Yet, when our little bit of faith intersects with God’s faithfulness, God can do amazing things in us and through us.  We struggle most with hurt when we seek love from other people rather than Jesus.  We can choose to let it go.  Sara concludes:

“There is no sweeter sound than the exhale of release.  Forgiveness is possible when we give it all to God.”