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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Once Vices Now Habits

Bad behaviors left unattended becomes bad habits that are hard to break. In fact, we’ve often become so accustomed to our bad habits that we might not even consider them to be all that bad anymore. They just “are.” For example, habits like worry, anger, hate, revenge, gossip, jealousy, etc. Or habits like being late all the time, or overeating, smoking, drinking too much, drugs, and manipulating others for our own benefit. We can add lust, greed, power hungry, and showing disrespect to others–especially those we don’t like for whatever reason–to the list. However, the #1 bad habit infecting all of us is (drum roll, please)… lying. We don’t even think twice about lying anymore. It’s become as natural as breathing to many of us (see December 2016 article in The Washington Post titled, An epidemic of lies: Our country’s cultural plague just keeps getting worse).

Well, you get the idea about bad habits. We all have them, and often we just excuse them off. So let’s consider this quote:

“The more I looked, the more I found Christian Atheists everywhere.”

Do you know who said it? It’s the topic of a 2010 book titled, The Christian Atheist: Believing in God but Living as if He Doesn’t Exist,” by Craig Groeschel, founder and senior pastor of Life.Church which started back in 1996 in a two-car garage by him and a handful of others. It is now “the largest church [as of September 2016] in the United States with twenty six locations in eight states (quote source here). He is also a New York Times bestselling author and has written several books.

That quote above is taken from the blurb on the back cover of The Christian Atheist,” and it is also found on Amazon.com:

“The more I looked, the more I found Christian Atheists everywhere.” Former Christian Atheist Craig Groeschel knows his subject all too well. After over a decade of successful ministry, he had to make a painful self admission: although he believed in God, he was leading his church like God didn’t exist. To Christians and non-Christians alike, to the churched and the unchurched, the journey leading up to Groeschel’s admission and the journey that follows—from his family and his upbringing to the lackluster and even diametrically opposed expressions of faith he encountered—will look and sound like the story of their own lives. Now the founding and senior pastor of the multi-campus, pace-setting LiveChurch.tv [Life.Church], Groeschel’s personal journey toward a more authentic God-honoring life is more relevant than ever. Christians and Christian Atheists everywhere will be nodding their heads as they are challenged to take their own honest moment and ask the question: am I putting my whole faith in God but still living as if everything was up to me? (Quote source here.)

The following endorsements for the book should pique the interest of any Christian who is coasting along without serious thought for how they are living their everyday lives. These endorsements are found on the opening two pages of the book:

“The thing I’ve always appreciated about Craig is his willingness to be honest when his life doesn’t match up with the Scriptures. Too Many people are quick to make excuses for themselves and others who call themselves “Christian.” Craig challenges us to think deeply, honestly, and fearfully about how our lives may be contradicting our message.” ~Francis Chan, pastor and author

“In ‘The Christian Atheist,’ Craig leverages transparency to force the rest of us to take an honest look at the contrast between how we live and what we claim to believe. Craig’s vulnerability coupled with his fresh insights, will move you to begin realigning behavior with beliefs.” ~Andy Stanley, senior pastor, North Pointe Community Church

“Craig Groeschel is a brilliant communicator and a gift to the church worldwide. He has a way of saying the things we are all thinking with an approachable authority that resonates with the ups and downs of our daily walk with God. Craig’s genuine heart to see your life’s journey flourish, and his honest perspective on personal experiences, will quietly convict your heart and encourage your soul.” ~Brian Houston, senior pastor, Hillsong Church

“Church people always talk about Christians and non-Christians, but nobody ever talks about the people in-between. Most of the men and women I talk to everyday fall into that middle ground, the group that believes in God but lives like he’s not there, doesn’t care, or doesn’t matter. In ‘The Christian Atheist,’ Pastor Craig Groeschel hits this audience head-on, opening up about his own doubts and fears, while setting the table for hundreds of life-changing discussions about who God is and how he operates.” ~Dave Ramsey, host of The Dave Ramsey Show, Ramsey Solutions

“There are too many Christian Atheists in the church today, and through this book, Craig Groeschel challenges the genuineness of faith in the life of the self-proclaimed believer. ‘The Christian Atheist’ will cause you to move from head knowledge to heart knowledge. This is a must-read for every Christian.” ~Jentezen Franklin, senior pastor, Free Chapel

“Craig’s insights and candor combine to make this book a true gift to ‘atheists’ of all kinds!” ~Bill Hybels, senior pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, and chairman of the board, Willow Creek Association

“‘The Christian Atheist’ will challenge you, push you, and disturb you. It will redefine your sense of purpose and focus as a Christian. Every Christian today need to read this book. Craig’s gut-level honesty is refreshing and will help move you toward a life that is fully devoted to Christ. Too many of us live lives that don’t truly reflect who we are as followers of Christ. But the good news is we can change. True Christianity awaits us. And Craig provides a practical prescription for how to get there.” ~Brad Lomenick, president, Catalyst

matt-16v26That should whet your appetite for reading The Christian Atheist.” Groeschel opens the book with a sobering verse from Titus 1:16: “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.” In his “A Letter to the Reader” found on pp.11-15, he describes a conversation he had with a 23-year-old female grad student named Michelle who sat next to him on a flight and who he describes as a Christian Atheist. Here is what he writes on pp. 13-15:

Christian Atheists are everywhere. They attend Catholic churches, Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, nondenominational churches, and even churches where the pastor says, “GAW-duh!” when he’s preaching. They attend big seminaries, Big Ten universities, and every college in between. They are every age and race and occupation–and some even read their Bibles everyday.

Christian Atheists look a lot like Christians, but they live a lot like Travis [e.g., a middle-aged father of two heading home from an unsuccessful business trip that Groschel sat next to on a previous flight–that conversation is on pp. 11-13, but in Travis’ case he denies the existence of God altogether and states that he thinks Christians are the weakest people alive].

Before our plane took off, Michelle struck up a conversation. Somewhat nervous about flying, she seemed eager to talk, as if our chat might make the flight pass more quickly. After describing her difficulties with balancing her checkbook and handling her divorced parents and her live-in boyfriend–who’s scared to death of marriage–she asked me about my life.

Creating a diversion from my “I’m a pastor” answer, I explained that I’m married and have six children. “Six kids?! Don’t you know what causes kids?” she joked.

After some more small talk, Michelle asked me what I do for a living. No longer able to dodge the inevitable, I answered, “Well, as a matter of fact, I’m the pastor of a church.”

This revelation gave Michelle permission to unleash a stream of Christian words and stories. Dropping the occasional “God told me” and “God is good,” she smiled softly as she described how she “gave her life to Jesus” at the age of fifteen at a Christian youth camp. After praying sincerely, she was eager to get back to school to share her faith and live a life of purity and spiritual integrity. Michelle held on to her new belief in God but soon slipped back into her old way of life.

As if in a confessional, Michelle continued pouring out her life’s darker details. She looked down as she admitted that she was doing things with her live-in boyfriend that she knew she shouldn’t. She told me she wanted to go to church but was simply too busy working and studying. She did pray many nights–mostly that her boyfriend would become a Christian like she was. “If only he believed in Jesus, then he might want to marry me,” she said, wiping her tears.

At last, Michelle expressed one final confession: “I know my life doesn’t look like a Christian’s life should look, but I do believe in God.”

Welcome to Christian Atheism, where people believe in God but live as if he doesn’t exist. As much as I don’t want to admit it, I see this kind of atheism in myself. People might assume that a pastor wouldn’t struggle with any form of atheism, but I certainly do. Sadly, Christian Atheism is everywhere. There has to be a better way to live.

This book is for anyone courageous enough to admit to their hypocrisy. I hope it pushes you, challenges you, and disturbs you. And if you’re honest before God–as I am trying to be–perhaps together we can shed some of our hypocrisy and live a life that truly brings glory to Christ. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 13-15).

I’ll give you the chapter titles but if you want more, you’ll need to get a copy of the book. The twelve chapter titles are revealing:

Introduction: A Recovering Christian Atheist (Groeschel’s own story)
Chapter 1: When You Believe in God but Don’t Really Know Him
Chapter 2: When You Believe in God but Are Ashamed of Your Past
Chapter 3: When You Believe in God but Aren’t Sure He Loves You
Chapter 4: When You Believe in God but Not in Prayer
Chapter 5: When You Believe in God but Don’t Think He’s Fair
Chapter 6: When You Believe in God but Won’t Forgive
Chapter 7: When You Believe in God but Don’t Think You Can Change
Chapter 8: When You Believe in God but Still Worry All the Time
Chapter 9: When You Believe in God but Pursue Happiness at Any Cost
Chapter 10: When You Believe in God but Trust More in Money
Chapter 11: When You Believe in God but Don’t Share Your Faith
Chapter 12: When You Believe in God but Not in His Church
Afterword: Third Line of Faith

Each chapter is filled with deeply personal stories that will move us to reflect on our own life as a Christian and what it means to be a Christian, and in the course of reading it, we’ll find that there really isn’t any “middle ground” that one can afford to stagnate on. In the “Afterword,” Groeschel writes about three “lines of faith” and how the third line of faith is the most crucial . . . and without it, nothing else matters. Groeschel states:

matt-6v34Several years ago [do remember that this book was published in 2010], I increasingly recognized inconsistencies between what I claimed to believe and the way I actually lived. I preached that people without Christ go to hell, but my life showed I wasn’t equally passionate to reach those people. Though I believed God wanted my life to be different, I found comparing myself to others easier than measuring my life against Christ’s. I preached that prayer is critical, But my prayer life was virtually nonexistent. God’s Word said my treasure shouldn’t be in this world, yet material things continued to grab my attention. Jesus said, “Don’t worry about tomorrow.” But worry came as naturally to me as breathing. If I truly belonged to Christ, I should surrender my whole life to him. I just gave him parts instead, and took them back whenever he didn’t do what I wanted. I called myself a Christian, but I lived like an Atheist.

The more honest I became, the more I hated living faithlessly, and the more I craved intimacy with God. “Whatever it takes” became my heart’s cry. Whatever it takes to know him. Whatever it takes to live like I truly love God. Whatever it takes to love eternity more than this world. Even if I have to fight, scrape, and crawl away from my Christian Atheism into a genuine, crucified life of faith and radical obedience to Christ, I’ll do whatever it takes. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 234-235.)

Groeschel then explains a life changing experience that changed his direction:

One day I was at home working out on my elliptical machine, listening to a sermon on my iPod. Suddenly I just had to stop. Surrounded by God’s presence, I knelt down on the floor and started crying out to God. If you had seen me, you would have thought I was falling apart. But God was putting me back together.

I cried for all of God, and his presence became immediately real. Although I’d unquestionably been spiritually reborn a decade and a half ago, it was like I was being born again–again.

I’ve always believed in spiritual visions; I’d just never had one. Not anymore. I saw a picture as clear as the words on this page. I stood before three lines in the sand. Somehow I knew what each line represented. (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” p. 235).

At this point, he states the three lines of faith:

Line 1: I believe in God and the gospel of Christ enough to benefit from it. Like so many others, crossing that first line was easy. Sadly, many who call themselves Christians live here. If there is a God, I want to be on his good side. I want to go to heaven. I want him to bless me with good health, good relationships, and a happy life. Like the nine ungrateful lepers in Luke 17, once God has helped me, I forgot about him.

Most wouldn’t admit that this is all the faith they can manage. We want God’s benefits without changing how we live. We want his best, without our sacrifices. At the first line, we don’t fear God or share our faith. We still love this world. We’ll pursue happiness at any cost. The list goes on and on. We first-line believers get what we can get from God without giving much, if anything back . . . .

Line 2: I believe in God and Christ’s gospel enough to contribute comfortably. Past the first line are people who believe in God not only enough to benefit but also enough to give back–as long as it doesn’t cost too much. Many first-line Christians eventually cross the second line. “If I don’t have to change too much, I’ll do some of what God asks. If it doesn’t hurt too much, I’ll get more serious about God. But everyone has their limits, right?” Like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19, I was willing to go along with the religious rules as long as it didn’t hurt too much. . . .

Line 3: I believe in God and Christ’s gospel enough to give my life to it. Although most people I knew were line-one and line-two believers, suddenly anything less than line three didn’t seem like real Christianity to me. Could I give my whole life to Christ? Not only in words but in my daily life?

Verses I’d read dozens of times suddenly flooded to mind:

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (Matthew 16:25-26). Am I willing to lose my life?

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20). Could I sacrifice my desires, my hopes, my dreams?

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24). What would it take to make my life nothing to me, existing only to do what Christ wants me to do?

“What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8). Could I truly count all my earthly possessions a loss, making Christ my greatest treasure? (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 235-238.)

Groeschel states:

I knew in the deepest part of myself: I have to be a third-line believer. With unquenchable thirst, I pursued living water above all substitutes. I started praying like never before. I started pursuing God in the morning and continued throughout the day. Jesus was on my mind when I fell asleep and when I awoke. Scripture started becoming my bread of life, nourishing my soul.

I surrendered one thing after another, until just one major hurdle stood between where I was and where God wanted me. I can’t tell you what that thing was. It’s simply too personal. Only two people in the world know it.

My battle to cross the third line lasted almost two years. I prayed about it daily. I quoted Scripture. Though spiritually exhausted, I wouldn’t give up. Spiritual warfare raged around me. Finally, on one very normal Saturday afternoon, by faith, I gave this last part of my life totally to God. I sacrificed a fear that had held me hostage since I was a child and made a promise to God that I’d never take it back.

I crossed the third line.

I believe in God and Christ’s gospel so much that I’m wiling to give my whole life to his cause. Nothing in this world is more important to me than my treasure in heaven. No fear in my heart is greater than my fear of God. Tears are filling my eyes as I type this. I cannot put into words what God has done in my heart.

I am a different person.

You can be, too. . . . (Quote source, “The Christian Atheist,” pp. 238-239.)

As we can see from the above brief quotes from The Christian Atheist,” and as stated on the back cover of the book, “Goeschel’s frank and raw conversation about our Christian Atheist tendencies and habits is a convicting and life-changing read.” If we want to go beyond the surface and the “What’s in it for me?” mentality, read this book. And perhaps, as Goeschel stated at the end of his book, we, too, will be able to state . . . .

I’ve crossed the third line . . .

I’m a different person . . .

You can be, too . . . .

YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

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Flying On Instinct

instinctsSo much of how we view our world today is often determined by our emotions or feelings which can change at the drop of a hat.” Instinct, on the other hand, does not run on emotions or feelings. Dictionary.com defines instinct as follows:

  • an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species;
  • a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency;
  • a natural aptitude or gift (e.g., an instinct for making money)
  • natural intuitive power

Instinct doesn’t run on logic or reason (nor does it operate on emotions or feelings). It’s innate. And instinct is not the same as intuition. It differs from intuition as described below (quote source here):

Although the words “intuition” and “instinct” appear identical to most people, these two do not refer to the same thing as there is a difference between them in their meanings. Intuition is our ability to know something without reasoning. It is when we feel as if we know what is about to happen or what to do without having any real facts. But, instinct is something different from intuition. It is an inborn tendency. Instinct is our natural reaction; it occurs without even thinking. It is more an ability, unlike intuition. This is the main difference between intuition and instinct. Through this article, let us examine the difference between intuition and instinct.

Intuition is “the ability to understand or know something without conscious reasoning.” It is similar to an insight that we have regarding a matter. For instance, have you felt as if something is not right, or that something bad is about to happen without having any concrete facts? This is due to our intuition. We do not have real facts or a rationale for our feeling, but we feel as if it is correct.

When intuition comes to play, we do not analyze the situation. We also do not weigh the pros and cons, we just know. For instance, before arriving at a decision, people approach it from different angles. They try to work out the best manner of doing something, verify the advantages and disadvantages. However, with intuition, one does not have sufficient information to rationalize his decision or thought. It is as if the individual can see beyond what is presented.

Instinct refers to “an inborn tendency.” It is a natural ability. Instinct is not something that we have learned, but it is a natural response. For instance, imagine you see a vehicle coming at high speed towards you. You would naturally jump out of the way. In such a situation, you hardly get sufficient time to think, but you respond automatically. This is because of our instinct.

Unlike intuition that is a thought, instinct is mostly a behavior or else an action. For instance, if a ball comes in your direction, you instinctively attempt to either catch it or else move away so that it will not hit you. You do not have time to think whether you should move away or catch the ball. Within seconds, you act on it. In psychology, we speak of two concepts of “flight or fight mode.” Flight is when the individual moves away from the situation; fight is when the individual faces the situation, or else in this case catches the ball. This occurs in a very short period.

As you can see, intuition is different from instinct. It is a thought and not an automatic response or action. (Quote source here at DifferenceBetween.com.)

Instinct takes place in the immediate “now.” As humans, we like to rationalize everything, but instincts can’t be rationalized. It is a natural reaction, an automatic response, and an inborn tendency.

With that in mind, the other day I ran across the book, Instinct: The Power to Release Your Inborn Drive” (2014), by Bishop T.D. Jakes,a charismatic leader, visionary, provocative thinker, and entrepreneur who serves as senior pastor of The Potter’s House, a global humanitarian organization and 30,000-member church located in Dallas, Texas” (quote source here). He is also a New York Times bestselling author of many books. An introduction to the book on Amazon.com states the following (quote source here):

Whether you call it following your heart, a gut feeling, a hunch or intuition, instinct–the inner knowledge bubbling up from a wellspring of wisdom within–can lead to a bigger, elephant-sized life.

Combining social, business and personal examples with biblical insights, in “Instinct” Bishop Jakes shows readers how to rediscover their natural aptitudes and reclaim the wisdom of their past experiences. Knowing when to close a deal, when to take a risk, and when to listen to their hearts will become possible when they’re in touch with the instincts that God gave them.

If readers are ready to unlock the confines of where they are, and discover where they were meant to be, then “Instinct” is their key! (Quote source here.)

In the opening paragraphs in Chapter 1 titled, “Instinct Has a Rhythm,” Bishop Jakes states:

Our instincts are the treasure map for our soul’s satisfaction. Following our instincts can make the crucial distinction between what we are good at–our vocation or skill set–and what we are good for–the fulfillment of our purposeful potential. When you’re truly engaged with your life’s calling, whether in the boutique, the banquet hall, or the boardroom, you rely on something that cannot be taught.

I’ve convinced that our instincts can provide the combination we need to align our unique variables with our callings and release the treasure within us. When harnessed, refined, and heeded, our instincts can provide the key to unlocking our most productive, most satisfying, most joyful lives. . . .

Unfortunately, much of what I see today isn’t about fulfilling one’s true potential as much as it is about appearing to fulfill what other people expect. Too many people want the appearance of winning rather than the practices and hard work that create a true champion. They mistake the prize for the art of winning and will ultimately buy a trophy without ever running a race. They didn’t take the class; they bought the diploma. They aren’t successful; they just have the props. They aren’t driven to achieve something; they just bust their gut to appear busy to everyone around them.

The irony is what these people fail to realize. When you’re living by instinct, then you will naturally enhance everything and everyone around you. In other words, success will come naturally! When both your intellect and instincts are aligned, then producing the fruits of your labors brings satisfaction beyond measure.

Now, it will still require hard work and dedication on your part, but the internal satisfaction will fuel your desire to achieve even larger dreams. Based on the fact that we are all inherently creative people, if we are in touch with our instincts, then we will naturally increase our endeavors. When you don’t become fixated on winning the prize or appearing successful, and instead pursue your passions, then you will discover the fulfillment that comes from living by instinct. (Quote source: Chapter 1, pp. 1-3).

In Chapter 2 titled, “Basic Instincts,” Bishop Jakes writes:

On a basic level, we share many of the same instincts. We see instinct in action when a baby tries to suckle in order to receive nourishment, or a toddler recoils from a hot skillet. It’s the sense you have about the stranger lingering behind you on your walk home that causes you to run into a store and call a taxi. Similarly, no one has to teach you to dodge the oncoming bus careening toward you while you’re crossing the street.

We are wired to stay alive. Our bodies naturally seek out nourishment (food and water) and protection (such as shelter, clothing, and weapons) to survive. You’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response, which is an instinctive reaction to any perceived danger. Many scientists also believe that language is instinctive, or at least the desire to express our responses to both internal and external stimuli. Some researchers believe that we are instinctively spiritual beings as well, which, of course, I would confirm. . . .

On the other hand, our instincts are not necessarily accurate all the time. The hunch about someone else’s business deal wasn’t true. Your sense of timing for the big date wasn’t on target after all. The sense of dread about a client’s reaction to your work proved to have no basis in reality. . . .

So how do you become more aware of your unique, naturally developed instincts? And perhaps more important, how do you discern when to trust your instincts and when to rely on logic, fact, and objectivity?

Obviously, this is where our relationship with instinct gets tricky.

And that’s what this book is all about. (Quote source: Chapter 2, pp. 12-14).

Of course, you’ll have to get the book to find out more, but at this point I want go to Chapter 9, “Instincts Under Pressure,” where Bishop Jakes explains how instincts played a crucial role in his move from West Virginia to Texas on pp. 95-101:

give-it-a-try-whispered-the-heartWe’re used to basing our decisions on past experiences and then suddenly our instincts pull us toward something equally tantalizing and terrifying. We cannot deny our instinctive attraction, and yet we’re unsettled by its unfamiliarity. Nothing in our repertoire of achievements and abilities, nor our family, our training, our education, or our experiences has prepared us, and yet we are drawn instinctively toward something that excites us, touches us, energizes us, and leave us shaking in our boots.

From my experiences and those of many others, instinct likes a challenge more than it likes comfort. Our instincts would rather lead us to face the unknown than let us shrink into the corner of our cage. When we’re committed to fulfilling our destiny, our instinct drives us away from complacency and toward contentment.

An inmate leaving prison must certainly feel this odd mixture of excitement and fear as he walks through the door of his cell one last time, through the gates of the prison grounds. What had become familiar to him, normal and routine, must now be left behind. He must start over. And as exhilarated as he may be by the restoration of his freedom, he also must make his way into a new jungle that has grown unrecognizable from when he knew it before. In fact, many parolees and former inmates become so stressed trying to reacclimate to the outside that they often end up returning to crime.

Did they commit a crime in hopes of returning to the confinement of a prison cell? Probably not consciously, but one wonders when looking at the recidivism rate. The literal, physical incarceration may even seem preferable to the fear of learning to live outside the prison walls.

Even if we have never faced physical confinement, most of us can relate. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new career, a new marriage, a new season of being single, a new business launch. When we start anything by following our instincts, we will likely be forced to leave our cage of comfort and complacency.

I faced this very dilemma when I made the decision to move my family and ministry from Charleston, West Virginia, where I’d grown up and lived all my life, to Dallas, Texas, which I probably knew better from television and movies than from my own experience. I’m still not exactly sure how it came about. I became interested in the Dallas area because I had heard that many people there attended church regularly (not always the case in urban areas) and were open to joining a new Christian community. I had also heard that property was relatively affordable for such a large urban area.

Ironically enough, I had actually told a friend of mine, another pastor, that he ought to move to Dallas and start a church there. But after some thoughtful and prayerful consideration, he ended up going another direction. And yet the thought of this place I had recommended to him haunted me. I began to wonder what Dallas was really like. While I had been through there a time or two, I knew very little about the people, the culture, the flavor and lifestyle of Texans. And yet I couldn’t quit thinking about moving to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It remained an alluring attraction, one I finally could not ignore.

When I went to Dallas and visited the prospective property for our new church, I asked the owner if I could have a few minutes alone in the building and he agreed. There in the echoing cavern of a structure so much larger than our entire church back in West Virginia, I asked God if this was where he wanted me. It didn’t take long before my awareness of his presence increased, and everything in me heard, “Yes.”

Even with this sense of God’s calling and blessing upon the move. I remained fearful. I have lived in West Virginia my entire life! I would not only be leaving my church to plant a new one, but I would be leaving one lifestyle and culture for another. The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area included over two million people at that time–about twenty times more than Charleston! And how would Texans take to an African-American outsider moving into their territory? If everything is bigger in Texas, would that include prejudice and hostility?

With growing trepidation, I agonized over this decision. I paced the cage that contained me and wondered if I dared set foot into the Texan jungle opening before me. If I stayed put, would I regret not exploring this opportunity, forever wondering, “What if . . .?” Or would I long for the comfortable security of my humble roots and regret my risk when inevitably confronted with adversity?

Moving away would include uprooting my wife and kids, and taking my mother with us after she had lived over six decades in the same area. We would be leaving the small-town warmth of our cocooned community and launching out on new wings. But would we fly? Or flutter momentarily before crashing to the ground?

It was a huge risk, but I had to take it. I had to leave my cage, but I had to take it. I had to leave my cage. Not only did I feel God’s prompting me to make the move, but something deep inside me knew it was where I belonged–even if I didn’t exactly know why. Needless to say, I have never regretted my decision to follow my instincts and move to Dallas. No, instead I discovered that my move was not just an open door to me but was, in fact, the intersection of the destiny of thousands if not millions of others whose lives would forever be changed, all predicated upon me releasing my fear and mustering the courage to be stretched beyond my comfort zone.

When we find ourselves at the crossroads between at least two different directions, we often panic. It feels like a no-win. After our instincts have been stirred by a vision, a glimpse, a divine whisper inside us, we cannot ignore the decision. Or, if we do, then that in itself becomes a decision we know we will soon regret. When our instincts magnetically urge us in a particular direction, my experience has been that we will regret not acting on that urge. Standing at the crossroads may feel like being caught in the crosshairs!

But I’m convinced that it is so much more productive, satisfying, and invigorating to have risked a new endeavor and failed than to play it safe and remain in the status quo. When a mother eagle senses instinctively that her eaglets are now ready to fly, she disrupts the nest with her beak, pushing them out with an eviction notice that seems so cruel. Her beak dislodges them from their nest and pushes them to the edge. Have you ever been pushed to the edge?

I saw eagles in the plain I visited soaring in the wind. It was amazing to me to realize that what seems so natural now was once a moment of great terror. When it was young that eagle was pushed to the edge. Its mother’s beak had no doubt dropped him off the edge of the cliff!

The results produce a striking beauty, but in the moment of crossing from nest to nature, the sight would make you call the animal rights commission and file a complaint of abuse! The mother obviously is not being cruel to her little birds. Instead she is pushing them into the uncomfortable place of discovery. She knows that the nest was only the crossroads through which they would grow and develop. If they sat in the temporary, it would be at the expense of the permanent.

Now, I’m told that the little birds become frightened half to death and initially start flipping their wings out of terror, flailing wildly to ward off what looks like inevitable death. But the flailing of their fear is the birthing of a discovery. Their instinct to fly is released with great peril and fear.

In the galing winds and impending danger, they find that the wings they never utilized in their previous comfortable nest find use in the fall and give birth to their flight. To ensure that they will not come back to the nest, she stirs the nest with her beak so that the prickly briars protrude and make it impossible for them to find comfort where they once rested.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been forced to find my wings by the discomfort of staying where I was. I’ve felt like an eaglet more than once, forced out many times by circumstances I couldn’t control. I’ve screamed inwardly a thousand reasons why the time was not right or I wasn’t prepared. If you are like me, you tell yourself, “But I don’t have the experience or the training or the education or the relationship or the resources necessary to take such a dangerous leap!”

All of which may be true. But there are times when we must disregard the data and distance our doubts if we are ever going to achieve greater velocity towards the goals that roar within us. We must follow the instinct to fly. (Quote Source: Chapter 9, pp. 95-101.)

take-the-first-stepThis may be one of the longest posts I’ve pieced together, but I hope it provides you with encouragement in your own circumstances no matter what they might be. Stagnating or vacillating in life is never a good option, and it only takes one small step to move forward, even if we can’t see the next step. These past eight years for me have been a very long lesson (still ongoing, too) in taking one step at a time and not ignoring those “instincts” when they are giving us direction. And just like the mother eagle forcing the eaglets out of the comfort zone of their nest . . .

We must follow . . .

The instinct . . .

To FLY . . . .

YouTube Video: “Born For This” by Mandisa:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

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