Focus on the Goal

I hope your Monday is off to a great start already. It is yet another gorgeous day here in RVA! Hopefully, you’re enjoying similarly beautiful conditions wherever you are.

I’m heading down to the 757 this week to record my 7th album / ep. I booked the studio time for the recording about a month ago. I felt led to do the project and at the time I was really very stoked about it. Since then, though, I’ve been dealing with some consternation about this record. I’ve been wondering how I was going to fund it. I’ve found myself a little afraid about some of the technicalities of the music and arrangements.

This week’s inbox inspiration came right on time for me as I prepare to hit the road and do this musical work this week. As I spent prayerful time with this scriptural story, I found myself invigorated and refocused. I hope you find it has the same effect for you.

Our note this week is rooted in a story many of us know very well. If we don’t know it well, I'm sure most of us have at least heard about Peter jumping out of a boat to walk on water with Jesus. We find this event recorded in Matthew chapter 14.

As the story goes, Jesus had just finished teaching and famously feeding an enormous crowd of 5,000+ people. He instructed his disciples to sail across the Sea of Galilee ahead of him while he took some time atop a mountain to pray. The disciples followed his instructions and found themselves in the middle of a storm. Their tiny boat was tossed to and fro in the water and the men were rather panicky.

Suddenly the 12 men on the boat looked up and found their master walking toward them on the water. The disciples were flabbergasted! They mistook Jesus for a ghost walking on the angry sea. This is where we pick up this morning.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

- Matthew 14:27-29

It seems Peter was always first to speak up when it came to these kinds of situations with Jesus. In this case, his boldness was remarkable - at least at first. Don’t we often find ourselves in this same kind of spot? We see Jesus making moves and we are so excited to get out of our boats and go with him - at least at first.

Jesus always invites us to join him in what he is doing. He says to us, just what he said to Peter: “Come.” And so, we go, just like Peter did. It is indeed remarkable that Peter, (unlike his peers,) had the initial faith to stand up and step out of the boat. But if Peter was remarkable in his initial faith, he was all too much like many of us who sink into the storm surge as our faith is challenged. The scripture says:

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

- Matthew 14:30

As I thought about this, I found myself talking to Peter in my brain: “Wow, Peter! You walked on the water with Jesus! Then, you lost your focus. You started looking at the wrong things. The uncertainty of the situation pulled your eyes off Jesus. So, you started sinking into the storm surge you were walking on just seconds before.”
But we’re all a lot like Peter, aren’t we? We are so quick to avert our gaze! We are so easily spooked by what we see around us. Remember, Peter had already seen Jesus’ absolute control of storm and sea. He’d been on the boat with him when he spoke to the storm and demanded peace, (Matthew 8). He knew who Jesus was - in fact, that’s why he had the initial faith to step out of the boat in the first place. Yet, just like so many of us, Peter’s circumstance was quick to overtake him and crowd out all of his previous experiences with Jesus. By the time Peter’s feet started to fall through the waves, even his initial faith seemed to be miles away. He lost focus and consequently he lost faith.

Over in Hebrews, we get this reminder from Paul about how to run our life’s races with Jesus:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

- Hebrews 12:1-2

The key here is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. If we’re looking at the right place, we won’t need reminders of his capabilities to “keep us from falling,” (Jude 1:24). We won’t need pep talks to resurge our faith. If only we can train our minds and our eyes to stay glued on Jesus! If only we can learn to trust him! If only we can get our minds to really believe that if he tells us to “come,” there is no storm surge that can overtake us!

What I like about the Hebrews 12 verses is that they clearly define our goal and remind us to keep our eyes on the prize! Maybe Peter forgot that prize as he stepped out of the boat. Maybe he started thinking his goal was to walk on the water. His own words… “Tell me to come to you on the water.” Maybe Peter forgot what he’d asked for and started to think this whole experience was about doing something cool, (walking on water). Maybe he forgot that the water-walking experience was really only the path to the goal of getting to Jesus. Maybe he forgot that walking on the water wasn’t the goal at all. Whatever he might have been thinking, at some point he took his eyes off the prize and got distracted by what he saw on the path.

Let’s learn form Peter. We’ve got to keep our eyes on Jesus! He is the object of our faith. He is our goal. He is our lifter, our support, our comfort. He is everything! We can’t get caught up with the distractions along the paths he tells us to walk when he calls us to him. We can’t allow our callings or our gifts or our talents to become our points of focus. We have to remember that HE is our prize; him and him alone! We must fix our eyes on Jesus!

Because we are human, we will inevitably have those moments when we, like Peter, find our faith succumbing to our circumstances. We will all have those moment when we will find our feet falling beneath the waves. In those times when we feel ourselves sinking, feeling hopeless or overwhelmed or captivated by the uncertainty of what is ahead, we must remember our goal! We have to remember where we should be focused. In those moments, it is of utmost importance that we learn to lift up our heads, turn away from the distractions and look ahead to Jesus. HE is our goal!

Questions are critical! Don’t be afraid to ask, em!

  • What are my goals right now? Am I confusing my goals with the path God’s calling me to walk?
  • What is the correlation between faith and focus?
  • Can I think of things in my life where I’ve had initial faith, but found that initial faith to be absentee once I actually started to move in the direction my initial faith led me?
  • Examining my inconsistencies, do I see correlation with where I am focusing in life?


Happy Monday!

Hopefully, you’re enjoying this reprieve from the frigid weather! Today I'll dispense with the pleasantries and get right into this week's Inbox Inspiration.

Hebrews is where we’re anchoring things in this week’s inbox note. 

Scholars haven’t been able to come to a consensus on who wrote Hebrews - a letter to a group of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. However, they do seem to pretty much all agree that The Letter to the Hebrews is the most eloquently written book in all of the New Testament. It was probably written around 63-64 CE, according to most historians.

One thing is clear about the writer of this letter. Whoever they were, they knew all about Jewish history and culture! This writer masterfully ties a bow around the intricacies of narrative in the Old Testament, longstanding Jewish customs and their fulfillment in the coming of Jesus Christ. It is clear that this author is concerned that his brethren in Jerusalem are missing the point of Christian faith. By chapter 4, the writer of Hebrews is full steam ahead with his eloquent letter, passionately entreating his friends to come back to faith in Christ and warning them against sliding back to works-based religion. 

Chapter 4 of Hebrews resounds the same theme over and over again: rest.  

The writer exhorts his friends:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:9-11

Now, for me this book of Hebrews hits hard - especially in this chapter. I’ve been around Christian life and culture ever since I can remember. The impression of Christian life that I obtained through the years was apparently a lot like that of these Christians in Jerusalem. My impression was that my salvation hinged on how I acted; what I did.

According to Hebrews 4, that’s fundamentally wrong.

The Bible is pretty clear - our works don’t add up to jack before the inconceivable holiness of God! (see Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23, Titus 3:5, for example.) So, the writer of Hebrews tells his friends to eighty-six the religious posturing through works and rest through faith in Jesus Christ. Put another way, the writer exhorts his buddies to stop putting their faith in their actions and put that faith in the action Jesus took at the cross and at resurrection.

He spells it out to the Hebrew Christians this way:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

The passage tells us to rest. And rest is the perfect word! Let's be straight up about this. Religious posturing is exhausting - mostly because it isn’t usually for God at all. If we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that a lot (if not all) of our posturing is about how other people see us; not God.

I had to come to this conclusion for myself, as a Christian. I had to get rid of some stuff I’d learned growing up. I had to get rid of the “be good or God will get you” mentality. I’ve finally learned how to rest in God’s grace!

It’s a funny thing about resting in His sovereign grace. What I’ve found is this: as I rest more on God’ grace through Jesus and less on my own maneuvering and posturing I find my heart to be more conformed to his ways. As my heart is more conformed, my actions follow suit - not through my effort, but through His work in me. This remarkable rest that God encourages us to enjoy isn’t just a rest that enables salvation. This rest renews us and transforms us!

Not to get all into theological weeds here, but the doctrine of regeneration - the teaching that accepting Jesus Christ fundamentally changes us into new people (check out 2 Corinthians 5:17,) -  is often misunderstood in Christianity. A lot of us have come to believe that once we are saved we are supposed to regenerate ourselves! Hebrews 4 flies in the face of this assumption. Hebrews 4 tells us to enter into the rest of God. When we enter into his rest, we come to realize what regeneration really is. We learn that it is a complete transformation - not just of what we do, but who we are in our hearts! 

As we set out into this week, let’s take reconsider our religious posturing and try resting in God’s glorious grace - in honesty and earnestness before him. Instead of trying to work to please him, let’s allow him to work his pleasure in us. I’ll bet we find that resting in him is more productive than anything we could ever do on our own!

Here are our questions for the week:

  • Do I try to earn God’s favor by my work, behavior, actions, etc?
  • If I do, what kinds of things do I do to posture myself before God?
  • Being honest with myself: is my posturing really for God or for other people?
  • What would “rest” look like in my life?


Good Evening and Happy Monday!

I hope this snowy Monday is going well, for you. Please excuse the lateness of today's email. It's be a busy morning. Nonetheless, I'm happy to be back to Inbox Inspiration after taking a week off from writing while traveling to visit family in Kentucky. 

This week, let's talk about one word: enough. 

In Philippians 4, Paul discusses his situation with his friends in Philippi, Greece. Paul had established the church at Philippi himself, during his 2nd missionary excursion. (Learn more about that voyage in Acts 16:1-40.) And he writes them this particular letter while incarcerated. Most scholars agree he writes from prison in Rome between 60 and 62 CE. 

After addressing divisions in the Philippian church, and tackling theological issues the church was facing, Paul gives the Philippians an update about his personal situation and thanks them for their generosity. This update portion of chapter 4 is the place where we are focusing this week. The fact that Paul writes this from jail is particularly important. So keep that in mind. 

Paul tells the Philippian church: 

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. - Philippians 4:11-13 NIV 

The Philippian church had a history of looking out for Paul. They'd sent him help when he was in Macedonia and Thessolonica. It even appears that Paul sends this letter to the church by way of an emissary, (Epaphroditus,) they'd sent to deliver help to him while he was in prison in Rome. Paul thanks the church, but he reminds them, "I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." Skip down a couple of verses and Paul sums up his contentment - even in prison - with one of the most famous verses in all scripture: 

I can do all things through Christ Who strengthens me - Philippians 4:13 KJV 

The NIV says it this way

I can do all THIS through Him who strengthens me. 

In other words, from his prison cell, Paul proclaims to the Philippians - a church who has just sent him aide and comfort - "I'm good. Jesus is enough!" 

Astonishing! From jail? Not me! I'd be asking "When are you sending Epaphroditus back?" I probably would have sent back a list of "needed items" for them to send to me with the next care package, too!  

Not Paul, though. He even turns it up a notch after this. He proceeds to tell the Philippians that not only will God supply his needs in prison, but He will also supply theirs, too! (Philippians 4:19) 

This is incredible! Paul asserts that in whatever circumstance, whatever situation he has learned to let go of his desires and let Jesus be enough! He follows up this affirmation with the key to understanding how do to this; how to let Jesus be enough. He reassures his generous friends that God will supply their needs - everything required of them to complete His perfect will. He asserts that Jesus  is enough! 

Paul doesn't promise these folks cushy lives. If you read the rest of Paul's writing, you know he didn't live a cushy life himself, and neither did many of his Christian contemporaries. He doesn't promise  "and my God shall make you rich." He doesn't say "and my God shall give you all that you ever want." He affirms that God is sovereign to supply, yes. But implicit in that affirmation is the truth that if God is sovereign to supply needs, He is sovereign to assess them, too - on His own terms. He knows what we need and He gives it to us according to His own wisdom and His infinite riches.  

The hard part for us here is recognizing that God has a better grasp on our needs than we do. So, a huge part of enjoying the supreme sufficiency of God is recognizing our own insufficiency. We have to submit ourselves to the fact that He knows everything about us - even things we haven't learned yet. He assess our needs according to His plan and He meets them.  We can be assured as His beloved children, that as He assesses those needs His word says that  He will never withhold any good thing - anything that is progressive to His purposes for us - from us if we're walking in His ways, (Psalm 84:11). 

As we grow in His grace, we realize that what God has provided to use through Christ is enough. And as we mature in Him we learn to not only accept this fact, but also to be contented by God's glorious sufficiency! 

Here are some questions for this week 

  • What do I think I need?
  • Am I "letting" God be enough by deferring to His sovereign perspective?
  • When I think about Philippians 4:13 do I only think Christ strengthens me to do stuff I want to do?
  • Do I believe my will and God's will always align? If no, which will defines the needs God promises to supply?
  • Do I really believe God's going to give me what I need to fulfill my purpose in His will?

Winning... Duh!

Good morning and Happy Monday!

Today's email might rock some theological boats. I know it rocked mine! Let's start with this question: how "in control" is God? Don't answer this too quickly! Think through your answer. If you're like me, this inquiry might be a little unsettling. Again, how "in control" do you believe God is?

There's a famous Biblical promise that gives us a context for considering this question. It is one of the most quoted scriptures in all of Christianity - Romans 8:28

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 KJV)

This usually is where we start shouting, right? But not so fast! This is something to be excited about, true. But it isn't for obvious reasons. It isn't as simple as it sounds. This verse has very deep implications and raises key questions about the nature of God. Is God passively permitting things to happen and working them for our good on the back end? Or, is God actively working through things toward the good ending He promises?

We'll need to take a look at a few other Biblical references to get some clarity here.

We all know the story of Joseph and the grotesque actions of his brothers who sold him into slavery. Without a doubt this is one of the great examples of things working together for the good. After being sold into slavery and a few other dramatic twists, Joseph became the second most powerful man in the ancient world! At the very end of the story, Joseph says something that gives us a clue about how things worked out the way they did. He says:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. (Genesis 50:20 NIV)

Joseph says "God intended," not "God permitted." Intention is motive for action, right? God's intentions always accompany His action. Let's check somewhere else - Job.

Usually we read Job as God "allowing" evil to happen to Job. But a careful reading of the story reveals that God did more than just allow the Devil's testing of Job. The Devil didn't ask"Hey God, can I have a go a your boy Job?" God INVITED him to do it!

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.” (Job 1:8 NIV)

Job's family and friends knew what was up, too. The Bible says they recognized that God was behind what was happening to poor old Job.

All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring. (Job 42:11 NIV)

These are just two examples. The scriptures are full of these illustrations of God actively working through bad stuff. The language is consistent. Over and over again we read about God's intentions in the worse situations. Again, intentions are motives for action! 

I know this challenges what a lot of us have been taught about God - that He doesn't get His hands dirty by involving Himself in the bad things that happen in our lives; that He merely allows bad to happen. But the Bible is pretty clear that God is the first and the last of EVERYTHING. 

So, you must be asking "Ok, thanks Jon for telling me God is behind all of the troubling stuff in my life. Now, what's your point? Why does this matter? What difference does this make?" Glad you asked! 

Let's take this framework for understanding God's working one step further - the cross! It is quite clear that God did not just allow the cross to happen. It was a part of His plan all along. All of that ugliness on His son's shoulders; God did not just allow it. He willed it! This way of considering how God works makes the cross even MORE profound - just as it makes our challenges and trials more meaningful. 

This is fantastic news for we who love God! That Romans 8:28 promise becomes something more, now. We don't have to wait to see how God works these things out in the end. He IS working IN these things! We've got ground to stand on, here. These challenges we face aren't happening TO us. They are happening FOR us! 

Later in that same chapter of Romans the Apostle Paul asserts: 

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  (Romans 8:35-37 NIV)

He says " in all these things" - not over, not through, not even after. IN all these things! Because we accept the absolute sovereignty of God we are conquerors IN life's challenges as believers. We know that in every trial we are winning because we know God is at work IN the circumstances we face. He's not passively "letting things happen," to us. We are absolutely His through His Son! Because of that, He is shaping everything that happens to us to perfect us and His plan! That's how we know that all things are working together for our good! 

This is blessed assurance! What a wonderful blessing to face every challenge with this unshakable rock beneath our feet! God is absolutely in control! Even when our friends look on, watching us grapple with heart wrenching challenges, wondering how we cope, we can quote Charlie Sheen in all seriousness! Because Of Christ, God Himself is for us and because He is for us, IN all these things we are in fact... "WINNING!"

Here are some questions to help keep you focused on God's absolute sovereignty through this week:

  • What circumstances am I currently facing that seem outside God's sphere of influence?
  • How would my reaction to circumstances change if I reframed my perspective? What if I recognized that God is at work for me IN these circumstances?
  • Do I assume that God is not at work in situations because I don't get what I want or because situations feel uncomfortable?
  • How would my choices about the things I pursue in life change if my of perspective God's sovereignty changed?




Who likes hearing this word? I know I certainly don't. What is it about waiting that makes us cringe? Most of us, (if we are honest with ourselves,) suck at being patient. Whether it's in a line at the grocer or for God to move on something we've requested, waiting (or being patient) is among our least favorite things to do.

Apparently God is a comedian, because He's put particular importance on patience. Great! One of the things we like to do the least is one of the things He pleasures in most. The Bible isn't ambiguous on this. If it is impossible to please God without faith it is just as impossible to really love Him (or anyone else) without patience. It is, afterall, the first law of love (See 1 Corinthians 13:4).

If you're like me, whenever I try to impose the discipline of patience on myself the outcome isn't pretty. It starts with frustration. This usually starts with me getting ticked off with just the idea of having to wait. After this first stage of my impatient tantrum, I usually start to get frustrated with everyone and everything included in the waiting proces - including myself. But that isn't the ugly part, really. Things take a turn toward the ugly when frustration gives way to me trying to force things and make them happen. You do the same thing, right? C'mon! It isn't just me!

When I try to force things I always make a mess. I almost always wish I had let patience win over my frustration. But, how do we get there? How do we get to a place where we let patience win?

Patience is a fruit - a proof of the Spirit's presence in us. This is the good news in all of this! Patience is not a fruit of our own spiritual awesomeness. Instead, it is a byproduct of God working in us. He must produce it in us. We can't do it on our own.

Letting patience win starts with openness to the Holy Spirit. Letting patience win is actually letting the Spirit win, and that victory starts long before the test of patience even surfaces. We have to come to terms with the truth that it is His power in us that makes things happen and not our own.

When we lean hard on the Holy Spirit, we find something special in waiting. We learn to observe the process that plays out during our periods of patience. Abraham's faith grew during his long wait for his promised son, Isaac. David developed deep relationship with God while he was on the run from Saul, waiting to become king of Israel. Jesus grew in favor with God and men while working in the carpentry shops of Nazareth, waiting for His ministry on earth to begin.

There is always something special in the waiting period. In fact, the word of God says that we are perfected by the work patience does in us (See James 1:4 ). When we learn to listen intently to the Spirit of God within us, He reveals precious epiphanies, truths, relationships and experiences through our periods of patience! When we lean on His presence, patience becomes more joyous. When we are open to Him, we become enthralled with the experience of the process and less aggravated with the drudgery of waiting.

I really believe this is what Isaiah meant:

But those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don't get tired, the walk and don't lag behind.

- Isaiah 40:31

So, this week let's meditate intently on patience. Let's make a point of looking around while we're waiting - whether we're waiting for a slow download or waiting for something in our prayer lives. Let's commit together to take a look at what's going on while we're waiting. If we take our time and count on the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, I'll bet we'll find some pretty incredible discoveries!

Here are some questions to consider this week. Hopefully these will help fine tune your focus on patience:


  • What have I asked God for, or what has God personally promised me?
  • Has He called me to be patient for the thing I've asked Him to deliver?
  • Have I been trying to force God's hand or rush the outcome that I want?
  • What kind of results do I get from rushing outcomes? Do I get what I ultimately have prayed for by forcing things?
  • What opportunities to grow and learn might I have missed as a result of my impatience?