Devotional: Having faith in spite of circumstances

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He can direct your paths.” (Prov. 5:5-6)

This devotional is a reminder that there are times – most times – where circumstances happen out of my control. We may have taken a wrong turn; someone had made a poor decision that affected us; or things just hit us like a ton of bricks out of no where.

These are moments where we need to either activate our faith to trust Him, activate our faith to move forward, or both – and they’re normally painful and never easy to do.

But we need to remember that God is sovereign, you can’t lean on your own understanding, thank God in advance for His bigger plan that will be revealed, and pray for the peace that surpasses understanding. He will direct our paths and we will be getting out of this desert period.

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Saddleback: “Finding Hope Again” by Kay Warren

Notes I took over the weekend from an amazing message by Kay Warren. Hope you find them helpful in your own battles as they do for me.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:35, 37-39)

Resilience is a set of skills that can be learned in traumatic events, strained relationships, serious health problems, crushing disappointments, unchangeable circumstances, and painful losses.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Rom. 5:3-4)

“Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” (Job 5:7)

“In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33b)

“My days have passed; my plans have failed; my hope is gone. But my friends say night is daylight; they say that light is near; but I know I remain in darkness. My only hope is the world of the dead, where I will lie down to sleep in the dark.” (Job 17:11-13)

The Bible has already given us the heads up that life will be hard; there is no candy coating that. But God does give you all the resources needed to stand firm in your faith and your fight.

“I told you these things so that you can have peace in me. In this world you will have trouble, but be brave! I have defeated the world!” (John 16:33)

“Do not allow this world to mold you in its own image. Instead, be transformed from the inside out by the renewing of your mind. As a result, you will be able to discern what God wills and whatever God finds good, pleasing, and complete.” (Rom. 12:2)

“By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.” (Psalm 119:105)

I can validate this verse; as I am reminded and recalibrated every day upon reading my Bible verses and the TGIF (Today God Is First) daily devotional in general.

Although there are undesirable circumstances in my life that cannot be changed, I can change my responses to them – and that’s the most powerful thing (and the only thing, sometimes) that I can control. I am fooling myself if I think I can do anything else; so I should focus on what I truly have full dominion over. Here are a few actions I can take:

1. Expand my connections. We tend to isolate, but this isn’t healthy.
“A friend is always a friend, and relatives are born to share our troubles.” (Prov. 17:17)

2. Believe you can handle anything with God.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:13)

3. Avoid expecting the worse (“catastrophizing”).
“Lord, when doubt fills my mind, when my heart is in turmoil, quiet me and give me renewed hope and cheer.” (Psalm 94:19)

4. Practice self-care.

5. Seek self-discovery.
“We can also learn from insults and hard knocks.” (Lam. 3:30)

6. Practice gratitude.
“Plant your roots in Christ and let Him be the foundation for your life. Be strong in your faith, just as you were taught. And be grateful.” (Col. 2:7)

7. Decide that I am not held captive, and that nothing can destroy me.

“You have become ‘more than conquerors’ when you make your pain and scars serve YOU” – Kay Warren

Devotional: Desert training

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Pictured: An hour outside of Dubai

This is part of a series called “Devotionals.”

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“O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Ps. 63:1)

I didn’t think about it this way, but today’s devotional brought up the fact that a lot of God’s work in us happens in the desert. My mind probably just dismissed the setting because there are a lot of regions in the Middle East that are desert land, and there was no more to it.

But if I look deeper, I’ll understand the physical and symbolic meaning of this environment. David wrote part of the Book of Psalms while in the desert of Judah, hiding from his son Absalom who was trying to replace him as king of Israel. Joseph was thrown into a deep pit in the desert, and that started a long journey towards his eventual ruling over Egypt. Jesus was in the desert in prayer while he was being tempted by all sorts of comforts, pleasures, and luxuries meant to derail His purpose on Earth.

Not that being in the desert is fun, but the next time I am in difficult circumstances, I’d like to have a different perspective of why things are happening (or not happening) the way they are. God is building my patience, my faith, my character, and in the absence of resources He is teaching me to depend on Him for provision, purpose, and prosperity (I like how I got the three “P’s” in there lol!).

Devotional: Brokenness is necessary

This is part of a series called “Devotionals.”

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“Prepare it with oil on a griddle; bring it well-mixed and present the grain offering broken in pieces as an aroma pleasing to the Lord.” (Lev. 6:21)

There is a common denominator among people in the Bible who went on to do incredible things that changed history. It happened when Paul was struck on his way to Damascus, and was blind for days. It happened to Joseph when he was sold into slavery by his own brothers and experienced many more hardships along the way. The stories go on and on…and the main theme throughout is that God can only exhibit His power when we are broken.

What scares me a little bit is that this brokenness can’t be summoned on our own, or by demand. God needs to break us, and it’s never a comfortable, predictable, happy, or desirable experience.

I fear being broken through loss of a loved one; losing all of my possessions; feeling without a purpose; being betrayed; and whatever else my imagination runs wild with, that I currently enjoy and am thankful for.

This is going to happen no matter what, and no one who seeks the Lord is immune from it. With that in mind, I can only hope to have the strength to accept it, let the Lord bear the pain with me, and allow Him to transform it for good – and the sooner the better. What’s worse than being broken is being in denial or angry, and inadvertently being the bottleneck for letting God heal me and equip me for something more meaningful.

The next time my world comes crashing down, or the fear of it plagues me…I will do my best to thank the Lord in advance, since He’s about to give me bigger purpose; pray for the peace that surpasses understanding; and dive in.

Leaving my 10-year career at Fransmart

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This picture was taken at a very pivotal time in my life. I was at the 14th Factory Museum in Los Angeles with my family (a MUST visit – even if you’re not an art fanatic), and while I was admiring the exhibit, I wasn’t entirely present. My mind was immersed in one of the most difficult decisions of my life.

For the past few months, I was feeling conflicted about my job. Which was the strangest thing, because I love the work I do at Fransmart – acquiring small food concepts and growing them into global restaurant chains, and helping entrepreneurs and investors win in the process.

It didn’t make sense that I felt pulled in a different direction. My job was rewarding on so many levels.

After a lot of time in prayer, thinking, and discussions with my wife and other loved ones…I felt a calling that told me it was time to leave Fransmart and put more chips on my entrepreneurial aspirations.

Telling you I was nervous was the understatement of the century. I felt tremors coursing through veins just thinking about leaving. While The Halal Guys was growing by leaps and bounds, we haven’t taken a distribution for two years; all profits went to either repaying our investors or reinvesting into fortifying our organization and new store development. Fransmart was my family’s main source of income; I love the company, my CEO Dan Rowe, my teammates, and my senior post; and I have insurance, a retirement plan, and other perks. I felt stupid and crazy for having these thoughts.

But if I look back at all of the game-changing moments in my life – leaving college DURING MY LAST SEMESTER BEFORE GRADUATION to pursue my first restaurant; being employed by Fransmart when I was trying to franchise my own restaurant; going through a difficult divorce after only six months of marriage; meeting my wife at church when I wasn’t looking; her kids adopting me before I later realized I couldn’t have kids; embarking on The Halal Guys as the largest franchise partner in the chain….I’m reminded that none of these events were ever planned, that these couldn’t happen by my own power, and that they were not decisions I would’ve normally made had it not been for God’s persistent calling and provision.

I put up a fight with myself and God. “Why?!” “This is my main bread and butter until the revenue from my other projects eclipse what I do at Fransmart. Isn’t this a little premature?” And “I’m able to handle multiple projects at the same time; there’s no need to leave if I don’t have to!”

Time and time again, without fail, and in the Bible as well as in my life…thinking I know better than God always fails. Not following His will always fails. Delayed obedience is still disobedience, and always fails as well.

So back to the museum story, where this picture was taken…I was moving from one exhibit to the next, where I was directed to exit the indoor part of the museum. The internal conflict of whether I should leave or stay with Fransmart was hit in the face with a sign that said “EXIT” and “MORE THIS WAY.”

It wasn’t even part of the exhibit, but it was the most important artwork for me. It helped tipped the scale towards leaving. It was God’s way of yelling at me – all other subtle whispers and mediums to move me didn’t shake my indecision for months until this moment.

That night, I submitted my letter of resignation to Fransmart, and the new adventure began.

Ten years of service. Ten years of working long hours. Ten years of traveling all over the globe. Ten years invested into a career that I thought would last until retirement. But as the investment disclaimer always says: “Past performance is no indication of future performance;” success and comfort zones both breed complacency; and God tends to strip you of the life you knew so that you can depend on Him, build spiritual muscle, and give you more purpose.

I’m scared out of my wits for leaving – but it’s proof that I was dependent on my job more than Him. I’ve learned that when I’m scared, I am on the right track. And the Bible teaches me that there is only enough room for one of the two – fear or love. If I replace this fear with love, then I’ll remember that God cares for me unconditionally, is much wiser than my own knowledge, and has a plan bigger and more meaningful than I can ever imagine. So with that encouragement from Him…I am super excited.

I am thankful to have left my employer on good terms, as I plan on doing independent consulting for Fransmart; but now I have a clean slate to use my experiences, talents, and passions I’ve gathered along the way to help people the way I believe God has called me to help. I never really had a plan to transition to, but that’s a good thing – since I’m letting Him lead me; I just need to be comfortable with uncertainty. I’ve already received some excitement for my departure and opportunities from my network, and so having a clean slate definitely makes room for interesting and meaningful work (it also can attract jobs I shouldn’t be doing, too; but I’m trying to create boundaries in front of them).

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)

Here’s to the end of one chapter; and on to the next.

Devotional: Proactive and reactive dependence on Him

This is part of a series called “Devotionals.”

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“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” (Gen. 32:24)

This part of the story in the Bible takes place long after Jacob had fled his family for screwing over his brother Esau (he conned his brother into giving him his birthright, and poached their father’s blessing meant for his brother), and was now in a situation where he’d have to face him again. He was very fearful that Esau would take revenge on him and his family for what he did; and pleaded with God for mercy.

Jacob couldn’t use his own power to get out of this situation. He was so scared of encountering his brother that he refused to move from his hiding place without God’s protection and presence – to the point where he wrestled with one of God’s angels and wouldn’t let him go until God agreed to watch over him.

Do things need to get really bad before we depend on God with all of our mind, heart, soul, and body? While it’s amazing that God’s love is unconditional and He will always be there even when we neglect Him, it’s unfair to our Father for only coming to Him when we need him (imagine trying to do that with your parent, spouse, best friend, sibling, etc.), and you’d be selling yourself short by not having his power, provision, and protection from the beginning to end of all your circumstances.

Instead of making prayer your “Hail Mary” strategy when you’ve exhausted all of your other resources, why not make consulting with God your first line of defense and attack against difficult, disappointing, uncertain times?

Throwback: Reframe the seeming disadvantages

This is part of a series called “Throwback” – where I revive journal entries and blog posts written/posted on this very day, years ago.

Written on May 23rd, 2014 (three years ago), after reading a passage in “The Obstacle Is The Way” by Ryan Holiday and being inspired to share it. 

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Countless stories exist where the biggest successes in people’s lives were BECAUSE of their alleged failures, difficulties, & handicaps.

No one wants to be born poor or in an abusive/nonexistent family or etc. but it doesn’t give you a free pass NOT to respond in a healthy way. Which is a beautiful thing, since that is in our control and the wild card – regardless of where you came from or what you’ve been through.

What kind of disadvantages do I think I have? And how can I recompose them for my own success?

  • Lack of detail – I can be strategic and inspire a team of detail-oriented people that I surround myself with;.
  • Lack of focus – I can jump-start many projects and give people many opportunities to execute and grow.
  • Not smart – I can easily recruit people more brilliant than I am, and inspire anyone and everyone.
  • Grew up poor – I am resourceful, content, and have drive.
  • Divorced – I can minister others who are at risk, are going through, or have already been a victim of broken relationships.
  • Impulsive – I can take risks, execute, move quickly, I only focus on things I’m passionate about.