Devotional: His Vision, His Way, His Timing

“Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’” (Gen. 22:2)

Today’s devotional talks about how God works. First, He inspires us with a vision or calling that consumes and excites us. Then, before it becomes a reality – and it will be a reality, because it is God’s will – there is a test in the deep valley of humiliation. This is where achieving the vision seems discouraging, there doesn’t seem to be any activity or support in making it happen, and there is temptation on trying to go ahead of Him and achieve it by your own means.

Such was the case when Abraham received God’s promise that he would be the father of many nations, and because God’s timing wasn’t Abraham’s timing – and because his wife got older and older and way past childbearing condition – he took the matter into his own hands and had a son with Sarah’s servant. He tried to fulfill His word in the wrong way.

God – I am very susceptible to taking action and going without You; and while it’s well-meaning and a display of really wanting to serve the Kingdom, it’s short circuiting Your effectiveness, my results have a lesser chance of success, I am not leaving room for miracles, and it’s playing God and thinking I know better than my Heavenly Father. Please give me the patience to go at your pace; and have the faith that His will, done His way, will never lack His seeing it through to fruition and so much more.

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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.

Devotional: God’s timing

“But the angel said, ‘I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time – God’s time.” (Luke 1:20)

This story talks about a priest named Zachariah who – along with his wife – feared God and had a clear conscience in upholding His law and loving the Lord; and how the angel Gabriel had come to him during his priestly duties to give him the good news that he would have a son. Zachariah didn’t believe him because he and his wife were way too old to have children – even if the news was from God – and so Gabriel muted him until the day God delivered the son he announced.

Although verbally and consciously I am certain of God’s provision on His timing; but I’m pretty sure there are times I get ancy and exhibit disbelief in my actions. I go on ahead and do things I’m certain God will give me, but on my own time and terms. I am impatient – which is partial obedience. And I know that partial obedience is the same as full-on disobedience. And time and time again, it either doesn’t work, it doesn’t work to its fullest potential, it does work and creates an ego that destroys me later, and it’s inconsistent and unreliable. I’m tired of not doing it right the first time, and tired of getting wishy-washy results – and they always happen when God’s not at the heart of it all.

Lord – in this story, Gabriel had to mute Zachariah’s ability to speak. I pray for the strength to be able to mute my own feelings and completely, wholeheartedly, and wholespiritedly trust You on not only what You’ve promised to provide for me, but that it will come right on time when I need it most.

Devotional: Purpose versus provision

“For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Chris in God.” (Col. 3:3)

A great reminder about how things are prioritized here on Earth, and how God does things above. I easily get tempted to go after provision first, instead of the Provider. Which – if I say it that way – doesn’t make sense, right?

It’s like trying to chase a few bucks and having to do it over and over again; versus finding the ATM machine itself that will always dispense.

God promises that if we seek Him first, provision for all of our needs and more will be taken care of. He has all of the answers we will need in business, health, relationships, and finances – and they are waiting on the other side of faith and going after God’s heart. Not only that, we will experience peace and life and fulfillment of the ultimate purpose that God has put in my life to do/have/be.

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: What can God do through you?

This is part of a series called “Devotionals.”

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My family and I went to church this past Sunday and was met with an incredible message. Like usual.

Saddleback Church is currently teaching angle of the Bible called “Everyday Heroes” – where God takes ordinary people like you and I and equips us to do meaningful work with His power, and not our own, limited capabilities. This squashes the excuses we give ourselves and others to why we can’t do things that matter, and eliminates the roadblocks to change our lives and that of others.

Below are a few verses from the Bible, takeaways from Pastor Buddy Owens, and my commentary on them.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us years ago.” (Eph. 2:10)

The call to be saved is the call to serve. When you accept Jesus into your life, your priorities change from being worldly, selfish, and/or short-sighted goals; to loving and serving others. And love is one of the only things that lasts far beyond our human lives and into eternity.

“He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” (Eph. 3:20)

This is a reminder that we need to stop making decisions based on our own abilities or knowledge – they equal to only a grain of salt compared to the power and wisdom that God makes available to us if we tap into His grid (the Bible).

Not using it is like driving a car past a gas station on every corner, never stopping in, and running it until it’s dead on the road.

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, and for seven years He gave them into the hands of the Midianites.” (Judges 6:1)

God is a loving parent who will take away things and put me in difficult situations to build my character, change my bad habits, and learn to depend on Him instead of other idols (possessions, power, prestige, etc.). This verse scares me a bit because I know I have to learn the hard way for many things. I’m super stubborn like that.

“The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” (Judges 6:12)

I love this verse – it gives me a lot of hope.

For context – this story is about Gideon, who is the youngest child in the weakest family in the smallest clan of Israel. By social status measures, he was an absolute nobody; but with no military training or no noteworthy strengths or skills of any kind, God still called him “mighty.” The reason why is because he didn’t fight the Lord’s battle on his own merit or with his own weapons, but humbled himself and let God’s power fight the fight.

And because of that, his small army of 300 men were able to defeat 135,000 enemy soldiers. That could only be won on faith and with God’s help.

“‘But sir,’ Gideon replied, ‘if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us into the hand of Midian.'” (Judges 6:13)

This is the part in the Bible where Gideon complains about why his nation – the Israelites, supposedly God’s people – are being oppressed and why it seems as if their Heavenly Father has left them for dead. This reminds me of times where I feel discouraged, alone, angry, and neglected when something doesn’t happen the way I expected, or I don’t get what I worked hard for or did the right thing to achieve.

Pastor Buddy shares that Gideon doesn’t have the right perspective and isn’t looking at it from both sides. While he’s trying to victimize himself and shift blame, he forgets that his people have lost their way as well – in worshipping other idols, committing countless immoral transgressions, and not listening to His guidance. And like a loving parent who wants what’s best over what’s comfortable or pleasant for their child, God needs to take things away in order for their children to realize what they’ve done.

Gideon also forgot about the process and only cared about results and his circumstances, and that’s something I want to remember in my own situations. I need to first hold myself accountable for wrongdoings that may have caused my struggles in the first place; understand that God is putting me in the desert to build muscle, depend on Him, and teach me something valuable; and have faith that He is working everything in my life for the good.

There was also a section in the Bible where Gideon thought he heard God speak to him, but he wasn’t sure, and conducted a few tests with fleece and the ground. I won’t get into details of that exercise, but what I wanted to focus on was that Gideon didn’t doubt God, but he doubted his ability to hear Him.

It’s a healthy practice to find out whether ideas are truly answered prayer or not; and that I’m not trying to force my own agenda and sell myself and others on it, or that I am being seduced by the devil. That happens a lot.

“The Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?” (Judges 6:14)

When there is an idea that you are inspired by and know it’s answered prayer (for me – I get excited and consumed by a thought, it’s consistent with the Word, the current circumstances validate it, and it’s an opportunity to serve others), it most likely will be so big and far-fetched that you’ll feel incapable of achieving it.

Be excited to know that if the calling isn’t big enough, you’re not living by faith; if it scares you half to death, you’re probably on the right track; and if God has compelled you to pursue it, go with what you have and He will provide the resources needed to carry it out.

“If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” (Ecc. 11:4)

Don’t make excuses or wait for circumstances or levels of comfort in order to jump in when you know it’s what you should be doing. God isn’t looking for ABILITY; He is only looking for AVAILABILITY.

As Pastor Rick Warren says: “God’s will done God’s way never lacks God’s help.” If He’s sending you, then He’s obviously confident that you’ll get the job done, and I’d put my bet on that.

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.

Devotional: Walking with God 24/7

This is part of a series called “Devotionals.”

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“Enoch walked with God.” (Gen. 5:24)

In Marketplace Leaders, Os Hillman writes that “the true test of a person’s spiritual life and character is not what he does in the extraordinary moments of life, but what he does during the daily grind of everyday life when there is nothing tremendous or exciting happening.”

From my ability to remember anything until now, my dad has always told me pray as the first thing I do when I wake up, the last thing I do when I go to bed, and every moment in between. Zen Habits taught me to be present – even in the most simple activities like washing dishes, taking out the trash, and handling an email. And my time at Saddleback Church has taught me that anything and everything is a form of worship…if I make it so.

All of this has strengthened my resolve to walk and talk with Him all through the day – about my wins, losses, struggles, confusions, my moments of happiness and sadness, and/or any random topic that comes to mind. I want to speak with Him like I would any other family member, friend, or someone I just met whom I crave to learn more about and befriend. I feel horrible when I only come to Him when I’m knee-deep in some altercation; He still helps me out of it and stays with me through it like an unconditionally loving Father…but that’s not the kind of relationship I want to communicate to Him.

I want to seek God with all of my heart, body, mind, and soul the way David did; the way Enoch did. It’s the relationship that matters the most to me – and I pray that You’ll help me know it and live it at 100%, 100% of the time.

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.