Fear? Not Me!

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV
Fear may be the most destructive and demoralizing weapon in our enemy’s arsenal.  The deceiver uses fear to discourage, to demean, to distract and to detour.
Author J. Ruth Glender tells us, “Fear has a large shadow, but he himself is small.”
Fear stops our steps of faith.  
Fear influences our choices.  
Fear can change direction.  
Fear can eat away our confidence.  
Fear can tear apart relationships.
Paul, as an early church statesman needed to encourage a younger church servant.  He emphatically tells Timothy that fear is not from God.  That needs repeating . . . FEAR IS NOT FROM GOD.
In every attacking instance of fear (not from God), there is available immediate faith (from God).  The enemy wants to tear us down with fear while God wants to build us up with faith.
Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “Fear defeats more people than any other thing in the world.”
Fear says you can’t, faith says you can.  
Fear is doubt, faith is belief.  
Fear declares it’s impossible, faith does the impossible.  
Fear says God is not with you, faith says God is always with you.
God gives us His Spirit . . .  and His spirit is power, passion (love) and a new perspective (sound mind).
We Have His Presence.  Can you picture a young boy being intimidated by a playground bully?  The boy is fearful and frantic.  The bully’s intimidation is intense.  At just the right moment, the boy’s older brother walks up behind him and doesn’t say a word . . . the threat is over, the bully leaves, and young boy understands that his older brother’s “got his back”.  God always has our back.  In every encounter, His presence is evident.  Isaiah reminds us, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.” (‭Is‬ ‭41‬:‭10‬ NLT)
We Have His Power.  The psalmist writes, “The Lord is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Ps 27:1 NKJV).  David knows about the strength and power of God.  God’s power provides him with courage and confidence as he faces Goliath.  It’s the same power we receive and that resides in each of us as we face our giants.  Paul reminds us, “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” (‭Eph‬ ‭3‬:‭20‬ ESV)
We Have His Passion.  Paul records, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18 NIV)  Punishment thrives on fear . . . perfect love drives fear away.  God loves us and that will never change.  The apostle reminds us of the permanence of God’s passion, “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.” (‭Rom‬ ‭8‬:‭38‬ NLT)
We Have His Perspective.  Fear attacks our feelings.  Feelings attack our faith.  When we stand in paralyzingly fear, we fail to walk in powerful faith.  There are times when we need to change our sight, not our surroundings.  We need a realignment in our perception, not a relocation of our place.  We want to run in fear; God wants us to rest in faith.  Our sound mind is found in our Savior’s model.  Paul tells us the importance of emptying self and embracing serving.  “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (‭Phil‬ ‭2‬:‭5-7‬ NIV)
We Have His Provision.  The looming of tomorrow is often due to the lack of today.  Resources are low.  Extra is extinguished.  We’re living on empty . . . empty accounts, empty tanks, empty pantries.  The enemy tells us we can’t make it, we can’t survive, we can’t provide.  Jesus reminds us, “. . . your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He will give you everything you need.” (Matt 6:32-33‬ ‭NLT) ‬‬  He will guide and He will provide.
Neal A. Maxwell writes, “Don’t fear, just live right.”
No Fear.  Only Faith.  No Fear.  Only Follow.
Be bold.  Be brave.  Your God’s got your back.

A Good Friend

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from My Father I have made known to you.
John 15:13–15 NIV
Several years ago, Israel Houghton wrote a simple chorus. Every time I hear it, it moves me. The lyrics read,
“I am a friend of God. 
I am a friend of God. 
I am a friend of God. 
He calls me friend.”
He’s the King of Kings and He calls us friend. 
He’s the Mighty God and He calls us friend. 
He’s The Great I Am and He calls us friend.
True friendship is never based on what you know, what you have or what you do, but on who you know and who knows you.
Houghton reminds us of our value to God,
“Who am I that you are mindful of me, 
that you hear me, when I call. 
Is it true that you are thinking of me? 
How you love me, it’s amazing.”
God values us. He thinks that much of us and that often of us. He calls us friend.  Solomon wisely reminds us that to have friends, we must “show ourselves friendly”. (Prov 18:24 KJV)
Take few moments and consider how God shows Himself friendly?
He Sacrifices. Jesus tells us the greatest story of love involves sacrificing. He says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (‭Jn ‭15‬:‭13‬ NLT) True friendship is seen in the sacrifice by selfless service. John illustrates God’s incredible and impacting love for us, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (‭1 Jn‬ ‭3‬:‭16‬ NLT)
He Sees. He knows all about us . . . all of our “stuff”. He sees our failures, our faults, our fears and our frailty . . . and He still forgives us. He knows all of our loses and loves us. His eyes never communicate displeasure or disappointment . . . we are His delight. In The Message, Eugene Peterson captures Paul’s thoughts, “I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.” (‭Rom‬ ‭8‬:‭39‬ MSG)
He Seeks. Luke tells us that Jesus “came to seek and save those who are lost.” (‭Luke‬ ‭19‬:‭10‬ NLT) As the Friend who sticks closer than a brother (Prov 18:24), He saves us from our sin, He seeks us at our lowest points, and He surrounds us with His love. Casting Crowns reminds us that Jesus is a friend of sinners. They sing,
“And I was the lost cause and I was the outcast. Yeah.
You died for sinners just like me, a grateful leper at Your feet.”
He passionately pursues us.
He Shares. Jesus shares an abundance of life and an abiding Spirit. His intimacy gives us insight. All that Jesus has learned from His Father, He gives to us. Jesus says, “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature . . . I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.” (‭Jn 15‬:‭11-15‬ MSG)  Philosopher and teacher, Aristotle reminds us, “Friendship is one soul living in two bodies.” Jesus shares His soul with us.
He Swaps. An authentic friend will take your bad day and make it better. Jesus trades our tragedies for triumphs. The prophet Isaiah writes, “To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Is 61:3 NIV)
Harry Nilsson wrote the following lyrics to a 1970’s television program entitled, “The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father”, “People let me tell you ’bout my best friend, he’s a warm hearted person who’ll love me till the end.”
Our God loves us from the beginning of this life to the beginning of all eternity . . . and that’s just the beginning.
Take some time to day to spend with your Best Friend, He will love you to the end.

You’re In It.

I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do.
John 17:15-16 NLT

Get out or get in?
Build a wall or build a bridge?
Run away or reach out?

As Jesus prayed for His followers, He asked His Father for assistance, not abandonment.  God does not remove us from the problems of existing evil. Instead, He reminds us of His presence when we encounter evil.

God wants us to not just survive . . . but to succeed in a hostile, wicked, non-Christ like system.

He provides a plan for insulation, not isolation.  
He desires evangelism, as opposed to escapism.  
He looks for courage on the front lines, not cowardice behind closed doors.

Our Strategy.  We are given ambassadorship in God’s Kingdom for this life.  Paul tells us, “So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making His appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, ‘Come back to God!’” (2 Cor 5:20 NLT). With the role, we have a responsibility.  God doesn’t save us to sit on the sideline.  The apostle writes, “And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to Himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to Him.” (2 Cor 5:18 NLT). Keeping ourselves out of the world can keep us from reaching those in the world.

Our Strength.  In our grapplings, God gives grace.  In our struggles, God gives strength.  When we admit our weakness, He begins to work.  Paul reminds us of Christ’s commitment to each of us, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” In response, the apostle confesses, “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” (2 Cor 12:9 NLT). If we think we can accomplish this task on our own . . . we are mistaken.  Doing Kingdom work and having a Kingdom impact is only done by Kingdom power found in the King’s presence.

Our Security.  The psalmist describes our survival as living in His shelter under His shadow.  He writes, “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Ps 91:1 NLT). David continues, “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” (Ps 91:2 ESV)  A “refuge” is a place of rest. A “fortress” is a place of defense.  Curiously, the Lord does not provide these things . . . He is these things. This is why our dwelling in Him is essential; it is in Him alone that we will find rest and defense.

God’s promised presence is for those who “dwell”, not depart.  To “sit” or “rest” in God states our dependence and secures our deliverance.

In His shelter, we sit under His shadow.  
As we reside with Him, we find rest.  
In His presence, we find protection, preservation and peace.

Albert Einstein said, “A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it is built for.”

God does not save us so we can leave or step away from this world . . . He saves us so we can love and serve those in this world.

We don’t belong to the world . . . we bless it.

We were not made to run away in retreat . . . we were made to run ahead and reconcile.

What Will I Be?

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.
Romans 12:2 NLT

We all want to “fit in”.  We find out what’s trending and we follow.  Many say they want to be “unique” or “stand out”.  Yet, we make choices based in what is popular.  We work at being wanted.

Paul sensed that believers in Rome were wrestling with the same kind of “wanting”.  He encourages them to resist conformity to socially accepted other-kingdom standards.  He writes, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world.”  Instead of being a copy-cat, these believers were commissioned to change into Kingdom-minded thinkers.

When we allow God to change the way we think . . . we are transformed.

Transformation Requires Transparency.  Honest introspection with a Holy God inspires transformation.  The prophet Isaiah experiences his own inadequacies when he falls before an exalted Lord.  He writes, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.” (Is 6:5 NLT). The first step in being transformed is being transparent.  It’s embracing Who He is and who I am.  We become candid with our Creator.  It’s aligning our passion with His purpose.  John writes, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you . . . this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 Jn 2:15, 17 NLT)

Transformation Requires Truth.  We are always looking for the next measurement of meaning.  Because our God is unchanging, His standard of significance never changes. Jesus tells us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6 NLT).  He also says, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 NLT).  Transformation begins with transparency built on honesty with our God and with ourselves.  James E. Faust writes, “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.”

Transformation Requires Trust. Transforming change comes when we have confidence in our Creator. Solomon reminds us, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.”  (Prov 3:5-6 NLT). He becomes our Hope and our Help.  Jeremiah writes, “But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence.”  (Jer 17:7 NLT)

Transformation Requires Time.  This kind of transformation takes time.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  We are a daily work in progress yielding to the will of our Divine Planner.   Paul writes, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phil 1:6 NLT).  What God begins; He will finish.  We give in to Him and He never gives up on us.

Norma Belcher writes, “The more we love God the more we will obey. The more we obey the more we will be aware of the reality of Christ in our lives. The more we are aware of Christ in our lives, the more victory we will experience. The more victory we experience, the less difficult the choices are and the less conflict we have within ourselves.”

The following lyrics by Hillsong remind us of God’s work . . . from the inside . . .

“Your will above all else, My purpose remains.
The art of losing myself in bringing you praise.
Everlasting, your light will shine when all else fades.
Never ending, your glory goes beyond all fame.”

“My heart and my soul, I give you control.
Consume me from the inside out Lord.
Let justice and praise, Become my embrace,
To love you from the inside out.”

Let’s not be conformed . . . let’s be transformed.

So God . . . This Is What I Want.

This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. 1 Corinthians ‭1:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬

I’ve often wondered why God doesn’t ask for my advice.

Don’t I see things that the omnipresent God can’t see? Don’t I know things that the omniscient God doesn’t know? I think I have some really good ideas (not really).

I think I know a great deal, when in reality, I know very little. The pretense of my insight and wisdom promotes my insignificance and waning. Pride effects perception. Saint Augustine reminds us, “We were ensnared by the wisdom of the serpent; we are set free by the foolishness of God.”

God loves us. Yet, His passion does not permit our prominence. Alistair Begg writes, “God’s concern is for His name, His glory, His people, His unfolding eternal purpose and for His Kingdom.” Its all about Him.

So, I’ve been asking . . . what does God want from me?

God Wants My Heart More Than My Help. God appreciates our affection for Him over our assistance to Him. Solomon reminds us, “O my son, give me your heart. May your eyes take delight in following my ways.” (‭‭Prov 23:26‬ ‭NLT‬‬). When we follow God’s ways, we find our work.

God Wants My Surrender More Than My Strengths. I often ask, If God has made me the way I am, then why doesn’t He use my strengths, abilities, aptitudes? I’m still learning . . . God wants us to “give over” control, instead of “take over” control. Paul tells us, “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 long ago.” (‭‭Eph‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬). The Master creates and commissions His masterpiece.

God Wants My Patience More Than My Plans. God’s timetable considers eternity past and eternity promised folding them into His everyday plan. The psalmist, David tells us, “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.” (Ps‬ ‭27:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬). Waiting on God enhances the work of God.

God Wants My Intercession More Than My Intervention. F.B. Meyer writes, “The greatest tragedy of life is not unanswered prayer, but unoffered prayer.” Eugene Peterson, in The Message, gives some insight into the apostle Paul’s teaching, “The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live.” (‭‭1 Tim 2:1-3‬ ‭MSG‬‬) Prayer is the priority which releases God’s power. Woodrow Kroll reminds us, “Fervent prayers produce phenomenal results.”

If there is a foolishness of God, it is still be more intelligent that my greatest insight.

God sees more than I can see.
God understands more than I understand.
God cares more than I care.

So, what God wants . . . I want.

It’s Not Mine

Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him. Psalm 49:16-17 ESV

I’ve been alive for just over six decades and I still struggle with the “wealth” thing. The psalmist has the right perspective . . . we “carry nothing away”.

If we “make it” and can’t take it with us, then we must “manage it”. After all, it’s not ours, it’s His. God entrusts His resources to our care, both personal and organizational. Paul reminds the faith-walking in Corinth, “Now, a person who is put in charge as a manager must be faithful.” (1 Cor 4:2 NLT)

The writer of Hebrews tells us, “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’” (Heb 13:5-6 NLT)

The question can then be asked, “When God blesses us, what should we do?” Do we consume it on pleasures, position and possessions? Or, do we commit it His purposes? Here are some thoughts.

Invest Eternally. Vernon Brewer, President of World Help says, “I try to live my life in such a way that every day I try to accomplish at least one thing that will outlive me and last for eternity.” New Testament author, John reminds us of what will last forever, “Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:15-17 NLT). Investing in the financial market is good . . . investing in the forever market is better.

Invest Expectantly. When we invest in God’s Kingdom, the return is not only powerful, it is promised. Moses encourages the young nation of Israel, “You shall give to Him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to Him, because for this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.” (Deut 15:10 NLT) Giving to God, to His purposes and to His plan will always produce a profit. Solomon imparts a wise principle, “There is one who scatters, and yet increases all the more, and there is one who withholds what is justly due, and yet it results only in want. The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered.” (Prov 11:24 NLT). Take the grace that God has given, monetary or miraculous, and be generous.

Invest Empathetically. I was taught a lesson of the “open hand” several years ago . . . when God places something in your hand, leave it open . . . our tendency is usually to “tighten our grip”. He can remove and replace what’s in our hands, only if they remain open. An open hand is motivated by an open heart. John writes, “But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17 ESV)

Churchill says, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

We can’t take possessions, a position or pleasures with us . . . but, we can take people, His praise and promises. Be defined by your giving more than your gain.

Invest well and share the wealth.

#realwealth #givingliving #trueriches #truewealth #investeternally

A Dad’s Heart

So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. Luke 15:20 NLT

Being a dad is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I’ve been at this “father” thing for almost 40 years. Once I think I have a handle on it, I find that I’ve lost my grip. When I think I have arrived, I realize I’m still on a journey. Pope John XXIII says, “It is easier for a father to have children than for children to have a real father.”

Jesus’ influence and instruction created great interest to those who where not on the “inside”. Luke tells us, “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.” (Luke 15:1 NLT). He was different, He was dynamic, and He was deliberate. He “rattled some cages” because His love was reaching, redeeming and restorative.

This type of compassion causes controversy. The Scripture reads, “This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that He was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them!” (vs 2)

To illustrate the heart of God, Jesus tells three stories. The last parable illustrates a father’s passion and priority . . . it’s the account of The Prodigal Son. There are so many layers of lessons . . . yet, the attitude and action of the father provides a priority of and pathway to parenting.

He Longs. In this story, the prodigal has serious issues. His entitlement leads to his emptiness. He sets aside the learning from his childhood and trades them for a lusty life. Instead of embracing wisdom, he excessively wastes all he has. He screws up and messes up. He has it all and loses it all. Yet, through humility, he turns his heart around. We often focus on the son’s “giving in”, but the bigger story is his dad’s refusal to “give up”. I’m going to presume that the prodigal’s father made it a habit to hope for his son’s return. He was anticipating, waiting and longing. Compassionate grace takes the place of condemning guilt. The prophet Isaiah writes, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.” (Isaiah 30:18 NIV).

He Looks. “And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming.” (Luke 15:20 NLT). I’ve often wondered how many days this dad was looking “a long way off”? I would surmise that searching the horizon each morning and each evening was part of his routine. His father didn’t know the condition of his son’s heart, yet he was still longing and looking for him. Brown writes, “Oh yes, when but the face is turned homeward, though as yet far, far away, our Father recognizes His own child in us, and bounds to meet us—not saying, ‘Let him come to Me and sue for pardon first’, but Himself taking the first step.” When a child is helpless and in destitute despair, a merciful father is scanning the horizon with hope of healing.

He Loves. He longs for his son’s return. He looks for his son’s return. And, he loves his son when he returns. There is not an accounting of wrongs. There is not a time of “I told you so”. Luke reminds us, “Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20 NLT). The father’s acceptance is evident in his affection . . . he runs, he embraces and he kisses him. When the son takes the first step, his father runs the rest of the way. In his work, The Message, Peterson gives insight into Paul’s writings, “It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, He embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on His own, with no help from us!” (Eph 2:4-5 MSG)

John Ciardi writes, “Every parent is at some time the father of the unreturned prodigal, with nothing to do but keep his house open to hope.”

A father’s love . . . he longs, he looks and he loves. As a dad, never give up . . . even if they’ve gone away.

For some, this may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done . . . but . . . it’s the best thing you will ever do.

Looking Inside

Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith. 
2 Corinthians ‭13:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

One of our favorite family movies is “The Lion King”. Now, our grands can enjoy the re-release. At one part, Simba struggles with responsibilities that are before him . . . is he strong enough? Is he able to be all that is required of him? Can he do what he is tasked to do? Mufasa’s image comes to Simba and says, “Look inside yourself, you are more than what you have become.”

At different times in our lives, we may experience comfort and ease or chaos and economic struggle. In each of these times, at every turn and at every intersection of doubt and destiny, we need to look inside to see what God is doing and how He is working in our hearts.

We are challenged to examine ourselves . . . or look inside . . . on a regular basis. Eugene Peterson in his paraphrased work, The Message, reminds us of Paul’s thoughts, “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others.” (Gal 6:4 MSG)

As we look inside, we are reminded that as God touches us, we touch others. As we look in, we begin living out. Here are some thoughts on looking inside and living outside . . .

We Bless Others Because We Have Been Blessed. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds us that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:3). When we look inside at all the ways God has blessed us, we are able to be a blessing to others. Wise King Solomon reminds us, “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.” (Proverbs 11:25)

We Love Others Because We Have Been Loved. Jesus deliverers and demonstrates love . . . He is love. We are told that we love, only because we have been first loved by God. (1 John 4:19) As we walk in this life, opportunities come before us each and every day to show love and to share the love of God. The disciple John reminds us that there is no fear in love (1 John 4:18). If fear is present, love is absent. And, if love is experienced, fear has exited. Our healing can be another’s hope. Steve Maraboli writes, “A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.”

We Give Because We Have Been Given. John reminds us, “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.” (I John 3:17-18 NLT) We give . . . following the example of God. The beloved disciples writes, “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.”(John 3:16 MSG) He loves . . . He gives!  We love . . . we give. If we are not giving, we are not loving.

We Serve Because We Have Been Served. The heart of a believer, of a Christ-follower is seen in one who serves. Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45 NLT). He did not come to be served . . . but to serve . . . and He has given us that example to follow.

Inspirational writer and speaker, Israelmore Ayivor writes, “The only way to make a damaged machine work again is to break it down, work on its inner system and fix it again. Screw out the bolts of your life, examine and work on yourself, fix your life again and get going.”

Peterson gives some insight, “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don’t drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out.” (2 Cor 13:5 MSG)

Give yourself a checkup. Take a look on the inside . . . Blessings . . . Loving . . . Giving . . . Serving. Through Christ, you are more than what you have become . . . test it out.

Shut My Mouth

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.
Proverbs 15:1 NLT
Words are powerful.
The carefully chosen word can calm conflict.
The wrecking word can wage war.
Words can hurt or heal.
They can agitate or they can appease.
Pearl Strachan Hurd says, “Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.”
King Solomon, noted as one of the wisest men who ever lived, encourages us to use a gentle response when anger rages.  With a decisively chosen word we can divert danger.  Our objective becomes disarming anger before it becomes destructive.
It’s being as “cool as a cucumber” and not “blowing your stack”.  A few verses later, Solomon reminds us, “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.” (Prov 15:18 ESV). The more heated an argument, the more harsh our words can be.
We work toward a response instead of a reaction.
A Good Answer.  The wise king reminds us, “The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry”. (Prov 25:11 MSG). The good word is like “apples of gold in settings of silver”.  Choosing the correct word with a calm mind is our best consideration.  Abraham Lincoln insightfully states, “I am very little inclined on any occasion to say anything unless I hope to produce some good by it.”  It is a good word, not a grieving word.  It is an answer of restoration and not rejection.  Once words are used, they can’t be undone. Jodi Picoukt writes, “Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”
A Gracious Answer.  Ann Voskamp tells us, “Anger is contagious.  So is grace.”  Paul reminds us, “Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.” (Col 4:6 NLT).  Words of grace are words of goodness.  As recipients of grace we are to reflect grace . . . in our walk, in our ways and in our words.  Solomon writes, “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Prov 16:24 ESV)
A Gentle Answer.  Gill explains, “Mild words, gentle expressions, delivered with kindness and tenderness, humility and submission; these will work upon a man’s passions, weaken his resentments, and break and scatter the storm of wrath raised in his breast.”  A gentle word brings good wellness.  Proverbs tells us, “Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” (Prov 15:4 NLT). Life giving words leave a lasting legacy of love.
James gives some very constructive comments, “If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile.” (Jam 1:26 NET). The psalmist grasps the great responsibility of good, gracious and gentle words.  He writes, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Ps 141:3 ESV)
Good and gentle words of grace . . . Oh, God, guard what we say.

Me or Thee?

Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Philippians 2:3-4 MSG
In his paraphrased work, Eugene Peterson illustrates Paul’s description of two choices . . . two clear options that focus on our own way or on the way of others . . . on self or on serving.  The apostle gives an example of Jesus’ surrender, submission and service.  Paul instructs that we embrace the “mind of Christ” as we engage those around us.
This strategy requires us to set aside self and serve.  Our promoting and positioning gives way to a passion for and priority of others.
Self-Promotion.  The struggle of our soul is to be selfless.  Faith requires a fight against the flesh . . . saying no to us and yes to others. Paul writes, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3 NLT).  Thinking of others before we think of ourselves is the key to kindness.  Matthew Henry reminds us, “Kindness is the law of Christ’s kingdom”.  Promoting self always means we prioritize self.  Rick Joyner writes, “We can build influence by self promotion, but God will only promote those who do not promote themselves. That which is built on self-promotion will have to be maintained by human striving.”
Self-Positioning.  The apostle gives some advice, “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” (Phil 2:4 NLT). Seeing with clarity and compassion starts with viewing others through God’s eyes.  Brown writes, “Instead of fixing your eyes on those points in which you excel, fix them on those in which your neighbor excels you: this is true ‘humility’.”  Positioning others ahead of ourselves promotes peace.  The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Heb 12:14 NIV)
Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeye’s Chicken gives some simple, yet significant thoughts in her book, “Dare to Serve” . . .
  •     “As a leader, the most ambitious thing you will ever attempt is removing yourself from the spotlight.”
  •     “Followers appreciate humble leaders – leaders with the ability to admit mistakes, to apologize, and to be vulnerable in difficult circumstances; leaders who think of others more than themselves.”
  •     “Leaders who serve others have three core values:  human dignity, personal responsibility, and humility.”
  •     “Ambition is a problem if it is all about you.”
  •     “Other-focused leadership inspires people to thrive.  Self-focused leadership induces people to survive.”
Saint Francis gives us the following prayer of selflessness . . .
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light; 
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.  It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.”
It’s not about me . . . it’s about serving instead of self.

Power Within

He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless.
Isaiah 40:29
There are days when being weary, weak and worn out starts to win out . . . and, giving in, giving up or giving out seems to be the only way.
We face challenges everyday.  Some are small and some are staggering.
As we face these, some say we should be “committed to the cause”.
As God looks at us, He says we should be “surrendered to the Savior”.
There’s a dividing difference between commitment and surrender.
Commitment is dependent on my determination, my dedication and my drive.  It’s me getting up.
Surrender is relinquishing my rights, my responsibilities and my resources.  It’s me giving in.
Commitment means I’m doing the work.  Surrender means He’s doing the work in me.
Commitment says, “No matter what, I can.”  Surrender says, “No matter what, I can’t.”
Commitment relies on strength.  Surrender rests in weakness.
Commitment alone is lacking.  Surrendering my commitment to God is lasting.
A. W. Tozer writes, “The reason why many are still troubled, still seeking, still making little forward progress is because they haven’t yet come to the end of themselves. We’re still trying to give orders, and interfering with God’s work within us.”
Isaiah understands the efforts and the emptiness of our own interference.  He instruct us that God is there for those who are worn out and He is there for those who are weak.
Renewed Strength For The Weary.  Some have been in battle so long that their determination has been depleted.  It may be hard to grasp, but this is exactly where God wants us.  A few verses later, Isaiah reminds us, “but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” (Is 40:31 NIV)  Our God comes along side to renew and refresh when all strength is gone.  Paul encourages us, “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Cor 4:16 ESV)
Surrender your weariness to His renewing strength.
New Strength For The Weak.  Some never engaged in the battle because they have no strength.  Fear or failure have paralyzed many into escaping, instead of engaging.  Paul writes, “For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.” (2 Tim 1:7 HCSB)  If you are powerless, God will give you power.  The apostle writes to the Christ followers in Phillipi, “I can do all things through Christ who empowers me.” (Phil 4:13)
Surrender your weakness to His new strength.
There are times when we don’t know what to do, we don’t know what to say, we don’t know where to go or we don’t know what to think . . . I’ve been there (what am I saying . . . I’m there now).
Tommy Walker writes the following lyrics,
“When I don’t know what to do, I’ll lift my hands.
When I don’t know what to say, I’ll speak Your praise.
When I don’t know where to go, I’ll run to Your throne.
When I don’t know what to think, I’ll stand on Your truth.
When I don’t know what to do, Lord, I surrender all.”
All to Jesus, we surrender.  Let go and let God.

Do Right. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what He requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 NLT
I can’t tell you how many times I struggle with the questions, “Am I doing any good?” or “Am I pleasing God?”  The prophet Micah gives instruction to the nations of what pleases God.  It’s not sacrifice, but the heart behind the sacrifice.  Our attitudes drive our actions.
So, what is right and what does God require?  The prophet gives us some insight.
Do What Is Right.  Solomon shares, “To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice.” (Prov 21:3)  Doing what is right promotes the passion, purpose and principles of God.  When we honor Him, we please Him.  Leonard Ravenhill writes, “If we displease God, does it matter whom we please? If we please Him does it matter whom we displease?”  Our doing starts with our being.  Paul reminds us, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Phil 4:8 NLT)
Love Mercy.  When you love something, you want to share it.  Mercy is defined as, “compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.” Abraham Lincoln writes, “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.”  The prophet Hosea reminds us of the magnificence of showing mercy.  He shares, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  (Hosea 6:6)  Loving mercy is illustrated in our initial response to injustice . . . in our societies, our communities and our homes.
Mercy is a healing salve in our hurting struggles.
Mercy is compassion in our conflicts.
Mercy is grace in our grief.
Love mercy . . . show mercy . . . give mercy.
Walk Humbly With God.  James reminds us, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10 NIV)  Humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us . . . significant enough to experience His mercy, grace and love . . . yet willing to serve to express His mercy, grace and love. David Wells writes, “Humility has nothing to do with depreciating ourselves and our gifts in ways we know to be untrue. Even ‘humble’ attitudes can be masks of pride. Humility is that freedom from our self which enables us to be in positions in which we have neither recognition nor importance, neither power nor visibility, and even experience deprivation, and yet have joy and delight. It is the freedom of knowing that we are not in the center of the universe, not even in the center of our own private universe.”
Don’t settle on seeing yourself the way others see you . . . be satisfied with the way God sees you . . . worthy, willing and His workmanship.
Walking with God requires our communion with Him, our commitment to Him and our confidence in Him.
Walk well, my friends . . . walk well.

Greatness By Grace

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13 ESV

The disciples of Jesus, Peter and John were both fisherman by trade and they came from a small city that had little economic or cultural significance.

Paul, although theologically trained, was a tent maker.
Matthew was a tax collector.
Onesimus was a run away slave.
Cornelius was a soldier.
Rahab was a prostitute.
Moses was a murderer.
David was a conspiring adulterer.

The list goes on and on. Yet, all of these experienced a sense of Kingdom greatness because of grace.

Peter and John tell others what they have seen, heard and experienced . . . they are confident, not condemning. They are not only identified as being with Jesus . . . they are impacted, influenced and inspired by Jesus.

This brand of authenticity, boldness and courage becomes the new “ABC’s” of following God. It isn’t education . . . it’s experience with Jesus. It isn’t a position, it is His presence. It isn’t sitting at the feet of an educator, it’s sitting at the feet of The Master Teacher.

These “uneducated, common men” astonish the traditionalists of the day because they accept the truth of Jesus.

Jesus Changes. Paul writes to the Christ-followers in Corinth, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Cor 5:17 NLT) We are no longer in chains, we change. We are free from our past and penalties of sin. We are given a promise and peace through our pain and problems. Jesus says, “So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free.” (John 8:36 NLT) Roy T. Bennett writes, “Never let hard lessons harden your heart; the hard lessons of life are meant to make you better, not bitter.”

Jesus Challenges. A life changed by Jesus challenges the culture . . . with compassion, not condemnation. It’s triumph, not timidity. It’s hope, not hopelessness. We are light to the darkness and salt to the tasteless. Martin Luther King, Jr., reminds us, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” Jesus says, “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matt 5:15-16 NLT). Light illuminates the way. Salt infuses flavor so others can “taste and see that The Lord is good”. (Ps 34:8)

Sunday Adelaja, Founder and Senior Pastor of Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God for All Nations, in Kiev, Ukraine, writes, “Living in the Glory of God’s presence is to extend his domain of love”

Instead of a fisherman, tent maker, or tax collector, you may be an executive, small business owner, salesman, educator, barista, stay-at-home mom, coach, virtual employee or service provider. We all experience Kingdom greatness and grace . . . not because of prominence, position, power or paycheck . . . but, because we have been in the presence of our God.

This is a day of tender boldness, of truthful bravery and of letting others know that you have truly been with Jesus.

He defines each of us as a destiny maker . . . by changing us and challenging us.

Sometimes You Have To Look Behind The Curtain

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. Genesis 50:20 ESV

Trusting God is sometimes hard . . . trusting people who are “God’s messengers” in our lives . . . that reaches to a different level of difficulty.

Joseph lived a life of which great novels and award winning movies are made. He was the favorite younger son of a large family. He was honored by his earthly father and his Heavenly Father. Hated by his brothers, they faked his death and sold him into slavery. Even as a slave, he distinguished himself as a leader, rising to a place of prominence and then being falsely accused of sexual misconduct. He was given insight from God, rose to another position of power and became one of the greatest leaders of one of the powerful nations in history.

In the children’s literary classic of the 1900’s, “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum, Dorothy and Toto encounter the Wizard. After stalling to fulfill his promises, Toto pulls back a curtain and exposes the Wizard as a middle-aged man operating machinery and speaking into a microphone. Admitting to being a humbug, he insists that he is a good man but a bad wizard. Looking behind the curtain revealed the real story.

In Joseph’s story, God is revealed as a “behind the scenes” Divine Chess Player moving pieces that strategically bring about His ultimate plan.  As a Sovereign multi-tasker, His insight, influence and impact transcend time. His omniscient perception has been, is and will always be.

God’s Good Plan. By today’s standards, Joseph is a victim. The actions of his brothers and enemies are unfair and unfounded. Their deceptive reactions deliver disastrous results. Joseph’s brothers devise evil against him while God designs and directs the evil for good. As Joseph places his trust in God, his perspective changes from a victim to a victor. Paul reminds us, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” (Rom 8:28 NLT). In our lack of patience and limited perception, its easy to lose confidence in God’s plan. Our failure to trace God’s moving hand requires our faith to trust His heart. Elizabeth Elliott writes, “Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them.” God always has a plan for His people.

God’s Guiding Presence. God’s omniscient perception is always complimented by his omnipresence . . . He is with you . . . always. George Washington writes, “Providence has at all times been my only dependence, for all other resources seemed to have failed us.” Moses reassures the Israelites, “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; He will neither fail you nor abandon you.” (Deut 31:8 NLT) The Sovereign Savior has been with you in your yesterday, is with you in your today and will be with you in your tomorrow. The writer of Hebrews reminds us of God’s promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb 13:5 ESV)

God’s Greater Purpose. Joseph’s pain, as well as his prominence are all part of God’s plan for deliverance and destiny. He depends on God’s grace and determines God’s greater good. Joseph perceives God’s broader purpose, “He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (Gen 50:20 NLT) Young writes, “This is how you foil the works of evil, growing in grace through the very adversity that was meant to harm you.” Paul tells us, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” (Phil 1:6 NLT). God is working in ways that we cannot see to do things that we cannot do.

C. S. Lewis writes, “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it, not without pain, but without stain.”

In our struggles and suffering, God has a good and greater purpose . . . and He guides us with His presence.

Others may devise evil . . . God has destined good. Just take a look behind the curtain.

Time To Recharge

I will fully satisfy the needs of those who are weary and fully refresh the souls of those who are faint.
Jeremiah 31:25 NET
Weary?  Worn out?  Whipped?
We are always on the go . . . always working . . . always connecting.  We give the nod to the novel notion that we are masters of our own lives.  We redefine busyness as blessing . . . when in reality it becomes a burden.
Our Creator knows the chaos that we create.  Returning to Him refocuses life.  Resting in Him results in a replenished life.  Surrendering the demands of our schedule to sit at His feet means we find solace, strength and stamina.
Request To Rest.  Too often, we define our status by the demands on our schedule.  Seemingly, the more we do, the more we are needed.  We want to get away, but we can’t pry ourselves from the perceived priorities of life.  There is no better way to “get away” than to get with God.  He longs for us to escape the trials and turmoil of our days by embracing Him.  Jesus understands our rigors of responsibility and He responds with a request, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28 NET).  We come to Him and He gives rest.
Reason To Rest.  The pressures of each day should push us to God’s presence, not away.  The psalmist cries out, “And I say, ‘Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest.” (Ps 55:6 ESV)  God designs us to “recycle”, not run all the time.  Our batteries need to recharge.  After Jesus and His disciples met the needs of many, He knew it was time to retreat.  Mark writes, “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” (Mark 6:31 NIV).  Charles Spurgeon writes, “Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength . . . It is wisdom to take occasional furlough. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.”
Results Of Rest.  The prophet Jeremiah is crystal clear in his commentary . . . God fully satisfies and fully refreshes.  Isaiah tells us “the Lord gives you rest from your pain, torment, and the hard labor you were forced to do.” (Is 14:3 HCSB)  When we reside in our Redeemer’s rest, we realize completely renewal, restoration and replenishment.  Jesus says, “Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:29 NET)
S.D. Gordon writes, “If there be anything that can render the soul calm, dissipate its scruples and dispel its fears, sweeten its sufferings by the anointing of love, impart strength to all its actions, and spread abroad the joy of the Holy Spirit in its countenance and words, it is this simple and childlike repose in the arms of God.”
It’s okay to step away from the pressure and sit in His presence.
Your God is waiting with outstretched arms, willing to give you a respite and wanting you to find rest . . . run to Him, let Him rescue you and be renewed in His embrace.

Redefining A Heavy Load To Carry

That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT

In every challenge, we are provided with a choice . . . believe in the process or be burdened with the problem.

There’s an old adage attributed to Coach Knute Rockne, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

The daily grind often produces a debilitating grief. But, those who endure will engage . . . the promise of everlasting hope gives us everyday help.

The apostle writes, “. . . And as God’s grace reaches more and more people, there will be great thanksgiving, and God will receive more and more glory.” (‭‭2 Cor‬ ‭4:15‬ ‭NLT‬‬) Paul provides roadsigns to guide us on this potential and promising journey.

Our Resolve. “That is why we never give up.” Paul’s conviction is to never concede. Often, our defeat is birthed in our denial that the Divine will deliver us. Don’t give up. Franklin D. Roosevelt says, “When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” The apostle reminds us, “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” (2 Chron 15:7 NIV) Perseverance with purpose from above is powerful.

Our Renewal. Renewal and refreshment lead to our replenishment. These bodies wear down and wear out, yet our minds are made new and our spirits are sustained. Isaiah tells us, “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Is 40:31 NIV)

Our Reason. In the time frame of eternity, our trials are tiny and temporary. Paul reminds us, “For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Cor 4:17 NET). Any grief is our gain with a result of God’s grace and growing glory. Peter encourages us, “And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Pet 5:10 NET)

Our Recognition. Perspective is the ability to peer into God’s plan and trust in God’s purpose. Paul describes it as recognizing the eternal triumph over the everyday trial. Our seeing impacts our being. Churchill says, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” An eternal optimist sees all opportunities and obstacles from God’s observatory . . . hope and promise from a heavenly perspective.

When you feel like giving up, get up. 
When you feel like groaning, be grateful. 
When you can’t see with your eyes, see with His.

Allow God’s determination to drive you, deliver you and define you for your good and His glory.

Fear Is A Big Trap

Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting The Lord means safety. Proverbs 29:25 NLT

Augustine writes, “Fear is the response of the human heart when it’s one thing is threatened.”

Solomon is credited with being one of the wisest and wealthiest who ever lived. Yet, the threats to his treasured things created terror. He fought his own fears . . . fear of failure, fear of people, fear of loss, fear of loneliness. With insight, Solomon provides a solutionary strategy for the snares that surround us.

There Is Protection In Our Fears. Fear is a subtle snare of our enemy. It traps us with terror that will tear the very fiber of our faith. Solomon finds security and safety in his Sovereign. The psalmist reminds us that trust is the key, “But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.” (Psalms 56:3 NLT) A. B. Simpson writes, “Fear is born of Satan, and if we would only take time to think a moment we would see that everything Satan says is founded upon a falsehood. Every fear is distrust, and trust is the remedy for fear.”

There Is Peace In Our Fears. God calls us to calm. Proverbs reminds us, “But all who listen to Me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm.” (Prov 1:33 NLT) England’s most prominent 19th century preacher, Charles Spurgeon writes, “Whether the fear arise from without or within, from past, present, or future, from temporals, or spirituals, from men or devils, let us maintain faith, and we shall soon recover courage.” God commits His calm and courage in the confusion of our chaos. Jesus tells us, “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27 NLT)

There Is Promise In Our Fears. Paul reminds us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Tim 1:7 NLT). Fear cannot thrive where faith is alive. To survive in our fears, we must surrender to faith. God’s word is true, tested and tried . . . He has not given us fear, but favor.  First century disciple John encourages us, “Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” (1 John 4:18 NLT) We rest in His promise, in His passion and in His rock-solid, always powerful hands that never let go.

We share the same struggles as Solomon. Learning for his experiences allows us to live in his example. John Bunyan reminds us of our remedy, “Let it rain, let it blow, let it thunder, let it lightning, a Christian must still believe. ‘At what time,’ said the good man, ‘I am afraid, I will trust in thee.'”

Shirley Caesar writes the following encouraging lyrics;

“When the world that I’ve been
Living in collapses at my feet.
And when my life is all tattered and torn.
Though I’m wind-swept, I’ve been battered
I’m gonna cling unto His cross.
I’ll find peace in the midst of the storm.”

“There is peace in the midst of the storm-tossed life.
There is an Anchor, there is a rock to build my faith upon.
Jesus Christ is my vessel so I fear no alarm.
He gives me peace in the midst of the storm.”

Fight your fears with faith and turn your terrors with trust.

He is the Peace in the midst of your storm.

My Eraser Isn’t Big Enough

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take.
Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT
Line them all up and I’ve made more mistakes than had milestones.  
We all mess up.  It may be out of ignorance, incompetence, inattention, indifference, inability or even intentionally . . . for what ever the reason . . . we all make mistakes.
All mistakes have consequences.  We hope that we receive grace and mercy from community. Yet, we have the ability and availability to rest in the Grace-giver and Mercy-mover.  Solomon gives us a simple and proactive formula for our stupidity and errors in judgement.
Our Conviction.  Too many times we trust more in our own insightful whims, than in God’s inspirational wisdom.  We need to trust ALL in Him with ALL our heart.  It is complete conviction.  The psalmist writes, “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him, and He will help you.” (Ps 37:5 NLT).   Depending primarily on our own insights only leads to perpetuating instability.  The book of Proverbs reminds us, “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”  (Prov 28:26 ESV)
Our Consent.  Another translation reads, “in all your ways, acknowledge Him . . .”.  It’s recognizing that we have limited reasoning, response or resource on our own . . . He has and is all that we need.  Our approach can often lead to anxiety, apathy or abandonment.  In our Prince of Peace, there is no anxiety.  With our Wonderful Counselor, there is no apathy.  With our Everlasting Father, there is no abandonment.  Prayer becomes our confession of conceding to our Creator. Paul writes, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Phil 4:6 ESV)
Our Confidence.  Resting and relying on God’s complete and absolute guidance grounds us in His amazing grace.  Paul reminds us, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.” (Rom 8:28 NLT). It’s not a “think so” . . . or “hope so” . . . it’s a “know so”.  There is no doubt in God’s decisive directing.  Solomon tells us that “He will show you which path to take”.  God’s direction becomes our delight and our deliverance.
Bottom line . . . we are all going to make some bad choices, stupid mistakes or have errors in judgement.   Famed UCLA basketball coach and mentor of young men, John Wooden reminds us, ” If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”
Even in those dark and uncertain times, we have the conviction that He can be trusted, we consent to follow His direction, and we have confidence that He will guide.
Trust and seek . . . God will direct and deliver.
So, to all of us who mess-up everyday . . . we have a Help and we have a Hope.

12 Ways To Feed The Positive Wolf

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.

“My dear one, the battle between two ‘wolves’ is inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a moment and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”

Jesus reminds us, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness.” (John 10:10) Two approaches . . . two contributions . . . one negative and one positive. The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy . . . all are negative. Jesus comes to give life that is abundantly overflowing . . . all positive.

We all face the “two wolves” . . . good and evil, positive and negative, humility and pride. Two opposing forces in every day of our lives is a reality.

Stressed or blessed?

Obstacles or opportunities?

Fear or faith?

The one that wins depends on the one we feed. Consider 12 ways to feed the positive wolf.

  1. Embrace learning, don’t escape it. Victor is an 82 year old, retired hotel owner. Every time a new smart phone is released, he is the first to get one. New technology is something he embraces, not escapes. Positive people are always learning . . . a new technology, a new book, a podcast or a blog. Negative people believe they have learned all they can. For the negative person, new ideas are non-existent. For the positive person, new ideas are never-ending.
  2. Be grateful in challenges, don’t gripe about them. Positive people accept the challenges in life, they don’t abandon them. They know that growth is the outcome of every struggle. They see the good. Positive people will take the road less traveled, while negative people find the easy path. Positive people rebound, rebuild and resource from failings. Negative people look to reroute in order to find an easier path. Positive people see the rays of sunshine peering though. Negative people only see the clouds.
  3. Allow fear to push you forward instead of paralyzing you. Positive people are always in drive. Negative people are in perpetual park. Positive people realize that fear jolts their heart to beating. Negative people allow fear to stop them dead in their tracks.
  4. Walk through the valleys of life, instead of wallowing in the valley. Positive people are moving from mountain top to mountain top experience, knowing that the valley between is where they grow, rest and heal. Negative people get stuck and comfortable in the valley. Positive people see the valley as part of the journey. Negative people see it as the destination.
  5. Live by giving, not getting. Positive people give their best to help others. Negative people use others to get the best from them. Positive people know that giving can be sacrificial, significant or simple. Negative people want things to come easy with little sacrifice or effort. Positive people give when no one is looking. Negative people give for all to see.
  6. Reinforce communication, not reject communication. Positive people practice two-way communication. Negative people only drive on a one-way conversation highway. Positive people welcome feedback. Negative people believe feedback is a waste of time. Positive people respond to correction. Negative people reject correction.
  7. Value who people are over what people do. Positive people understand that each person is uniquely created. The masterpiece is in who they are, not in what they do. We all honor what we value. Positive people value the person. Negative people value the performance.
  8. Build bridges to connect, instead of walls to protect. There is an old song that says, “You can build a wall, or you can build a bridge. It all depends upon the love you give. If you build a wall, your world is small. But, a bridge of love will conquer all.” Positive people build bridges to get from where they are to where they want to go. Negative people build walls to stay where they are.
  9. Live in humility instead of humiliation. Humility owns it. Humiliation blames others. Humility shares a “high five”. Humiliation points a finger. Positive people build up by saying, “I told you could do it”. Negative people tear down by saying, “I told you so”. Positive people give heart felt compliments. Negative people give back-handed compliments. Positive people promote a sense of duty. Negative people possess a sense of entitlement. Zig Ziglar writes, “Pride is the strangest of diseases. It makes everyone sick . . . except the one who has it.”
  10. Your EQ is more important than IQ. Positive people develop their emotional quotient. They use their empathy and understanding to guide them. Positive people are inspired and motivated by the success of others. They share in the emotion. Negative people become selfish in their emotions when others are succeeding. Positive people are thrilled . . . negative people are threatened.
  11. We over me. Positive people value team performance over individual effort. Negative people believe that if they don’t do it, it won’t, can’t and will not be done. Negative people depend on their own individual contributions so they can take credit. Positive people develop a team effort so they can share credit. Positive people get behind the ideas of others, even if it needs work. Negative people stand against the ideas of others that may not be “good enough”.
  12. Change is good, instead of “I hate change”. Positive people agree with Heraclitus, “The only thing that is constant is change”. Louis L’Amour reminds us that “the only thing that never changes is that everything changes”. Negative people believe that people are fixed and cannot improve. Positive people say, “What’s new?” Negative people say, “What’s the use?”

One wolf will kill, steal and destroy. The other wolf will give a full and ever growing life. Which one will you feed?

It’s All Good . . . REALLY!

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them.
Romans 8:28 NLT
I often wonder if things are going to work out or how things are going to work out . . . and during all that time . . . God is seemingly working them out.
The apostle Paul gives the believers in Rome a glimpse into God’s “behind the scenes” grace and guidance.
His Assistance.  Before telling of God’s control, Paul reminds us of His comforting counsel and communication.  Through His Spirit, God is working in our weaknesses.  Paul writes, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But, the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.” (Rom 8:26-27 NLT).  The Holy Spirit prays in perfect partnership for us while promoting God’s own will.
Our Assurance. Paul reassures the Christ followers in Rome with three confirming words . . . “And we know”.  The word chosen in the original language means “an experiential knowledge”.  It’s not just in our head as a fact, it’s in our heart as a familiarity.  James uses the same word in his encouraging comments regarding trials and difficulties, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.” (Jam 1:2-4 MSG)
His Action.  I don’t understand how.  I can’t explain it.  It’s beyond me.  Its difficult because we live our lives with a “cause and effect” way of thinking.  Our God is not concerned with the effect, because He is the cause.  Paul tells us “that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love” Him and these are “called according to His purpose for them.”  He is the Sovereign Multi-Tasker.  He has been involved in our yesterday as He impacts our today and influences our tomorrow. Scotty Smith writes, “Nothing in our past has marked us as a ‘Plan B’ people; nothing in our present contradicts the promise of Your care or the pledge of Your presence; nothing in our future will separate us from the wonders of Your love or alter the completion of Your plan.”  He sees and understands it all . . . our past, present and future.
Our Acceptance.  God’s grace not only guides, but it grants us acceptance with Him.  He loves and accepts based on His passion and promises, not on our performance . . . “And having called them, He gave them right standing with Himself. And having given them right standing, He gave them His glory.”  (Romans 8:30 NLT).  John Gill describes God’s absolute acceptance, “not by effort, but by special grace; from darkness to light, from bondage to liberty, from the company of sinful men to fellowship with Christ, from a trust in their own righteousness to a dependence on His, to grace here, and glory hereafter; which is done according to the purpose of God”.
Smith shares portions of his practical and powerful prayer from Romans 8:28 . . .
  • “You are a God at work.”
  • “You are presently working in all things for Your glory and for our good.”
  • “You work in all things for our good, not merely for our liking.”
  • “Our foolish hearts often call good things evil and evil things good.  Our demanding hearts often treat You like Sugar Daddy, rather than Abba, Father.”
  • “Our impatient hearts would settle for the fool’s gold of immediate relief, rather than wait for the lasting treasure of eternal inheritance.”
  • “Thank You for not giving into our whining and spirit of entitlement.”
  • “We praise You for not giving us everything we want, because we often ask for things that will simply make life easier, rather than trust You for things that will make us like Jesus.”
You may not see it . . . but, believe it.  God is working . . . and, it’s good . . . really!

God Can Not, Will Not & Does Not Use Me

But Moses pleaded with the Lord, “O Lord, I’m not very good with words. I never have been, and I’m not now, even though You have spoken to me. I get tongue-tied, and my words get tangled.” . . . Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.  Exodus 4:10, 12 NLT

How many times have we been in Moses’ situation . . . God says “go” and we say “no”.

It’s not because we are disobedient . . . it’s because we are discouraged.

It’s not because we don’t think God can do it . . . it’s because we think God can’t do it through us.

We don’t question His authority, we question our ability.

Moses was promised confidence and content . . . God would be with him and teach him what to say.  Yet, Moses still doubted his divine appointment.

Reverend Micheal Beckwith says, “God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.”  It’s not uncommon for God to use common cracked pots to do Kingdom work.  Those who are the most skilled are usually the least selected.

  • Jacob was a cheater.
  • Peter had a temper.
  • David had an affair.
  • Noah got drunk.
  • Jonah ran from God.
  • Paul conspired to murder.
  • Gideon was insecure.
  • Miriam was a gossip.
  • Martha was a worrier.
  • Thomas was a doubter.
  • Sarah was impatient.
  • Elijah was moody.
  • Moses stuttered.
  • Abraham was old.
  • Job went bankrupt.
  • The woman at the well was divorced.
  • Peter lied about knowing Jesus.
  • And, Lazarus . . . well, he was dead.

God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called!

He Confirms Our Call.  Paul writes, “Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace” (Eph 4:1-3 NLT)  Our call is confirmed when we answer with humble hearts, grateful gentleness and practicing peace.  Loving others with our service and unity within the Body of Christ are the evidences of our everyday and eternal efforts.

He Affirms Our Adequacy.  God loves taking a rag-tag team and giving them a righteous triumph.  Paul reminds the Christ followers in Corinth of God’s recruiting strategy, “But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence.” (1 Cor 1:27-29 NET).  We may not bring much to the table, but what we do bring, God blesses and uses.

He Works Through Our Weakness.  God’s grace works in our greatest weakness.  The apostle Paul experienced this gift of grace, “Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weakness . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10 NLT)   Paul reminds the faithful in Philippi, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Phil 4:13 NLT). Our weakness does not allow us to give up, but to give in . . . to God’s promised power and purpose.

We watch several reality programs that take something old, worn out, useless, broken or outdated and make it “new” again.  God has been doing the same type of dramatic transformations in the lives of people throughout history . . . taking something useless and making it useful.  John Dyer writes, “He recycles the worn out and remakes them to accomplish great tasks for His glory. He repurposes the messed up as He calls them to other purposes for Him and His Kingdom. He reconditions the weary with new energy and a new assignment to do what others would see as impossible. He remodels a life that is worn down through mistakes and rebuilds that person into a valuable vessel in His hands.”

Life can be discouraging, disillusioning and disappointing . . . but, don’t give up on God’s calling.  He has sovereignly selected you for service.  He will confirm you.  He will affirm you.  And, He will work through you.

He qualifies the convicted, the compassionate, the contrite and the called.  He will qualify you.

Three Required Rest Stops

And He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Exodus 33:14 ESV
In our early married life, Debbie and I made a cross country trip with our four young daughters.  I recall looking forward to the many “rest stops” along the highways of America.  They usually were not elaborate or fancy.  Some were cleaner than others.  Yet, each one provided a brief respite from the routine of traveling.
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “He that can take rest is greater than he that can take cities.” Rest is release, renewal and refreshment.
Philosophical and historical teachers advocate the necessity for “taking a break”. Leonardo da Vinci said, “Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer.” Ovid, a first century Roman poet wrote, “Take rest; a field that has rested gives a bountiful crop.”
I remember the first time I watched “The Ten Commandments”?  Charlton Heston portrayed Moses, the emancipator of Israel.  The nation of Israel suffered under Egypt’s tyrannical and brutal enslavement.  Under Moses’ leadership they escaped by the miraculous and mighty hand of Jehovah.
God was guiding.  God was giving.  God was gracious.
As Moses interacted with God, the Almighty would “speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Ex 33:11)  This process took time.  When the nation grew impatient and concerned over God’s intent, they allowed their hearts to fail and followed Aaron by making a golden calf to worship.  Their disobedience was declared and their future was fearful.  A Holy God was not pleased.
Moses, as a wise and willing leader petitioned and pleaded with God for His powerful, protecting and prevailing presence.  God answered, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Ex 33:14)  Real rest is only possible in His presence. The presence of God is powerful with Old Testament faith seekers and New Testament faith finders.  He gives rest.
Rest From Worry.  Paul reminds the 1st century Christ-followers of Philippi, “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all He has done.” (‭Phil‬ ‭4‬:‭6‬ NLT)  His ever abiding, ever attentive and ever acknowledged presence allows us the privilege of prayer.  The writer of Hebrews encourages us with unlimited access to the Almighty, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (‭Heb‬ ‭4‬:‭16‬ NLT)
Rest From Weariness.  Jesus speaks refreshing words to those who are weary, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”  (‭Matt 11‬:‭28‬ NLT)  It’s easy to fall, fail and be fatigued when we walk in weariness.  Our rest and replenishment are realized in His presence.  Matthew continues Jesus’ thought, “Take My yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (‭Matt 11‬:‭29‬ NLT)
Rest From Wandering.  The ancient nation of Israel would find rest from years of wandering with Jehovah as their Rock.  Resting in the Him gives us a reassuring residence in the Rock of our salvation.  The psalmist writes, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge.”  (Ps 18:2 ESV). He is our solidity, safety and security. There is a distinctiveness derived from resting in Him.  Moses asks God, “For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Ex 33:16 ESV)  We are different and unique because of His devotion and undying love.
Christian leader Joyce Meyers writes, “When your soul is resting, your emotions are okay, your mind is okay, and your will is at peace with God, not resisting what He’s doing.”
Is this a day of worry?
Is this a day of weariness?
Is this a day of wandering?
He gives rest from all of these in His presence.
Find Him . . . find rest.

Following . . .

Then Jesus called the crowd, along with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become My follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and for the gospel will save it.”
Mark 8:34-35 NET
“Follow The Leader” was a challenge for me . . . I’m an “8” (Enneagram fans).  In this game, a “head of the line” is chosen, then others line up behind the leader. The leader then moves around and others have to mimic the leader’s actions. Any players who fail to follow or do what the leader does are out of the game.  Most of the time I wanted to lead . . . a lot of the times, I was out of the game.
Following Jesus means He is leading and I am not.
Jesus gathers a crowd including His disciples and gives them clarity and commission.  If you desire to follow, this is what you need to decide . . .
Deny Self.  We associate denying self with self-denial.  For many, it’s giving something up in order to show our commitment to Christ.  Denying self isn’t about what we do but Who’s we are.  Paul reminds the Christ-followers in Corinth, “You are not your own; you are bought with a price,” (1 Cor 6:19-20 NIV).  Jesus has ownership rights and responsibilities.  Ray Steadman writes, “this is denying self – deny our self-trust, deny our self-sufficiency, deny our feeling that we are able to handle life by ourselves and run everything to suit ourselves.”  Howard Butt, in the article, “The Art Of Being A Big Shot” writes, “It is my pride that makes me independent of God. It’s appealing to me to feel that I am the master of my fate, that I run my own life, call my own shots, go it alone. But, that feeling is my basic dishonesty. I can’t go it alone. I have to get help from other people, and I can’t ultimately rely on myself. I’m dependent on God for my very next breath. It is dishonest of me to pretend that I’m anything but a man — small, weak, and limited.”
Die To Self.  How do I “take up my cross?”  People think that a cross is a trial, hardship or handicap we have in our lives . . . an annoying relative, a needy friend or some kind of limitation.  We often exclaim, “That’s my cross to bear”.  Jesus had his own hardships and handicaps before the crucifixion.  This cross is something different. The cross identifies with shame and humiliation. Steadman writes, “It was a criminal’s cross on which He was hung. It was a place of degradation, where He was demeaned and debased.”   Our cross is the experience of being humbled, offended, shamed, wounded and hurt.  And, sometimes its undeserved and unwarranted.  As one colleague writes, “Take up your cross, accept it, glory in it, cling to it, because it is something good for you. It will reduce you to the place where you will be ready to receive the gift of the grace of God.”   Paul reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you.  My power works best in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9 NLT)
We want to escape, Jesus says to embrace.
We want to avoid, Jesus says to accept.  
We want to take up our cause, Jesus wants us to take up His cross.
Determine to Follow.  Following means someone else is leading.  Its obedience.  If we agree that life without Christ is marked by disobedience . . . then life with Christ must be marked with obedience.  Be assured . . . it’s not perfection, but purpose.  We decide and determine to live for Him.  This is tough.  Without exception, obeying means denying self and dying to self.  It means doing life God’s way . . . “Love your enemy,” (Matt 5:44). “Pray for those who hurt you,” (Matt 5:44). “Forgive those who offend you,” (Matt 6:14-15).  “Be kind to the ungrateful and the selfish,” (Luke 6:35). “Bear one another’s burdens,” (Gal 6:2). “Freely you have received, freely give,” (Matt 10:8).  This is my “to do list” today.
In the original language, these three thoughts . . . deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me are in a present and continuous tense.  We just don’t decide once, we decide daily.
A disciple is defined as a Christ follower.  He leads . . . and I’m right behind Him.

Old Things and New Things

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
‭‭Isaiah ‭43:18-19‬ ‭ESV‬‬
The good old days.  Do you remember them?  I do.  And, if I really think hard about them, they really weren’t any better than today . . . just different.
We often have a tendency to “look back” and see life in “snapshots”.  These are isolated images of impacting instances that have made an impression on us.  We end up seeing a single “frame” of our lives instead of the entire “movie”.  In turn, we build a story of our lives on several images, instead of the whole.  We end up living in “what if” as opposed to “what is”.
Robert C. Loveless wrote these well known lyrics, “Ev’ry day with Jesus Is sweeter than the day before.”  Everyday with Him is better, sweeter, more wonderful than the previous day.
The children of Israel were in a difficult time.  Even though they were God’s chosen nation, they continued to live independently from God and indifferent to His word.  The prophet Isaiah delivers a message of healing and hope . . . a message of renewal and resurrection.
Escape The Old Thing.  Isaiah writes, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old.” (Is 43:18 ESV).  Too often, we become tied to our past and live in it’s success or sorrows.  We may blame our present on our past . . . or bemoan that today is not as good as yesterday.  Isaiah encourages the nation of Israel to get a new perspective by escaping the things that were holding them back.  Paul writes to the Christ-followers in Rome, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom 15:4)  These were written for our learning, as well as our living.  Our hope is not in what was, but in what is and what will be.  This gives us the endurance and encouragement needed to embrace our eternal perspective.
Embrace The New Thing.  Isaiah continues his encouragement, “Behold, I am doing a new thing.” (Is 43:19 ESV)  With a burial of the old, there is a birth of the new.  In The Message, Eugene Peterson captures this thought, “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new. It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it? There it is! I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.” (Is 43:18-19 MSG)  Be alert . . . be attentive . . . be anticipating.  God will bring a solution that can not be subdued.  He will provide a way where there has been no way before.  It will be brand new . . . it will be bursting out.  Paul describes this working of God this way, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” (Eph 3:20 ESV)
The apostle Paul gives us his own perspective of forgetting the past and forging in the present, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:13-14 ESV)
One year has ended . . . and a new one is beginning.  Forget what is behind and reach for what is before.  Let your defining moments be in your potential, not in your past.
Press on to the new thing.

Straightening Our Crooked Mess

In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
Proverbs 3:6 ESV
“There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked stile.
He bought a crooked cat, which caught a crooked mouse.
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.”
This British nursery rhyme relates the story of Scottish General Sir Alexander Leslie. The General signed a Covenant securing religious and political freedom for Scotland with England. The phrase,”They all lived together in a little crooked house” refers to an agreement to which the English and Scots had finally come.  The words reflect a time of peace in the midst of great animosity and conflict.
Each of us deal with “crookedness” in our lives.  The wise King Solomon reminds us that God will make our crooked lives straight when we acknowledge Him in all of our ways.  The “peace that passes all understanding” prevails in our paths.
Acknowledge My Weakness.  Paul tells us the advantage of acknowledging our weaknesses.  He writes to the Christ-followers in Corinth, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor 12:9-10 NIV)
My path of weakness allows me to walk in His power.
Acknowledge His Worthiness.  In another collection of Scripture, Solomon writes, “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’” (Ecc 1:2 NIV).   Have you ever felt nothing we do has any meaning?  Living in intimate collaboration with God instills a communion and confidence. Begin each day with purpose in Him, and you will enjoy His never-ending, always abiding, ever assuring presence. David confesses, “I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies. “ (Ps 18:3 NIV)
My path of worship allows me to walk in His presence.
We all live together as crooked saints, walking crooked paths and living in crooked little houses.  Yet, God promises, “And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.” (‭Is ‭42‬:‭16‬ KJV)
He defines our testimony by His transformation.
He delights in making our mess His message.
Our God can make the most crooked life straight.

What A Great Christmas Morning

And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Luke 2:6–7 ESV
Have you ever wondered why there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the inn?  Did the all-knowing, all-seeing God, all-powerful God of the universe forget to make a reservation?
No.  God wasn’t too overwhelmed with details that a room at “the inn” slipped His mind.  It was part of His purpose . . . part of His plan . . . part of His promise.  God strategically designed the delivery of Jesus to the world with great deliberation.
Jesus could have been born into prominence . . . but He was not.  Jesus could have been born into wealth . . . but He was not.  Jesus could have been born into power . . . but He was not.  God’s plan called for Jesus . . . Who was rich, powerful and prominent . . . to enter this world in a barn stall and leave this world in a borrowed tomb.  And, He did it for us.  Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you by His poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9 ESV)
Jesus came to seek, to save, to serve and to sacrifice.  He asks us to walk with Him on the same path.  Jesus reminds His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”  (Luke 9:23 ESV)  He gives us an example to engage and express His love.
He Is Incarnate.  The prophets of old tell of God living among men.  Matthew writes, “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (‭Matt‬ ‭1‬:‭23‬ NLT)  John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 ESV)  The purposeful incarnation of God profoundly impacts mankind.  Mercy Me sings these lyrics, “My heart sings a brand new song.  The debt is paid, these chains are gone.  Emmanuel, God with us.”
God among us.
He Is Intentional.  Jesus’ purpose is clear, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10 ESV)  God is decisive and deliberate.  Luke records Jesus’ reading of the Prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.”  (Luke 4:18 ESV)  God’s plan was planned out. John Piper writes, “God rules all things — even motel capacities — for the sake of his children. The Calvary road begins with a “No Vacancy” sign in Bethlehem and ends with the spitting and scoffing of the cross in Jerusalem.”  His love is intentional.
God among us . . . God adoring us.
He Is Inviting.  God not only comes to the party . . . He also gives us an invitation.  Matthew records the request of our Redeemer, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matt 11:28-30 ESV)  He approaches us in our grief and accepts us by His grace.  Jesus teaches us, “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (John 6:37 ESV).
God among us . . . God adoring us . . . God accepting us.
No.  God wasn’t too busy to make a reservation at the inn.  He was busy making room for us in His family.  We come bruised, battered, busted or broke . . . He is there to seek, save, serve and sacrifice.
He is Emmanuel . . . God with us.
‘Tis the season . . . Merry Christmas!

A Baby Changes Everything . . .

And she will have a son, and you are to name Him, Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.
‭Matthew‬ ‭1‬:‭21‬ NLT
The anticipation and adoring of a new baby is amazing.  It doesn’t get old.  It’s new every single time.
Faith Hill’s carol sums up the sentiments of Christmas with the simple lyrics, “A baby changes everything.”  In every family, the addition of a new life brings about change, chaos and confusion . . . and it also brings about compassion, confidence and courage.
The gift of new life teaches us the value of living.
The angel of the Lord promised the birth of a son and proclaimed the coming of a Savior.
His Purpose. God has always planned our atonement, adoption and acceptance.  Paul writes,  “And God purposed that through Him (the Son) all things should be completely reconciled back to Himself, whether on earth or in heaven, as through Him, [the Father] made peace by means of the blood of His cross.” (‭Col‬ ‭1‬:‭20‬ AMP)  In our confusion, He is our calm.  In our hopelessness, He is our hope.  In our lostness, He is our life.  He is our Prince of peace.
His Plan.  Planned before the precepts of time, God’s Son would be sent to save the world.  Matthew reminds us, “All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet: ‘Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (‭Matthew‬ ‭1‬:‭22-23‬ NLT)  He plans for our eternity and for our every day.  The prophet Jeremiah assures us, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (‭Jer‬ ‭29‬:‭11‬ ESV)
His Passion.  God’s heart gives us our hope.  His love declares our new life and His love defines what life looks like.  John writes, “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up His life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (‭1 John‬ ‭3‬:‭16‬ NLT)
His Promise.  The promise of salvation is secured by the Sovereign.  Peter tells us, “And because of His glory and excellence, He has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” (‭2 Pet‬ ‭1‬:‭4‬ NLT)
The babe of the manger . . . purposed and planned . . . shares His passion and secures our promise.  Our lives are touched, transformed and turned around . . . forever.  He redefines everything . . . He changes everything.
“My whole life has turned around
I was lost, but now I’m found
A baby changes everything, yeah
A baby changes everything”
‘Tis the season . . .

What Do You Mean Your Pregnant?

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.”
Matthew‬ ‭1‬:‭18-20‬ ESV
Of all the characters in the Christmas, Joseph is one of the most intriguing and inspirational.  As a young man, steeped in a cultural and tradition of religious rightness, he made a purposeful decision of faith, setting aside promising dreams for a future which could turn into a potentially disastrous failure.
In a seemingly hopeless turn of events, Joseph finds Hope in trusting the Eternal.
Joseph Was A Man Of Integrity.  Joseph’s destiny seemed to be determined. He was a “son of David” . . . from the line of a king.  Most likely his marriage to Mary was arranged and his livelihood accepted.  When his fiancé was found pregnant, Joseph possibly faced his worst fear . . . his promised bride had betrayed him.  He wanted to do the right thing in the right way.  Instead of doing what he could, Joseph did what he should.  Eugene Peterson, in The Message shares, “Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced”. (‭Matt‬ ‭1‬:‭18-19‬ MSG)  His character and compassion overruled convenience and comfort.
Joseph Was A Man Of Intention. Matthew tells us, “When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.” (‭Matt‬ ‭1‬:‭24‬ NLT).  Robert Leroe writes, Joseph “accepted the humbling circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. He trusted the providential care of God every step of the way.”  Joseph set aside the embarrassment of society and embraced the Sovereign   His fear gave way to faith.  He accepted a providential solution in an impossible situation. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (‭Heb 11‬:‭6‬ NLT)
Joseph Was A Man Of Influence.  Not a single word is quoted of Joseph in the Gospels.  We know he asked the innkeeper if there was any available room.  We can assume he instructed Jesus in the trade of carpentry.  Yet his influence was not so much in his words, as in his walk.  His influence in life was impacting through love . . . for his stepson, Jesus . . . and, his sweetheart, Mary.  Peter reminds us, “In the same way, you husbands must give honor to your wives. Treat your wife with understanding as you live together. She may be weaker than you are, but she is your equal partner in God’s gift of new life. Treat her as you should so your prayers will not be hindered.” (‭1 Pet‬ ‭3‬:‭7‬ NLT).  Paul gives us insight into to this legacy leaving love, “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, Doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always ‘me first’, Doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, Doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, Puts up with anything, Trusts God always, Always looks for the best, Never looks back, But keeps going to the end.” (‭1 Cor‬ ‭13‬:‭4-7‬ MSG)
The carpenter was defined by his decision of faith.  Joseph raised another’s son to be everyone’s Savior.
What integrity . . . what intention . . . what influence.
‘Tis the season . . .

Did You See That Star?

Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw His star as it rose, and we have come to worship Him.
‭Matthew‬ ‭2‬:‭2‬ NLT
In 1857, the great carol, “We Three Kings”, was written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr..  Hopkins served as the rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and wrote the carol for a Christmas pageant in New York City.  The story of traveling wise men seeking True Wisdom is still relevant today.  It’s not about knowledge . . . what we know . . . but about wisdom . . . Who we know.
Paul teaches that there may be a delusion with knowing too much, “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” (1 Cor 8:1 NASB)  Yet, Matthew writes of wise men . . . scholarly students seeking a Savior . . . who knew the times, knew the teaching and knew the truth.  These wise men knew that Wisdom had arrived.
They Were Searching.  The meaning of truth has puzzled scholars and philosophers for years.  It is in our searching that we find the Savior and significance.  The disciple Matthew writes, “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, ‘Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signaled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.’” (‭Matt‬ ‭2‬:‭1-2‬ MSG). The prophet Jeremiah reminds us of God’s promise, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” (‭Jer‬ ‭29‬:‭13‬ NLT)
They Were Struck With Awe.  The wise men respond with earnest reverence when they encounter the eternal Royalty of Heaven.  Matthew writes, “They entered the house and saw the Child in the arms of Mary, His mother.  Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped Him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.” (‭Matt‬ ‭2‬:‭11‬ MSG). These wise men were obedient to God’s leading . . . and they were overwhelmed with His love.  The swaddled child is the Savior King.
They Were Surrendered.  These humbled scholars were commanded by King Herod to return with the location of this newborn King.  Instead, they chose to surrender to the King of Kings.  Matthew tells us, “And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” (‭Matt‬ ‭2‬:‭12‬ ESV)  Their path had a new purpose.  Their journey was now for Jesus.  Service requires surrender.  Our willingness to follow becomes our worship to the Father.
Lynn Cooper wrote the lyrics to a children’s chorus, “Wise Men Still Seek Him”:
And wisemen still seek Him, they follow a star,
That leads them to Jesus as travelers a far.
Men of great nations and the poor of the earth,
All join together to proclaim Christ’s birth.
Look for Him.  Be overwhelmed when you find Him.  And, surrender to His call and compassion.
‘Tis the season . . .

We Were Watching The Sheep, And . . .

The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.
Luke‬ ‭2:20‬ ‭NLT‬‬
Any encounter with God usually expresses itself with praise, peace and proclamation.
Unassuming shepherds understood the significance of an angelic message regarding the anticipated Christ Child.   As they were caring for their flocks, they rejoiced, rested and retold the wonderful accounting of promised Redeemer, a merciful Messiah and a sought for Salvation.
There Was A Radiance.  “Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,” (Luke‬ ‭2:9‬ ‭NLT‬‬). God’s glory always gives a glow.  His love displays light.  When the angelic messenger arrived, there was a surrounding radiance.
There Was A Reassurance.  “But the angel reassured them. ‘Don’t be afraid!’ he said. ‘I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.’” (Luke‬ ‭2:10‬ ‭NLT‬‬). The unknown can bring great fear.  The good news can replace our fear with faith.
There Was A Recognition.  “The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” (Luke‬ ‭2:11-12‬ NLT).  The Holy Sovereign comes as a humble servant.  We recognize the Messiah in His meek and modest birth.
There Was Rejoicing. “Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.'” (Luke‬ ‭2:13-14‬ ‭NLT‬‬). In Jesus, there is jubilation.  With the Christ, there is celebration.  Our gloom is turned into glory by His grace.
There Was A Response.  “When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'” (Luke‬ ‭2:15‬ ‭NLT‬‬).  When God moves, we move, also.  The miraculous becomes our mission.  We must go and see what He has done.
There Was A Report.  “After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished,” (Luke‬ ‭2:17-18‬ ‭NLT‬‬). When we see, we share.  When we have been transformed, we tell others.
“Angels from the Realms of Glory” is a Christmas carol written by Scottish poet James Montgomery in the 1800’s.  The second verse tells the story these searching shepherds.
“Shepherds, in the fields abiding,
Watching o’er your flocks by night,
God with man is now residing,
Yonder shines the infant light:
Come and worship.  Come and worship.
Worship Christ the newborn King.”
They went back to their flocks . . . giving glory and praise to God . . . because God was there . . . and they saw Him.  Their divine moment became their defining moment.
What an astonishing story we still tell.  It never gets old . . . ’tis the season.

Insignificant Significance

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Luke 1:46-47 ESV
When God does His most significant work, He usually chooses the most insignificant people.
Paul reminds the Christ-followers of Corinth of God’s “selection” process, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29 ESV)
In God’s plan to present His greatest Gift to mankind, He chooses two unassuming and obscure women to play powerful roles.
Elizabeth was a mature and childless women who quietly, faithfully and lovingly served.  Her husband was a holy man.  Both had a heritage of serving God and others.  Yet, apart from their small circle of friends and family, they were not “known”.
Mary was a young virgin.  Known for her kindness and purity, she was engaged to a man who would earn his living as a carpenter.  They were not able to seek social amenities like prestige, power or position.  Money was tough to come by.  Yet, both Mary and her fiance honored God.
As God begins to unveil the “mystery of the ages”, He chooses an older, barren woman and a young, virginal girl.  Both insignificant.  Both “salt of the earth”.  Both with a heart of worship and humility.  God uses the “things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are”.
He Is Miraculous.  We are often skeptical of the supernatural moving of God.  Experiencing the healing of a loved one when all medical options have been exhausted, or watching a life that has been torn down by addiction begin to rebuild, or seeing hearts that have been ripped open with the loss of a loved one start to heal . . . these are all the miraculous work of God.  In our eternal hope we find our everyday healing.  God establishes His brand with the unbelievable, the unexplainable and the unexpected.  The angel Gabriel tells Mary, “For nothing will be impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37 ESV)
He Is Mighty.  Mary’s Song of Praise reminds us, “for He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. (Luke 1:49 ESV)  The power of God knows no boundary  . . . and our praise for God knows no end.  Paul reminds us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” (Eph 6:10 ESV)  We avail ourselves of God’s strength when we admit our own weakness.  In his writings to the followers of Christ in Corinth, Paul recalls, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Cor 12:9 ESV)  What God gives is not too little or not too much . . . it is enough and sufficient.  I am weak and He is strong.  I am unknown and He is known.  I am insignificant and He is significant.
He Is Merciful.  Mary continues in her praise, “And His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.” (Luke 1:50 ESV)  In The Message, Eugene Peterson illustrates Paul’s encouragement regarding God’s mercy, “It’s a wonder God didn’t lose His temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, He embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us!”  (Eph 2:4-5 MSG).  God’s mercy motivated by His love moves Him to embrace us and to give us new life.
Take a moment to magnify The Lord and allow your spirit to rejoice in His miracles, in His might, and in His mercy.
‘Tis the season . . .

3 Responses Needed For An Inviting Culture

I recently participated in a meeting of pastors who gather on a monthly basis.  My friend, Matt Willmington led a discussion on assimilation strategies in church ministries.  He defined assimilation as the “process whereby we transform our programs, services and/or events into connection points to foster human interactions that become the genesis of authentic community”. (Blair & Canton, The Assimilation Engine, 2013)

Each of us longs for belonging to a community of authenticity . . . a place where we live in growing and grieving, in hope and hopelessness, in victory and vulnerability.  Researcher Brene Brown defines vulnerability as the “birthplace of love, belonging, joy and courage.”

In his Gospel account John describes a “connection point” between Jesus and an unnamed woman drawing water from Jacob’s Well in Sychar, Samaria.  Crossing social, religious, gender and economic lines, Jesus responds with love and a sense of belonging . . . the woman responds with joy and courage.  The result of this interaction is written by John, “Then the woman left her water jar, went off into the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely, he can’t be the Messiah, can he?’ So, they left the town and began coming to him.” (John 4:28-30 NET)

Jesus invests in the life of this woman at the well . . . and she begins inviting others to see Him.

Matt asked the question, “Do we have an inviting culture?”  Do we have the attitude and response of the Samaritan woman, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.”  Or, come with me to hear about Jesus . . . come to my church . . . come to the place where my life has been changed . . . come to the place where I experience love, belonging, joy and courage.

Inviting is one of those unique words that shares a duel meaning.  As a verb, it means “to request the presence or participation of in a kindly, courteous way.”  Inviting someone . . . will you come with me.  Inviting also can used as an adjective to mean “attractive or alluring”.

The question, “Do we have an inviting culture?” (are we asking people to attend with us), prompted me to consider a different direction: “Is our culture inviting?” (attractive), “Is our community inviting?”, “Are our connections inviting?”

Is Our Culture Inviting? – This is our facilities.  When someone first considers coming to our churches, are their first steps inviting . . . are we attracting them . . . are we drawing them in?  From our website to our social media platforms to the parking lot to the front door, is there the “welcoming wow” factor.   Are the facilities clean?  Are signs helpful, informative and easy to read?  Are our programs, services and events effective connection points?  I know church staff who do a “walk-through” of their facilities to improve the somatic experience.  This is great.  Yet, we often limit our review by seeing it through our own eyes.  It may be helpful to have a “focus group” from outside the walls of our churches to see how true visitors evaluate our culture.

Is Our Community Inviting? – This is our friendliness.  As Jesus spoke with the woman who was drawing water, he established a “human interaction” with truth and without shame.  His compassion instilled her with courage to leave her water jar, go back to her town and tell others about Jesus.  Too often, we interact predominately with those already in the church.  We are called to “light” to those in darkness, yet we often shine our lights to those who are already illuminated.  Greeters . . . nursery workers . . . information centers . . . connectors . . . and all those who are the “first line” of showing the God’s love are contributing to the genesis of authentic community.

Are Our Connections Inviting? – This is our follow-up.  In our recent meeting, each pastor in attendance identified that effectively following up with visitors was lacking.  Willmington shared that “shutting the back door” is the most effective way to keep people.  In education, “retaining” a student is more cost effective than “recruiting” a student.  Sustaining cost less than salvaging.  There has been considerable writing on “seven touches” to gain a sale.  Interestingly, there are four steps to keep a happy customer:

  1. Improve your response time:  How quickly do we respond to new comers? (email, phone call, visit)
  2. Connect with other satisfied customers:  Those who are “rookies” can benefit from “veterans”.
  3. Repeat the positive experience:  Invite new comers to another event . . . community group, life group, dinner, lunch, coffee.
  4. Ongoing conversation:  getting together and talking about their experience at your church can be a growing experience.

Over the years, my wife and I have tried to raise our family to value the experience over expenditures. American Express states, “78% of customers have bailed on an intended transaction because of a poor experience.”

Transforming our programs, services and events into connection points that foster human interaction . . . experiences . . . that become the beginning to authentic community.  This becomes our inviting culture, community and connection.

In 1982, Randy Stonehill wrote the Southern Gospel song, “Shut De Do”.  The lyrics read:

“Shut de do, keep out de devil.
Shut de do, keep de devil in the night.
Shut de do, keep out de devil.
Light de candle, everything is alright.
Light de candle, everything is alright.”

Shut the back door.  Keep in those who are searching.  Keep out the devil.  And, light the candle . . . everything is alright.


The Need For Powerful Questions

When Ray Krock asked the question, “How do you make a great hamburger in such a short time?” the idea of fast-food restaurants and McDonalds was born.
Einstein once commented: “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”
The great Greek teacher, Socrates, taught by asking questions.
The fist century disciple, James reminds us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5, NLT)
The need for a quick solution can prevent leaders from asking powerful questions.  What if questions are more powerful than statements?
Often innovation is a substitute for inquiry.  We can come up with a lot of great ideas . . . but, what questions do they answer?  Scott Anthony writes, “It’s natural for people pursuing innovation to jump into idea-generation mode. After all, when you generate ideas you feel like you’re making progress.” (Harvard Business Review, 2011)
Jeff Boss, contributor to Forbes concludes, “Nothing has such power to cause a complete mental turnaround as that of a question. Questions spark curiosity, curiosity creates ideas and ideas lead to innovation.” (Forbes.com, August 3, 2016)
Paul J.H. Schoemaker and Steven Krupp surmise, “Asking the right questions can help broaden perspective and contribute to smarter decision making.  Good strategic thinking and decision making often require a shift in perspective.”  (MIT Sloan Management Review, 2015)
Powerful questions can shift perspective. stimulate progress and signal permutation.
Dan Rockwell (LeadershipFreak.com) provides some insight into asking empowering questions . . .
Ignite curiosity.
Curiosity comes before solution and innovation.You know you’ve been asked a powerful question when it causes you to pause and wonder. Your eyes go to the ceiling. Your brain lights up.
Schoemaker and Krupp state, “We’ve found that leaders can learn to anticipate better by simply being more curious, looking for superior information, conducting smarter analyses and developing broader touch points with those in the know.”
“The best entrepreneurs excel at peeking around the corner and seeing the future sooner” (G.S. Day and P.J.H. Schoemaker, “Are You A ‘Vigilant Leader’?” MIT Sloan Management Review 49, no.3)
Uncover new insights.
The rehashing of old ideas produces stability at first and stagnation in the end.  The right question can reveal something unknown.  Ask, “And what else?” or “What questions should I be asking?”
In the Stephen Covey’s bestselling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, he shares the example of a man entering the subway with his rowdy children. Nobody on the subway is bold enough to ask the man to quell his children’s’ behaviors until the author himself interjects and says, “Sir, your children are disturbing a lot of people. [Might you] … control them a little more?” The man, in somewhat of a daze, responds, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”
Powerful questions uncover new insights.
Explore vision and values.
One of the blinding effects of being too busy is losing sight of what matters.  Many of us end the day, finish a task or complete a project and still wonder what has been accomplished.  Ask these, “What makes this important to me?”, “Where will I be in a month if you continue on your current path?” or “How did I live out what is important to me, today?”
We often need to step out of our comfort zones to walk in conviction.
Anthony comments, ” Coming up with the right question isn’t easy. There may be an “a ha” moment in the shower, but many times the right question comes from conducting substantial market research, combing analogous industries for inspiration, holding structured discussions with experts, and having thoughtful discussions about a company’s real strategic constraints and objectives.” (Harvard Business Review, 2011)
Consider possibilities, not simply problems.
Getting lost in problems can be the quicksand of leadership. Yes, leaders help solve problems. But more importantly, leaders explore possibilities.  Here are some clarifying considerations, “If I weren’t solving this problem, what opportunity would I seize?”,  “If I didn’t have these problems to solve, what would I do?” and “What would a different CEO do to move this organization forward?”
Generate forward moving energy.
Boss writes, “Questions fall in between passion and purpose as they help you gauge two things. First, they help you modulate the amount of effort to put into harnessing your passion and pursuing your purpose.   Second, questions help you redefine – when your mindset changes, so too does your behavior.”
Questions that generate positive energy include:
  • What would you like to do about that?
  • What do you really want?
  • How can I help?
  • What will be different if you succeed?
Former publishing executive, Michael Hyatt writes, ” There are constructive questions. They empower and create new possibilities. They lead to action. And they will produce results.” (michaelhyatt.com, January 18, 2012)
Begin with “What”, “How”, or “Who”.
Yes or no questions call for short responses. A “what” question cultivates a conversation.
Avoid questions that begin with:
  • Wouldn’t you…?
  • Are you…?
  • Shouldn’t you…?
Instead . . .
  • “What makes your job fulfilling?” is better than, “Do you like your job?”
  • “When are you most energized?” is better than, “Are you energized?”
Hyatt writes, Here are four ways to ask better, more empowering questions:
  1. Become conscious of the questions you are asking yourself.
  2. Evaluate these questions: Is this a good question? If not, what’s a better one?
  3. Choose the better question. Be intentional.
  4. Write down the answers that your brain serves up. Act on these insights.
Asking powerful questions can change the way you think.  Reachael Herrscher, CEO of TodaysMama.com comments, “Good information gives us great opportunity.” (“Why?  Asking The Right Question”, June, 2011)
Adviser Andrew Sobel give five types of power questions:
  1. Focusing Questions.  These are questions that clarify, identify and bring understanding.
  2. Passion Questions.  Passion questions tap into the things that really matter to others.  What’s important?  What’s motivating?
  3. Empowering Questions.  Questions that empower others encourage them to take charge.
  4. Aspiring Questions.  These are questions that help uncover others’ aspirations, hopes, and dreams.
  5. Depth Questions.  Depth questions are critical in two circumstances. First, when you are trying to get to know someone better; and second, when you would like to go further in depth into an issue or situation that the other person has raised with you.
Hyatt reminds us, ” If you want to change the results you are getting, you must change your thinking.”
What needs to change in your thinking . . . and, what questions need to be asked to start the process.


Take 55 minutes to ask the powerful questions and 5 minutes to find the perfect answer.

Packing Parachutes

Captain Charlie Plumb graduated from the Naval Academy at Annapolis and went on to fly the F-4 Phantom jet on 74 successful combat missions over Vietnam. On his 75th mission, with only five days before he was to return home, Plumb was shot down, captured, tortured, and imprisoned in an 8-foot x 8-foot cell. He spent the next 2,103 days as a Prisoner of War in communist war prisons.

During his nearly six years of captivity, Charlie Plumb distinguished himself among his fellow prisoners as a professional in underground communications and served for two of those years as the Chaplain in his camp.

He tells the following story of sitting in a restaurant in Kansas City. A man about two tables away kept looking at him.  A few minutes into their meal, the man stood up and walked over to the Plumb’s table, looked down at him, pointed his finger and said, “You’re Captain Plumb.”

He looked up and said, “Yes sir, I’m Captain Plumb.”  The man said, “You flew jet fighters in Vietnam. You were on the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down. You parachuted into enemy hands and spent six years as a prisoner of war.”  Plumb said, “How in the world did you know all that?”  He replied, “Because, I packed your parachute.”

Speechless, Plumb staggered to his feet and held out a very grateful hand of thanks. This guy came up with just the proper words. He grabbed his hand and pumped his arm saying, “I guess it worked.”

“Yes sir, indeed it did”, he said, “and I must tell you I’ve said a lot of prayers of thanks for your nimble fingers, but I never thought I’d have the opportunity to express my gratitude in person.”

Plumb didn’t get much sleep that night.  He kept thinking about that man. He kept wondering what he might have looked like in a Navy uniform – a Dixie cup hat, a bib in the back and bell bottom trousers. He wondered how many times he might have passed him on board the Kitty Hawk. He wondered how many times I might have seen him and not even said “good morning”, “how are you”, or anything because, you see, Plumb was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor.

How many hours did that sailor spend on that long wooden table in the bowels of that ship weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of those chutes?

Who makes your life valuable because they do something that makes it work?  It may be person who changes your oil, the server at your favorite restaurant, the barista at your morning coffee spot, the security guard at work, the person who cares for your children . . . for Captain Plumb, it was a parachute packer.

Often the jobs that are not celebrated are the jobs that are most critical.

Here are a few ways to honor those who help.

Notice The Extra Milers.

Hard work has its own reward, but your contribution is appreciated when a valued colleague takes notice.  It can be discouraging to have hard work undervalued. Don’t say, “It’s not that hard,” when the work’s hard.  Make sure your “attaboy” and “well done” is well timed, well placed and well meaning.  Appreciate the craftsman, as well as the craft.

Find Time To Encourage.

Daniel Pink, in “When” reminds us, “Toward the end of hard work, notice how far you’ve come. At the beginning of hard work, notice how far you have come.” Don’t wait until the job is done.  Look toward the goal line, say we are almost there and push to the finish.  A wise man once said, “The right word spoken at the right time is as beautiful as gold apples in a silver bowl.” (King Solomon, Proverbs 25:11 NCV).  Find the right words at the right time.

Recognize The WINS.

Take a few moments and identify a WIN (What’s Important Now).  A pat on the back makes hard work enjoyable. Appreciate the attainment . . . “You worked really hard to reach this week’s goal.”  A pat on the back will keep people from sitting on their backside.

Be Intentional, Not Intimidating

Show up to notice progress and offer help.  Offering help means discussing options and working toward creative solutions when someone’s stuck.

Notice People Over Performance

Committed people are committed to their tasks.  The right people get the job done right. Lance Witt, in High Impact Teams, writes, “Doing focuses on performance; developing focuses on people.”  Good people want to work with good people.

Honor The “Glass Is Full” Worker

Too many people see the burden over the blessing.  They are the ones who are “punching the clock”.  “Half-glass” people see what they don’t have . . . “Full-Glass” people see what they have.  Half-glassers discourage . . . Full-glassers encourage.  Who are the special people in your life providing you the encouragement needed when the chips are down?  Perhaps it’s time right now to give those people a call and thank them for packing your chute.

The next time you pull the proverbial “rip cord” and your parachute works . . . remember who packed it.  I’m sure, just like you, they will be glad it worked.

Ten Ways To Enjoy A Reflection Sandwich

I haven’t spent enough time reflecting in my life.  I have spent a lot of time thinking, but little time reflecting.

I think about things I want from others instead of what others want from me.  Too many times, its’ about taking and not giving.  I don’t reflect on my own leadership. I don’t reflect on my attitudes and behaviors.

Thinking, alone leads to selfish actions.  Self-reflection is followed by thoughtful action.

In Scripture, Jesus taught, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5 NIV)

Have you ever wondered why we quickly see the faults in others before we see them in ourselves?  It’s easy to become an expert in examining others.  In His teachings, Jesus warns that if we engage in this with others, we should expect the same kind of treatment in return.  Eugene Peterson, in The Message says this kind of “critical spirit has a way of boomeranging”. (Matt 7:2 MSG)

There is a stern caution as well as a simple consideration to help with this struggle.

Self Control.  Take a moment and count to ten . . . there’s great value in thinking before speaking.  A quick and effective reflection can take place before we express our opinions.

Self Consideration.  It’s easier for us to major on the minors . . . especially when the minor is with someone else and the major is in our own backyard.  There is a selfless and significant value in self-reflection.

Self Correction.  Sadly, other’s toothpicks are insignificant compared to our own trees.  An acknowledgement, acceptance and addressing of our shortcomings helps us stay in the lane of serving others.

First century writer, the Apostle James gives us a tender caution, “For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” (Jam 1:23-24 NLT)

Strategist Dan Rockwell introduces the Action-Reflection-Action Sandwich concept.  “Bread represents action in the sandwich. Peanut butter represents reflection. There’s much more bread than peanut butter.  But without peanut butter, all you have is useless navel-gazing.”

ACTION leads to REFLECTION which leads to ACTION

When situations are not working out, we reflect from a negative lens.  Reflection without action produces:

  • Discouragement.
  • Self-pity.
  • Fear.
  • Helplessness.
  • Frustration.
  • Disappointment.
  • Bitterness.

When things are going well, we reflect through a positive lens.  The reflection without action produces:

  • Self-congratulation.
  • Ingratitude.
  • Entitlement.
  • Complacency.
  • Overconfidence.
  • Stagnation.
  • Arrogance.

When action leads to reflection and responsive action occurs, we see a balance approach where:

  • Self-awareness leads to authentic action.
  • Patterns are recognized . . . both constructive and destructive.
  • Personal attitudes and behaviors are the main focus.
  • Self-knowledge produces confidence and openness (not confidence and arrogance).
  • Personal development is more important than changing others.
  • Nagging irritations are motivation, not simply frustration.
  • Humility is both the reason and the result of the process.

Start keeping digital notes or a physical journal and list your actions.  Take a few minutes at the end of the day to look in the mirror, reflect and act.

  1. What did I plan to accomplish?
  2. What actually occurred?
  3. What went well and why?
  4. What didn’t go well and why?
  5. What was missing?
  6. What was confusing?
  7. What am I learning?
  8. What can be improved and how?
  9. What do I really want?
  10. What was my greatest contribution, today?

Vernon Brewer, CEO of World Help says, “I try to live my life in such a way that every day I try to accomplish at least one thing that will outlive me and last for eternity.”

What will be your most significant accomplishments?  Changing others . . . or challenging others.  It’s toothpicks or trees.

Act . . . Reflect . . . Act, and those trees in your own eyes will be gone and you will see the forest of true leadership.

(Concept and thoughts from Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak)

16 Ways Leaders Shoot Themselves In The Foot

I’m a big fan of Dan Rockwell (Leadership Freak Blog)
His insights into leadership principles are simple and significant.  With over 450,000 followers, he has become an influencer.
The following is from his September 24 blog.
Lack of effort usually isn’t the problem for most, good leaders.  Their intentions are in the right place, but sometimes their ineptness is all wrong.
Smart people do dumb things and sincere leaders make stupid mistakes.
Here are 16 ways leaders often shoot themselves in the foot.
#1. Going it alone.  
It’s your own fault if it’s lonely at the top.  With technology and resources, it’s easier to connect with the right people that ever before.  So . . .
  • Get a mentor.
  • Hire a coach.
  • Form a leadership group of your peers.
#2. Putting your head down and grinding it out.
There are times when we need to be as tenacious as a bulldog.  Too many times we are plowing forward instead of reconnecting with the big picture.  Keep your eye on the goal, but adapt as you go.
#3. Putting off nasty jobs and tough conversations.
It’s one thing to prepare, but it’s self-sabotage to delay.  Putting something off may be a cowardly approach instead of a courageous answer.
#4. Failing to acknowledge and compensate for weaknesses. 
Ego thinks it’s good at nearly everything. You’re really only good at two or three things . . . that’s it.  Be self-aware and find a solution within your team for the weak areas.
#5. Listening to your gut on technical matters.
Intuition helps you understand values, but has little value when solving technical problems.
#6. Judging people by the stories you tell yourself about them.  
Always confirm your judgement with the people involved.  There’s nothing wrong with trusting your “gut”.  But save your judgement about people for the facts.
#7. Repeatedly solving the same problems.
The solution to recurring problems is a process, procedure, or system.
#8. Doing things the way they’ve always been done.
#9. Ignoring low-hanging fruit and quick wins when projects have distant deadlines.
#10 Neglecting energy management.
Always do important work when you’re at your best.  Know when others are at their best.
#11. Doing what you think is important instead of aligning with organizational priorities.
#12 Pulling back when you feel misunderstood or under-appreciated. 
Give your best because it’s who YOU are, not because you’re recognized or praised.
#13. Underestimating quiet people.
#14. Over-estimating the potential of untested team members.
Test people in small ways before betting the farm on untested employees.
#15. Delegating tasks instead of giving authority.
#16. Failing to monitor performance.
  • Ask for progress reports.
  • Help inexperienced people manage time.
  • Discuss and identify important deliverables.

Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak, September 24, 2018

10 Kingdom Lessons From A Cigar Shop

Christian leaders and pastors often struggle with feeling disconnected from their communities. They are in meetings with Christians, counseling Christians, preparing messages, developing leaders, and before long find that they have very little interactions with people outside of the church.

Outside of the church, to whom do we testify that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life? It’s a question I’ve asked myself regularly. Christians too often isolate themselves in their communities by only interacting with and investing in other Christians.  And, the isolation is even more intense with men.

I believe we may see greater fruit in our churches and the work God has called us to if more would be active in the communities where we live. It’s not enough to just be out there, we need to intentionally connect with other people, build friendships, and share both our lives and the good news of the Gospel.  Sadly, what seems to be more common is for Christians to post up in a coffee shop having their heads buried in a book or a laptop, or primarily interacting with other believers. Read More

5 Things Needed To Win

For years, I’ve appreciated a talk given by famed football coach, Vince Lombardi.  His encouraging words begin with, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”

For success to be a habit, successful habits must be developed.  Here are five (5) basic elements:

  1. Understand The Game.

Too many times, we complicate the game.  It’s usually simple . . . there’s the goal, here’s the ball, move the ball down the field and push it across the goal.  Too often, basics are set aside for better ideas . . . and, there are a plethora of better ideas.  In their book The 4 Disciplines of Execution, McChesney, Covey and Huling write, ”There will always be more good ideas than there is capacity to execute.” Read More

A Different Perspective On Finding Direction

I have logged a lifetime of hours determining and deciding if a specific direction is consistent with God’s plan for my life.

I am often challenged with the thought that there is a one and only path of God’s perfect will. It’s difficult for me to think that I can have certainty in knowing God’s will, when knowing God’s mind and decision-making process is almost impossible.  His thoughts are eternal while mine are temporal.  His thoughts are comprehensive while mine are limited.
Read More

One Word . . . Failure

The godly may trip seven times, but they will get up again. But one disaster is enough to overthrow the wicked.
Proverbs 24:16 NLT
I loved watching Chevy Chase “tripping and falling” during his comedic routines.  It was the surprise, timing and pseudo-clumsiness that made it funny.  Candidly, we all have experienced an untimely and embarrassing fall that has caused a chuckle or two.
Falling down gives us an opportunity to get back up.
Solomon tells us, “for though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again . . .” (‭Prov‬ ‭24‬:‭16‬ NIV)  We are often knocked down . . . but, not knocked out.

Read More

7 Thoughts When The Boat Is Rocking, The Ship Is Sinking or The Plane Is Going Down

Strategic operations planning begins with perspective (where an organization is), priority (where an organization wants to go) and planning (how an organization will get there).  The process is introspective and intentional.

It’s not uncommon for plans to get unraveled during a crisis.  A simple decision within an organization can cause momentum to become derailed, mission to become detoured or management to become distracted.

Too often, courses are not corrected because there is a “strategic plan” in place.  In all cases, a crisis requires course evaluation and many times, course correction.

When the boar begins to rock too much . . . when the ship is sinking . . . when the plane is going down . . . it’s time to the strategic plan on hold and grab onto the survival plan. Read More

Seasoned Iron

A 2015 comedy, “The Intern“, tells the story of 70-year-old widower Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) who decides to become a senior intern at an online fashion site.  Initially, Whittaker was “set aside” as not being relevant or able to make a valued contribution. However, with his experience, insight, sense of humor and wisdom, Ben soon becomes popular and invaluable with his younger co-workers.
Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964) are now approaching the common retirement age of 65 at the rate of 10,000 per day. Yet many are not ready, willing or even able to stop working.  At a population of almost 76 million, they comprise a larger workforce of Generation X (born 1965-1980) and Millennials (born 1981-1996) combined.
I am in this age category.  I am an entrepreneur who is “wired” to leave things better than I found them.  I take things that are “stuck” and give them forward movement and momentum.  I’m a fixer.  In ministry and business experiences I’ve been involved in work-outs and turn-arounds.  I’ve bought businesses, built business, lost business and sold businesses.  Some have been good and some have not.  In all, I continue to learn and grow . . . and, I’m not done.  There’s a lot more to do. I hopefully live with an eternal perspective in mind, paying it forward and making contributions that will outlive me . . . with family, friends and community.

Read More