Thursday, April 11, 2019

Take Heart!

John 16:33: "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

When I read these words this morning, I immediately thought of Joshua 1. God came to the new leader of Israel and in spite of the daunting task being faced by Joshua, God said, "Be strong and courageous." Joshua "took heart", brought down the walls of Jericho and conquered the promised land.

Then I started thinking about other examples of courage in the Bible. I remembered Gideon, who was hiding in a cave when God found him. With the power of God behind him, Gideon "took heart", tore down the idols and defeated the enemies of God with a greatly inferior army.

I remembered David, who "took heart" and took down the giant.

I thought about Daniel, who "took heart", continued to pray and became the world's greatest lion tamer.

I looked at the list of people in Hebrews 11 who all "took heart" and lived by faith.

Then I said a short prayer of thanksgiving that God has already won the victory. Now, I'm going to "take heart" and go out and live for Him in spite of this world's trouble.

Join me?

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled

JOHN 14:1 - Let not your hearts be troubled.

Research confirms that anxiety, stress and depression are at an all time high. People (maybe you) find themselves at the point of despair far too often. Fear, worry, concern, uneasiness, tension and nervousness have become defining words. On any given day, as many as half of the people you encounter have troubled hearts.

Perhaps you have a troubled heart?

Our hearts are troubled because we want everyone around us to think well of us. Our hearts are troubled because we want everyone around us to agree with us. Our hearts are troubled because there is not enough to get by. Our hearts are troubled because we have too much to handle. Our hearts are troubled by the decisions of others. Our hearts are troubled by the consequences of our own decisions. Our hearts are troubled because we don't measure up.

Do I need to go on?



It's not just a political thing, but politics contribute to our troubled hearts. It's not just a "fake news" thing, but the constantly negative news cycle contributes to our troubled hearts. It's not just a social media thing, but never-ending quest for other's approval (likes, shares, follows) contributes to our troubled hearts.

I think the number one reason our hearts are troubled is that we estimate the moment we are in is far more meaningful than it actually is.

When you hear the name "Job", you think of suffering don't you? He was a guy whose heart was certainly troubled, right? Scholars estimate that the suffering of Job, as described in the Bible, lasted between 9 months and a year. I can imagine that in the middle of that moment, Job's heart was heavy.

But do you know what the last two verses of Job say?

And after this Job lived 140 years, and saw his sons, and his sons' sons, four generations. And Job died, an old man, and full of days. (Job 42:16-17)

That expression "full of days" is similar to what we mean after Thanksgiving dinner when we say, "I'm full." It hints at satisfaction, pleasantness or contentment. Imagine that. Once Job made it through the moment of suffering, he experienced a full and content life. The moment wasn't nearly as meaningful as it felt.

Whatever is going on around you today, let not your heart be troubled. This too will pass.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

What you are going to do, do quickly...

JOHN 13:27 - “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

Jesus told us we would remain in His love if we obey His commands. For that reason, I have spent the past few months working through every command of Jesus in the book of John.

Today's command might be the one command we are NOT to obey!

These were Jesus' words to Judas in the upper room. Having revealed to the disciples that He was about to be betrayed, Jesus sent Judas out to do the dirty deed.

Perhaps this is a morning to reflect on betrayal. Specifically, how we (like Judas) betray Christ. One definition of "betrayal" is to "be disloyal to".
  • How often are we disloyal to Jesus?
  • How often are we more loyal to something/someone other than Jesus?
My thesaurus app lists "wander" as a synonym of betray. This one really hits home for me. I know how easy it is for me to wander away from my loyalty to Christ.

This morning, read these words from the old hymn "Come Thou Fount" and make them your prayer for the day:

Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here's my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Leave Her Alone.

JOHN 12:7 - "Leave her alone"

Anyone who has ever parented two siblings has, at some time, said something like "leave her alone." Little brothers know how to get under the skin of their sister. Little sisters know how to egg on their brothers. Siblings rarely know when to stop needling one another so parents often have to step in.

Sometimes, adults have to step in when children are bullying other children. If you are a teacher or a coach or work with kids in another capacity, you have at some point said, "leave her alone."

Even grown ups can take a joke to far or miss the social cues warning them to ease up. Every so often our teasing might go a little too far and we need someone to say to us, "leave her alone."

John 12 tells the story of Mary anointing Jesus with her perfume. Her act of worship was not appreciated by some who were there. They considered it too extravagant and too showy. Their criticism of her worship style was cut short when Jesus said, "leave her alone."

These are good words for us to remember. One of my personal rules for church life is that "what works for me might not work for everyone else." I might not choose to pour perfume on Jesus feet, but someone else might. I might prefer a different style of music than someone else. I might wish the preacher used different illustrations. I might choose a different color carpet in the church.

Having different opinions is great. Diversity makes us better. But the moment I start criticizing others because their preferences are different than mine, I become like the Pharisees and disciples who criticized Mary. When I sit in judgment of others because they have a different perspective than I do, I need to hear the command of Jesus, "leave them alone."

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Go. And Sin No More.

JOHN 8:11 - "go, and from now on sin no more."

Place yourself in the sandals of the woman caught in adultery. You have many excuses you could make.
  • The Pharisees are just using me to trap Jesus. I was set up.
  • Where is the guy who was sinning with me? Why isn't he in trouble?
  • I know most of these men who are accusing me. None of them are perfect either.
Jesus didn't give her any space to make excuses. He made it clear that what she had been doing was sin.

AND HE FORGAVE HER!

We cannot receive God's forgiveness until we are willing to acknowledge our sins. And once we do confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us!

Jesus is really giving two commands to the woman here. He first says, "Go", which is to say get on with your life; don't stay stuck here; keep moving. Secondly He says, "sin no more" which is to say something needs to be different; you can't be who you were; growth is the result of change.
This is one of those commands that is worth writing on an index card and taping on your bathroom mirror. Or you could scratch it out on a piece of masking tape and stick it to the steering wheel. Get it in front of you in a place where it reminds you every today.

"Go. And sin no more"

GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE. DON'T STAY STUCK.
KEEP GROWING. KEEP CHANGING.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The More Quickly You Judge, The More Likely You'll Be Wrong

JOHN 7:24 - "Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly."


As the two teams warmed up, I watched the different players, sizing them up, trying to decide who the better players were and which team was the better team. In a few minutes, I would be officiating the game and it is often helpful to have an understanding of the different players' skill levels.

What I saw was one team with several large players who appeared confident and coordinated. Their warm-ups were crisp, they were well-organized, their uniforms were sharp. By all appearances, they were the better team. Their opponents were much smaller. Although their jerseys were the same colors, they sported a variety of shorts and socks. They were disorganized and didn't even appear to know or like each other.

I don't remember the final score, but it wasn't close. The small and disorganized team ran circles around the favorites. They dominated from beginning to end. I was wrong because I was deceived. I was deceived because I judged merely on appearance rather than waiting to observe the teams' skill level.

In John 7, Jesus told the crowd to stop judging based on appearances. They misunderstood Jesus because He didn't fit with their previous experience. They were unable to comprehend who He was because they were unwilling to consider they might have been wrong about something in the past.

Today would be a great day to reconsider your assumptions about people around you. I bet you will come into contact today (or this week) with a few people you may have judged wrongly. Reconsider why you feel the way you do about them. Choose to give them room to change (or change your opinion about them). Stop judging them by what you think you have seen and start getting to know them a little more intimately. You might be surprised!

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Why is everyone angry at everyone else?

JOHN 6:43 - "Do not grumble among yourselves."

Have you noticed how angry everyone is? It's not just politics. People are angry about religion, about education, about the weather and even about sports. Did you know that one city sued the NFL because their team didn't get into the Super Bowl?

How did we get to this place where everyone is angry all the time?

I think we got here ONE GRUMBLE AT A TIME.

The dictionary defines grumble as, "to complain or protest about something in a bad-tempered but typically muted way." Grumbling is when we hold on to our disagreement with someone or something and allow it to simmer inside us.

Many years ago, I was cleaning out a church's youth room and discovered, in a cabinet, a cup that had once been a quarter full of coffee. That appeared to have been years ago. When I found the mug, it was full of mold and other suspicious looking growth. I quickly threw it away and washed my hands for about 10 minutes.

This is what grumbling does to our soul. When we hold on to our disagreements and complaints, they sour us and infect us and ultimately take over our life. We become bitter and unapproachable people.

Jesus told the Jewish people to stop grumbling. They were upset that He was teaching with authority they didn't think belonged to Him. Jesus wanted them to stop focusing on their anger and start focusing on His truth.

We often need to hear Jesus' command. We are daily faced with the temptation to grumble about our circumstances or the way we've been treated or our government or someone who disagrees with us or whatever else might not be exactly what we want.

We need to hear Jesus' command when we are tempted to grumble to and with others. When we are tempted to grumble about others. When we are tempted to hold on to our grumble rather than forgive and let go.

This is such a powerful truth. Don't let your grumble infect your life. Let go of your negative perspective and seek the see the best in every person and situation.

Do not grumble among yourselves.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Embrace The Extra In Your Life

We collect change in our house. It all goes into one container and we save it for special occasions. I'm always surprised by how much "extra" we have when we finally count it up.


After Jesus fed the 5000, everyone was surprised by how much extra they had when they finally counted it all up.

This story reminds us that Jesus always provides us with everything we need AND He always provides us with MORE than we need. We are surrounded by an ABUNDANCE of blessings and if we will only take the time to "gather up the leftover fragments."

Take some time today, look around and notice the extra God has provided for you. You'll probably have more food than you will need. Most of us have not just one car, but multiple cars (one car is more than most of the world). Open your closet and be reminded of how God has provided far more clothing than you need (don't forget the shoes!). The fact that you are reading this email on a computer, phone or tablet means you have an ABUNDANCE of blessing.

It is easy to live with a scarcity mindset. We think we barely have enough and we need to cling tightly to what we have so that we don't lose any. God has blessed us abundantly so that we will allow those blessings to flow over into the lives of everyone around us. Don't lose sight of this truth.

Look around. Make note of all the leftovers Jesus has provided. Choose to focus today on GRATITUDE and GENEROSITY!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Get Up! (no more excuses)

JOHN 5:8 - "Get up, take up your bed, and walk."

In 1998, I was a boy's varsity soccer coach. One of my players was only marginally talented, so he rarely started games but he was good enough to get into most games for a few minutes. He probably could have been better, but his work ethic was severely lacking. At least once or twice a week, he would begin complaining about an "injury" as soon as it was time for the team to work on their conditioning (which meant lots of running). He used the "injuries" he had suffered as excuses for his poor performance and lack of hard work.

I finally had to create a new team policy. Anyone who asked to miss all or part of a practice due to injury was not allowed to play in a game until I had written clearance from their doctor. It was a terrible rule, but it became necessary due to the excuses being made by a few players.

We make excuses when we don't want to assume control of our own decisions and actions.


In John 5, Jesus asked a partially-paralyzed man to stop making excuses and assume control of his own decisions and actions. Prior to performing the miracle, Jesus asked him, "Do you want to be healed?"

The man's response is telling. He said, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Notice what has happened to this man over time:

1) He has filled his mind with the many reasons why he cannot make it into the pool.
2) Because he has spent so much time making excuses to himself, he has decided to not even try.
3) Because he has decided to not even try, he is left making excuses to others for his lack of action.

We all do the same thing all the time. We fill our minds with excuses. We tell ourself stories about why we are not in control and why we don't have the opportunities we need and why everything and everyone is against us.

Eventually, we believe our own excuses and we decide to be passive, to not do what we know we should.

Finally, instead of taking action and being proactive, we make excuses to others, we blame circumstances and explain to those around us why life is so bad for us and why we cannot ever take the next step to move ourselves forward.

Jesus said, "GET UP!" (and He made it possible by healing the man.)

Has Jesus healed you? Has He made you new? Has He promised you an incredible future and an eternal inheritance? Has He asked you to live for Him?

GET UP!

Stop filling your mind with obstacles and start focusing on possibilities.
Stop choosing to be passive and start deciding to take action.
Stop passing blame and start practicing for the future.

Whatever you pour into your mind will impact your decisions.
Your decisions drive your actions.
Your actions demonstrate to everyone whether or not you trust Christ!

GET UP!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Learning to See Both Sides of Myself


If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. (1 John 1:8 NLT)

How silly we are when we claim or consider ourselves to be sinless or without fault. This is not something I like about myself, but it is still true; on a regular basis, I fail to represent God appropriately. That's a sin. Every time.


One of the things I love about the Bible is that it doesn't paint anyone in a righteous light (except Jesus). We see all the warts of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, etc. This is not something we talk about a lot, but Jesus' disciples were also very conflicted. These men changed the world more than any other group in history, yet they were far from "consistent" characters.
  • Jesus called Peter a "rock". Yet it was Peter who denied his knowledge of Jesus because he was afraid of a servant girl.
  • We know Thomas as a doubter, but he was the one in John 11 who said, "Let's go too– and die with Jesus." No doubting there, for a moment he was the most ardent believer in Jesus.
  • John is known as the disciple of love. He refers to himself as "the disciple whom Jesus loved" and his book, 1 John, has the most straightforward teaching about love in the church of any book in the Bible. Yet consider this story about John which was told by Polycarp and Ireneus:
    John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, "Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within."
Perhaps that's not how we understand "love" these days!

Truth is… We are more multi-dimensional than we perceive ourselves to be. If we think we are completely good and righteous, we don't understand the depth of our sin. However, if we are constantly beating ourselves up because of our sin, we don't fully understand what it means to have been given the righteousness of God.

Truth also is… Others are more multi-dimensional than we perceive them to be. If we see someone as a godly, upright man or woman who does no wrong; we need to remind ourselves of Peter and his fearful denial. On the other hand, if we see someone as nothing but evil and wickedness, it might be good to remember the boldness of Thomas.

None of us are always what we seem to be sometimes. Thus we must all learn to give ourselves and others grace. But also we must take heed of our sin, least we fall.

Monday, January 28, 2019

10 Lessons On Leadership from John the Baptist


"After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
If I were to use one sentence to summarize John the Baptist's leadership style I would say this: John the Baptist was fully committed to building someone else's kingdom instead of his own. When reading Mark's account of the desert prophet, I am struck by the wild popularity of John prior to Jesus' arrival. Yet, even though he could have gained wealth, position, possession and more; John chose instead to lose everything (even his head) in order to point people to Jesus. 
Mark doesn't devote a great deal of ink to the story of John, but what he does say is profound. Below are 10 reflections of mine from Mark 1:1-8.
  1. John the Baptist was a celebrity who could have greatly benefited from a solid self-promotion campaign. Instead, he chose to point everyone to Jesus.
  2. John's refusal to "build his own ministry" was counter-cultural then and now.
  3. Be wary of "spiritual leaders" who are masters of self-promotion.
  4. John the Baptist's birth was miraculous, it was preceded by an angel's visit, and he was personally the fulfillment of several OT prophecies. Yet he described himself as lowlier than a slave when compared to Jesus.
  5. No matter how much you've accomplished, pride is always the wrong response.
  6. The only thing John the Baptist could offer to people was greatly inferior to what Jesus could offer them.
  7. Jesus is far superior to anything or anyone else we could ever offer to people.
  8. Despite drawing massive crowds, John the Baptist didn't consider himself successful except when he was pointing people to Jesus.
  9. The size of the crowd doesn't always indicate the success of the ministry.
  10. The most important thing any Christian can do with their life is point people to Jesus.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

5 Leadership Investments from Genesis 2

Many leadership books and lessons have been written using the examples of biblical characters such as Nehemiah, David, Paul and more. Rarely have I seen leadership lessons gleaned from God's creative work in Genesis 2. Today, I'm going to make a couple observations about leadership which are a result of my reading in Genesis, but first let me identify a couple preconceptions about leadership:

1) Leadership is not about power or authority, it is about investing into people. That's why Jesus washed his disciples feet.

2) Leadership is not always measurable. We invest ourselves faithfully, we pray for the Spirit's work, but ultimately we don't know the results of our investment. Fortunately, God is more concerned with our investment... He already knows the return.
So here are a few "Leadership Lessons from Genesis 2" (read the chapter if you need more context!). Whether you are leading a musical group, a group of volunteers in children's ministry, a project team or any other group of people; you may find one or two helpful suggestions from these thoughts.

1) Invest in people by giving them a purpose.
"the LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." When you are leading others, regularly communicate the ultimate goal. Help them see it for themselves, and gently guide them toward it.

2) Invest in people by giving them freedom to work.
"You are free to eat from any tree in the garden..." Nothing is more frustrating than being micro-managed. If your team members are capable on their own, let them do things on their own!

3) Invest in people by providing them contextual guidelines.
"you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." We all need boundaries. However, rather than creating walls and fences, try to simply help your team identify what you are NOT trying to accomplish. The more clearly they understand what the big goal is and is not, the easier it will be for them to stay within the guidelines.

4) Invest in people by granting them the necessary authority to work.
"He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was his name." Intentionally tell other people how much faith you have in your team. Few things are more empowering than knowing that your leader believes in you, so work hard to make sure your team knows you believe in them!

5) Invest in people by providing them the appropriate help to complete their work.
"But for Adam no suitable helper was found...Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man." Regularly ask your team what they need. Equip them for success by ensuring they have the resources and people necessary to accomplish their goal.