Failure Qualifies For Leadership

If you have ever failed… or feel like a failure… this post is for you.

Let’s say you’re looking for someone to lead an international movement.  You need them to be THE catalyst to transcend cultures, races, political, and socio-economic situations.  The last person you would choose would be a hot-headed loose cannon who constantly made brash statements and then retract them.  You wouldn’t pick a person who was disloyal and impulsive along with a propensity toward racism.  You wouldn’t want a person who would abandon the cause when the going got tough.  They can’t drop the baton when you hand it to them.  That is exactly the person Jesus chose as the leader of His eternal movement called The Church.

The man Jesus chose had been a failure.  He was a loose cannon.  He spoke, then thought afterward.  He wasn’t a paragon of loyalty.  He was a quitter.  His name was Peter… the Apostle.  (Note: This is a follow up from a previous post… CLICK HERE)

It was after Peter regularly acted like a bull in a china shop he was selected to lead the Church in the 1st Century.  It was after Peter failed by denying Christ three times and cursing Him publicly that Jesus chose Him to guide the Early Church in its infancy.  Peter was the one Jesus picked to deliver the first message (At Pentecost) that set in motion the movement that today is called Christianity.

It was BECAUSE OF Peter’s failure that Jesus chose him!

Who else would know better what being a failure and then restored was like?  Who better would be compassionate and merciful to those who needed it most?  Who else understood redemption after a colossal mistake?  Who else was qualified because of being humbled?  Peter was the illogical choice to men… AND the right man for the job… according to Jesus.

While non of us would choose a failure to be a leader, that is consistent with God’s economy.  The first shall be last… the greatest must be your servant… to find your life you must lose it… to be great you must be the least… and the best leaders are those who have failed.

Have you failed… at something… anything… a lot of things?  That doesn’t mean God won’t use you for something important and significant for His glory!  In fact, it is because of those failures that God worked in to prepare you for His ultimate plan for your life.  After all… “If God is for you, who can be against you?”  The Christian’s life is not defined by either successes or failures.  It is defined by the fact that they are in Christ.  Everything else is secondary… including “failure.”

When Failure Is Success

The way you define success will impact significantly your self-worth.

William Carey preached and served in India for 7 years before he saw God convert anyone.  Noah preached 120 years without a single convert Isaiah was called by God to preach and was told the people would not listen to him.  Ezekiel was sent to speak God’s Word to people who were obstinate and would not listen.  Paul was run out of towns regularly… beaten… opposed… stoned… and whipped for his preaching.  There were even towns where Jesus didn’t have “success.”

Most Baptist churches would fire a preacher if no one joined for 3 years… much less 7.  Most preachers would quit if they didn’t have ANY converts for 10 years… much less 120.  I’m not sure any minister (Or those who observed him) would deem him a success if everywhere he went he was opposed, vilified, and maligned.  Then… if a preacher constantly get run off from churches wouldn’t we all doubt him… his call… his doctrine and theology?!

Was William Carey a failure?  What about Noah?  Isaiah?  Ezekiel or Paul?  None of them failed in God’s eyes regardless of what people who observed them thought.  And of course we know Jesus wasn’t a failure!

God does not bless every person He calls with worldly “success.”  God does not bestow upon all those who follow Him with observable blessings.  There are some in His army that are called to “fail” in the world’s eyes.

The world deems being a servant… being last… losing their life… being the least as “failing.”  Yet Christians who read their Bible know that those are the VERY THINGS that God declares makes those who follow Christ a success!

There are people who serve their entire life on earth without any recognition… without any visible success… without any accolades.  But that does not mean they are a failure.

Success in the Christian life is defied by three words: Obedience To God.

If you are obedient to God… you are a success… in HIS EYES.  To all who are obedient, one day GOD will say… “Well done good and faithful servant!”

Iran To Execute Christian Pastor

These excerpts are from Fox News… (Click HERE)

An Iranian pastor who has refused to recant his  Christian faith faces execution as early as Wednesday after his sentence was  upheld by an Iranian court.

Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani, who maintains he has never  been a Muslim as an adult, has Islamic ancestry and therefore must recant his  faith in Jesus Christ, the 11th branch of Iran’s Gilan Provincial Court ruled.  Iran’s Supreme  Court had ordered the trial court to determine whether Nadarkhani had been a  Muslim prior to converting to Christianity.

The judges, according to the American Center for Law & Justice, demanded that Nadarkhani, 34, recant his Christian faith before  submission of evidence. Though the judgment runs against current Iranian and  international laws and is not codified in Iranian penal code, the judge stated  that the court must uphold the decision of the 27th Branch of the Supreme Court  in Qom.

When asked to repent, Nadarkhani stated: “Repent  means to return. What should I return to? To the blasphemy that I had before my  faith in Christ?”

“To the religion of your ancestors, Islam,” the  judge replied, according to the American Center for Law & Justice.

“I cannot,” Nadarkhani said. (Emphasis mine, RE)

Nadarkhani is the latest Christian cleric to be  imprisoned in Iran for his religious beliefs. According to Elam Ministries, a  United Kingdom-based organization that serves Christian churches in Iran, there  was a significant increase in the number of Christians arrested solely for  practicing their faith between June 2010 and January. A total of 202 arrests  occurred during that six-month period, including 33 people who remained in  prison as of January, Elam reported.

God bless, strengthen, and guide Youcef.  Needless to say, Youcef Nadarkani and his family need our prayers.  Americans… be thankful we live when and where we do (At least for the moment).

 

 

Why Forgive?

I am re-reading a book by Johann Christoph Arnold titled,Why Forgive?”  I’m doing so after Bob Stone presented four sessions to HBC about our hurt and the way the Gospel overcomes them.  Below are some of the thoughts from Mr. Arnold’s book… (Free e-book download HERE).

Forgiving does not mean forgetting or condoning wrong… It does mean a conscious decision to stop hating, because hating can never help.  (Pages 4-5)

Whether or not people are judged on this earth or by a court of law means little… the last word rests with God (Page 9).

(Regarding forgiveness) Everything seems hard until you learn it.  Then it is easy.  The cruelest prison of all is an unforgiving mind and spirit (Page 14).

The strongest motivation for forgiving is always the (truth) that I myself have been forgiven (Page 17).

If there is to be peace, there has to be forgiveness (Page 27).

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night devoid of stars.  Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.  (Page 28)

Whoever is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power of love.  (Page 29)

The forgiving act must always be initiated by the person who has been wronged, the victim of some great hurt, the recipient of some tortuous injustice, the absorber of some terrible act of oppression.  The wrongdoer may request forgiveness… but only the injured neighbor, the loving father back home, can really pour out the warm waters of forgiveness.  (Pages 29-30)

There are gems of wisdom throughout the book (Thus I just gave a few from the first 30 pages).  My guess is that some reading this need to forgive someone.  After all… one of the hallmarks of Christianity is forgiveness… of others… of our enemies… of those who have wronged us.  In closing, consider what is written in Ephesians 4:32…

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

We Need Trauma, Not Drama

News Flash: For Christians, trauma is a good thing!  Including those traumatic events that drive us to the edge of despair!  Consider the Scripture…

2 Corinthians 1:8 We were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Read those verses again.  Paul and his companions experienced some kind of trauma.  It was so severe they thought they were going to die.  Their emotional state got to the point of giving up.  But they didn’t die.  The trauma abated.  They were delivered.  And God had a reason for both the presence of the trauma AND delivering them from it.  Re-read the sentence in red…

When trauma enters a genuine Christian’s life, their automatic response is to flee to God… to pray to God… to rely on God… to trust God for the outcome regardless of what it may be.  They do not shake their fist at Him.  They do not sit in judgment of Him.  Instead they seek understanding FROM Him of their situation, circumstances, and what He would have them to learn.

Read again the sentence in red.  The reason God providentially allowed/placed the trauma in Paul and his companion’s life was to teach them something very important.  God MADE THEM (Meditate on that)… God MADE THEM rely on HIM rather than themselves.  God’s concern was more about faith than physical deliverance.  God’s concern was more about their sanctification than protecting them from immediate emotional fear.  In fact… God used traumatic fear to increase their faith!

God has a purpose for whatever trauma you encounter.  The reason He sovereignly and providentially places/allows it into your life is to draw you Himself.  As Larry Crabb said, “Every event of life is God calling us to a closer walk with Him.”  The result is then greater faith, trust, and reliance upon God rather than ourselves.  Therefore…

Trauma in a Christian’s life is ultimately a good thing!  Not because of the pain in and of its self, but because of what the result is in the hands of God… our sanctification and maturity in Christ.  THAT is why it is written in James 1:2-4…

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

A “Freezing” Baptism!

Barney McCormick came to Christ and upon his conversion he asked to be baptized in the Alabama River.  Oh… did I tell you it was December and the temperature was 42 degrees?  I suggested we use the baptistery that had heated water.  He said no.  I asked why and he told me that he lived beside the river (I assumed his house was there).  He told me he lived in a TENT beside the river!

Now I knew he was middle management where he worked and made a good living.  So I asked him why he lived in a tent?  He told me that if he lived in a house or apartment he wouldn’t be able to afford to pay his alimony and child support.  He wanted to be baptized in the river to remember the event every day.  BOOM.  At that point I was deeply impressed with his commitment to his family even though it was broken.  So we scheduled a baptism… in the Alabama River… for December 10th… when it was 42 degrees!  Thus the picture to the right.

He was in a T-shirt and jeans.  I had on long-handles… sweats… AND waders.  He was fine wading into the water… but when he went under it took his breath away.  You can tell how the cold water shocked him by looking at his face in the picture (Notice the waves are downstream as a result of the river flowing).  His joy in following Christ that day through baptism is an event I will never forget.

I haven’t seen Barney for many years… but I’ll never forget him.  He was a biker who lived a life for Christ from the day of his conversion.  Even though I haven’t talked to him, I’m confident that his faith has continued and grown (God willing).  Now one more thought…

Do you remember your baptism?  Has your conversion resulted in following Christ regardless of the consequences?  Do you have a fond memory of when you identified with Christ through baptism?  I hope so… regardless of where it took place it was a significant event in your Christian life history.

Hard Family Discussions

Recently Al Mohler wrote about the potential name change of the Southern Baptist Convention.  But this post isn’t about the discussion regarding changing the name of my beloved denomination.  Instead I want to focus on the last few things Dr. Mohler wrote that settled in my heart as very important… (Emphasis below is mine):

Family discussions are often difficult, but this is what healthy families do — they work through the challenges rather than run from them.

There are good arguments to be made on both sides of this question — so let’s make them. There are important questions to ask — so let’s ask them. There are emotional issues that pull at our hearts — so let’s talk about them. There are generations of the past to whom we owe so much and a generation of those now living we desperately want to reach — so let’s bridge them. There are legal and financial issues to consider — so let’s consider them. There are so many Southern Baptists from which we need to hear — so let’s listen to them.

Most importantly, there is a world desperately in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ — so we must not allow this question to divert our energies from the Great Commission task.  It will not matter what we call ourselves if we lose sight of the one great cause that has brought us together.

What Dr. Mohler wrote is powerful… for more situations than considering changing the name of a convention.  It applies to literal family units that are struggling with hard decisions.  It applies to state conventions… local associations… and individual churches that have tough decisions to make.  Too many times people and groups become paralyzed when a decision needs to be made which results in no decision which is usually the worst decision.

Is there something in your family that needs to be addressed rather than ignored?  Is there a situation that you’ve been putting off that has the potential to greatly impact your loved ones that needs to be looked at seriously?  Can I suggest that a healthy family doesn’t run from those discussions… they embrace them to work through them for God’s glory.

“I Married The Wrong Person”

I found this on another blog by Tim Challies (Click here) titled, “I Married The Wrong Person” and thought it worth reposting… (Imagine your daughter bringing the guy pictured to the right home as her future husband.  Your reaction would probably be the same as mine… WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!  You DON’T need to marry him!)  Note: Click here for another post that relates to this one.

A little while ago Stephen Altrogge wrote a small article he titled So You Think You’ve Married the Wrong Person and today I would like to add one thing to the discussion. Stephen’s article addresses an always-pertinent topic. It is a topic that is applicable to married folk who may one day wake up and wonder, Did I marry the wrong person? In fact, I think most married people wonder that at one time or another. It may not be a question filled with true angst and regret, but one that may persist at the back of their mind.

At such times you can find great comfort in this simple reality: I guarantee that you have married the wrong person. We all marry the wrong person. Perhaps I should say it like this: we all marry the “wrong” person. We all marry a person who sins against us, who sometimes exasperates us by helping us worship our idols and at other times irritates us by smashing them to pieces. We all marry a person who has stinky breath and physical blemishes and bad moods. We all marry a person who is apparently incompatible with us on all kinds of levels. To quote Stephen, “The husband is neat, the wife is messy. The wife is talkative, the husband is quiet. The husband is always on time, the wife lives more in the moment. The wife is social, the husband is a homebody.”

The differences can go far deeper than that. The differences may extend from the marriage bed to the church sanctuary, from the way we make love to the way we worship, and everywhere in between.

Stephen turns to Paul David Tripp who offers some valuable and biblical counsel:

God is in control not only of the locations in which you live, but also of the influences that have shaped you as a person. He has not only written the story of you and your spouse and determined that your stories would intersect, but he has controlled all the things that have made you different from one another.

As you struggle, you must not view your marriage as bad luck, or poor planning, or a mess that you have made for yourself. No, God is right smack-dab in the middle of your of your struggle. He is not surprised by what you are facing today. He is up to something. (What Did You Expect?, pgs. 213-214)

This is comfort in the sovereignty of God, that God has ordered all things and that he means to work in and through you. Your marriage to this person at this time falls well within the scope of his sovereign plan. God simply won’t allow you to entertain thoughts of regret or of escape.

But here is what we need to see: The wrongness of our spouse is one of the great formative influences on us. The wrongness and the apparent incompatibilities are the very things God uses to mold and shape us. A few years down the road you will look back on all of that wrongness, all you declared to be wrong about your husband or wife, and find that God was not wrong at all. He knew exactly what you needed.

What I have found is that often times, when someone fears that he has married the wrong person, or when he fears that he is about to marry the wrong person, he is looking at the differences between himself and this other person and lamenting that this other person is not more like him. He may describe her personality or preferences or passions, but what he is really doing is showing that he wants this woman, this potential wife, to be more like him. If only she was…me! Too many men, too many women, truly want to marry an image of themselves. And why not? You tend to like your preferences, to like your idols, to like your likes.

But ask any married person what his life would be like if he had married someone who was just like himself and you’ll see the folly of it. Her talkativeness was just the antidote to your quiet nature, drawing you out, filling your home with godly words. Your sexual freedom was just what she needed to release her fears and teach her how to express love in a whole new way. Her constant lateness taught you to be patient and showed you that she wasn’t late because she was selfish, but because she cared, just like Jesus when he showed up “too late” to save his friend Lazarus. In all these ways and so many more, God uses incompatibilities to produce godliness. These differences are truly glorious, the means by which God helps us put our own sin to death.

So did you marry the wrong person? Yes you did. Embrace it and thank God for it. His/Her wrongness is just right in God’s eyes.

(Note: Obviously there are some exceptions, such as marriages that are physically abusive.  Such cases still fall within the sovereignty of God, of course, but require great care and great wisdom.)

(R.E.) Please also read the post prior to this one

Divorce, Scripture, and Pat Robertson

Recently Pat Robertson gave unbibical advice regarding divorce… he said a man can divorce his wife who has Alzheimer’s because it is “A kind of death.”  He is wrong.  In response, Russell Moore  presented a Biblical Christian view of marriage (CLICK HERE).   Let me say that marriage is for life… better or worse… sickness and health… for richer or poorer… and only death is the absolute end to the marriage relationship.  Pat Robertson was WRONG to tll the man he could divorce his wife because of Alzheimer’s.  So, according to Scripture, when is divorce allowable?

Aside: I think it important that the reader knows my parents divorced after 32 years of marriage.  I have walked through the emotional, philosophical, and Biblical issues related to divorce and have come to my conclusions after much reflection, prayer, and study.  I don’t have all the answers, but God is the God of comfort.  (Click here for another post that relates to this one) Here is the Scripture…

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Malachi 2:14 The Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15  Did He not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking?  Godly offspring.  So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who hates and divorces, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Matthew 5:31 (Jesus) “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’  32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Matthew 19:3 And Pharisees came up to (Jesus) and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” 4 He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’?  6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”  7 They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 9 And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”

1 Corinthians 7:10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband? Husband, how do you know whether you will save your wife?

Romans 7:1 Or do you not know, brothers —for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.  3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

This is of greatest importance from the Ephesians 5 passage above: A Christian marriage is an earthly picture and illustration of Jesus’ love, devotion, care, and protection of HIS Bride… The Church.  This means the way Christian husbands relate and treat their wife must reflect the kind of love Christ has for the Church!  If a Christian husband does not treat his wife the way Ephesians 5 describes, God will ignore his prayers.

Biblical allowances for divorce:

Sexual immorality is one reason a Christian is allowed to divorce (But it is not commanded),

When an unbelieving spouse leaves a believing (Christian) spouse, divorce is allowed (And remarriage is possible),

If a Christian divorces for any other reason, they are to remain single until or unless their ex-spouse dies OR they remarry the spouse they seperated from (Romans 7:1-3, 1 Corinthians 7:10-12), otherwise they commit adultery.

Caveat: If a spouse’s life… or that of the children… is in danger, I counsel them to remove and protect themselves from the situation.  Divorce may eventually be the last option… but it is not the first option.  At this point Romans 7:1-3 applies.

Non-Biblical reasons for divorce (I’ve had people tell me each of these as the reason they wanted a divorce):

“We were young and made a mistake.  We should never have gotten married…”

“I don’t love my spouse anymore…” or “I’ve just fell out of love with my spouse…”

“God wants me to be happy and I’m not happy in this marriage…”

“The tax implications are better for us to be divorced than married…”

“I’ve prayed about divorcing my spouse and God told me it is okay even though I don’t have Biblical grounds…”

Pray for God’s Guidance Or God’s Will?

As best I can tell, it isn’t recorded in Scripture that Jesus asked God to guide him.  As far as I have found, I can’t find in Scripture a command to pray seeking God’s guidance.  What Jesus did pray about… and He taught us to pray… was about God’s will being done.  Maybe that is how our prayers should be directed.  And maybe someone can show me some Scripture I have overlooked.

In The Model Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray… “Thy will be done…” not “SHOW me Thy will.”  When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “If it be your will let this cup pass from me…” NOT “Show me Your will that I may do it.”  That strikes me as important.

Some will point to Romans 12 where Paul wrote, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Some suggest that the “renewal of your mind” is prayer and “discerning” is asking God to answer regarding His guidance.  Consider John MacArthur’s commentary…

The transformed and renewed mind is the mind saturated with and controlled by the Word of God.  It is the mind that spends as little time as possible even with the necessary things of earthly living and as much time as possible with the things of God.  It is the mind that is set “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col 3:2).  Whether good or bad, when anything happens in our lives, our immediate, almost reflexive response should be biblical.  During His incarnation, Jesus responded to Satan’s temptations by hurling Scripture back into His adversary’s face (Mt 4:4, 7, 10).  Only the mind that is constantly being renewed by God’s Spirit working through God’s Word is pleasing to God.  Only such a mind is able to make our lives “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual service of worship.” (MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Moody Press & John MacArthur Jr., 1983-2005).

In other words… “renewing of the mind” does not refer to prayer asking God for guidance.  The way God’s will is discerned is by immersing ourselves in Scripture and as a result God’s will is known through the Spirit’s illumination of Scripture in light of honoring God’s Word which dominates our life.  Or to put it a more clearly… the renewed mind recognizes God’s will as He is unfolding it and doing it.  Thus it is taught in Experiencing God, “Find out where God is at work and join Him.”

It is as a friend of mine who recently quoted Oswald Chambers… “God won’t tell you what He’s doing, He tells you who He is.” I like that.

When it comes to God’s will, the Christian is in the middle of it.  God’s will is more something He does… something that we come to realize than it is something God gives us in answer to prayer.

Psalm 19

Psalm 19:7-11

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

Simple Faith De-stresses

To be a “good” Christian you MUST: Read your Bible at least 1 hour a day… visit at least one night a week… teach Sunday School… Evangelize a lost person every week… Read the Bible through at least once every year… go on a mission trip (One international & the other local)… sing in the choir… and at least tithe.  Some add: Speaking in tongues, being a member of their denomination, and baptized the way THEY say is right.

Well… that’s what a lot of people believe (Because that’s what preachers have told them).  If you aren’t doing those things, then according to them you aren’t living a surrendered life for Christ.  There’s only one problem… God doesn’t give a long laundry list of what to do and not do to be a “good” Christian.  Consider the Scripture…

Micah 6:8 What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Matthew 22:35 A lawyer, asked (Jesus) a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  38 This is the great and first commandment.  39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

“Do justice… love kindness… walk humbly with God.”

“Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind… Love your neighbor as yourself.”

God never intended following and living for Him to be hard… difficult… or a burden.  In fact, if you feel pressured to DO something or BE a certain way, you are not living the kind of life God intends!  Consider again the Scripture…

1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.

John 4:14 Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Matthew 11:28 Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  29 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.  30 For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”

When you love someone, you WANT to do certain things and be a certain kind of person.  Genuine Christians produce good works naturally.  They don’t strain any more than a tomato plant strains to produce tomatoes!  The people for whom living the Christian life is hard are those who are trying to do it under their own power.

If you don’t have the desire… ask God to give it to you.  (Pause) Can it really be that simple?  Yes… it really is.  Honest.  I know by experience…

How To Hear A Message

I found this on another blog and thought it interesting…

Do you ever find yourself . . .

Waking up on Sunday morning and wishing you didn’t have to go to church?
Having a hard time staying awake in church?
Daydreaming during the message, or making a mental “to-do” list while the pastor is preaching?
Picking apart the message or the preacher in your mind or not getting anything out of the sermon?
Wishing your pastor would be more _____?
Forgetting what the message was about before you get home from church?

If we’re not benefitting from the ministry of the Word as it is publicly proclaimed in our local churches, the fault may not lie in the one proclaiming the Word. It may lie in our readiness to hear, receive, and respond to the Word.

How can you prepare your heart to get the most out of your pastor’s preaching?

Before the service

1. Pray for your pastor as he prepares for Sunday. Pray that his schedule would be free from unnecessary distractions. Pray that God will give him understanding into the meaning of the Word. Pray that God will speak to him personally through the Word and that he will respond in humility and obedience. Pray that God will help him to communicate the truth with clarity, freedom, passion, and power.

2. If your pastor is preaching a series from a particular book of the Bible, take time during the week to read ahead and meditate on the text. Ask God to speak to your heart before you even hear the message.

3. Prepare for public worship the night before. Turn off the TV, limit social activities, and instead do things that will cultivate your appetite for God’s Word.

4. Ask God to prepare your heart for the preaching of the Word. Repent of any sin God reveals to you, and get rid of the things that are standing in the way of the Word of God in your life.

5. Ask God to give you a sense of anticipation. Come to church asking God to meet with you. Expect to hear from Him and to be different when you leave.

During the service

1. Participate—you need to be there. You’re not going to get a lot out of church if you don’t go.

2. Get to church early enough to spend a few minutes before the service quietly preparing your heart for worship. Pray for God to move—in the pastor, in your heart, in others’ hearts—and surrender your heart to whatever God will say.

3. Don’t be a spectator. Participate fully in every part of the service. That means when it’s time to sing—sing. When it’s time to pray—pray. When it’s time to give—give.

4. While the sermon is being preached, open your Bible and follow along. If your pastor refers to other references, look them up.

5. Listen attentively to the reading and the preaching of the Word. Try to make eye contact with the pastor. Be a “yes face”! Not only does that help the pastor know people are listening and connecting, but it helps you stay alert and focused.

6. Listen humbly to the preaching of the Word. Ask the Lord to make it fresh. If your heart is humble, your focus won’t be on evaluating the message or how it’s delivered; you will let the message evaluate you.

7. Take notes. Jot down things the Lord speaks to you about; highlight points the Spirit applies to your heart and life. Take those notes home, and work through them later.

8. Don’t make your pastor a prisoner of unrealistic expectations. Your pastor doesn’t have to be mesmerizing, entertaining, dramatic, or tell a lot of stories to be effective. You are blessed if he is a man of God who is humble, loves the Word, and opens the Word and seeks to make its meaning plain. The power is in the truth, not the messenger.

After the service

1. Ask God to give you at least one takeaway from the message—a key concept, phrase, or verse that you can review throughout the week. Jot it down so you don’t forget.

2. While it’s still fresh on your mind (before you leave church, on the way home from church, over the meal following the service, etc.), discuss the message with others. Share how God spoke to you.

3. Be a doer of the Word and not just a hearer (James 1:22). Apply what you heard Sunday morning to real-life, everyday circumstances and situations throughout the week.

Making It Personal

  • Do you highly esteem, respect, and reverence the Word of God (Neh. 8:5; Ps. 138:2)?
  • Do you prepare your heart to hear the Word of God (Ps. 119:18)?
  • Do you find delight in hearing the Word proclaimed?
  • Do you listen attentively when the Word is being read or preached (Neh. 8:3; Ps. 85:8)?
  • Do you expect God to speak to you every time you hear His Word proclaimed?
  • Do you have a teachable spirit (Ps. 25:9)?
  • Do you tremble at the Word of the Lord (Isa. 66:2; Ezra 9:4)?
  • Do you pray for those who proclaim the Word to you, that they might be pure, anointed vessels of God (1 Thess. 5:25)?
  • When the Word is preached, are you conscious that you are not listening to the words of men but to the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13)?
  • Do you have a commitment to obey anything God shows you from His Word (Matt. 7:24; James 1:22–25)?
  • Do you respond in faith, that is, acting on the Word you have heard (Heb. 4:2)?
  • Is your heart good soil that receives the Word and produces fruit (Luke 8:15)?
  • Are you willing to let the message sit in judgment of you rather than you sitting in judgment of the message?
  • Do you take the message personally (James 1:22)? Or are you more focused on how it applies to the people sitting near you?
  • Do you pass on to others what you’ve learned from the Word of God (2 Tim. 2:2)?
  • Do you express appreciation and gratitude for those who minister the Word of God to you (Gal. 6:6; 1 Thess. 5:12-13)?

Timeless Thoughts (Prodigal Sons)

“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”—Psalm 103:12

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”—Hebrews 13:8

Charles Spurgeon on the parable of the prodigal son:

This poor young man, in his hungry, faint, and wretched state, having come a very long way, had not much heart in him. His hunger had taken all energy out of him, and he was so conscious of his guilt that he had hardly the courage to face his father; so his father gives him a kiss, as much as to say, “Come, boy, do not be cast down; I love you.”

“Oh, the past, the past, my father!” he might moan, as he thought of his wasted years; but he had no sooner said that than he received another kiss, as if his father said, “Never mind the past; I have forgotten all about that.” This is the Lord’s way with His saved ones. Their past lies hidden under the blood of atonement. The Lord saith by His servant Jeremiah, “The iniquity if Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve.”

But then, perhaps, the young man looked down on his foul garments, and said, “The present, my father, the present, what a dreadful state I am in!” And with another kiss would come the answer, “Never mind the present, my boy. I am content to have thee as thou art. I love thee.” This, too, is God’s word to those who are “accepted in the Beloved.” In spite of all their vileness, they are pure and spotless in Christ, and God says of each one of them, “Since thou wast precious in My sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee. Therefore, though in thyself thou art unworthy, through My dear Son thou art welcome to My home.”

“Oh, but,” the boy might have said, “the future, my father, the future! What would you think if I should ever go astray again?” Then would come another holy kiss, and his father would say, “I will see to the future, my boy; I will make home so bright for you that you will never want to go away again.” But God does more than that for us when we return to Him. He not only surrounds us with tokens of His love, but He says concerning us, “They shall be My people, and I will be their God: and I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear Me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” Furthermore, He says to each returning one, “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them.”

When You Get Fired

This is from Ray Pritchard who is worth reading regularly…

I talked with a man who was fired from his job in a public and painful way. This is what he said he learned from it.

1. The only answer to bitterness is forgiveness. Not surprisingly, the man felt like the firing had not been handled well. I say “not surprisingly” because firings are rarely handled well, especially from the standpoint of those being fired. Generally there are two choices for how it goes–bad and really bad. My friend’s experience was closer to the latter. “You have to forgive,” he said. But it isn’t easy nor does it come quickly. It takes time to let it all sink in, to work through your feelings, and to come to grips with what has happened. Over time you will either be destroyed by bitterness or you will come to the Christian position and find the grace to forgive as Christ has forgiven you. My friend is currently on this journey, and he is put to the test when people write emails or ask him questions about what happened. But because he knows that forgiveness is a choice and not a feeling, he has chosen to forgive and will be blessed and better for it.

2. Thank God that you were fired. This goes in the category of “in everything give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Again, not easy to do. It all comes back to the sovereignty of God. Does you believe that God is at work even in the worst moments of life? Where was God when my friend was fired? He was where he always is, on the throne of the universe, overseeing the course of all events. My friend could not have been fired unless God had willed to permit it. This truth gives us strength to go on when we feel like giving up. Plus you learn who your friends are when you are fired. That’s always a revelation. Because people understand that “these things happen,” they watch to see how you respond. Your response matters more than the facts of the firing. Down the road you discover that almost everyone loses a job or is “replaced” or “terminated” or “dismissed” or “encouraged to move on.” God uses these events to prepare us for new things he has for us and to teach us to lessons we couldn’t learn any other way.

3. Remember that no one likes a whiner. When we have been mistreated, we want to tell others our story. And to some extent, we need to tell the story. But at some point you have to let go of the past. My friend’s advice is, tell the story enough so that you let it sink in. Tell it so that you learn whatever you need to learn. Then stop talking about it and move on. You can’t get better if you constantly relive the painful events of the past. Don’t be a whiner. “After a while, people will get bored with your story.”

Good advice on all points because it comes from a bedrock faith in God. I think my friend is fine and will do fine. He has been knocked around, but he is far from being knocked out. We can all take a lesson from what he said. Learn to forgive, thank God for allowing this to happen, and don’t be a whiner.

Many of us know the words of Psalm 37:23, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD.” When George Muller of Bristol meditated on that verse, he jotted “and stops” into the margin of his Bible. So he read the passage this way: “The steps and stops of a good man are ordered by the Lord.”

That strikes me as a true application of the text. The same God who orders our steps also orders the “stops” of life. If we believe that, our faith will stay strong even when we have been fired.