I’m Tired (of Social Media)

In our modern era of social media, we love to post pics of our family, vacations, the food we ate, parties we went to, the games we played or watched, links to funny videos, and so much more. It’s a great way to share a part of our lives with our family and friends. Those of you who follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter know that I post A LOT of things about my family whom I love, my friends that I care about, the church that I pastor, and my Savior, Jesus, whom I follow by faith.

But, countless studies have linked extended use of social media to depression, not only in adults, but even more in the hearts and minds of our kids. (Here are just a couple from JAMACNN and Psychology Today).

“Adolescents who spend more than 3 hours per day using social media may be at heightened risk for mental health problems, particularly internalizing problems.” – Journal of the American Medical Association

Seeing all the exciting things that others are doing, the “likes” their pictures got, the parties we were not invited to, the vacations we can’t afford to take, the relationships we wish we had can all be discouraging, if not depressing, by comparison. Social media only reveals the tip of the iceberg of people’s lives and, usually, it’s disguised as a tropical island resort.

Perhaps I’m part of the problem. Just this past weekend, we had a great time watching our son play in his high school band during a thrilling football game. I posted pics and a video of the game winning score. On Saturday, we drove to see our daughter where she goes to college for family weekend. I shared some fun pics of our time with her, her boyfriend, and friends (#GoCru). I love my kids and wife, so I love to share what God is doing in their lives. But, I also realize that my social media posts, likes, links, and shares can give an inaccurate, incomplete picture of the reality of my life.

It’s really easy, especially on social media and even from a church pulpit, to act like I’ve got it all together. Rather than fake it, I need to recognize and admit that there are times, like David (see Psalm 34 and 1 Samuel 21:12), when I fear people more than the LORD. There are many times when the adversities of life, relationships, and ministry get to me.

To be real, I’m feeling pretty worn down and worn out right now. The weight of ministry over the years, personal conflicts with people, as well as, resolving conflict between people, and, even, personal rejection of, not just people, but friends, is a personal struggle that is a present reality. Part of the problem is that I’m tired. Perhaps social media is affecting me, too. The bigger problem, however, is that I’m fearful. Fearful of disappointing people. I’m fearful of not measuring up or meeting expectations. I’m afraid, at times, of conflict and the feelings of rejection that come with it. I’m afraid of people leaving our church because of me, something I’ve done, or not done well enough. I’m even a little bit afraid to share these things because of how some people might react. I can play the comparison game , too, and feel discouraged – even though I know that the grass isn’t greener in anyone else’s life or ministry – the manure is just different.  There are times and seasons, like today, that I’m fearful of circumstances, situations, and relationships.

Recently at Plano Bible Chapel, we began studying, meditating on, and memorizing Psalm 34 because, as a pastor, I needed to study it, meditate on it, and learn how to fear the LORD. I’m in process of learning and applying the blessings of fearing the Lord MORE THAN my personal fears. More than simply naming my fears, I’m counting God’s blessings. (You can listen to a recent sermon about this here)

“One who is righteous has many adversities, but the LORD rescues him from them all.” Psalm 34:19

Because we can experience the God’s redemption by faith in His Son, JESUS, we can praise the LORD at ALL times. When we’re afraid. When we’re broken-hearted. When we’re crushed. When we’ve failed. When we feel excluded. When our lives seem boring or meaningless compared to others. Even when we’ve sinned. The LORD rescues those who fear Him. The LORD watches over us. The LORD redeems us and saves us for an eternal relationship with Him.

So, wherever I am, whatever’s going on, and whenever I’m browsing your photos on social media, I can “bless the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will boast in the Lord; the humble will hear and be glad. Proclaim the Lord’s greatness with me; let us exalt his name together.” (Psalm 34:1-3).

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Defenseless

Since the U. S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion 45 years ago today, January 22, 1973, it’s estimated that more than 60 million abortions have been performed in America. Unborn babies are living human beings (regardless of the circumstances of conception), created and loved by God and deserving, though defenseless, of our love and protection.

Some may see this as just a personal issue for each individual to decide or a political one for leaders to legislate. I believe, however, that this is the most significant moral dilemma of people today because it really is a matter of life and death. Also, it seems to me that it’s a spiritual attack of our enemy, the Devil, against the image and glory of God reflected in mankind — men & women, boys & girls, and babies inside & outside a mother’s womb. It seems to me that the debate about women’s rights, fairness, equality, and situational ethics really questions God’s goodness and sovereignty. The discussion either rejects God altogether or skeptically asks, “Did God really say…?”

“For it was You who created my inward parts; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I will praise You because I have been remarkably and wonderfully made. Your works are wonderful, and I know this very well. My bones were not hidden from You when I was made in secret, when I was formed in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me when I was formless; all my days were written in Your book and planned before a single one of them began.” (Psalm 139:13-16)

Join me in praying for God’s truth and grace to be compassionatly communicated in personal conversations and public spaces. Pray for God to continue working through credible, loving organizations like Real Options for Women who provide help, hope, and support for expectant mothers and others. Ask God to help us and defend the defenseless.

follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.

A Mad World

When did the world get so angry? How did it happen so quickly? As we look ahead to a new year in 2018, we have some serious issues to deal with in the world of relationships - especially relationships in regard to race, religion, and politics. How did we get so full of frustration that the slightest disagreement or difference of opinion overflows to unkind words, unloving hate, and even outright violence?

Read the comment sections on any public news site or dare to scroll down the comments of someone’s controversial FaceBook post or Twitter feed­ and you’ll probably be sorry you did. It’s become painfully clear that racial, religious, and political conflicts are part of a long-simmering, decades-in-the-making anger. In a world that promotes strict tolerance, people seem to be anything but that.

We’re tired of what’s going on in our world and many, including followers of Jesus, are angry about it. What is a believer in Jesus to think in times like these? To feel when life is out of control? To do when we’re angry?

In the Old Testament of the Bible, the prophet Micah, on behalf of his people, asked the LORD a similar question (Micah 6:6-7). In times of social and political turmoil, Micah prophesied about the coming destruction of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) by the Assyrians and the later defeat of the Southern Kingdom (Judah) by the Babylonians. Micah then told the people of God how He wanted them to act, love, and live:

“Mankind, He has told each of you what is good and what it is the LORD requires of you: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8

This verse contains one of the most succinct and powerful expressions of the LORD’s essential requirements for godly living in a mad world. At first glance, we bristle at the thought of requirements. As people, we don’t like to be told what to do.

Micah explains the essence of spiritual reality that is not just a set of rules; he encourages much more than mere ritual worship. God wants us to obey Him because we want to (for our good), not because we have to.

In Micah 6:8, the Lord wanted each of His people (“Mankind”) to live with Him. There is a progression in these requirements from what is external to what is internal and from human relationships to our relationship with God Himself.  The verse explains, “He has told each of you.” He had already told the Israelites what would be good (beneficial) for them:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul… He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner, giving him food and clothing.” (Deuteronomy 10:12,18)

“Above all, fear the LORD and worship Him faithfully with all your heart; consider the great things He has done for you.” (1 Samuel 12:24)

It’s related to Jesus’ “Great Commandment” in the New Testament: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:38-40):

A right relationship with God that results in great relationships with others requires three things: to act justly, love faithfully, and walk humbly with God.
1. God wants us to act the right way:  seek godly justice for the fair treatment of others.

Specifically, the Lord wanted them to practice justice rather than continuing to plot and practice unfairness and injustice toward one another (cf. v. 11; 2:1–2; 3:1–3). I realize that in our contemporary society, “social justice” has become a convoluted term meaning different things to different people. So let’s use the term “godly justice” that provides a biblical frame of reference that guides how we act.

The active infinitive (act justly) indicates something “to do” - to carry out or perform an action or course of action. In order for there to be justice, judgement is required in the determination of rights and the assignment of rewards or punishments. In the OT, this Hebrew word for justice (מִשְׁפָּט mišpāṭ) describes it as a rightness which is rooted in God’s character, compassion, and action. In contrast to the anger of injustice in our day (both personal and systemic), the Psalmist said, “How happy are those who uphold justice, who practice righteousness at all times” (Psalm 106:3). In other words, JUSTICE leads to JOY!

The Bible explains that wise people think of justice (Proverbs 12:5), speak of it (Psalm 37:30), seek it (Isaiah 1:17), provide it (James 1:27), and enjoy it (Proverbs 21:15), because God requires it along with a heart of love and a spirit of humility (Micah 6:8). Justice, however, isn’t self-righteous or prideful. Justice is humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly defending or depending on our “rightness.”

Justice shows no favoritism nor is persuaded by politics, power, position, or economics. Justice requires empathy as we consider how we would feel in another’s shoes, It doesn’t give preference to the either the poor or to the wealthy (Deuteronomy 1:17). Justice doesn’t favor the citizen or to the resident alien (Leviticus 24:22). Social justice is godly justice.

2. God wants us to love the right way:  be personally committed to meeting the needs of others.

He also wanted His covenant people to love faithfully and practice loyal love (Hebrew חֶסֶד ḥesed) by carrying through their commitments to help one another, as He had with them. This Hebrew word is used 240 times in the OT to describe God’s grace, mercy, goodness, and devotion in His loving-kindness. His love is unconditional, unending, constant, eternal. God’s love is not just sentimental or emotional. It’s based upon His actions, specifically His strength to fulfill His promises to His people (Micah 7:20).

As followers of Jesus, we are to love our enemies – whoever and wherever they may be – just as He has loved us. Christ-like love gives others what they need the most when (based on attitudes, words, or behavior) they deserve it the least, at the greatest personal cost just as He loves us (Romans 12; 2 Corinthians 5:14; 1 John 4:10).

3. God wants us to live the right way:  walk humbly before God in our relationships with others.

He wanted His people to live their lives humbly trusting and depending on Him rather than arrogantly relying on themselves (cf. Micah 2:3). Pride is the enemy of justice and love. Whereas pride divides people; humility cultivates unity. Worldly Pride says, “Look what I’ve done.” Godly humility says, “Look what God’s done.”

In this mad, angry world today, the truth is that sin infects us all, and so we cannot simply divide the world into the heroes and the villains. Only by God’s Spirit will we see justice and experience it, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to do what’s right before God, love others as He has loved us, and remember how His justice was satisfied by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross in our place – my place – for our sin – my sin.

Every New Year’s Day, many people plan their day around watching a couple of fights between grown men. This New Year’s Day is no different. Today at 4:00pm, guys from Oklahoma will travel to the Rose Bowl in California, looking for a fight with some Bulldogs from Georgia. Later tonight, there will be another fight between some guys from Alabama taking on another group from South Carolina in New Orleans. Two football games will take place between two rivals who are enemies on the field with fans representing both in the stands.

But there will also be another group of people on the field. The referees. Their job is to be impartial. Their job is to ensure a fair game. They must be humble to make sure pride doesn’t cloud their vision. Their job is to establish the rules from a rule book given by a higher authority - the NCAA. At times, the referees/officials get yelled at from both teams on the field, both coaches, and from most fans in the stands, but they are to be just in their decisions. If the referee begins to choose sides, it results in chaos. If the referee is influenced by the fans in the stands, there is confusion on the field. But when the group of referees impartially and fairly applies the rules of the game established by NCAA, the game can be played and enjoyed on the field as intended.

In the same way, followers of Jesus are God’s referees here on the Earth as His representatives from Heaven. The LORD has told each of us what is good and what it is He requires of us: to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with our God.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

 

Resolving Conflict

As we gather together this week to celebrate Thanksgiving, we begin the Holiday season that provides significant time with family and friends. For many, however, the extra time with people is not a time of celebration, but of significant stress because of unresolved conflict — maybe even many years of it.

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The easy thing, the normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict.

How do we resolve conflict when personal disagreements arise?carnage1jpg-f75362bb0d786a9c-2

 

What we need when sharp disagreements arise and when differences have caused serious pain is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships. How? 

Humble yourself before the Lord to recognize different viewpoints.

Often when we “agree to disagree”, what we mean is, “well, I’m right and you’re wrong, and you’re too stubborn to see it.” It’s easier to be objective when you don’t have a personal emotional stake in a situation or conflict, so sometimes we need someone else with some emotional or relational distance to help us see and hear what we can’t on our own.

Humble yourselves (not defend yourselves) before the Lord, and He will exalt you….don’t criticize one another” (James 4:10-11) Humility is able to say and believe, “It’s not wrong, it’s just different” It also says, “Hey, that hurts…”

Engage in conversation before jumping to conclusions.

Emotions can move us to action, but as they intensify, reasoning diminishes.  If we slow down, calm down, are able to listen, and be controlled by the Holy Spirit (rather than our emotions) we can begin to see the issue from the other side. And if we’re honest, we’ll have to admit that the conflict is really a matter of personal perspective (viewpoint) rather than who’s right and who’s wrong. If the other person has valid viewpoints, what is it that I don’t see or understand? Sometimes the picture is not as black or white as we want to see it. What we personally observe or intelligently perceive isn’t enough. We have to listen to God’s Word and His Spirit, then listen to others.

“My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19–20)

Recently, I was feeling unfairly criticized by a friend. I felt like they were being somewhat condescending in our conversations, and I was hurt, upset. God’s Spirit prodded me to talk to this person. So, I asked, “How are we doing? I’ve noticed…. And felt… Is there something I’ve said or done?” They were shocked and surprised. It led to a good conversation and resolved a conflict that I was feeling.

Ask for forgiveness for what you are personally responsible.

You are 100% responsible for your attitudes, words, and actions.  Most of us give lousy confessions… if we confess at all. Most of us are pretty sorry at saying, “I’m sorry.” When we do something wrong or hurt someone personally, our typical responses are to conceal it, deny it, excuse it or blame it on others. (Gen. 3:12-13). Here is some relational wisdom and key components of asking forgiveness from Ken Sande:

7 A’s of Asking Forgiveness:

  1. Address everyone involved. (All those whom you affected)
  2. Avoid if, but, and maybe, (Don’t try to excuse your wrongs)
  3. Admit specifically, (Both attitudes and actions)
  4. Acknowledge the hurt, (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
  5. Accept the consequences, (Such as broken trust, restitution, etc)
  6. Alter your behavior, (Change your attitudes and actions)
  7. Ask for forgiveness. (Say the words, “I’m sorry, will you please forgive me?”)

Therefore, God’s chosen ones, holy and loved, put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, accepting one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. Above all, put on love—the perfect bond of unity.” (Col. 3:12–14)

Perhaps the greatest, most notable difference between a believer in Christ and an unbeliever is the ability to seek and extend forgiveness. It’s when we forgive, as Christ has forgiven, that we are most like Him.

Look for ways to compromise more than seeking to be proven right.

When the conflict persists, care enough to work it out. Don’t run from it, gossip about it, rally support for your viewpoint, or stuff it. Don’t quit your job, your church, or your marriage because of disagreements. In Christ-like love, look for common ground and creative solutions. DeeDee: “When given the choice between being right and being kind, always choose kindness.”

St. Augustine prayed, “O Lord, deliver me from this lust of always vindicating myself.” Truly loving others and forgiving others requires the power of Christ who loves and forgives us even while we were still sinning against Him.

How do we resolve conflict when personal disagreements arise? HEAL: Humble yourself, Engage in conversation, Ask for forgiveness, Look for compromise.

Conflict between friends and, especially, family is inevitable. Unresolved conflict is a choice.

As you prepare to celebrate the Holiday season maybe the best gift you could give to loved ones is initiating some healing in your relationships because reconciliation is the best celebration.

People are celebrating Thanksgiving day

We don’t know how or when, but we find evidence that Paul and Barnabas and John Mark (Acts 15:36-40) were reconciled and celebrated their friendship and partnership in the Gospel.

  • (1 Corinthians 9:5–6) “Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a Christian wife like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas? Or do Barnabas and I alone have no right to refrain from working?
  • (Colossians 4:10–11) “Aristarchus, my fellow prisoner, greets you, as does Mark, Barnabas’s cousin (concerning whom you have received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him), and so does Jesus who is called Justus. These alone of the circumcision are my coworkers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.”
  • (Philemon 23–24) “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, greets you, and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my coworkers.”
  • (2 Timothy 4:11) “Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you, for he is useful to me in the ministry.”

Resolving personal conflicts is a work of God’s Spirit controlling the spirit of a believer in Christ. We can talk about God’s grace, sing about His love, preach the Gospel, and share its message, but it’s in resolving conflict, sharp disputes that we prove its worth and work.

In the same way God personally reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, we have been commanded (biblically) to reconcile with each other. Only God can HEAL the wounds and reconcile relationships when sharp disagreements come up, be we can’t ignore our part in His healing work in our hearts and in our relationships.

Follow me…as I follow Jesus Christ.
Happy Thanksgiving! And Merry Christmas!

church fights

Fighting-in-the-Pews

It has been said that “church fights are the worst fights,” perhaps because they break out among people who profess to believe in unity and love. You name it, Christians fight over it. Sometimes the disagreements are over trivial matters, but often they are serious conflicts from different viewpoints. Many Christians have been so hurt by a fellow believer that they walk away from the church and never return.

In a recent blog Dr. Thom Rainer, President & CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources & former Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Professor, listed 10 reasons for conflicts that arise in the church. They mainly include unfair expectations and misunderstood intentions but are common issues in many churches. Conflict happens in every church. This conflict is sometimes managed well. Other times, not so much.

We can observe a biblical example of a personal conflict between two good, godly men, Paul and Barnabas in Acts 15:36-41. Their conflict is not about even an essential or biblical issue, but personal one regarding a person: John Mark.

Here’s a great story that highlights the realities of relationships. God is moving in the hearts of His people and working through them to take the message of salvation by grace through Christ to the world. Paul and Barnabas decide, let’s go back and encourage the believers in the church. Yea! From Barnabas’ perspective, it made perfectly good sense to take his cousin, John Mark, with them again because he started out with them the first time. “What?!?” Paul thought. We are not taking that guy, that quitter, with us again. Earlier in Perga (Acts 13:13), John Mark left Paul and Barnabas to return to Jerusalem. Paul didn’t approve of John Mark’s decision and Luke did not record his reasons or motives in either chapter. Regardless, Paul and Barnabas “had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. But Paul chose Silas and departed.”  Unresolved conflict.

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So how can we preserve unity while personally disagreeing with another? Here are four things to consider in every disagreement over non-essential, personal issues.

1. Expect disagreements as normal because of natural differences. Like fingerprints, each person’s background, temperament, experiences, relationships, and perspectives are unique. Because of differences, people will naturally disagree with one another. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a part of being human. Consider some of the differences between Paul and Barnabas: Paul was about the work; Barnabas the worker. Paul was more task oriented; Barnabas who was more people oriented. Paul was missional whereas Barnabas was personal. Paul was a teacher and Barnabas was more of a pastor. They had a different relationship with John Mark since he was Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). There were other differences between Paul and Barnabas in regard to their training, home-life, temperament, spiritual gifts, experiences, and passions. In other words, they were different.

2. Even good, godly people will not always agree. This personal, relational conflict between these two godly men helps us see this. The Greek word, paraxusmos, is the word from which we derive our English word paroxysm, which denotes violent action or emotion. This was not a mild disagreement but an intense and passionate conflict! The term, when used negatively, describes anger, irritation, or exasperation in a disagreement. In Hebrews 10:24, it is used positively of stimulating or stirring someone to love and good deeds. Disagreeing is not always a sign of sin or selfishness. Robert Cook has said, “God reserves the right to use people who disagree with me.” By accommodating one another in love, mature believers can disagree without being disagreeable.

3. Every disagreement has an issue and varying viewpoints.  The issue always involves principles. The viewpoints always involve personalities. Differing points of view on the same issue are what usually causes conflict, not two different issues. Sometimes, identifying the issue and the viewpoints can greatly help us understand one another and move us toward a resolution and reconciliation. What is the issue? Is it essential, biblical, or personal?  What are the viewpoints? How could two godly men, both with good intentions see the same issue and come to such different conclusions? Why it so difficult to understand what another person is thinking?

4. Each viewpoint is valid in most disagreements. The story of the disagreement between Paul and Barnabas makes us uncomfortable, but Luke’s realism in recording it helps us to remember that these two godly men, as they themselves said to the people of Lystra, were “human beings with feelings like” any other (Acts 14:15). Notice that Luke does not relate the conflict in such a way as to put Paul in the right and Barnabas in the wrong or vise versa. BOTH of them had a valid perspective. In the heat of an argument, we usually see only one side - our own (perspective, personality, communication style, bias, etc.). But if the disagreement issue is not objective (either theologically or biblically), then it’s subjective. It’s personal for each Christian and not universal for every Christian. There’s room for someone else’s view, right?

A phrase used and applied often in our home that addresses disagreements because of various, valid viewpoints is this: “It’s not wrong; it’s just different.”

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The easy thing, the natural, and, unfortunately, normal thing to do when we’re involved in a conflict is to blame the other person (write them off) and/or walk away (either emotionally or physically or both). For me personally, nothing wears me out or weighs me down more than unresolved conflict. Maybe it’s because as I was growing up in my home, conflict was something to be avoided. And what I learned by experience in my family was that usually unresolved conflict resulted in withdrawal (physical, emotional, or both). So out of fear of distance and lost relationship, I naturally want to avoid conflict at all costs. I’m still growing, I’m still learning, I’m still very much “in process”.

What we need when sharp disagreements arise is for God’s Spirit to HEAL our relationships by resolving our conflicts.

How? I’ll address resolving conflict in my next blog post. 

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Trials

Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem ICould there have been anything more tedious, anything more ill-timed for Mary and Joseph than following political orders to travel for a census when she was 9 months pregnant?  I imagine the tiresome commute to Bethlehem and their disappointing search for lodging was not immediately recognized by Mary and Joseph as something “good” from the Lord.

The journey south from Nazareth was not an easy one through the rugged, Judean hill country, especially for a an expectant, first-time mom. Nor was the occasion a happy one since the census decreed by Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) was undoubtedly a prelude to a burdensome financial tax liability for their growing family. Furthermore, Mary and her husband would be far removed from the comforts and conveniences of home. And when they finally arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room for them there (Luke 2:7). No one had reserved a Bed & Breakfast. No one was looking out for them. No one seemed to care. They were alone.

Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem IIThe tedious trials of life are often tools in the hand of God which only time or eternity will make clear to us. For Mary and Joseph, the decree of Caesar Augustus was divinely intended to cause Jesus’ parents to make a long difficult journey from their home town of Nazareth in Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea because Joseph was in the royal bloodline of King David (Isaiah 9:6-7). The political orders of a pagan ruler were used to fulfill God’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in rural Bethlehem rather than royal Jerusalem (Micah 5:2-5). The humble manger would be the perfect place for humble shepherds to find the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-15) so that they might worship Him.

Mary and Joseph in BethlehemThe birth account of Jesus in Luke 2:7 ends with almost a note of human tragedy: “there was no room for them…” Think about that for a moment — the Son of God, covered with rags and placed in a cattle feeding trough! How could that be? How tragic! And yet, for Jesus, a feeding trough became His first throne on earth (Philippians 2:9-11).

God’s purposes are often achieved through difficulties, even when they are not immediately apparent to us (James 1:2-4). Whether it’s simply too much rain or heart-wrenching, unbearable pain, the trials of life are often tools in the hand of God. Wait on Him. Believe His Word. Trust Him.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Rejoice!

Psalm 118.24

Rejoicing in the Lord comes naturally when life is good. Saying, singing, and, more importantly believing, that God is good is much easier when life is going smoothly. But, when difficulty, discouragement, dishonor, and even death, comes our way, giving thanks to God, trusting in His goodness, and rejoicing in Him becomes a decision.

Regardless of how he felt and how others treated him, the writer of Psalm 118 relied on the Lord as his strength and his source of joy, and He had saved him.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His faithful love endures forever” (Psalm 118:1).

If you’ve ever watched a stone mason building a wall, laying bricks on a home, or constructing a stone building, he discards many stones because they do not fit or were broken. The author of this Psalm seems to have been comparing himself to a stone that the builders (his adversaries) had tossed aside as useless:

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the capstone” (Psalm 118:22).

Although he felt discarded like one of these stones, he trusted that God would restore him to usefulness and give him a position of prominence in God’s work. Only God could have done this: The day of his restoration was obviously one God had brought to pass.

This came from the Lord; it is wonderful in our eyes. Psalm 118:23

 

Consequently the writer called on everyone to rejoice with him in it.

 “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)

Resurrection Stone
There are many New Testament references to the rejected capstone of verse 22. Facing rejection and death, the Lord Jesus applied it to Himself (Matthew 21:42Mark 12:10–11Luke 20:17). Peter and Paul also applied it to Jesus (Acts 4:11Ephesians. 2:201 Peter 2:7). God’s amazing resurrection of His rejected Son to the place of supreme universal authority is remarkable to say the least. The day of His resurrection is the greatest day the Lord ever made. It is indeed the basis for our greatest joy. Especially on days when we feel discouraged and dejected, we can rejoice.

Let’s rejoice in the Lord for what He has done through Jesus (Philippians 3:1) and the power of His resurrection (Philippians 3:10-11). Let’s rejoice as we wait on Him during days of despair. Let’s rejoice as we trust in Him.

“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His faithful love endures forever!” (Psalm 118:29)


Follow me
… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Rubik’s Cube

Rubiks CubeI’ve never been able to figure out a Rubik’s Cube. I know – you figured it out in elementary school. And yes, 30 years later there are You-Tube videos showing you exactly how to solve it. But it’s always stumped me. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve seen others do it. Hearing them say how easy it is never makes it better, either. Every time I’ve tried, and failed, I eventually just put it down and walk away.

Sometimes life feels like a Rubik’s Cube. I just can’t figure it out. I’m stumped. I feel that I can’t do anything right. As a husband. As a parent. As a pastor. As a leader. As a friend. As a servant. As a follower. As a child of God. There are times that no matter what I say or what I do, things or relationships only get worse. I want to do what’s right, but I lack the ability or the discipline. When I can’t seem to do anything right I’m ready to just throw up my hands and walk away…

Other times, I’m working through an issue that’s so confusing that I can’t even figure out how to do what needs to be done. If I could just figure out the right thing to say or the right thing to do, everything would be better. Right?

Still at other times, my heart has grown cold and I don’t even want to. I know what I should do. I just don’t want to do it. My pride keeps me from thinking of others. My stubbornness makes me dig in for the fight. My sense of control keeps me from forgiving. The mountain just looks too intimidating to climb.

That’s why Philippians 2:13 is one of the most encouraging verses to me in the Bible:

For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose.

God promises to both motivate and empower us. Read that verse again — it’s amazing! God promises to give us the want to and the how to do what He wants us to do as we look to Him and depend on Him.

I can’t — but He can!

When I focus on my limitations that lead to endless frustrations, failure is inevitable with fatigue to quickly follow. But God must work in us before He can work through us. We must come to Him in total dependence that He is good, that He is in control, and that He can change our hearts. Then, and only then, will He begin to work through us.

This principle is seen at work throughout the Bible in the lives of men like Moses, David, Peter, Paul, and others. God had a special purpose for each one to fulfill, and each one was unique, but also has serious flaws. It took God forty years to bring Moses to the place where He could use him to lead the people of Israel. As Moses tended sheep during those forty years, God was working in him so that one day He might work through him.

rubiks-cube completedThe power that works in us to enable us is the power of the Holy Spirit of God (John 14:16–1726Acts 1:81 Cor. 6:19–20). Our English word energy comes from the Greek word translated “works.” It is God’s divine energy at work in us and through us. The same Holy Spirit who empowered Christ when He was ministering on earth can empower us as well. God’s divine energy is available to motivate and enable us to serve the Lord (Eph. 1:18–23).

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

Whatever it is you’re facing today, remember you can’t, but God can.

Look to Him. Talk to Him. Cry out to Him. Wait for Him. Trust Him to complete His purpose in you.

Follow meas I follow Jesus Christ.

Doubt and Faith

daysofdoubtThere are days that I have doubts…

There are days I question the goodness of God….

There are days I look around the world and wonder…

As a believer in God, a follower of Christ, and especially, as a pastor, I’m sure some think I’m not supposed to have any doubts. But the reality is that, at times, I do.

Why do we think that faithful followers of Jesus shouldn’t have doubts? We look at Peter and his faults and are encouraged that Jesus restored him and used him greatly. We admire Paul who was a persecutor (terrorist and murderer) of the church and celebrate how Jesus transformed him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). But when we consider Thomas, who doubted the physical Resurrection of Jesus until he saw Him and touched Him, we conclude that we’re not supposed to have doubts. But the reality is, we all have both believing and doubting inside us. And it’s during those days of doubting that we have a choice to make – to believe God’s Word or trust our feelings, observations, or circumstances.

Belief is only a necessity when we don’t know with certainty. Only when we have doubt is faith needed. Where there is complete knowledge, there is no need for faith. If I told you that I had a $20 bill in my pocket, would you believe me? Probably. If I showed it to you, would it still require faith? No. Seeing is not believing – seeing is knowing. When doubt is gone, so is faith.

“Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) It’s the uncertainty of “what is not seen” (doubting) that causes us to exercise faith (believing) and grow in our faith (maturing).

what do I believe?So a crucial question to ask ourselves is, what do I really believe?  There are great beliefs, great creeds of the church, that, for centuries, people have devoted their life to studying. There are beliefs that people have defended with their lives, sacrificed over, and even died for. In Psalm 73, Asaph begins with a statement of faith, “God is indeed good to Israel, to the pure in heart.” He says that in spite of evidence to the contrary, God is good to those who are totally committed to Him. Like the psalmist, we all carry convictions about what we believe. We can talk about them in three ways:

  1. What I say I believe (publicly). These public convictions are the beliefs that I want other people to think I believe, even though I may not really believe them. For example, guys, if a certain someone asks you, “Does this dress make my hips look too large?” What you say you believe is, “No. I didn’t even know you had hips until you mentioned them.” We make such statements for “PR” purposes, regardless of whether or not we really believe them. We get frustrated with politicians for replacing truth with things that sound true, but the reality is that we all have an inner politician who puts in overtime and his main job is crafting and communicating public policies to help us look good and get what we want.
  2. What I think I believe (privately). These private convictions are the things that I sincerely think that I believe, but it turns out they may be fickle. When circumstances change, our private beliefs are revealed to be shallow. When our health, or jobs, or relationships change, what we feel causes us to behave, and believe, differently. When the going gets tough, we jump off the bandwagon for things we think we believe.
  3. What I really believe (personally). These are the convictions that really matter. Our personal beliefs are revealed by our daily actions – by what I actually do. I don’t have to wake up and say, “Today, I’m going to demonstrate my commitment to my belief in gravity.” My attitudes and actions are always the result of what I really believe. What I really believe is what I’m fully depending upon.

So we have three different kinds of beliefs, what I say I believe, what I think I believe, and what I really believe, and that’s were life happens. How do circumstances reveal what I really believe? In Psalm 73:2 Asaph wrote, “But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray.” Asaph publicly said he believed in God, but when he began to look around as his private circumstances changed, he began to have some serious doubts about God’s goodness and justice.

  1. Doubt begins with material envy. Asaph said, “For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalm 73:3). Later on he wrote, “Look at them—the wicked! They are always at ease, and they increase their wealth” (vs. 12). We see the rich getting richer. Cheaters winning. Liars are getting promoted. Everything seems to be going their way.
  2. Doubts surface with physical suffering. “They have an easy time until they die, and their bodies are well fed. They are not in trouble like others; they are not afflicted like most people.” (Psalm 73:4-5) When our wealth and then our health declines we begin to wonder, get discouraged, and doubt. Others who reject God altogether seem more care-free and don’t seem to have the same problems we have. They don’t have as much physical suffering as believers do. Their bodies are healthy and sleek (naturally—they can afford the best of everything). They escape many of the troubles and tragedies of decent people like ourselves. And even if trouble should hit them, they are heavily insured against every conceivable form of loss. Regarding the wicked, British preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, wrote in the 19th century, “They have a quiet death; gliding into eternity without a struggle”
  3. Doubts are sustained from the verbal mistreatment by others. “They mock, and they speak maliciously; they arrogantly threaten oppression. They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues strut across the earth.” (Psalm 73:8-9) The wicked and the selfish boast proudly and act as if God doesn’t care how they live.
  4. Doubts are solidified from the personal afflictions we experience. Why do bad things happen to good people? Like the psalmist we question, “Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing? For I am afflicted all day long and punished every morning.” (Psalm 73:13-14) Like Asaph we begin to wonder, “What good has it done me to live a decent, honest, respectable life?” The hours I’ve spent in prayer. The time spent in the Word. The time and money I’ve given to the Lord. The active testimony for Jesus, both public and private. All I’ve got for it has been a daily dose of suffering and punishment. Is this life of faith really worth the cost? In the face of doubts, we have a choice to make.

I believeWhy should I really believe? I believe God during days and nights of doubt because things in life are not always as they look or feel. “When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless… until… I entered God’s sanctuary… then I understood their future destiny…” (Psalm 73:17-18). When we step back and get God’s perspective, then we realize the outcome of the deeds, the wickedness, the selfishness, and the faithlessness of those who reject Him. More importantly, when we step away from what’s going on and look up to God, we find He is good, He is loving, He is faithful.

Faith involves certain beliefs. Faith involves an attitude of hope and confidence. But at it’s root, faith is trusting a Person. Go back and read that again. Faith is trusting God and His Word. Only when we depend upon God and His Word can we understand life completely and know Him intimately.

Don’t miss how the psalmist repeatedly speaks directly to God with the pronouns “I” and “You” in the following verses:

When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded, I was stupid and didn’t understand; I was an unthinking animal toward You. Yet I am always with YouYou hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory. Who do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. (Psalm 73:21-25)

Asaph is dealing personally and directly with God. He was talking with God at the heart level. Why should we really believe in God? Consider the following:

Regardless of how we feel, God is faithful to us in our failures. Even when we have doubts, become bitter, or become totally consumed by envy of others, Jesus never leaves His followers. The Good Shepherd waits for us and often pursues us. We begin the Christian life by seeing God’s grace and love in spite of our sin. And as we try to live the Christian life, we sometimes have doubts – like the psalmist and like Thomas. When we come to our senses again, we realize in a fresh and deeper way His faithful love and forgiveness of our sin.

In spite of evidence to the contrary, God satisfies our deepest longings and supplies our greatest needs. When we’re struggling with life, the Lord wisely and tenderly lead us and blesses us. Sober reflection reminded the psalmist that God had not forgotten him but would one day provide the good things He presently withheld. God is faithful, even in times of doubt when I can’t see Him or feel Him. My heart may have doubts in the present, but God is the heartbeat of my future.

Why should we believe in God? Because He has rescued us from judgment and is our refuge from troubles. “As for me, God’s presence is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do” (Psalm 73:28). We once were far from God. We once were unfaithful to Him. We once were headed for eternal punishment. But God in His mercy reached down to us with the love of His Son, Jesus, and rescued us from His judgment. Those who do not follow God faithfully will suffer eventually. However, when we depend upon Him by faith we’ll experience His blessing in the end, regardless of our present circumstances.

There are times when a decision to believe requires commitment when we don’t have complete certainty. For the most important decisions in life, this is almost always the case. When a young, naive couple vows to love and honor one another for the rest of their lives, they have no clue as to what challenges they will face. What matters is not certainty, but faithfulness. When certainty is not possible, faithfulness becomes a choice.

TrustingThis is true about the most important decisions of doubt and faith. Trusting God can lead us to deeper faith in Him and greater dependence upon Him. Contrary to how things often appear, God is indeed good to those who are pure in heart, those who are clinging to Him and His Word.

Fully devoted followers of God’s Son are not people who never doubt. We are disciples of Jesus who doubt and worship, doubt and serve, doubt and forgive, doubt and help each other with our doubts. We completely depend upon God and His Word while we wait for our doubting to – one day– turn into knowing.

Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.

Discouragement

Have you ever been discouraged? The days are lonely and the nights are long.

Discouragement typically comes to us because we’ve looked outward and found that our expectations of life or expectations of others have not been met. Problems, especially relational problems, tend to isolate us and discourage us. So after looking outward and becoming discouraged, we then look inward only to discover that we really can’t help ourselves either. The only solution for days of discouragement is to look upward to God. And that’s exactly what David did in Psalm 142.

The superscription of Psalm 142 identifies the time when David wrote this psalm. He did so when he was “in the cave,” evidently while Saul was pursuing him. He was not necessarily alone; 1 Sam 22:1 tells us that David “took refuge in the cave of Adullam. When David’s brothers and his father’s whole family heard, they went down and joined him there. In addition, every man who was desperate, in debt, or discontented rallied around him, and he became their leader. About 400 men were with him.”

CROWDSA cave (or a home, a cafeteria, an office,  or a church) filled with the echoes of demanding voices can be lonely. Have you ever felt alone in a crowd? It may seem a contradiction in terms, but the greater the number of people present, the more intense the feeling of loneliness can be. Psalm 142 suggests to us that even though David saw his family & friends around him, he felt alone. For David, his sense of isolation was like a knife in his heart. No one understood the depth of his emotions. No one seemed to care what he felt or how he suffered. He was discouraged.

The psalmist spoke as one who had no other hope of deliverance but the LORD God. He looked upward. He calls this prayer Maschil—a psalm of instruction, because of the good lessons he had learned in the cave, learned on his knees, which he desired to teach others. One of the reasons we wear out the pages of the psalms is that it helps us simply to know that somebody has gone before us—even thousands of years before us. We find comfort in recognizing the emotions we’re feeling here and now displayed in a man who lived so long ago. David gives us a biblical perspective for when we experience days of discouragement, too.

There are days we feel down (vs. 3) David said, “my spirit is weak within me” The Hebrew words literally mean “the muffling of my spirit.” What vivid terminology—have you ever felt a muffled spirit? David has come to a place where he has begun to distrust his powers of judgment. He is no longer certain where to turn or what course to take. Life has become a great flood rushing in upon him, and he struggles to stand firm against the current. David closes his eyes with a sinking heart. He puts his head farther down in his hands and whispers, “O Lord God, what now? What would You have me do?”

discouragedThere are days we feel deserted (vs. 4) David shared, “no one stands up for me; there is no refuge for me; no one cares about me.” This may be one of the saddest verses in the Bible. Everyone around him seems indifferent to his desperate need. No one seems to care for his life. It is really a haunting cry, “No one cares for my soul.” Have you had days like that? I know I have.

There are days we feel depressed (vs. 6) “Listen to my cry for I am very weak,” said the psalmist. Isn’t that what the condition of depression is all about? David, a man deeply loved by God, a man of profound spiritual experience and wisdom, grappled with depression throughout his life. The word that David uses for weakness is the word for indentation. He applies that condition to his soul. David is saying, “I’m suffering from an indentation in my soul. I am depressed.” All of his hope and joy were gone; his thoughts had turned inward. At one time, the problem had been a simple one—King Saul was hunting him down to kill him. But now David’s plight was something more abstract, something considerably more complex, something whose source was David’s own heart. He had allowed his circumstances to drive him inward. He had come to fall back on his own resources, and those resources were now spent; the well had run dry. There was nowhere else for David to turn. He no longer sensed the presence of God in his life. He was down, deserted, depressed and defeated.

There are days we feel defeated (vs. 6) “Rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.” There can be no doubt that discouragement defeated David. There had been a time when he had sent a stone into a giant’s head; now he was defeated in his own mind. When we put our hopes, dreams, and expectations in people, we will eventually be discouraged. So how do we overcome days of discouragement?

David gives us practical instruction. He teaches us how to depend upon God. There is no cave so dark or a hole so dark that God cannot hear us when we cry out to Him in total dependence.

Depending on God's WordWhen we depend completely upon God rather than people, we will find fellowship with His people and experience communion with Him.

We can reveal our problems to God (vv. 1-2) The repeated words and ideas throughout highlight the David’s anguish. He sees God as his only hope. “I cry aloud… I plead aloud… I pour out my complaint… I reveal my trouble.” It’s as though he was telling us how he had prayed on this occasion. He poured out what distressed him to God as one pours water out of a pot, namely fully. David reveals His problems before the Lord—not that he is angry or resentful but simply that he wants to tell the Lord all about his trouble and grief. It is comforting for him to know that when his strength is all but gone, the LORD knows what he is going through.

We can recognize our presence before God (vs. 3) David recognized that “although my spirit is weak within me, You know my way.” David says, whatever I’m going through, whatever I’m experiencing, God knows how I’m feeling, He knows the danger I’m in.”

We can realize our provision in God (vs. 5) “I cry out to You, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my shelter, my security in the land of the living.’”  See His Eye is on the Sparrow.

As we depend totally upon God, only then, we can rejoice with the people of God (vs. 7) Free from the prison of discouragement, David said, “the righteous will gather around me because of Your goodness to me.” It seems that much of our discouragement in our families, which extends to the family of God, is rooted, founded, and based upon the expectations we have of people. We are disappointed and critical of our fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers, because they are not giving us what we want or what we think we need. We look outward and we’re discouraged. We look inward and are depressed. But encouragement in life and in relationships isn’t grounded in what happens or what others can give us. Rather, it is grounded in what we have freely received by grace from God through Christ – encouragement flows from God when we look upward to Him and His goodness to us through Christ.

When we depend completely upon God rather than people, then we find fellowship with His people and experience communion with Him.

We can live sacrificially for each other, because we are bound together in Christ, who meets our every need. I don’t need you to fill my cup, because Christ already has and only He will. You don’t need me to fill your cup, because Christ already has. I can serve you sacrificially and you can serve me sacrificially, because we come to one another in Christ who is our all in all. “If there is any encouragement… make your attitude that of Christ Jesus…” (see Philippians 2:1-11).

looking-upwardIt’s not just the world that needs a Savior —  I need One. You need One. And at just the right time, God sent His Son, Jesus (Galatians 4:4-5). During days of discouragement, we look upward to Him and discover His abundant goodness.

Follow me…. as I follow Jesus Christ.