Monday, May 30, 2011

Leadership lessons: Questions you can use when coaching and encouraging someone

These "Coaching Questions" were drawn from reading the book Exponential by Dave and Jon Ferguson. If you are leading people, then you might want to try these questions and then tweak them to fit yourself and to fit your team.

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1. How are you?

2. What are you celebrating?

3. What challenges are you facing?

   RPM'S

   Relational
       How are your relationships at home?
       Which relationships give you life? Which are draining?

   Physical
       On a scale of 1-10, how do you rate your current energy level?
       Is there anything about your physical health that you would like to change?

   Mental
       What have you been learning lately?
       What thoughts are dominating your mind? Are they drawing you closer or further from God?

   Spiritual
        What does it look like when you are feeling closely connected to Jesus?
        What has God been saying to you lately from His Word? Through the Holy Spirit? Through prayer?Through His people?

4. What do you plan to do about those challenges?

5. How can I help you?

6. How can I pray for you?

7. May I share an I C N U ? (I see in you...)

Remembering those who served and sacrificed

Friday, May 27, 2011

We Can Forgive for Good When We Trust God

We have to remember that when it comes to the hurt and abuse and injustice we face, God is in it. Joseph was forsaken, framed, and forgotten. But in and through it all, Joseph saw God. His brothers feel guilt for selling Joseph as a slave and they now want to beat themselves up. But Joseph seeks to give them a God-saturated perspective.

God sent me before you to preserve life.  Genesis 45:5b (ESV)

And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  Genesis 45:7 (ESV)

So it was not you who sent me here, but God.   Genesis 45:8a (ESV)

It’s not just that Joseph believed that God took evil and worked it for good. He also believed that the evil of his brothers was actually a part of God’s plan. He trusted God.

We have to trust God, too. The most spiritually mature among us understand that God intends to use the evil for some higher end. We are only going to move beyond our past when we embrace it as part of God’s plan.

Joseph understood something we often forget. It’s providence of God. God is in charge of our ups and downs, of our hurts and healings, of our demotions and promotions, of our friends and family. God is at work in and through the people and circumstances in our lives.

The Providence of God can be defined this way:

God in eternity past, in the counsel of His own will, ordained everything that will happen; yet in no sense is God the author of sin; nor is human responsibility removed.

He works through what theologians call “secondary causes.” But He is the primary cause. Later in the story, after Joseph’s dad has died and the brothers are afraid that Joseph will now get revenge, Joseph comforts them.

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

God had it in His mind that Joseph would be ruler over all the land of Egypt. But how? First, Joseph's brothers must hate him. Next, they must put him in a pit. Then, they must sell him. These are steps down, not up, right? But God works in ways we cannot see. His master’s wife must falsely accuse him. His boss must throw him into prison. More downward steps, right? Wait and see the rest of the story. Put all the parts together. If Joseph had not been put in the pit, he never would have been placed in the prison. And if Joseph had not been placed in the prison, he never would have interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and ended up in the place.

Right place at the right time? Yes! Because God is in charge.

Joseph saw the secondary cause. His brothers sold him into slavery. But he also saw the primary cause. Even when he was in the pit and the prison, God was working the whole time to place him in a position of power that would save the family from starvation during the famine.

What hurts have happened to you? Someone has wronged you. But you can’t see beyond that hurt. You’re bitter, perhaps, because you are fixated on the secondary cause. And you’re missing the primary cause. You’re missing God.

God will use that evil for good. How? I am not sure. But you can trust Him.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  Romans 8:28 (ESV)

Forgiveness comes a whole lot easier when we understand that God will use the hurts for your own good and for His own glory.

God specializes in taking what others intend for harm and uses it for good. God is more interested in our character than He is in our comfort. Sometimes, He allows others to do hurtful things to us in order to work out His purposes in and through us.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Hope For Your Hurts

Joseph was from a classic dysfunctional family. Joseph’s mother had died giving birth to his little brother, Benjamin. Joseph had 3 stepmothers, 10 stepbrothers, and 1 full brother all living in the same house at the same time. Joseph was his daddy’s favorite – a daddy’s boy. One day, when the brothers were away taking care of the family business, the daddy sent Joseph out to take them some food. The brothers saw him coming and schemed to kill Joseph. But one of the brothers came up with a plan to sell Joseph to a band of traders headed to Egypt. They told their daddy that Joseph was dead.

One minute he is a seventeen- year-old boy with all of his life ahead of him and in the next minute he is a slave.

Joseph became a household slave and then was falsely accused of rape. He was thrown into prison and then forgotten. Forsaken. Framed. Forgotten. From 17-30. 13 years. No one would have blamed Joseph for becoming angry, bitter, and filled with revenge.

But God had plans for Joseph. The king of Egypt, the Pharaoh, has a dream. He finds out that Joseph gets insight from God to interpret dreams. There will be 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine. Josephs advises the Pharaoh to store the excess during the years of plenty to have enough for the famine. He hears, “Great idea. You’re in charge.” So, Joseph finds himself second in command of all of Egypt.

The famine hit other lands besides Egypt. And Joseph’s long lost family lived in one of those areas. They needed food. Joseph’s daddy had been informed that there was extra food in Egypt. So, he sent 10 of the brothers to ask for some food to take back home to their family. Jacob wouldn’t allow Joseph’s full brother, Benjamin, to go.

The 10 find themselves face-to-face with Joseph, the governor of Egypt. They didn’t recognize Joseph. He was 22 years older. He looked and sounded like a powerful Egyptian ruler. How could these brothers expect their little brother to have become “the man” in all the land? And the Bible says, “They bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth.” They fulfilled Joseph’s early dreams.

1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, "Make everyone go out from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.  Genesis 45:1

Joseph wants to reconcile with his long-lost family. It’s going to be emotional. Joseph didn't want to act in an undignified way in front of his servants and officials. He wanted to show self-control. Plus, these moments would be too sacred for anyone else to be listening. He longed to reconnect with his brothers freely in an intimate setting. In love he says to his staff, “Leave us alone.”

2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it.  Genesis 45:2

Joseph breaks into tears. This is a strong Hebrew expression for weeping. This is big time emotion being expressed.

3 And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence.
4 So Joseph said to his brothers, "Come near to me, please." And they came near. And he said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  Genesis 45:3-4

Joseph is not an unapproachable dignitary.

5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  Genesis 45:5

Joseph says, “You don't have to beat yourself up over this stuff. Your sin has resulted in my good and for God’s glory. What has happened is part of God’s redemptive plan.” Joseph is seeking to alleviate their guilt and shame. He’s not minimizing their sin, their failures, their responsibility. But he’s saying, “I see now who is behind all this. God has been working all along to save us all.”

6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.
7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  Genesis 45:6-7

Joseph says, “God sent me. This is really not about you guys and me. It's all about God and what God is doing. I have been sent here to save the life of our family.” Redemption is behind all this. So, Joseph comforts his brothers with the doctrine of the providence of God. God is in charge even over the sins of his brothers. It was God’s will to permit their sins against him. This why he can so freely forgive. He sees the hand of God. Joseph is not soured by resentment or self pity.

8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.  Genesis 45:8

Joseph did more than reveal his identity he revealed his perspective on what had happened to him. Notice the two words that change everything, “But God!” (v.8). Joseph says “you sold me but …. God sent me.” (v. 5). Seeing God at work in his life had prevented him from being bitter. He knew that God took the evil intentions of his brothers and overruled them for good.

9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry.
10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have.  Genesis 45:9-10

This land was called the Land of the Rameses. It was the best land around. Joseph is giving them the best when they treated him the worst. The land was suitable for both crops and livestock. So, he’s giving them the very, very best.

11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.'
12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you.
13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here."
14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck.
15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.
Genesis 45:1-15 (ESV)

The kisses and tears are a sign that the pain of the past 20+ years has been forgiven fully and freely. The relationship is cemented with the talking. Conversation happens maybe for the first time. There’s so much to catch up on. The rift has been bridged. A dysfunctional family becomes functional. For the first time, perhaps, they are talking with one another. God is doing exceeding abundantly beyond all ask or think.

This means that there’s hope for your family, your friendships, your ministry – wherever there’s conflict and hurt. God can take away the rebellion of your prodigal. He can transform the lack of communication in your home. He can heal the hurts. There’s hope. When we forgive, great good can come.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

David Manyuon’s story: A Lost Boy of the Sudan

Contagious with the virus of forgiveness

My friend’s dad was dying in the hospital with severe liver failure due to alcoholism. It had been years since my friend had talked to his dad. Why? Here’s what he wrote to me on facebook:

Rick, I hate him. I hate him for all the abuse he put me through and the beatings my mother endured as well as me. Every time he beat me even as a 6 year old child he would rip the clothes of my back, beat me with his fists, and then tell me he loved me while bear hugging me. I will never forget the stench of alcohol on his breath each time and it was often. My dad let us starve growing up, never paying child support or helping with anything and he has the nerve to call us his boys.

My friend has been here at CVC throughout this whole “forgive” series. He said that it’s been hitting hard. And then he gets the call that his dad is in the hospital. He wrote to me for some advice:

I am faced with his possible death this morning. How can I hate him so and forgive and love him? My biggest fear is he [will] die without knowing the salvation I know. I don’t want to see him Pastor. I feel like I have nothing to give and nothing to say. Please pray my heart is transformed immediately. I want to be 70 x 7 with forgiveness and truly feel it. Pray for a miracle that I can go see my father before he passes. Please pray that God [will] guide me to the right place ASAP.

I let my friend know that forgiving doesn't mean forgetting or that he would be letting his dad off the hook. I reminded him that love is an action. And that we are called to love our enemies. I encouraged him to not let his feelings control his behavior – that we live by faith, not feelings. I encouraged him to live the exchanged life – to live out Galatians 2:20 which says, “It is not I who lives, but Christ lives in me.”

I counseled him to [somehow] return good for the evil. That doesn't mean trusting him again. It doesn't mean that feelings are no longer present. It just means that we act in faith out of obedience to Christ and that we give some kind of blessing. I prayed that my friend would go see his dad for the Lord first and then for himself. I received a note back on facebook.

Thank you. I'm not going to see him. Christ within me is going to see him tomorrow. In Jesus’ name and by His grace go I.

I waited and wondered how things would go. Here’s the report:

I went today and I was not in any way prepared for what I saw. I cannot believe that is my father laying there. It took all I had to keep my composure and I could tell it was the same for him. I stayed for about 4 hours and we didn't discuss any of the "stuff." I was certainly the power of Christ that got me there and the compassion of Christ that let me stay. As difficult as it was, I praise God I was obedient and pray perhaps this is a new beginning instead of the end.

Pastor, I get it. I really get it. I just remove “me” from the equation and allow Christ to work through me. Why it took so long to get this seemingly simple truth can be only mean I didn't want to do it.

It seems today the air is fresher, the sky is bluer and a stronghold is torn down. Who I am has changed and been transformed once again in my walk. For 5 years I've been captive to this.

I'm [now] contagious with a virus of forgiveness. Well, thank you for leading me 10 years ago to Christ. Armed with this new gift [of forgiveness] who can ever hurt us again? I plan on pursuing this and cherishing ever moment we have left.

Here is more of my friend’s story as it impacts the rest of his family:

I took my son to see [my dad] today as well and spoke a long while with my son about what I've learned. What forgiveness really means. When it is truly Christ in you, then all the other stuff falls away.

The joy on my father’s face to see his grandson today was apparent and amazing. Rick, his color changed his face lit up. It’s as if the experience the past couple days is also healing him as it is healing me as it is healing my wife and my son. All the hurt is truly falling away and we feel a fresh pure optimism about the future in Jesus’ name and by His grace.

God is using this whole thing to heal hearts, livers, kidneys, and spirits. [My dad] may come home today. He has serious issues that the doctors are saying he will have the rest of his life. But the key there is we have the rest of his life. Neither of us has even mentioned the things that have separated us. In me, the need for that has passed. We have a new beginning. My wife, son, and I plan on being the hands and feet of Christ in any way possible to help his recovery. I've seen or spoken to him every day. And each time I say "I love you, dad" and he says "I love you, son."

I have not heard that in a very long time from my father. To hear it from my dad is simply a miracle. And for me to say it feel it and mean it without any hesitation is also a miracle. There is no doubt God has shown to us His pleasure in this lesson of forgiveness in many little ways. As a result so many things have changed suddenly. Miraculous things. Thank you.

God is changing lives and mending families right here at CVC. The Breath of God has been blowing into this man’s life. How about you? How about me? We don’t want to miss this.

Who has hurt you? What circumstances tempt you to be bitter, resentful, unforgiving? And what might have to happen for you to come together with that person before it’s too late?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Are you called to vocational Christian ministry?

From time to time, I am asked by people what it means to be called to full-time vocational ministry. I am asked, "How do I know if God is calling me or not?"

Several years ago, I developed a Bible Study for people to use to see how God called various biblical characters into the ministry. You might want to do the Bible Study and ask God to show you His plan for your life as you study God's word.

If God is calling you into vocational ministry and you do not follow His leading, then you will be miserable and unfulfilled. If God is not calling you into vocational ministry and you enter the ministry anyway, then you will be miserable and unfruitful.

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Examining Your Call into Vocational Christian Ministry: A Study of the call of godly men in the Bible

1. The call of Noah. Read Genesis 6:1-21 and 7:1-6
2. The call of Abraham. Read Genesis 11:27-32 and 12:1-8
3. The call of Moses. Read Exodus 3:1-22 and 4:1-17
4. The call of Isaiah. Read Isaiah 6:1-13
5. The call of Jonah. Read Jonah 1, 2, and 3
6. The call of Peter. Read Matthew 4:18-20, John 1:35-42, John 21:15-23
7. The call of Paul. Read Acts 9:1-22
***
A Bible Study Worksheet on the call to vocational Christian Ministry

Biblical character: _____________________ Text: __________________

Use a separate set of worksheets for each Bible character. Begin your time of study with prayer. Ask God to show you His plan for your life as you study His word. After you read the verses, it should take you 30-45 minutes to answer the questions.

Take your time. Take this seriously. Ask others to be praying for you as you seek God’s will for your life. Claim Proverbs 3:5, 6 for yourself as you study.

1. What was happening in this man’s world and life when he was called? Is anything like that happening in your world and life today?

2. What was the occupation/lifestyle of the man when he was called?

3. How did God get this man’s attention? Has God tried to get your attention in a similar way?

4. What did God ask this man to do? Is God asking you to do anything similar?

5. What challenges or obstacles influenced the man’s initial response to the call? Are you facing similar
challenges or obstacles? Has your response been similar?

6. How did God continue to deal with the man? Is God continuing to deal with you in a similar way?

7. How did the man eventually express his submission to God? Are you willing to express your submission to God in this way?

8. How did God use this man in ministry? Can you see God using you in a similar way?

9. What are lessons you can learn from this man’s relationship with God?

10. How is God speaking to you through this man’s story?

***

If you finish this study, I would like to see what God has given you.

Global Leadership Summit



This week, I received the following email from my pastor friend, Jim Martin. Jim pastors Royal Redeemer Lutheran Church in North Royalton, Ohio.

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Looking to grow your leaders?

Last August a core group of our leaders at Royal Redeemer had a great experience at the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

The two day conference was affordable because we didn't pay for travel and lodging. We joined the folks at Christ Church on Rt 82 on the west side of Strongsville for the satellite feed in their building. They were great hosts!

The Leadership Summit this year is scheduled for August 11 & 12 at Christ Church, with a vast array of renowned leaders from the business and private sectors, from non-profits and churches...the quality you'd expect from Willow Creek. For more information you can go to the website at willowcreek.com/summit.

Since we've become a partner church, special pricing of $99 per person is available through June 20th by contacting Pastor Jeff Shanks at Royal Redeemer, 440-237-7958 or jshanks@royred.org.
Feel free to contact Jeff or myself for more info.

Jim Martin, Pastor, Royal Redeemer Lutheran Church

***

Thanks, Jim, for the invitation!

Now, who would like to go?

Q and A about Forgiveness

On Saturdays, we have a Q and A after the message. This topic always stirs up lots of practical questions. So, here are a few questions. I’ll try to give some brief answers.

Does God really expect us to let abusers “off the hook”?

No. It is not wrong (and may even be necessary) to report someone, to turn guilty offenders over to the appropriate authorities who can hold them accountable, to be part of helping them face the reality of what they’ve done. But if your heart in doing so is bitter or vengeful – if you are being vindictive, obsessed with revenge, inwardly hoping to see their downfall – then you are allowing bitterness to take root in your heart. And you are limiting the favor of God for your life. (See DeMoss, Choosing Forgiveness, pp. 94-95.)

If you forgive someone do you have to be their friend? Do you have to associate with them? What if you feel led to separate from a destructive person? Is that being unforgiving?

No. We see no record of Joseph ever hanging out with Potiphar's wife after she framed him. The indications are that he did not become bitter toward her. But did he hang out with an unsafe person who falsely accused him? The Bible doesn’t say. I do know that forgiveness and trust are two different things. Let's say your spouse was abusive and unfaithful. Forgive? Yes! Trust? Maybe, but maybe not. Forgiveness can be freely given. But trust has to be earned.

Unforgiveness according to God's Word has some serious implications. Jesus says if we don't forgive others, our heavenly Father will not forgive us. Can someone lose their salvation if they refuse to forgive?

Pastor John Piper has said, “If we hold fast to an unforgiving spirit, we will not be forgiven by God. If we continue on in that way, then we will not go to heaven because heaven is the dwelling place of forgiving people.” The point is not that we somehow earn heaven because we forgive others. The point is that forgiven people forgive people. Jesus is saying, “If you can’t and won’t forgive others of this [a little pile of hurts], then you have not understood or receive the forgiveness of God for this [a BIG pile of sins]. Thos who persistently refuse to forgive others have no basis to claim to have been forgiven by God. (See DeMoss, Choosing Forgiveness, p. 69.)

You may not feel like forgiving. You may not feel like you have forgiven. But as an act of faith, you will to do what God commands you to do. You forgive. You say it. You live it. And when bitterness rushes in the next day or the next hour, you forgive again and again.

A woman who had an unrepentant adulterous husband said, “When we choose to forgive others, even when they are not broken themselves, God pours out freedom, grace, peace, love, joy and even forgiveness itself into our hearts. It takes your breath away when you experience it yourself. It takes you to depths with God that you never could have reached except through this mysterious path” (DeMoss, Choosing Forgiveness, p. 140).

Now, a question for you. Will you forgive?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Forgiveness and the Favor of God

Here’s the thing that struck me as I studied the life of Joseph: Finding the favor of God requires forgiveness.

You forsake me? I forgive you. You frame me? I forgive you. You forget me? I forgive you.

Joseph did not become bitter. He did the hard work of forgiveness. He saw the hand of a sovereign God in his life. He trusted God was at work through his pain. He guarded his heart from bitterness. And he kept the favor of God on his life. And as we shall see, in time, it paid off big time.

What about you? Maybe you passed the test of being forsaken, but failed the test of being framed. Maybe you passed the test of being framed, but failed the test of being forgotten.

You’ve been hurt. Don’t deny it. But don’t nurse it. Forgive.

See, on Mother’s Day, let’s not sugar coat things. Yes, families help each other. Hopefully, a lot. But families hurt each other. Unfortunately, a lot. And if you as a mom want your kids to experience God’s favor, then you need to teach (and model) forgiveness. Finding the favor of God requires forgiveness.

In her book Choosing Forgiveness, Nancy Leigh DeMoss has a chapter called the Art of Forgiveness. And in the chapter she shares an exercise that many people have found helpful.

Pull out a sheet of paper. Make 3 columns. In column #1, write the names of the people who have hurt you. In column #2, write a brief synopsis of what they’ve done to hurt you. In column #3, write how you’ve responded.

For most of us, this is where it gets hard. We resent the people who hurt us. We are ticked at them. We bad-mouth them. We give negative reports. We retaliate in subtle ways. We disengage. We withhold love. We put up walls. We stiff-arm them. We ignore them. We go out of our way to avoid them. We don’t forgive them.

And then we wonder why the favor of God doesn’t rest on our lives.

Here’s why we must forgive.

Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.  Ephesians 4:32 (NLT)

Joseph was able to move beyond bitterness and experience the fruits of forgiveness on that side of the cross. We are on this side of the cross. We know what it cost Jesus to forgive us. It cost Him His life. What we have received from Christ, we extend through Christ to others.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Earthly Trouble With the Favor of God or Worldly Success Without It?

We can find the favor of God even when we've been forsaken and framed and forgotten.

It is possible that the hurt you have received from the hands of others – what seems like a set back to you – God is going to use as a stepping stone for your ultimate good?

I’ve been to some churches where the overall message goes like this: “Live your life right. Be godly. Have faith. And good things will happen to you.” Well, that message would sound really lame to Joseph.

He’s living a good life. He resists temptation. He doesn’t want to sin against God. He resists the advances of a powerful woman. He’s doing things well. But he’s sold into slavery and thrown into prison.

Surely that means that he doesn’t have the favor of God on his life, right? Wrong! The whole time, he has the favor of God on his life. The whole time, God is working in his life to prepare him for something – for a job, a ministry – that he can’t yet see.

And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him and rescued him out of all his afflictions and gave him favor...  Acts 7:9-10 (ESV)

The presence of trouble doesn’t mean the absence of favor. And the flip side is true, too. The absence of trouble doesn’t mean the presence of favor.

Yes, you’ve been hurt. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t still experience God’s favor. In fact, God often wants to display his favor through the hurts of His people.

If Joseph went to some churches today, some people might say, “Joseph, you must be out of the will of God. Nobody goes through what you’ve been through unless God is ticked at you. You don’t have enough faith. You must be disobedient. You’re not really walking with God. You don’t have the favor of God.” But God sees not as man sees.

Some of us might appear to be very successful. You say, "My life is working out just fine overall. Sure. There are some glitches along the way. But overall, things are OK. I have an OK job, an OK family, an OK house, OK health, OK friends." But deep down inside, you wonder, "Do I have the favor of God?" You know you really don’t. You’re forfeiting a future.

Last week I wrote a sentence that I want to really believe. “I would rather have earthly trouble with the favor of God than worldly success without the favor of God.” Do I believe that? I want to believe that. I want to live that way.

As we are going to see in this story, the favor of God demonstrated in Joseph’s life elevated him to a strategic position far beyond his wildest dreams.

Don’t sabotage your own future by losing the favor of God.

Do you have the favor of God on your life?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Leadership lessons: Continual growth

If the legendary longtime manager of the Baltimore Orioles, Earl Weaver, is famous not only for being a winning manager, but also for arguing calls by umpires.  Weaver was thrown out of 97 games, an American League record for managers. 

Weaver's earliest in-game ejection was in the top of the first inning. Two bang-bang plays at first base went against the O's. Weaver walked out of the dugout, approached the first-base ump, and asked, "Are you going to get any better, or is this it?" He was tossed out of the game quickly.

But that question is a good one. For life. Especially when we ask it of ourselves.

"Are you going to get any better, or is this it?"

But how do we get better? Through sheer self-effort? Hardly. 

Philippians 2: 12b-13 says, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." To get better, we "work out" what God has "worked in."

Recently, I read from Matthew Henry's book, A Method of Prayer. In it, he suggests a way for us to pray to get better. 

"Lord, give me to grow with a growth that is from God; Colossians 2:19(ESV) to grow in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; 2 Peter 3:18(ESV) to hold to my way; and, having clean hands, to grow stronger and stronger. Job 17:9(ESV)

"Let my path be as the light of dawn, which shines brighter and brighter until full day. Proverbs 4:18(ESV)

"I have not yet obtained, nor am I already perfect; Lord, grant that therefore, forgetting what lies behind, I may strain forward to what lies ahead, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14(ESV)

"Be like the dew to me, that I may blossom like the lily and take root like the trees of Lebanon; that my shoots may spread out and my beauty may be like the olive. And let the sun of righteousness rise upon me with healing in its wings, that I may go out leaping like a calf from the stall. Malachi 4:2(ESV)"

I prayed this for me and for my family today. Will you?

"Are you going to get any better, or is this it?" We will get better if we seek the Lord's help to work out what He's worked in. All the days of our lives. 

Forgotten and Finding the Favor of God

In Genesis 40-41 we see that a guy Joseph helped who was supposed to remember Joseph and help him get out of jail didn’t. Strike 1, forsaken. Strike 2, framed. Strike 3, forgotten. But Joseph is not “out”! How do we know that?

Later in the story, we see that people recognized the Spirit of God in his life. “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:38). They said that no one was as discerning and as wise as Joseph (Genesis 41:39).

We’re going to learn that what seemed to Joseph like a demotion was in reality a promotion in disguise.

Joseph was forsaken, but didn’t become bitter. He was framed, but didn’t become resentful. He was forgotten, but didn’t become a victim. Instead, he kept on experiencing the favor of God.

How about you? How do you react when you've been forgotten?

Maybe you feel forgotten. Sure, you might have gotten a card and a present for your birthday or some other special occasion. But truth be told, you feel forgotten. The “I love yous” are so infrequent. The hugs aren’t heartfelt. You feel invisible to your family. The thank yous, the dates, the compliments are long gone. And none of that is OK. But you’ve become bitter, just going through the motions. And you have forfeited the favor of God on your life.

What if you would forgive? Could you regain the favor of God? God is placing His finger on that hurt and saying you need to let it go and give it to Me.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Framed But Finding the Favor of God

(Genesis 39) 6b Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.

I guessing 6 pack. I’m guessing good teeth. I’m guessing great hair. He was a P90X poster boy, strikingly handsome.

7 And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, "Lie with me."

The boss’ wife is looking at him lustfully. She’s infatuated. Finally, she says, “Come to bed with me. Sleep with me.” She wanted him.

8 But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge.
9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?"

Joseph says, “Look, my boss, your husband, trusts me. He doesn’t think twice about anything with me in charge. No one here has more authority than me. He treats me like I’m his equal. How could I betray his trust and sin against God? No. I will not sleep with you.”

But this women won’t take “no” for an answer.

10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

Potiphar’s wife piles on the pressure. She pursues Joseph day after day. But he keeps saying “no.” The text indicates that he keeps out of her way as much as possible. He’s standing his ground. He’s doing what’s right in the sight of man and God. God’s going to reward him for that, right?

11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house,
12 she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house.

This guy is in his 20s. His hormones are at their peak. He has every opportunity. She will help him cover it up. But Joseph is a godly young man. He runs. Out of the house. He does what the NT tells us to do when it comes to sexual temptation. II Timothy 2:22 says, “Flee youthful passions.” Joseph does just that. God’s going to reward him for that, right?

13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house,
14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, "See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.
15 And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house."
16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home,

This is coat number 2 that got Joseph in trouble. (Maybe he should switch to sweater vests or something!) His boss’ wife comes on to him. He runs away, leaving his coat in her hands. She’s a woman spurned. So, now she’s going to use the coat to frame Joseph. She says, "Look. This good looking guy shows up and before you know it he's trying to seduce me. I kept saying ‘no.’ Then, today, he tried to force himself on me. I screamed out and he ran. And here’s the proof. I have his coat.”

She waits with the coat until her husband comes home.

17 and she told him the same story, saying, "The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me.

This word “laugh” is a Hebrew word that means “to play with,” “to toy with,” “to mock.” She’s saying, “This foreigner, Joseph, wants to mock us, to shame us, to toy with us, to make me his plaything. But I wouldn’t play along.”

18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house."
19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, "This is the way your servant treated me," his anger was kindled.
20 And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.

Now, Joseph is in jail. He does the right thing and ends up in jail. What’s going to be his attitude?

“OK. Strike one. Forsaken by my brothers and sold as a slave. I bounced back from that. Now, strike two. Framed by my boss’ wife. I say “no” to what most young men dream about. I do what’s right. And I’m in jail? I had the favor of God on my life. Things are going my way. And now? Enough is enough.”

Joseph has every reason to be bitter, unforgiving, vindictive, filled up with anger, and wanting revenge. This kind of stuff could turn a person into a mean man. What happens next?

21 But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it.
23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.

There’s that word again. “Favor" is in verse 21. Just like before with Potiphar, Joseph had the favor, the acceptance, the good-will of his jailer.

Again, why did that happen? How did that happen?

Think with me: If you were in charge, would you promote a bitter, vindictive, angry, revenge-filled, always-talking-about-how-he'd-been-hurt guy? No.

So, there must have been something attractive, something winsome, something special about Joseph. This time, the jailer saw it. In spite of being falsely accused and framed, Joseph had a positive impact on the people around him. He wasn't bitter. He rose above it. And the jailer promoted Joseph.

We don’t see any evidence of a root of bitterness taking hold. As the story unfolds, we see a consistent trust in God and a perseverance to be a man of integrity and endurance despite circumstances.

Joseph is in jail physically, but not spiritually.

How about you? How do you react when you've been framed?

Maybe you’re thinking about a former associate. You trusted him. You made him an important part of your team. And then things changed. Conflicts took place. You were blamed. He not only left your organization, but took some of your clients with him. Now, you’re left picking up the pieces and wondering, “What happened?” You’ve become bitter, not trusting, wanting to hurt back. And you have forfeited the favor of God on your life.

What if you would forgive? Could you regain the favor of God? God is placing His finger on that hurt and saying you need to let it go and give it to Me.



Forsaken But Finding the Favor of God

We can find favor of God even when we've been forsaken.

Joseph's father, Jacob, had 12 sons from 4 women, but Joseph was his favorite son. Jacob gave Joseph a special coat of many colors. And Joseph’s brothers begin to hate him.

Joseph has two crazy dreams. Basically, he dreams that his whole family will bow down to him and that he will be elevated above them all. It's the kind of thing you probably should keep to yourself. But he tells everybody. Now, his brothers are really ticked at him.

Jacob sends the brothers out to handle the family business - to take care of their flocks. And then he sends Joseph to take food to them. He’s about 17 at the time. And as he approaches, they thought, “This is our chance to get rid of that dreamer.” They scheme to kill him. But one brother says, "Don't kill him." The others decide to sell him for a few dollars as a slave to some traders who are traveling to Egypt. They tell Jacob, their daddy, that Joseph was killed by wild animals.

So, Joseph is sold by his brothers to be a slave in Egypt. And what are we going to see? Anger? Bitterness? Resentment? A ticked-off teenager?

Genesis 39
1 Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. [And now you can see that the favor of God was on Joseph’s life.]
2 The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.
3 His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.
4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had.
5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field.
6 So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.
Genesis 39:1-6a (ESV)

You might want to circle the word "favor" in verse 4. In the Hebrew, it's "chen." It means “acceptance” or “good-will.” Joseph had the favor, the acceptance, the good-will of his boss.

Why did that happen? How did that happen?

Think with me: If you were in charge, would you promote the victim – a bitter, vindictive, angry, revenge-filled, always-talking-about-how-he'd-been-hurt guy? No.

So, there must have been something attractive, something winsome, something special about Joseph. Potiphar saw it. In spite of being forsaken by his brothers and sold by them as a slave, Joseph had a positive impact on the people around him. He wasn't bitter. He rose above it. And Potiphar promoted Joseph.

We don’t see any evidence of a root of bitterness taking hold. As the story unfolds, we see a consistent trust in God and a perseverance to be a man of integrity and endurance despite difficult circumstances.

How about you? How do you react when you've been forsaken?

Maybe this past Mother’s Day was hard for you. Maybe your birth mother gave you up. Maybe your spouse walked out on you and Mother’s Day has always been hard ever since. Maybe your mom hasn’t forsaken you physically, but she has emotionally. Or maybe you feel like your kids have forsaken you, even turned on you. Maybe you’re nursing a hurt that happened long ago. And because of that you’re bitter and resentful. And you have forfeited the favor of God on your life.

What if you would forgive? Could you regain the favor of God? God is placing His finger on that hurt and saying you need to let it go and give it to Me.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Forgiving Others and the Favor of God

I understand that there’s a story about my childhood that’s circulating around the church. My mom, who’s 87, is living with us now in North Royalton. And she likes to tell the story about asking me to put clean sheets on my bed. Of course, I was a perfectly obedient child. So, I did it. Quickly, I might add. But after a while, she noticed that some of her sheets were missing. She put on her detective hat and found her sheets. See, she said, “Put these clean sheets on your bed. She didn’t say, “Take the dirty sheets off.” So I was putting clean sheets on top of dirty ones. Good kid? Bad kid? Smart kid? Does it help or hurt if you found out I was 18 when that happened? (Just kidding!)

We’re in a series on forgiveness. And moms have lots of reasons why they need to forgive kids. And kids have lots of reasons why they need to forgive moms. And when the forgiveness flows, the favor of God rests on the home.

I think one thing all moms have in common is a passion for their kids to experience favor. We want to shield our kids from pain and help our kids be favored.  We want our kids to be favored in school. We want our kids to be favored on their teams. We want our kids to be favored at work. We want our kids to be favored by God.
But how? How does it happen? How can you help your kids be favored?

In looking at the life of Joseph, a man who lost his mother at an early age and then experienced multiple hurts and hardships at the hands of his family, his boss, and his friends, we see that Joseph was forsaken, framed and forgotten. But instead of choosing bitterness, he chose forgiveness. As Pastor Chad Allen said, “He got rid of the taproot of bitterness by using the round-up of forgiveness.” Joseph is a man who had the favor of God on his life – what moms want for their kids. And that’s a good thing. Really good.

Consider these three verses about the favor of God.

Favor is better than silver or gold.
Proverbs 22:1b (ESV)

Show me a sign of your favor… because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
Psalm 86:17 (ESV)

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands…
Psalm 90:17a (ESV)

Listen, you want the favor of God. The favor of God is better than money. When you have the favor of God, you have His help and His comfort. His favor means that you’ll leave a legacy – that you’re life will count, really count.

So, how do you get the favor of God? A quick look at the life of Joseph will teach us that forgivers find the favor of God.

Do you have the favor of God? Are you a forgiver?

Monday, May 09, 2011

Leadership Lessons: Doing well

How do you know if you are doing well?

I have a friend who asked a group of spiritual leaders that question a while back. It was a great question that fostered some good dialogue. The biblical word for this is "shalom." it's a word that means "wholeness," "wellness," "peace."

Stop right now. Don't read any further until you've answered that question for yourself. Maybe flipping the question would help you get started thinking through the issue. How do you know if you're NOT doing well?

Here are some responses from a few spiritual leaders.

* * *

I know I am doing well when...

... my wife is happy and I laugh often with her.

... I have energy for living.

... I feel like I'm being used by God.

... I'm spending regular, unhurried time waiting on God.

... my faith and hope are strong and I'm optimistic regardless of the circumstances.

... I'm enjoying the journey.

... I'm resting in the sovereignty of God.

... I have a knowledge that I am abiding in Christ and filled with the Spirit.

I know I'm NOT doing well when...

... I'm chewing on past and present hurts.

... I have to fight to get out of myself so I can focus on others.

... I'm on retreat and want to avoid others.

... I start to feel and act like my dad who conveyed a sense of failure.

... I operate out of fear.

... I take my aggression out on the baskeball floor.

... I live like a dark cloud hovers overhead.

... I'm seeking to control people and circumstances.

Do you think wellness is a good thing to pursue? Personally, I think it's a by-product of pursuing God.

What would your list look like?

Your thoughts?

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Writing a note to your mother

What are you thinking about doing for Mother’s Day? It’s today!

I’ve been thinking. Most moms have a Proverbs 31 desire. God has wired moms that way. That means your mom! She wants to know that the following Proverbs 31 passage is true in her life: “Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying: ‘Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all’” (NASB). 

So, if you are fortunate enough to still have your mom, I want to encourage you to honor your mom by writing a tribute to honor to her. Rise up! After all, this is the first commandment that ends in a blessing (Ephesians 6:2). 

Basically, in 15-20 minutes, you can write a tribute to your mom that will last a lifetime and will have eternal impact in and through your life.

Here are some questions to get you started:

What is one thing you love about mom?
What is a favorite memory of mom?
What’s a funny story about something you did with mom?
What have you learned from mom (about behavior, manners, the Bible, or life in general)?
Write a paragraph telling her thanks and what you appreciate specifically about her.

Rise up. Bless her. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Thoughts about Rashard Mendenhall's tweets concerning the death of Osama bin Laden

The Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall on Monday made some ill-advised tweets about the celebrations surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden. He tweeted, "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side..."

Mendenhall turned the tweeting toward God, "I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge." He continued, "Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves." He added, "For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn ... I ask how would God feel about your heart?"

I don't know about Mendenhall's faith. But he seems to be saying what some people of the Christian faith are saying - that we should not have invaded bin Laden's compound, that as a nation we are supposed to turn the other cheek, that as a society we are to love our enemies.

These conclusions seem to me to be unfortunate and short-sighted misapplications of biblical truths. I believe that when Jesus says that we are to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek, He's not intending for us to apply these principles at the expense of the pursuit of justice in society. 

These commands are to be seen as individual and personal. We are not to take justice in our own hands. Love, forgiveness, and mercy are the practices that individuals live out. But God has given governments the responsibility to restrain evil and promote good. 

Romans 13:3–4 says, "For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer."

The purpose of government is established by God in order to restrain evil, punish wrongdoers, and promote the order and well-being of society.

Government is to be "an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer" (Rom. 13:4; cf. 1 Pet. 2:14). So, the death of a murderer such as Osama bin Laden is to be seen as (1) an outpouring of divine justice in this present life, (2) a deterrent from personal vengeance (Rom. 12:19), and (3) a deterrent from further crimes (see Eccles. 8:11; Rom. 13:3–4). 

"God does give civil government the responsibility and the authority to use superior force, even deadly force, to protect its citizens from evil. This is because, until Jesus returns (Dan. 9:26; Matt. 24:6), there are some people so deeply committed to doing evil that they can be restrained, not by reason and persuasion, but only by superior force" (from the ESV Study Bible).

Individually, we don't take revenge; rather, we forgive. Personally, we don't "pay back"; instead, we turn the other cheek. But our government not only has the right, but the responsibility to restrain evil. 

While I respect the right of Rashard Mendenhall to tweet what he wants to tweet, I am grateful for the courage of our political and military leaders to seek to execute justice in an effort to create a safer world in which to live. And while we believers are first to pledge allegiance to the kingdom not of this world, we should still be grateful and productive citizens of the USA. 

We know we live in a fallen world. There are no perfectly just societies. So, let's pray for our leaders and work toward a more God-honoring nation. And let's pray for the Kingdom of the Prince of Peace to come. And to come quickly.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Finding the favor of God

This weekend's message deals with Genesis 39 and how Joseph found the favor of God. In preparation for the message, I did a word study on the word "favor." I wish I could share all this on Sunday. But I can't.

If you want the favor of God on your life, then here are some truths that you can use to fuel your prayers for yourself and for others.

***

The benefits of finding God’s favor


1. The presence of God

For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
Exodus 33:16 (ESV)

2. The help and comfort of God

Show me a sign of your favor, that those who hate me may see and be put to shame because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
Psalm 86:17 (ESV)

3. The leaving of a lasting legacy

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!
Psalm 90:17 (ESV)

4. A good reputation

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.
Proverbs 22:1b (ESV)

5. The blessing of God

For you bless the righteous, O Lord; you cover him with favor as with a shield.
Psalm 5:12 (ESV)

6. The good things of God

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
Psalm 84:11 (ESV)

***
Finding God’s favor

1. Seek to know God and follow the ways of God for your life

Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.
Exodus 33:13 (ESV)

2. Use words wisely

The words of a wise man's mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him.
Ecclesiastes 10:2 (ESV)

3. Pray, turn from sin, and gain insight from His truth

All this calamity has come upon us; yet we have not entreated the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and gaining insight by your truth.
Daniel 9:13 (ESV)

4. Make truly sacrificial offerings

When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the LORD of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the LORD of hosts.
Malachi 1:8-9 (ESV)

***

There is one more thing I can add to these verses that deal with finding God's favor. But you'll just have to check out the message this weekend at CVC from Genesis 39 to find out!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Getting ready for Mother's Day at CVC

I'm sure you know that this Sunday is Mother's Day. Many of you are planning some fun family times over the weekend. And that's great.

Because it's Mother's Day, we are preparing for another BIG weekend. 

We could use your help in making sure that everyone has a place with us on Sunday. A few things to keep in mind. 

1. Consider joining us at 5:30 pm Saturday, 8:15 am Sunday, or 7:07 Sunday night. These are great crowds. Great people. Great services... and lots of seats. 9:30 and 11:30 am Sundays are getting really crowded. Can you help us out?
2. Sit towards the front. With a late arriving crowd, it's always helpful to have empty seats in the back.  
3. Use the Sprague Road drive for ingress and egress. Feel free to drop your family off at the front door. And then park away from the closest spots toward the front of building so our guests can have some great parking options.
4. Reach out and meet someone new. I think the friendliness of this church is one of the things that makes CVC so special. 

We'll be having baby dedications this weekend and continuing in our Forgive series from the life of Joseph. We'll be looking at the relationship between forgiveness and the favor of God. I'd really appreciate your prayers as I prepare for this important message. 

I hope to see you and I hope you enjoy the weekend. 

Rick

Leadership lessons: Success. God's way.

Remember John Wooden. He was the legendary coach for the UCLA basketball team from 1948-1975. His teams won 10 NCAA titles in 12 years.

Lots of people don't know that Wooden professed Christ and was a Bible reader. Jay Carty has written a book, Coach Wooden One on One, that explored Wooden's faith.

One thing that has always intrigued me is his Pyramid of Success. You can study it on the Official John Wooden Web Site. Check it out.

After he took a position teaching high school English at the age of 24, Wooden grew frustrated with the grading system he was required to use. He felt compelled to help his students better understand success as a result of effort. He thought of his father's advice, "Never try to be better than anyone else, but never stop trying to be the best you can be." And he remembered a verse of poetry he had recently read:

At God's footstool to confess,
A poor soul knelt and bowed his head.
"I failed," he cried. The Master said,
"Thou didst thy best, that is success."

Wooden defined success as a "peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

The definition satisfied Wooden for a short while, but he quickly realized it was insufficient. He needed something more concrete, more visual. So he spent the next 14 years identifying 25 behaviors he believed were necessary to achieve his idea of success. This search resulted in a simple but profound diagram Wooden called "The Pyramid of Success", which he completed in 1948.

I would prefer a more God-saturated, Christ-centered definition of success - maybe something based on Colossians 3:23: Success is seeking to please Christ by giving a wholehearted effort toward the task at hand and leaving the results of God.

For sure, God is interested in success.

Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
Joshua 1:7-8

The word in this passsage is tsalach. It means to "advance, prosper, make progress, succeed, be profitable."

I believe that it's important to think through what success looks like biblically. How do you think God would have you define success? And is Your life moving in that direction? What changes do you need to make?

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Do more. Slow down.

Slow down...

Do you ever feel almost overwhelmed by the demands of life and work and ministry? Sure. We all feel that way... a lot!

As a busy leader, I find that I am simultaneously energized and drained by the demands of leadership. We have a large staff who all want their dreams and desires to be top priority. Sometimes, staffers are hurt when we have to say, "That's not a priority for us at this time." Working to maintain unity and synergy can be demanding.

God has a verse for busy people. Maybe it could help you. It's Psalm 46:10.

God is speaking. "Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (NIV). I like the New American Standard Version. "Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (NASB). Another version says: "Let be and be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations! I will be exalted in the earth!" (Amp).

I've thought about the "Be still" or "Cease striving" part many times. But I've not done a good job connecting it to the rest of the passage.

See, I know that life is about exalting God. It's about magnifying the Lord. The goal can't be build a bigger building or draw a larger crowd. It can't be finding personal peace or affluence. Life is about magnifying Jesus. It's about making sure that He is spotlighted. As John Piper has tweaked the first question from the Westminster catechism, "Our purpose in life is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever." So, if that's the goal, then Psalm 46:10 says to me that the pressure's off.

Why do I say this? God has promised in the verse to exalt Himself. I must be still. I must cease striving. He will get it done. Yet another version says, "Calm down, and learn that I am God! All nations on earth will honor me" (CEV).

Of course, we are given the privilege of working with Him. There are things we are to do. The budget won't get done without our working some. The ministry plans won't happen without our help. Our families need us for certain things. But the goal isn't budgets or buildings or baptisms that we help produce - that we help make happen. The goal is glorifying God.

And God says that He is going to get that done. We need to be still and watch Him do it. We need to cease striving. We need to relax. The pressure's off. And that's a good feeling for a guy like me who tends to let the work of the Lord crowd out the Lord of the work.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Leadership lessons: Avoiding burn out

Bob Roberts, a pastor friend of mine, shared a quote that resonates with me: "Burn brightly but don’t burn out."

I like those words because I often run at too many RPMs in ministry. And I don't say, "no" enough. I often find myself doing good things but not the best things. I end up doing a kind of psuedo-ministry. It's just busy-ness. And, then, I get overly tired and find that I'm not as available to God and His people for true ministry as I should be. And when I'm on the verge of burn out, I get emotionally irritable, personally impulsive, and spiritually lazy.

Paul Powell is a 73 year old pastor who developed some wise self-talk to help him do ministry in a way that protected him from burn out. These are words I need to say to myself frequently.

1. I am not invincible. I can get sick and grow weary and sin. Therefore, I must be careful.

2. I am not immortal. I am going to die. Therefore, I must be responsible.

3. I am not indispensable. The Kingdom keeps going without me. Therefore, I must be humble.

4. I am not an island. I need friends around me. Therefore, I must be accountable.

"Burn brightly, but don't burn out." What does God need to change in your life to make sure that happens?

Thinking biblically about Osama bin Laden's death

The wide-ranging reaction on the part of believers to the death of Osama bin Laden illustrates how prone we are to proof text. Proof texting is using quotes from the Bible to support a pre-established belief or conclusion. But maybe you remember the old saying, "A text out of context is a proof text."

Some believers are, quite frankly, "hawk-ish" about the demise of bin Laden. And they look to passages like Proverbs 11:10 for justification of their response. "When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices, and when the wicked perish there are shouts of gladness" (Proverbs 11:10).

Other believers are more "dove-ish" about the death of bin Laden. And they use passages like Proverbs 24:17-18 to guide their thinking and acting. "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him" (Proverbs 24:17-18).

So which of these passages are we to obey? Are we to be "right-wing-give-'em-justice" people or "left-wing-peace-at-any-price" people?

I remember once hearing Tim Keller, a pastor in Manhattan at Redeemer Presbyterian Church, say, "Truth doesn't come for the right. Truth doesn't come from the left. Truth comes from above." This means that believers who think biblically will often live out truths that may appear very left-leaning to those on the right and may appear very right-leaning to those on the left.

Followers of Jesus can't pick and choose texts in the Bible to justify our thinking and acting. We are to meditate on the Word of God so that we are careful to do according to all that is written in it (Joshua 1:8). "All" means "all"; that's all "all" means. I take this to mean that we have to find a way to obey both Proverbs 11:17 and Proverbs 24:17-18 - to be glad when the wicked perish and to not rejoice when our enemy falls.

We can have mixed emotions at bin Laden's death. We rejoice that justice prevailed and that evil was arrested. At the same time, we grieve over the needless deaths on 9/11 that precipitated these events and we grieve over the fact that bin Laden and his followers evidently never came to know and follow Jesus as Lord and Savior, as their Prince of peace.

Let's allow all this to remind us to pray. Let's pray for the families and friends of those who lost loved ones on 9/11 and in the war against terrorism over the last ten years. This news has undoubtedly reopned deep wounds and hurts. Let's pray for our political leaders and soldiers who are seeking for justice and peace to prevail in the world. The courage and the competence of our leaders and soldiers are amazing. And let's pray for and work toward the conversion and dsicipleship of the peoples of the world, especially the Muslims peoples. The kingdom of of Lord and Christ is our only way to real and lasting peace.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Reflections from God's Word in light of the death of Osama bin Laden

On the way to school today, I was talking to our son, Evan, about the death of Osama bin Laden and mentioned that it is important for followers of Christ to do the best we can to think God's thoughts about such things.

We can't take our cues from the White House, the military, big business, educators, ABC, CNN, CBS, NBC, or FOX.

I mentioned to Evan that the headline in one paper reported the news about bin Laden's death with these words: Rot in hell. Is that what God's people should think and say?

We should take part in the conversation with gentleness and respect, of course. But we must seek to think God's thoughts. And where do we go to find God's thoughts? The Word of God.

So, here are just a few observations based of scripture.

1. We praise God for His sovereignty in the bringing down of Osama bin Laden. "Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding" (Daniel 2:20-21).

2. We thank God for displaying His justice. "For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs" (Psalm 75:6-8).

3. We pray for our political and military leaders who have the God-given authority to serve God by bringing international criminals to justice. "For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God's servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God's wrath on the wrongdoer" (Romans 13:3-4).

4. We ask God to bless our political and military leaders as they seek to provide us and the world with an environment of security and peace. "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way" (I Timothy 2:1-2).

5. Although the evidence is overwhelming that bin Laden never professed Jesus as His personal Savior and is, therefore, in hell, we do not take a vindictive kind of pleasure in that; rather, we desire that all men and women be saved. "For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live" (Ezekiel 18:32). "Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33:11).

6. We seek to increase our efforts and prayers to reach all the peoples of the world who do not know Christ, especially the Muslim people groups. "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all. (I Timothy 2:3-6). "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (II Peter 3:9).

7. We recognize in these momentous events a call to personal and national repentance. "There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, 'Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish'" (Luke 13:1-3).

8. We ask God to set up humble, righteous leaders throughout the kingdoms of the world. "The Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will and sets over it the lowliest of men" (Daniel 4:17).

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Wrestling with God in prayer for blessings

Grappling with God for a blessing

On Saturday evenings, we end our services with a Q & A. I once spoke from Genesis 32 and encouraged our people to wrestle with God like Jacob. He said, "I will not let You go until I get a blessing!"

One question afterwards was this:

"It feels arrogant and prideful to ask God to bless me. Shouldn't we just 'be content' with where we are and what we have? Aren't we already blessed?"

This was a great question.

Here's my response:

Should we be content? Absolutely! "I have learned how to be content with whatever I have" (Philippians 4:11). "True godliness with contentment is itself great wealth" (I Timothy 6:6). Should we be thankful for what we already have? Absolutely! "Give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:20). "Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus" (I Thessalonians 5:18). Should we think of ourselves as already blessed? Absolutely! "All praise to God... who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms..." (Ephesians 1: 3).

Yet the Bible is filled with scripture that indicate that it is good and right to cry out to God for blessings. "With all my heart I want your blessings" (Psalm 119:58). “I will not let you go unless you bless me” (Genesis 32:26). "May God be merciful and bless us. May his face smile with favor on us" (Psalm 67:1).

It is good a right to cry out to God for His favor. "Let your favor shine on your servant. In your unfailing love, rescue me" (Psalm 31:16). "Send me a sign of your favor" (Psalm 86:17). "Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people" (Psalm 106:4).

It is good to ask God for His face to shine on us. "Turn us again to yourself, O God. Make your face shine down upon us" (Psalm 80:3). "Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved" (Psalm 80:7).

Plus, Bible characters like Jacob (Genesis 32) and Jabez (I Chronicles 4) cried out to God for blessings. These things happened to them as examples for us.

So, how can we pursue God for blessings, favor, and a shining face while at the same time be content and thankful?

I think that God is checking out our motives. When we ask for God's favor with hearts of contentment and gratitude, it's not about us. It's about Him.

If we want God's favor and blessings for selfish, materialistic reasons, then God sees right through that! We don't get answers to many of our prayers because we are asking with the wrong motives (James 4:3).

We must let God set the "blessing agenda" for our lives. We don't pursue God so He will bless our plans. We pursue God so He will plan our blessings. God plans the blessings, not us.

We must want God's favor not so we can be fulfilled and comfortable, but so our lives can demonstrate God's glory.

Like Jacob, after wrestling with God, we may end up with a limp, but that place in our lives that's "out-of-joint" will show His glory even more. When God comes through for us in spite of the limp, people have to recognize His grace and power.

So,we pursue his favor for His fame. And that produces, not pride, but humility.

So, let's wrestle with God. It's good and right to say with Jacob, "I will not let You go until You bless me."

Top 5 blog posts for April

In case you missed it, here are the top five most viewed posts from my blog for April.

Thanks for journeying with me everybody.

1. Communicating with loved ones in heaven?

2. Dreaming and claiming the promises of God.

3. Report about CVC's Easter 2011

4. How to process things when you have been hurt.

5. A prayer for those struggling with suicidal depression.

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