Reaching Your God-Given Potential – Part One

Let’s consider the three types of friends everyone needs to reach their God-given potential:

      • A friend to challenge you and bring out your best
      • A friend to help you find strength in God and grow in your faith
      • A friend to tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it

To look at and illustrate these three types, let’s look at the life of David in the Old Testament to see the people that God used to make him the man God wanted him to be.

First, everyone needs a friend who makes them better, and makes them want to be better. You don’t have to know much about David’s life to know he was far from perfect. But even with all his mistakes, sins, and shortcomings, David was still described as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). If you study David’s life, it becomes clear that the right people at the right time helped him become the right man.

Although David had many people who made him better, I’d like to start with Samuel. During the time when God rejected Saul as king (and this is a different Saul than the one we read of in the book of Acts), God chose Samuel the prophet to identify and anoint the next king of Israel. When Samuel visited the house of Ben Jesse (David’s dad), he saw an obvious candidate. The oldest son was strong, handsome, and qualified. Samuel thought that surely this man was God’s chosen king. But God told him not to consider his stature, because God doesn’t look at the same things people look at. Most people judge others by their appearance, but God looks past their appearance and into their heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

When all the obvious sons turned out not to be God’s chosen one, they finally called in the least likely one, the youngest, who was out tending sheep. And God spoke to Samuel and said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one” (1 Samuel 16:12). Everyone would have been shocked by this announcement. David was just a kid, and a little rough around the edges, camping next to his family’s flock of sheep. There wasn’t a single person in David’s family who would have picked him as the next king. But God used one man, Samuel, to help David see that God’s will for his life was more significant than anyone could have imagined. 

Samuel made David better – much better. The prophet helped David see himself the way God saw him – as a leader, warrior, poet, and king. He wasn’t just some kid, cut out for nothing more than wrangling sheep for his whole life. Samuel told David, “You’re the one! God has chosen you!” God had a glorious plan, and Samuel helped David glimpse it.

Do you have a few friends who make you better, people who see your potential? Think about it. Do your buddies at the gym make you better? Or the ladies in your Bible study help you grow? Do the people you work with make you sharper? Do the people you run with make you stronger?

If not, connect with someone new, someone who makes you better.

If you need to get closer to God, connect with the right person who can help. If you want a good marriage, there’s nothing like befriending people who have strong marriages. If you want to grow in your parenting skills, you might find someone wise and do life with them. Walk with the wise and grow wise. If you hope to start a business, then gleaning from someone who started a successful business is a great place to start. If you need to learn to handle your finances better, I know that if you pray for the right influence, God will answer that prayer.

David’s son Solomon, the wisest man who ever lives, said, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17 NLT). Instead of hanging out with people who dull your skills or put down your dreams, it’s time you start finding friends who make you sharper. If you connect with someone who makes you better today, then you will write a totally different future for yourself – God’s future. This is what David did with the help of Samuel.

Who sees you, the real person inside you, the way God sees you?

More next time….

The Times They are a Changin’

Guest Blogger – Bill Lewis, apostle, teacher

Here we are sitting at home, just watched our Sunday service on Facebook Live, singing to an empty building, preaching to hundreds of empty chairs. It is Palm Sunday and the streets are empty of Hosannas, palm branches, and children dressed in festive clothes. St. Peter’s Square is vacant as the Pope preaches. Around the world, the epidemic has changed everything.

Churches are trying to keep people together through media. There are live streams, websites, TV broadcasts, and personal notes.  Some pastors and churches are scrambling to learn new techniques as they are forced to do something to care for the flock. Computers, smartphones, and tablets are the connections to the flock in this moment. Education is forced into new territory as well. Students are now attending class via Zoom or some app similar. Google classroom has become, not the aid, but the mainstream for education. Teachers and parents are forced into a new paradigm. The church is forced into a new paradigm. The change is one from ancillary to primary. It is not just the “cool” thing anymore, it is the necessity.

Even this genre is fragile. If the grid were to go down, our system of communication would last as long as your battery, or maybe less. I have for a long time considered our modern and excellent forms of communication to be only as good as the infrastructure of the nation and world. One apocalypse of some sort would end or severely limit our communications worldwide.

I have pondered what affect does this have on our faith? Much of what we hold as the Christian faith is connected to relationships and interaction. Church is a lot more than the worship and preaching hour. It has a lot to do with the conversations before and after church. It has to do with the small group interactions that take place as service is being accomplished. It, too, has to do with the friendships that are developed and the non church get togethers that happen. With all or most of these interactions being canceled, where are we?

We have been reduced to core values. Your faith has to stand pretty much on your own initiative. You can sit in your pajamas and not interact electronically. You can veg out on the couch, sit silent, or run around screaming. No one knows or cares. (make sure your kids don’t see you) Essentially, our faith is being tested to see how real, deep, alive it is. We have no props to hold our faith up or, at least, they are very limited. We are challenged individually to maintain the faith and particularly the vitality of our faith.

To maintain in these times of isolation, we must develop regimes of spiritual discipline. They do not have to be over the top, but they have to be there. Reading the Bible regularly is a must. It can be as small as a paragraph, a chapter, or a book regularly, as in daily. Devotional books are great, but nothing replaces the exercise of reading the Bible in context. Prayer is necessary in whatever form suits you. It can be extended, isolated times of prayer, or conversational prayer that runs through the day. It can be table blessings to include the whole family or even family times of prayer depending on your approach. Add to these, reading good books, or listening to good books if you are not an avid reader, but the idea is to continue to challenge and inspire yourself spiritually. The books do not have to be tomes by theologians. They can be even secular in nature, but inspire the soul. There are great spiritual lessons in many of the good authors of novels, biographies, and history.

In some ways, we have been forced back into simplicity. I have seen more families out walking than in a long, long time. There are families engaging their children and rather than only having the 37 minutes a day with their kids as the national average indicates, many are spending hours each day with their children. The kids are probably going to miss that when they go back to school.

Our faith has been forced into simplicity as well. Once again, a walk gives time for worship of the creator. Time with family underlines the importance of those memories made with parents and children. The kids are going to always remember these weeks. For them, it will be their Pearl Harbor, their Kennedy Assassination, their 911. It will be like the blizzard of ’78, it will be the pandemic of 2020. Likewise, my hope is the church will simplify as well. It will be reinvigorated by these days. The church will rise to the challenge and not only survive, but see an amazing harvest.

The times, they are a changin’ -Bob Dylan

Friend! Really?

The relational impact of social media and technology has redefined the word friend. Once upon a time, even just a decade ago, when someone said they were your friend, you both understood what that meant: you shared interests, understood each other’s goals, and enjoyed doing life together. Things are no longer that simple. You can have dozens – even hundreds – of friends that you’ve never met IRL (in real life). They may follow you on social media, or vice versa, without really knowing who you are or what makes you tick.

The average North American has more than three hundred Facebook friends, but only two people that they consider close friends. And this is one-third fewer friends than the average person had just twenty-five years ago.

Also, according to the American Sociological Review, a quarter of Americans (that’s about eighty million people) say they have zero – nada, goose egg, none at all – close friends. 

Why the decline? While there are all sorts of theories, we can summarize four main reasons that people have fewer friends now:

        • People are working more. The more hours people work, the fewer hours they relate socially. More and more people say their closest friends are those they work with because they’re less able to develop or maintain friendships outside of work.
        • People are moving more frequently. In our mobile economy, people don’t stay in one place as long as they used to, so they aren’t becoming as close as they once did.
        • People are getting divorced more often. One spouse gets the couch, the table, and the television, while the other gets the recliner, the refrigerator, the bed. Just as they divvy up possessions, couples often divide their friends, who tend to side with one  over the other.
        • People are talking more online and less in person. While we know the benefits of social media, communicating online has many downsides as well. Many people carefully filter what they share with others so they can present only their best selves, making it much more difficult to be authentic in their real-world relationships.

Even as most of us are engaged in far more online activity now, many of us are experiencing less personal intimacy. For example, many people, when their phone rings, don’t answer, letting it go to voicemail instead. If the caller leaves a message, we may listen to it later, at our convenience, then reply with a text if we feel like it. That lets us stay in control of the ‘conversation’.

And this is hitting us in too many ways to count. I know people who check their Facebook page in the middle of the night because they feel alone. They may have seven hundred Facebook friends, but not one close friends in normal life.

We’re connected, yet we feel lonelier than ever.

Poverty used to mean only one thing. Now sociologists are acknowledging at least three types of poverty. The three divisions of poverty that you see mentioned often are:

      • Material poverty: the lack of basic needs
      • Spiritual poverty: the lack of eternal meaning
      • Relational poverty: the lack of intimate friendships

This third one seems to have taken many people by surprise. But if you think about it, you may realize that it’s true of you as well. Something is wrong. Something is missing. You might even acknowledge that it isn’t actually a something but a someone. 

Based on where you are right now, the decision you most need to make may be to connect. Really Connect. And invest in having a real friend. 

More Than You Can Handle

Maybe you have heard well-meaning believers say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” While this sounds good and it might feel right, nowhere in the Bible does it ever actually say that. I am almost certain most people are misquoting 1 Corinthians 10:13 when they say this. That verse reads, “And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.” Clearly we see that God won’t let you be tempted beyond what you can handle. But Scripture never says that God won’t give you more than you can handle.

I would argue the opposite. God often allows you to experience more than you can handle to teach us to trust and depend on Him.

The apostle Paul learned this valuable lesson and recorded his feelings in 2 Corinthians. We are not sure what his ailment was, but Paul had what he called a “thorn in the flesh.” Scholars have theorized for centuries about the possibilities for his pain, but the best we can do is guess. What we know is that Paul pleaded faithfully with God multiple times to take it away, yet God never did.

If ever there was a person who was worthy of this type of miracle, it was certainly Paul. He suffered immensely for the gospel, way more than most of us could ever imagine or endure. He had boundless faith in God, and he prayed with all his heart. If God was going to answer anyone’s prayer with a miracle, it seems like this one should be a top candidate. Yet God allowed Paul to continue living with that thorn, whatever it was, something that seemed like it was more than he could handle. 

Paul, rather than allowing this challenge to turn him away from God, decided instead to trust God and let it draw him closer.

In the middle of Paul’s pain, God spoke to him and offered him a promise and he responded to it: “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weakness, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

God promised that His grace was enough.

Paul didn’t need God to remove his problem. God’s presence was all Paul needed.

Don’t believe the lie that God won’t give you more than you can handle. If you decide to start something new, chances are it’s going to be more than you can handle. When God prompts you to go and start something new, He will provide you with enough grace to handle what you can’t handle. When He leads you to stop something you have done for years, it likely will be more than you can do on your own. So just admit it and ask Him to help you. And when you’re weak, He will be strong.

When you know you need to stay and it would be easier to go, God will have to help you do what you can’t do yourself. And when God tells you to go when you would rather stay, He’ll give you the faith to take that first step. When God wants you to serve in ways that make you feel like you’re in over your head, He’ll empower you to do what needs doing. And when He guides you to connect with certain people in your life, you can be sure He’s going to use that connection to bless you both.

But never be afraid to move forward through a challenge, trial, or storm because it feels like more than you can handle. Think about it. The first time you provide a foster home for a child, that’s going to be more than you can handle. If you have teenagers, they’re likely will be more than you can deal with at times. When your bills keep piling up and you don’t have enough money to pay them, you’re going to need God’s help. When you get a bad report from a doctor, you’ll need God’s strength and presence to sustain you.

You might be tempted to think, I need to be strong. But the truth is it’s okay to be weak. In your weakness, His strength will be all you need.

Whenever you face a storm, a struggle, some unexpected trial, just remember God will occasionally allow you to have more than you can handle. He will use trials to change you into the image of His Son and teach you to trust Him. He will transform these obstacles into vehicles for His blessings.  

 

It Was One Of Those Days

It was a cool and overcast day after a number of fairly warm and sunny days. My office has four large 4 feet by 4 feet windows and so when it is sunny it is an amazing place to work. But, when it is overcast it can be less inviting. But it is a window on my world. I have a great view of all that goes on on my crescent as I can clearly see in three directions. So, because of the weather – light snow and then rain and cool – I spent the day writing blogs and researching a teaching that was for the weekend. A teaching on worry.

During the day I related to a few people on various social media apps. I don’t normally do that. Yes, I contact my own people who are part of the church I attend. And, I answer emails. But, the rest I leave alone as I want to stay focused on what I am writing and researching. However, I spent my early morning coffee listening to the governor of New York speak about the Covid-19 virus and, on a personal note, the fact that his brother (a CNN personality) had just been diagnosed with the virus. I have been impressed with the man’s leadership of the State of New York and even more impressed by his leadership qualities that day … especially when compared to the President, my own Prime Minister and others. So, I made a Facebook entry about my personal observation (something I don’t do often on my personal Facebook page)

Well, the bell kept ringing most of the day with reactions to what I wrote. I would like to say all positive and everyone agree with me. Not so! Interesting. Meanwhile I received an unsolicited “forward” by someone I know in Ohio. Political issues about congress. Which I did not read. Then one from the province east of mine about the connection between the Coronavirus and 5G. An unwanted video forwarded to me which I did not watch. Then another one from the same province about a dream they had and a video to watch (which I did not follow up on). By the way, I am not anti-social. I simply don’t have the time nor the interest to read, watch, or listen to everything that people send to me when I didn’t ask for them. 

But the one that blew me out of the water was a comment by a believer whom I know stating that Governor Cuomo was not a good leader because he threatened to close down the churches and synagogues if people gathered to worship. Permanently close them. 

Now, I believe the rule is that you can’t have a gathering of believers of any religion if the number coming together is over 50 -10 – 5 or 2 depending on the place where you live. This rule is to prevent larger groups of people coming together and thus spreading the virus faster. It is a matter of social-distancing. It also means all concerts, sports events, and political rally are also now not happening. So, no one is picking on the believers or those that are religious. It is simply a general, across the board rule to see if we can slow down the spread of the virus. And, although I did not see the specific announcement – there is no way according to the United States constitution that a government could permanently shut down the church. 

Do I smell panic here? Do I sense a conspiracy theory (or two or three) arising? I mean other than the one that this is a God-thing to remove the excess population on the planet. Had you heard that one? Or the one that says … Well, never mind. We have all heard them, right?

On a similar note: I was amazed that a number of pastors of large churches – several whom I would know by name – actually encouraged their people to come and worship in spite of the rules and recommendations. Wow! Now that’s good for our reputation as thinking believers. Not! And, I noted that one well-known pastor from Florida was even arrested for doing so. Good for the authorities. 

Is it just me or has the spirit of stupid been released upon the world. Folks, this is not a game. People (several whom I know) have gone from healthy to dead in a week. Let’s take this seriously shall we. Let’s not spiritualize the epidemic. Let’s use our common sense and follow the medical advice we are all hearing – advice every decent doctor is giving. And, let’s pray for those who are on the frontlines of fighting the virus. Let’s not distract attention away from what we can all do to slow the spread down.

And, by the way, believers … instead of all the conspiracy theories and dreams and visions and whatever – Let’s use this opportunity to share the love of Jesus and boldly tell others about the love of God and the salvation from sin that He offers to each and every person who believes. Let’s not get sidetracked and miss the opportunity to practically care for those in need and speak to hearts that are open.

Let’s represent Jesus in a practical and sane way and take advantage of the situation to bring people into the Kingdom.