Before You Were Born – God loved you! (Part Two)

Being somewhat up in age (nice way to say I am getting old) it is interesting to look back and see the subtle but definite changes that have taken place over the past two or three decades bringing us to the place where we live in a day of cheap life and disposable pregnancies. A day when abortions are simply taken for granted as a woman’s right over her own body and a means of birth control. I am not trying to be offensive – just wanting to note the somewhat slow but definite change that has taken place in society in general. 

A generation ago, everyone referred to an unborn child as a baby. And pregnant women had no doubt that what they were carrying was a baby — a human person. It is hard for anyone to think positively about killing a baby. So to get around the distastefulness of the idea, the word baby has been replaced by terms such as “fetus,” “embryo,” or even a “clump of tissue.” These are impersonal, clinical terms easily associated with tumors or growths. These words, completely devoid of the tender emotions associated with baby, have allowed people to treat pregnancy as something like an unwanted disease instead of the exalted privilege it is — the privilege of creating beloved beings with eternal, God-given possibilities.

A side note: It is important to note that Psalm 139:16 contains the only use of the Hebrew word for embryo found in Scripture — translated as “my substance, being yet unformed” referencing a human life being watched over by God because He loves even the unborn and even yet to be formed ‘life’ that has been conceived.

To make matters worse, a new term emerged almost a decade ago in this battle for human life: “after-birth abortion.” Previously known as infanticide, after-birth abortion allows babies to be killed after they are born. According to a World article by Marvin Olasky, “The core of the argument isn’t new at universities like Princeton, where ethicist Peter Singer has long approved killing one-year-olds with physical or mental disabilities. But authors Alberto Giubilini and Francesca Minerva push the argument further by defending the killing of any humans incapable of “attributing any value to their own existence … Merely being human is not in itself a reason for ascribing someone a right to life.”

The possibility that this attitude could become accepted presents a peril of almost unmatched significance. One writer explains: “The so-called ‘quality of life ethic’ is deep down more dangerous than nuclear war, for it destroys the very soul of our civilization, not just bodies. It says a human person’s value is not infinite and calculable, that it varies with health, intelligence, and social utility. That is exactly what Hitler believed.”

In my studies in the past few days here is what I have discovered:

    • God loved you before you were born (Job 10:10-12 MSG)
    • Before you were born, God knew your identity (Psalm 139:15-16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your complexity ((Psalm 139:13-14)
    • Before you were born, God knew your individuality ( Psalm 139:16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your dignity (Colossians 1:16)
    • Before you were born, God knew your destiny (Jeremiah 1:5)
    • Before you were born, God knew your possibility (Genesis 1:26-27)
    • Before you were born, God knew your legacy (Jeremiah 29:11)

Wow! God knew and loved you as a fully human person before He even made you. Before conception. He loved you as He prepared you for this world in the beauty of human pregnancy. And all along, He had a life, a purpose, and a legacy planned for you, suited to your unique individuality and personality. ALL life has dignity and value in God’s sight. We need to remember that all things were created through Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16) so Christ is the source of all life in creation. And, all life came into existence through Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ. This means every child (baby) conceived is highly valuable to Him and should be to us as well. 

Just part of my journey these past few days. Thanks for listening. 

Before You Were Born – God loved you! (Part One)

I have been reading up on how God loves us even before we are born. And that God has a plan and a purpose that is unique for each one of us, again, planned out before we were even conceived in our mother’s womb. It has led to some fantastic reading in the Bible (like Jeremiah, chapter one) and even some scientific and medical understanding of life, conception, and babies which then led me into rereading some material on abortion. Let me share a true story I reread today sitting outside a medical clinic waiting for someone….

There is a woman named Norma McCorvey. Norma was twenty-one years old in 1969, unmarried, and the mother of two children — one in the custody of the child’s grandmother and one given up for adoption. While working at whatever jobs she could find — including being a barker for a travelling carnival — she discovered she was pregnant for the third time. When she sought an abortion, she found they were illegal in Texas except in cases of rape or incest. So she lied and claimed rape, but the claim was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Two attorneys used Norma’s desire to have an abortion as a reason to file suit against the state of Texas. To protect Norma’s privacy, they gave her the fictitious name of “Jane Roe,” a name immortalized in the now famous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case (“Wade” was the local district attorney in Dallas County, Texas). In 1973, the Supreme Court ruled in Norma McCorvey’s favour, and abortions on demand have been legal in America ever since. (Norma’s third child was born before the case was decided.)

But Norma McCorvey had a change of heart. In the early 1990’s, she professed faith in Christ and has written two books affirming her pro-life, anti-abortion position. In her second book, Won By Love (1998), she described her sudden awareness that the life in the mother’s womb is a baby, a child whom God loves:

“When my conversion [to Christ] became public knowledge, I spoke openly to reporters about still supporting legalized abortion in the first trimester. The media was quick to use this to downplay the seriousness of my conversion, saying I typified the “general ambivalence” of our culture over abortion. But a few weeks after my conversion, I was sitting in [Operation Rescue’s] offices when I noticed a fetal development poster. The progression was so obvious, the eyes were so sweet. It hurt my heart, just looking at them.

I ran outside and finally, it dawned on me, “Norma,” I said to myself, “they’re right.” I had worked with pregnant women for years. I had been through three pregnancies and deliveries myself. I should have known. Yet something in that poster made me lose my breath. I kept seeing the picture of that tiny, 10-week-old embryo, and I said to myself, that’s a baby! It’s as if the blinders just fell off my eyes and I suddenly understood the truth – that’s a baby!”

As I kept researching for a good part of a day I found that modern technology now allows us to see the astonishing complexity of a developing child (baby – not ‘fetus,’ ‘embryo,’ ‘clump of tissue’ … see Part Two of my processing) with our own eyes. In a 2010 TED presentation titled Conception to Birth — Visualized, Alexander Tsiaras, mathematician and chief of Scientific Visualization at Yale University, presented a series of incredible images of a child’s development in the womb. In his production you can see never-before-viewed videos and photos of the very first cell division, the development of the heart at only 25 days, the development of the arms and hands at only 32 days, and the development of the retinas, nose and eyes at 52 days.

Clearly astonished by what he witnessed in his own images, Tsiaras concluded his talk with these words: “The complexity of the things, the mathematical model of how these things are indeed done, [is] beyond human comprehension. Even though I am a mathematician I look at this with the marvel of, ‘How did these instruction sets build that which is us?’ It’s a mystery, it’s magic, it’s divinity.”

“For You formed my inward parts;

You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; 

Marvellous are Your works;

And that my soul knows very well. (Psalm 139:13-14)

 

Oh, that marvel of conception…

What a miracle of skin and bone, muscle and brain.

You gave me life itself, and incredible love.

You watched and guarded every breath I took.

(Job 10:10-12 The Message version)

More next time…

Walt Disney’s Dreams

When you think of great dreamers, we think of people like George Lucas, Elon Musk, or Walt Disney. Anyone who’s seen a Star Wars movie, read about electric cars, or visited Disney World knows that great accomplishments begin with one person’s larger-than-life imagination.

Walt Disney’s dream began with cartoon sketches, two failed companies, and a borrowed book on animation. In time, he brought beloved characters to life, created classic films, and built Disney World, Disneyland, and Epcot. He created “the happiest place on earth” and because known as the man who made dreams come true.

Disney’s public persona was “Uncle Walt,” a smiling man who kindly signed autographs in a tweed jacket while puttering down Main Street in a fringe-topped car driven by Mickey Mouse. But behind the scenes, the real Walt Disney was a demanding, hard-charging man of a million ideas who exasperated family and colleagues. His life was a whirlwind of visionary projects that exhausted his associates and changed our world.

When Disney was diagnosed with lung cancer, he was still planning movies, developing theme parks, and mulling over his newest idea — an “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow,” or EPCOT. As he lay on his deathbed with his brother Roy sitting nearby, Walt looked up at the hospital ceiling tiles, raised his finger, and traced his plans for Epcot by pointing to them. Every fourth tile represented a square mile, he told his brother. Using that mental map, he suggested routes for his envisioned highways and monorails.

Having said al that, I believe Walt Disney’s dreams were too small. Believe it or not, you and I can dream bigger dreams than Disney ever conceived. It’s one thing to invest one’s life in a magic kingdom but quite another to play a part in the Kingdom of God. As followers of Christ, we can cultivate a dream for our lives that outlasts the world, transforms time, changes eternity, and advances His cause and His Kingdom for His glory. 

In fact, that’s the story of the Bible. The Bible is filled with people who saw what life could look like in God’s Kingdom and then moved forward in faith. Abraham dreamed of a great nation when he was yet childless. Moses envisioned a free people when the Israelites were still making bricks without straw. Joshua envisioned an occupied land, Samson, a defeated enemy; David, a temple on a hill. Nehemiah built miles of reconstructed walls in his prayers before a single stone was laid. Daniel glimpsed a future kingdom; Peter, an established church; Paul, a global mission. 

All these stories — the dreams of men and women of God thousands of years ago — still inspire, guide, and affect us more than we know. And they remind us God wants to do the same with you and me. The Lord’s dreams for us are just as real and all we have to do is ask Him to reveal His plan and purpose for our life, grab hold of the dream, and then step out in faith believing.

Sometimes I Am Not Positive

I am working at being much more positive

My personality is not naturally positive … But I am working to change my approach to life and daily circumstances

After all, with God nothing is impossible

I read the other day:

“A positive attitude may not solve all your problems, but it will annoy enough people to make it worth the effort”    Herm Albright

So, I am working at ‘being a warrior and not a worrier’

‘A fountain not a drain’

A VPP and not a VDP … Very Positive Person / Very Draining Person

I have discovered that it takes a positive attitude to move forward

And, I don’t mean all the self-help, positive-thinking teachings that are out there

Most of the ‘Have a positive attitude’ self-help  preaching and teaching is not biblical

Conceive it, believe it, achieve it

Health and wealth

Name it and claim it

Blab it and grab it

Lots of motivational speakers and self-help preachers make lots of promises without preaching the whole gospel — or any of the true gospel

The self-improvement industry has become a kind of religion that says, “If it’s going to be, it’s up to me”

We should guard ourselves against any self-help ideology that pushes God to the sidelines, magnifies human abilities, and doesn’t tell the whole truth

But there is a positive, hopeful, joyful, optimism that is totally biblical in its essence and comes from Christ alone

You can be a Christian and an optimist at the same time — and you should be

Faith adds a positive power to your life

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

That sounds pretty positive, doesn’t it?

The man who wrote those words was an optimist with a capital O

Read his story in the book of Acts and study his thirteen letters

 

They are packed with optimism

His words reveal to us his powerful secrets for resilience, optimism, and positive thinking and belief

By stepping into his story at critical moments, we can understand how he lived a life of positive accomplishment despite hardships and adverse life circumstances

1> Be Positive in Your Convictions

Paul’s optimism started with his positive convictions

He lived with “conviction”

A CONVICTION is a fixed belief

A deeply held set of certainties that lodges and lives in the center of your mind and heart

It is critical that your convictions be sound and true – in other words, biblical

Pauls’ certainly were!

He wrote his convictions down and his letters are a journal of his life and his belief system – his convictions

Paul’s core convictions were the foundation of his incredible life and ministry and the basis of his positive attitude 

Paul had two very positive core convictions that motivated him and provided directions for his life

A> Be Positive About God’s Love For You

The most basic conviction in life is rooted in understanding the nature of God

Because, without a good, powerful, loving creative, eternal God, there is no basis for optimism 

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Great reasons to be optimistic and positive in your life

Not only is God real but He loves us

Not only does God love us, but nothing we might experience in life can separate us from His love

The ten things Paul lists in these verses could each be a potential barrier between you and God

But Paul says, with absolute assurance, that none of them can separate you from God’s love

The loss of hope around us today is rampant – especially as we enter the second year of fighting the Covid pandemic

And lack of hope is lethal to a joy-filled, positive life

Added to the pandemic – hope has disappeared in many aspects of life because of a growing ignorance and even rejection of God’s love

Without an understanding of God’s love

Without an experience of God’s love 

Without an encounter with God’s love

There is little to be positive about in every day life

These powerful words in Romans 8 about God’s love are reinforced by a blessing Paul offered toward the end of the same letter

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)

You can make that a personal prayer by switching a word or two…

“Now may the God of hope fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that I may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

That prayer, prayed often, can adjust your mindset in any given season of life

Deepen your core convictions

Strengthen your belief

Allow you to be much more positive regardless of what is happening in your life

God loves you and wants you to overflow with hope and optimism!

Never forget that

Let that conviction dwell in the very core of your being

In his book The Wisdom of Tenderness, Brennan Manning tells the story of Edward Farrell, a man who decided to travel from his hometown of Detroit to visit Ireland, where he would celebrate his uncle’s eightieth birthday.

Early on the morning of his uncle’s birthday, they went for a walk along the shores of Lake Killarney. As the sun rose, his uncle turned and stared straight into the breaking light. For twenty minutes they stood there in silence, and then his elderly uncle began to skip along the shoreline, a radiant smile on his face.

After catching up with him, Edward asked, “Uncle Seamus, you look very happy. Do you want to tell me why?”

“Yes, lad,” the old man said, tears washing down his face. “You see, the Father is very fond of me. Ah, me Father is so very fond of me.”

In that moment Uncle Seamus experienced how much he was loved by his Father in heaven, an overwhelming sense of joy flooded his heart, and he began to dance along the shoreline.

Have you ever had a moment like that?

Have you ever awakened and said, “He really does love me”? 

 

Do you know what it means ti overflow with hope and optimism?

Hope, optimism, and joy – a positive outlook on life – can become a habitual attitude if we remember that God loves us 

A conviction: Be positive about God’s love for you

B> Be Positive About God’s Plan For You

The second core conviction or people who view life and live life positively — they are optimistic about their exciting future

They embrace tomorrow with enthusiasm and anticipation!

That is only possible if you know your future is guaranteed to be exciting, eternal, meaningful, and useful

Only one Person can assure you of that — the Lord Himself

And only one Book can provide the sure and certain details — the Bible 

The apostle Paul constantly referred to the future

He put the past behind him and strained toward what was ahead

(See teaching: Sometimes I Lose My Focus)

Even when he was near death, Paul was excited about tomorrow

Think about it! While waiting on death row for his martyrdom, Paul was eager for tomorrow

The last known letter Paul wrote was to his friend Timothy, and it was written from a Roman prison as he awaited a certain death

Listen to what he said in the final chapter to his final letter (book):

2 Timothy 4:6-8 “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”

Paul had an incredible perspective on dying

Years before, he told the Philippians, 

Philippians 1:21-24 NLT “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.”

Perhaps Paul’s remarkable perspective flowed from the time he was caught up to heaven and glimpsed the glories that await us there (see: 2 Corinthians 12:4)

But we have a blessing Paul didn’t have: We have the Book of Revelation

Written after Paul’s death

The final two chapters describe our heavenly home in great detail for us

(See: Revelation, Chapters 21 and 22)

The more we study those chapters, the more excited we should become about tomorrow

How long has it been since you were really excited about the future?

When you went to bed last night, were you excited to see what today would bring?

          • Remember when you were a kid counting the days until your birthday?
          • Or a graduate looking forward to your next step in life?
          • Or engaged to be married and eager for your wedding day?
          • An expectant parent waiting for the baby to arrive?

A psychologist wrote:

“Although we often think the past dictates our behaviour, the future is what really motives most of our actions”

As a follower of Christ, I’m ready to die and willing to live

And in either case I can’t wait to see what God will do next

I live constantly curious about what God will do tomorrow …

Romans 5:2 TLB “For because of our faith, he has brought us into this place of highest privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to actually becoming all that God has had in mind for us to be.”

So, to be positive and excited about life:

1> Be positive in your convictions

A> Be positive about God’s love for you

B> Be positive about God’s plan for you

2> Be Positive in Your Conversations

If you are positive in your core convictions — you will become more positive in your daily conversations

In the book of Ruth, when the landowner Boaz went out each morning to check on the harvesters, he greeted them by shouting, “The Lord be with you!” 

And they answered him, “The Lord bless you!” (Ruth 2:4)

What a positive way to start the day!

Sometimes we have no one to encourage us at the break of day, so we have to speak to ourselves, saying something like: “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24)

Try saying that aloud with enthusiasm when getting up each morning

It will make a difference

Outside of praying, your most important words are the ones you say to yourself

These words are silent but significant

Self-help advocates call this ‘self-talk’ but I want to skip the psycho-babble and go straight to Paul’s words in Scripture

Did Paul ever talk to himself?

He said, he strove to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV)

He said, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law” (Romans 7:22 NIV)

He said, “I am not ashamed for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12)

And, as we have learned, he also said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13)

Paul is saying…. When it comes to negative thoughts:

      • Don’t curse them
      • Don’t nurse them
      • Don’t rehearse them
      • Disperse them

Push out your negative thoughts – worry, anxiety, fear, pessimism

Push out the self-talk tapes from your past – you dad, your family, a friend

A doctor a Christian – who has run double triathlons (two triathlons back-to-back with only a twenty-four hour break) six times … the last time when he was 59 years old

When asked how he did it, he said, “I have learned to talk to myself instead of listening to myself. If I listen to myself, I hear all the reasons why I should give up. I hear that I’m too tired, too old, too weak to make it. But if I talk to myself, I can give myself the encouragement and words I need to hear to keep running and finish the race.”

In Psalm 42 the palmist said to himself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:11)

We don’t know the author of Psalm 42, but it might have been King David, because he knew how to preach to himself when needed

As a young man, a series of disastrous problems had befallen David in a town called Ziklag

His family and the families of his men had been kidnapped, and even his own men were turning on him and talking about stoning him to death

What did David do? 

He preached to himself — He “strengthened himself in the Lord his God” (1 Samuel 30:6)

And, in that strength he rose up to tackle his problems with a positive spirit that came from his belief in God’s watchful care for his life

Jeremiah did the same

After watching his city go up in flames and his nation go down in defeat, he said:

“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:21-22)

This is what we must do

If we listen to the negative tapes looping around in our thoughts, we will sink into the pessimism of the devil  (depression)

We will hear ourselves saying:

          • How could I have been so stupid?
          • What is wrong with me?
          • Everything is falling apart!
          • This is a disaster
          • Why is this happening to me?

Stop the tape!

Here’s a better one:

“I know in Whom I believe, and I am persuaded He is able to keep what I have entrusted to Him. Why are you cast down? Hope in God. I’ll soon be praising Him again, for He is the health of my countenance. I’m going to recall something and keep it in mind — the Lord is merciful, and His compassions won’t fail me. They are new every morning. Great is His faithfulness. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Dr. H. Norman Wright … a great believer wrote:

“Depending on how active your mind is, you may produce more than 45,000 thoughts a day. Whew! It might be compared to a flock of birds flying in and out of your mind.”

To complicate our minds more, noted Dr. Wright, not all these are conscious thoughts, and sometimes they pass so fleetingly we barely notice them

But listen to what Dr. Wright says next:

“Every time you have a thought, it triggers an electrochemical reaction in your body … Each thought sets off a biological process — about 400 billion at once. Because of that thought, chemicals surge through the body, producing electromagnetic waves. Those setoff emotions, which affect how we behave … Science simply confirms what Scripture has been saying all along: We are shaped, in large part, by our thoughts.”

2B> Speak Positively to Others 

Learn to talk to yourself instead of listening to yourself

Learn to encourage yourself in the Lord

It will change the way you speak to others

Your mood and message will be different, even in the midst of difficulties

This was another of Paul’s secrets

Once he was caught in a vicious storm with a terrified crew on a sinking ship

The typhoon threatened to rip the ship into  matchsticks — and even the captain gave up hope of survival

But Paul rallied their spirits, saying, “Keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God” (Acts 27:25 NIV)

Nevertheless the storm grew worse

It was the deadliest storm the sailors had ever seen, and there were 276 souls on board

 

Two weeks of unbearable strain drained the crew of their last drops of hope, and none of them could eat or rest through the wild hours of the worst night

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. (Acts 27:33-36 NIV).

Do you know someone struggling to keep their head above water?

Think of the power of saying to them — in the right way at the right time — “Kep uo your courage! I have faith in God. Take care of yourself. You’ll get through this storm. Believe God and His Word.”

There is power in an attitude that is positively biblical — and biblically positive

As London recovered from World War II, a prominent minister, Leslie Weatherhead, wrote a book to help his British congregation recover from the emotional trauma of the conflict.

He warned his people to avoid talking all the time about what was wrong with them

We all need a very few close friends, of course, to whom we can unburden our hearts and share our troubles, he said. But telling everyone we meet about our troubles gives our woes “persisting power.”

It’s tempting to share our difficulties, because we crave sympathy

“But we must realize that every recital of our woes and every brooding hour etches on our minds the picture of the weaker, not the stronger, self.”

The more we talk about our troubles, the more we rehearse and reinforce them, and the more we spread the pessimism that’s endemic to our culture

Instead, focus on others.

Spread optimism 

Help those around you to take courage

Help them to believe

“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NIV)

Our world is wrecked, and as we work to accomplish what God wants us to do — the last thing we need are endless critics

Instead, we need to camaraderie of Christ-centered people who say what is good and helpful so our words will be an encouragement to many

We need people who believe and who inspire belief. 

3> Be Positive in Your Crisis

Only after you have learned to be positive in your CONVICTIONS and in your CONVERSATION can you learn to persevere with a hopeful attitude through CHALLENGES that will inevitably come

During times of conflict and crisis, you can be optimistic and positive — this was true of Paul the apostle

In fact, he was very positive and thus resilient — always getting up after hitting a crisis or a tough circumstance in his journey with Jesus

He said in Romans 8:35-37: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

The apostle lists seven persecutions he had constantly endured

It felt like “being killed all day long”

But, he said he was “more than a conqueror”

The phrase more than conquerors is a translation of a Greek word: hypernikomen. 

Notice the letters “nik” are in the middle of the word — hypernikomen

‘Nike’ is the Greek word for victory, which is why a great company chose it for its name

It means “overcomer”

And look at the first part of the term — hypernikomen

You know the term ‘hyper.’

It means extra, obsessive, over and above, over the top

So the phrase more than conquerors is a super-term

It means super-overcomer

Paul isn’t just overcoming his difficulties

He kept overcoming them again and again through the power of Him who loved him — the Lord Jesus Christ

We can’t control everything that happens to us

We have little say in the affairs of the world

But we can choose our response to what happens

We can mope, cope, or hope

I’m here to tell you that biblical hope is the greatest source of optimism in the world

It is relentless, rewarding, and bring new life to our heart and soul

At this point I want to shout:

On the authority of Scripture and because of the love of Jesus Christ, be an over-the-top overcomer

Believe! Trust Him!

And, be positive in your CONVICTIONS, your CONVERSATIONS, your CRISIS, and #4 – in  your COUNTENANCE

4> Be Positive in Your Countenance

Your mood is always reflected in your countenance

When optimism is in your heart, a joyful countenance is on your face

Someone said, “What’s down in the well comes up in the pail.”

The Bible states:

“Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God” (Psalm 42:11)

Unfortunately, we don’t have a photograph of the apostle Paul, so I can’t prove his face was radiant

But it would be hard to doubt it

His positive attitude infiltrated all of his writings

For example, he told the Corinthians, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV)

People see your face before they know your heart

Psalm 34:5 “They looked to Him and were radiant, and their faced were not ashamed”

“A person’s wisdom brightens their face and changes its hard appearance” (Ecclesiastes 8:1 NIV)

That inner wisdom comes from believing

It’s not believing in positive thinking or the power of a positive attitude

It isn’t even believing in ourselves

True optimism comes from deep biblical convictions about the nature of God

Knowing He loves you and has an exciting plan that is uniquely yours

It comes from reminding yourself and others of His goodness and of the incredible future He has for those who trust Him

A firm belief in the God of Scripture will bear you through the crises of life and put joy on your face

Your faith will make you radiant.

Some wise advice as we conclude …

A smile is an asset; a frown is a liability

Some people grin and bear it; others smile and change it

Being happy and enthusiastic in life is always a choice

Both enthusiasm and pessimism are contagious

How much of each do you spread?

Story to end the teaching…

In November 2007, a tough old Alaska fisherman named Alan Ryden took a month-long trip at sea in his forty-two-foot boat

The trip became a nightmare when the boat capsized in a terrible storm

Ryden managed to get into a raft wearing his survival suit and fleece jacket, and he got off a Mayday signal to the Coast Guard. But the weather was wicked, and the little raft tossed around like a cork.

Shivering in the buffeted raft, Alan felt himself losing hope. His mind panicked and quickly sunk into deep discouragement and hopelessness. He began wondering if his life insurance would provide for his family. 

Suddenly, Alan realized his own thoughts were pulling him under more than the seas, and he made one of the toughest decisions of his life. He determined to cast out negative thoughts and to toss them out of the raft like weights.

He began quoting Scriptures to himself, speaking God’s Word aloud. He started thanking God for any good thing that came to mind. He said to himself, “Well, at least I am in a survival suit. My suit does have a top-of-the-line strobe light attached … At least I am in some kind of raft, and at least I got that fleece jacket on … I am strong, a good swimmer, and have no fear of the water.”

Ryden’s mental struggle deepened as the darkness set in, but he remained committed to hanging on with all his strength to the anchor of hope. He later said, “There was definitely a grace from God … I had to fight for every inch in my thoughts.”

Ten hours later, Ryden was rescued. Tracie Miles, who wrote about his story in her book Unsinkable Faith, said the real rescue was inward. It had been achieved during the storm when, by grace, Ryden had “anchored himself in God and embraced positive thoughts, which helped him stay buoyant.”

She’s right

Believing and learning to be optimistic requires us to stay positive in our convictions, even in the middle of a crisis

It’s an essential skill you must develop if you want to move forward in life

So, anchor yourself in the hope of Jesus Christ

Cling to the promises of the Bible

Determine by God’s grace to keep your mind buoyant and your soul unsinkable even in the storms — Be positive!

 

Our Legacy Will Be…

Some time back I purchased a new study Bible. Not that I needed another Bible but I collect and use study Bibles so that I can benefit from the knowledge, information, and insights of men and women of God who have spent a lifetime studying God’s Word. Often they provide me with new insights and help me to see things that I have missed or, at least, give me a slightly different perspective on familiar verses and stories.

The one I am using currently is the Tony Evans Study Bible. One of many I own. Good insights and understanding. Not recommending it or even suggesting that I agree with everything in it because I don’t. But, as a person who studies God’s Word daily I am always looking for new tools to help me along. 

All that to lead up to the true story I read recently regarding Tony Evans who has a powerful and impactful ministry. There would have not been a ministry had it not been for his parents. 

He writes, “My father came to Christ when he was thirty years of age and I was ten. Immediately he became a passionate follower of Christ. My mother didn’t like him as a sinner, and she resented him as a saint. Many times my dad could be found praying and studying the Word in the middle of the night.”

About a year after Mr. Evans’s conversion, he was studying one night and he heard the steps creak as his wife began making her way from the upstairs bedroom. She saw her husband studying his Bible, but instead of berating him she had tears in her eyes.

Tony recalled, “She told Dad how she had been observing his transformed life over the past year, and that whatever it was that was responsible for it, she wanted it too. That night my father led my mother to Christ. Our home was transformed. After that, Mom and Dad led me, my two brothers, and my sister to Christ.”

That evening as he heard the steps creak, Mr. Evans had no idea his simple love for Jesus would transform his home, set his son on the road to ministry, and touch untold thousands of people. 

You know, our days are numbered, and we are moving quickly from today to tomorrow. All our pleasures and possessions are temporary, but the legacy we leave for Christ will endure forever. It’s been said many times in many ways, but never better than with these simple words:

This one life will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Our love and labour for Christ is never in vain. Let’s not waste a single day. Let’s live with eternity in mind!

The Scriptures state:

“Now also when I am old and grayheaded, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to everyone who is to come” (Psalm 71:18)

That is my prayer for today and every day.

The Power of a Vision!

The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18) Without a blueprint, you can’t build a house; and without an idea of what kind of house you want, a blueprint can’t be drawn. The same is true when it comes to making plans for the future. If you don’t have a clear idea about where you want to go — and why you want to go there — it’s difficult to sustain any forward momentum in your life.

Without a dream, we float through life without ever catching the current. Many of us fill the majority of our hours with diversions and only a few with dreams. But our world is shaped by determined dreamers, by men and women of vision. Like them, you need a dream to achieve your goal. 

Brett Hagler is someone who knows the power of a dream. After battling cancer in high school, Brett entered his twenties determined to make the most of life wth lots of “gold, girls, and glory.”

“I bought into the false equation that material things were going to bring me fulfillment … it was the path to emptiness.”

With the help of a friend, Hagler turned to Christ. Shortly afterward, he visited Haiti and saw the devastation from the 2010 earthquake. Hagler was reading the New Testament at the time, and he noticed how Jesus had a strong “bent and heart for the poor.”

God gave Hagler a dream to establish a nonprofit company called New Story, a housing start-up that uses 3D printing machines to create homes. New Story can build a two-bedroom, one bath home in about 24 hours! Goldman Sachs calls Hagler one of the Top 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs as he seeks to combat global homelessness.

Today when Brett travels the country telling people about his story, he encourages audiences with a simple but powerful motto: dream big, but start small. That’s great advice!

I admire people who envision things not yet seen and do things not yet done. Imagineers open the door to the future and let us in. Their names fill the chapters of our history books: Alexander the Great, Nicolaus Copernicus, Leonardo Da Vinci, Christopher Columbus, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Neil Armstrong, Steve Jobs, Mary Anderson. 

Mary Anderson? Who’s she?

She was an ordinary woman who visited New York City during the winter of 1902. The snow and ice were coming down furiously, and when Mary hopped on a streetcar she noticed the driver had to keep the front window open because the windshield was covered with snow. Returning home, she envisioned a rubber device that would sweep back and forth over the windshield to keep it clear for driving. She invented the windshield wiper.

You see, everyone can have a vision — young and old, rich or poor, famous or obscure. No matter who you are, you need to be gazing into the future and asking God what He wants you to do next. 

Pedal-to-the-Metal Living

I have been asked to teach church leaders from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan on the “live-giving church.” So, I have been doing some thinking and praying about the topic and how to approach it. A key word in this study would be “passion.” And, I believe it boils down to a personal level of living a “live-giving” life. 

In a small town in Kansas you will find what is certainly one of the world’s largest balls of twine. At last count, this ball of twine weighed nearly nine tons. It is a full forty feet in circumference and would stretch nearly fifteen hundred miles long — about halfway across the nation of Canada, in case you’re interested in testing it out. The originator of this ball of twine started his work in 1953, and he died just before he reached his goal of having the world’s largest one. Today, the whole town pitches in to keep the ball of twine growing.

At this point you may be tempted to take a deep breath and say, “Well, that’s . . .unique!” But you would be wrong. A town in Minnesota has what they declare to be the true world’s largest ball of twine, weighing in heavier than nine tons. And there are several other towns racing to be recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records for their own monster twine balls.

Whatever else you may say about such a pursuit, you have to be impressed by the passion of those who focus the heart energies of their life on one very precise goal. What is it inside a man, a woman, or a town that would drive them to spend all their spare moments for fifty years accumulating a ball of twine? Or building a replica of the Eiffel Tower out of toothpicks?

For that matter, if we are really honest, what keeps you getting out of bed each morning, facing a  untidy house or a stressful business career? You might say, “That’s an entirely different matter! We’re not talking about a hobby, I have to make those beds and wash those dishes or our home will be in chaos. I have to put in a productive day at work of the cheques will stop rolling in, I do what I must — out of sheer necessity.”

There we have it. You do what you have to do, not from passion but from obligation, There’s a world of difference, isn’t there?

Yet it wasn’t always so. Can you remember the first morning in your home, when the boxes were still packed? Can you think back to your first week on the job, before your business cards were even printed? Perhaps there was a little something more that moved you forward then. Motivated you to get up and get moving. Perhaps there was excitement and energy, and you were impassioned. The time flew by as you went about your work, for this was a new life. This was the goal you had been aiming for. There were new areas to explore and new facts to discover about yourself.

Marriages begin with passion. We believe the honeymoon will last forever.

Faith begins with passion. We believe we’ll live on a spiritual mountaintop forever.

For that matter, you may experience passion — of a sort — for an object: a new wide-screen smart television or a luxury automobile with that new-car smell. It may not last long, but if one man can be passionate about a ball of twine, you can certainly be excited about your car!

The question is, Why does this intense dedication wear off? Why does the thrill fade like a T-shirt image after a few rounds in the washing machine, like a peeling bumper sticker or a sun-bleached wall poster?

Why can’t we live with passion every day of our life? If we could package passion in a can, we could make millions of dollars. If we could use it every day, then this life would bear more than a passing resemblance to the next one in Heaven.

I am absolutely convinced that life is meant to be lived with powerful emotions and heightened expectation — with joy, fulfillment, excitement, and purpose. I am convinced that when we live with passion we honour God powerfully, for it is then that we resemble Him most in spirit. He created us passionately, with joy and commitment to us, and His love for us has never worn off.

I’m not talking about the passing fancy du jour. I’m referring to something that penetrates deeper than the emblem on your shirt and a philosophy too complex for a number sticker. I’m referring to a kind of life that doesn’t eliminate the occasional blue Monday but powerfully transcends it. Passion is all about a basic mind-set and a heart attitude for embracing life — positively, energetically, full bore, pedal to the metal, wide open life.

I think the passionate life is what Jesus was talking about when He promised, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). It’s the “first love” described by John in Revelation 2:4 — a “first love” that is not designed to wear off.

Food for thought: How is your level of passion for life today? What will help you to regain the passion that you have lost? What will cause you to be more passionate tomorrow than you are right now, today? 

Life was meant to be lived abundantly, with passion and enthusiasm. If we, as believers, have lost our passion why would others want what we say we have? Maybe our lifestyle is killing our message. Just maybe. Just a thought!

Stay Focused Until You’re Finished

One of the keys to finishing well as a disciple and follower of Jesus is to “Stay Focused Until You’re Finished.” (See yesterday’s blog).

One of the great finishers of the Bible was Solomon, King David’s son. In fact, the word finish is connected with Solomon a dozen times, especially with his building of the temple. I made a list of all the references associated with Solomon completing his assignment to build God’s house, and I noticed something that escaped me in all the many time I’ve read the story.

Solomon was not only a finisher, he was a total, complete, absolute finisher. Notice the inclusion of the word all in the phrases used the describe Solomon:

    • “He had finished all the temple” (1 Kings 6:22)
    • “The house was finished in all its details and according to all its plans” (1 Kings 6:38)
    • “So all the work that King Solomon had done for the house of the Lord was finished” (1 Kings 7:51)
    • “So all the work that Solomon had done for the house of the Lord was finished” (2 Chronicles 5:1)
    • “Solomon successfully accomplished all that came into his heart to make in the house of the Lord” (1 Chronicles 7:11) 

When it came to building God’s temple in Jerusalem, Solomon finished it all. He left nothing undone. Perhaps that’s because his father, King David, challenged him in 1 Chronicles 28:20: “Be strong and of good courage, and do it: do not fear or be dismayed, for the Lord God — my God — will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you, until you have finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord.”

Most of us underestimate the difficult challenge of finishing. We tend to start strong and then stay strong throughout most of the task until we are close to finishing. Then we seem to put less effort into that last dash across the finish line. Maybe it’s because we feel like we are finished and only need to go through the motions to really complete it. Maybe the novelty or newness has worn off and now it is just a consistent one step in front of the other which tends to become mundane, even boring, and we lose our enthusiasm. Maybe we have proved to ourself that we can do it – even though it is yet to be finished — and so simply lose the motivation to finish what we started.

Here is what I know: You’re not finished until you’re finished. You’re not done until you’re done. Therefore stay focused and engaged all the way through, because it isn’t over until it’s over. Stay focused. Keep your eyes on the goal. Run through the finish tape and then celebrate. The apostle Paul said in his final letter: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Let’s all run our individual races well. But remember, we are also to finish well… So, stay focused until you’re finished.

Finish What You Start

Last time I was sharing about my personal motto: Never Stop Starting.

Today, let’s talk about “Finish What You Start” which is sort of the follow up to the blog before this one (February 19, 2021).

Let’s face it. You can have a great vision, pray godly prayers, choose the right goals, and focus on the right things. So far, so good. You can also pursue your dreams and make huge investments in God’s Word, His work, and His wealth. You can do all these amazing and wonderful things. But if you don’t finish what you start, it’s like a building that never has a roof.

Dr. J. Robert Clinton teaches in the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary and has devoted vast amounts of time to researching the subject of lifelong leadership development. As part of his study, he identified about a thousand men and women in the Bible who were considered leaders: national leaders, Jewish leaders, church leaders, patriarchs, priests, kings, and so forth.

Many of these leaders were simply mentioned in the text without details, and you may be as surprised as I was to learn there are only forty-nine prominent leaders in Scripture whose lives were surveyed as a whole. We know how they started and how they finished.

Of those forty-nine, only thirty percent finished well. The other seventy percent fell short of God’s plan for their lives — a fact that should jolt us. Some leaders such as Samson and Eli stumbled at midlife. Others such as Noah, David, Jehoshaphat, and Hezekiah stumbled near the end.

But thank God for the thirty percent — for people like Joshua, Daniel, Peter, and Paul — who enjoyed walking with God in increasing intimacy throughout their days. They simply kept growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. They remained yielded to Him in all things. Like the tree planted in the courtyard of the Lord, they flourished and stayed fresh and green, bearing fruit whatever their age.

Psalm 92:12-14 “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.

They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green…”

Clearly, the greatest finisher in the Bible is Jesus. His entire life and ministry was motivated by a commitment to finish the work His Father gave Him to accomplish:

      • “Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work’” (John 4:34 NKJV))
      • “But I have a greater witness than John’s; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish—the very works that I do—bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me” (John 5:36 NKJV)

And when He came to His crucifixion, who can forget perhaps the most profound words in all of the Bible: “So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’” (John 19:30)

There are countless barriers to finishing well. These five seem to dominate the literature on how to finish well.

      • Stay focused until You’re finished
      • Stay resilient about retirement (don’t retire)
      • Stay connected to your calling
      • Stay vigilant after your victories
      • Stay ready for redeployment

These five barriers or challenges to finishing well could be a book in themselves. And, as I am planning a series of 32 ways to hear God’s voice for March and the start of April, I will just deal next time with the need to stay focused until you’re finished. 

  Sometimes I Feel Disconnected

Dad and Mom were generous with the advice they offered as I was growing up …

They would often look at a situation and give me their viewpoint even when I was not looking for input

In hindsight they had a lot of wisdom which they were sharing when they thought it would help

Most times I really was not all that appreciative of their input

One tidbit of wisdom I always remember was from my dad – I remember it because I heard it so often 

“You can do anything you set your mind to”

And that has proved true over the years since I first heard it

The other piece of advice came from my mom and dealt with my friends and those I chose to hang around with

“You are who you run with” she would say

Sometimes, I have to admit, I was not sure if she was approving of my buddies or encouraging me to find better replacements

This too was a powerfully wise statement that I should have listened to and taken more seriously than I did

Whether you’re a kid, a tween, a teenager, a young adult, or middle-aged, you will become like your closest friends

Trust me in this – trust my mom

Count on it – the company you keep determines who you become

When we connect with another person — we become a conduit for their values, beliefs, and decisions

We are affected by their behaviour, life-style, and morals

This is not just based on my mother’s advice and is not just some pop psychology gained from a self-help book…

In the Bible, Solomon wrote:

“Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20)

If you stick close to people who are wise, you’ll become wiser

If you hang out with people who are godly, you’re likely going to grow closer to God

If you become close friends with people who make good decisions, chances are you’ll make good decisions too

But the opposite is  dangerously true as well

If you hang out with the wrong crowd, you’ll likely end up doing stupid and dangerous things along with them

If the people you surround yourself with are passive, unmotivated people, you’ll likely do less, not more

If your best friends constantly ignore God, chances are you’re going to drift from Him as well

PERSONAL COMMENT:

When I reflect on my life, I realize I rarely got into trouble by myself

Almost every time I did something stupid or unwise, I was running around with people who were equally foolish

On the flip side of that coin,

I rarely succeeded at anything on my own

When I grew as a believer it was because someone was discipling me

When I grew as a leader it was because another leader was mentoring me

People speaking into my life – offering me valuable feedback and their hard-earned wisdom

When I am closest to God, I’m always simultaneously close to godly people as well

THE TRUTH: Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future

 Any success I have in life and ministry is the direct result of my connecting with the best, God-loving, wise people I could find

Anything good that I’ve done or am doing comes from God using the right people to influence me and make me better

I am who I am today because of the people I choose to connect with in the past 

You are too

The people you know determine the story your life will tell

The people you’re hanging out with today are shaping the person you will become tomorrow

When trouble hits and hard times happen other than a close family member most people either call a close friend

Or wish they had someone they could call

In those moments when bad news is received, we desperately need other people

We need someone who cares to be present with us

We need someone to listen to us vent – to hold us while we cry

We need trusted friends to love us and remind us of God’s peace and presence in the midst of life’s unexpected storms

And not only do we need this type of friend, we need to be this type of friend to others

The kind other people trust and respect, confide in and love to be around

But, regretfully, in our day and age of social media such connections are becoming rare

As a pastor, I often hear the secrets that people are afraid to tell anyone else

They tell me because they trust me

They tell me because they decide it’s safe because I am a pastor

People often bare their hearts to me because they just can’t keep it inside any longer and they have no one else in their lives they trust enough to keep their secrets and to help them overcome whatever they may be facing

And, that is a serious tragedy

Life today are messy — mine, yours, everyone’s

So, if we are going to connect with others, we have to help each other clean up some of the messes

That’s why it’s absolutely essential to have real friends – and the right friends in your life before your life derails in some way

Real friendships, though, take time, effort, focus and an emotional investment, which is part of what makes it so difficult for us to connect

Today it almost seems old-fashioned to hope for the kind of friendship that endures

The kind that sustains you through all the highs and lows of life 

In our fast-paced, mobile culture, we have become suburban nomads

It is just not reasonable to expect relationships to last for years and years

Plus, we now have all kinds of great ways we can stay in touch:

      • Texts
      • Emails
      • Instagram
      • Facebook
      • Twitter
      • What’sApp
      • Viber
      • And other social media

You can always Skype or FaceTime or Zoom with those long-distance friends, right?

But few do and the connection is not the same … it lacks depth and the real personal, in-person touch

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
          • Enjoyed doing life together
          • Shared holidays
          • Engaged in their life and embraced their issues

Things are no longer that simple

You can have dozens — even hundreds — of friends that you’ve never met IRL (in Real Life)

BBF — but not IRL

They may follow you on social media without really knowing who you are or what makes you tick

Today … the average person has more than 300 Facebook friends, but only one or two that they consider “close friends”

And, two out of three people say they have zero close fiends

Zero, nada, zip, zilch, goose egg, none at all — close friends

There are four reasons people have few friends – and definitely fewer friends than a few years ago…

      • People are working more – so fewer hours available to relate socially. So, any friendship is usually a working relationship
      • People are moving more frequently so geographical closeness is no longer a fact of life and close friendships don’t usually survive distance
      • People are getting divorced more often and so friends tend to side with one or the other in the break-up  and thus friendships are lost
      • People are talking more online and less in person and so filter out the ‘personal content’ to present only their best self – not their real self

As a result people are experiencing less and less personal intimacy

And true friendships are quickly fading and even disappearing altogether

The result of these major changes: 

    • We’re connected, yet feel lonelier than ever
    • Our connections are mostly surface level without personal depth
    • We prefer to control the relationships so let calls go to voice mail and then listen and answer only if we want to and when and if time allows
    • We honestly no longer know how to have a meaningful, fulfilling personal friendship
    • We live life an inch deep and a mile wide without engaging in or embracing the life of another person … so live friendless in the true meaning of the word “friend”

Poverty use to mean only one thing

Now sociologists are acknowledging a least three levels of poverty

            • 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 something but a someone

Most believers need to make a quality decision to connect

Because, believe it or not, you could be one friend away from changing direction

Remember my mom’s wisdom and advice: You are who you run with (hang around with)

When you decide to connect with people — you change the story you will tell one day

That has been true throughout history 

Just consider the man who wrote more than 1/3 of the New Testament – the apostle Paul

Paul wasn’t always a Christian

Before he was a follower of Jesus, he was Saul from a city called Tarsus

He was an angry guy who persecuted and killed Christians

But after taking the lives of those who believed that Jesus was raised from the dead, Paul became one of them himself

His transformation was so big, so radical, so life-changing that Saul-turned-Paul immediately wanted to tell others about Jesus

The problem was that no Christians trusted him, for obvious reasons

Luke – a doctor who wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts put it simply:

Acts 9:26 “And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.”

You can’t blame the disciples for their skepticism

I wouldn’t want the guy who killed Christians last month leading my house church! Would you?

So Paul had a problem

He’d been transformed by the love and grace of Christ

Because of Jesus, Paul wanted to preach

He knew he was called by God to do so, but he didn’t have an ounce of credibility with the people who had been following Jesus for a long time

So Paul reached out to anyone who would give him a chance to share his newfound passion and love for Jesus

Little did Paul know that his decision to connect wouldn’t just change his story

it would add to God’s Word and change history

You see, Paul was one friend away from altering the course of his destiny

And that friend was a guy named Barnabas

Luke shows clearly how Barnabas lent Paul his credibility and put in a good word for him

Acts 9:27-28 “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.”

What happened?

Barnabas staked his reputation on Paul’s conversion being real, not just some Trojan horse ploy to infiltrate Jesus’ disciples

Barnabas vouched for his new friend’s faith in Christ, telling the other disciples about the passion Paul had when he preached about Jesus — something that is hard to fake

Because of Barnabas, the other disciples and leaders of the church gave Paul a chance

One friendship

One massive difference in Paul’s life

An even bigger difference in the world

You may be one friendship – one relationship – away from changing your destiny if you just decide to reach out and connect with the right people

You may be one connection away from changing the world

As you consider what it might mean to risk connecting with people

To reveal your heart

To reveal your real struggles

To reveal your thoughts and feelings

To reveal your crazy dreams

Consider the three types of friends everyone needs to reach their God-given potential and destiny

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

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

Listen: Everyone needs a good, close friend who makes them better, and makes them want to be better

1> A friend to challenge you and bring out your best – the real you

You don’t need 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 the king (different than the New Testament Saul who became Paul) 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 this son’s 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 who 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 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

Everyone needs a friend who makes them better

A person who encourages you to be the best you that you can be — the person God created you to be

Walk with the wise and grow wise

David’s son Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said,

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend” (Proverbs 27:17)

Instead of hanging out with people who dull your skills or put down your dreams

It’s time to start finding friends who make you sharper

If you connect with someone who makes you better today, the stories you tell tomorrow will become even more meaningful to you and others

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

2> A friend to help you find strength in God and to grow in your faith

This second type of friend can help you find strength beyond yourself in the midst of temptation and weakness

Just as Samuel helped David see that God wanted to do more in his life than he ever imagined

A guy named Jonathan helped David find strength in God when he needed it most

David was chosen to be the next king, but God didn’t promote him to the throne immediately

God still had a lot to do before He replaced Saul with David

First, David became a war hero, winning the hearts of thousands

David was so effective on the battlefield that women danced in the streets singing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens off thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7)

You can just imagine how jealous that made an already insecure king.

Feeling threatened by David’s rising popularity, King Saul plotted to take David’s life

David was forced to flee to the mountains to hide from the raging monarch’s posse

There, in David’s darkest moments, God sent him an unlikely friend to help him find spiritual strength

King Saul’s own son Jonathan recognized the error in his father’s ways and stood faithfully by his friend David

Here’s how Samuel describes the courageous show of support:

1 Samuel 23:15-16 “While David was at Horesh in the Desert of Ziph, he learned that Saul had come out to take his life. And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” (NIV)

I love that simple phrase, which describes so clearly one of the key ways Jonathan served David: he “helped him find strength in God.”

There may not be a more valuable gesture one friend can make to another than pointing them toward God, encouraging them, to seek His power, loving them towards God’s unending strength

Who helps you to find strength in God?

If you don’t have anyone, it’s time for you to connect with someone who can help

God already has that person ready for you

It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help

It’s a sign of wisdom

Everyone needs a friend who helps them get better (#1)

And we all need someone to help us find strength in God (#2)

3> A friend to tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it

The third type of friend that we must have is one who will tell us the truth — the whole truth, God’s truth, the truth that brings a reality check into your life

A truth: the more successful and established you become, the more you need this person in your life and, oddly, the harder they are to find

“Established” = Married, steady job, house, decent income, vehicle

King David discovered this the hard way

During the season when kings were suppose to be at war, David decided to stay home rather than go to battle

One night he was out on his rooftop when he saw his neighbour’s wife, Bathsheba, bathing outside her house

His selfish lusts spoke louder than his wisdom, so the king sent someone to bring the woman to him

What’s interesting is that whomever King David sent to get Bathsheba had to know that she was married to Uriah, one of David’s closest friends and one of Israel’s greatest war heroes.

But since the messenger was on the king’s payroll (and he might have been afraid of losing more than just his job), the guy did exactly as he was told

He summoned the woman to the king’s palace

And if you don’t know the story, well, one thing led to another, and Bathsheba ended up pregnant

Recognizing that this could become a scandal, David tried to get control of the situation

He called her husband home, figuring Uriah would sleep with his wife and then assume the baby was his

But when Uriah refused to enjoy intimacy with his wife while his men were still on the battlefield, David changed his tactics.

He issued the order to move his friend to the front line where he was sure to be killed.

And he was!

Unfortunately, everyone in the king’s court was too afraid to tell David the truth.

So God sent a man who cared enough to help David see the way back to the right path

The prophet Nathan met with David and told him a story that went something like this:

“Once upon a time there were two men. One was very rich and the other very poor. The rich guy had an unlimited number of sheep and wealth. The poor guy had almost nothing and only one lamb, who was almost like a pet to him and his family. When the rich man had a guest come to town, he took the poor man’s lamb and had it butchered for their meal.”

When David heard the story, he was beside himself with anger

David ranted, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity” (2 Samuel 12:5-6)

Fortunately, Nathan loved David enough to tell him the truth

“Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” (2 Samuel 12:7)

That was enough to jolt King David out of his denial and bring him to his knees in repentance before God

Many people around us tell us the things we want to hear, rather than helping us to see the truth

And the more established we become, the more difficult it is to find people who have our best interests at heart

That’s one reason we must connect with people who love us enough to be blatantly honest and “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

David’s son Solomon wisely said, “An open rebuke is better than hidden love. Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy” (Proverbs 27:5-6 NLT)

When was the last time a friend loved you enough to tell you the truth and even give you an open rebuke?

Has someone loved you enough to offer helpful correction?

If not, you might be missing one or two very important relationships that could help you grow, thrive, and succeed

Everyone needs people in their lives who will candidly tell them the truth

Maybe you need to connect with someone who is willing to show you what you need to see so you can become the person you are suppose to be

Which kind of friend do you need most in your life right now?

      • Someone who helps you get better?
      • Someone who helps you draw closer to God?
      • Someone who tells you the truth about yourself?

Hopefully you would agree with my Mom that you become like those you run with (hang out with)

Many sociologists say that you eventually become the average of your five closest friends

Your morals will be similar to your five closest buddies’ morals

Your finances will look a lot like those of the people you spend the most time with

Your spiritual passion (or lack of it) will be similar to those who have the most influence in your life

Keeping this in mind, ask yourself, “Who am I becoming?”

Be honest

Be Nathan for yourself

Is one or more of your closest friends battling with dangerous addictions?

 

Are they struggling financially?

Living risky lives?

Making bad decisions?

Are their relationships toxic?

If so, you’re either right there with them or on your way

On the other hand, are you surrounded by people who know and love Christ deeply?

Are they blessed and generous?

Do they have positive, faith-filled perspectives on life and on the future?

Are their relationships thriving?

Are they using their influence to help make the world a better place?

If so, praise God!

You’re likely seeing many of those same blessings in your life as well

You have so much to give to others who want to connect and discover all that God has in store for them

Regardless of where you see yourself, I encourage you to take an inventory of your friendships (relationships)

Which of your friends are close enough to you, intimate enough with you, that you would want them to speak at your funeral someday?

Who would you want describing the special, close bond you shared and telling others about how you helped each other love and serve the Lord more completely?

It’s not too late to connect (or reconnect) with someone who will change your destiny

Your decision to connect will change the story you tell one day