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

 

 

Never Stop Starting

My motto: You’re Not Done Until You’re Done

If you ever get into an unfortunate scrape, you might hire Frank P. Lucianna to represent you. He’s a razor-sharp attorney in Hackensack, New Jersey, just across the Hudson from New York City. You can spot Lucianna in the courtroom daily, dressed in a dapper suit with a pocket square, chopping his hands in the air and defending people in trouble. He does it with energy and effectiveness.

Lucianna has been defending clients for quite a while. Forty-five years ago, a local newspaper claimed he was the city’s “busiest criminal lawyer.” Twenty-two years ago, the same newspaper called him “a consummate showman” and new Jersey’s “oldest active attorney.” Today, Lucianna still waxes eloquent before judges and juries at age ninety-seven.

Lucianna doesn’t rest on his laurels. “This is a very consuming profession and it has taken a lot out of my life,” he says. “I am constantly involved preparing cases, and it’s a tremendous strain, both mental and physical. Physical because when you go to trial in a case, your whole being is obsessed with trying to help the person you represent, and it places your body and mind under tension.”

When asked about his future, Lucianna said, “I hope God lets me continue doing this. I don’t want to retire. I don’t want to go to Florida. I just want to do what I’m, doing.”

I feel the same way. I hope God lets me continue doing what He’s called me to do. My name isn’t Archippus, but I take the one verse addressed to him in the Bible as though it was written to me: “Tell Archippus: ‘See to it that you complete the ministry you have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17 NIV).

You know, like me your role may change. Your assignment might evolve and your situation may alter. You may have to make adjustments. Even so, one fact won’t change: as long as God leaves you on earth, He has ongoing work for you. There’s no expiration date to this fact. You never retire from the Christian life, and you never drop out of God’s will.

I urge you — never stop starting, and do your best to finish what you start in the Lord’s will. 

In his book Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, Jon Acuff describes how hard this seems for some people:

“I’ve only completed 10 percent of the books I own. It took me three years to finish six days of the P90X home exercise program. When I was twenty-three I made it to blue-belt in karate … I have thirty-three half-started Moleskine notebooks in my office and nineteen tubes of nearly finished Chapstick in my bathroom.”

Acuff adds that he’s not the only one who doesn’t stick to things. “According to studies, 92 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail. Every January, people start with hope and hype, believing that this will be the New Year that does indeed deliver a New You. But though100 percent start, only 8 percent finish.”

Another statistic that is astonishing: A study by Jefferson Smith states that 63% of readers never finish the book they are reading.

So, my point is simple: You are not done until you are done and God has not said you are done

And, never stop starting new things that will help you grow and develop and “stay alive inside

And, Grab hold of each day and give it your 100% so that you will finish what you started whatever that may be. 

Feeling Stuck? – Part Six

We are talking about having a life worth living, getting out of ruts we have accepted as normal for our life when they are anything but ‘normal. And, how to get rid of that feeling that life is overwhelming. 

Last time we started to look at having the courage to choose what’s best. This involves two main things. We saw that the first one was ‘courage to embrace your limitations’. Today let’s look at the second main huddle to choosing what’s best…

b> Courage to eliminate your distractions

To get out of your rut and stop feeling overwhelmed by life you need the courage to eliminate distractions by saying “no” to bad things and even saying “no” to some good things. You only want to say “yes” to the best things.

Warren Buffett (one of the riches men in the world) has learned he can’t focus on too many things at once. He advices making a list of the top twenty-five things you want to accomplish in the next few years. From that list, pick the five that are most important to you. Now you have two lists. Buffett suggests you “avoid at all cost” the longer one, for those items may well prevent the big things from happening.

To overcome obstacles, that feeling of being overwhelmed by demands and expectations, and to move forward into the fullness of your life, you have to discover the beauty of the word “no.” The practice of a graceful “no” takes courage, but it is certainly liberating.

Here is something that I have learned in my 50+ years of pastoring … If you don’t set priorities in your own life, someone else will.

In her book Learning How to Say No When You Usually Say Yes, Maritza Manresa advises her readers that it’s all right to say no to lesser things to have room for the best things. Most of us say yes more than we should because we are taught to be available or because we don’t want to disappoint others or challenge authority. Maybe we feel guilty, or we don’t want to damage a relationship. As a result, we’re constantly overcommitted, and the greater things are left behind. 

Manresa suggests several ways to say no. The first is simply: “No!” That’s a complete sentence. But if you want to be gentler about it, try statements like:

      • I’m sorry, but I simply can’t at this time
      • I have a personal policy…
      • It doesn’t look like I’ll be able to, but if anything changes I’ll let you know
      • It looks like I’m going to have to pass this time
      • I just can’t fit it into my schedule 
      • That is such a good cause but I am already supporting other good causes
      • No, thank you

Is this hard for you? It is for me too. But we must have the courage to eliminate distractions if we’re going to live the life God intended and no longer feel overwhelmed by life on a daily basis.

Jesus often said no to others so that He could say yes to His Father. In Matthew 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees came to  Jesus, asking Him for a sign. He said no. He gave them a blunt little sermon instead and left them and went aways (Matthew 16:1-4). In Mark 1:38, Peter asked Jesus to return to Capernaum, where everyone wanted to hear Him. But Jesus said, “Let  us go into the next towns, that I may preach also, because for this purpose I have come forth.”

We can’t do everything, but we can always do our Father’s will. We can fulfill His design for our days.

So, learn to say ‘no’ and mean it. Stick to your ‘no.’ Let your no be no! That takes courage but you can do it. 

Let’s review what we have learned in this series of blogs …We can live an abundant and joyful life overcoming the feeling of being overwhelmed by the expectations and demands of life  and other people if we will simply:

  • 1> Consider what’s best 
  • 2> Clarify what’s best
  •      a> The priority of loving God
  •      b> The priority of loving others
  •      c> The priority of loving yourself
  • 3>  “Choose What’s Best.”
  •     a> Courage to embrace your limitations
  •     b> Courage to eliminate your distraction

Last but not least as we look at overcoming that feeling of living in a rut and being overwhelmed by all the demands of life …

4> Commit to What’s Best

When you get stuck, find some traction to get you out of the rut and moving forward in life once again. God doesn’t want you to live life feeling overwhelmed by the demands and expectations that come at you every day in your life. God does not want you spinning your wheels. Once you get moving, you need clarity to know what direction to move in, and Jesus provided that by telling you to love God, love those around you, and love yourself. Armed with that clarity, you need the courage to stay no to some things so you can say yes to the best things. And finally you need the consistency to practice what’s best. Proverbs 23:17 says, “But be zealous for the fear of the Lord all the day”.

Paul said that we are to be, “His own special people, zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14).

When you do what we have been sharing about in this series of blogs, you’ll palace yourself in the paths God has promised to bless. Even when things appear discouraging, keep pressing ahead, trusting God to make a way. Stay committed to what’s best, for the Lord takes things from there and works wonders. It is not always easy but it is always good.

 

Feeling Stuck? – Part Five

So to get unstuck and get out of the life-rut you are in and begin moving, once again, into God’s plan and purpose for your life we have seen…

1> Consider what’s best 

2> Clarify what’s best

a> The priority of loving God

b> The priority of loving others

c> The priority of loving yourself

Today let’s start to look at #3 – “Choose What’s Best.”

Once you have clarified what is God’s best in your life (step 2), the next thing you need to do is actually choose these priorities. You need to make intentional, planned decisions that elevate what is best and remove what is merely good. 

Doing so will require courage.

As Moses was dying, he told his successor, Joshua, “Be strong and courageous, for you shall go with this people into the land that the LORD has sworn to their fathers to give them, and you shall put them in possession of it. It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:7-8).

It takes zero courage to stay in a rut. It takes grit and spunk to rouse yourself to climb out and move forward. So, to get out of your rut – whatever it might be – have the courage to do something new. Whatever God leads you to do, move forward, grow, change, adjust, learn, conquer. Once you establish your priorities, find the courage to say “no” to some things and “yes” to others. There are two areas where this kind of courage to make life changes are required. 

a> Courage to embrace your limitations

First, embrace your limitations. Do you have any of those? We all do! Beware of living in denial. To change and adjust so as to move forward in your journey with Jesus you have to be realistic. To overcome that feeling of being overwhelmed by life you will need to embrace your limitations. Progress comes by embracing your God-given limits. Yes, they are God-given because He created you.

Some limits have to do with your age or stage in life. 

Some of your limitations have to do with the gifts God has given you or the location where He’s placed you. 

Perhaps you battle a handicap or a chronic illness, or you’re a caregiver for someone who does. Maybe you have a dysfunctional family member, or you live in a dangerous area. You might be on a fixed income or you couldn’t afford to go to college, or your job is being phased out. Whatever they are, accept your limitations; don’t use them as an excuse for not doing what God assigns you.

Even the Lord Jesus Christ had limitations. As almighty God, of course, He had no limitations. He was and is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving. Not even the entire universe can contain Him. His power, might, grace, holiness, and justice are limitless, boundless, and measureless. But when the Son of God entered the human race in Bethlehem, He was confined within the animal’s feeding trough. He grew up in a small hillside town. He did no recorded miracles for the first thirty years of Hid life and He lived in submission His parents.

When Jesus began His ministry, He didn’t fly around like an angel from one preaching assignment to another. He didn’t even have a horse or donkey, except on one known occasion. He said, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20).

Jesus’ area of ministry was limited to a little strip of land along the Mediterranean, and He never visited the great cities of His day: Athens, Rome, Milan, Alexandria, Carthage. He had a limited education, a limited income, and a limited time for His work — only about three years. Oh, and His nation wasn’t free; it was occupied by Roman soldiers.  

The limitless Son of God was financially, geographically, chronologically, politically, and physically limited. And then His limitations became far more stringent. On the cross, He became so limited by the nails in His hands and feet. He was unable to wipe the blood from His eyes or scatter the flies from His face.

Yes His limitations worked for the advantage of the whole world. Imagine that! 

Limitations should never become excuses for staying where you are. Your priorities are determined by the gifts God has given you, your stage in life, and your personal shortcomings. Doesn’t the Bible say something about God’s strength being made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)?

So have the courage to embrace your limitations and move forward so as to overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed by life. 

Feeling Stuck? – Part Four

So, we have seen that we need to continue our journey with Jesus as we live our daily life. And, often we tend to get stuck and simply exist and not really live. And, in the midst of being stuck we feel totally overwhelmed by all the things that need our attention. Some of the solution to feeling overwhelmed that we have looked at include:

1> Consider what’s best 

2> Clarify what’s best

a> The priority of loving God

Let’s continue with “clarify what’s best” based on Jesus’ answer to the scribe as found in Mark 12:28-31

First, let’s review the Scripture we are looking at:

“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

As we clarify what’s best we need to look at The priority of loving people.

Jesus continued, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” Within the same priority of love there’s a second application. We’re to love our neighbours – and we have almost 8 billion of them! We can’t know or personally care for each of them, but the Lord knows exactly how to lead us to those we need to serve.

With a biblical mindset we must come to realize that God has put us here for His purposes, to carry out His mission, whatever that might be and however He might lead us.

Loving others is sharing the compassion of Christ with the people around you.

The Bible states, “”Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law … Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:8, 10). And the apostle Paul wrote, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’” (Galatians 5:14).

Well, we are all living through the start of year two of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) and we realize that it has caused great disruption in life and that it has affected all of us. So, it is a good time for believers to reach out with the Gospel of the Kingdom and offer those who are feeling hopeless the hope that only God can give. 

As in all calamities and tragedies, we’ve had choices to make. And the first choice should always be to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. To give to others. The Bible states it is more blessed to give than to receive, and loving you neighbour is not something you feel … it’s something you do!

For as James 2:8 says, “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scriptures, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself,’ you do well.”

But keeping priorities correctly aligned is a daily challenge. The first step is knowing what’s at the top of your list. Once that’s settled, other things fall into place more naturally. What comes first is clear — love — for God, for others, and then for ourselves.

The priority of loving ourselves…

Notice again how Jesus stated this command: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31). That means it’s okay to love ourselves. In fact, we are commanded to love ourselves!

Of course, we have to be careful at this point, because the devil always attempts to turn self-love into selfishness, ego, low and high esteem, conceit, haughtiness, self-importance, and all the other elements that make up sinful narcissism. I’m not recommending any of those things.

On the other hand, the apostle Paul said, “Therefore, take heed to yourselves and to all the flock” (Acts 20:28).

Let me paraphrase here: take heed to yourselves and to everyone else assigned by God to your care.

If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of others. If you become fatigued and irritable, you can’t uplift others. If you don’t pay attention to your diet and exercise, you’ll lose the strength you need to fulfill God’s will.

You have a God-given responsibility to take care of yourself. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Your personality is the means by which God touches others. If you get in a rut you’ll pull others down into it with you. But when you have your priority — love — in its right place, and you understand these three applications, things have a way of falling into place and that feeling of being overwhelmed begins to permanently fade. 

So maybe we can conclude this part and say: “Put God ahead of everything else and He will take care of all the rest.”

Sometimes our lives need to be cleaned out. A lot of our activities and attitudes should be jettisoned. Other interests need to be tucked away in an orderly place on our calendars. It’s only possible to know what’s worth keeping when you have the clarity to know what’s best and when you understand the priority of love.

So to get unstuck and begin moving, once again, into God’s plan and purpose for your life we have seen…

1> Consider what’s best 

2> Clarify what’s best

a> The priority of loving God

b> The priority of loving others

c> The priority of loving yourself

Stay with me – we are over half way there….

Feeling Stuck? – Part Three

Once you consider what’s best and set your priorities you are well on your way to being unstuck. Once you’ve understood the significance of priorities, the next step to getting unstuck is actually to determine the most important things in your life. To do that you need the clarity to know what’s best. So, step two to getting unstuck and away from feeling overwhelmed is to “clarify what’s best.”

To do this you should start be asking what’s most important to God. And ask, What isn’t important to God? This will help you to determine what you need to focus on in your life right now and what you can start deleting. And, of course, deleting some things in your life will help to reclaim the calm that you have lost and then remove that feeling of being overwhelmed.

To regain forward movement in your journey of life and remove that feeling of life overwhelming you, evaluate your activities. Delete things of less importance to keep things of greater worth. I can’t give you an itemized list of what should be important to you. Each of us is unique and so each of us has different things we are dealing with that need to be eliminated and other aspects of our busy life that need more attention and greater effort. However, in Mark, Chapter 12, Jesus gives us three principles that should be central to everyone’s life. 

These three principles are the subject of today and tomorrow’s blogs. 

In that passage, a Jewish temple scribe approached Jesus asking advice on how to organize life. How to set priorities (Part Two in this series). How to live a full life without feeling overwhelmed. His specific question was, “Which is the first commandment of all?” (Mark 12:28)

The Great Commandment! The one above all others. The ultimate priority. In effect, the scribe was asking Jesus, “What is truly important in life? From God’s perspective, what one thing is indispensable?” “What should my priority be?”

This scribe came from a Jewish tradition boasting a multitude of commands and obligations. Jewish rabbis divided the Old Testament commandments into positive and negative laws and into major and minor laws. According to the calculations, the Old Testament contained 613 commandments. Of those, 248 tell us to do something positive and 365 prohibit us from doing something negative. This scribe was asking Jesus which of these 613 commandments was most important from God’s perspective.

Jesus answered without hesitation: “The most important is, Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:29-31).

What an answer! Jesus boiled down the contents of the entire Old Testament into one overarching, overwhelming priority: love. And He ascribed to that priority three applications. All three to be priorities in a life well-lived and unstuck. Without understanding this, it’s impossible to move forward and live life without feeling overwhelmed. Love — as God defines love — is life’s ultimate priority.

The priority of loving God … Highest priority

First is the priority of loving God. Quoting from Deuteronomy 6, Jesus said, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).

More than anything else, this is what we’re made for — a passionate, practical embracing of God with all His attributes, all His virtues, all His grace, embracing Him with an overflowing heart of burning devotion and passionate enjoyment. That affects everything else we think, do and say.

But what does it mean to love God?

In his book, Do I Love God?, professor Rod Culbertson says the greatest question is: “Do you have emotions and passion for, and devotion to, the one living and true God, as well as a settled commitment that He is the Lord of your life and everything to you?”

Culbertson also asks, “What keeps you from loving God with a devoted, heartfelt love? Work, play, leisure, family, poor time management, technology, laziness, sin, or personal failure? The excuses and reasons are numerous and somehow allow us to ignore or underdeveloped our relationship with God, the most important relationship in life. So, I conclude with one more question: Are you growing in your love for God?”

Elizabeth Elliot likewise said, “I have one desire now — to live a life of reckless abandon for the Lord putting all my energy and strength into it.”

That is the first of three things we need to consider as we clarify what’s best.

So, we have seen that we need to continue our journey with Jesus as we live our daily life. And, often we tend to get stuck and simply exist and not really live. And, in the midst of being stuck we feel totally overwhelmed by all the things that need our attention. Some of the solution to feeling overwhelmed include:

1> Consider what’s best 

2> Clarify what’s best

a> The priority of loving God

Next time we will look at the priority of loving people as we continue to “clarify what’s best.”