Sunday, June 28, 2015

Psalm 4 - Finding Peace in the Midst of a Hostile Culture

Psalm 4 - Finding Peace in the Midst of a Hostile Culture
We have something in common with the author of the Psalms. We are living in a culture that is becoming increasingly hostile to our Christian faith. It is popular to publicly and openly mock the very things we hold dear. The bad news is that it doesn't appear that it will go away. In fact, from what Jesus taught us in the Gospels, we know that it will only get worse.

David gives us some good advice on how to navigate the minefield of living in a culture that is hostile to God in Psalm 4. These will not make it go away but will enable us to stand strong in the face of opposition. Be warned though that these principles run completely opposite of our natural human tendencies. Allowing ourselves to succumb to what comes naturally to us will only make things worse. Here's a snap-shot of how David handled it.

Voice your distress to God, not the world. (v. 1 - 3)

David went right to the only one who could do anything about the problem. We tend to try and deal directly with the source of the problem rather than the problem solver. This is the single, most important first step.

Don't respond to the world out of anger. (v. 4)

There are so many people lashing out at the world with hate and anger in the name of the Church. They are only making things worse for all of us. Yes, it is right to be angry about the things that are taking place in our culture today but it is not right to respond outside of Christ-like character. There was much that Jesus was angry about but he came to us with mercy and grace to show us a better way. We need to closely follow His example.

Before we point out the sin of our culture we must first make sure we deal with our own sin. (v. 5)

David tells us to offer right sacrifices. I have no right to demand that my neighbor change until I change first. We do more damage to the testimony of Christ by our hypocrisy. This is one reason why the world is becoming increasingly hostile to the Church. We can't expect the world to embrace our message if it is evident we haven't fully embraced it ourselves by the way we live. If our lifestyle doesn't match our message then we shouldn't be surprised if we face rejection.

Let God's goodness do the talking. (v. 6 - 7)

A more effective way of influencing our culture would be to show them God's goodness rather than trying to convince them of our own. Instead of trying to convince the world of how great we are we should be simply showing them how great God is.

Make God your sole source of security. (v. 8)

The world knows there is no security in what man has to offer. That is why it is desperately seeking for it in so many other places. Show them by our lifestyle that God is the only source of security. I love what Psalm 20:7 says: "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." Our culture desperately needs to see that there is something that is absolutely trustworthy.

These five principles are the key to finding peace in the midst of a hostile culture because it takes the pressure off us having to prove something to the world by simply pointing them to God who is the only answer. The world doesn't need us, they need Him.

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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Modern Christianity's Misdirected Outrage

I share a deep concern and sadness with many regarding the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states. Yes, this marks a monumental shift in our country but I must share a deeper concern and grief from my heart as I hear many believers share their outrage.

How on earth can the Church ever hope for spiritual transformation in our country when we sorely lack that same spiritual transformation ourselves? We rail against the sin of homosexuality yet are silent about the sin that is so prevalent within our own walls. Our pulpits condemn the sin of our culture yet we rarely hear sermons decrying the infidelity, adultery and other sexual sins of our own leaders and church members. Where is the public outrage over our own sin and moral failures? Until we confess and repent of our own sins we have no moral ground to stand on in condemning the sin in our culture. We protest against the sins of our culture, demanding legislation to make it stop, yet we turn a blind eye to the sin in our own house. Have we forgotten God's decree that judgment begins in the house of the Lord?

That means it starts with us. Once we do this, perhaps the world might take note of the power of the gospel of grace and forgiveness and be drawn to the cross instead of driven away from it. Until we do, we merely discredit that truth and trample the blood of Christ underfoot. Prayer is not enough. We must turn from our own wicked ways and then, and only then, will God hear our prayers and heal our land.
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Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Myth Behind "You Can't Lead Anyone Where You Haven't Been Yourself"

There is a popular leadership mantra that is quoted often by many and I have seen it a lot on Twitter and Facebook lately. I have quoted it many times myself over the years. It says, "You can't lead anyone where you haven't been yourself." It sounds great and will usually get a large number of retweets and shares on social media.
Something about that quote has been bothering me lately. I have found myself asking, "Is that really true? Does scripture teach this concept? Does this prove true in real life?" The more I thought about this the more I began to realize that there are some serious problems with this concept. Before I go on, let me say that this does not give leadership the freedom to stop giving their best, growing, and striving for excellence. In fact, it should challenge us to go deeper in our quest to become the best leaders possible.

Though this concept looks and sounds good on the surface, it can actually sabotage your leadership and become a roadblock to success not only for you as a leader, but for those you are leading. Before I get to those, let me first give an example from scripture that refutes this concept.

The story of Gideon in Judges chapter six is a classic example. Gideon has been called to lead the Israelite army to defeat the Midianites. Gideon pleads and argues with the Lord that he is woefully under qualified to do such a monumental task. In verse fifteen he says, “Pardon me, my lord, but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” Gideon is being asked to do something that he has no training or experience in. He's never done anything like this before. In the end, Gideon leads Israel in victory. Gideon manages to lead an army to accomplish something he has clearly never accomplished himself. If it is true that you can't lead people where you haven't been yourself, then how could Gideon do it? More on that later.

Let me give you 4 dangers of this concept.

#1 - It prevents growth.
If you believe this concept to be true then you will believe that you are limited to what you already know and have experienced. You will forever be stuck behind the brick wall of your limited knowledge and experience.

#2 - It stifles your team.
This concept puts 100% responsibility for success on you and tells your team that they are useless. Your people will be stuck in the quagmire of your inability to move forward and achieve success. They will eventually leave rather than risk dying under your watch.

#3 - It leads to fear.
You will have no choice but to avoid the unknown and trying new challenges. This concept forces you to always assume that you are unqualified and unable to lead. You will end up looking in the rear view mirror of life guided by your past rather than looking straight ahead to a brighter and bigger future.

#4 - It takes God out of the equation.
This is the most dangerous of them all. This concept limits you to human resources and slams the door to God's unlimited, supernatural resources. You will forever be subject to what is only humanly possible rather than to what is only possible with God. This is what God reminded Gideon about when he was arguing that he wasn't qualified for the job. He tells Gideon in verse sixteen, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” Gideon had forgotten his most important qualification - God was with him. With God in the picture, he will always help us to lead his people where we never dreamed we could ever go ourselves.

Gideon is just one example we can use here. We see the same is true as we read the story of Moses who led Israel out of bondage in Egypt. How about Noah's first building project, or Josiah becoming king at the age of eight? These all point to the fact that it simply is not true that you can't lead people somewhere you haven't been yourself. If that were true then we would never experience breakthroughs in science and technology. There would never be new inventions like the computer or iPhone. Smallpox and Polio would still be claiming countless lives today.

The truth is that you can lead people to places you have never been yourself. That is the essence of leadership. Leaders challenge us to new heights and help us believe that we can accomplish things we never dreamed of. A real leader never lets his limited experience and knowledge prevent him from trying new things. A true leader never lets those he leads settle for anything less either.

Whether you are a leader of thousands or of just a few, I want to challenge you to break out of the limiting mindset that you can only lead those people as far as you have ever gone yourself. That simply is not true. If you will let God lead you then you will be able to lead them as far as you will let God lead you. You are only limited by how much you limit God.
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Thursday, May 14, 2015

How God Uses Our Lack To Show His Miraculous Provision

overflowing glass
Matthew 14:13-21 tells us the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of five thousand with a little boy's lunch of five loaves of bread and two fish. Regardless of how big those two fish and loaves of bread may have been, the fact remains that they were barely enough to feed just the disciples, much less a crowd of five thousand. Take a moment to read the story here.

This short story contains some profound principles for our lives in moments of need. Read on to discover some basic principles found in this story.

#1 - We want God to make the problem go away while God wants us to face it head-on

The disciples' solution was the logical one--send everyone home. I don't think this was a bad idea, nor wrong, but often times the logical solution or the one that makes sense to us may solve the problem but prevents God from being able to show us his miraculous provision. Jesus tells them to do something about it. I believe that Jesus intended for the disciples to do the miracle themselves. When you face a seemingly impossible situation, resist the temptation to take the logical route. Instead, roll up your sleeves and allow God to work through you to do the impossible.

#2 - The greater our lack, the greater his provision

Jesus wasn't surprised by the meager resources that were presented. He knew full well that the disciples did not have the ability to feed that crowd on their own. But that was his point. He specializes in the impossible! When we are at our worst he is at his best. Our lack ushers in the miraculous provision of a God who does not lack. When we have resources, when we can provide the answer in our own power, we don't need God to provide. But when we have nothing we are at the place where we are completely dependent upon God. When you have nothing to offer fasten your seat belt because that means God is on the verge of a miracle.
more than enough
#3 - God doesn't stop at just enough. He provides more than enough

Jesus didn't just satisfy the immediate need of the moment. He didn't just provide enough food for everyone to have lunch. He provided twelve baskets of leftovers. God is a big God and he always supplies our needs in a big way. He doesn't provide according to the dimension of our need. He provides according to the dimension of his greatness. Philippians 4:19 says, "But my God shall supply all my needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." I am so glad his provision is not dependent upon our limited, human resources but on his unlimited, supernatural resources! I serve a God who is not just good enough. I serve a God who is more than enough. No matter how big your problem is or how desperate your need is, know that he is always bigger. Not only will he supply your need, he will give you an abundance of leftovers that will sustain you long after the need is met.

Whatever you may face today or in the days to come, don't forget the kind of God you serve. He is Jehovah-Jireh! That name literally means the Lord will provide. When you are in need, call out his name and he will provide.
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Thursday, May 7, 2015

4 Things Prayer Is Not

prayer hands
Prayer is not a complicated thing. I think there is a tendency to make prayer something that it was not intended to be. I've heard countless sermons on the subject in my lifetime and have even attended prayer conferences to learn how to pray. These are all good, but I wonder if somehow we lose sight of the simplicity of prayer that Jesus taught. Jesus' teaching on prayer in Matthew 6 includes how we are not to pray and then how we should pray. Let me share a few thoughts about what prayer is not.

#1 - Prayer is not meant to move God but to move us.
God's will is sovereign and simply praying a prayer will not cause him to change his mind. If prayer becomes merely a method to get God to do something we want him to do, we have lost sight of what prayer is really all about. The reality is that prayer is meant to change US, not God. As we pray, if we are not being moved by God to change, then it is not prayer. We are to pray His will be done, not ours.

#2 - Prayer is not how we get God's attention but how he gets ours.
We already have his full attention and in fact, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us 24/7. Prayer is God's design to capture our attention and focus it on him and his will. The result of prayer must be that the focus is taken off of us and put solely upon the Father. 

#3 - Prayer is not designed to elevate us but to lower us.
God is not impressed by how we pray and he warns us not to try and impress other people by how well we pray. What impresses our Father the most is not our eloquence, but rather our humility. Prayer in the truest sense exalts God and lowers us. Too often we get this backwards and use prayer as a way to elevate ourselves in the eyes of God and each other. This is not prayer.

#4 - Prayer is not an annual holiday but makes every day a "holy day."
Please understand me here. I am NOT saying we shouldn't observe a National Day of Prayer. We should and I'm thankful we set aside a day of prayer. What I am saying is this - if prayer is limited to one day a year then it is not prayer. It is just a religious ritual. The National Day of Prayer only has real meaning if we actually pray every day of the year. Prayer is like the heart to the human body. It is what keeps us alive and it keeps pumping every second. If it ever stops, we die. Likewise, prayer must be on-going in the life of the believer. This is why we are commanded to "pray without ceasing."

May our prayer today be that our heartbeat would be a lifestyle of prayer. As we do, may our hearts be moved by him. May he capture our full attention and may we humble ourselves before him. May your kingdom come, God, and may your will be done on earth today as it is in heaven.
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