Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Did You Forget Something?

string around finger
As I was reading Psalm 103 the other day I was struck by the phrase in verse 2 that says, "...and forget not all his benefits." I like how the New Living Translation says, "...may I never forget the good things he does for me." Remembering God's acts of kindness to us is a critical part of worship. Forgetting is failing to allow the reality of what he has done shape how we understand and feel about life. I think of it as wearing prescription glasses. We can manage without them but our vision is blurred and distorted and we miss important details. David is reminding us to put on our glasses so that we always view our lives through the lens of God's goodness.

I remember a conversation around the dinner table at our home a few years ago when our son was a teenager. If you have a teenager in your home I'm sure you have had the same conversation. As we were getting up from the table, my wife informed him that he needed to rinse the dishes and load the dishwasher. He immediately complained about the unfair workload his mother and I burden him with. I think his exact words were, "Why do I have to do all the work around here?" I am thankful that my wife will not allow guns in our house because I believe she would have shot him right there in the kitchen. Before any violence could erupt, I simply asked him the following questions: "Who made dinner?" His mother did. "Who went to the grocery store and bought all the food we just ate?" His mother did. "Who worked to earn the money to buy all the food?" We did. "So, what did you do?" Nothing. He lowered his head and did the dishes and has never said that since. The simple fact was that he had forgotten the good things his parents do for him.

Sometimes we all act like that with God. We go through life with all of its demands, frustrations, trials and pressures and our vision gets distorted. We get tired and frustrated, angry and depressed. We see God as harsh, uncaring and distant. That is when we need to put on our glasses so that we can see clearly and be reminded that he is good and his mercy endures forever. If you ever find yourself forgetting what God has done for you, read Psalm 103. David lists them for us so we won't forget. Always remember that no matter how bad life gets, it will never overshadow the greatness of God's goodness towards you. You may need to take a moment and reflect on some of the great things he has done for you. Write them down. Say them out loud so you can hear them. As the sun rises and sets recite them so that you will never forget. Remember, God is good ALL the time!

Below is a YouTube video of a song I wrote, "You've Been So Good To Us." Let it encourage you as you are reminded about the great things God has done for you. It will give you a renewed reason to be thankful.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

God's Blueprint For A Healthy Relationship With Him

ten commandments heart
What do you think of when you hear the word jealous? We often think of an insecure, controlling and impetuous lover who is consumed with the fear of losing the object of his or her affection. Jealousy in human terms is an emotion that always consumes and controls us if allowed to develop. Human jealousy is a sign of a dysfunctional relationship. Our experience with this emotion has distorted the way we read Exodus 20:5 and therefore, our view of the Ten Commandments. We tend to interpret the statement that he is a jealous God through the lens of our human experience. Through that lens the Ten Commandments are reduced to a set of rules that if violated, sentence us to hell. This is not God's intention and it is a gross distortion of his character.

The Ten Commandments are actually a blueprint designed by God that guarantee man's ability to enjoy a close relationship with a God who loves and cares deeply about him. We always quote the Ten Commandments out of context. Read Exodus 20 and pay close attention to the first sentence. That sentence gives us the foundation by which these commandments are to be understood. God wants us to understand that these commands are given out of a heart of relationship and we cannot separate them from this opening statement. The one who gave us these commands is the one who has delivered us from bondage and he wants to ensure that we never go back to a life of bondage. So in reality, they are guidelines for living a life of freedom. This changes the perception of a God who is jealous. God is not one who is controlled by reckless emotion like we are. He doesn't lay awake at night consumed by fear that we will betray him like some jilted lover. His jealousy is that he wants to ensure that he does everything in his power to make sure that we have a healthy view of him. His concern is that his image will get distorted and will present a false image of him. His jealousy has nothing to do with his ego. It is based on his character. It has everything to do about ensuring our eternity with him. He won't rest until we see the true image of himself. When Moses was given the commandments the second time in Exodus 34, once again God takes the time to make sure he communicates to his people the reality of who he really is. He declares this in verse six - "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin."

I know what you might be thinking right now. You may be saying, "Yeah, but it says he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me." That seems to contradict everything I just said. That contradiction is due to our misinterpretation of the verses prior to this. When you interpret this story outside the very first verse it leaves you no choice but to paint a picture of an impetuous God who is only full of judgment and wrath. If you study the original wording of that verse the word punishes is a mistranslation. It should read visits. He is telling us that when we distort his image (anything less than the pure, unadulterated image of God is an idol) we pass on that distortion to our great-great-grandchildren. Idolatry creates an image of an angry God, full of nothing but judgment and wrath. This is why we have families that are full of generations of dysfunction today. But when we get it right and create a healthy image of the true God, we pass on an image of a God that is compassionate and full of love and mercy that will last for thousands of generations.

Yes, he is jealous God. He wants you to know him for who he really is, void of all the distortions that have been added to that image. He hates it when his image gets distorted because it brings destruction. The Church has been guilty of presenting a false image of God at times. I myself have been guilty. You may even have a hard time reading this blog and you can't resist the urge to yell, "Yes,  BUT GOD HATES SIN!!" You might even be very angry and think I'm watering down the truth. I agree that God does hate sin and won't let it go unpunished, but that is just a small part of the bigger picture of who he is. When you serve a God of mercy and grace you don't have to convince me to follow the Ten Commandments. Those will come naturally out of a life lived under the shadow of his great love and mercy. You see, love is a much greater motivator than fear. If you serve God out of fear of his wrath and anger then you are serving a false image of him. We love him not because we have to. We love him because of who he is and because he first loved us.

The Ten Commandments are not a set of rules to keep us in line. They are a list of fruit that are a result of a healthy relationship with the one who is the compassionate and gracious God who is slow to anger and is abounding in love and faithfulness. The closer I walk in relationship with him, the more I will naturally exhibit these ten character traits in my life. In other words, the Ten Commandments are not a set of rules but a set of character traits. This is what he meant in Deuteronomy 6:6 when he said, "These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart." It is then that his commandments written on stone become living testaments written on our hearts to be read by those around us.
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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

5 Things You Must Do To Keep Your Head Up When Life Gets You Down

on top of the world
All of us at times feel overwhelmed by circumstances around us. During times of difficulty and trials Satan will try to sneak up on us and whisper lies into our ear and say things like, "If God really loves you then why is he letting this happen to you?", or "You might as well give up because God doesn't care about you."

In Psalm 3 David shares this same personal scenario with us. He is being attacked on all sides and many people, even those in his inner circle are saying that God won't deliver him. He's all alone with no one to help him. Or so it appears. Notice what he says next in verse three - "But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head." For a moment David begins to get caught up in the seemingly hopeless situation but then comes to his senses and remembers the truth. This is so true for us today. When we face overwhelming storms and trials in life it is so easy to begin to believe that it is way bigger than it really is and we start believing things about ourselves and God that simply are not true. David gives us a few simple tactics to be able to stand victorious during these moments.

#1 - Don't forget the truth about God.

Remember that God is always bigger and always greater than anything you will ever face. The bigger the problem is the greater God will manifest himself to you in the midst of the storm.

#2 - Don't forget the truth about yourself.

David was quick to verbalize how God viewed him. Though your situation seems to tell you otherwise, never forget that God loves you and he promised to NEVER leave you or forsake you, EVER. When you feel abandoned, start saying this out loud until it sinks in.

#3 - Ask God for help.

This doesn't need explanation. Verse four just says that David cried out to God and he answered him. Often times we fail to do this one thing which is the most critical. If you need help all you have to do is ask.

#4 - Relax!

relaxAs you follow these first three you will find yourself able to sleep like a baby even though the bombs are going off right outside your bedroom window. They won't phase you because you know they can't hurt you. This takes practice but it can happen. Don't worry about what is going on around you. God will handle that so all you need to do is rest in him and sleep.

#5 - Let God handle it.

David did not take it upon himself to handle the situation. What he was facing required supernatural intervention so he let the only one who could do anything about it deal with it. Too often we try to do for God what only he can do for us. It sounds trite but it really is true - Let go and let God.

Whatever you are facing today, take time to follow these simple, yet profoundly powerful steps and I guarantee you will be able to stand tall and keep you head up.
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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Misnomer of the Death With Dignity Argument

Dignity: the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemedMerriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/dignity

On Saturday, November 1, Brittany Maynard, assisted by her doctor, decided to end her own life to avoid the certain pain and suffering she would face as the result of terminal brain cancer. Shortly before her death, she made the following statement: “Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more." You can read her entire statement in an article in Time magazine here.

Let me start off by saying that my heart went out to this woman when I first heard her story. I have witnessed first-hand the ravages of what brain cancer can do. I can't even begin to imagine how I would react in her shoes if I were to receive such a terrible diagnosis. I have also stood in an ICU unit on several occasions late at night beside a grieving family as they watched their loved one pass away. I have also watched several decide to fight their diagnosis as long as they had breath. What I am about to share is not a condemnation on Brittany Maynard, but a condemnation on an increasing deception that is gripping our culture that I believe robbed her and her family of moments and memories they will never have in the quest for "dignity." The very essence of the word as defined above runs counter to the death with dignity argument. I will attempt to explain why there can be no dignity in taking your own life.

First, it devalues life and at its core says that someone with an incurable diagnosis can't live out their remaining time with dignity. I have witnessed the opposite from those who chose to hang in there, fight the disease, and take take full advantage of the time they had left. To me, dignity comes when we stand up and fight, not lay down and die.

Second, it is self-centered. What about the dignity of those left behind? Brittany Maynard's family has been robbed of precious moments they could have had in the days ahead that they will never get back. They were robbed of the chance to stand next to her and support her in the fight to overcome the odds, which by the way, happens more often than you can imagine. The death with dignity argument says that I am the only one that matters and that is a sad epitaph to a life.

Third, it is humans putting a period where God can put a comma. Brittany and her family ruled out any possibility of a miracle. Sure it would have been difficult, painful and hard to say the least. But I can think of no greater dignity than hoping for the best. Sadly, too many today settle for the path of least pain. Our culture is obsessed with happiness and pleasure to the point that when the going gets tough, we quit. At the core, death with dignity is playing God and we just mess things up when we do that.

Finally, it reduces human life to that of an animal. It smacks of putting down the family dog when we can't afford the vet bills. I have held a beloved family pet as she was euthanized and I can tell you that was the most undignified thing I have ever witnessed. It is shameful that we have devalued human life to the point that we would even consider doing to a loved one what we do to a dog or cat. I guess I shouldn't be surprised since over one million babies are aborted in the U.S. every year. It won't be long before it will be legal to euthanize a human being without their consent.

You may not agree with everything I have written and that's okay. I just felt I had to get this off my chest because I am deeply disturbed by where our culture is headed and even more disturbed by how Satan has deceived us. I grieve for Brittany Maynard and her family, not so much because of her death, but because this human life that God loved so much was treated in such an undignified manner.
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Monday, November 3, 2014

Mentoring 101 From the Story of Elijah and Elisha

passing the baton
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. 2 Kings 2:9

The Bible is full of examples of Godly leaders taking the time to intentionally mentor a new generation of leaders. The story of Elisha and Elijah is a powerful example of what happens when we determine to mentor younger leaders around us. Mentoring is not an easy process because it takes considerable time. It will stretch you in ways you never imagined. It will challenge you in your own leadership. It will require you to be humble and learn yourself. But the payoff is worth all of that. Refusing to mentor young leaders around you is very costly. As you read the entire account of Elisha, think of the implications for Israel had Elijah not taken the time to mentor this young man.

Let me share with you some basic principles about the process of mentoring young leaders from this short story.

#1: Let them walk beside you.

Mentoring simply will not work from a distance. It requires letting them get up close and personal with you. Mentoring requires letting young leaders get their hands dirty themselves, not just watch you do the work. We learn the most by doing. Elijah tried to go alone but fortunately Elisha was persistent and insisted on going with him. Jesus modeled this so well with his disciples. He literally put them to work and didn't do all the work himself.

#2:  Take time to talk with them.

In verse eleven we read that they were walking and talking together. One of the biggest mistakes we can make as mentors is merely talking to them and failing to talk with them. Mentoring is much more than just imparting your wisdom to others. It also requires listening to them and giving them opportunity to ask questions. A big part of the process requires letting them talk things through. An added benefit is that you will learn something yourself in the process.

#3: Don't be threatened by their future success.

The number one reason leaders don't ever mentor young leaders is because they are insecure. They are afraid that if they successfully mentor others, they will rise up and steal their job from them. Insecure leaders just can't stand to let someone else succeed. Leaders--we need to just get over ourselves! We must accept the fact that we will eventually be replaced, whether we retire or God moves us to another place, and if we don't intentionally mentor our replacement then we have failed as leaders. Elijah knew he was leaving soon and he didn't want to leave Israel without a qualified, experienced leader to be able to step in when he left. Elijah wasn't threatened by Elisha's request for a double portion of his anointing. I think he was thrilled and that released him to move on. Leaders--don't be threatened by the fact that younger leaders around you are more talented than you are. That's a good thing! The greatest compliment to your leadership abilities is your success in developing young leaders who can do things better than you could ever dream of doing yourself.

#4: When it's time to go, LET GO!

I have seen many leaders over the years make the mistake of not completely letting go when it's time for them to step away. When Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, he wasn't giving Elisha last minute instructions and he never came back to check up on him. Leaders who fail to fully let go and walk away after giving the reigns to the new leader do incredible damage by undermining the authority and leadership of the new leader and ultimately end up undermining the authority and leadership of God himself. Not only is this poor leadership, it is simply unethical.

If you are a leader, I challenge you to be the kind of leader Elijah was. Be determined to find potential leaders around you and follow these four principles for mentoring a new generation of leaders who will accomplish great things for the Kingdom of God. And in the process, if they end up stealing your job, God will honor you because you were an honorable leader.
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