Thursday, September 24, 2015

It's The Little Things That Count

I often wonder what will happen when we are in heaven and look back on the life we lived here on earth. I'm fairly certain that we will realize much of what we spent our time and energy on wasn't as important as we thought it was. I'm sure you have heard the phrase "Don't sweat the small stuff" or other mantras like that. I have to be careful not to get too caught up in details that I miss the big picture sometimes, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that these philosophies are a little dangerous if taken too far. Let me tell you why I believe we should sweat the small stuff.

In Luke 16:10 Jesus says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." Sometimes we think that if we could just get the chance to prove ourselves by handling the big project or taking on more responsibility, we could get somewhere in the workplace.

A few years ago a church where I was on staff was looking for a guest speaker for a youth retreat. When we approached a young man with the opportunity the first thing he said was that he only speaks to crowds of at least one thousand people and he didn't have time for "little" venues. You can imagine our response. Needless to say, he didn't get the invitation.

I think it is healthy to have big dreams and pursue great things for God. However, how can we be trusted with the "big" things until we can prove faithful in the "little" things? The answer is we can't. If we want to realize the dreams God has put in our hearts and accomplish big things for His kingdom, it starts with going after the little things we have been called to do today. Our future is accomplished by keeping one eye on that future and the other eye and both hands firmly focused on the present. My future success depends on my present success. It's the little things that count before God and that is where we have the chance to prove our character.

What do you think? Is there a time in the past that you can look back on and realize it helped you get to where you are today? Are there things you are neglecting today that are hindering your ability become better? Sometimes the things we think are minor details can actually make or break us in the long run. A wise leader understands that it's the little things that make a difference.  
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Monday, September 7, 2015

You Have Immense Value

true value

Human reasoning suggests that if you do good things, you will become a good person. But we all know from experience that this is simply not true. If it were true, we would have done away with murder and other crimes a long time ago. The reality is that the more we humans try to become good, the more we realize that it just doesn't work. This philosophy only leads to frustration because it ties man's value to what he can or can't do. In God's kingdom, our value lies simply in who we are through Him. This brings hope.

Jesus illustrates this principle with his encounter with the Samaritan women at the well in John 5. In this story we are told that she has some major life issues. She has had many husbands and she is not married to the man she is now living with. She's been burned by religion. She's at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder as both a woman and a Samaritan. Men have failed her, sex and relationships have failed her, and religion has left her empty. As you read this encounter, notice not only what Jesus says to her, but also what he doesn't say to her. Both are very important. Yes, he does let her know that he knows all about her, but he doesn't tell her to stop doing this or that. He doesn't give her a speech about the law of Moses and the Commandments. He doesn't even tell her, "go and sin no more!"

Jesus understood that the key to changing her behavior was to give her Kingdom value. He did this in several profound ways. First, he listened to her and gave her his attention. This won her trust. Second, he offered her hope which changed her thinking. Third, he offered her grace which opened her heart. Through the simple, profound act of giving her eternal value, this woman was changed. This change was so profound that the entire village came out to see for themselves who this man was that did this.

When we come to grips with the true, immense value we have in God's kingdom, that changes our behavior. Because she now had real value, this woman no longer had to look for it in sex and relationships. Yes, she had to work on developing new daily habits which I'm sure wasn't easy, but she now understood that only Jesus could change her. Not any other man, not behavioral modification, not rehab or self-help. Value changes us from the inside out. When my heart is changed, my behavior naturally changes.

God wants you to know that you have immense value in his kingdom. That is why he went to the cross for you and laid down his life. He did this so that you would know how much you are worth to him. Embrace your eternal value and let that begin to change you from the inside out.

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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Promise of His Presence and Protection - Part 5 of Walking Through Grief with the 23rd Psalm

valley of the shadow of death
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me." Psalm 23:4 (NKJV)

It is easy to read this verse and focus solely on the valley of the shadow of death. Grief has a way of overwhelming everything and overshadowing our every emotion, thought and imagination. It blocks out every ray of hope and turns our world dark with despair. It appears to loom larger than anything else around us.

This was not the intention of the author and is not the focus of this verse at all. This verse is a call to focus on something much bigger than the grief that is looming over us. Once we understand the powerful truths contained in this one little verse, we can then see the bigger picture from God's perspective and can once again be filled with hope in the midst of our grief. No, it doesn't make the grief go away but it allows us to rise above it.

The focus is not the valley of the shadow of death but on us in the middle of it. Notice the word through. It is important to understand that God never intends for us to ever stay there. Though grief seems to be a permanent existence, grab hold of the promise that you will get through it. When you are in the middle of a hurricane it seems that the sun and blue sky have been swallowed up, but the truth is that not far above your head, the sun and blue sky are right there. The hurricane has just blocked your ability to see it creating a shadow. When something stands in front of a light source it creates a shadow. The shadow, therefore, is visual proof that the light source is still there with you.

Grief is like that hurricane that suddenly appears above you, blocking out the light of God's presence and casting a long, dark shadow. God wants to remind you that when you are walking through that shadow, let it remind you that it proves that he is right there with you even though you can't see him. It takes a great deal of faith to do this. We have to trust not what we see (the storm) but what we can't see (the Lord). This is what Hebrews 11:1 means: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."

Finally, this verse contains a second promise that not only is God there with you, but he will also protect you the whole way. His rod and staff are testaments to that promise of protection. A shepherd carries a long stick or staff, usually with a crook on one end. The straight end is used to fight off attack from wolves or other predators and the crook end is used to pull a sheep out of a hole or deep water. Many have taught that the rod and staff are used to discipline the sheep when they get out of line. That is not the case. They are instruments of protection that are meant to create a sense of comfort in the midst of danger. Like that shadow, the shepherd's staff is a visual reminder that you are not alone and are safe in his presence.

If you are walking through grief, you can be of great courage that though you are going through a deep valley that seems like it will never end and that you may not survive, you are not alone for the Great Shepherd is right there beside you. He will walk you through it and he will comfort you with his divine protection.
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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Promise of Restoration - Part 4 of Walking Through Grief with the 23rd Psalm

still waters
"He leads me beside the still waters, he restores my soul." Psalm 23:2b-3

One of the hardest aspects of losing a loved one is the fact that life will never be the same again. As I have said before, you never get over it. You may adjust and life will go on, but never as it was before. There may be some aspects of life that have some sort of familiarity, but the reality is that without your loved one, everything changes. The challenge is to learn to live in the new normal.

I want to tell you that you will make it through this. For now it may seem like grief drives your daily life, but in time and with God's help, your grief will take a backseat and you will once again find yourself in the driver's seat. How do I know this? First, I have experienced it first-hand and I have watched countless others around me do the same so I can say you will too. Second, God has given you his solemn promise in Psalm 23 that he will personally walk you through it in two phases - he will lead you beside still waters and he will restore your soul.

The first step will be the calming of the water. I want to take you back to a story of how Jesus calmed a storm in Matthew 8:23-27.
Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
There are a lot of similarities between this story and the sudden loss of a loved one. You are living your life with Christ only to suddenly find yourself smack dab in the middle of a storm that threatens to drown you. On top of that it appears that God is asleep in your boat completely unaware of or indifferent to your ordeal. That is what grief can feel like.

I don't believe that Jesus was unaware nor was he indifferent to the plight of his disciples. I believe he is showing us something powerful about what happens when we find ourselves fighting for our lives in the midst of storms.

The first thing he wants us to know is that when your storm comes, you will not find him wringing his hands wondering what he's going to do now. He knew it was coming and that's why he makes sure he is right there in the boat with you. It may appear that he isn't around but we need to remember that he has been right there all along.

Second, at the very moment when we think we are going to drown, he steps in and with one word, calms the waters. The disciples spent several hours trying to row that boat back to shore only to get nowhere. It was when they had exhausted all human effort to deal with their storm that Jesus was able to do what they couldn't. He doesn't get a kick out of watching us flounder and panic. I think he allows us to come to the realization of just how much we need him in our moment of loss. When you find yourself desperately rowing in the middle of a raging storm, certain that you are about to drown, put the oars down and simply ask the one who has been right there with you all along to say the word and he will lead you beside still waters.

Finally, God promises that he will restore your soul. The promise of restoration is not a promise to simply put you back to normal. God never just picks up the broken pieces of our lives and simply glues them back together. The promise of restoration is actually a promise to recreate us and to make us new again. He won't just fill the holes in your walls and paint over them. He won't fill the cracks in your foundation so it looks like new. No, he will rebuild you with a stronger foundation and new walls. You will never get over your loss, but his promise to you is that you will become stronger as a result. Though it seems utterly impossible right now that you will love, laugh and live again, I can tell you that you will and as you look back on this time one day, you will be amazed and say, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”

Listen to this song and let it encourage you today as you walk through your grief.

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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Moments of Abundance In Times of Great Loss - Part 3 of Walking Through Grief with the 23rd Psalm

oasis in the desert
"He makes me lie down in green pastures." Psalm 23:2a

David is a master at painting word pictures, especially in this Psalm. There is such depth contained in his words that I could write volumes on each sentence. If you have ever experienced the loss of a loved one you know all too well that it feels much like finding yourself suddenly walking through a hot, dry and barren desert with nothing but blowing sand as far as the eye can see in all directions. You feel so alone and utterly abandoned. Fear begins to set in as you realize that there appears to be no source of food or water. You find yourself fighting just to survive.

I want to remind you that David is writing this Psalm from personal experience. Not only did he experience this first-hand, I am certain he remembered the stories of the Israelites' journey through the wilderness and how God miraculously fed them with his own hand. It is when we have lost everything and are left with nothing that the miraculous hand of God opens up to us to provide moments of abundance in our great loss. As he did for Israel, he will certainly do for you.

Three times a day God miraculously provided food for Israel out of thin air. It literally came down from heaven. Every day they had breakfast. Every day they had lunch. Every day they had dinner. What I love the most about this story is that God didn't just provide enough for them to eat every day, he provided more than they needed. As I said in part two, God is not enough - he's more than enough! This principle is manifested again in the story of Jesus feeding the crowd of five thousand with two fish and five small loaves of bread from a little boy's lunch. Not only did Jesus feed these five thousand men plus women and children, he provided twelve baskets of leftovers. Once again, he provides not just enough, but more than enough.

If you are going through grief right now I know it is extremely painful. I am not trying to make your pain go away but simply reminding you that there is hope. I wish I could tell you that God will somehow wave his magic wand and erase your pain, but I can't. What I can tell you is that as you walk through times of great loss, you will experience moments of miraculous abundance from the hand of God. That is what David promises in the 23rd Psalm. The greater your desperation, the greater his miraculous provision. And though it seems impossible right now, you will come out of the desert. More on that in part six.
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