Fleeing Sexual Temptation

joseph fleeing2Genesis 39

A while back I was working on a blog regarding Paul’s visit to the city of Corinth.  I was searching for a graphic to go along with it and was stumped as what to use.  I got to thinking about how much ancient Corinth was like modern day Las Vegas.  Maybe a Las Vegas skyline might work!  But I couldn’t find one that struck me as suitable.  Then I had another thought:  “I know!  I’ll get a graphic of one of those XXX signs they hang out in front of some of their clubs.”  So I typed “XXX” into Google Images.  Okay… I did not think that one through.  I won’t tell you what came up but I could not X out of that screen fast enough!

I’m sure it has happened to you.  You typed something innocent into  a search engine and got an eyeful of something you wished you had never seen.  It is becoming increasingly hard not to stumble into porn.  We talk a lot about avoiding sexually charged material and situations… but what happens when you didn’t see it coming?  What happens when an innocent conversation turns to flirtation?  What happens when you are at a friend’s house and the movie they suggested takes a raunchy turn?  What do you do then?

I’m telling you right now what to do.  But its something that you can’t do in the heat of the moment.  You must do it NOW… and not wait until THEN.

Here it is:  “Be Prepared!”

Stop pretending that this world will never be able to seduce someone as spiritually adept as you.  If you are still breathing… lust will continue to be one of the 7 deadlies Satan will use in his attempt to bring you down.

Take Joseph.  He was a young attractive, junior executive for Potiphar enterprises.  He is quietly and effectively minding his boss’s business when he becomes the target of the CEO’s wife!  “Lie with me.” She commanded.

Yet Joseph was able to escape her clutches.  How?  Because he was prepared for it!  Here is was his plan.

1.  He knew his character ahead of time!  Joseph knew who he was as a person.  He was a faithful person.

He was faithful to Potiphar.  He tells the wife:  “There is no one greater in this house than I, and [Potiphar] has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife.  How then could I do this great evil…?” (v. 9)  The consequences of sexual sin (sex outside of marriage, adultery or porn) affect more than just oneself.  They affect the lives of loved ones with cuts too deep to ever heal properly.  And Joseph’s faithfulness to his master had been a witness to Potiphar.  Why would he chuck all of the capital he had accumulated for a quick fling?

Also, Joseph was also faithful to his God.  I mean, Joseph could have given in and Potiphar might have never found out!  (Unlikely… yet possible).  But to Joseph that didn’t matter.  God would have known.  That is why Joseph exclaims:  “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?”  Not against Potipher… Against God!

Are you a faithful person… to others and to God?  Be faithful with your sexuality as well.

2.  He Knew This Kind of Battle was a Daily One.  Note that Joseph was propositioned by Mrs. Potiphar… daily.  (v. 10)  He could not avoid her frequent advances.  He was a slave after all.  It wasn’t like he could quit his job!

It is the same for you.  You cannot 100% avoid the bombardment of sexual images in our culture today.  When you get up in the morning you better be prepared to fight!

I particularly want to reach out to those who are married.  Never EVER let your guard down.  I read years ago the words of a famous Christian author that had given into an affair.  The year before it happened he had been asked by a friend where he thought Satan could attack him.  Was he weak in any area?  He wasn’t sure how to answer, but he told his friend that he knew for sure where Satan couldn’t attack him… in his marriage.  He had a strong one.

This author went on to warn his readers:  “Satan will often attack your strong side, because it is the least defended.”

3.  Finally… He Knew When to Run!

“Now it happened one day that he went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the household was there inside.  She caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me!”  And he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside.” (v. 11- 12)

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians and told them to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18) I wonder if it was Joseph’s story that was in the back of his mind.  Likewise Paul wrote to Timothy and told him to “flee youthful lusts.” (2 Tim. 2:22)  He, like Joseph, knew that when all else fails… you better have an exit strategy!

Perhaps your exit strategy might be to pull out a photo of your family and show it to the person who is flirting with you.  Perhaps it is to go “unplugged” for a while… staying out of places where porn can be accessed.  Work out this plan with God and then follow it.  Memorize it like the fire escape plan on the wall where you work.  It could save your life.

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Know this… He who made you is working to complete you one day in Christ Jesus.  If you have fallen it is not too late to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and then continue on developing His character in your life.

And remember… when all else fails… you can always run!

Did I Forget to Pay?

guest checkRomans 13:8

Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

In my minds eye I picture a grand luncheon.  Not a modest meal but one that is three courses long and definitely not fast food.  The meal was impeccable, the waitress polite, my company delightful… I leave the restaurant with a spring in my step.  “Thank you God for good times with great friends,” I utter.  I am still paying homage in my mind to the cherry cheesecake and the french amaretto coffee as I head down the interstate to get back to my job site.  And then it hits me… “Did I forget to pay?”  I try to keep one hand on the wheel as I check my wallet.  I groan as I look inside to see the $50 I left the house with still in my billfold.

I imagine for a moment the restaurant manager reading the glowing compliments I paid him and his establishment on the comment card I had filled out.  He is probably not at all interested in my praise.  I may have offered superb lip service… I just didn’t pay my bill!

I wonder how many times in life that I have left a personal encounter with someone and not paid them my debt.  What debt?  The debt of love I owe them through Jesus Christ   Paul wrote:  “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another…”

The context of this verse, strangely enough, is paying taxes.  Paul says in the verse just before it:  “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7) Paul means:  “If somebody is due something, pay up!  But remember, that when it comes to love, we are ALL debtors.

There was a concept popular a few years ago, that you still hear now and again, called:   “paying it forward.”  Someone does an act of goodness to you and instead of “paying them back” you offer the same gift of love to the next person you encounter.

This is a Biblical concept.  Ephesians 5:1-2 says:  “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  We are God’s children and enjoy everyday His joy, presence and love.  To go through life at break neck speed, never looking out for our neighbor… never sharing freely the love of God we freely received, is the worst kind of ingratitude.  You are forever indebted to Jesus.  He wants you to pay this debt forward by loving those around you.  Just don’t forget to pay!

Mike Mason once wrote:  “… we are pinched and stingy with our love.  We treat love like money, as if there’s never enough to go around, and so we draw our heartstrings tighter than our purse strings.  How can we grasp that we are dealing with an inexhaustible currency?” (Practicing the Presence of People, p.58.)

Start small.  Smile at the waitress.  Discretely buy a serviceman’s meal.  Strike up a conversation with that frazzled mom or dad in the check out line. And know that life is more than accomplishing goals, accumulating things and enjoying ourselves.  It is also about paying the debt of love we owe to our fellow human beings.  Pay up!  And remember God in Christ has already picked up your tab!

Gift Exchange

gift exchangeRomans 1:11-12

“I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong– that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”

Not too long ago, Saddleback Church in Southern California surveyed over 8,000 of their new members and asked them why they joined.  Their results:

#10 – Special Events and Activities
#9 – Location Near Our Home
#8 – Missions
#7 – Different Styles of Worship
#6 – Small Groups and Discipleship Classes
#5 – Pastoral Care
#4 – Children’s and Youth Ministry
#3 – Service Opportunities
#2 – Worship
#1 – Preaching and Teaching 

Interesting list!  There is a lot for church leaders to take in here.  But can I offer one more to the list.  One that might entice you to a church that doesn’t have half of the others:  a place to minister.  (I realize “service opportunities” might provide this.  But I’m trying to hone in on something more specific.)  Every person that joins a church must discover their God given “ministry.”  The purpose of their personal existence and their reason for being a part of that specific body.

I heard many years ago from a popular Christian leader that churches should have “human scaffolding.”  What he meant by this was that there needed to be some that just came and supported the ministry with their money.  I cannot find a Biblical support for this ministry strategy.  Everyone is called to bring their gifts to the body and to find a ministry in which to employ them.

And yet, what do people look for when they visit a church?  Good teaching, cleanliness, friendliness, something for the kids, etc.

In this introduction of his letter to the Romans, Paul informs them that he would like to visit them.  But he is clear on his intent!  He isn’t going to Rome to see the Forum or the Coliseum.  He comes bearing gifts!

What does Paul mean by this?  I don’t believe that Paul is bringing with him a certain spiritual gift that they had been lacking, such as tongues or another manifestation of the Spirit.  Paul never claims to “institute” a specific gift anywhere… that is the job of the  Holy Spirit.  By “impart,” I believe Paul refers to the benefit that they will receive when he exercises his own spiritual gifts among them.  Why does Paul want to do this?

1)     That you may be established.

The Greek word is sterizo (stay-rid’-zo):  “To make stable, firm and to strengthen or fix.”  This is the word that Jesus used in Luke 16:26.  He told Peter that he would deny him three times that encouraged him by saying:  “…but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again strengthen your brothers.” Luke 16:26

The Christian life is one of stability and strength.  But we need the help of others to get there.  Paul’s goal in life:  Colossians 1:28-29 – “to present every man complete in Christ.  And for this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

We tend to listen to experts on fitness, diet and health (sometimes) as authoritative.  Bur preachers, teachers and evangelists… not so much.  We get defensive.  We get that American pioneer spirit.  “If it is to be… it’s up to me!”

We are forever pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  But we need to receive the gifts that God gives us by way of fellow believers.  They are instrumental in our reaching God’s goals for our lives.

Would you have the humility to do that?  Paul did.

2) “…that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”

NIV omits “both yours and mine”… maybe because it is repetitive… but Paul repeats it to make his point stronger.  This is a gift exchange… not a one way receiving.  Paul says:  “I learn from you as well as you learn from me.”

We need to be encouraged by the gift others bring to the body.  We shouldn’t get jealous or envious… or critical.  We must mutually encourage each other!

So what are you looking for in a church?  We should see if their doctrine is sound and if they are strong in outreach, etc.  But we should also ask… do they need the gifts that I would bring there if I joined? 

Remember, Jesus told us to pray that the Father would send more laborers into the vineyard… but not once did he request any “human scaffolding.”

Reaching Out to an Unreachable World

earthActs 17:6-23

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

How do you preach the Gospel in a knowledgeable, trendy, pseudo-intellectual world?  The circumstances we face today in the 21st century seem overwhelming in regard to witnessing for Christ… but we can learn a lot from the first trail blazer for Christ, the Apostle Paul in the 1st Century.

What did he do then that we should be about today?

1)  Follow the Spirit!

Now if we look at Paul’s journey into Macedonia, we see he has a plan.  He begins in Philippi and the moves on to Thessalonica… these are two stops on what was called the Egnatian Way!  It was a paved roadway across the Roman Empire.  Paul’s plan seems to make sense!  Stay on the sidewalk and set up churches along the heart of the land.

But persecution in Thessalonica sends the team to Berea… which was a good thing because many people were saved there.  But then more persecution hits and they are further turned away from the Main Highway and their team is fragmented.  While Timothy and Silas stay behind to strengthen the young church in Berea… Paul departs alone for Athens:  the philosophical capital of all time… home to greats such as Socrates and Plato.

Now Paul was more than ready to minister to Athens, it just wasn’t part of his plan… Rome, the capital of the empire, seems to have been the target.  But by the movement of the Spirit he came to Athens, the capital of philosophical thought.

Is the Spirit leading you to place of witness that you haven’t though of before?  Maybe a class at a local university or a seat on a community board, or a volunteer position at a local hospital would shake up things in your world.  Stay open to the Spirit’s lead and follow the Lord’s call.  You may have to get off your chosen sidewalk… but that’s okay.

2)  Open Your Eyes!

16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.

A.T. Robertson notes: “Pliny [the Roman writer] states that in the time of Nero [A.D. 54-68], Athens had over 30,000 public statues besides countless private ones in the homes. Petronius [a Roman satirist] sneers that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. Every gateway or porch had its protecting god” (Word Pictures of the New Testament, notes on Acts 17:16).

That sounds to me like 21st Century America.  We aren’t tripping over marble statuettes, but we do live in a land of religious plurality.

Chuck Sackett in his sermon “At Ease in Athens” wrote:  “I was reading an article from Newsweek recently: “In Search of the Spiritual.” Apparently, the religious website Beliefnet sends out more than 8 million daily emails of spiritual wisdom in various flavors to more than 5 million subscribers. Generic inspiration is the most popular 2.4 million emails, followed by inspirations from the Bible with 1.6 million.  But there are 460,000 subscribers to the Buddhist thought of the day, 313,000 Torah devotees, 268,000 subscribers to daily Muslim wisdom, and 236,000 who get spiritual weight loss messages.

Even nature worshiping pagans are divided up into: Wicca, Druidism, Pantheism, Animism, Teutonic Platonism, and the God of Spirituality folk. And in case you can’t find one to suit you on that list, there’s Eclectic Paganism.

If I were to walk through Beliefnet’s website, I would draw this conclusion: we are very religious people. In fact, 79% of people in the U.S. under the age of 60 would categorize themselves as spiritual. Not religious, but spiritual.

For all of the choices, many chose not to chose.

“I believe in God. I just don’t know if that God is Jehovah, Buddha or Allah.”  – Actress Halle Berry

She is not that different from a lot of your neighbors.  Open your eyes to the belief systems of those around you.  And from that, see… truly see… their desire to find God… All this belief points to the fact that they are questioning and seeking the Almighty.

 3)  Strike up a conversation!

In Athens Paul is without his support team, but cannot remain silent.

17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.

Jews and God fearing Greeks in the synagogue were his typical audience.  But Paul also took advantage of the Agora (the marketplace) where ideas were sold as plenteous as groceries.  Paul took the Gospel to whoever would listen.  Verse 18 states at least two groups took note of Paul.

Epicureans –  Now they believed that life was 100% chance… and death was the end.  The other group was the Stoics – They believed that everything was god, that everything that happened was of god and had to be accepted without question.  Hince, we refer to one that doesn’t show emotion in a situation that calls for it, as someone who is very Stoic.

These groups hear Paul’s preaching and say in verse 18: “What is this babbler trying say?”

The Greek word for “babbler” here originally was used of birds picking up grain and then of scrap collectors searching for junk and then of people that stole other’s ideas and peddled them as their own.  This was not a flattering label they were putting on Paul.

To top it all off.. they also thought Paul was advocating new deities:  Jesus and Resurrection.  The Greek word for resurrection has an uncharacteristic feminine ending.  Meaning, they thought Paul was saying Jesus and Resurrection were a couple.  They apparently weren’t listening that well to Paul’s message.

What can we learn from Paul here about striking up a conversation in a diverse religious setting?  We should expect to be misunderstood, mislabeled and at times, belittled.  But that shouldn’t cause us to run away into our Christian subculture and hide… we need to find our feet shod with the Good News of the Gospel and firmly planted in the marketplace of our time.

But, you ask, how do I engage today’s culture?

>Read the paper, watch the news, if only to gain a frame of reference to talk to others.

>Talk to people:  where you work and where you go to school.

>Talk to people of other faiths, other races, other economic statuses.

You can’t make people believe in Jesus… but that’s the Holy Spirit’s job anyway.  We just work to impact  people toward Him.

You Can’t Choose Your Circumstances, But You Can Choose Your Attitude!

Acts 16:16-40grindstone

The quotable John Maxwell once said this:  “Life can be likened to a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you depends on what you are made of.”

Paul and Silas were made of some tough stuff!  After driving the demon out of a slave girl, they find their good deed punished by being stripped, beaten, and jailed.  Not exactly how the two wished to spend their weekend.  Circumstances are like that.  Before you know what hit you, you are knee deep in the weeds.  But you don’t get to choose the circumstances of your life.  There is so much going on that is beyond your control… evil people, viruses, lousy timing, and direct opposition from the enemy, as well as other factors can derail your plans.  But while don’t get to choose your circumstances… but you do get to choose your attitude.

25About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose. 27The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

Now it was midnight.  Let this stick in your mind.  Paul and Silas have chosen their joyful attitude stocksnot after climbing out of a comfortable bed, but after having been stripped, beaten with rods, thrown into prison and flogged severely.  And then they were put in stocks… you’ve seen these things.  You may have your picture taken in them.  They are designed not only to humiliate the person being punished but make them EXTREMELY uncomfortable.  And… it was midnight.  The hour when your body is tired and weary… and your worst fears plague you.

Is it midnight in your world?  Maybe you’ve taken an emotional beating.  You may have lost your job, your home, your dignity.  You are uncomfortable.  And it is midnight… so what do you do?  You choose joy.

How do you do that?  This duo had many bumps and bruises, but they also had three outlets for abundant joy.

1)  They had each other.  Are you hanging around the right people?  Joyful, positive individuals that share life with you can help lift your spirits.

2)  They were praying.   Imagine for a moment that you’re in the mother house in Calcutta Calcutta nuns in chapelhelping out the Mother Teresa‘s ministry.  It’s very early in the morning, about 20 till five. A bell rings.  A voice calls out “Let us bless the Lord.”  Which is answered by: “Thanks be to God.”
The sisters go down to the still quietness of the chapel.  Outside of the chapel, a blackboard lists people all over the world who have asked for prayers from the sisters.
They pray for half an hour kneeling on the floor.  There are no seats.

What keeps their attitudes strong in the face the dying masses in Calcutta?  They begin their day praising God and in prayer.  In Paul’s midnight, the new day was just being birthed.  He took the wee hours of the morning to pray for the strength to face what that day would bring.

3)  They were singing.  Yes, singing.  There is something about a song that can lift the spirit.  What is your radio set to?  Is it uplifting ?  Have you thought to incorporate hymns or songs of praise into your prayer time?  It will turn your usual gripe session with the Lord into a symphony of praise to Him… and in the process help put all your woes into perspective.

You know what happens next.  An earthquake hits.  It was enough to rattle the nerves of even their crusty jailer.  Paul and Silas could have responded with:  “Great, now an earthquake?  You’ve got to be kidding, God!”  They didn’t.  Their reaction was one of calm and respect in the midst of utter chaos.  This is something that only comes to those who as a habit, pray and sing their way through life’s ups and downs.

Poor circumstances?  That’s unfortunate.  But poor attitude?  That’s really your choice… and that grindstone in your life may just be revealing what you’re really made of.

Their Cries… Your Calling!

Pick Up the Phone:  God’s Calling on Your Life – Part 3 of 5

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Acts 17:9prayer2

9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Paul and Silas had never stopped praying on that second missionary journey.  Even after so many shut and locked doors.  Even when they reached Troas and what appeared to be the end of the line.  They kept listening for a specific call of God and eventually they heard it.  That is when things got interesting.  It is the same for us today… to keep asking and praying and listening always proceeds the most interesting moments in life.

Psychiatrist Gerald May wrote, “There is a desire within each of us, in the deep center of ourselves that we call the heart.  We are born with it, it is never completely satisfied, and it never dies.  We are often unaware of it, but the desire is always awake.”

Pastor Craig Barnes commenting on May’s quote, said:  “When the desire becomes too much, they can try to bury it beneath excessive work, another purchase, or another move to another place.  They can try to numb the desire, but that will only lead to addiction.  They can even spend most of life trying to tame the desire with respectability and the construction of a good reputation.  But the wild desire just keeps breaking out of the closed chambers of the heart in unguarded moments.  G. K. Chesterton has called this “the divine discontent” that incessantly reminds us we were created for something else.  – Craig Barnes (Searching for Home:  Spirituality for Restless Souls, p. 64.)

Blessed is the man or woman that has found that something else!   Blessed are those that have discovered their God given calling.

It is interesting that Paul and Silas’ call here comes in the form of an actual call from a specific group of people.  Their cries [the Macedonians] became the call of God for Paul and Silas.

David Brainerd who won many thousands of American Indians to Christ, once said, “I cared not where or how I lived, or what hardships I went thru, so that I could but gain souls for Christ. While I was asleep I dreamed of these things, and when I awoke, it was the first thought that I had, the thought of this great work.”
He caught a vision hearing the American Indians crying, “come over here and help us!”

Hudson Taylor

David Livingston, the first man to take the gospel into the heart of Africa, said, “I must open a way to the interior or perish!”
It was do or die…and he caught that vision when he heard the Africans crying, “come over here and help us!”

J. Hudson Taylor, pioneer Missionary to China, said, “I feel as though I cannot live if something is not done for China.”  His life came alive when he heard the Chinese cry:  “come over here and help us!”

It is one of the saddest things in the world to miss or choose not to hear God and not to hear the call of those who cry for help.

The story has been told of the little church in Germany sited near train tracks that carried Jews to their death.  “Each Sunday Morning,” the German man telling the story said, “we could hear the whistle in the distance and then the wheels coming over the tracks. We became disturbed when we heard the cries coming from the train as it passed by. We realized that it was carrying Jews like cattle in the cars!”
“Week after week the whistle would blow. We dreaded to hear the sound of those wheels because we knew that we would hear the cries of the Jews en route to a death camp. Their screams tormented us.”
We knew the time the train was coming and when we heard the whistle blow we began singing hymns. By the time the train came past our church we were singing at the top of our voices. If we heard the screams, we sang more loudly and soon we heard  them no more. Years have passed, and no one talks about it much any more; but I still hear that train whistle in my sleep. I can still hear them crying out for help. God forgive all of us who called ourselves Christians, yet did nothing to intervene.”

What cry have you heard and chose to ignore?  The cry of the inner city?  The cry of Africa?  The cry of unwed mothers?  The cry of those caught in the sex trafficking trade?  The cry of the orphan?

Proverbs 21:13 reminds us:  13 He who shuts his ear to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be answered.

How dare we sit in our comfortable church buildings and sing our songs and eat our fill at our potlucks and enjoy our sweet fellowship, and then walk out those church doors deafened to the cries of the world?

Want to better understand your calling?  Let their cries become your calling.  And then things will start to get interesting.

Running Out of Real Estate

Pick up the phone 2

 

  Acts 16:6-8cliff

  “Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phyrgia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.  When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.  So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.”

Paul is seeking and reaching and praying… and he isn’t getting anywhere.  The Holy Spirit stops him from preaching in Asia.  The Spirit of Jesus won’t let him touch Bithynia.

This is different from his first missionary journey.  It was wondrous.  Paul and Barnabas traveled through Asia, founding churches and setting people on fire for the gospel. But after returning home things cooled off a bit.  They come back to a less than rapturous welcome from a Jerusalem church, who wanted to know what they were doing baptizing Gentiles!  Then there was a fall out between Paul and Barnabas.  The dream team splits.  Barnabas heads off with Mark and Paul journeys with Silas instead.

Now this trip is not going so well!  Bouncing from city to city they can’t plant a toehold in any of them.  They were prevented… they weren’t allowed!  Whatever form this took, it sounds to me like a lot of angry faces and slammed doors.

Faced any rejection lately?  Impeccable skills and a flawless resume have not turned up one good job interview?  Your past experience in a certain ministry field is now turning out underwhelming results?  What gives?  What can you do to find where God can use you best?

In Matthew 7:7, Jesus said we were to “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.”  You have probably heard somewhere before that the verbs for “Ask,” “seek” and “knock” are all present tense verbs in Greek… meaning they should be translated:  “keep on asking,” “keep on seeking,” and “keep on knocking.”

That is what Paul does.  He can’t find the place he is suppose to serve… so he keeps moving.  He Troaskeeps going and going until he reaches the city of Troas.  Now Troas was a sea port.  That means that Paul and Silas plumb ran out of real estate!  In the next few verses God is going to open their eyes to a brand new mission field.  But first, imagine the two of them “Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay.”  They are painted into a corner, at the end of the road… Troas!  Maybe that’s where you are right now…  out of options and very desperate.

God may have you there because he wants to open your eyes to a whole new way of viewing your world.  And this often comes at the end of where your own ingenuity has taken us.  So don’t despair.  Keep asking!  Keep seeking!  Keep knocking!  God will grant a vision in His timing!

Many years ago, a young writer interviewed the legendary IBM president Thomas J. Watson.  He was given some unusual advice by the industrialist:  “It’s not exactly my line,” Watson said, “but would you like me to give you a formula for writing success?  It’s quite simple, really.  Double your rate of failure.”

Watson continued, “You’re making a common mistake.  You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success.  But it isn’t at all.  Failure is a teacher—a harsh one perhaps, but the best.”

Then he looked at the young writer and asked him a critical question:  “You say you have a desk full of rejected manuscripts?  That’s great!  Every one of those manuscripts was rejected for a reason.  Have you pulled them to pieces looking for that reason?”

Arthur Gordon, the man who had interviewed Watson, went on to become a nationally known author and editor.  He had originally gone to Watson for an interview, but Watson gave him something much more precious.  He gave him a new perspective on failure.   (Gary J. Oliver in How to Get it Right After You’ve Gotten it Wrong, pp. 26-27.)

Failing?  Running out of ideas?  Do what Paul did… keep moving… keep listening.

God may be ready to completely blow your mind with what He has in store for you.

You Need a Timothy!

Legend-of-Zelda-Wallpaper-the-legend-of-zelda-5433362-1600-1200Acts 16:1-5

This may be news to you:  Jordan Verner of Ontario, Canada, recently beat the video game The Legend of Zelda.  “Okay.  so what?” you might respond, “He’s not unique.  Lots of people have beaten that game.”  Well, Jordan Verner is blind!  He went on the internet to enlist the help of other gamers to help him.  Four rose up to meet the challenge. It took them two years but they played The Legend of Zelda and recorded every jump, roll, and sound.  Jordan then took this information and entered it into his computer which would then read them aloud as he played. And he was then able to finally beat The Legend of Zelda without ever laying eyes on the screen.

It seems to me that there are a lot of young men and women out there that could use the benefit of someone in life that knows all the jumps, rolls and sounds to look out for.  I believe that there is indeed a Timothy for every Paul in this world.  But often young people are left to figure out life blindly.

Paul had his literal Timothy and poured his life into the young man.

1He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek. 2The brothers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. 3Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

What do we know about Timothy?  He’s green.  He has baggage.  But he’s teachable.  Paul’s willingness to take this young man under his wing would lead him to write two of the books of the New Testament to teach and encourage him.

How close was Paul to Timothy?  Paul writes to the Philippians that Timothy had proved himself, and in the first of two letters written by Paul to Timothy in the NT, Paul calls his protégé:  “My true son in the faith.”  That’s close.  How close are you to someone that needs your guidance and support?

In previous posts I’ve mentioned that we all need mentors like Barnabus, and friends like Silas, but let me now stress that we also need a Timothy! – young men or women that we are mentoring and working to build into their lives.

You might protest: “I’m no Paul!  What do I have that I can share with another?  I need to get my own stuff together before I begin mentoring.”

Not only is it true that you are selling yourself short… and you may also be hampering your own spiritual growth.

In a recent Leadership Journal interview with David Platt (right), he was asked:  “Some leaders feel like they’ve been

Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL

Pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, AL

called by God, yet there are some days when they feel like imposters.  They don’t feel holy enough, faithful enough, gracious enough, strong enough, competent enough.  They feel obligated to talk further than they’ve walked.  Do you ever identify with that?”

He responded:  “Definitely.  With any kind of spiritual leadership, whether it’s pastoring a church or discipling one person, you get to the point where you see  something you need to call people to do.  Then you realize you’re not doing that, certainly not to the degree you’d like to see others do it. … Someone might say, “I’m not disciplined enough in prayer to teach someone else how to pray.”  Well, start teaching them anyway and it’s actually going to cause you to be more disciplined in prayer. … God’s got this thing rigged.  He’s designed disciple-making not just for other’s santification, but for our own sanctification, too.  … I tell my folks here that until we pour into others’ lives we’re going to hit a ceiling in our own life spiritually.  As long as it’s just about us, then our sanctification will not happen as effectively as it would if we are working to lead others to faith in Christ.” (Leadership Journal, Winter 2013, p. 27.)

Taken any jumps, rolls, twists and turns of that spiritual journey of yours?  Then there are those behind you that need your eyes.  Would you kindly step up to the challenge?

Is It Okay to Be Angry?

A Christian Response to EvilEphesians 4:26-27 / Colossians 3:8

“Can I be angry?”  That is the #1 Question that has been asked of me as a pastor coming out of the Boston Marathon tragedy.  As I mentioned in last week’s blog (“A Christian’s Response to Evil”) even this pastor was not immune to “simmering” a bit in the aftermath.

lit match 2But is such anger okay?  In Ephesians (4:26) Paul says to “Be Angry and do not sin…” but Paul also writes in Colossians (3:8) to “…put them all aside:  anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.”

Which is it?  To be or not to be… angry?   There was a deacon in the first church I served in as a youth pastor who believed it was NEVER okay to be angry.  When I showed him Ephesians 4:26 (in my naive attempt to “set him straight”) he was still unconvinced (and slightly angry with me).

I have come to believe in these past few decades that though he still wasn’t right, he might be close to telling the truth.  Our human anger is seldom righteous and without sin.

And yet… I still firmly believe that there are times (such as the events in Boston last week) when it is wrong NOT to be angry.  As Henry Ward Beecher wrote:  “A man that does not know how to be angry does not know how to be good.  Now and then a man should be shaken to the core with indignation over things evil.”

Now this Scripture offers qualifications:  Don’t sin with your anger.  Don’t let it stay the night.  Don’t allow Satan to get a foot hold in your life through it.  Vengeful rage is not okay… but a Godly anger is.

Now what does Paul mean in Colossians?  The things Paul warns us about there are the steps we might potentially take beyond our initial emotion.  The word anger in Colossians 3:8 has as its root the Greek work, “oregomai.”  This word means to “stretch out one’s self in order to touch or grasp something or to reach after or desire something.”(Thayer)  The anger Paul is talking about here is one that we have “given ourselves over to.”  This is expressed in the next four things Paul tells the Colossians to be rid of…  1. wrath (a boiling up type of anger), 2. malice (a desire to injure the object of our wrath), 3. slander (to use our tongue to talk bad about them), and 4. abusive speech (foul and obscene speech toward that person, i.e. “cussing them out”).

Giving ourselves over to our anger seldom turns out well.  I read in a Daily Bread Devotional that “in the spring of 1894, the Baltimore Orioles came to Boston to play a boston ballpark 1894routine baseball game. But what happened that day was anything but routine. The Orioles’ John McGraw got into a fight with the Boston third baseman. Within minutes all the players from both teams had joined in the brawl. The warfare quickly spread to the grandstands. Among the fans the conflict went from bad to worse. Someone set fire to the stands and the entire ballpark burned to the ground. Not only that, but the fire spread to 107 other Boston buildings as well.”

That is a real life illustration of what happens when we give ourselves over to our anger… ourselves and those around us get burned.  Is it okay to be angry?  Yes… but we are not allow to nurse it, churn it over and over and then dispense it like a high pressure fire hose.

So what do I do with this anger I feel?  Many believe that Paul in Ephesians was quoting David in Psalm 4:  “In your anger do not sin.” (Psalm 4:4, NIV)  If that is the case, then we would do well to do what David suggests:  “Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still.  Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.” (v.4b-5, NASB)

So in the wake of the Boston bombings or whatever other violent act that is sure to follow… be angry that someone would think so callously about human life.   But then… calm yourself down… meditate in your heart on the Word of God (perhaps on Colossians 3:8!), and then put your trust in a God of justice who has things well under control.

Heated Debate

fightActs 15: 36-41

37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

I read a recent article on a Christian website titled:  “10 Honest Observations from a Former Church Insider.”  The author of the article had been a pastor for many years and then at a relatively young age (for reasons not cited) had to step down.  He mentioned what it was like to now be an “outsider” in church.  He listed 10 things that he saw were problems that perhaps someone so close to the heartbeat of a church might be blinded to.  I agreed with him on just about everything and appreciated his insights… and was about to move on.  Then I read the comments from pastors that read the article before me.  Many were not kind!  They didn’t like much of what the author had to say, but sometimes it bordered on people not liking him personally.  One critic wrote:  “I will gladly take advice from anyone willing to get in there and do the work. Not just leave when things are not going their own way.”  Another wrote:  “I became bored with hearing the same “complaints” from yet another disenchanted church goer.”   The idea of hearing ideas from a “quitter” was too much for some.

Just when I was completely discouraged… a number of Barnabas people stepped in and saved the day… offering encouragement and peace.   Some were among bloggers that I trust David I. Guinn and Joe McKeever.

I call these men Barnabas people because the comment page appeared to me at times to be a retelling of the sharp disagreement Paul and Barnabas had over Mark way back in the book of Acts.  It was a “sharp” disagreement… as the Greek will bear out.  Barnabas wanted to give his cousin another chance.  Paul wanted to show him the door.

The Bible does not tell us who was right or wrong,  just that the debate was heated and the result was a split of the Apostolic Missionary Super Team.   NT Scholar A.T. Robertson remarked:  “No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again.  One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas.”

There is so much irony in this passage.  the second missionary journey began with the idea of checking up on people and churches from the first journey and seeing how they were doing spiritually .   Yet Paul is ready to give John Mark the boot before he even takes the young man’s spiritual temperature!  The second ironic thing is that Paul should have known by now the heart of his friend, Barnabas.  It wasn’t too long ago that Barnabas pulled a snot nosed kid out of the gutter and offered that young man a chance when no one else would even trust him… I refer, of course, to Paul himself.

My heart goes out to those who wrote out of concerned for this young man and his quest to find God… and to all Barnabas types that may face some rough criticism, but are still willing to extend a hand to “quitters” in an effort to help.

More on this… and a story too… later this week.