Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Tale of Two Fathers

Has there ever been a father who didn’t swell with pride and hope while embracing sky-high aspirations for the newborn baby he held in his arms? After getting home from the hospital, away from all the excitement and holding that brand-new little baby, sleeping in peace – fathers tend to start looking way out into the future to imagine what is to come:
Maybe they see their son striking the familiar pose of the Heisman trophy as he leads his college football team to the national championship.
Perhaps they see their daughter in a lab coat winning the Nobel Prize for inventing the ultimate cure for cancer.
They may envision their child being the biggest box-office draw in Hollywood, or chairing the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or writing the ‘great American novel’, or walking on Mars, or singing at the Grand Ol’ Opry. They have dreams – big dreams for the little miracle they hold in their hands.

Do you think it would have been any different for Joseph when he first held Jesus in his arms in the stillness and quietness of that Bethlehem night? Even though Joseph knew he wasn’t Jesus’ ‘biological’ father, I’m certain that he had the same feelings of pride in anticipation of what his ‘son’ would become.

Of course, Joseph had an added advantage of having been told by an angel: “[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." (Matthew 1:21) And his wife had been told: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." Luke 1:32-33

So Joseph had more than just ‘fatherly pride’ to fuel his imagination of what the future would hold for Jesus – he had the angel’s prophecy to bank on. However, Joseph’s anticipation of Jesus “saving his people”, “being great”, being given the “throne”, and “reigning forever”, was probably much different from what actually took place.

As Jesus grew, I’m sure Joseph experienced the same things most fathers go through as the mundane, day-to-day aspects of life tend to crowd out those euphoric dreams and visions of what was going to be. It’s not that fathers ‘lose hope’ or ‘settle for something less’ for their children. Rather, most fathers learn that enjoying those daily experiences and accomplishments pushes those ‘future’ dreams out of focus. They learn to treasure the ‘here and now’ of their children rather than looking to the ‘maybe someday’. And as we participate in our children’s lives, we don’t lower our aim, our goals just morph toward what is most important to them.

Joseph surely cherished the time he had with Jesus as Jesus learned his father’s craft, was perfectly obedient to Mary and him, and assisted with the responsibilities of rearing his brothers and sisters. Joseph didn’t have to look to what he may have wanted or thought Jesus might become – he knew he was truly blessed to have him as his son.

What about Jesus’ ‘other’ Father? What do you think He may have felt as He cradled Jesus in His arms on that first night in that lowly stable?

Well, being eternally omniscient and not constrained by the limits of time as Joseph would have been, the Father would have had no unrealistic hopes or expectations for the life of that Child. While His expectations were impossibly high (the perfect salvation of man), they were certainly not unrealistic since He knew they would be totally fulfilled.

In that very moment the Father saw not only the ‘mundane’ day-to-day events His Son would experience over the next 33 years, He saw the extraordinary - and He knew the significance of each and every one. Yes, Jesus was pre-existent with the Father, but as the Father cradled this Baby, He saw the Baby:
● As an adolescent boy being perfectly obedient and submissive to the earthly parents to whom he was entrusted.
● As a young man with the same struggles as his peers but never violating a single commandment.
● As a missionary choosing to follow the Father’s plan wherever it led.
● As a rabbi teaching, healing, loving.
● As a Jew living the spirit of the Law rather than manipulating the letter of the Law.
● As a preacher offering hope and salvation.
● As a servant being betrayed by friends.
● As a prisoner being spat upon, beaten, mocked, and murdered.
● As a lamb taking on all of the most foul, repugnant, obscene, heinous sins ever committed in all time.
● As a victor defeating death and rising again.
● As a Savior bringing multitudes back to the Father.

The Father saw the ‘tragic’ from the perspective that turned it to the ‘glorious’. He knew what lay ahead and He knew His Son would do all that was necessary. Perfectly. The Father knew the pain, suffering, and separation His Son would endure. Flawlessly.

The Father knew He was truly blessed to have Jesus as His Son.

And He gave Him to us.

And we are blessed beyond imagination to have Him as a Savior.

A child has been born to us; God has given a son to us.
He will be responsible for leading the people.
His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Powerful God,
Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace.
Power and peace will be in his kingdom
and will continue to grow forever.
He will rule as king on David's throne
and over David's kingdom.
He will make it strong by ruling with justice and goodness
from now on and forever.
The LORD All-Powerful will do this
because of his strong love for his people.

Isaiah 9:6-7 (NCV)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Spreading Good News

Who knows for sure, but in my mind I see the following scene unfolding up in heaven a little over 2,000 years ago . . .
As was customary at the start of each day, God was conducting a staff meeting to assign tasks, prioritize goals, and motivate the crew. He began the meeting by announcing that Thaddeus the sheep herder would soon lose his footing on a cliff side near Capernaum – someone was needed to keep him from an ‘untimely demise’. Several volunteered and an assignment was made.
God then asked for a volunteer to go encourage a priest near Jerusalem whose ‘calling’ was feeling more like a ‘job’. Several volunteered and an assignment was made.
Many more tasks were announced and assignments made until God’s tone changed slightly and He leaned forward a bit. God announced that He had “one more assignment.” This statement was not greeted with the fidgeting and stirring normally associated with the ‘last point’ to be made in a meeting. Rather, everyone sensed that something special was coming and the heavens became completely silent in rapt anticipation.
God then said that He needed someone to go to a teenage girl named Mary and tell her that the time had come: The Messiah - the One foretold by the prophets, the One to bring salvation to the earth - would be borne to her.
As you can imagine, the place went wild with wings fluttering, hands shooting into the air, and thousands upon thousands of “Me! Me! Me!,” “Can I do it?,” “Let me!”
Sure, it would have been cool to have been given the task of brandishing one of the flaming swords to guard the entrance to the Garden; it would have been an honor to warn Abraham about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; and it would have been great to tell Gideon he would become a mighty warrior. But this was to be the best job ever - to give the best news . . . EVER!
God called out, “Gabriel! I want you to do it.” The excitement could not be contained - all of the other angels cheered uncontrollably and congratulated Gabriel on being chosen for such an honored task. Then God told all of the other angels that He wanted them to be a part as well – He wanted them to herald the birth over some fields outside of Bethlehem in just a few months.
The exhilaration, the joy, the expectation – it was extraordinary. The angels just couldn’t wait for their opportunity to be a part of announcing ‘the good news’ – the BEST news.
“The Hope of the World! Salvation of mankind! Reconciliation with God!”

Isn’t that what Christmas is all about?
And haven’t we been given the same awesome opportunity of announcing the Greatest Gift ever to the world? “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone.” (Mark 16:15)
How excited are you about the chance to announce the ‘good news’?
Does it wake you up in the morning? Is it your central focus?
Could there be anything more important?
God came down – Immanuel! The Way was made possible – Hosanna!
The angels did their part. They proclaimed, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” (Luke 2:14)
It’s our turn.
Are you ready to proclaim the BEST NEWS EVER to the world? Are you able to contain yourself? Does the excitement overwhelm you?

It is Christmas – Christ Jesus has come. Go tell it on the mountains!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giving Thanks

Here we are [again] at that time of year when all of the talk shows, news services, and pop-culture ‘icons’ want to turn everyone’s attention toward ‘being thankful’. However, most of them don’t even understand or acknowledge that to be ‘thankful’ requires that you direct your gratitude toward someone for something.
Yes, it’s true that in relation to the rest of the world throughout the rest of history, we have more of everything for which to be thankful. We have ‘more’ and ‘better’ of just about everything imaginable.
Is that why we should be ‘thankful’? Should we be ‘thankful’ because we have it so much better than someone (anyone) else?
Well – ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Certainly we should praise God and thank Him for the many blessings He pours out on us each and every day. But, it can be very difficult to have an attitude of ‘thanksgiving’ when we look at an abundant dinner table with an empty chair where a loved one once sat. And when circumstances reveal a problem within a family that turkey and dressing won’t fix, do we really feel ‘thankful’ that we have it better than someone on the other side of the world?
Unfortunately, we usually let our circumstances determine how ‘thankful’ we feel and how we express that gratitude to God. But there is a message that is set forth almost word-for-word at least 10 times in the Bible that tells us why we should be thankful, and it has nothing to do with our circumstances:
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”*
He never changes; He never fails.
He is ALWAYS good.
His love endures FOREVER.
When the economy tanks and your job is lost – God and His love haven’t changed: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
When a relationship is strained to the point where it appears that nothing could possibly reconcile it – God hasn’t gone anywhere: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
When illness comes, age takes its toll, circumstances seem bleak, friends turn away, savings are gone, or families have split – He cares more than you can possibly know: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.
While we may not feel ‘thankful’ about our circumstances or about a particular trial we are enduring, God is STILL good; His love STILL endures forever.
He is SO worthy of our praise, worship, and thanksgiving!
We should never let our circumstances keep us from expressing our thanks; we should never let our attitude detract from our gratitude; we should never fail to do what we were created to do.
Tremble before him, all the earth!
The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let them say among the nations, "The LORD reigns!"
Let the sea resound, and all that is in it;
let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
Then the trees of the forest will sing,
they will sing for joy before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever
. (1 Chronicles 16:30-34)

(*) See 1 Chronicles 16:34, 2 Chronicles 5:13, 2 Chronicles 7:3, Ezra 3:11, Psalm 106:1, Psalm 107:1, Psalm 118:1, Psalm 118:29, Psalm 136:1, Jeremiah 33:11.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'God Cam'

For Christmas last year, I was given one of those wildlife ‘game cam’s’. The camera is motion-activated and has a built-in flash for taking pictures in the dark.
I finally got around to setting it up near the feeder where I normally hunt and then I went back to check it out a few weeks later. I was amazed to see the 678 photos on the memory card showing all kinds of wildlife being caught unawares.
There were several pictures of the devious raccoon that manipulated his hands through the protective cage to mess up the settings on the feeder to cause all of the corn to be dispensed within the first three days. Lots of pictures of deer, hogs, crows, cows, cows tipping my feeder over, a hunting buddy setting it back up, deer, hogs, a coyote, cows tipping my feeder over again.
I can look at those pictures over and over. It just entertains me to see those oblivious animals going about their day, even though the game cam caught just a moment in time and couldn’t follow what happened to them during the remainder of those days.
That’s kind of the way we often see our relationship with God, isn’t it? The ‘God cam’ gets a nice picture of us in our Sunday finest, Bible tucked under our arm, with a nice, pious smile as we stand in the pews singing hymns at the worship service. But the ‘God cam’ doesn’t follow us out of the sanctuary and down the street and to our homes and to our offices and to the golf course and out to the hunting lease, does it?
Well of course it does.
The ‘God cam’ isn’t intended to ‘catch you’ doing things you shouldn’t be doing. It’s God’s way of experiencing your life with you, of delighting in you. He wants a photo album full of pictures of who you really are, but He wants who you really are to be about glorifying Him, about delighting in Him.
Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart
. (Psalm 37:4)
[T]he LORD’s delight is in those who fear him,
those who put their hope in his unfailing love
. (Psalm 147:11, NLT)
God isn’t a cosmic kill-joy waiting to ‘bust’ us for having too much fun, failing to read our Bible for 27 minutes every day, or forgetting who beget whom in one of those genealogies. God is not up there reviewing the pictures in the ‘God cam’ and slapping a ruler into his hand waiting for us to mess up so He can “smite” us in some way. No one is more on our side than God, no one wants more for us than God, and no one has given more to us than God.
John 10:10 tells us: I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly (NASB); or in another version: I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (NIV); or in yet another version: My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life (NLT).
Does that sound like God wants us to live like some kind of monks who deny themselves any ‘pleasures’ of life? I don’t think so. But I do think that we seldom understand what the true pleasures, joys, and satisfactions are. He does and He intends them for us.
But we need to delight ourselves in Him.
In the movie Evan Almighty, there were plenty of theological errors, but something that I think the producers got right (probably unintentionally) was in a scene toward the end of the movie. In the final encounter between Evan and God, Evan is celebrating what has happened – what God had accomplished as He said He would. And Morgan Freeman (playing God) does just a fantastic job of showing the kind of delight that I think God takes in us when we delight in Him. He just stood there giggling at how Evan was ‘delighting’ himself in the Lord. It brought tears to my eyes.
That’s what I want to hear as God looks over the pictures in the ‘God cam’. I want Him to see how I am living life abundantly, to the full, in the rich and satisfying way He intended. And I can do that only by delighting myself in Him.

Monday, November 9, 2009

“Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya - punk?” ('Dirty' Harry Callahan)

Having missed the Sunday morning worship service due to a previous commitment to the ‘Whitetail Mission Field’, I was driving to the evening church service last Sunday with my wife - with the car radio tuned to the Christian music station we normally enjoy. We were having a discussion about whether or not our phone plan allowed us to attach pictures to a text message and she picked up her phone and started punching keys (I assumed she was checking out something about our discussion.) But then she held the phone to her ear, obviously making a call. (I was unaware she had been multi-tasking – defined (by me) as doing several different things not very well as the same time.)
She turned toward me and said, “I’m going to win that prize.”
While I had been waxing eloquently about all the things I don’t understand about ‘texting,’ she heard the radio personality promise 4 tickets to the ICE! exhibit at the Gaylord Texan to ‘caller number something or other’. The next thing I knew, she was giving out her name, address, etc. so she could claim her prize at the radio station.
Afterward, she said, “Do you realize how many times I have won their call-in prizes?”
[Well, she won tickets to Six Flags with accompanying tickets to see Chris Tomlin’s concert; she won $1,000 cash on the barrelhead; and then there were tickets to a Harlem Globetrotters’ game.] So, with a ripe, theological sarcasm, I responded, “You sure are ‘lucky,’ aren’t you?”
Her eye-rolling response was, “Yeah, right.”

For years, we have tried to avoid the use of the word ‘luck’ or ‘lucky’ in our house. Believing that God is in absolute, total control of every single thing that happens (either through His orchestration of it or His allowing it), it just seems ludicrous to believe that a person could possess some type of attribute that causes the ‘fickle finger of fate’ to point more favorably at him or her than at others. Or that certain things happen to us simply because the stars are all aligned in our favor at a particular time.
‘Luck’ doesn’t shine on us, God happens. He blesses. He loves.
Sure, lots of people will say that God doesn’t get involved with finding you a parking spot, helping you find the DVD to rent, or keeping the bird droppings off your clean car. But, the Bible says: Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:29-30) Even though those numbers don’t go as high as they used to, God cares. He knows. He is in control.
Since God is in complete control, nothing happens He didn’t [at the very least] permit to happen.
Unfortunately, we often let our fallen perspective dictate whether or not we think we are being blessed by God. Like Job’s friends argued, we often think that ‘good things’ happening to us indicate God is happy with us and when ‘bad things’ happen, well . . .
But I think the truth is that we are being blessed all of the time by God. Some things we recognize as His blessings, others may take time, others we may never understand. But since He is in absolute control, and since He loves us infinitely, we can trust that He is blessing us.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who has blessed us in the heavenly realms
with every spiritual blessing in Christ
Ephesians 1:3, emphasis added
Regardless of our circumstances, regardless of anything going on in our world, from the throne of God in heaven (the heavenly realms) – God has blessed us. Ephesians 1 goes on to mention some of the awesome ways He has blessed and is blessing us: He predestined us to be adopted as his sons; He has freely given us His glorious grace; we have redemption through his blood; we have the forgiveness of sins; He lavished wisdom and understanding on us; He made known to us the mystery of his will, which he purposed in Christ; we were chosen; we have been predestined; we were included in Christ; we were marked in Him with the Holy Spirit; we are His possession (verses 4-14).
Whoa. Does that sound like something as happenstance as ‘luck’? Not hardly.
What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? . . .
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow - not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below - indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord
. (Romans 8:31-39, NLT)

So, I guess if I were looking down the barrel of Dirty Harry’s .44 Magnum - the most powerful handgun in the world - I’d have to respond, “No, I don’t feel lucky. I’m blessed.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

Verbal Clouds

Because he understood that the world financial markets hung on his every word when he served as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan tried to be very careful about what he said and how he said it. He knew his words could be taken out of context and misconstrued in ways that could cause major market fluctuations. Yet he also knew that definitiveness and clarity in his pronouncements could similarly cause unintended results as people tried to anticipate future economic performance.
Thus, he felt the need to add the following introduction to one of his briefings: “I guess I should warn you, if I turn out to be particularly clear, you've probably misunderstood what I've said.”
Similar to lawyers and politicians, Mr. Greenspan learned the art of using lots of words to not really say anything that could come back on him. It’s what I like to refer to as a ‘verbal cloud’ – it appears to say something, but when you really get into it, it has no substance. ‘Smoke and mirrors,’ ‘sleight of hand’, ‘bait and switch’, ‘dissimulation’, ‘chicanery’. There have been lots of different ways of referring to the ‘verbal cloud’. They all involve erroneous implications, over-complication, or some type of double entendre meant to cause more confusion than clarification.
But that has never been the way God communicates His truths. He pretty much lays it out there in plain, easy to understand language.
Is there room for confusion or debate about language like: “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12); “Love one another” (John 13:34); “[B]e quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19)? Sure, people will try to justify or excuse their behavior (or lack thereof) by ‘qualifying’ or ‘rationalizing’ what the Bible says, but that doesn’t really change how plain, simple, and straightforward the Bible really is.
For example, consider the ultimate truth of the Bible – the gospel. Have you listened to how convoluted, complicated, and almost incapable of understanding some people have made ‘the gospel’ message? They take parts of the gospel message and try to make it fit within the confines of their pre-determined concept of God, and everything gets messed up.
When you try to conform the gospel to ideas like: everyone eventually goes to heaven, there’s not a real hell, ‘God is love’ (without righteousness and justice involved), our ‘goodness’ relative to others (rather than juxtaposed against a holy and perfect God), etc., you lose a simple truth to a mish-mash of politically correct theological garbage.
So, how simple and plain is the real gospel? Paul laid it out in perfectly clear language: Jesus died for our sins; he was buried; he rose again. (See 1 Corinthians 15:3-4) That’s it!
Certainly each of those concepts can be expounded upon and details added, but that is the entire gospel in only 11 words. Any addition to that message which seeks to make it more palatable or ‘reasonable’ or logical is just wrong. It’s a lie. Such addition (or change) would be a verbal cloud, intended to obfuscate and divert your attention from the real object of the gospel message - Jesus.
So, any time someone mentions ‘the gospel’ but focuses on anything other than Jesus died for our sins; he was buried; he rose again, understand that they are conjuring up a verbal cloud.
Step back, look to the heavens, and let the Son shine through those ‘verbal clouds.’

Today: Present the gospel message in its simplicity – don’t add any ‘fluff’ or sugar-coat its reality. And when you hear someone else ‘profess’ the gospel, don’t let them ‘cloud’ the message.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Obey to Learn

Our ‘major league’ baseball team, the Trojans, was playing against the Firefighters. But no one called the Firefighters by their ‘mascot’ name of ‘Firefighters.’ No, this team was known throughout the league as ‘Ricky’s team.’
By some kind of chronological hocus-pocus, Ricky was playing in a league of mostly 10-year olds who were in 4th and 5th grade. However, Ricky was in 6th grade and was a good foot and a half taller than anyone else in the league. He could have really shined in the ‘pony’ league where he belonged, so you can just imagine how he dominated our league.
Well it just so happened that I was pitching and I had gotten myself in a jam of having the bases loaded. And who do you think was coming up to bat? That’s right – Ricky.
I glanced over at our coach in the dugout, and he motioned for me to throw the ball high – right across the shoulders. While not particularly known for my control (the bases were loaded, after all), I lucked into getting the ball to go right where my coach told me to pitch it.
CRACK! Grand slam.
A couple of innings later, fate found me in the exact same position – bases loaded and Ricky at the plate. I eyed my coach for advice and he motioned his hand across his knees – “keep it loooowwww.” Miracle of miracles, the ball went right where I wanted it to for exactly the second time in the entire game.
CRACK! Grand slam.
In the bottom of the last inning of that game, I had made it to third base and my teammate, Dennis, was at bat. Despite having hit two grand slams, Ricky’s team was only one run ahead of us. My coach called a suicide squeeze play. The pitcher started his windup, I broke for home, and as I slid between Dennis’ legs, his upper body was cork-screwed around watching the ball sail over the fence.
While I had what I considered to be a miserable day of pitching, after the game our coach commended me for doing what he had told me to do. And although we won the game on Dennis’ homerun, the coach chastised Dennis for ignoring his squeeze play signal and swinging away.
The folks in the stands thought Dennis was the hero; but our coach was sorely disappointed with him. Everyone was eager to forget my pitching performance; but my coach was quite satisfied.

In the ‘game of life’ – at school, at the D.P.S., in professional certification classes, etc. - we take tests to see what we have learned. But in the ‘game of godliness’, we learn by taking tests along the way.
The ‘test’ is whether or not we will obey God. Choose to do first (obey), and we learn as a result – we learn about God’s goodness, His trustworthiness, His love, and sometimes about His plans (but certainly not always). We learn about godliness.
We do not learn about godliness by obtaining lots of information about it. We learn about and grow in godliness by taking tests every day.
Yes, it is imperative to study the Bible to ascertain what is written about leading a godly life. But putting it into practice (taking tests) is the only way to learn about godliness.
[T]rain yourself to be godly. “Physical training is good,
but training for godliness is much better,
promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.”
1 Timothy 4:7-8, NLT
What kind of ‘physical shape’ would you be in if you studied fitness magazines to ascertain exactly how to get in shape, but never did anything about it? Training in godliness is exactly the same – you have to ‘do’ to get there.
Jesus didn’t tell us to ‘study’ His life to become godly. He said: "Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." Matthew 11:28-30, MSG (emphasis added)
It is all about ‘doing’ – it is all about ‘obeying’ what we read in the Bible and hear from God. When we hear from God – by reading the Bible, listening in prayer, receiving godly counsel – we need to put into action: [M]ake every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.
The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But those who fail to develop in this way are shortsighted or blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their old sins.
So, dear brothers and sisters, work hard to prove that you really are among those God has called and chosen. Do these things, and you will never fall away. Then God will give you a grand entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ
. (2 Peter 1:5-11, NLT, emphasis added)
Do you want to become godly? Do you want to live a godly life? Well, quit just studying about it and do something about it!
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. (James 1:22-24, NLT)

It’s by doing what the Lord is telling us to do, without yet knowing the results, that we begin learning from God. First we choose to obey, and then we start learning.
Pitching the baseball to Ricky where my coach instructed didn’t turn out so great (at least from the fans’ perspectives). But I became a better baseball player by doing what the coach told me to do.
I usually don’t have any idea what the results of obeying God will be, but I know that I’ll be a more godly man by obeying anyway.
And the Coach will be satisfied with that.

Today: When you hear from God today, obey immediately without contemplating the results or consequences. You will grow in godliness by passing that test.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Peace Prize?

There has certainly been a lot of discussion and debate about the recent Nobel Peace Prize award. The debate seems to focus primarily on whether or not this year’s recipient, or ‘laureate,’ has the accomplishments, track record, or ‘body of work’ to merit such recognition.
It is not my intention to disparage this year’s laureate, nor am I inclined to join forces with those alleging some ideological agenda on the part of the organization making the award. No, what has gotten my attention is just how silly the world’s whole concept of ‘peace’ really is.
It seems as if most people think that ‘peace’ will overtake the world when we all join hands around campfire and sing Kumbaya together. “Let’s get Obama, Gaddafi, Putin, Kim Jong Il, Hugo Chavez, Netanyahu, Pope Benedict, and Osama Bin Laden to do a group hug and the world will be a better place.”
Do ya think?
I don’t.
As with scientific breakthroughs, shouldn’t major accomplishments in ‘peace’ build on previous ones? Shouldn’t one Nobel Peace Laureate’s work build on another’s so that there is more ‘peace’ or a greater level of ‘peace’ with the combined efforts of the various ‘laureates’ over the years?
Well, since it began, the Nobel Peace Price has been awarded 97 times to individuals and 23 times to organizations. But is there any more ‘peace’ in the world today? Are we living in more ‘peaceful’ times? Have each of those laureates built on the accomplishments of those who went before to gain more and more ‘peace’?
Of course not.
Why? Because the world is looking at the wrong things to attempt to define ‘peace.’ Is it ‘lack of armed conflict’? Is it ‘cooperation between peoples’? Is it ‘working toward common goals’? Is it ‘the elimination of nuclear weapons’? Is it fighting ‘climate change’?
The problem is that the world is looking at circumstances to define ‘peace.’ But ‘peace’ is an inside job, not determined by our circumstances.
‘Peace’ is accomplished by ridding our minds of turmoil, anxiety, hatred, hostility, and fear. Paul tells us that instead we should: Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9, NLT)
Is that after our circumstances change? No, it is regardless of circumstances, as Paul continues: I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (v. 11-13, emphasis added)
And what strikes me the most from Paul’s encouragement are the words: “I have learned.” It took time for Paul (and for us) to learn that true peace comes from training our hearts and minds to trust God with . . . everything.
And ‘everything’ means just that. Anything you can envision that causes you to be anxious, fearful, worried, angry, . . . everything. Trust Him with it and you’ll learn about peace.
Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything.
Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.
Then you will experience God’s peace,
which exceeds anything we can understand.
His peace will guard your hearts and minds
as you live in Christ Jesus
Philippians 4:6-7, NLT
That’s the kind of ‘peace’ that builds and gains momentum. That’s the kind of ‘peace’ that makes a difference. That’s the ‘peace’ that can change lives and make this a better world.
And who should be recognized for bringing about this peace? I believe we can call Him the Prince of Peace.

Today: What is keeping you from experiencing ‘peace’ today? Are you willing to really trust Him with that to start learning the secret to true ‘peace’?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Praying With Doubt

At the end of a recent small group meeting, as the guys all huddled up for prayer, it became obvious that we were all weighed down by a common concern. A couple that we all knew and love seem headed for a certain divorce. We knew that a solution, reconciliation, and restoration were all way beyond us. We felt powerless. We felt sick.
So we prayed. Heartfelt prayers. Ernest prayers.
But, while these actual words weren’t used, I believe our prayers could be summed up and paraphrased something like: “God, we know you are in control of everything. We know you perform miracles and can heal this marriage. We pray that you would restore these two into one. But . . . we know this situation is probably beyond repair and . . .”
We prayed with doubt.
People often cite various Bible verses to assert that God doesn’t answer our prayers unless we have the faith to KNOW that He will answer them from the start. For example:
But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6, NLT)
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. (Mark 11:22-24, NLT)
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer. (Matthew 21:22)

But what about having ‘faith as small as a mustard seed?’ (See Matthew 17:20 and Luke 17:6) What happens when we have enough faith to approach God, to bring our concerns to Him, yet we still harbor some doubt in our hearts and minds? Will He hear us? Will He answer our prayers? What then?
Well, the story in Acts 12:1-16 describes that very scenario: Peter was in jail and “the church was earnestly praying” for him (v. 5). So, an angel came and released Peter from the jail. Peter went to the home where the church was praying for him. After Peter knocked at the door, a servant girl ran to the others to tell them Peter was there. “"You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel." But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.” (v. 15-16, emphasis added)
Why did those praying for Peter doubt that it was him and assert that it must be his angel? Why were they “astonished” that he showed up at their door? Because there was at least some element of doubt in their minds and hearts that their prayers would be answered.
Yet they prayed. And God heard their prayers. And He answered them.
I am embarrassed to admit how many times I have been surprised, shocked, amazed, and – yes – astonished that God answered my prayers. In various instances I suppose I may have thought “God probably won’t get involved in such a minor thing,” or “This isn’t a ‘spiritual’ matter that God deals with,” or “This is just a shot in the dark,” or maybe even “This is TOO BIG for even God.”
Doubt crept in.
But - I still prayed (usually).
So, is a bit of ‘doubt’ when praying a good thing? Well, I certainly am not saying that it is. But I will say that it’s better than having so little faith in God’s love and power that you don’t see any need to or benefit in praying at all. Still, God desires that our relationship with Him continue to grow such that our prayers are less and less clouded with any doubts.
The more we pray, the more we will see God’s power in answering prayers, and the less we will doubt His ability/willingness to answer prayers in the future. As we experience His answers over and over, we begin to have more faith and less doubt that He will answer us. Our faith grows as we trust Him more.
We should begin to expect answers to our prayers rather than being astonished by them.
I don’t know about you, but I’m still working on that.
Yes, I’m still praying for my friends’ marriage. But I’m also praying to have more faith in my prayers, and less doubt. I’m not there yet – my lack of faith shows in the fact that I haven’t yet bought my friends an anniversary card for next year.
My faith still has a ways to grow.

Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion.
Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers
for all believers everywhere.
Ephesians, 6:18, NLT
If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter.
He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs,
our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves,
knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God
Romans 8:26, MSG

Today: Pray – even if you aren’t sure God is listening. Pray - even if you aren’t certain God will answer or how He’ll answer. Pray – even when you don’t know exactly what to pray.
Tomorrow: Do it again.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


How are things going?
No, really – How are things going?
If you’re like most guys out there, you’re a bit concerned about the economy, your job, your finances, your 401(k), being able to meet sales quotas, cutting back on expenses, etc. But a few other guys are probably much more focused on some of the more serious difficulties of life than you may be.
For example, one man I know is waiting for both his brother and his sister to die – they both have terminal cancer with a prognosis of days to maybe months to live. Two friends of mine have marriages at the crossroad – can they be salvaged or will they unravel? I know three men who were at the peak of their business careers not too long ago, but now they can’t find any employment to support their families.
If we are honest and transparent about how we answer a question like “How are things going,” I think our answer will probably say a lot about what we are focusing on in our lives.

While it’s always a dangerous exercise to ascribe to God our characteristics and emotions, have you ever thought about God’s response to a question like “How are things going?” How do you think He would respond?
Someone who may lean heavily on a ‘pre-ordained,’ carved-in-stone theological philosophy, probably sees God as a bit impersonal and cold and would envision Him responding to that question with an answer like, “According to plan.” But I can’t believe that it was part of God’s ‘plan’ for His people to sacrificially give money to an organization that would send Bibles to lost people in the Philippines and then for storms on September 26, 2009 to flood a warehouse there and totally ruin 90,000 Bibles. Could that be ‘according to plan?’ I don’t think so.
Someone else may imagine God answering the question with a frenetic, out-of-control, “Not too well right now!” But that would imply that the Maker and Sustainer of the entire universe is somehow ‘surprised’ by or not completely in control of every little thing that happens anywhere and everywhere. I can’t believe that.
Another may theorize that God set things in motion (wound the clock, so to speak) and then He let them take their natural course. Such a ‘God’ would respond to “How are things going?” with something like, “About like I would have expected.” But such a God would not have seen our need, cared, and solved our most pressing problem by intervening and sending His own Son.
So how would God answer the question, “How are things going?”
I am convinced that God’s answer would depend totally upon who was asking the question.
God is perfect, self-sustaining, and in need of nothing. Yet He desired to create beings with whom He could have a personal relationship. He set up the perfect place for that to happen and then . . . His created beings decided their plans were superior to the perfect plan.
And decisions have consequences.
Things no longer operate according the perfect way God intended them to, but they still operate within and under His supervision and control – just impacted by man’s decisions to do things contrary to His perfect way. Not just way back there in the Garden, but today, too.
Yet God still desires personal relationships with His created beings.
And He is reaching out to each and every one of us.
Every day.
He loves us so much, in fact, that He has done everything necessary to make that relationship possible. And that relationship is the key to God’s answer to any specific person’s question of Him, “How are things going?”
Certainly God cares about our circumstances, our hurts, our finances, our stress, our worries. But He cares most about our relationship with Him. That’s where His focus is and that is where He wants our focus to be.
All of those other things won’t necessarily go away, or be fixed, or be explained. But focusing on our relationship with God will bring about a peace that transcends all understanding. (Philippians 4:7)

So, “God – how are things going . . . between You and me?”

I said to the Lord, “You are my Master!
Every good thing I have comes from you.”
You will show me the way of life,

granting me the joy of your presence
and the pleasures of living with you forever.
Psalm 16:2,11, NLT

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wanna Talk Politics?

In my first Economics class in college, the professor was a fairly crusty old fella who had been teaching the same course for many years. He knew what to expect each year as a new set of students began the course. Most of the students fancied themselves smarter, more sophisticated, and more ‘enlightened’ than the professor - typical college kids, I suppose.
So the professor always made it a point to demonstrate how ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ don’t always mesh in the real world. The first session he would ask some general questions allowing students to [more or less] affirm their predisposed socio-political inclinations and when he pinpointed a particularly adamant ‘fiscal conservative’ who espoused a hard core ‘personal responsibility’ ethos, he would bait the student in and end up asking a final question, “So, do you think people should starve to death on American streets?”
Can anyone really answer ‘yes’ to that question in front of a group of their peers at a church-affiliated university?
So, the professor would pronounce that we all must then agree that the government has some responsibility to keep that from happening. He would then leave all politics behind for the semester and focus on how GNP, unemployment, inflation, etc. interact and how they can be manipulated pursuant to Keynesian economic theories.

But those ‘political’ issues dog us every day. Whether we are active in the political process or just want to discuss governmental affairs around the water cooler – most people have some pretty strong opinions about ‘political issues,’ even if they don’t necessarily think about them in that light.
And I don’t think that most ‘political’ issues have a biblical ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ side. There are many issues that people may try to turn into political issues but are actually moral issues that do have a definite right or wrong in God’s eyes - like abortion, the definition of marriage, and pornography, to name only a few. However, other issues are not ‘carved in stone’ for followers of Christ.
Although he was speaking of theological doctrine, the often quoted phrase of Rupertus Meldenius is worth repeating: In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things love.
For example, the views of the function and scope of government are very much debatable and, while I may have my personal opinion about them, there’s not necessarily a biblical right or wrong side to be on. The Bible does teach us to take care of our elderly, our widows, orphans, prisoners, etc. But it doesn’t forbid the government from having an active role in that as well. We can certainly disagree on what that role should be, but it is not against the Word of God for the government to be involved.
So, why does all of this ‘politics’ have to be so nasty. Why do some people cast Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid as candidates for the office of ‘Antichrist’ while others are convinced that Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh already hold that office? Can’t people have different opinions about political issues and still love one another? Well, let me rephrase that question because that is simply not possible for some people: Can’t followers of Christ disagree about political issues and still love one another?
We know the answer to that question, but it’s hard, isn’t it? Certainly the ‘practice’ is much harder than the ‘theory.’
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them . . .
Love each other with genuine affection,
and take delight in honoring each other
Romans 12:9-10 (NLT)

There is nothing wrong with holding strong opinions about those ‘political issues’ that can be so divisive; but it is wrong to be divisive. There is nothing wrong with opposing particular issues; but it is wrong to create an opponent. We can advocate certain causes without making adversaries. We can argue against positions without being against people. There is no problem with embracing political discourse, as long as we continue to embrace the people with whom we discourse - Is it more important to win the argument, or to win a brother?
How do we do that? How can we pull that off?
In love.
In Christ’s love.
Can you even fathom what the political landscape in this country would look like if all of the discussions were undertaken in love? In Christ’s love?
Amazing things could be accomplished.
An awesome God could be seen.
Don’t you want to be a part of that?
Are you ready to let love – Christ’s love - determine how you converse with and relate to others rather than party affiliations and differences of opinion?
Are you ready to “do everything in love?” (1 Corinthians 16:14)

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.
Ephesians 4:29-5:2 (NLT), emphasis added

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Foreign Policy

With all of the fuss going on right now concerning the ‘health care debate,’ I was surprised the other day to see that ‘health care’ is still not the primary concern of the voting public. Right now, the ‘economy’ is the top priority of the voters out there.
At other times, ‘national defense’ may be the top priority in our country; or ‘trade’; or ‘human rights’; or even ‘environmental’ issues. But, things change in our country or around the world, and suddenly our national priorities change.
What about the priorities and ‘hot button’ issues in God’s kingdom? Do they change with the circumstances in the world or at the whims of our culture? Of course not.
Although the various ways that socio-political-governmental issues have manifested themselves over the centuries have changed (from the ‘Great Wall’ as a defense policy to satellite missile defense systems), the basic issues and concepts haven’t – just the way they have been prioritized. But the issues that are most important in God’s kingdom haven’t changed at all.
Different folks could probably make arguments that all kinds of ‘governmental’ issues (such as national defense, welfare, the environment) are addressed in the Bible. People will use biblical ‘excerpts’ to debate both sides of almost any issue. But what I discover about the most important issues in God’s kingdom doesn’t require any strained interpretations or out-of-context quotes. In fact, it is my opinion that the most important issue in God’s kingdom - foreign policy - is addressed in unequivocal language in one, specific verse:
“[G]o and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them
in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."

Matthew 28:19-20

There is God’s kingdom, and there are all of the others. The ‘foreign policy’ for all citizens of God’s kingdom is simple: make disciples of everyone in every other kingdom.
That seems pretty clear to me. Yet many of us obviously don’t really get it. So, in the style of some of the recent ‘town hall’ meetings, I’ve allowed the submission of pertinent questions related to this policy pronouncement:
■ “This doesn’t really apply to that jerk next door who leaves his garbage on my lawn, right?” Wrong.
■ “O.K., I can probably handle the concept of going ‘across the street’ to spread the message. But you’re not talking about going ‘across the tracks,’ are you?” Yes.
■ “Should we wait until people show an ‘openness’ to the message – until they are ‘seekers?’” No.
■ “So, you mean we should be taking the message of ‘Christianity’ to those natives in the deepest, darkest jungles who worship the moon?” Yes, but not only.
■ “Surely you don’t mean those radical extremist terrorists out there, do you?” All nations means ALL nations.
■ “We pay missionaries and evangelists to ‘go,’ and then we will build churches and create curriculum to help the converts grow, right?” No.
■ “We all have certain spiritual gifts, and mine isn’t ‘evangelism.’” No excuses.
■ “Am I supposed to sell everything and move to the other side of the world.” Maybe, maybe not.
We are not members of a political party who get together and formulate platforms and policies. By His grace and by His love, we were made heirs and citizens of His kingdom. The foreign policy set by the Leader of our kingdom is: campaign everywhere for our Him. If anyone anywhere is not a follower of Christ, he is a foreigner to whom we have been sent.
You can find statements dealing with ‘defense’ policy in God’s Kingdom in Ephesians 6:12-17. You can find ‘Kingdom’ policies dealing with ‘welfare’ in James 1:27 and Matthew 25:34-40. You can even find ‘environmental’ policies in Genesis 1:26.
But the issue that makes His heart beat fast - the top priority in His kingdom - is His ‘foreign policy’: Go and make disciples.
Is that the top priority in your life?
Or do you let economic issues distract your focus?
Are you more concerned with securing your boundaries, rather than breaking down walls in order to spread the message?
Are the ‘human rights’ of the oppressed more important to you than the eternal destiny of the lost?

I know that I often let other issues cloud my vision and take priority over what is most important to Him. But that needs to change. I am a citizen of His kingdom, not an expatriate. I want His foreign policy to be my marching orders. I want to be a part of telling ‘foreigners’ about ‘citizenship.’ He’s my Leader and I owe Him my complete and total allegiance.
Are you with me?
Jesus made it clear that when we received His ‘stimulus package’ (the Holy Spirit), then:
“[Y]ou will be my witnesses in Jerusalem,
and all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 1:8


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Life is Hard; Then You Die

How often have you heard someone with a ‘less-than-sunny’ disposition proclaim their philosophy of life with words like, “life is tough, then you die?” I don’t normally have a lot of patience with such pessimism and cynicism, but I recently heard another version of that mantra that I actually believe could be the type of advice we could even be teaching to our children. The life philosophy which I believe could be a guidepost for us and for our children is:
1. Life is difficult.
2. You are not ultimately in control.
3. It is not about you.
4. You will die.
Although this may sound similar to the “life is tough, then you die” philosophy, it is actually diametrically opposed to it. Let me explain.
It cannot be disputed that for every single one of us, life is often difficult and hard. Maybe you face financial problems - just as you think you’re getting caught up, another round of bills or expenses pops up and more money doesn’t. Maybe it’s a child who has made poor decisions that are coming home to roost. Maybe health issues make life particularly difficult for you.
Life is a blessing and a gift from God. Yet, it can be very hard. Very difficult. Relationships, pain, money, broken dreams – a multitude of obstacles keep life from being ‘easy street’ day in and day out.
But life’s difficulties don’t make life ‘bad.’ They don’t make life unpleasant. They just add to the experience. They are just part of what life is. And we should be able to find joy in all that life throws our way. We should be able to echo Paul and say, “I have learned to content whatever the circumstances.” (Philippians 4:11)
I believe the primary reason many people turn bitter and unhappy with their lives is because they don’t get or accept the second part of this philosophy – ‘you are not ultimately in control.’ We often think we are in control; we almost always want to be in control. Yet, we’re not.
Sure, we may be able to control many aspects of our lives and certain things that happen around us. But when it comes to waiting for those test results on your newborn baby, whether the radiation is going to work, if your job will be outsourced, if your wife will come back – it’s in those moments that we realize that we really are not in control at all.
Then we have the choice to either turn to the One who is in control, or believe that everything is out of control. Worship our Maker, or despair.
It should be an easy choice, but it requires giving up the idea of control.
That should also lead us to the epiphany that ‘it is not about you.’ When we think life is about us, we see life’s difficulties as ‘bad things’ because they negatively impact our enjoyment of life. Or maybe we believe in a ‘God,’ but think He must not care much about us because some ‘bad things’ keep happening to us.
But that is so myopic; so self-centered.
Instead, when we see that what happens is really about God, and then we realize that what we may be going through is in some way, in some fashion, in some [perhaps] never-to-be-known manner part of His divine plan, we can not only accept it, but we can embrace it. We can actually face those difficulties with joy because we realize that we have been chosen to be part of His plan. Whether we understand it or not.
And that leads to the final aspect – you will die. When, how, where – we don’t often know about those. But, each of us will die.
However, that is when life truly begins. Assuming you have put your faith in the One who really is in control; assuming you have placed your faith in the One it really is all about – whatever hardships or difficulties you may have experienced will be so forgotten and irrelevant as to have never happened.
Are you ready for that? Does the thought of death scare the bejeebers out of you or does what lies beyond keep you up at night in anticipatory excitement?
It is not pessimistic or ‘gloom and doom’ to say “you are going to die.” It’s a warning of a fact. What are going to do about that?

So, do you agree with me that this is a four-step life philosophy worthy of adopting and teaching to our children? Let me amplify it a bit to drive it home a little more:
1. Life is difficult. But God loves you more than you can know.
2. You are not ultimately in control. The God who eternally loves you is.
3. It is not about you. It’s all about the God who loves you beyond understanding.
4. You will die. Then you’ll finally understand how much God really loves you.

You don’t have to wait until ‘then’ to experience the joy of the life He gives. When life turns difficult, acknowledge you’re not in control, look for Him in it, and die to self.
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth.
Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.
Psalm 100

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Just Do It - No Pressure

This article is a memorial to Coach Dub Merck who was ‘called up’ to the Big League on August 3, 2009.

They shouldn’t put that much pressure on the shoulders of twelve-year old kids.
But then again, we probably didn’t even think about how much pressure it was at the time – after all, we were only twelve!
Our baseball team had scratched and clawed to get to the state championship tournament in Kermit, Texas. We had not been expected to advance that far, so we hadn’t made reservations at any of the very limited-in-supply hotels of that small, west Texas town for the week-long tournament. As with Mary and Joseph, there was no room at the inn – either of them!
Our coach was the primary reason we had gotten that far – we weren’t the most talented team, but we were definitely the best coached team. He came through for us yet again by contacting the local sheriff and arranging for our team to stay in the juror sequestration rooms in the courthouse for the whole week. (That was great fun and the subject for another story sometime.)
In the first round of the tournament, we were facing the team that everyone knew would win the championship. That team was from some hoity-toity North Dallas neighborhood, the kids averaged being about 6 inches taller than us, they had professional-looking uniforms, a team bus, and hadn’t lost a game all year. In fact, I think that they had won only a couple of games by less than 10 runs.
By some miracle, we were tied with them in the bottom of the last inning. My best friend, Danny, was on third base. We had two outs and I was batting with two strikes against me.
Our coach called a “time out” and came out to talk things over with Danny and me. He wanted me to switch over to batting left-handed so Danny would have a clear shot at home plate. The coach wanted to run a suicide squeeze play - Danny would take off for home as soon he could get a jump and I would try to lay down a bunt. (If you know much about baseball, you know that if you try to bunt with two strikes and you foul the ball, you’re out.)
At that point, it became pretty obvious what we were planning. So, the other team brought all of their players into the infield – in fact, they were all positioned between the pitcher’s mound and home plate.
The next few seconds seemed to pass in ultra-slow motion. The pitcher eyed Danny leading off third and tried to keep him frozen. But as soon as he barely flinched to start his pitching motion, Danny broke for home. I squared around to bunt as the pitcher released the ball. Danny was sliding through the right-hand batter’s box about the time the ball made contact with my bat. The other team stumbled around all over each other to get to the ball, but by the time they got it, Danny was sitting on home plate and I was almost to first base - they were so sure they would stop the squeeze play that they left no one covering first base.
We met that team again in the championship game. Because our coach knew all their weaknesses at that point and because we had the confidence of knowing we could beat them, the championship game wasn’t even close – I think the score was 12 to 4. And despite three emergency radio calls during that game, the sheriff wouldn’t leave our stands to respond until the last out.
In addition to our parents who made the trip to Kermit, we also had all of the locals pulling for us - from the sheriff to the café waitress. Those people could sense something special was happening. They didn’t quite know why, but they were attracted to our team and what we were doing.
Our coach had a plan. He saw each game and the entire tournament from a different perspective than we did as players.
As players, we each had certain talents and abilities (and responsibilities). And our coach knew how to harness those and mesh them with others’ to accomplish what no one thought could be accomplished. So long as we submitted to our coach and focused on what we were called upon to do, the victories came.
So, what does any of that mean to us today? Just a pudgy, old guy reminiscing about the “glory days?” Not this time.
You see, God knows His game plan and how to accomplish what He wants accomplished. (See Romans 9:16-24) Similarly, it is obvious that God not only knows our specific gifts, talents, and abilities – He is the One who has given them to us and He did so for His purposes. (See 1 Corinthians 12:4-31) He also knows those gifts, talents, and abilities of all of the other believers around us.
He knows how to make it all work together for His goals and His glory.
When we obey and do what He has gifted and told us to do, people will notice and they will be drawn to praise God for what they see Him do through us. (See 2 Corinthians 9:12-15)
However . . . we can and do come up with all kinds of excuses to delay or ignore what God calls us to do. Many times we just freeze under the perceived pressure and anxiety - fearing that we will fail.
But do you know what? The results aren’t up to us. We’re just supposed to do our part – He controls the outcome. Just do what He says.
Can you do that?
Are you ready to listen and submit to God, regardless of the risks?
Are you ready to do whatever the Coach calls on you to do, or do you really only want to play a particular position? Or do you think someone else should play that role because you think they would do it better?
Can you promise to give 100% to the next play even if you aren’t sure right now what that play will be? Will you give your all to the next play, even if you don’t see how it can possibly succeed?
Would you prefer that someone else play today, because you don’t feel up to it? Do you prefer to play in better weather or against weaker opponents?
Or - can the Coach count on you in any and all situations?
Are you willing to respond as Isaiah did, and say, “Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play!” (Isaiah 6:8, CCR Version)
Listen up: You are up to bat and the game is on the line. God has given you a job to do and it is one He has gifted you to accomplish. But remember – there’s no pressure. As I said before, the results aren’t up to you. The victory is His and He already won it for you. He just wants you to submit, obey, and give it your all.
No pressure.
Just a job to do.
Now go do it.

When you are obeying God and doing what you have been called to do and gifted to do, there is no pressure. Success or failure are not up to you and are viewed from His perspective, not ours. Be strong and just do what you are called upon by the Coach to do today.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Render Unto God

Although many people probably attribute it to Shakespeare, or Socrates, or some other great ‘philosopher,’ one of the most famous quotes of all time is: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.” And it was indeed spoken by the greatest philosopher of all time – Jesus Christ (Matthew 22:21).
As we know, the context of the quote involved the ‘religious elite’ who were also very entwined with the culture of their day. They weren’t trying to get Jesus to give them some revolutionist justification for not paying taxes to Rome. Instead, they were trying to trip Jesus up and force Him to admit that His brand of ‘faith’ isn’t really practical. They wanted to make Him admit that, “Sure, you can be ‘religious,’ but in this world, you have go along to get along.”
But Jesus isn’t the one that got tripped up.
Jesus made clear to those questioning Him about paying taxes that if something belongs to Caesar, they were to give it to him. But He also told them to give to God what belongs to Him. (We don’t seem to pay as much attention to that part of the quote.)
Jesus also set forth a pretty easy test to determine to whom something belongs (Matthew 22:20):
1. Whose portrait is on it?
2. Whose inscription is on it?
With regard to the ‘paying taxes’ question, it was clear that Caesar’s likeness was on the coin used for paying them. Also, Caesar’s name was on the coin. So – since it apparently belonged to Caesar, give it to Caesar.
But is it so easy to determine what belongs to God? How are we supposed to know what belongs to God to appropriately give to Him what is due Him?
Sure, I can give Him about an hour and a half on Sunday morning (as long as the preacher doesn’t go on and on). I give Him few minutes before going to sleep each night to say my, “Now I lay me down to sleep . . .” I supposed I could probably tithe. I’ll try to knock out a chapter in the Bible over a cup of coffee each morning.
Isn’t that enough? Well - isn’t it?
Let’s apply the Matthew 22:20 test to see what exactly belongs to God so we’ll know what to give to Him:
1. Whose portrait is on it? Hmmm – Genesis 1:27 says: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.” That would seem to indicate that His image- His likeness - His ‘portrait’ is on me of all things!
2. Whose inscription is on it? Well, 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23 both tell me that I was bought at a very high price – Jesus’ blood. So, His inscription is on me.
I think that means I’m supposed to give ‘me’ to God. All of me.
I’m not supposed to give God just a part of me; there’s no compartmentalization because His image and His name aren’t on just certain parts of my life.
And I’m not supposed to give God just what is ‘left over’ after giving my best to the world. You know, ‘Firstfruits,’ ‘Seek Him first,’ . . .

[G]ive to Caesar what belongs to him.
But everything that belongs to God must be given to God.

(Matthew 22:21, NLT)

So – what are we to do with that today?
Let the world have what is ‘of the world’ – don’t try to hold on to any of it.
But with regard to this ‘new life’ that God has given us, let Him have all of it – don’t try to hold on to any of it.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Do Everything In Love

Do you remember that old Far Side cartoon where a guy was scolding his dog? The cartoon had two identical frames, the first of which had the caption “What we say to dogs” and the man’s ‘word balloon’ said, "Okay, Ginger! I've had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage, or else!?" The second frame had the caption “What they hear” with the ‘word balloon’ saying, "Blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah."
Now I’ve gotta admit that I love dogs. And I’ve had some great dogs over the years - some that were real smart and some . . . not so much. But despite how much we love our dogs and want to ascribe to them human traits, Gary Larson’s depiction is pretty accurate.
Surely dogs may pick up on and understand a few basic words (‘fetch,’ ‘food,’ ‘no,’ ‘stay,’ etc.). But, for the most part, they respond to the tone of our voice and how they’ve been rewarded for responding a particular way before. And in Mr. Larson’s cartoon, Ginger could certainly tell she was being scolded by the tone in her master’s voice and by his actions – even if she couldn’t understand the words.
That brings me to two very important passages in the Bible that tell me about how we are to conduct ourselves in this world. The first one speaks to the human version of that Far Side cartoon:
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels,
but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong
or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy,
and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and
possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith
that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others,
I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor
and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it;
but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NLT
In that passage, Paul is telling us that no matter how impressive we think we are in what we are doing for ‘the kingdom,’ if we aren’t doing it in love, what others see and hear is, “blah, blah, blah, blah, . . .”
The second passage turns up the heat and tells us that it’s not just those ‘church projects’ and ‘spiritual gifts’ that are to be done in love. 1 Corinthians 16:14 says, “Everything you do should be done in love.” (NET, emphasis added.) And that little Greek word (panta) translated as ‘everything’ means (coincidentally): Everything!
That means that when you pulled over to help that lady with the flat tire because you felt obligated since someone helped you last week – ‘blah, blah, blah, blah.’
That means that when you gave $100 to the listener-supported Christian radio station so they’d shut up and get back to playing the music – ‘blah, blah, blah, blah.’
That encouragement you gave through clinched teeth, that smile which hid your anger, that mission trip you took to pad your resume, that donation that got your name listed in the program – ‘blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.’
Like in Ginger’s doggie world, our world can’t hear anything we’re saying if not said in a tone of love. And actions without love are hollow, ignored, and forgotten.
I don’t think I like that very much. I’d rather be able to do ‘stuff’ without regard to my attitude, my motivations, my emotions, my desires.
But it doesn’t work that way.
God is concerned with heart transformation, not behavior modification. And lost people out in the world don’t care what we know until they know that we care.
Sure, it’s easy to apply these passages to criticize some street corner evangelist who is preaching AT people rather than ministering to them. But we’re not talking about ‘other’ people or just ‘full time’ pastors. No – those passages apply to each one of us and it’s pretty hard to get around that little word, “everything”:“Everything you do should be done in love.”
At work, at home, in the car, at church, on the golf course, at the restaurant, on vacation, at the podium, in the hot seat, behind closed doors, face-to-face, on the telephone, in cyberspace, on the field, in the stands, when someone’s watching, when we’re all alone – “Everything you do should be done in love.”
That’s a tough row to hoe.
But it can be done. It has been done. In fact, Jesus did it perfectly for 33 years. So - He can probably help you and me to work on that.
Are you ready to try it for just one day? (And then maybe another day after that?)

Focus on your attitudes and motivations today. Try with all His might to do everything you do in love.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Growing Up - Baby Steps

They say that big jobs are made much easier by taking ‘baby steps.’ Rather than trying to do the whole thing at one time, doing a little at a time is supposed to make a difficult job easier.
But sometimes that just means spreading out the pain.
We recently took a very painful ‘baby step.’ One in a long line of painful steps.
Let me explain.
The primary purpose of being a parent is to prepare our children for life without us. There are lots of other ways to phrase it, but that’s what it all boils down to – training them to leave and make it on their own.
So last Sunday, we deposited our nine-year old daughter at a Christian camp to spend the next week. Sure, she has spent the night at a friend’s house, spent the weekend at her grandparents’, etc. But to leave her for an entire week without us to tell her when to brush her teeth, when to go to bed, when to say her prayers – that was a first. It was another ‘baby step’ in her growing up (and away).
It hurt.
She’s learning to live without us. But, like I said before, that’s the plan - even if it does hurt.

While I love looking to God’s model of what fatherhood is all about, this facet of parenthood is the complete opposite of our spiritual growth. Because as we mature in our faith, as we become more spiritually mature, we should be becoming more dependent upon and more needy of our Father in heaven.
There are no Bible verses I can find telling us how we grow to be independent of God. Nothing tells us how we can rely more and more on ourselves and less and less on Him. There is no revelation of how God trains us up to live without Him.
It absolutely doesn’t work that way. (See John 15:1-11 about ‘abiding’ in Him.)
Quite the contrary, spiritual maturity means understanding how utterly dependent we really are on Him. The men I know who are further along on their walk than I am spend more time every day in prayer, they have a greater understanding of how desperately they need His love and grace, they are more thankful of His kindness and providential care, and they crave His presence more and more.

If you’re feeling strong, independent, ready to make it on your own, then you’re not getting closer to God and you’re not growing spiritually. Wouldn’t you rather start growing up?
Like our children taking ‘baby steps’ as they move away from us, we move closer to God by taking baby steps, too. It’s a process. It’s a journey. Sometimes we move by large bounds; often we take almost imperceptible steps. Sometimes we don’t realize we’ve taken any steps until confronted by Him.
In one of the C.S. Lewis’ Narnia tales, Prince Caspian, an adolescent named Lucy encounters Aslan after not seeing him for a long time. (Aslan is the Christ-figure of the series.)
“Aslan, you’re bigger,” she says.
“That is because you’re older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

What about you?
Are you growing away from your Father or are you growing up?
Is He becoming bigger to you? Are you needing Him more and more every day?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Happy Father's Day!

Father’s Day is coming up this Sunday. Yee-haw!
That means we get to sleep in, not shave, get in a round of golf, and basically have our family wait on us hand-and-foot all day - right? We get full control over the remote to watch whatever we want to on TV; we don’t have to do any yard work; and we certainly don’t have to get all dressed up and go to church - right? It’s supposed to be all about us and what we want to do for an entire day - right?

The world seems to think that Homer Simpson is the model of fatherhood today. Watch just about any TV show or observe the myriad of commercials depicting men and you will see men and fathers shown as idiots, buffoons, scapegoats, and clueless losers. Or go shop for a Father’s Day card – it appears fathers are best known for passing gas, drinking beer, and being lazy good-for-nothings. You can dismiss these characterizations as humorous marketing or entertainment devices, but that would be naïve and shortsighted. Our children see these images over and over and over and they begin to lose all respect for males in our culture – principals, policemen, pastors, . . . fathers.
So, our children begin to look to their mothers to fill roles they were never intended to fill because men have been relegated to the functions of earning money and being a laughingstock. And when the children realize that perhaps Mom can’t fill all those roles, they begin looking elsewhere for what is missing. That goes from bad to worse.

Well, guys – being a “father” isn’t about reproducing offspring; with the advances in technology today, “fathering” a child can be reduced to minimal involvement of the male human being. Being a “father” is not a status symbol or reward. And it doesn’t come with many privileges and perks.
Being a father is about commitment. It’s a challenge. It’s a calling.
Whether you are the CEO of a major corporation or the lowest man on the totem pole at work, whether you lead hundreds of employees or follow others’ directions as an employee, as a man you are the spiritual leader of your household and as a father you have been entrusted with the spiritual development of your little ones by God Almighty.
As a father, you have a job to do that has eternal ramifications. How are you doing at it? Are you getting it done or are you leaving it to someone else?
You aren’t excused from your responsibilities by getting your children enrolled in VBS so some nice “church lady” can present the gospel to them. Dropping your teenagers off at "youth group" to hear loud, rocking “praise” music doesn’t cut it either.
The Bible gives this admonition about your spiritual leadership: Write these commandments that I've given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. (Deuteronomy 6:6-8, MSG, emphasis added)

I don’t intend this to be a brutal beating or a guilt trip for fathers. But what I do want to do is to suggest that in your quest to be the spiritual leader of your household and to be a godly father, do not “take off” for Father’s Day – don’t let the Hallmark Greeting Card Company determine what Father’s Day is supposed to be like. No, use Father’s Day as a platform to display what a godly father is supposed to look like; model manhood and fatherhood from God’s perspective for your family and for the world to see.
If you want to spend a day on the golf course, or relaxing in a hammock, or riding a jet ski at the lake, or hanging out at Bass Pro Shop - do it on another day, not on Father’s Day. Instead, use Father’s Day to show your family that you put them before yourself (and their comfort before yours), that you take your responsibility as spiritual leader seriously, and that our Father in heaven is the only One you want to get all of the attention and praise.
On Father’s Day, don’t just be a man – be a godly man. Don’t be just the kind of father the world expects – be the kind of father God expects you to be.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


Several months ago, a tenant at our self-storage facility abandoned several pieces of furniture. Although the stuff was obviously ‘used,’ it wasn’t in such bad shape that it deserved to be thrown in the trash. So, we made a few attempts to donate the stuff to various ministries and other charitable entities, but no one ever came to pick it up.
Last Friday I decided to try another avenue to get rid of the stuff by offering it in the “free” section of craigslist. So, I posted the “free” ad at 4:30 Friday afternoon. Even though our self-storage manager takes off on Fridays, I listed her name as the ‘contact’ assuming that if anyone was interested, they probably wouldn’t get around to seeing the post and calling about it until Saturday.
Between 4:40 (ten minutes after the post) and 5:20, we fielded no less than 20 calls about the mattress set, couch, coffee table, and ironing board. And all of the items were gone by 6:00, along with another mattress set that someone had left at the dumpster for other business a few weeks ago!
I deleted the post from my home computer around 7:30 Friday evening. Yet, when I checked my email on Monday morning, there were approximately 25 emails in my inbox, received between 6:00 and 7:30 Friday evening.
It was amazing. And what caused the extreme interest and hyper-activity? That magic little word – “F-R-E-E.”

If the word “F-R-E-E” generates that kind of interest when attached to used, stained, and discarded furniture, how much more attraction should it generate when attached to something of real worth? I mean, when the offer of eternal life in the never-ending presence of the one and only true God is made available for F-R-E-E, wouldn’t you think the world would just go berserk trying to avail itself of that offer???
But that is not really my point today. Instead, my focus is on something I see in myself. I would describe it as a kind of “reverse buyer’s remorse” after having already accepted that “free” gift. As you know, with “buyer’s remorse” you start over-analyzing a purchase and begin to obsess about whether or not you should have paid that much for a particular item. But with this “reverse buyer’s remorse,” I start to realize what an indescribably wonderful thing this ‘salvation’ is and then I start to doubt that it could really be “F-R-E-E.”
“It’s way too good to be true.”
“There’s no such thing as ‘something for nothing’ - especially ‘something’ as miraculous as this. Right?”
So I begin strategizing what I can ‘do’ to justify what’s been given to me. “How ‘good’ must I be to substantiate what I’ve received? After all, I’m just a used, stained, and discarded piece of furniture in the overall scheme of things.”
I look for ways to please God because I don’t want Him to stop loving me. I have to at least be better than somebody else so that the ‘relativity scale’ may tip in my direction.
I can’t let Him know that I’m not worthy of the “F-R-E-E” gift He has given me. So, to keep God from concentrating on what a worthless heap I really am, I try to keep Him occupied with some “what have you done for Me lately” good deeds.
But that isn’t working out so well for me. I try to keep the number of my ‘good, holy, and righteous’ deeds and thoughts higher than my bad, evil, and depraved acts and feelings. But still . . .
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds,they are nothing but filthy rags.
(Isaiah 64:6, NLT)
Besides the fact that the absolute best, ‘most holy’ things I can do are as ‘filthy rags’ compared to Him and His holiness, all it takes is one itsy bitsy, teeny weenie little sin at any time in my life to make me completely and totally unqualified for and incapable of ever being in His presence. (Romans 3:23)
Except for that “F-R-E-E” thing.
And by “F-R-E-E,” I mean free for me. “God saved [me] by His grace when [I] believed. And [I] can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.” (Ephesians 2:8, NLT, emphasis added) Because I didn’t deserve it and can’t earn it or pay it back, it is truly a “F-R-E-E” gift.
But it wasn’t really “F-R-E-E” in the sense of there being no cost. In fact, there was an incredibly high, unfathomable cost. But Someone else paid it. “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8, NLT)
And that’s when it really hits me: If I presume that in some way, by some means, I can begin to earn, deserve, or pay back the “F-R-E-E” gift I’ve been given, I am saying that the cost that was paid by Jesus may not have been adequate – that something else may be needed.
But that’s not the case. Not by a long shot.
The ‘cost’ was totally paid. Perfectly paid. So the gift is “F-R-E-E.” Totally free.

To ponder the miraculous, awesome, wondrous grace and love that is bound up in that little word – “F-R-E-E” – it just leaves me with an overwhelming urge to embrace and relish this precious, “F-R-E-E” gift that I’ve been given.
“Thank You Jesus. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.”

If you are thirsty, come!
If you want life-giving water, come and take it.
It's free!”

Revelation 22:17, CEV

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Be Alert

Plop me down in front of the television at just about any time of day and within an hour or so, I’ll be dozing off. Even for a football game, movie, or the local news that I actually want to watch.
However, when I get up before dawn and snuggle into some insulated camouflage in a near-freezing deer blind with only three or four hours of sleep under my belt, I stay alert and awake all morning (and, because I don’t drink coffee, it’s not the caffeine keeping me going). I’m just too apprehensive that if I lose focus for even a few seconds I’ll miss the opportunity to take Buckzilla.
Some folks fuss that it gets pretty boring to sit there for hours just waiting and watching. Some guys will take books to read, ipods to listen to, or even a laptop to get some extra work done. But I can’t do any of that. I feel compelled to continually scour the landscape, watching, listening, hoping.
Much more often than not, I go back to camp empty-handed. But, when I’m in that blind again, I’m reinvigorated, refocused, and ready. I’m alert.

It seems to be much more difficult for me to maintain that level of alertness, however, in my daily walk. We have been told over and over that we need to “be alert:”
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. (1 Thessalonians 5:6)
[F]rom among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. (Acts 20:30-31, NASB)
Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13, NASB)

But . . . “be alert” for what? For what are we supposed to be waiting and watching?
Well, when I’m hunting, I have to watch for subtle movements. Deer seldom come bounding into a clearing to announce their presence. Even when keeping a focused watch, all of the sudden a deer is standing twenty feet from the edge of the woods without ever drawing attention to his entry into the field. It’s almost as if he appeared out of nowhere.
Sometimes, by intently combing the brush and tree lines, I may notice that a portion of a smoother, more symmetrical outline can be seen behind the branches and grass. Patient and careful observation may then yield a flick of an ear or even a blink of an eye. But the deer aren’t wearing blaze orange, jumping up and down, or doing anything else to draw attention to themselves. They come and go and hope to avoid any detection at all as they go about their business.
That’s what we need to be alert for every day.
Yes, the Bible tells us “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8) But the “roaring lion” is related to what happens when you’re not alert. We must be alert for the prowling, the subtle stalking, the insidious infiltration into our lives.
There’s no need for a precautionary command to “be alert” for a ten ton stampeding elephant. The danger is quite obvious. But we must be alert for those things that are only slight variations in what the landscape around us should look like, almost imperceptible changes.
And it’s more important to know what things are supposed to look like than to try to figure what specific things to be looking for. In other words, rather than focusing on what “the enemy” looks like, focus on what God’s plan looks like. Anything that doesn’t fit perfectly into that, should draw your attention.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,
but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is –
His good, pleasing and perfect will
. (Romans 12:2)

Know His good, pleasing, and perfect will. Be alert for anything (no matter how small) that isn’t perfectly consistent with that.
Take aim.
Destroy it.
We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons,
to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning
and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle
that keeps people from knowing God.
We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ
(2 Corinthians 10:4-5, NLT)