Category: Character

Everyone Needs Encouragement

At a recent congregational meeting the man in charge challenged the attendees with the question: “What do you like about our church?” A number of hands went up and several were selected to share their stories. One by one each told of how they had gone through a period of brokenness in their life – but when they entered the church they found the love and encouragement and guidance they needed at that moment. Each received emotional healing or restoration or were put on the path toward their spiritual destiny.

As I listened to these personal testimonies I searched my memory of the past decade that my wife and I had been a part of this local body of believers, and wondered how such personal demonstrations of love and caring had eluded us. Not only were the instances few and far between in which another brother or sister had made the effort to call and ask how our family was doing or to invite us to fellowship over coffee, but even the times we had tried to initiate such a relationship had often been politely turned down.

This contrasted significantly with relationships we had with people outside our local church (believers and non-believers alike). It was those with whom we shared some of our happiest experiences and who demonstrated great compassion and concern when they heard we were going through trials – a lost or ailing loved one or a straying or estranged family member. We couldn’t understand why this was not forthcoming from those in the body that we chose to become an integral part of and to minister within. It both hurt and confused us.

I began to wonder, is it my fault?  Clearly it is not in my nature to reveal every personal detail of my life or every problem my family faces – to burden others with those problems. I guess I somehow expected (perhaps erroneously) the spiritually minded man or woman to either discern such needs, or if they lack that sensitivity, to at least regularly express a caring and gracious attitude toward each individual in their congregation.

I concluded that it must be a problem unique to so-called “ministers” or “leaders in the Church.” Because we are ministering to the needs of others on a regular basis, we hesitate to share challenges in our personal lives. We deliberately choose to personify spiritual and emotional strength and we give the impression that we “have it all together,” even when we don’t. The result: others must conclude that we don’t need their support or their encouragement or their prayers.

But that’s simply not true. We need each other. Everyone needs encouragement and the support of their brethren. Still, I honestly don’t know how to reconcile my personal dilemma of maintaining an exterior of strength and authority over all the power of the enemy, all the while crying on the inside and questioning the love and compassion and sensitivity of my own leaders.

Limitations are not always a negative

    One of the Apostle Paul’s most oft-quoted declarations of faith is: “I can do ALL things through Christ who strengthens me.” I believe everyone who follows and believes God’s promises should be confident to make this same affirmation. Yet, as I look back on what I refer to as my “re-fire-ment years”, I’ve come to the conclusion that not every limitation to the exercise of our choices is a negative. Some limitations (in finances, in career opportunities, in physical ability, health or talent) force one to focus on what’s most important, and make a much better decision than if one had unrestricted choice.

Though you may have built a significant financial portfolio over a long career, intending to enjoy your senior years traveling and enjoying the pleasures of the world, are you embittered when an unexpected need of one of your kids puts a damper on that plan? NOOO!!! You are appreciative of the fact that you wisely created the reserve that now enables you to help your loved ones. Though you may have intended to use the free time that retirement typically affords to write your memoirs, to play bocce ball with your buddies or to visit your out-of-state friends and family, are you embittered when those plans have to be put on hold because a grown child needs you to babysit several hours a week while they work. NOOO!!! You’re even more appreciative that you have the time to watch and enjoy and contribute to the mental and spiritual development of your grandkids.

I’m convinced that God puts these roadblocks (or better stated “perspective clarifiers”) in some of our paths to help us set our priorities and choose the most valuable use of our resources, talents and time – especially in our later years.

Nothing Covered that will not be Revealed – but by whom?

 

 

 

 

During one break in Jesus’ preaching to the people, He took his disciples aside and warned them about avoiding all hypocrisy in their lives and ministries, explaining that “There is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.” (Luke 12:2) Every Christian, especially Church leaders, has been put on notice that hypocrisy will not be tolerated by God. A hypocrite’s true colors will eventually be revealed. But who is the one who will uncover that person’s secrets? I think most Christians believe it is God who will reveal all evil behavior performed under cover of darkness or behind closed doors?

But isn’t it the nature of God to deal directly with the sinner – through their conscience? Isn’t it God’s desire to convict the sinner of the need to repent and change, long before they destroy their reputation, their ministry and the ones whose lives they are touching? God has no desire to shine a light on anyone’s sins, and only does so to warn His children of impending harm. “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)  Most “born again” believers have secrets (what some of us prefer to call “youthful indiscretions”) that we’re grateful God mercifully has allowed to remain hidden, which were a part of a past life that we left behind to follow Christ.

It’s in God’s nature to give second, third, fourth and chances innumerable to correct our ways, and He always stands ready to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9) His mercy and patience is so great he will put up with such behavior much longer than we would ever put up with another that we observed doing the same. But whether or not we are found out, His mercy and patience neither removes us from the responsibility to reconcile with the one harmed and make recompense for the harm we have caused, nor from the legal and spiritual consequences of said behavior.

But if God is not the revealer of the evil behavior and thoughts and attitudes that we would rather remain “hidden,” who is? Some of course will blame the devil. He is after all called the prince of darkness for a reason. He prefers to operate in deception, with his true motives hidden – for if his plan to destroy God’s highest created beings were revealed, few would listen to him. While the devil is our condemner – he operates most often within our minds, to get us to follow a path that will lead to our own destruction.

I’m convinced that in most cases it is the unrepentant hypocrite who thinks he or she has covered over their evil behavior, who is the revealer of the darkness of their own heart. Evil behavior by its nature is addictive. If one does not actively seek to restrain an addiction and seek to control it (something only possible through repentance), it will always drive one to greater and greater risk-taking and aggressive thrill-seeking. This is true whether the addictive behavior is drugs, alcohol, porn, debauchery, gluttony, sadism, thievery, blasphemy, pride, gossiping, etc. As a result, it is only a matter of time before the one who refuses to repent and restrain his or her rebellious nature who ultimately shines the light on their true evil selves.

Who You quote tells a lot about You

What is your primary source for spiritual inspiration and direction? Is it your denomination’s leading newspaper or magazine? Or is it a book on the lives and teachings of holy men and women, living or deceased? Perhaps you are influenced by the teachings of the leaders and founders of other faiths – the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, or Mohammed. It never ceases to surprise me how “in-name-only” Christians (INOCs) so often opt for Faith Quotes from any number of religious leaders and inspirational web sites and publications to verbalize their moral position on a subject, rather than going to the source of the moral code itself – namely God’s written Word, the Bible.

Who and what a person quotes over social media tells a lot about them and their belief system. It’s clear to me that most INOCs simply have not invested the time and effort to study the Bible and the voluminous evidence (historical, archaeological, scientific and theological) which establishes it as the infallible Word of their Creator, Savior and Sovereign Lord. That’s not to say these are not “good people,” some with virtuous traits that serve their fellow man well. They’ve simply had their minds clouded by the enemies of God.

It may sound prideful that only those men and women who acknowledge the authority and credibility of the Bible have the complete Truth about right behavior and thinking, healthy living, right relationships, eternal life and the like. In reality, we had nothing to do with the revelation we’ve received – for it was only the grace and mercy of God that opened this Truth to our understanding. And it is available to any and everyone who humbles themselves and asks to receive it as a by-product of their commitment to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

If and when a person does this, they will be in a position to test and judge every word and behavior of even the most respected leader of their denomination to determine if they align with the Word and nature of God. Of course, not everyone wants to do this – for they are comfortable remaining in darkness.

Neither Conservatism nor Liberalism is a Virtue

 

How would you describe Western conservatism and liberalism to a visitor from another planet? Some would designate each a political mindset, others a social and/or fiscal construct, and still others a belief system guided by which personal decisions will or will not be tolerated by proponents of the brand. But it only takes a brief review of social and mainstream media to conclude that the core of each category’s adherents consider their particular brand a virtue, and subsequently designate their opposite as evil incarnate.

But a virtue is a condition of the heart that finds expression in behavior showing high moral standards: generosity, modesty, courage, humility, integrity, loyalty, and dignity to name a few. While some adherents of conservatism and liberalism may exhibit one or more of these traits, few if any can claim a lock on all. Still, we citizens of Western culture choose to assign ourselves to either the Conservative or the Liberal brand, then disparage the alternate brand. And those who opt for the brand of “Moderate,” both consider lacking in conviction.

Why do we put ourselves and others into these convenient boxes based on our biased observations and judgments of the other’s behavior, their spoken words and their perceived attitudes? People and their choices are not that simple and the cultural and/or political brand they identify with, (whether conservative, liberal, or even moderate) unlike every virtue which is well characterized and exemplified in Holy Scripture, varies in the mind of the definer.

A most unusual man – the President

It’s interesting that both President Trump’s adversaries and his supporters focus on his imperfections, of which, undeniably, there are many. The former group self-righteously attacks his imperfections, launching a never-ending barrage of criticism and complaints intent on tearing him down in the public eye. In contrast, it’s the President’s imperfections that actually ingratiate his supporters toward him.

We are attracted by his often colorful and unapologetic use/misuse of the English language – something one media person refers to as our “expectation of hyperbole.” We are drawn to a stubborn-streak that leads the President to meet every detractor head-on. We admire his unquenchable pride in defending his family, his employees, his supporters, his past successes and his ongoing policies and decisions. And we align with the impatience he shows toward those who abuse or disavow the blessings they’ve been afforded as citizens/residents of the greatest nation on earth.

But what most attracts us are his personal uncompromising patriotism and his love for the people, traditions, constitution, military and capitalistic environment that define American exceptionalism. The man is fearless in taking on any and everyone who would try to tear down these institutions and beliefs. The President recognizes that it’s these specifically that have made America the envy of the world and moved her to the forefront of freedom, generosity, technological advancement, and religious tolerance.

Time – the great equalizer or an enemy?

I have a pastor friend who insists that time is man-kind’s great equalizer. He frequently reminds his parishioners that in any given 24 hour period, each person has exactly 86,400 seconds to use wisely or to waste as they see fit. And each individual assigns value to each moment of time they are given by their Creator – and uses it accordingly.

In principle I believe this too, with some exceptions. Are not each of us to one degree or another, time-constrained by the circumstances we find ourselves in – with “time lost” often the consequence? For example, do not medical conditions, the treatment of which require anesthesia-induced unconsciousness or do not mental and emotional challenges like depression erase large chunks of time?  These through little to no fault of the sufferer capture large segments of their time – and before a person is even aware of what happened, seconds, minutes and hours have disappeared forever. I specifically exclude social, cultural and governmental constraints from this list of examples of segments of time people have little control over; for did not the eleventh son of the Patriarch Jacob as well as a number of New Testament saints prove that even prison walls cannot prevent a determined individual from making the most of his allotted time.

However, to some, time becomes an enemy; because they never seem to have enough of it to do all those things they value so highly. Yet perhaps they’ve simply chosen the wrong standard for assigning value to their use of time? I find that many of my retired friends who have worked hard all their lives, once they reach a position of relative affluence and freedom from life’s burdens and responsibilities, look inward for their standard. These focus on possessions and world travel, things that have accumulated on their bucket list over the years. Others more wisely seem more inclined to look outward for their standard to assigning value to their future time-use opportunities. They place time spent with family, friends, God, and in the healing of broken people on a higher plateau than checking things off a bucket list.

I’ve tried both approaches. For a time I tried the former; but found myself constantly comparing my personal circumstances with that of my neighbor and either flaunting or regretting our respective opportunities (or lack thereof) to enjoy God’s creation. One day I’d be envying acquaintances whose late-in-life financial affluence enabled them to spend their winters in Florida or on cruises to Alaska and the South Seas. Only to counter that the next day by pitying those who have never seen a sunset at Ayers Rock, waded through a Maui surf, meditated on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or wandered the streets of Greenwich Village during its hey-day, adventures which dot my personal memory. This elevator approach to life I found to be very frustrating and unstable.

I’m thankful that I’ve settled on the latter approach and for the blessings of adequate finances, talent and physical health to be able to assist and serve those that God has put before me. The needs of family, friends and the broken-hearted in my own backyard are sufficient to accommodate every second of time available. Besides, I’ve never been very good at searching out causes to support in foreign lands or on cruise ships.

Dream Big for 2017

The gathering was small for our final Saturday Men’s Prayer Meeting of 2016 – nine to be exact – but our dreams for the coming year were BIG. As you might expect, a couple of the men’s dreams were of a more personal nature – for their immediate families had experienced great challenges over the past year. But most of the men’s dreams extended well beyond their immediate circle of family and friends, to broad visions of touching in tangible ways a world that can only be reached with GOD at the helm. Some would pooh-pooh such dreams as unrealistic and overly broad – but I know these men, and each one is not only a strong believer, but a doer, a go-getter, and a never-say-it’s-impossible fighter for the Kingdom.

It’s interesting that our Pastor’s message the first Sunday of the New Year followed this same line of thought. The foremost reason I love my local church is that her leadership dreams BIG, and in the process encourages each one of us to dream BIG as well, and provides us with the tools and training to pursue and to achieve those dreams.

Those of you who aren’t afraid of BIG dreams, I invite you to join us via your prayers to bring to fruition just four of these visions.

(1) A man with a background in broadcasting, marketing and sales sees himself as the owner and producer of a Christian radio station that reaches across the nation, to provide a consistent message totally aligned with the Word of God in the power of His Spirit.

(2) A businessman who plans to retire this year sees himself engaged full time in preaching and teaching all that God has revealed and will reveal to him about grace and love.

(3) A local church leader sees he and his wife hitting the road to present the joint message of salvation and deliverance to the masses of broken people.

(4) A former businessman and current author and Bible School instructor envisions being showered upon and filled with godly compassion and love for broken and confused people, and an innate ability to reach them through every avenue of communication available now and in the future.

Don’t be afraid to dream BIG, but be selective with whom you share your dream – for not everyone will be a supporter.

Understanding an unbeliever’s unbelief

Most true followers of Christ are so confident and self-assured in their faith and trust in the message of the Gospel, that they have a difficult time understanding how another person could reject that message.

The believer looks at the complexity and beauty and majesty of the world about us and we declare the obvious, that it’s the creation of God. Then the Bible again and again affirms that conclusion, stating unambiguously that “men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” are clearly “without excuse;” because “what may be known of God is manifest in them; for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”

We shake our heads and throw our hands up in frustration as six billion residents of this earth somehow fail to see things as clearly as we do. And we wonder why. But last week, in the midst of a sermon on the Magi’s following of the Christmas star, my Pastor stated a principle of truth, which in its simplicity, provides an explanation for every unbelievers’ unbelief. “If you don’t know what you’re looking for, you won’t know what you’re looking at.”

2000 years ago every Jewish man and woman living in the “Promised Land”, whether religious leader, political bigwig, simple carpenter, farmer, fisherman, tax collector or housewife, each Sabbath attended synagogue and should have had a good familiarity with the Scriptures that they heard recited and discussed. They all should have been looking for the foretold signals of their Messiah’s Coming. But even the “Chosen People” let their family lives, their daily needs and worries, their know-it-all attitudes of religious superiority, their desires for power, wealth, comfort or prestige distract them.

In contrast, a few men from a distant land with a yen to understand the universe about them, were drawn to investigate this new star that suddenly appeared in the heavens. I imagine when they first noticed the unusual star, it was their curiosity and thirst for knowledge that drove them to research its source and meaning and purpose. And at some point they concluded it was a sign from God that they had to pursue.

As 2016 draws to an end, signs of God’s glory are all around us; as are the coming to pass of events long ago prophesied, and the unveiling of each person’s purpose on this earth. Those who know what they are looking for, recognize what they are looking at. Whereas those who choose to turn a blind eye to the truth set before them, will never recognize the significance of what they’re looking at.

The unbeliever is in a real pickle, as he’s imprisoned within walls of unbelief that he personally constructed. The only thing that will break down those prison walls is that first humble step of acknowledgement that “I don’t know everything; I want to know the truth; show me.” And only the unbeliever can, of his own free will, take that step. Scriptures say: “Seek and you will find;” but most out of pride will neither read the Book which contains that promise nor acknowledge its Author.

A God of Second Chances

How many of you have made a mistake or two in your past. The ones that haunt me the most, even to this day, are my shortfalls I made in raising my kids.

My parents were my greatest influence for the first seven years of my child-rearing experience. They were very strict with my brother and I and we turned out OK, or so I thought. So I tried to replicate their strict disciplinary approach – and failed miserably.

My daughter was seven and her brothers much younger by the time I committed my life to Christ – and they had to endure my ever-changing style of child-rearing and disciplining that I was learning from the multitude of Christian advisors and trainers I sought guidance from. Each of those claimed to be experts – from parenting classes in my own Bible-centered church, to the Agape Training Center out in Plymouth, to Dr. Dobson’s Focus on the Family radio show that I listened to every day at noon, to a wide range of Christian books and magazine articles on the subject.

I recently thanked my daughter for my grandkids – because I see in them my second chance to get right what I messed up with my own kids.

How many of you are glad for second chances – or would love to have a second chance at making right a situation that you absolutely know you didn’t handle very well – or that you’d do a lot differently now that you’re a lot wiser?

  • Maybe, like myself, it’s your kids – you didn’t give them enough time, or you didn’t discipline them properly.
  • Or maybe it was a failed relationship.
  • Or maybe you did something embarrassing that cost you your good name.
  • Or maybe it was some dumb thing you did on a job that cost you financially, or the admiration and respect of your co-workers, or it cost you the job itself.

We’ve all messed up something (maybe a lot of things) in our past.

Thankfully the God we serve is a God of second chances.

I counsel a lot of men – men who’ve messed up in ways that most of us, not even our imaginations would take us down that road. And I haven’t met one man who wasn’t glad to meet that God of second chances, and let Him help them recover their lives and relationships.

In fact God is not only the God of second chances; He is the God of another chance. This is good news because most of us mess up the second chance as well, and we need a third and a fourth chance.

One of the amazing facets of God’s character is His incredible patience with us. Psalm 86 says it well: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” And the prophet Micah says, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love.”

Thank goodness for the love, grace and patience of God.

The Bible is full of people who received second chances, and even third and fourth chances: Peter, Paul, David, Jonah, Samson. They and we are all trophies of God’s grace.

A lot of times we have a hard time looking for or accepting a second chance when it comes our way. In some strange way we don’t feel we deserve it – we have so much condemnation for our bad behavior – we feel we deserve being cast down. We feel people should hate us or not forgive what we did to hurt them. If you have that attitude, if you think you’re being courageous or holy or whatever – you’re not. You’re actually insulting God – you’re saying that Jesus’ pain and suffering so you could be forgiven and set free wasn’t good enough.

So just don’t do that! Get rid of that shame and guilt. God doesn’t want you to continue to hold onto it.

There’s no question that there are consequences for past bad behavior and bad decisions. King David lost the son born of the adulterous relationship he had with Bathsheba, and his kids were constantly fighting among themselves and competing for his attention. Samson was enslaved, tortured and even died all the while God was giving him his second chance at defending the people of Israel. Even the Apostle Paul I don’t believe ever fully recovered from the guilt he felt from persecuting, even killing Christians before his conversion – because he talked about it a lot.

Maybe your past bad behavior cost you something dear to you, like your marriage, or maybe it made your relationship with your kids more strained.

I was recently told about a deep-sea fishing expedition a dad took his two high-school-aged sons.  All morning long they fished and caught nothing except sunburn. Near lunchtime one of the boys got sea-sick and lost his breakfast over the side of the boat. The second son immediately followed suit. Suddenly this huge school of oceanic fish appeared out of nowhere, feeding unceremoniously upon their breakfast. Less than 10 minutes later, the entire boat caught their limit.

The lesson: they had fished all morning and all they got was sick. But once they were sick, all they got was fish.

Doesn’t that seem to be how God sometimes works? When we come to the end of ourselves, when we humbly acknowledge the mess we’ve landed ourselves in, God delights to pour out His glory in sudden and unpredictable ways.

God’s always offering us second chances – but He often expects us to take the initiative to seek them out. Many of the men I give spiritual counsel to have families in disarray – with kids who have had their minds poisoned by their spouse and other relatives – kids who have let their dads know they don’t want to have anything to do with them. I’ve encouraged the men to take it slow, but to maintain contact with their children – even if it only means sending them an occasional note letting them know they’re thinking about them and love and admire them. In many cases, that’s been enough to trigger more communication and a better relationship.

So don’t be afraid to take the initiative to reconnect with that person you may have hurt years ago, or been hurt by. Maybe your view of the situation is much worse than theirs.

I remember a number of years ago, the family and I joined some friends up in Lexington, Mich at their cottage for sailing and swimming. As we sat around we got to talking about old times; and someone brought up the names of a couple sisters that we had attended grade school with – and mentioned they owned a pie shop just outside of town. I immediately felt guilt rise up in my spirit, for a friend and I had spent most of our 8th grade teasing the girls about their physical appearance. Over the years that guilt would pop up every now and then; but I figured I’d never have the opportunity to ask their forgiveness. All of a sudden that opportunity was available to me. So I decided to take it. On our way home, we stopped outside the pie shop. Only one of the sisters was working when I entered. As I talked with her and mentioned the circumstances that had brought so much condemnation into my life over the years, I found she couldn’t even remember it. Still I asked and received her forgiveness, even though she didn’t feel I needed to.

No matter where you are, God is offering you a second chance. No matter what you’ve done, no matter how many times you’ve done it, no matter where you’ve wandered, God is saying, “If you allow Me, I’ll heal and restore. If you let Me.” That’s the key – to let Him. He’ll take the hurt of your bad decision and the accompanying shame and clean it up. The devil would love it if you remained isolated in your shame and condemnation all your life. Don’t give him that satisfaction.

But even if that’s not where you’re at today – Even if you’re totally at peace with your current relationship with God, with your family, with your church and your life in general, then God has a message for you too.

Each one of us needs to possess and exercise that same godly attitude of respect and tolerance when it comes to others in our society. And that’s not tolerance as society uses it today – which wants us to wink at sin and bad behavior. However, often when we become righteous Christians, we tend to forget our own youthful indiscretions and develop a “three strikes and you’re out” attitude toward others. Sometimes it’s toward our loved ones. But more often it’s toward strangers in the world, people we may not know personally, but whose behavior we find disgusting. But that attitude doesn’t represent God’s nature.

One thing that I always warn other Christians is: any behavior that you’re likely to vocally criticize another person about, be prepared to be tested in that area yourself. While you may not be personally tempted in that area, I guarantee someone that you are close to will be. And if they fall, I guarantee that your attitude toward them will be tested as well.

I’ve seen that in my own life with respect to attitudes of self-righteousness I once held toward people in so-called “alternate lifestyles.” Pray and be cautious with your judgments of others, and especially cautious with critical words that come out of your mouth. Trust me – you don’t want to be tested personally in these areas.