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Archive for October, 2011

The Illusion of Success

October 31st, 2011

“That you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” 3 John 2 NKJV.

“Satisfaction is a more reliable measurement of success than the resulting rewards.”

My thoughts today are about the “illusion of success.”

Success is a worthy goal; no one wants to fail, or need do so. But how do you measure success? It is important that you define success and set accurate benchmarks for measuring that. How else will you know when you achieve it, or recognize when you fail? Do not allow other people’s ideas to determine what success is for you. The world’s values are vastly different from God’s.

Someone has written, “As you climb the ladder of success, be sure your ladder is leaning against the right wall.” Will money be your final proof? Will others’ applause or acclaim convince you of success? I saw a bumper sticker that said, “At the end, the one with the most toys wins!” If that is all your success is about, you will never feel satisfaction. Some success is just an illusion, a reality more akin to failure. Read Luke 12:16-21 NIV.

God certainly intends His best for you. In a letter to the church, John wrote, “I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” 3 John 2 NKJV. You cannot truly experience the best of the first two without substantial attention to the latter – “as your soul prospers!”

My recent release of pastoral responsibilities after more than three decades includes significant reflection about my life to this date, as well as the new season ahead. In both, I share this confidence with the Psalmist, “As for me, I trust in you, O Lord. You are my God. My times are in Your hand.” Psalms 31:14-15. My times have always been; they continue to be – in His hands!

What is the primary reward for a lifetime of industry? I think contentment and satisfaction with what you achieve is a more reliable measurement of success than counting up the external and tangible rewards of your achievement. For me, the things in which I have found the greatest satisfaction and prize any measure of success are family and ministry.

Family. A few years ago we enjoyed a wonderful week in Hawaii with our children, their spouses, and our incredible grandkids. I have never enjoyed a time together more. It was the family, not the place, that made that memorable. I think that Gayle and I will count our success by the fruit of their lives, their faith and values common to our family, the enjoyment one another’s company, and our loving service to the Lord together. I find our life together incredibly satisfying. However anyone else chooses to measure my success or lack thereof, our family and our shared faith are central to my definition of life’s success.

Ministry. I choose to evaluate ministry on the sole basis of obedience and faithfulness to God’s call. Have I done what He asked, and been faithful where He placed me? My honest answer to those questions reveals understanding of my success or failure. I am grateful for whatever measure of outward success experienced these previous years, but in my heart I know that whatever success might be generously attributed, God’s grace and people’s graciousness have been its true source. I have simply tried to obey God and serve Him and others to the best of my large opportunities and smaller abilities. So, I will thank God, my family, and others, and celebrate the years of blessing and privilege that have been, and will yet be extended to me, “as my soul prospers!” If serving God and others are not factors in your list of achievements, your success was merely an illusion.

My prayer for you today is that you value satisfaction in God more than man’s recognition or riches.

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Faith Is Not Manipulation

October 28th, 2011

“If you have faith as small as a mustard seed . . nothing will be impossible.” Matthew 17:20 NIV

“Faith has to be firm and steadfast, resting solidly on what is unshakable and unchangeable.”

My thoughts today are about “faith is not manipulation.”

Ever felt manipulated? Did you feel very happy later when you discovered you were being manipulated? Such an experience disappoints you in someone you trusted, leaving a sense of their betrayal of your trust. You are manipulated when someone tells you what you want to hear to get you to do what they want you to do. At its source, manipulative behavior violates relationship. The problem is more motive than method! A manipulator’s self-interest results in their methods of influencing your decision or behavior – for their advantage at your expense..

Now let’s talk about faith. Faith is a powerful force; however, faith is never a way by which a person can successfully pressure God to give or do anything they want from Him. That would be a misguided attempt to manipulate God. As I stated above, that would be a violation of relationship. Faith is exactly the opposite of that; it is the expression of a trusting, mutually caring bond.

Faith releases God to accomplish things otherwise impossible. Faith has to be firm and steadfast, resting solidly on what is unshakable and unchangeable. Read James 1:6-8 NLT. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . but without faith, it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:1/6 NKJV.

Jesus talked a lot about faith as an essential element of every relationship with God. Every person is “by grace . . saved, through faith.” Ephesians 2:8-9. Jesus commended people when they displayed faith; He chided the disciples when they lacked faith. He explained that there are acts of God that only happen through the exercise of faith, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed . . nothing will be impossible.” Matthew 17:20 NIV.

Faith in God – His character and Word – moves God’s heart and releases His hand to do mighty works on your behalf, but never contrary to His own sovereign will and wisdom. Faith is the means by which you cooperate with God’s will, not counteract that. God may not always do what you desire, but God will do what is wise and best at all times. Real faith does not manipulate.

Believe God for great things; trust Him for the right things. James observed, “The reason you don’t have what you want is that you don’t ask God for it. And even when you do ask, you don’t get it because your whole motive is wrong – you want only what will bring you pleasure.” James 4:2-3 NLT. Be unafraid to ask all your heart can hope and believe, then trust yourself completely to His care. In my lifetime, I am very thankful for the times God provided what I needed rather than what I asked.

My prayer for you today is as Paul prayed: “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love may have power . . to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ . . that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.” Ephesians 3:17-20 NIV.

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Suffering

October 27th, 2011

“If anyone suffers . . let him glorify God.” 1 Peter 4:16 NKJV

“Suffering requires a Godly perspective within an eternal context.”

My thoughts today are about “suffering.”

Suffering is not something you give much thought to, until you are suffering. Then you can barely stop thinking about it. Few subjects, if any, would be less preferred to write or read about than this. If you are not suffering, you would rather not consider it at all, almost superstitiously. And if you are suffering, you rarely want to talk or read about it any more than is unavoidable.

But, like it or not, life involves some measure of suffering, and no one is exempt from its reality or immune to its pain. Suffering touches lives in diverse ways: mental anguish, emotional distress, psychological perplexity, relational separation, spiritual bewilderment, but more often as physical impairment. It is inevitable that you will have to righteously deal with some measure of struggle.

Life is a series of problems: a person is either in one, just coming out of one, or getting ready for another one. They come in all shapes, sizes, and durations, without respect of person. The Psalms are magnificent, inspired literature exactly because David “tells it like it is.” His humanity struggles with inequities, but always leads his heart back to God’s character and faithfulness. “My steps had nearly slipped . . for I was envious of the boastful when I saw the prosperity of the wicked . . when I thought how to understand this, it was too painful for me . . until I went into the Sanctuary, then I understood their end . . slippery places.” Read Psalm 73:1-28 NKJV. “Slippery places” are where the wicked walk, not the righteous! It just feels the other way around sometimes.

Suffering requires a Godly perspective within an eternal context. David voiced the dilemma, “Why do the righteous suffer and the wicked prosper?” That question is based on an inaccurate assumption that the righteous should not suffer and the wicked should not prosper. Jesus said, “Your Father . . makes His sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil.” Matthew 5:45 TEV.

The truth is that both righteous and wicked live in the same fallen world and experience the inevitable effect of that. “Let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.” 1 Peter 4:15-19 NKJV. See 1 Peter 2:19-23 NKJV.

Know this; God’s heart is grieved by any man’s suffering, whatever its source or cause. Let me quickly confess I don’t have your answer; that would take theologians wiser than me. In the matter of suffering, “why” is the wrong question; that only compounds confusion, multiplies questions, provides partial answers, and produces little satisfaction. The right answers rest in your trust of God’s character and truth. Here’s the real question, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Genesis 18:25 NIV. Every wrong will not be righted on earth, nor every good thing rewarded in one’s lifetime. Fair reward and just retribution are sure only in eternity. See Romans 8:18 NIV.

My prayer for you today is: face suffering with grace, being confident of God’s justice.

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Shallow Lives

October 26th, 2011

“Go out where it is deeper.” Luke 5:4 NLT

“Effort does not always equate with effectiveness.”

My thoughts today are about “shallow lives.”

Your life can be so rich and satisfying, if you unwilling to settle for things superficial. A superficial life is quicker and simpler, but will never provide the fulfillment you are meant to enjoy. Too many people are content to live shallow lives, lives without much depth and therefore with little consequence. I think shallow lives result from superficial lifestyles. Too often we lightly regard matters we should greatly regard, and highly regard things we should lightly regard.

Many lives appear a mile wide but in reality are only a foot deep. Your number of Facebook friends is no indication of having meaningful friendships. Those take time and attention. You can Google an unimaginable volume of information and still lack knowledge and wisdom. That takes a learner’s heart and life experience. Traditional media offers quick sound bites about global complexities for people who would rather be told what they should think than to actually have to do so. That requires thoughtful reflection. In “Christian” America, there are many people who know a lot about God, but far fewer who really, personally know God in a way that shapes their lives and everyday lifestyles. Dabbling in spiritual matters can never satisfy your soul. There are important areas of life that are truly, “go big, or go home!”

Shallow lives result in surface relationships with spouses, children, friends, and God – producing fragile marriages, broken families, mere acquaintances, and lean, empty souls. People’s lives are not usually from lack of effort, but from lack of direction. Most people work hard at life, family, and relationships. The problem is this: effort does not always equate with effectiveness.

People really haven’t changed much since Jesus walked the roads and shores of ancient Palestine. Read Luke 5:1-11. When a crowd pressed to hear Jesus, he commandeered an empty boat from which to teach. Men nearby had fished all night, but had nothing to show for their efforts but weariness, a wasted day leaving them to beach their boats, clean their nets, and try it again the next day. Life can be like that, large investments of time and energy with little return. Jesus not only has the answer to meaningful life; Jesus is the Answer!

Jesus offers an invitation to people exactly like that – “weary and burdened.” See Matthew 11:28-30 NIV. Jesus’ advice to those tired fishermen might be the same for today’s dissatisfied lives, left at the end of the day or week with only tired bodies and empty hearts. “Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets and you will catch many fish.” Luke 5:4 NLT.

If life is empty for you in the shallows, you are missing what God has available for you a little further out, and a little deeper. The result? Those seasoned fishermen were “awestruck by the size of their catch, as were the others with them.” Luke 5:9. God has bigger and better things for those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Matthew 5:6 NIV. A large, fulfilling life is not found by the overly cautious, perennial doubter, or those who try to live without some measure of personal investment, sacrifice, and risk.

Here’s how God is described, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!” Romans 11:33 NIV. The deeper things of God are reserved for the sincere, not superficial, inquirer. Read 1 Corinthians 2:9-10 NLT. God’s best is never found by people content to live in the shallows. See Ezekiel 47:1-10 NKJV.

My prayer for you today is that you cultivate a depth of life, in everyday life and spiritual life.

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Something Better

October 25th, 2011

“God has appointed another seed [future] for me.” Genesis 4:25 NKJV

“For everything you have loved and lost, God has appointed something better.”

My thoughts today are about “something better.”

There will be times when the future may not look promising to you. You will consider your present struggle, add up past disappointment, and conclude that the future is likely more of the same. That’s just discouraging. But the past is not an accurate forecast of your future, nor is your present experience a preface to every tomorrow. God’s promise is, “As your days, so shall your strength be . . goodness and mercy . . all the days of my life.” Deuteronomy 33:25 NKJV. See also Psalm 23:6.

Never look into your future without calculating a purposeful God as a primary factor in that equation? “And we know that (God causes) all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose . . to be conformed to the image of His Son.” Romans 8:28-29 NKJV/NLT. Your life is never devoid of God’s purpose, unless you foolishly choose it to be.

Man’s early history includes tragedies and loss. Yours and my history began with marriage dissension and family rivalry, and just kept getting worse. See Genesis 3-4. Adam and Eve were escorted from the garden because of their foolish disobedience, and later their family is torn by jealousy and anger that sees one son taking the life of another. Where is God in all that, you may say? He was working His eternal purpose, in spite of man’s miserable failure. The glorious promise of a Savior and God’s gracious redemption are spoken to the Tempter in the midst of man’s worst hour: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise her heel.” Genesis 3:15 NKJV.

Seed holds the future. After Cain slew Abel, another son, Seth, was born to Adam and Eve. Eve recognized God’s sovereign faithfulness, “God has appointed another seed [future] for me instead of Abel, whom Cain killed.” Genesis 4:25 NKJV. Note this carefully; God “appointed” Eve another future. Someone wrote, ”There’s an appointment on God’s calendar with your name on it!”

Your future remains safely in God’s hands, “According to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Ephesians 3:11 NKJV. Your future may seem lost by random misfortune, or stolen by others’ cruel conduct, or forfeited by foolish choices, but your story is not fully written yet. For everything you have loved and lost, God has appointed something better. Why believe anything less? Look for the seed of your future; don’t dwell in the sorrow and loss of your past.

Recently, my friend, Wayne, brilliantly shared a rich perspective on one of my favorite and frequently quoted verses, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” Jeremiah 29:11 NLT. Jeremiah wrote to a generation of captives in Babylon. They felt their future was taken from them; they thought anything good could only be found in Jerusalem. Your future is held in neither location nor circumstance; it is in God – His hand and purpose!

God’s plans include a grand future and a great hope for you. You will find that where you are, not where you thought you would be. Read Jeremiah 29:5-7 NLT. God’s direction to those captives sounds counter-intuitive, but is so very true. “My future is in Your hands.” Psalm 31:15 NLT. Live well now; rest your future in God. God always has something better for you.

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