Archive for February, 2012

Friends and Influence

February 29th, 2012

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Proverbs 27:17 NIV

“A true friend will not let you be less than you could be in God.”

My thoughts and comments today are about “friends and influence.”

I said farewell to Rich, a dear friend, this week. His suffering is over. For that, I am thankful, but the loss of his company and our conversations is painful to me. In that void, I find my thoughts today are about how friends shape one’s life. You are more the product of the people around you than you might realize. You give an awesome power of influence to each person invited into your life. Friends with whom you spend time ultimately shape your opinions, values, choices, and activities. The Bible says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17 NIV. Relationships bend your life’s direction, whether or not you mean them to do so.

Think about that for a moment. Significant people are the ones you choose to spend time with, and whose opinions really matter to you; they have influence. Who are significant people in your life, whose voice and counsel you always regard? Are they Godly influences pointing you to Jesus, urging you to be better than you would have been, lovingly requiring that you be?

Don, my dearest of friends for more than fifty years, reminded me that I had said to him, “Thank you for not letting me be what I would have been without you.” I do not remember saying that, but I hope I did. Because of the years we have spent together, I am different – my life, family, and ministry better – than would be true otherwise. And that is true of far more friends than him alone. God must have known how much I would need to be surrounded with such friends of Godly influence.

In the Bible, my favorite story of friends and influence is David and Jonathan. Jonathan is the King’s son in Jerusalem, heir to Israel’s throne and groomed to reign. David is a teen, just a shepherd’s son from Bethlehem, apparently with no royal ambitions – until God sent the prophet Samuel to his humble home to anoint a new King. Read 1 Samuel 16:1-13. David found himself chosen by God to lead a nation, when all he had led was his father’s few sheep. Can you imagine the insecurities he must have felt, or the questions? Why? How? Why me? He would never make that journey successfully without others to encourage and help. You don’t have to make your personal journey alone.

God brought Jonathan into David’s life. In Jonathan’s heart, God put an understanding of God’s calling and anointing for David to be king, and a love for David that provided an influential friendship that would groom David to rule. See 1 Samuel 18:1-4. Their lives were bound together in covenant love (1 Samuel 20:16), reaching even to the next generation. See 2 Samuel 9:1-13. David would not have reached his potential if not for the friendship and influence of Samuel, a person of authority who recognized David’s anointing – Jonathan, a true friend who embraced David’s Godly destiny – and Nathan, an honest prophet who spoke Godly correction and counsel. Those kinds of “Godly friends” are essential to your life.

More than any one person, my wife and best friend, my mother and father’s loving examples, spiritual “fathers and brothers” sharing their lives with me, staff pastors serving alongside, and gracious families in the churches we served, are influences touching my life still today. Friendships are for mutual benefit and ultimately for God’s purposes. Choose them wisely; avoid those detrimental rather than beneficial, subtly changing you as neither God nor you intend.

My prayer for you today is: choose influential friendships and be a Godly friend to others.

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Put Your foot Down

February 28th, 2012

“Put your feet on the necks of these kings.” Joshua 10:24 NIV

Spiritual integrity requires personal clarity.”

My thoughts and comments today are, “put your foot down.”

There are many idioms of speech taken for granted and used everyday. An idiom is defined as “a group of words whose meaning cannot be predicted by their normal usage.” My title today is one of those idioms of speech: “to put your foot down.” One has to be “fast on your feet” to keep up with what’s going on around you. You have to “stand on your own two feet” rather than always depending on others to do things for you. You may be advised to “put your feet up” when requiring rest. You “put your best foot forward” when an opportunity requires a good first impression. A person “gets off on the wrong foot” when disappointing another’s expectation. To have “your feet planted firmly on the ground” signifies you are solid and reliable. A person who “has cold feet” has doubts and reservations that have changed their mind. And you certainly do not want to be described as having “one foot in the grave.”

What’s all that about? Growing up, I heard a phrase frequently used to describe a person who would “put their foot down.” Trust me; my Dad, Mom, and Grandma knew how to do that well. Doing so is properly defined as “making an assertion strongly.” There are situations in which you must learn to “put your foot down.” In business relationships, an employer or person in authority has to know when and how to put their foot down for the sake of their business. There will be times when a marriage or family needs someone to put their foot down, in a right way of doing so, for the safety of a child or teen, or for the sake of their relationship. In friendships, occasions arise when you can’t go along with what’s happening – such as “just say no to drugs or sex” or “friends don’t let friends drive drunk.” You have to put your foot down!

Consider with me a spiritual application of the practice of “putting your foot down.” An interesting narrative is told of an incident during Joshua and Israel’s conquest of Canaan. Read Joshua 10:1-16 NLT. Five kings of the Amorites had enjoined battle with Israel. When Joshua surprised their armies, the five kings hid in a cave, hoping to escape the same fate as their fleeing armies. After the battle, Joshua instructed, “’Bring those five kings to me’ . . and said to the army commanders . . ‘Come here and put your feet on the necks of these kings.’” See Joshua 10:22-27 NIV. With a foot on their necks, they were powerless to resist. The kings knew instinctively that their fate was certain and sealed; they were buried in the same cave in which they tried to hide. No mercy was shown; no exception made.

In your spiritual life and growth, recognize situations when you have to be assertive about non-negotiables. Spiritual integrity requires personal clarity. People or things will press you to compromise your convictions. Temptations will entice you to make unwise exceptions. Disagreements will feel personal. Those and other feelings – jealousies, unforgiveness, discouragement, doubts, bitterness, and fears – are things you cannot successfully indulge. What “kings” threaten your victory in Christ? Do not spare them; overcome them! Luke 10:19 NLT. Put your foot down with finality where you need to make “a spiritual assertion strongly.” God’s power is in your act of doing so. Read Joshua 10:25-27 NLT/Psalm 91:11-13 NIV/Romans 16:20 NIV.

My prayer for you today is: be clear about spiritual decisions and directions for your life.

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Together is Better

February 27th, 2012

“Thus far the Lord has helped us. 1 Samuel 7:12 NIV

“Rarely, if ever, can a person truly say, ‘I did it all by myself.’”

My thoughts and comments today are that “together is better.”

When you take an honest look at life, you recognize that whatever your successes, there were few things you achieved by your efforts alone. Rarely, if ever, can a person truly say, “I did it all by myself.” And if you did, you did not do it as well as you could have with others’ help; together is better! “Two are better than one . .” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIV. Why does it seem important for a person to claim full credit? What drives a person to need to believe an achievement is theirs alone? Those who fail to appreciate and acknowledge the contribution of others will eventually find themselves without others’ help.

The seed of that need is insecurity. If you struggle with that, maybe you need to become “comfortable in your own skin.” Security within yourself occurs when you are at ease with what your abilities are, as well as what they are not. Insecurity is not uncommon and only means that you have not identified the extent and limits of your securities. It is healthy and helpful to recognize that you have both. However multi-talented you may be, no one – not even you – possesses every ability, skill, and talent for every task. Insecurity insists that others know what you can do but worries they may find out what you cannot.

Letting people think you can do it all by yourself is an exhausting way to live. You will never do as much, never do as well, and never be as satisfied. Anyone has something to contribute to make the work of everyone a little more, a little better. God says, “Give to everyone what you owe them . . give respect and honor to whom it is due.” Romans 13:7 NLT. To whom it is due; so simple and practical a lesson to remember. Be thankful for others’ help and generous to share credit where due. If you require all the credit for what is done, you will receive all the blame for what was not done well.

When you do succeed, through benefit of the unrecognized work of others, pride is birthed from the insecurities you carefully deny. Pride is a tyrant that cannot allow or admit any failure, but with pride failure is inevitable. The Bible warns, “Pride goes before destruction and haughtiness before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18. The longer that takes, the greater and further the fall. The Bible says, “God sets Himself against the proud, but He shows favor to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:5 NLT. Better to have God for you, than resisting you; don’t you think?

“Be down to earth with each other for – God has had it with the proud, but takes delight in just plain people. So be content with who you are, and don’t put on airs. God’s strong hand is upon you; He’ll promote you at the right time. Live carefree before God; He is most careful with you.” 1 Peter 5:5-7 The Message. Content, carefree, and cared for, that’s what God promises; isn’t that what you want most?

Samuel led Israel in a great victory. Their constant enemy, the Philistines, had been soundly defeated. It takes a leader to lead, but it takes more than one man to win a war. Samuel recognized his part was not apart from the help of God and others. “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” 1 Samuel 7:12 NIV. Notice two words: the Lord, and us!  Samuel gave credit where credit was due. Where you include God, God includes you. See Psalm 28:7 NIV. The result? Continued success for everyone! “So the Philistines were subdued . . and throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the Lord’s powerful hand was raised against the Philistines.” 1 Samuel 7:13 NLT. Why do alone what you can do better with God and others?

My prayer today for you is that you feel no need for the credit, nor requirement to do it all alone.

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Confidence and Courage

February 24th, 2012

“Be courageous . . the Lord your God will go ahead of you. Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT

“Courage does the right thing with no requirement of reward no regard for cost.”

My thoughts and comments today are about “confidence and courage.”

Things don’t always go the way you plan; relationships do not always endure as you wish. Situations are not always what you hope; explanations don’t come when you want. In such times, at all times, life is best when lived with courage.

Listen to Moses’ encouraging word to Israel when facing a future uncertain to them but not to their God; “Be strong and courageous . . the Lord your God will go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6 NLT. Your God who “goes ahead of you” will also be there with you. Your confidence that God “will go ahead of you and not fail or forsake you ” provides you courage to be strong and not afraid.” Read Isaiah 43:19 NIV.

Courage is a choice you make. In varying degrees, everyday life demands some measure of courage. A little bit here; a lot there. You bravely face your fear for the greater good that’s ahead, often for others’ benefit more than your own. There are those whose occupation requires great courage, such as firefighters, policemen, and soldiers. But ordinary people show courage every day as well. People face decisions and diagnoses with no promise of how their situation will turn out. In such times, David sang, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” Psalm 73:26.

Courage is a character strength you develop. Strong and courageous are not things you suddenly are. They are qualities of character that grow over time and with experience. They are developed through many – as well as mini – choices you make along the way, many of them small but all of them right, until a situation arises that requires that you do what is right, though there is a consequence or personal price to pay. Courage does the right thing with no requirement of reward nor regard for cost. Courage will not let you flinch from a sacrifice the right choice may demand.

Courage is a conviction you hold. Why? Because when you don’t know what is ahead, God does. There are times when people need courage just to get up in the morning, when life hasn’t been kind to them lately. A doctor’s diagnosis was not what they wanted to hear; the employer was downsizing rather than promoting. Life does not allow you the chance to prepare exactly for what is ahead. Life would be more manageable, but a lot less exciting.

In the most devastating personal experience of my life, the Lord spoke to my heart a wondrous promise, “Your strength will equal your days.” Deuteronomy 33:25 NIV. I realized I did not worry about the demands of the days; however, I did fear the failure of my strength. Read 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 NKJV, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in (your) weakness.” The conviction of God’s strength and sufficient grace puts courage in my soul still today.

Courage is a confidence born of faith. By God’s grace and with your obedience, whatever is ahead will be graced. Marriage takes courage. Parenting takes courage. Business takes courage. Leadership takes courage. Obedience takes courage. Doing the right thing takes courage. Everyday life takes courage. A confident faith lets you choose to do the right thing because you believe that makes a difference, now and forever.

My prayer for you today is that you find your courage in God in the tough times.

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Ears to Hear

February 23rd, 2012

“A wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15 NIV

“Hearing God is ultimately a matter of a listening heart.”

My thoughts and comments today are about “ears to hear.”

When I was a young teen and talking more than I should about things of which I knew too little, my Dad gave me some practical advice – not all that appreciated then. “Allen, do you know why God gave you two ears and one mouth? He meant for you to listen twice as much as you speak!” Hear you loud and clear! I am not convinced that is theologically provable, but Dad made his point. He at least made me stop and occasionally think before talking so much, and I remember his advice still today. I will leave others to judge whether I follow his advice sufficiently.

First of all, most of us are better talkers than we are listeners; that is to our detriment, really. Listening takes a lot more humility, skill, and attentiveness than talking. You learn a lot more when your ears are open rather than your mouth.  Additionally, many of us are not very good at listening to things we would rather not hear. That fact alone filters out a lot to which we should have paid attention.

The Bible says, “Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord.” Proverbs 20-12 NLT. Hearing is a physical ability; listening is ultimately a matter of the heart. Jesus had strong words to say about people who did not want to listen, “For the hearts of these people are hardened, and their ears cannot hear, and they have closed their eyes – so their eyes cannot see, and their ears cannot hear, and their hearts cannot understand, and they cannot turn to Me and be healed.” Matthew 13:14-16 NLT. God can open blind eyes but He will not open your closed eyes. God can restore hearing to deaf ears, but not to those folk with hardened hearts.

The Bible says, “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15 NIV. A wise man listens to advice! For your own good, you probably ought to be willing to listen more readily than many of us are usually prone to do. I have wondered if part of the problem is all the opinions volunteered without our request that leave us a bit reticent about hearing any and everyone’s advice without asking for it.

Opinions; everyone has one. Advice, choose that carefully. I would distinguish opinions as information volunteered that is left to the hearer’s option. No explanation or expectation of response is required. Whereas, an opinion might be upgraded to advice, if that opinion is requested in the context of a relationship with some history of trusted, helpful advice. Advice is just that, advice, not instruction or direction for which you are held accountable for your response to anyone other than God.

On numerous occasions, the Bible says, “Let him that has ears to hear, hear what the Spirit says . .” In my observation it seems that “ears to hear” is related to a listening heart in a person who desires to be wise and recognizes they don’t yet know everything there is to know. Maybe the more you learn to listen with your heart to others, you may just find an increasing sensitivity to recognize and value the still small voice of God who speaks within your heart.

My prayer for you today is that you nurture a heart to learn and make time to listen.

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