Archive for July, 2013

Success and Failure

July 31st, 2013

“The Lord was with [Joseph] and gave him success in everything he did.” Genesis 39:3 NIV

Success is found in your capacity to appreciate its blessings fully and honor God humbly.

My thoughts and comments today are about “success and failure.”

There is a lot of confusion about this idea of success. Opinions are as diverse as the individuals giving them. Whatever anyone else says, what you believe about success is of first importance. It is a good feeling when others see you as successful, but ultimately there are only two opinions that really matter, yours and God’s. Only how you view your life and accomplishments and, when you stand before God, whether He can say, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” will matter eternally.

The crowd is rarely right. If you are relying on the majority opinion you will be misled. The difference between what is popular or important is vast. There will be big surprises in eternity as to who and what merited applause and acclaim, as well as whose recognition truly mattered. You must answer a simple but important question, “Whose applause do I seek?” Jesus described the sad plight of those who, “loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” John 12:43 NKJV.

As I have grown older I have learned that success is more about who I am and the quality of relationships that I have – with God, my spouse, our family, and our friends – than things I have or have done. The good opinions of acquaintances are appreciated, but the more accurate appraisal of those who have known me – in the ups and downs of life, both mine and theirs – is invaluable. If they speak well of my life, and family, and ministry, then I have had success.Here are some of my observations about success.

Success is related to clear priorities and enduring, eternal values. See Joshua 1:8 NIV. You will not give the effort needed or sacrifice required to anything you do not count as valuable and as a priority above your comfort and convenience. Success is the product of your doing well and doing so consistently for the long term. Many have made a lot of money and yet made a mess of their lives. Some have been praised for accomplishments at work, but left a destroyed marriage or family at home. Too much success, or the wrong kind of success, can destroy so much that is irreplaceable.

Success is not the product of your talent and hard work alone. Others will share knowledge and experience you do not possess, provide opportunities you have not earned, and give you help and expertise along the way and, more importantly than all, God will have been gracious toward you! “As long as Uzziah sought the Lord, God made him to prosper.” 2 Chronicles 26:5. Success will quickly sour if God is not honored as its Source. If you fail, fail at things unimportant. Where you succeed, succeed in things of eternal significance.

Success is found in your capacity to appreciate its blessings fully, share its benefits generously, handle its responsibilities wisely, and honor God humbly. Remember, as with Joseph, it is true, “The Lord gave [Joseph] success in everything he did.” Genesis 39:3 NIV. I pray that you experience the height of success in all you are and do, as the Bible says God desires for you. “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, even as your soul prospers.” 3 John 2. Spiritual prosperity will be your crowning success. See Matthew 6:33 NKJV. Keep first things first; the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. Without God, any success is just another failure.

My prayer for you this day is that you value the eternal above the temporal.

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Listen and Learn

July 29th, 2013

“Let the wise listen and add to their learning.”  Proverbs 1:5 NIV

Listening is a requisite entrance to learning, and learning is a life-long practice.

My thoughts and comments today advise, “listen and learn.”

I am blessed with a patient wife. Her steadfast love and enduring patience toward me may be the major contributing factor to our celebrating our fiftieth anniversary later this week. Her challenge seems to be the brief but inevitable gap between the first words she speaks and the first words to which I listen. She must grow weary of repeating herself. My problem is not a hearing disability; the likely difficulty is my listening deficiency. My guess is that I am not the only one so afflicted. “Can I hear an amen?”

Why do people find something as simple as listening such a challenge? Too many conversations could be described as, “Two people more interested in talking than either is in listening.” As a young boy, I remember my father asking, “Allen, do you know why God gave you two ears but only one mouth?” I momentarily pondered his words to pose an answer, only then realizing his question was rhetorical. “It’s so you will learn to listen twice as much as you talk.” I probably am still learning that application.

Solomon offered simple, practical counsel; “Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance for understanding . . the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” Read Proverbs 1:1-7 NIV. The principle is equally applicable naturally and spiritually, but his focus is on attentiveness to matters of spiritual discipline and development: “. . for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight; for acquiring a disciplined and prudent life, doing what is right and just and fair; for giving prudence to the simple, knowledge and direction to the young . .” Verse 2-4 NIV. Any and all of those could be invaluable to your everyday life.

According to Solomon, listening is the practice of the wise and increased learning is their reward. Two things are true: (1) Listening is a requisite entrance to learning, and (2) Learning is a life-long practice. If you listen to the wise, you will learn; if you learn from the wise, you will become wiser. “For whoever finds [wisdom] finds life and receives favor from the Lord.” Proverbs 8:33-35 NIV. I love this verse, “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. A wise man has great power and a man of knowledge increases strength.” Proverbs 24:3-5 NIV. I want your life and mine to be “filled with rare and beautiful treasures” of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and strength.

When you aren’t listening, you aren’t learning; when you aren’t learning, you aren’t growing; when you aren’t growing, you aren’t wise. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does.” James 1:22-25 NIV.

My prayer for you this day is that you listen for God in your heart and learn His wisdom.

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Bizarre Behavior

July 26th, 2013

When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped Him.”  Mark 5:6 NKJV

Regret apart from repentance and restoration will never bring you freedom.

My thoughts and comments today are about “bizarre behavior.”

People are capable of bad behavior, regardless of nationality, gender, geography, education, financial, or social standing. Common sense does not come automatically with any of those. People do unexplainable things, though it makes no sense to behave in destructive ways, typically hurtful to others and predictably harmful to one’s self. Some people do that all too frequently, usually unexplainable even to themselves. Everyone has had an occasion when you ask yourself, “What was I thinking?” Probably, your baffled explanation was, “I wasn’t thinking!”

Any person is capable of conduct embarrassing to themselves and bewildering to those who know them. Bizarre behavior is not as spontaneous and inexplicable as you might first think. Such behavior exposes an inner life lacking good judgment and little thought of consequence. The consequence is normally worse than previously considered. What begins as private thought can soon become public conduct. The bad news is that there is much damage that is irreparable; the good news is that all you have done is redeemable.

Mark reports Jesus’ encounter with a man whose behavior was bizarre. You will find hope in this first tragic then triumphant story of God’s grace and power. See Mark 5:1-6 NKJV. Here’s his story – the very definition of bizarre. The source of his strange behavior was spiritual. Mark’s account does not suggest that all bizarre behavior is demonic, as was true in this instance. But there is always a spiritual dynamic to wrong pursuits and passions that are controlling and eventually uncontrollable. His behavior imposed estrangement from others, worsening his isolation and despair. His actions were unconstrained, even irrepressible, in spite of his own efforts and the best attempts of others. As a result, he experienced self-disgust which produced a spiral of self-destructive behavior. (Verses 2-5).

However long he had struggled and suffered, there was some vestige of his former self that longed to be free and could recognize that Jesus alone was his solution. Whatever you have done and wherever you have strayed, come running to the Savior. “When he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and worshipped Him.” Verse 6. Your wise response is to allow no regret over your past or present failures keep you from Jesus. Regret apart from repentance and restoration will never bring you freedom. Paul addressed this in these words, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” Read 2 Corinthians 7:10-11 NIV.

Your struggle may not be as extreme as his, but your need can be as real as his. Unbecoming behavior is not the private reserve of the worst among us. Jesus braved a violent storm at sea to meet a man with a tragic storm in his soul. To both, Jesus said, “Peace be still! . . and there was a great calm.” Mark 4:35-41. There was a happy ending for him, as there will be for you.

After his encounter with Jesus, “They came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon possessed . . sitting and clothed and in his right mind.” Mark 5:15 NKJV. Changed completely; freed absolutely; satisfied fully. See 2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV/1 Peter 1:13 NIV/Colossians 3:1-3 NIV. New beginnings are available. “Great is His faithfulness; His mercies are new every morning.” Lamentations 3:23 NLT.

My prayer for you today is that your first response is always to come to Jesus.

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Living Confidently

July 24th, 2013

“The effect of righteousness will be . . confidence forever.”  Isaiah 32:17 NIV

Righteousness is the only sure foundation for living confidently.

My thoughts and comments today are about “living confidently.”

Don’t you admire those people who exude confidence, never appearing to wrestle with self-doubt or uncertainty?  You can live confidently. Not everyone does. Some people seem to have ample confidence while others are sorely lacking. Have you wondered about the secret of living confidently? We know what confidence looks like; we don’t always know its source. You can counterfeit an air of confidence; many people do, hoping no one sees behind their false bravado.

Don’t confuse arrogance with confidence, your own or others’. Today’s culture would suggest, “Success breeds confidence.” Some might propose, “Affluence affords confidence.” Another may advise, “Experience creates confidence.” In some measure and for some people, those might increase one’s confidence, while for others they simply produce a troubling fear of failure. Masquerading as over-confidence, arrogance can often be just a coping mechanism for fear. What is your fear, failing in the opinion of others or failing in the eyes of God? Your answer reveals where you derive confidence.

You might think confidence results from past successes, or natural talent, or developed abilities, or the supporting estimation of others. Those can be contributing factors. If you have proven abilities, you develop an expectation of further success but no guarantee of it. If you succeed in a particular endeavor, you might feel more confident in similar efforts. But enduring confidence is based on more than your own skills, accomplishments, or previous experience.

Confidence rests on convictions – convictions about God and about yourself being safe in God’s love and will. Read Romans 12:1-2 NIV/Hebrews 10:35-36 NKJV. Confidence is only as strong as the foundation upon which it rests. The Old Testament prophet, Isaiah, wrote, “The effect of righteousness will be . . confidence forever.” Isaiah 32:17 NIV. Righteousness is the only sure foundation for living confidently, both presently and forever. “For we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.” Hebrews 13:18 NKJV. When you know all is well between you and God, your confidence strengthens and solidifies.

Strengthen Godly conviction and you discover confidence. “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6 NKJV. When you are persuaded with firm conviction that God is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do, you will be confident that you can become who He says you are and do what He calls you to do. Solomon wisely wrote, “For the Lord will be your confidence.” Proverbs 3:26 NIV.

I think David models this inner confidence that steadies one’s heart, whatever the situation of the moment, “Though an army may encamp against me, my heart shall not fear. Though war may rise against me, in this I will be confident. One thing I have desired of the Lord; that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord All the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple. For in the time of trouble He shall hide me in His pavilion; in the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock.” Psalm 27:3-5 NKJV. Knowing God and His Word is where you find confidence.

My prayer for you this day is that you remain steadfast in His love.

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Empty Lives

July 22nd, 2013

“That you may be filled with all of the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:19 NKJV

A life void of internal strength succumbs to surrounding pressures.

My thoughts and comments today are about “empty lives.”

In High School, I learned a simple principle of physics; “Nature abhors a vacuum.” To demonstrate, our science teacher presented a metal can, proceeding to extract air out of it until we watched the sturdy can gradually collapse. As resistant, internal pressure is reduced, nature pushes into any void to fill the emptiness. The external pressure was stronger than the strength of the can to resist.

A person’s life can be like that. If your life is void of internal strength you lose the power to resist and withstand, gradually succumbing to the pressures of the world and culture around you. Life is not easy; temptations are many. The pressures to compromise – to give in, to go along to get along – will seem irresistible. The Bible recognizes such spiritual realities and gives the strength to resist such situations successfully. “Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore . .“ Ephesians 6:13-14 NKJV.

You can successfully stand firm, strong, and righteously if you have a greater power within you than the one oppressing you; “Because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” 1 John 4:4 NIV – a greater power with you than opposing you, “Don’t be afraid for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 2 Kings 6:16 NIV.

Jesus sat purposefully beside Jacob’s well at noonday when a woman from the city came to draw water. Read John 4:3-30 NKJV. Her supply was gone; her life was empty. In vain, she tried to fill her emptiness with relationships that did not work and pleasures that could not satisfy, never finding a sense of fullness until she met a Man unlike any other she had known. Her emptiness met Jesus’ fullness. Other men only took precious things from her – sanctity, dignity, integrity; Jesus gave the most precious of things to her – forgiveness, freedom, and fullness.

Jesus saw the emptiness of her heart, and invited her to a fullness of life she had never known. “If you knew the gift God has for you, and Who I am, you would ask Me and I would give you Living Water . . people soon become thirsty again after drinking this water, but the water that I give takes away thirst altogether. It becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life.” John 4:10-13 NLT. In a moment, her life went from empty to full, from life always failing to life ever flowing. See Colossians 1:27 NIV.

Your response can be as hers, “Please sir, give me this Living Water that I may never thirst again.” John 4:15 NKJV.  Recognition is the first step to release. Read John 7:37-39/2 Corinthians 9:8. What did she do? She drank deeply of the Living Water offered her, and then straightway ran to her village and told everyone she knew, “Come; see a Man who told me everything I ever did!” John 4:28-30/39-42 NKJV. You don’t change by denying your past; you change by releasing it to Jesus.

You can know the Savior, yet still struggle with spiritual emptiness, lacking His sufficiency of grace, love, joy, peace, patience, trust, rest, or provision. See Galatians 5:22-25 NLT. God invites you to overflowing, abiding fullness, “That you may be filled with all of the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:16-21 NKJV. Everything you will ever need or look for, its fullness is found in Jesus. 

My prayer for you this day is: understand that empty lives find fullness only in Jesus.

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