Adversity: The Integrity Test

Adversity. No one wants it, but when we get it we gain so much. Sometimes that gain feels immediate. Other times it may seem decades before we realize it. I believe the latter was Joseph’s experience (for a refresher, read Genesis 37-50). However long it took him, here’s how he let us know his gain:

You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result-the survival of many people. (Genesis 50:20)

A mindset toward gain from adversity is found in Joseph’s statement. The mindset is vertical (about God), not horizontal (about man). Rather than looking at what man or circumstances have planned, he had learned to look at what God had planned. Easier said than done in the face of adversity, right?

I want to suggest that one preparation we can make before adversity knocks on the door is to make a commitment to integrity.

A commitment to integrity in the face of adversity will…

  • …guard against fear invasion (horizontal).
  • …ward off impulsive reaction (horizontal) giving foundation for calm decisions (vertical).
  • …raise the banner for complete transparency (vertical).
  • …remove selfish ambition (horizontal) to bring in a kingdom mindset (vertical).

Maybe you haven’t considered that integrity is what’s being tested in your adversity. There’s no way around the reality that adversity peels back the layers and shows everyone who we really are. How are you preparing for that revelation? How can you study for the integrity test?

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2018 Library

Back on January 13, I posted an entry about a self-developed reading strategy for the year. The objective: read broader. The goal: read 25-30 books falling under 10 headings. Perfection wasn’t the hope as much as growth. Having read 28 books with at least one book under each heading, I testify that this strategy worked. I’ll repeat it this year, after some tweaking.

For the curious, here is the library of 28 books, listed by order read and avenue of reading:

He Loves Me, by Wayne Jacobsen (hard copy)

Limitless, by Nick Vujicic (hard copy)

Lincoln’s Spymaster, by David Hepburn Milton (audio)

The Closer, by Mariano Rivera (audio)

Always Looking Up, by Michael J. Fox (audio)

Awe, by Paul David Tripp (kindle)

The Rest of God, by Mark Buchanan (kindle)

Rhythms of Rest, by Shelly Miller (kindle)

Measure of a Man, by Martin Greenfield (audio)

Safe People, by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (kindle)

Children of Jihad, by Jared Cohen (audio)

Understanding Gender Dysphoria, by Mark Yarhouse (kindle)

First Man, by James R. Hansen (audio)

Kiss the Wave, by Dave Furman (hard copy)

Miracle in the Andes, by Nando Parrado (audio)

I Hear His Whisper, by Brian Simmons (hard copy)

Quiet, by Susan Cain (audio)

No One Gets There Alone, by Dr. Rob Bell (kindle)

Onward, by Howard Schultz (kindle)

David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell (hard copy)

Coach the Person Not the Problem, by Chad Hall (eBook)

A More Perfect Union, by Ben Carson (audio)

Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell (hard copy)

How to Read the Air, by Dinaw Mengestu (audio)

Transformed, by Joe Pellgino and Jack Redmond (hard copy)

The Search for More, by Marge Knoth (hard copy)

Dangerous Calling, by Paul David Tripp (kindle)

Boundaries For Leaders, by Dr. Henry Cloud (hard copy)

Boundaries For Leaders (Book Review)

The first tweet I shared about this book was two months ago. I finally finished it today. It fell victim to multiple books being read simultaneously, not being on my kindle while traveling, and other excuses.


But I did not want this book to be read hurriedly. Dr. Cloud’s works should require margin in the reader’s heart and mind to receive the full impression. And this book, for leaders in particular, should be given the fullest margin.

I had only managed to get through a couple of chapters before last weekend. I determined to give it my full attention and get it finished. Let me say, last Saturday was a memorable reading day. My highlighter was busy. My mind was engaged. My heart was encouraged.

Leaders, no matter what size your tribe/company/organization/ministry, this book has something, probably lots of somethings, for you. For those in church world, that goes for paid staff leaders as well as volunteer/lay leaders. It order to fully serve as a body, we all must pursue being people who get results. If read with an open mind, this book will resource a team to do better for the kingdom, particularly mentally and emotionally. Here are 15 quotes to illustrate:

If you have the right people on board, they will exceed your wildest expectations.

The gap between where we are and where we want to be, which is the goal, does not go away by itself. We have to close that gap. And we have to deal with gaps that, sometimes, are difficult to face but motivating.

Two sets of reality consequences – the promise of positive outcomes and the fear of losing something of value – are among the most fundamental drivers of human performance.

Research shows that a “getting better” orientation goes much farther than a “being perfect” orientation.

The first element missing in many leadership scenarios: the right kinds and the right amounts of time together.

Don’t allow big problems to become elephants in the room. Name the elephant.

Put your smart phone in your pocket, purse, or bag. Some of the best leaders I know have a “no cell phone or email during this meeting” rule.

What you create, and what you allow, is what you get as a leader. Especially thinking.

Great leaders do the opposite of exercising control over others. Instead of taking all the control, they give it away.

When people assign a specific time and place for completion of specific tasks and goals, their chances of success increase by up to 300%.

The best leaders and organizations I know make use of outside sources for coaching and lifelong learning in a very organic fashion.

To be the best you can be, you must develop a hunger for feedback and see it as one of the best gifts that you can get.

“Fearful” is when you let your fears make your decisions for you, so…don’t let fear make your decisions for you! Having fears is normal. Being “fearful” is dysfunctional.

Many leaders allow too much lag time between knowing and doing.

If one person calls you a horse, blow it off. But if five do, buy a saddle.

If Only

13 years. That’s a long time to walk in the wrong direction. Ask Abraham.

Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before me and be blameless.”

These two verses from Genesis are only separated by chapter delineation (16:16-17:1). It appears for thirteen years, at least, Abram did not hear from God directly like he had previously. This time period followed he and his wife’s decision to do things their way, a way not given to them by God. This decision was a deliberate choice that could be concluded with two words: “if only.”

So Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael were acceptable to you!”

He said this in 17:18 (Read the rest of the conversation between verses 1-18 to see why his name changed, among other things). Abraham said this in response to just being told, in so many words, quite graciously, “My plan hasn’t changed. Even though you tried your way, I’m still offering you a better way.” Thankfully, we all can say Abraham followed the plan.

This scene offers us hope when we’ve followed Abram’s and Sarai’s path. At some point we all seem to face the choice to wait, or to devise our own way, or to heed questionable counsel. It’s almost as if a salesperson shows us a pair of blinders, and we knowingly reply, “Yes. I’ll have a pair.” For whatever reason, we complete the transaction, say thank you, put them on, and walk out the door…until God shows up, however long that takes.

Fortunately for us, God is gracious. And if we receive that grace and give him our blinders, we reap the benefits of faith. As he was told, Abraham received tremendous blessings that have been passed on to many generations for placing his faith in God’s way despite “if only.”

Do you have an unresolved “if only”? Are you wearing blinders? How long before you follow Abraham’s lead?

Don’t Be Afraid

An interesting connection seemed whispered to me in last night’s Christmas Eve service that I’ll take a few lines to unpack.

Many times in scripture someone was told not to be afraid. Sometimes it was from a leader to his people; sometimes it was from a writer to his reader. In the scenes of the Christmas story (Matthew 1, Luke 1-2), Joseph and Mary and the shepherds were are told this same message.

After Joseph was told not to be afraid in Matthew 1, Isaiah is quoted that “they shall call his name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.'” Interesting. If God is with us, do we need to be afraid? Is it possible that we get afraid because we believe God isn’t with us? Or at least we get our eyes on something huge like the unexplainable pregnancy of a fiancé and forget that God is with us?

Some have endured the holidays being afraid. And humanly speaking, who can blame them? A recent widower, a confused parent, a lonely senior couple. Pray for them that they experience God is with them.

As you look into 2019, what might you be afraid of? Finances, health, relationships, job security, looming transition? How could you remind yourself that Jesus’ coming made it possible for God to always be with you? 

You don’t have to be afraid. Immanuel came. God is with you.

The Reason We Ask, Seek, and Knock

(Post from a youversion reading plan by Adam Stadtmiller)

God answers prayer, but asking prayer is not primarily about answers. Asking prayer, like all other forms of prayer, is about relationship. If you make asking prayer about answers, you’re moving into dangerous territory.

When prayer is primarily about answers, our relationship with God becomes results focused. When God says no or works outside of our time schedule, we desperately question why and are tempted to feel inadequate or unloved by God. Be assured that as you grow in the area of asking prayer, the Devil will seek to shift the focus of your prayers from relationship to results.

Christ was well aware of the relational purpose of asking prayer. In the seventh chapter of Matthew when Jesus dared His followers to ask for things – big things – like “elephants” in prayers. He immediately transferred the focus from the asking to the fatherly or paternal relationship that surrounds each request we make.

Jesus was saying that whenever you ask in prayer you open up the familial lines of communication and put yourself in a position to experience relationship with a loving and compassionate Father.

When God answers your prayers in dramatic fashion, you will grow in the knowledge of His power and care for you. When God works on His schedule instead of yours, you will come to know more about His sustaining power. And when God says no and your dreams die or perhaps you lose someone close to you, you will come to know the God of all comfort who weeps with you. If you want to know God as Father, begin to assault the throne of heaven in asking prayer.

What About the Books on Your Shelf?

If you’re reading this, chances are you read quite a bit. A growing question for you and other readers these days is how do you buy books. Traditional or digital? (My answer, yes) And then there’s the audio question. Does listening to a book count as reading it? (My answer, yes.)

In a coaching call this week, a completely different question surfaced. The agenda of the call was to determine the various kinds of books this guy wanted to explore reading in 2019. He wanted to determine other genres and topics than he normally chooses, even material that might be uncomfortable. When it appeared the list was about done, I asked him to think about what kind of books give him life, refresh him, maybe even recreate him. I thought I knew how he would answer the question. I was wrong.

I assumed he would talk about style or topics or genre. Instead, he responded by naming titles of several books he’d read that were still meaningful to him. As he talked about them, he realized a simple thing. A good thing to do as a reader is to re-read good books, books that breathed life into you, books that made a difference. So he decided that another source for his quest for building his library for 2019 was to take a look at the books he already has, books already on his shelf practically guaranteed to restore his mind, heart, or spirit.

What about the books on your shelf? Which ones fill you up? Which book have you always said you will read again and still haven’t? Which book are you craving? These questions just might lead you to some exciting reading-traditionally, digitally, or audibly. May the books on your shelf impact your 2019.

Sabbath Model

The subject of rest and Sabbath has become a constant for me over the last twelve months through leading a coaching program and co-leading webinars. If I’ve learned anything in this time, it’s that we could all use more conversing about this as well as more examples of it.

In that light, I thought I’d share how mine went yesterday with some notes.

It didn’t last all day. First thing, I had to deal with some car stuff. Finished and back home at 11.

The next seven hours were my time to “embrace that which gives life.” (Sabbath’s golden rule according to Mark Buchanan, author of The Rest of God.)

Those seven hours included reading devotions and two other books, blogging, meditating, napping, and going to the gym (in this period of my Sabbaths, the TV is not on). None of this felt like work. (Another aspect to Sabbath’s golden rule.) At the end of those seven hours, I could say I had more “life”; you could even say more peace.

No one model of Sabbath fits everyone. While reading may give one person life, it may drain another person. Similarly, playing golf would drain me (probably more like kill me) but would completely bring joy to some friends of mine. So to give us all some kind of guide, here’s a reminder of the golden rule for Sabbath: cease that which is necessary in order to embrace that which gives life.

What could you embrace during your next Sabbath?

Dangerous Calling (Book Review)

Since this book was released, several minister friends have suggested it. Now I know why.

My first Tripp book was Awe. So I expected the candor of his writing. But his candor isn’t meant to only cut; it is meant more to heal. If you are a minister who knows you need healing along with everyone else, this book should be in your cart.

No one is more influential in your life then you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.

When people are your substitute messiah (you need their respect and support in order to continue), it’s hard to be honest with them about your sins, weaknesses, and failures.

The big crisis of the church is not that we are easily dissatisfied but that we are all too easily satisfied.

Every person still living with sin inside is a very skilled self-swindler.

The greatest danger in my life exists inside of me and not outside of me.

You have to live with realistic expectations.

In the intersection between the promises of God and the details of your situation, what you do with your mind is very important.

Security is never to be found in our attempt to figure it all out.

Mediocrity is a heart problem.

You can actually be mature in your understanding of God’s sovereignty but live a life of fear, because in your immaturity you have attached your security more to your control into God’s wise rule.

You must think of yourself not only as an instrument of ministry but also as a recipient.

One of the scandals of hordes of churches is that no one is pastoring their pastor.

These quotes should encourage ministers to see what deep guidance, counsel, and encouragement Tripp provides you in this book. To those under ministers, you could also benefit from reading this book in order to know how to pray for them and seek to encourage them wherever and whenever it is appropriate to do so in their dangerous calling.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Church

One of the first questions asked when I met up with our friends in Jordan was, “Can you speak tomorrow night?”

Twenty-four hours later I finished editing my notes on Acts 1:1-8 originally planned for Thursday night and headed to the service.

Right before the service started, I opened my iPad to take a final look at the notes. Somehow, somewhere between the house and the church my notes had disappeared. No notes. “You’re up in twenty minutes.” Not funny.

However, I had to laugh. The theme was God’s Plan and included statements like “we don’t have to see the big picture,” “we don’t need to understand,” and “we can rest because He knows more than we do.”

In between songs I put my notes back together as best I could. Then I shared with the congregation in my introduction my challenge and tried to practice what I was about to share.

God has a sense of humor. We’re better off laughing along.