More Than A Backscratcher

Could you imagine Jesus saying, “If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours”?

Yeah, me neither.

Why is that?

Two good thoughts:

  1. Scratching each other’s backs implies equal benefit. Hard to believe any human could match the benefit received from a Jesus back scratch.
  2. The statement also implies conditions. That’s indicated by “if.” Jesus’ if statements weren’t conditions in which he sought a personal need being met. He was all about his Father’s kingdom. Not his. Not ours. (See Matthew 16:24, 19:21; John 8:42, 11:40)


The Kicker:

He offered more than a back scratch. He offered several times to lay down his life (John 10 and 15). Then he did it. And that provided more than a back scratch. It offered abundant life now and eternal life later.

He’s someone worth following. And to start following, maybe we could say, “Since you laid down your life for me, I’ll lay down my life for you.” 

He’s more than a Backscratcher. 

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Serving Frank

Two weeks ago I received an email from a stranger. It was Thursday after a rather trying Wednesday. The email was from a daughter who had an urgent request. Her 86-year-old father was dying from liver cancer, living alone in Bradenton while she and her brother lived in other states. A few weeks earlier she and her husband had visited her dad and had brought him to church that Sunday.  I had spoken that Sunday; therefore her reason to reach out to a stranger with her request.

It was a simple request…Go visit her dad and talk to him about spiritual things. Truthfully, my first thought was, “I’m doing my best to keep up with what’s already on my to do list. I’m drained, but I’ll try to go by.” As it turned out, her dad Frank lived less than two miles from me. I told myself, “There’s no excuse to not go by on your way home.” 

Today, four visits later, I’m so glad I did. What a genuine, rich spirit! We could have visited for hours each time, but his strength required short visits. Thursday we said goodbye. His children came to take him with them for his final earthly trip before his eternal trip.

This interaction is on my mind for many reasons, but one has to do with the reading plan I started this week on @youversion. Author Brittany Rust penned a seven-day plan entitled Pouring Into Others When You Feel Empty. Day two’s devotional included this thought:

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you are stronger than you know. Helping others isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary to stretch the limits of your capacity to discover the limitless strength found in God. God has made you capable of bearing the burdens of others–will you open yourself up to be used by Him to do so?

The verse she connected to her devotional was from Romans:

“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weaknesses of those without strength, and not to please ourselves.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭15:1‬ ‭CSB‬‬

There are days we don’t feel strong. On those days, God often gives us an opportunity to meet a “Frank.” My prayer is that I don’t miss anymore Holy Spirit moments, that I choose to bear the weaknesses of those who need to be served, and that I reject to please myself in order to serve future “Franks.”

Saying No to Say Yes (book review)

I don’t recall how I came across this book. I’m guessing it was a “if you like that book you’ll like this book” Kindle referral. God bless Kindle.

If you are remotely involved with pastors (you are one, you serve one, you sit under one, you counsel one, you plan to be one, you’re married to one, you are searching for one, you just hired one, you used to be one), this book is gold. Why? Because the church world more often than not fails when it comes to pastoral boundaries. Ask your pastor.

We cannot become an expert at anything if we are responding to everything.

If for no other reason, get the book for chapter three, Setting Boundaries in Anxious Congregational Systems. Congregations become anxious for all kinds of reasons. That’s part of community. In those anxious seasons, they respond in various ways. Chapter three discusses four of those: projection, scapegoating, triangles, and multigenerational transmission. Immensely helpful.

The greater the anxiety, the more primitive the functioning of members… The greater the anxiety and emotional contagion, the more primitive and reactive people become and the less capable of creative thinking.

Chapter three also introduces the topic of differentiation-the ability to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one’s emotional functioning.

True differentiation is the ability to go home, not become emotionally reactive, and attempt to maintain a one-to-one relationship with key members of the family… Trying to keep everyone happy is not differentiation nor is avoiding or cutting off from unpleasant people. Differentiation is the ability to lead, set clear boundaries, say “no” when necessary, while at the same time building intimate relationships – even with those with whom we disagree.

All pastors will face boundary issues. It comes with the serving people career. If your pastor is up to pursuing excellence, he will agree with this final quote:

It is our job to preach, teach, and live a gospel that doesn’t depend on human over-functioning but on God’s grace.

Do him and yourself a favor. Get copies of this book and start creating healthy boundaries that connect to an overwhelming “Yes.”

When God Asks You a Question

When’s the last time you recall a conversation where a question was asked and the person replied, “Wow! That’s a good question”?  I’ve been on both sides of that, and mostly likely you have also.  Those are life-giving conversations.

Elijah had one of those conversations with God in 1 Kings 19.  In this case, Elijah got asked this question, not once but twice: “What are you doing here?”  Similar to God questioning Adam and Eve in the Garden and to Jesus asking Peter the same question three times, this conversation was a learning moment, one that gave direction to a wandering child of God.

Is there shame in wandering?  I’m guessing if there were God wouldn’t bother showing up to ask us a question.  He doesn’t show up because he’s lost or doesn’t know the answer.  He’s showing up for our benefit.  The answer to his question is for our learning, our misdirection, and our relationship with him.

Are you wandering?  Are you lacking direction?  Elijah had walked 40 days and nights and entered a cave where this conversation happened.  What if you gave God that much attention or space so that you could have a life-giving conversation?  What would it take to put yourself in position to hear when God asks you a question?

The God of Overtime

Overtime. Not a fan. Particularly in college football. Anytime I’m watching a game that seems destined for overtime I’m tempted to zone out.

In my Bible reading plan this morning this subject was presented through the story of Elijah. 1 Kings 18 records the awesome display by God on Mt. Carmel. After something like that, you’d think game over, right? Nope. Immediately Elijah goes into overtime with Queen Jezebel. She’s out for blood.

Ever had that feeling? You’ve given all you had, thought it was enough, but quickly realized there’s more to come, to finish the journey. And maybe like Elijah, you thought, “Seriously. Not sure I got anything left. I want out.” 

“Overtime” comes when you least expect it. Perhaps your marriage goes through a big crisis and you’re reconciled but, all of a sudden, one argument seems to threaten it all. Or, maybe you’re a business owner and you landed the big contract when, all of a sudden, a competitor surfaces with a competing bid. Or, maybe the chemo treatments are over, but there is a new scan that raises questions and new treatment is recommended. Overtime. (excerpt from Everyday Miracles @Youversion reading plan)

In Elijah’s case, God sent an angel to minister to him. He didn’t sugarcoat the situation. He simply met Elijah where he was, prepared him to stay in rather than get out.

That’s who God is-the God of staying in. He has what you need in overtime. He’s been in overtime ever since the Garden of Eden. Surely He can help you in yours.

How might your overtime praying go? To give you a jumpstart, here’s the prayer at the end of the reading plan devotional:

Lord, when the spirit of Jezebel attacks, I know you are near. There is no discouragement that can overtake me when I know you are with me. When the unexpected “overtime” moments of life catch me by surprise, give me the grace to continue in the full armor of God. Though discouragement may crouch at the door, show me the great journey that you have set before me. Lift up my head and give my eyes a new vision for this new day. Thank you for the victory that has been secured in Jesus. It is in his name I pray, amen.

Canoeing the Mountains (book review)

Finished this book last night, following a simulcast with the author on Monday.  I’ve tweeted quite a few quotes while reading.  Here are two from the end of the book that summarize it, in my opinion.

  • “We are all called to take the hill – with grandma.”
  • “God takes us into uncharted territory to transform us.”

Yes, the target of this book is leaders. Yet, anyone could gain much from this insightful work by Tod Bolsinger.

Yes, the target is mostly church leaders. Yet, business leaders who face a new day they didn’t see coming could also benefit from this read.

Bolsinger takes several pages from history through the 19th century story of Lewis and Clark to relate to those in 21st century leadership. Leaders today face uncharted territory which may feel like you have the wrong equipment for the job-like having a canoe to cross a mountain.

If this sounds remotely like what you are feeling, you should get this book and read it soon. Then have those you lead read it. Then start asking better questions together that may totally change everything. Instead of trying harder, maybe the answer you’ve been looking for is in reframing the question. As for you, your transformation can happen when you face uncharted territory, when you canoe the mountain.

Specifically Bold

(Final day in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

Several months ago during the prayer time after a Sunday morning sermon, a lady came forward and asked prayer for a job decision she needed to make. I can’t explain why, but I felt led to voice a prayer on her behalf that God make it clear to her within 48 hours what decision she should make.

A few weeks later she shared this with me: “I was taken back when you prayed so specifically that God would answer your prayer in 48 hours. But I have to tell you, that’s exactly what He did. Because of your prayer and the timing in which I had peace about a decision, I knew God had given me His answer. Thank you.”

Does that example mean I always get what I pray for? Nope. What it means is that we shouldn’t be afraid to pray specifically in order for God to give us direction. James wrote about this in the first chapter of his epistle.

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God – who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly – and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord, being double-minded and unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 (CSB)

In Eugene Peterson’s The Message, he paraphrases verse 6, “Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.” Many biblical characters voiced specifically bold prayers:

  • Hannah prayed boldly for a son (1 Samuel 1)
  • Elijah prayed boldly for rain (1 Kings 18)
  • David prayed boldly for forgiveness (Psalm 51)
  • Jesus prayed boldly for resurrecting power (John 11)

All of these prayers lacked doubt. All of them were specifically bold. All of them were answered. All of them brought God glory.

What specifically bold prayer could you pray today that would bring God glory?

Fearless

(Day 27 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

I’ve read about bold prayer and recently learned “bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less…The more specific your prayers are, the more glory God receives. Most of us don’t get what we want because we quit praying.” Do know how to properly pray to God?

Reading about bold praying helped me notice that I’m not being specific or really being bold during praying. I’ll say a little prayer just to make me feel good about praying for that moment. Then I read,

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16

This passage taught me a lot with only thirty something words. Then I noticed something again. I don’t put enough faith into bold praying, or just a simple prayer. Life is full of battles that would be impossible to conquer without God’s provision. When we talk to God, we need to pray boldly, be confident, courageous, forward, strong, and firm. We have to abide by that.

There is a difference between wanting to receive something from God and being determined to receive it. Have you ever boldly prayed to God? If you haven’t, you should start now, because he wants to listen to you. “Determination brings forth bold prayers of passionate conviction. Wishing leads to shallow and unspecific prayers that are timid, hesitant, and bashful – encompassing the complete opposite of boldness.” -John Bevere

Approaching God through prayer is much more than just words. You need to be resilient and bold when you come to God. We need to be bold for God even when we are not praying. We need to be bold in everything we do.

By Shanti M. Washington

Come With Everything

(Day 26 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

“The prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up; if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.” – James 5:15-18

One of the most incredible things about the gospel is that we are encouraged, throughout the New Testament, to pray always and in all circumstances. God did not give us access to Himself begrudgingly, hoping that we would never actually pray. He wants us to come to Him with everything-good, bad or indifferent-so that we can continue to build a relationship with Him, and so that He can continue to shape us into the people that He wants us to be.

In this passage, James reminds us to pray boldly for big, even miraculous things. Remembering to also be submissive in prayer, we must keep in mind that God’s highest goals are our sanctification and His glorification. Sometimes that means He will answer our prayers in very unexpected ways. But that should not stop us from praying with boldness. Rather, it should spur us on to pray with more perseverance and fervor, so that we may see God work in better ways than we can imagine in our limited view.

This is where James’ example of Elijah’s story becomes so helpful. In 1 Kings 17-18 Elijah prays for the drought that James describes, and the Lord brings it upon Israel, stopping the rain for three and a half years. Throughout that time, all of Israel suffers greatly from the resulting famine, but the Lord provides for Elijah in miraculous ways. And through the drought, the Lord turns the hearts of the people back to Himself, so that they worship Him once again. It is an amazing story of our great God and a righteous man who knew how to pray well. I encourage you to read it and dwell on how Elijah’s example can encourage you to pray with boldness.

By Kyle Reilly

The Power of Bold Praying

(Day 25 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the Lord. And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace. So it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the valley, God remembered Abraham and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow when he overthrew the cities in which Lot had lived. – Genesis 19:27–29

In this familiar passage, Moses describes the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah from Abraham’s perspective. Abraham rises early on the morning God brought sulfur and fire down upon the evil cities, returning to the place he had stood before the Lord a day earlier. He then looks down on the valley where these sinful cities once stood. Instead of a crowded civilization, the entire region had filled with smoke and fire.

It occurs to me that even though Lot and his family are safe and sound, this scene had to be very sad, even crippling in a way. Abraham most likely does not realize his nephew had been rescued, so his initial look toward the valley probably caused him grief and pain. I think we can all identify with this. Who among us has not felt the pain and fear, at least momentarily, that something terrible has happened to someone we love?

I believe that Verse 29 gives us one of the most important lessons we can learn from Sodom’s destruction: “God remembered Abraham,” …, “and sent Lot out.” We can understand from the greater context that Abraham’s interceding prayer saved Lot. It was not Lot’s own goodness but rather Abraham’s boldness in prayer on the behalf of Lot that saved him. “God remembered Abraham.” Isn’t it wonderful that God remembers bold prayers?

Consider also that if God remembered Abraham, how much more will He remember the prayers of His Son? The Lord Jesus Christ can “save us to the uttermost” because He continually intercedes for all those with faith in Him. This makes me want to shout and sing praises to His name!

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

By Doug Hull