At Our Best

I’m a third of the way through Dr. Bell’s book. In a passage about success, he wrote this:

We in fact NEED others at their best because it is the way we make ourselves better. All historic rivalries were based on two greats performing at their best. Ali had Frazier, Nicklaus had Palmer, Magic had Bird, Federer had Nadal, Navratilova had Evert and so on.

Funny. On the Wimbledon coverage this morning, they talked about this very idea because of the ongoing success of Federer and Nadal. But when I read this, my mind wasn’t thinking of rivalries. I was thinking about teams and Dr. Bell’s theme of no one getting anywhere alone.

All team members should strive to be at their best. When they do, the team can’t help but experience improvement and hopefully unity. When they don’t, all sorts of dysfunction is possible. 

Being at your best means working at all areas of your life, by the way. Working at having a great home life won’t necessarily equal having a great work life, and vice versa. And neither of these will be at their best if spiritual life is ignored. To be at our best, we must avoid compartmentalizing and work from a full life perspective.

In our Thursday morning men’s group this week, we discussed Micah 6:8. Consider this verse. Consider how God has already made it plain how to be at our best:

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously. (MSG)

Advertisements

What Are You Telling Yourself?

2 Kings 5 tells the entertaining and interesting story of Naaman. Naaman was a commander in the Syrian army who also happened to be a leper. His wife’s handmaid, a young Israelite, encouraged him to go see Elisha, the prophet in Samaria that she believed could heal him. After gathering what he thought he needed for the trip and arriving at Elisha’s front door, he found out things were not going to play out as he thought.

Elisha sent out a messenger to tell him to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman didn’t think this was acceptable.

Naaman lost his temper. He turned on his heel saying, “I thought he’d personally come out and meet me, call on the name of God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and get rid of the disease. The Damascus rivers, Abana and Pharpar, are cleaner by far than any of the rivers in Israel. Why not bathe in them? I’d at least get clean.” He stomped off, mad as a hornet. (MSG)

“I thought…I said to myself…I told myself.” 

Naaman had told himself what to expect based on his position and on his limited understanding of God’s prophets and their ways. When his expectations were not realized, his initial reaction was anger. His expectations were not realized because he had only talked with himself. 

You been there? I have. Built expectations on just what I thought, what I had told myself. No one else was in the conversation. No one. And it didn’t end well.

Not knowing the God of Israel, it’s understandable that Naaman would have to experience something like this to believe, to see his thoughts in a new light. Naaman had to learn that a life lived with only one conversation with yourself is limited and potentially hopeless. A better life, the one God desires for you, is found when you invite God and others into the conversation. When Naaman humbled himself, released his expectations and listened to someone else, then God was able to heal him.

What are you telling yourself? What if you always welcomed God into the conversation? I grow weary of telling myself anything. I’d rather God tell me everything, be in charge, and meet his expectations.

Leaving The Shield

He is a shield for those who live with integrity. Proverbs 2:7

Solomon says wisdom leads to living with integrity which in turn results in being shielded by God.

We all long to feel safe and protected. Reflecting on this verse recently, I made the connection between making wise choices and maintaining safety from God when the right choice is made. His safety and protection is not guaranteed and is put in jeopardy when I choose to disobey or disregard wisdom. Whatever the results are from an unwise choice is my fault; I chose to leave the protection behind God’s shield.

This isn’t necessarily a popular thought these days. Living life as you want without any fear of repercussions is what culture preaches. Then when life strikes back after someone makes a poor choice, suddenly God is questioned and possibly even denied. It’s his fault, not ours. I bet if we asked some guys from scripture they would testify differently about what happens when you leave the shield of God’s protection.

Ask David. When he left because of his lust, people died, including his infant son.

Ask Jonah. When he left because of his prejudice, he ended up on the beach, covered in fish guts.

Ask Achan. When he left because of his selfishness, he lost everything, and so did his family.

We’re just like these guys. We’ve left the shield at some point. Thankfully, that doesn’t have to be a permanent decision. 

Have you thanked God lately for his protection, for being your shield, for welcoming you back after you’ve left? Maybe the next time you talk with him, not only thank him but also commit to following him with integrity, to staying behind his shield of protection.

Through the Thorn

This week I finished a book that a friend gave me entitled Kiss the Wave by Dave Furman. Furman is a pastor in Dubai who suffers from a nerve disease and struggles with disability in both arms. I’ll just go ahead and recommend this book for anyone who is living with or giving support to someone with a lifelong disability.


Chapter 9, “Weakness is Always the Way,” had the most nuggets for me. Furman reminds the reader that God’s ways are not our ways. He talks about the Japanese form of art called Kintsugi, which involves joining together broken pottery pieces with gold or another precious metal, as an example. God uses the brokenness of pain and suffering to create in us images of his power through our weakness. Weakness is the way (a borrowed title from a book of the same name by J.I. Packer).

If we were steel vessels without blemish or weakness, we might be tempted to think we have no need for God. However, God uses weakness to show our need for dependence upon him.

It is a privilege to boast in our weaknesses because they reveal who are Father really is – a great God.

Have you ever considered that your weakness is a part of God’s glorious plan for your life?

We can embrace God in our trials with faith that God is doing a work in us beyond our comprehension. Our scars are not things to run from or to hide from others. Through them we exalt the one who is conforming us more and more into his image.

Furman’s final scriptural example in this chapter is from 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about his weakness of a thorn in the flesh. Paul says he boasted in his weaknesses and was content with them because he was made strong through them. Then Furman wrote this: “We might wonder what Paul could have accomplished if he didn’t have that the thorn. But the reality is, everything Paul accomplished was done by God – not in spite of the thorn but through the thorn.”

Most likely you have a thorn. It could be physical, emotional, mental, even spiritual. Maybe you live with MS, or you battle depression, or you’re trying to overcome the emotional scars of family history. Maybe your thorn is like Thomas’s where you tend to doubt and worry more than trust and believe. What if you studed Paul’s life then followed his example of surrendered contentment? What could God do if you let him work through your thorn? 

Stop Listening to Yourself

I read this quote yesterday from Martin Lloyd-Jones. I’m guessing we all could use this reminder from time to time.

I say that we must talk to ourselves instead of allowing “ourselves” to talk to us!…Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you…The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself. You must say to your soul: “Why are you cast down” -and say to yourself: “Hope in God”-instead of muttering in this depressed, unhappy way. And then you must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged himself to do.

*D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1965), 20-21

The Autonomy Problem

(For regular readers of this blog, this entry will not be like others. It is not indicative of future entries. Allow me this one and done, please. For first-timers, you’re welcome to follow along for future posts with the same expectations.)

I am a Christian. My father was an Independent Baptist minister (to be clear, that didn’t make me a Christian; that choice was my own). For all 50 years of my life, I’ve been a member of Baptist churches-the first 25 in Independent Baptist (IB) churches, the second 25 in Southern Baptist (SB) churches. At age 29, I took my first church staff position. In these last 21 years, I have served three SB churches in associate minister roles. These churches have varied in weekly attendance from 60 to 1,600. Over my lifetime, my church experiences have included seven IB and SB churches in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Much like being blessed to be an American, I have been blessed God has granted me this history.

Recent SB news hasn’t been pretty; that’s being nice (to be clear, I will not be including links to any news stories or responses from others in this post. Google is your friend). My pastor tweeted this week that he is “heartbroken over the tragic events in our SBC family.” I haven’t asked him this question, but I’m pretty sure if asked if this is the first time his church experience has broken his heart, he’d say no. That’s my answer. Chances are, that’s the majority’s answer. Why is that?

The exhaustive answer to that question would take a series of blogs. I’m only in for one post, remember? So I’m going to zero in on just one, which was actually brought up in a response to my pastor’s tweet. And it’s been an answer for me since I was 12 years old. The answer to why my heart has continued to go through a cycle of being broken and mended is autonomy.

So we’re all working with the same understanding, autonomy is defined as self-governing, free from external control or influence, independent. All IB and SB churches exist under this theological conviction. Is it the right or wrong conviction, some are asking? My answer is, that’s the wrong question. The conviction has been chosen. Frankly, if you don’t like the conviction, consider other churches that have another conviction. The better question I raise is this: how can every Baptist church improve its autonomous state?

It’s easy to point fingers at the other guy, the other church, the other president or professor or minister like you’re the Monday morning quarterback who knows how they could have been held in check. Before we do that, let’s take our eyes off the news and our mobile devices and consider how our local autonomy is going. That starts in every church member’s heart, then moves to their home, and then to their church. Why? Because we all are bent toward autonomy. We all desire to be self-governing, free from external control, and independent. That’s a problem. I know it is for me. Chances are, it is for you also.

Start there. With you. Then your household. Then your church. Ask yourself better questions. 

  • How much is God in charge?
  • How dependent am I on God?
  • Where am I allowing other Christians to speak into my life?
  • How should we best keep each other in check?
  • Where am I tempted to be independent from God and others? How could I address that problem of autonomy?
  • How open am I to accountability in all arenas of my life? How can I establish it?

Scripture tells us to guard our hearts. I believe we need to avoid more broken hearts by guarding them against the autonomy problem.

This is my opinion, one answer to why. I understand the autonomy of one person’s blog. Feel free to offer accountability.

Get to the Doctor!

Psalm 19 is full, rich, and worth meditation. Verses 12-13 jumped out at me this morning.

Who perceives his unintentional sins? Cleanse me from my hidden faults. Moreover, keep your servant from willful sins; do not let them rule me.

Did you notice the two types of sin he acknowledges? Unintentional and willful. That’s worth chewing on.

We all have a pretty good idea what our willful sins are, if we are honest. Many of them start with our tongue: slandering, gossiping, lying, or stretching the truth for our benefit. Others stay hidden from others in our minds and hearts, but they aren’t hidden to us. These types of sin are easy to address because we are aware of them.

But what about those unintentional sins? How are we supposed to address or acknowledge what we can’t see? 

May I suggest thinking of these sins as blind spots. If you were experiencing strange spots in your vision, what would you do? You’d probably go to the doctor, right? Because of his experience and knowledge, he could explain to you why your vision is spotty. 

What if the difficulty in your emotional/mental/spiritual life is hidden from your view? If you knew what it was or how to address it, you would do it, right? So when we can’t figure it out on our own, we have options similar like going to the eye doctor:

  • Pray these two verses
  • See a counselor or therapist
  • Go to church
  • Lean on a friend/mentor
  • Get connected to a small group

These are just a start. I would say that they could/should also be moved from optional status to non-optional status. If we want to stay clear of experiencing blind spots, ongoing connection with others desiring the same thing is the best place to be. Don’t wait for the blind spots to rise. Expect them. Position yourself in places where they can be seen, and you can receive the answers you cannot see for yourself. Get to the doctor!

3 Messages from Jordan

Back in Florida from a 13-day trip to Jordan. We had an outstanding time with the team (Latvians, Brazilians, Irish, Americans) pictured below.


When talking with those we went to support, I asked three of them this question: “When I have the opportunity to share with Americans a message from you, what would you like me to share?” Here are their responses:

Receive and love our people. They’ve suffered enough. Don’t add to their pain or cause them more hurt. -Iraqi refugee

When you pray for us, consider that you might be the answer to your own prayer. -Missionary

We believe the American church is our mother church. We pray for you. Please pray for us. -Pastor

3 Questions to Counter Fear’s Lies

(a follow up from last post)

When, not if, fear lies to us, we should be ready with a counterpunch. Our most powerful counters will be focused on God, not us. In the story from Exodus 3-4, Moses’ counters were all about himself. Suppose he had countered with these questions instead.

What is God doing? 

  • And I don’t mean, “Pretty cool trick. How is he doing that?” Rather, I’m talking big picture. Moses may have actually been asking himself this question for decades, but I’m guessing his viewpoint was too small.

Where does God want me to join his work?

  • It’s pretty clear Moses gave up this thought long ago. His bully memories and self-excusing led him to accept, “This is all there is.”  It wasn’t long before he found out otherwise. 

How is God revealing himself?

  • Like most of us, Moses was caught up in his own awe. His self-imposed blindness allowed him to offer only what he could see. His world changed when God removed his blinders.

Go ahead. Counter Fear. Give God his chance to remove your blinders to show you what He’s doing and how you can join him.

Fear is a Liar

Exodus 3-4:16
Fear steals your curiosity. 3:1-4
Fear steals your “yes.” 3:11,13; 4:1,10,13
Fear steals your awe of God. 3:5-6,14-15;4:11

Daniel 3
Fear will tell you to bow to other gods. Vs. 1-6
Fear will tell you to give your allegiance to what you can see. Vs. 7-12
Fear will tell you to resist God’s plan. Vs. 13-18
Fear will tell you that God cannot be trusted. Vs. 19-30