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)

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 If, Men?

I’ve traveled to Jordan twice this year. Much could be said about traveling to that part of the world. One thing I noticed the first time and then even more the second time is this: Arab men know how to do community.

They enjoy talking to each other. They enjoy healthy disagreement. They share the good and the bad. They lean into one another. They plan time together. From my experience, they do it better than we Americans. So I’m doing what I can now to change that experience.

We have an opportunity. If the opportunity could be boiled down to one word, I believe that word is trust. Much like we have to grow our trust in God, we should pay attention to grow our trust in one another. It’s quite possible that the former is needed and necessary in order for the latter to happen. So how do we go about growing these trusts?

TRUST BY SHARING YOUR FEARS

Yesterday one of my friends did this with me during a breakfast conversation. He shared a fear he’s dealing with, and I’m the first male that knows. He seemed to feel better just because he had a brother to share his fear with. Scripture tells us to bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2). Imagine how lighter the community of men would be if we shared our fears rather than bearing them all alone. What if we started by sharing our fears with God and asking him to give us the courage to share them with a brother?

TRUST BY BEING HONEST

We have the habit of not being real, not being completely honest and transparent. Guys, you are not going to be weak by being real. You are going to be stronger because you are not denying the truth. The truth can only set you free when you speak it and live in it. Earlier this year I watched a brother go through a trying season, life threatening, because he refused to be honest. Imagine how stronger the community of men would be if we embraced honesty. What if we started by being honest with God and humbling ourselves to be honest with a brother?

TRUST BY TAKING THE CHANCE

As I’m writing this, the news is reporting the murder/suicide of a deputy sheriff’s family in a nearby county. Familiar story-no one knows why, no one suspected it, no one saw it coming. We can grow our trust in numerous ways of taking chances. What if we took a personal chance by considering a mental health check up as much as a physical one? What if we took a chance by pointing out odd behavior to our brothers? What if we took a chance by asking how to pray for one another? What if we took a chance to follow through on a Holy Spirit nudge to reach out to a brother? Imagine the impact to the community of men if we took more chances. What if we started by asking God to give us a chance to take today?

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.

God’s Plan

In prepping for several upcoming talks, unexpectedly Acts 1:1-8 is one of the focuses. Credit for this focus is due to our Thursday morning growth group discussion recently. Thought I’d share this simple outline since the majority of you missed that discussion.

  1. God is always at work. And it may be something I don’t understand…yet. (verses 1-3)
  2. God sees the big picture. And I don’t have to. (verses 4-5)
  3. God knows more than I do. And that’s why I can rest. (verses 6-7)
  4. God’s plan involves everybody. And so should mine. (verse 8)

Sabbath Webinar

Over the years, the subject of Sabbath has created some interesting conversations. This year, it’s gotten more intentional as I’ve led two groups through a coaching program about it and watched the participants walk away with a new perspective and personal plan about Sabbath.

For readers in the U.S. and around the world, it would be even more interesting to hear from one another about your Sabbath practices, or lack of it. Earlier today, I teamed up with fellow coach Tonya Waechter to share a webinar, part one of three, regarding Sabbath. You can watch it here: Webinar.

Tonya and I would love to hear your insights and then have you join us for webinar parts 2&3.