Deep Water

Luke 5:4 (MSG)

When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”

If you’ve read the Gospels, you are familiar with this story.  Simon and his coworkers had been fishing all night and caught nothing.  Then Jesus tells them to do this.

Using that deep water thought, what area of life might God be telling you to push out?  What if He knows something you don’t and all you have to do is respond like Simon, “If you say so”?

  • It’s possible you’ve done all you can in the water where you are; it’s time to trust God by going into deeper water.
  • It’s possible you’ve exhausted all your resources in doing the same routine, doing what you know; it’s time to follow God in doing something new in deeper water.
  • It’s possible you’ve matured beyond the needs of your current location; it’s time to believe God has more for you by stretching you in deeper water.

Why be content in your “all night’s” work?

Why not consider the possibilities where God is offering to guide you?

When Has God Spoken to You (Journal Exercise Suggestion)

The back was too tight to do a morning run this morning (that’s what stretching and treadmill runs later in the day are for); so instead, God and I had a longer than usual conversation.

During the conversation I got a pretty clear message of something I am to do this week. Receiving that message made me ask this question, “If I made a list of the ‘big, writing-on-the-wall’ messages I’ve gotten from God in my life, what would that include?” 

Seemed like a good exercise, so I did it before I left for the office. As it turns out, in 30 years of adult living, I’d say I’ve received nine such messages. To be clear, “Be nice to idiots is not a ‘big’ message.” The daily messages we receive from the Holy Spirit are nothing more than atuning ourselves to communicating with Him regularly. A big message is something like, “Change your career path,” “I promise you if you’ll stop saying ‘no’ to me about this direction you’ll be 100% satisfied,” or “You’ve been waiting for the green light. Here it is.”

You might call these markers. Markers are specific times or places in our lives where significant things happen. Sure, your wedding day, your child’s birthday, and other physical events are markers. This intentional, spiritual exercise makes you think about your conversations-with-God markers. They can remind you who has been for you, where he has been with you, and what he has done through you.

So what are you waiting for? Get a blank page in front of you. Answer the question. You never know; another “big” message might be ready to get marked.

Dude, You’re At…the Gym

(An “Own It” series for Dudes)

Last Saturday, I watched something I’ve never seen. You rarely know a stranger’s story, but this dude had a story. 

We walked into the Manatee Avenue Planet Fitness at the same time. I always have a plan for my time in the gym. It most likely is get on the treadmill, run my preplanned distance or time, wipe down the machine, leave. Recently I’ve also joined the masses who plug in to their phone or the TVs to let music, news, or sports pass the time. This is what most “gymmers” do. They have a plan. They get it done. They own it.

This dude wasn’t an owner. I’m not sure what you’d call him. Maybe a wannabe. A poser. Bored. A leaner. Lost. From my observation, I’d definitely say he was confused about what to do when you go to the gym.

I never saw this dude pick up, get on, or much less turn on any piece of equipment. He touched a couple of pieces, but that was just to lean on them. No joke. For 25 minutes I watched him move from one elliptical to another, one bike to another just to lean on them and “change channels.” He’d stare at the TV above the machine for a minute or two, never plugging in mind you, and move over a machine or two to watch a different TV. Apparently he likes closed-caption viewing. This is all he did for 25 minutes. And the last time I saw him, he was walking away from every piece of equipment heading toward the exit. He’d leaned enough. Gym time was over.

Call me crazy, but what in the world? Hard to give, much less get credit for going to the gym when you might as well have stayed in the living room moving back and forth from the couch to the love seat. The recliner might have required some energy.

All kidding and judgment aside, when you are committing to a fitness plan, you really need to do just that-COMMIT. Playing at it makes a mockery of it. And the only one losing is you. The gym doesn’t lose. It doesn’t care if you commit or not. It’ll gladly take your monthly automatic deduction and roll on. If you actually hire a trainer, they don’t necessarily lose either when you don’t commit. You won’t be their favorite or star client, but they’ll also take your payment and work out any frustrations they may have because of you when they go to the gym.

Going to the gym, committing to a fitness plan is rather simple. At least from the logistic view. 

  • Schedule it. 
  • Develop your goals. 
  • Determine your action steps. 
  • Do the work. 
  • Enjoy the benefits.

If this isn’t working for you, then it’s time to ask yourself a different question. It could be worded something like, “What am I really doing at the gym? Why am I not owning this commitment?”

For the, I’ll say, 89% of dudes in the gym who are owning it, good job. Keep at it. Keep owning it. Like the two of you I was happy to share the gym with this morning.

One dude had an artificial leg. He got on the treadmill and owned it. The other dude had a significant limp and walked with a cane. He owned his gym time with free weights. They weren’t leaners or posers, lost or confused. They had a plan. They were getting it done. They owned it.

(I must give about 8.9% credit for this series to my dude Mark. He’s an owner.)

Closing the Gap

Nehemiah is a rich book. One great example of the story is how Nehemiah and his community managed themselves and others as they completed a massive project. As with any project, there is a starting point and a vision of what the finished work looks like. This gap between the start and the finish is where life happens.

Some of us have a tendency to expect the completion of our vision sooner than is logical. Sometimes this tendency leads us to go beyond ignoring logic and simply not having the patience to wait through the logical. It’s as if we are always asking God for miracles.

Does God still perform miracles? Sure. But many of the situations we want to experience change, where we envision the completion of a “project,” aren’t “lion’s den” moments. For example, changing the culture of an organization doesn’t happen in 24 hours, overcoming a cocaine addiction most likely takes months or years, and reshaping a dysfunctional family can be the work of an entire generation.

That’s reality. Some questions we should ask ourselves are, “Am I committed to closing the gap? Am I willing to see this through rather than expecting God to do what He intends me to do?” We know where we are and can probably envision where we want to be, but are we committed to the work and time to close the gap.

That’s doable. It actually may be even more life transforming than an instantaneous miracle.

So here are some questions to challenge ourselves when beginning a project, committing to closing a gap of any nature:

  • Where am I and where do I want to be?
  • What’s the real challenge I want to overcome?
  • What does God desire for this situation?
  • What steps are needed to start overcoming?
  • How long am I willing to work on closing the gap?
  • Who should I recruit to walk with me through this gap-closing season?
  • How will I celebrate when the gap is closed?

Fruity Fridays: Slow, Soft, Seeing Gentleness

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

post by Eric Vorhies 

When I think of gentleness, the first image that comes to mind is a new parent holding their child. Or maybe, gentleness is the appropriate amount of pressure to a car’s gas pedal when a teen is behind the wheel. It’s the spy in the movie handling the bomb, it’s a team of nurses in the hospital transferring a patient from a stretcher to a bed, and it’s the way one picks up the pieces of broken glass. Gentleness is slow in the way it moves. It understands the importance of a situation and is aware of the consequences of hurriedness. Gentleness is soft in the way it touches. It is reserved for handling the most delicate and fragile of all items. Gentleness sees in the way eyes cannot. Gentleness is guided, not by the present situation, but by the possibilities of many situations that are yet to come. 

Everyone understands the consequences of not being gentle when holding a baby. You could drop them… which apparently isn’t funny to even joke about. But what about the consequences of handling a relationship? Like luggage at an airport — most of the damage is on the inside and goes unseen by the person who handled it poorly. How messed up will someone be on the inside if they are not handled with gentleness? 

I need you to understand something — I haven’t been able to write this post because I have been distracted with life. Work has been unpleasantly slow, and I have been primarily a stay-at-home parent (which I am not good at) of three boys under 5yo (who I love dearly) that are, by default, very dependent on me. Then today, I learned that some very expensive equipment of mine can’t be fixed, I ordered the wrong rental to use this weekend in place of my broken equipment, and everything was frustratingly avoidable. I haven’t wanted to write this because gentleness has been absent from my life. 

And it makes me think…

The level of gentleness that God must possess…It seems unfathomable. Think about it — I am broken with sin, you are broken with sin…everyone is broken. We are metaphorically like fractured and cracked pieces of glass or jars of clay, and God is carrying us to our destination, slowly, softly, and seeing everything that could go wrong. My eyes well up thinking about how differently He has Fathered me than I would have fathered myself. 

The thing that has been weighing heavily on me is the thought that I might somehow be contributing to the brokenness of those around me because I am not being gentle. Is my sin damaging the fragile parts of the people I care most about? I have been short when I should have been patient. I have projected frustration when I should have projected insightfulness. I have been rash when I should have been calming. I have shaken the relational foundations with others to cope with my own feelings.

Maybe you are like me in some way…not applying gentleness to situations that resemble a bomb that is about to explode or to relationships that so are damaged they need to be treated like an ER patient.

Well, that’s why James writes, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

Be Slow when you react to people. It will give you time to find the right words to say, if anything needs to be said at all.

Be Soft in the way you deal with them. It is not about the amount of pressure that is applied, but how and where and when that pressure is applied that can break something…or someone.

And See the potential consequences of how not being gentle will play out. Because deep down, we are vulnerable and susceptible to being damaged because of the baggage we carry.

“No, You Don’t Have a Syndrome”

Twice. Not once. Two times today the same thing happened. Once in my office and now at home.

Both times I was looking for something and couldn’t find it. It wasn’t long until I found it, but when I did I had literally walked by it several times. What is going on?

Well, I know the answer, and no, it’s not OPS (old people syndrome-not a real thing, but something someone made up).

Both times I had overlooked the obvious because I assumed what I was looking for wasn’t in that spot. I subconsciously eliminated choices based on assumptions. My mind was temporarily shut off from considering those options. 

Huh? Interesting. Chew on that for a second.

Done?

When I paused to chew on this thought, it seemed apparent to me that we humans do this often. We overlook the obvious. Why?

  • Sometimes out of ignorance, meaning we need someone to point it out to us. Like asking the grocery clerk, “Where is the lettuce,” while standing beside it in the produce section.
  • Sometimes out of arrogance, meaning we know we’re right, regardless. Like saying, “Yes, honey, I checked my wallet and that $50 is not there,” only to find it behind the $10 when you look again 10 minutes later.
  • Sometimes out of hurriedness, meaning we don’t stop and think. Like saying to yourself, “But I always put my keys right here,” knowing full well that always is such a broad word that almost always should make you stop and think.

Should I go on?

I’ll stop there and encourage all of us to consider our ignorance, arrogance, and hurriedness. How blessed we’d be to eliminate these from our lives. Not just once. Not even just twice. Daily. And certainly when we want to give ourselves an out, like making up our own syndrome.

Praying for Your Pastors

We paid church staffers are often asked, “What can I do for you? How can I pray for you?” So, let me give you an example of how any pastor could use your prayers.

Sunday mornings are when they have the largest volume of interaction with churchgoers, visitors and members. And the range of conversations is quite broad. Just this morning after the service, in less than ten minutes I had five different brief interactions with people about the following subjects:

  1. Church member facing gall bladder surgery
  2. Church member grieving loss of adult son
  3. Church member preparing for professional exams
  4. Church member out of work and shelter
  5. Church member asking about the temperature in the Worship Center

This is common, normal Sunday intake for your pastors. Put yourself in that space for a moment. What prayer(s) come to mind for you to offer on behalf of your pastors?

The one that comes to mind right now is that your pastors would be an example of Galatians 5:16-26. Your pastors are human. They are prone to the same tendencies as anyone else. Paul writes here that we cannot operate well for God’s kingdom without being led by his Spirit. Pray that your pastors stay closer to God than to anyone else, that they remain ready to withstand their flesh and anyone else’s, and that they then will produce the fruit of the Spirit not becoming “conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

A last thought. Tell your pastors you pray for them. Tell them how you feel led to pray for them. Tell them you have a glimpse of their Sundays.

3 Keys to Distinguishing Yourself

In a world where everyone and everything is readily accessible, the idea of making a mark, of being memorable, of branding well is high on the priority list. Believe it or not, there’s a guy in the Bible whose storyline gives insights into distinguishing yourself. You find him in Daniel 6.

“Daniel distinguished himself above the administrators and satraps because he had an extraordinary spirit, so the king planned to set him over the whole realm. The administrators and satraps, therefore, kept trying to find a charge against Daniel regarding the kingdom. But they could find no charge or corruption, for he was trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.” ‭‭Daniel‬ ‭6:3-4‬ ‭CSB‬‬

Daniel was a foreigner, in exile. Yet he respected God’s purposes enough to distinguish himself, not for himself but for God. Verse 3 says he had an extraordinary spirit; verse 4 says he was trustworthy and without corruption. How did these three keys set him apart?

Extraordinary Spirit

When you’re forced to be somewhere not of your choosing, your first inclination is not to be extraordinary. Most would be tempted with bitterness or anger. For the person who truly believes like Daniel that God sees and knows all things, those temptations can easily be overcome. Whatever challenge you face-job situation, financial struggles, family tension, unexpected loss-you have access to the God who is working for you who can give you an extraordinary spirit. That’s distinguishing. 

Trustworthy 

Nurturing and cultivating trust in all relationships is worth any amount of time and effort. Think about the people you most trust. How did that trust get built? What character traits do they manifest that distinguished them to foster your willingness to trust them? Daniel had saved lives by his dream interpretation skills. That’s trustbuilding. But even more cultivating was he didn’t take credit. He acknowledged his power source was his God. Daniel built trust by doing his job selflessly and humbly giving proper credit. That’s distinguishing. 

Without Corruption

Position brings power. Power attracts opportunities. Opportunities can be the enemy’s minefield. The storyline of Daniel 6 illustrates the opposing responses to power and opportunity and their results. Daniel remained incorrupt by staying closer to his God daily and avoiding the enemy’s lure into his minefield. Even the threat of death lost its power. That’s distinguishing. 

Should we wonder why God found Daniel innocent  (verse 22)? Just like Daniel, we can be distinguished. Our spirit can be extraordinary. We don’t have to allow bitterness or anger to lead us into mistrust or corruption. Daniel accomplished this by maintaining his routine of communicating with God. His location, occupation, and feelings were not allowed to sway him from being who God wanted him to be. That’s distinguishing. 

Fruity Fridays: Strength in Gentleness

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

post by Jeremy Nixon

Galations 5:23 – “the fruit of the spirit is…gentleness.” You know, my favorite thing about the Bible is the stories. There is literally a story about everything in the Bible. Over and over again the Bible shows us the importance of gentleness.  

I’m reminded of the story about the adulterous woman brought to Jesus in the temple in John 8. The scribes and Pharisees caught a lady in the act of adultery and wanted to test Jesus to see what he would do. I think the lady probably expected Jesus to blow up and get angry, while ordering them to stone her…but Jesus was as gentle as could be. He painted a picture of gentleness for us to know how we should act when difficult circumstances and problems come up.  

Most people equate gentleness with weakness, but it is far from weakness. How strong was it for Jesus to stand up to the Pharisees? Even though he is the Son of God, there were several of them and just one of Him. Jesus squatted down and wrote in the dirt. Without a raise of His voice he simply said, “If you are without sin, then cast the first stone.” One by one they left. He turned to the lady and said, “Go and sin no more.” Powerful and gentle, it was far from weak. Jesus didn’t excuse or pass over her sin; He gently called her to change. The same way Jesus was gentle with the adulterous lady is the way we need to be with the people we are around.   

You see, our world needs more gentleness. There is so much hate in our world, and everyone wants to be at the top of food chain. We’ll do anything to get ahead, even if it means hurting others. God doesn’t call us to that. He calls us to be gentle. In Philippians 4:5 Paul says, “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” A gentle person speaks truth, and true followers are known by their gentleness. The same way Jesus spoke truth into the adulterous lady is the same way He calls us to speak truth into this world. When we do this, people will see Christ in us. It’s definitely not easy, but God calls us to it; and we have to strive to be gentle, especially in our day and age. People need it. They desperately need to hear this message about Jesus and His gentle spirit. They’ll see it in us and our actions far before they’ll read it in the Bible.  

How will you show gentleness this week?

The Power of “May”

Today I heard a missionary talk about the power of blessing. She lives in a country where Islam is the norm, and she has learned that Muslims place importance on the practice of blessing a newborn. She was asked how Americans bless newborns. When she answered that people just say congratulations, she was told that congratulations is not a blessing. This made her think about the practice of blessing and how it could impact people.

As she read scriptures to find examples of blessings, the power of one word was evident. The word is may. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed hearing the use of this word by pastors, particularly when they are giving a challenge to their congregation. But when you read different scriptures that include may, you are reading some excellent examples of how to bless others. Here are three examples in Paul’s writings:

Now may the God who gives endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, according to Christ Jesus, so that you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with one mind and one voice. Romans 15:15-16

Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus-the great Shepherd of the sheep-through the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with everything good to do his will, working in us what is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Hebrews 13:20-21

Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely. And may your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Thessalonians 5:23

May we share the power of blessing through spoken and written word. May we experience the power of God’s word spoken to us and through us.