“Best’s” best enemy…

open-bible 2John was on his way to his son’s ballgame and received a call. “Come to the church. The mower needs some maintenance.” John was no mechanic. In fact, he is a pastor. He does have “a particular set of skills” that allows him to eventually fix things because he can visually work through mechanical processes, but it is not his sweet spot. The mower is important. So is the ball game. Both are good but only one is best. “Best’s” best enemy is not some evil thing, but a good thing. There is a good thing to do and a best thing to do. Always choose the best.

In Acts 6, the ministry and influence of the early church was increasing exponentially. One of the main roles of the church was to care for the most vulnerable in society, widows and orphans. This is a good thing, and sometimes the best thing. In fact, it is always a “best” thing for someone but not always for everyone. The pressure was on by those who were concerned about the widows. The pressure was really on by those who were offended that THEIR widows were being neglected while others were being cared for and the only reason seemed to be racial bias. The call rose up to the Apostles… (Y’all) come fix this!

Now look at the response:

“The Twelve summoned the whole company of the disciples and said, ‘It would not be right for us to give up preaching the word of God to wait on tables’.” (Acts 6:2, CSB)

Now I cannot speak for you, but as for me, even typing that verse made me a little uncomfortable. How can the Apostles reject a ministry opportunity in front of them for Bible Study and Preaching? Don’t they know that “pure and unfiled religion in the sight of God is this, to care for widows and orphans in their distress…” (James 1:27).

Truthfully, OF COURSE they knew this! For the Church (community as a whole) this is a non-negotiable but as for the Apostles, their calling was more narrow and specific. They obviously did ministry and cared for people. They also were charged with a specific task and calling that only they could do while others (who were not charged with the responsibility of the Word ministry) could easily care for the ministry to the widows.

The point is- God has gifted and called you to do certain things. Do that/those. Andy Stanley says (to pastors in the context I heard it), “Only do what only you can do.” The Apostles indicate here that releasing ministry to those who could focus their attention on widow ministry while they ministered the Word was the appropriate response. I have said it many times like this, “The NEED is never the Call…the Call is the Call.”

So, do what you are called to do. Don’t use this verse as “cover” for laziness. Work and work hard. If you can do something…do it…unless it interferes with Best. Then do Best and leave Good for the person to whom Good is Best. If you do, God will be glorified, the church will be encouraged, the needs will be met and you’ll not wear yourself out in the process.

The Proceeds of Diligence

open-bible 2“The hand of the diligent will rule, but the slack hand will be put to forced labor…A lazy man does not roast his prey but the precious possession of a man is diligence.” Proverbs 12:24, 27.

One of the qualities that seems to be waning in our culture today is diligence. The perseverance of character that marked a generation not too many years ago seems to be lost on most in the current one.

The writer of Proverbs in this short section focuses on the wisdom of diligence. One who is diligent will have the responsibility to lead and rule, whereas the man lacking diligence will find himself a slave. In verse 27 we see the contrast of the conduct of the lazy and diligent man…the lazy man hunts and kills but does not see the task through to its intended reward…by cooking that which he hunted for so that he may eat. In contrast, the wise man sticks with the task to completion so as to enjoy the rewards of diligence.

The Hebrew word for diligence has a wide semantic domain (range of meanings based on context) but the picture formed in looking at them is consistent. Diligence is like one who keeps his blades sharpened and is precise in his labor. Diligence is the man who avoids distraction and who refuses to quit. The lazy man wastes all of his efforts in hunting by neglecting to finish the task of cooking the meat; whereas, the diligent man presses on to completion and is therefore rewarded by his efforts.

The analogies abound but what if Edison had quit one experiment before inventing the light bulb? What if Ford had backed away with only a set of drawings on a napkin of what a mass production assembly line process could look like? What if Ray Kroc had allowed his vision of franchised restaurants and systematized food preparation to die when rebuffed by the McDonald brothers?

The reason we have commercially produced incandescent light bulbs, an automobile or three in every driveway and can get a Big Mac in every major city in America (and throughout most of the developed world) is because of diligence.

  • What were you led to begin that is not yet finished? Resolve to complete the task.
  • What did you start that you let drift into oblivion that may need to be restored?
  • What commitment do you need to “shore up” in your heart in order to complete it?

Be diligent, and in so doing, fulfill the destiny for which you were created as a son or daughter of the King!

Thriving in the Middle

EIB pinning

The Army’s EIB (Expert Infantryman Badge) “forced march” is daunting. With full pack and weapon, a soldier set out to complete the twelve-mile journey in less than 3 hours as part of the testing to earn the proficiency badge for the infantryman’s craft.

I was never an infantryman, but this “twelve-mile ruck march” was adopted by several other training courses I participated in as a way to test physical and mental toughness. The physical element test is self-evident…but let’s take a moment to explore the mental test and see how it applies in other areas of our lives.

On my first EIB March, I can say that there was great enthusiasm at the onset and the last few hundred yards also bolstered enthusiasm within. Where the difficulty resides is in the middle. Somewhere after the first six miles or so, the road begins to drone on forever and the pain in your body appears to be more prevalent. It is in this difficult “middle” that the mental test reveals itself. A battle rages in the mind of the soldier to succumb to the throbbing feelings in the back, legs, and feet…or to press forward. Pressing forward is not complicated but it requires mental toughness. Simply stated, to work through the middle requires one to intentionally continue placing one foot in front of the other.

EIB Badge

Step, then step, then step, then step. This is the recipe for overcoming the middle. Some guys create games to focus their minds such as developing a cadence in their head. Some will simply focus on another soldier and the interval between them. Others will work on counting off paces along the way. Whatever mental game is implemented, the task is to put one foot in front of the other and then to repeat.

Life in general is like this too. Church life (my present reality) also bears these characteristics. In recent days, I’ve watched several people I love simply lose focus in the middle. They struggle to attend faithfully. They struggle with their personal devotion time. They struggle with fulfilling obligations made to teams and committees. They, frankly, are in the middle of the march. Some of those, experience teaches, will fall away. Some will think the problem is the “march” they are in and will look for other marches (churches) to join. Others will just focus on the throbbing in their legs and sit on the side of the road waiting on the pick-up truck to carry them back to the rally point where they will tell the many reasons why they needed to stop and try again some other times.

But…and this is huge…some will simply put one foot in front of the other and repeat.

Where is the motivation to continue the march?  Friend, that is the part of the test that demonstrates mental toughness. It is individual and personal. At the same time, there are a few aids that seem to be common with everyone who presses through to the finish line:

  • Don’t forget WHY you started. The Infantryman doesn’t want to march, he wants the proficiency badge and the honor that goes with it.
  • Don’t focus on the pain. Feet and legs throb in the march. I get it. Focus though on the terrain or the interval to the next “soldier” ahead of you. Paul instructs us in this when he says, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
  • Eliminate “other marches” from your field of consideration. All marches in life have a middle. They all test mental toughness. If you quit this one, your future ones will be that much harder, even if you change marches.
  • Remember those around you. Yep, you became part of a team when you started. Someone loved you, cared for you, and encouraged you through your difficulties. If nothing else, defer to your sense of loyalty to the group and put one foot in front of the other. Failure to do so will be a thorn in your side eventually and will serve to discourage the “family of marchers” that loved you to the point where you are.

You can finish. One foot in front of the other. Step, EIB Finish 2then step, then step…

Grace and Peace…and finish the march.

The Draft, the Bench, and the Will of God

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Two years. That’s almost how long I “rode the pine” in ministry. God had spoken and moved in my life. I surrendered to the call to ministry and began to preach immediately, and often…most months as often as three times per month. But no church called me.

Have you ever “known” the will of God and were certain that God was sending you in a particular direction…only to get passed over?

How did it feel? Did the enemy whisper in YOUR EAR as he does mine?

  • You’re not good enough.
  • You’re not ready.
  • You’re not qualified.

We have recently gone through another season of college football players being examined and selected in the NFL Draft…

The players in the draft represented the best of the talent from their college football squads. They were the guys who made the amazing plays caught on the ESPN highlight reel, and they were the guys making the block that made the plays on the reel possible.

One of the familiar refrains among many of the observers related to why “their player” did not go sooner or did not go to a particular team. Certainly, the “Monday morning quarterbacking” (pun intended) is evident as people like me try to second guess those involved in the process. We might not approve of the message it sends when our favorite University standout doesn’t go until the second or third round. We may even carry a burden of offense for the message of “value” attributed to our player if he goes later in the draft. After all, aren’t all the good players going in the top ten of the first round?

What we may miss now and again is the underlying message. The draft picks are based on the quality of the player AND the needs of the drafting team. It is important to remember that a team with a great quarterback and significant depth on the bench is not making a value judgment of our favorite quarterback when they choose to select a defensive player first. Their selection is about the needs of their team first, and the caliber of your player second.

In our lives and assignments, it is tough at times to watch God draft others for assignments ahead of us. Sometimes He selects people that we should have beaten out for a job. But doesn’t such assessment lack insight? Is God not also able to consider the needs of the team as well as the talent of the player?

Monday comes every week. Every week we look back on Sunday and ask the question about our usefulness in our assignment. If we have a good understanding of God’s will and God’s ways…we must consider that He is working on a larger vision than we cannot often fully grasp. We look at our areas of awareness but God is infinitely more aware of the needs that exist everywhere and at every time…including those that won’t even be revealed for months or years to come. So, rest easy dear friend. Trust the process of the Draft and war against the desire to accept the implicit value judgments. You are valuable. You were drafted. You are exactly where He assigned you and your next assignment, whatever it is, is already known. It is perfect…not only for you but for Him who called you as well.

They heard of God’s concern, and…

open-bible 2This passage spoke to me today as I was reading in my morning devotional time.

“So the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord was concerned about the sons of Israel and that He had seen their affliction, then they bowed low and worshiped.”
Exodus 4:31.

The people of Israel were in Egypt for 400 years. The latter years were dramatically more difficult that the former because the leadership of the nation changed following Joseph’s death. (Never mind a sermon on how God has to, at times, increase our discomfort to get us to move on with the mission). Pharoah really hammered the people and the more he tried to break them physically, emotionally, and even spiritually, they grew increasingly desperate in their cries to God.

Then Moses arrives on the scene. He approaches the people, demonstrates, his credentials (which were nothing but the working of God through him…which is another sermon in itself), and the people saw a glimmer of hope.

They HEARD that God cared about them. This is an important step that we miss. Many of God’s people are busy explaining how God is angry with their conduct. The focus at times is on how God is concerned with everyone else BUT the people we speak to. What moved these people though was their understanding that God was concerned for them.

God had SEEN their affliction. What an encouraging thought that God sees every transgression, failure, victim, and perpetrator. He sees. He sees! There is nothing that you and I experience that God doesn’t see! Furthermore, He voiced His concern and demonstrated that He was seeking to rectify the matter. (It is why He raised up Moses).

And the people BOWED LOW and WORSHIPED. The response of the people upon realizing that God sees and is concerned is humility and worship. It was not God’s awareness fo their sinfulness and lack of faith that provoked worship. God met them exactly where they were. There would be many days ahead to address faithlessness, but today, what provoked worship, was realizing God’s concern.

For the preacher today…”Message received.” Perhaps you hear the same thing. Today, remind people that God is concerned. He sees. He is able. He is active. He deserves worship.

Blessings, CA

Boundaries

Pacific Highway“There are boundaries that exist for our good.” These words are incredibly difficult for me to speak in my flesh, that is, when rising up from my humanity. I dislike the concept of boundaries. I recognize their inherent worth in principle, but, at times, the desires of man’s nature make those boundaries seem intrusive and even impossible.

Yet, if we comprehend the metanarrative of God’s purposeful design then we must acknowledge the value of boundaries. To reject boundaries or to resist their purpose is to subject ourselves to incalculable suffering. Early one morning, I scanned through the channels of the television and came upon a movie about transgressed boundaries. The full story line is inconsequential except for its value in illustrating my point. It was a story of forbidden love and how the draw of the heart brought two people together, even momentarily. Doing so damaged a marriage commitment. In fact, the commitment to marriage had been modified to become “open” so that the heart could wander and fulfill its passions. The storyline presented the case that casting off boundaries, while ultimately causing heartache, freed the heart to experience great and blissful happiness and fulfillment, even if it were only temporary. I was reminded of the gracious and loving gift of boundaries.

Some see God as “old fashioned” because He instructs people to avoid certain things. From the declaration to not eat from the “certain” tree in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), to the counsel of the writer of Proverbs about the foolishness of lustful naivety (Proverbs 7) and its magnetic draw toward adultery and death (Proverbs 5), Scripture gives us boundaries to guard us and guide us toward unspeakable joy. These boundaries, when tested by the heart, seem oppressive; however, when comprehended by the faithful Christian, are instruments that promote ultimate peace, pleasure, and satisfaction.

“Rules were made to be broken,” as the saying goes, is a recipe for disaster. Time will not allow me to unpack stories of those who have wept before me over adulterous relationships that began as unchecked flirtatiousness. There are not enough hours to detail the immense suffering that resulted from stealing from a trusted friend or family member. We cannot even begin to examine the costs of addiction that began as one pill or one beer to relax. In nearly every case, the grief-stricken person can detail the moment that the heart approached the biblical boundary for the final skirmish and transgressed it.

Truly, boundaries seem archaic at times and the draw of human nature (or you may call the heart) seems overwhelmingly strong; however, can we ever claim that this is unusual to us? Is this not the struggle in Genesis 4 in the heart of Cain? Is this not the allure that seized David’s heart when looking upon Bathsheba? IS this not the battle raging in Peter’s heart as he warmed himself over a stove in Caiaphas’ courtyard (Matthew 27:69ff)?

Dear friends, God always designed us to battle the pull of the heart toward rebellion…not because His ego was massive but because God desired to save us from the consequences of the morning after, and the one after that, and the one after that.

The storyline of the movie positioned the experience of forbidden love as something positive. The “adversary” convinced Cain that his happiness would follow the destruction of his brother Abel. The naïve young man of Proverbs 7 fell headlong into destruction, convinced that the beautiful woman would be his “ticket” to ultimate pleasure. Truthfully, the “enemy” has always packaged rebellion as the means to happiness but the consequences outlive the momentary pleasure. God’s boundaries promote joy over suffering, pleasure over pain, and holiness over dishonor. They are His gracious and loving gift.

Love your enemies…

Open Bible 1“Love your enemies. do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” Luke 6:27-28.

If you’re like me, you might have wished you had just scrolled past this short article.

What under heaven is Jesus thinking?

Is there a text more challenging, more piercing, more provoking in all of Scripture?

Is there a single statement that is more illuminating of the condition of our hearts? 

We struggle truly loving those closest to us. I don’t mean that we don’t have a form of love for them; certainly, we do. What I am speaking of is the passionate conviction to apply ourselves to living for their good…to serving to their benefit. We struggle because there is often a part of us, deep down, that hopes to benefit from such loving displays. We love and (kind of) hope/expect to be recognized for it. In these cases, we demonstrate self-love.

Man’s greatest issue is his infatuation with Himself. We are self-seeking and self-serving at our core. We process most events in our lives through the filter of “how is this going to affect me? What is the implication on my life?”

Perhaps that is the Lord’s point. Maybe Jesus commands us to love those who hate us so that our selfish hearts will come to light. Perhaps he wants us to see our hearts as He sees them. Frankly, Jesus did not command us to love our enemies because He was concerned that they should live better. He is not seeking to make them more comfortable or more confident. The command, while it affects others, is like a searchlight aimed directly at our inner being. He is seeking to expose the self-centeredness that lurks within us so that we can wrestle it to the ground and diminish its control in our lives.

How can I be sure of this assessment? Because Jesus also presented a contrast for us in Himself and His own actions:

  • He loved us while we were His enemies (Romans 5:8).
  • He prayed for us while we were His enemies. Examples abound but do not gloss over His prayer from the cross- “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Today, as we consider that Jesus loved us from “enemies” to “family,” let’s not yield to the temptation to mitigate the weightiness of this command. Let’s not minimize it or make excuses about how “we are just not Jesus.” We are not Jesus, but He lives in us so let’s not proclaim how much less accountable we are. Instead, in light of His love toward us as enemies, let’s allow God to expose and transform our hearts to the place that we can love our enemies, bless them, and pray for them as Jesus did for us. Then, and not one second before, will we know what it is to be like Him.