Trained at the breast

BF art“You are He who brought me forth from the womb; You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts. Upon You I was cast from birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb.” Psalm 22:9-10 (NASB)

“Just a little bit more.” This was the response of J. Paul Getty (1892-1976) when asked: “how much money do you want?” In modern dollars, Mr. Getty died with a net worth north of 8 billion dollars.

Now before you jump on the “1%” train and start to indignantly define Getty as a greedy miser, consider this: Perhaps everything is an economy of scale and his issue was not greed but fear. Amassing wealth, for many, is not so much about the number of zeroes on a bank statement, but the sense of security that a large nest egg brings. It is about how one can weather the storms of life and still come out on top.

In Psalm 22, a messianic psalm, David writes from a low point in his life. He cries out to God because of his circumstances and immediately answers his own cry with a call for praise. It is, as if, the difficulties of David’s life are instruments of God to train him to trust God in all things.

David reminds us in verses 9-10 that our training to trust God is both natural and intentional. It is natural for us as beings because we do not cause our own birth. No person wills himself into being. We cannot choose any part of our beginning. We exist WHOLLY as the result of another person’s choice. (This is a picture of grace). David goes a step further and declares that the ultimate One who makes the choice is God who brought him forth from his mother’s womb.

Not just in origin, but in sustainment, even as an infant, the lessons of trust are inherent. No infant prepares his own breakfast. If the child is to eat, he is to do so at his mother’s breast, by her initiative, and at her pleasure. The infant has no control yet there is rarely a more peaceful picture of trust and contentment than that of a nursing child.

David’s training was also intentional. His mother “cast him” upon the Lord even from birth. (Think of casting him as releasing him wholly to the Lord). She learned to trust the Lord with her child and thus taught her child to look to God rather than her for his daily needs.

Perhaps, the great enemy of our growth in faith is not the difficulties of life, but its excesses. Perhaps our self-sufficiency (or pursuit of it) actually moves us from peace to anxiousness, from potential comfort to perpetual longing.

Is there hope? YES!

Jesus, in the “model prayer,” to His followers to pray in this way: “…give us THIS DAY our DAILY bread.” (Matt 6:11, NASB. eEmphasis added.)

We find peace in the Person of God and in His provision, not in our ability to provide or store up for ourselves that which we anticipate needing. Further, in one of the most arresting proverbs in my life, we are told that this is the way toward true wisdom:

Proverbs 30:8-9 states: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God.”

Today, do not seek security but God’s sufficiency. He can be trusted. You can trust Him. Don’t let the wisdom of the world draw you away from the peace that surpasses understanding. Return to a daily dependence. This is more than ATTITUDE. It requires ACTION. If there is a point of security for you, a place you turn to for hope and comfort other than God…remember that no man can serve two masters. He must choose today whom he is to serve. As for me and my house…we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15).

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Peppers, Proverbs, and changing the world

mammoth-jalapeno-hot-pepperThis morning as I was making my lunch and preparing to start my “public” day, I had an incredible moment of reflection. When I was a small child, now more than forty years ago, I was spending the summer with my maternal grandparents. My grandfather (Papa Conner) often ate hot peppers with his dinner meal. One evening, he offered me one of his peppers (and if memory serves, may have even induced me to eat it with the offer to pay me a dollar if I did). I recall eating a bite (about half of the pepper and being less than impressed with the flavor. It was like a “bell pepper” taste. Then I went for the second bite. This one included the seed pod which, by the way, created a five-alarm fire in my mouth and caused me to never want peppers again (at least until much later in life). I remember as I was taking the second bite, that my granddad protested as I bit down. He knew what was going to happen, but I was clueless. He could have explained it a hundred times I would never have grasped the fact that the seedpod is hot; yet, one good bite of experience and I can go back to that moment after four decades like it was YESTERDAY! (My mouth is watering at the thought of it).

It was the DOING that caused the KNOWING to stick with me later.

DOING makes KNOWING STICK!

Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.     Proverbs 22:6.

This is the heart of the writer’s instruction in Proverbs. Train a child in the things of God early and God will bring them back to mind. Now this is a principle and not a universal formula. Not all children return to God but many do…and if the training is compelling, then so is the draw to remember later and return.

There is much evidence to support that the love of our hearts, our affections, follow our actions. We DO something and then we come to LOVE something. This is one of the reasons that God tells us to train up our children. (It is also why He gives us commands to obey even before we echo David’s words and declare that we love to obey the commands (Ps 119:47).

Mom and Dad, if you want to make a difference long-term with your children and shape a world in the process…teach them by training. Make bible reading an experience rather than an exhortation. Practice prayer rather than merely promote it. Show them how you seek the Lord’s wisdom rather than merely saying God is wise. Respond to your failures with repentance rather than merely reciting that repentance is required by God.

This type of training will take root in the heart and maybe…when they are old…they will remember it, like the taste of a pepper at dinner forty years ago.

“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 Discipleship “Double-Standard”

lightSuppose you’re about to undergo knee surgery. You interview the doctor and he shares with you that he really didn’t study anatomy in school. He did, however, spend a lot of time thinking about anatomy and looking in the mirror, so he felt he was pretty good at repairing knees.

Perhaps your child comes to you and says she has a huge history final this week that is weighted for 25% of her grade. In essence, this test could make the difference on a college scholarship. As you discuss her strategy to preparing, she tells you that she doesn’t see the need to read her textbook or study her notes. After all, she has been thinking about the test and “the past” and all she heard in lectures. She feels very confident that reflecting on these things is sufficient preparation.

Hopefully, I am not the only one who would look for a reason to put off the surgery until I found a real doctor and certainly I cannot be the only one beginning to perspire over the approach of the daughter. The fact is, we KNOW that if we are to be adequately prepared for life, it requires study. Study doesn’t have to be boring or conventional, but it is intentional and it is oriented toward an objective.

Far too often, as I discuss spiritual development/growth plans with friends, I find that they too choose the doctor’s or the daughter’s approach. They have no strategy to focus on studying Scripture. If they do, it is a verse or a paragraph and 300 words of internet commentary. Prayer time is reduced to a brief statement or two between songs while stuck in traffic and asking for God’s blessing on a meal…even if it is a silent request. Fasting is non-existent, financial stewardship is an anomaly and don’t even bring up sharing our faith. That’s for EXTREME Disciples!

What if God expects more? What if the same logic and expectations we have for others on important matters MIRROR God’s expectations for us…because growing to maturity in Christ IS an important matter.

How do you start an intentional strategy?

  • START. Don’t gloss over this. It is far easier to steer a car on the street than in a garage. Do something more than attend church once or twice a month and listen to a preacher for 40 minutes.
  • COMMIT. Don’t commit to convenience but pursue results (Philippians 3:7-14).
  • INCREASE. Prayer time may be 2 minutes when you begin but if you have nothing more to say to God after 3 years of walking with Jesus than “forgive me for my sins and bless all the missionaries” you’re missing the boat.
  • LISTEN to God for you. Stop thinking sermons are about other people. God prepared it for you. If you’re only led to think of how it applies to other people, you’re again missing the boat. Who cares whether Dr. Doolittle’s classmates studied anatomy unless you’re getting a referral to go see them.
  • ASK. You’re not the first person to engage in this process. Don’t let your superficial pride prevent you from asking a pastor or another believer with “spiritual fruit” about their discipleship practices. Ask them to mentor you. I get five or six requests a year from people wanting to know if we can meet. Sometimes we do. Sometimes I connect them with better mentoring fits. That’s what pastors do. We coach people to maturity and we bring authoritative instruction from God.

We know study is important for our doctors or our daughters. Shouldn’t it be just as important for us as disciples?

 

Dads, moms, and faith for generations to come

Bible glasses (2)Is Faith “Taught or Caught?” The Answer is YES! In this article in the Huffington Post, which may or may not be on your daily culture reading list, we find the conclusions drawn from a recent survey on the factors that most effectively contribute to faith practices in young adults. In short…parents who communicate and demonstrate the importance of faith in THEIR LIVES through their PROCLAMATION and their ACTIONS transmit the importance of faith to their children/teens…and it “sticks” through their young adult years when most studies claim that most people fall away from their faith.

Note:

“…sociologists Christopher Bader and Scott Desmond found that children of parents who believe that religion is very important and display their commitment by attending services are most likely to transmit religiosity to their children.

Of course it is anecdotal on my part, but I believe that my faith was directly communicated by my parents…both good and bad. I came to faith in Christ at a church service when my dad AND mom took me to church (age 9). When “mean people” in that church acted judgmentally toward my dad (age 10 for me), we stopped attending. I did not see the inside of another church until around age 14 or so. Then, dad took us to another church where he was committed and served and invited me to serve alongside him (as a Junior Usher no doubt). I even began wearing a slick little sport coat to church and everything.

In fact, dad taught me my early beliefs about “giving an offering” at church in those early days. I still remember the message he taught me (which was biblically wrong then and he would reject himself today). Later in my late 20s and 30s as I felt the calling to ministry and began to preach, Dad again shaped my faith. He went with me on most occasions that I preached in other churches. [This deserved the big award…since those were horrible sermons…but he went and offered great encouragement. He even called around to help me schedule additional opportunities.]

The point is, I learned much about the importance of faith through what my dad said and did. Honestly, I learned much of the substance of theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, apologetics, etc. from my pastor, Bible college, and Seminary…but my “heart” for “faith” was first transmitted to me by my dad. Many of the early anchor points (good and bad) were transmitted to me by my dad.

So, as a pastor and dad myself now, it often grieves me when I see moms and dads transmitting dangerous faith lessons to their kids: when they prioritize travel ball over church, or cheer practice over student ministry, or fishing over soul winning. I am grieved when they teach their kids to hold loosely to community allegiance by changing churches so that their kids can experience the latest “cool” thing in ministry (insert your flashiest new outreach or ministry program here). I am grieved when faith is rarely discussed in the home or when opportunities to demonstrate reliance on God are passed up in times of major decisions or planning.

In closing let me offer one last tidbit: moms and dads, you communicate more about the importance of depending on God when you speak of and live dependently. Actually PRAY before major decisions. Actually plan vacations around church events. Actually be “caught” reading your Bible and serving in your church. If you do or do not…you’ll be amazed at how your faith shapes the faith of your children throughout their lives.

NOTE: I spoke of my dad throughout this article. In no way am I diminishing my mom’s contribution. She was a woman of faith. She was there throughout the journey. I simply watched and emulated my dad more. I believe part of that is the fact that, well you know, I am a guy. The other part relates to the biblical reality that dads have amazing and God-ordained leadership roles in the lives of their children. Single moms have it tough. Married moms with husbands who are disinterested in practicing their faith have it TOUGHER since mom now has to counteract the influence of the father and attempt to win her children to a strong faith position even though her husband is ACTIVELY leading the children to another faith position, though not faith in God. THANK GOD my mom did not have to overcome my dad’s influence…and THANK GOD she too was influenced by it and communicated a consistent message to her children. 

P31- Mother’s Day, Let her works praise her

P31- Mother’s Day, Let her works praise her

Mom,1As I woke this morning in India, I was blessed and a bit overwhelmed to consider that in around 12 hours, many of my family, friends and church families will rise to celebrate Mother’s Day. Today is not a celebration time for all. For some, it is a time full of deep struggle. For some of my dear friends, it is their first Mother’s day without their mom. For others, today remains as a stark reminder of a deep-rooted desire to be a mother and yet they have not been granted the grace to bear children.

I remember my first Mother’s Day without my mom. While my faith has allowed me to be strong in light of her death for several years, I would be disingenuous to say that I am “over it” when it comes to the sense of loss. Yes-I trust in the Lord, and Yes- I know (as well as an one person can know the heart of another person) that she is in the presence of Jesus today, and that her presence there is GOOD and WONDERFUL and a SOURCE OF JOY for her, my Lord,and by faith, for me.

“Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones.” Psalm 116:15

I grieve with my friends who face today with a sense of loss. I understand. I also exhort them to look beyond the loss we are reminded of today…and consider the truth of God’s precious purpose for a mother…by faith.

2012-05-04 11.34.45I am also mindful that I wake up in India with my wife and the mother of my two great sons. I could not be more proud of the men of character they are and I could not be more mindful of the role that a mother’s nurture plays in their character growth. She has invested in their lives and has taken to heart the great privilege and responsibility of discipling her own children and nurturing them in the Lord. She has provided tremendous balance to my leadership style as a father and they are greatly blessed. She is my true P31 woman (Proverbs 31). Beyond that, she has embraced the clarion call of Titus 2 and invests in other moms so that they too will fulfill their calling to invest and disciple their own children.

I also have the privilege this year to be surrounded by a team of volunteers from my church, most of whom, are moms themselves and chose to join me on this incredible journey of strengthening, equipping, and encouraging the Indian church. They won’t wake to breakfast in bed or to sloppy kid kisses or hugs and displays of affection from their children. This will be a source of pain to some degree…but today they continue to express SA Team, May 2016the reality of motherhood… The life of a mom is a life of giving and serving and struggle and joy and pain.

All of these precious saints have simply continued the role they embraced many years ago…to joyfully sacrfice their lives for the good of others and for the fulfillment of the purpose of God, to the glory of God. As I read again Proverbs 31, I know of no better picture of strength, dignity, and grace, than a mom who would leave her own family for a season to minister to the extended family of God…on foreign soil…and a great personal expense. Truly, these women are bearing witness to the heart and hands of Jesus Himself for all to see and experience the gospel. I BELIEVE that their examples will reverberate in the hearts of their children and all who know them for decades to come, to the glory of God.

10An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels.

11The heart of her husband trusts in her, And he will have no lack of gain.

12She does him good and not evil All the days of her life.

13She looks for wool and flax And works with her hands in delight.

14She is like merchant ships; She brings her food from afar.

15She rises also while it is still night And gives food to her household And portions to her maidens.

16She considers a field and buys it; From her earnings she plants a vineyard.

17She girds herself with strength And makes her arms strong.

18She senses that her gain is good; Her lamp does not go out at night.

19She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hands grasp the spindle.

20She extends her hand to the poor, And she stretches out her hands to the needy.

21She is not afraid of the snow for her household, For all her household are clothed with scarlet.

22She makes coverings for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple.

23Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land.

24She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies belts to the tradesmen.

25Strength and dignity are her clothing, And she smiles at the future.

26She opens her mouth in wisdom, And the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.

27She looks well to the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness.

28Her children rise up and bless her; Her husband also, and he praises her, saying:

29“Many daughters have done nobly, But you excel them all.”

30Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.

31Give her the product of her hands, And let her works praise her in the gates.

Proverbs 31:10–31 (NASB95)

Distractions…

distractionsI was on my way to church on a Sunday morning to preach. For no apparent reason, my mind flooded back many years to conversations with a man who hates me. He wouldn’t say that. He would say that he doesn’t like me or that he thinks I am not a good pastor or the right man for his church or some other form of the thought…but the bottom line is, he hates me. I get that. I have tried numerous times through the years to address the issue and it always ends unfulfilling and in the same place. I am not discounting his experience. He thinks I am a buzzard. I am not his former hero pastor. I get it!

In the ride to church, I am replaying the conversations over and over and saying in my mind all the things I wish I had said back then that would make me feel better. Pulse rate up. Heart beating faster. Adrenaline flowing. Spiritual high ground-SURRENDERED.

Where do these unwelcomed and intrusive thoughts come from? Not from the man. He was nowhere to be found. Not from some recent conflict. Not even from some email or Facebook post. They are DISTRACTING TOOLS OF THE ENEMY.

The enemy wants one thing…to steal glory from God. To do that, he will stop at nothing. He will invade your mind. He will argue in your ear. If the enemy can get you to surrender the high-ground, your effectiveness in the gospel enterprise is hampered.

Not to belabor the issue, but I found this to be a recurring tactic. The “noise” of this and many other things was constantly playing in the back of my mind. It created frustration within me, which provoked me to have a shortened fuse whenever ANYTHING did not go “picture perfect.”

At this point, you’re either pushing the mouse toward the top right corner…or you’re saying, ME TOO! What did you do? 

When you are distracted or any time you face the enemy down and he seems to be winning…there is a “best” next step. RUN TO JESUS.

[What I am about to tell you will cause some to want to throw stones saying that I am boasting. God forbid! He knows my heart and I am sharing with you that my motive is not to point to ME but to share something that I hope will help YOU, when (not if) you find yourself here.]

I had to stop and fast and pray. Fasting is a discipline that I have had to embrace through the years (though some look at me and wonder if I ever truly miss a meal 🙂 . I was 2 days into a 3 day fast when I started getting clarity. Clarity about my own soul condition. Clarity about the wellspring of self-centeredness in my own heart. Clarity about the source of the distraction. Following this…repentance, renewal, and restored communion with God. Oh, and food. 🙂

Some would say, “I can’t do that. I can’t fast!” I say…if you are fighting the enemy’s onslaught…you cannot NOT fast. As hard as it is for me…God teaches me about His grace to do what I cannot otherwise find within me to do. In fact, if I could do it easily, I question if it would even work to bring me back into focus with my loving heavenly Father.

So, how is the enemy working against you? Are you successful in fighting the “good fight of faith?” If not…run to Jesus. Seriously! RUN. RUN to Jesus! There you’ll find help and hope and a fresh start.