Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Greatest

Michael Jordan. Wayne Gretzky. Albert Einstein. Wolfgang Mozart. Muhammad Ali. Oprah Winfrey. Mother Theresa. These are some of the greatest names in their respective fields. A list of greats could go on for days and include a lot of people. If we extended it to other things like cars, cities, foods and other things, the list would be even larger. People will always debate on who is or what is the greatest in everything, but there is one thing that there is no debate on and that is the greatest commandment in the Bible.

It was settled by Jesus in Mark 12:30. One of the religious leaders of the day approached Him and asked, “Of all the commandments, which one is the greatest?” When you think of all the commandments in the Bible, this is a legitimate question. It’s one that anyone would want to know. God’s first commandment was to not eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Adam and Eve broke that one. Later God gave 10 Commandments to Moses. The first one on there was “Thou shalt not have any other gods before me.” They were breaking that one as it was being etched in stone.

When God gives commandments, we tend to break them. We act like a child does when a parent tells them not to do something. “Don’t touch that stove. It’s hot!” And the kid looks at you and touches it anyway. When we think of commandments, we equate them to “Thou shalt nots”, but when this man asked Jesus about the greatest commandment, He didn’t give him a “Thou shalt not.” Instead, He gave him a “Thou shalt do.”

In Mark 12:30, Jesus answered with, “Love The Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” It sounds like such a simple thing to do, but we struggle with each of these areas at times. We might be able to love Him with our heart and soul, but don’t know how to love Him with our mind and strength. It’s tough to love God in all four areas, but when we do, we have the ability to accomplish great things. Our name could be on that list of greats when history looks back on us.

This week I want to focus on each of those areas to see how we can love God in each of these areas of our lives. If that is the greatest commandment, then we should work on doing it as Christians. I believe that if we can love Him in each of these areas, not only will our lives change, but our world will too. It’s time for believers to quit complaining about how bad the world is and to start doing something to change it for the better with our lives. I believe it starts right here in this verse. What do you think?

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Learning From Others

I want to start off today by saying thank you to my friends who wrote guest posts for me this week while I took some time to disconnect, relax and refresh. I hope you enjoyed reading their work. All of them have spent time in the darkest of valleys. Some of them wrote to you this week from the valley. They are in that place where they haven’t seen the sun from the side or top of a mountain in their lives for months. Yet they still cling to hope in the One who will guide them through.

I found inspiration in each of their works. Nathan pointed out that both good times and difficult times are temporary. When we are in a season of either, we tend to feel like they’ll last forever. We think either, “I don’t ever want to give up this mountain top experience” or “Will I ever see the sun again in my life?” We have to learn that a well balanced life means we’re going to have times of joy and pain in our lives. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us, “To everything there is a time and a season for everything under heaven.”

Shelly then pointed out that the direct route is not always God’s route. He likes detours and He has a purpose for them. When I talk to young people, I let them know that it’s great to make plans for your life, but be prepared for detours. God may have called you to do something or to go to a certain place, but don’t expect His route to be the same as yours. You’ll still end up where He told you He’d take you, but He needs to take you through detours in order to get you ready for the future He’s planned for you. By the way, detours make the best stories!

Next Mike reminded me to be brave enough to give correction to others when needed and humble enough to accept it when I need it. I used to work with a lady who would say, “God only had one perfect son and you’re not it!” I laugh when I think about it, but thank God she had the courage to correct me when I needed it. I don’t like being the one giving it or receiving it, but I know that both are a necessary part of being a Christian. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Those clashes hurt and make a lot of noise, but in the end, we’re better for it.

Finally, my friend Bill reminded us that when we ask God, “Why me” in a trial, it reveals how we view Him. Either we think we don’t deserve it and that He should have given this burden to one of the other billions of people on the planet or that He has a purpose in our trials and wants us to learn something. We all eventually ask Him that question when the trial seems to have no end. The difference is our motive in asking it. Job even broke down and asked God with the wrong motive. Check out Job 38 to see God’s reply. It’s particularly convicting to me in the Message.

I hope that each of you gained new perspective from people that I follow and read. Take the time today to check out their other works as well as to say a prayer for them. Each of them could use a touch from God today in their situations. I’ve found that even when I’m going through the darkest of nights, someone else always has it worse than I do and it’s still my responsibility to lift others up in prayer even when I need it too. That said, I’ll be lifting you up in prayer today because God knows what you need better than I do.

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Why Me?

I’ve become convinced that for a Christian to retain hope in the midst of a trial, he or she must believe that God allowed the trial for a purpose; a purpose greater than what Christ would have been able to accomplish in and through that person apart from the trial.

“…even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith…may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

They might phrase it differently, but I think every Christian that goes through a difficult trial will eventually ask “Why me?” But I’ve learned that our motive behind asking this seemingly simple question tells a lot about how we view God and how we view ourselves.

The first man asks the question like this: “Why me; out of over 6 billion people in the world, why did I get ALS (or whatever)?” He’s really asking, “Why didn’t God put this on one of the other 6 billion + people?” This man has a warped view of God and an exalted view of himself. He views his trial as pointless and thought that he was somehow exempt from the suffering of humanity.

I know what I said about this first man sounds harsh and judgmental, but I know this man well; in a spiritual and emotional sense, I wrestled with him for several months after being diagnosed with ALS. Thankfully, with the help of God’s word, wise counsel from Christian friends and a well-timed conversation with our then non-Christian next-door neighbors, I began to see that there was a purpose behind my trial and I defeated that “woe is me” man that was trying to get into my head. (More about our next-door neighbors further down).

The second man asks the question like this: “Why me; what’s God’s purpose behind allowing this horrible trial?” This man has the correct view of God and of his place in the world. As a Christian who knows the Bible, this man knows that God wouldn’t have allowed this trial unless He had a purpose.

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

That verse can only be true if we have an eternal (“Big Picture”) view of our trial. God still heals and performs miracles, and I believe that we should always pray for that result. But regardless of the outcome, God can bring about eternal good from every trial. In a hundred years, the eternal good that came from our trial will be the only thing that matters.

Trials cause the person going through the trial and those that are close to that person, to focus more on the spiritual and the eternal things because, by comparison, the temporal and the material things begin to look more and more insignificant.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)

Back to our next-door neighbors: Mike and Lorraine were not followers of Christ when we met them. We did our Christian duty and invited them to church and tried to share the “Good news” with them; even our girls (then 4 and 7) invited them to church, but all to no avail. (They later told us that they mocked us in private. I could relate; I once mocked Christians too. Let’s be honest: making fun of Christians is so easy).

But after I was diagnosed, they began to reexamine the faith that was sustaining our family through this trial. Lorraine told me; “…When you were diagnosed with ALS I began to see a man who held no anger with the God that ‘allowed’ this to happen. Then you began to demonstrate trust in God’s plan, I saw your faith and I saw 2 little girls accept what God was doing in your lives and I began to wonder how such young children could love God unconditionally. I opened my heart first to the possibility that this might be good thing for me as well. Then I finally got it and allowed my brain to accept the basic truth that God is only good, loving and faithful…”

Mike and Lorraine committed to following Christ and now faithfully attend church and share their faith with others. (Now people probably make fun of them). Would they have committed to following Christ if we had not gone through this trial? Only God knows the answer to questions like that. The only thing I know for sure is that this trial has strengthened my faith and given me more confidence for sharing that faith.

But I admit that trials can sometimes feel like you’re serving a prison sentence; especially when you have ALS and you’re imprisoned in your own body. But the Apostle Paul wrote much of the New Testament while imprisoned and many of his fellow prisoners and the guards that observed Paul became followers of Christ. Only Jesus can spread a message of hope through a prisoner!

“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)

This post was written by Bill Sweeney. Seventeen years ago Bill was diagnosed with ALS (“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”) and is now completely paralyzed. Through his “Unshakable Hope” blog he encourages others that, no matter how horrible our trials might be, there is always hope in Christ.

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Caring Enough To Correct

In college I started a Friday night event on my wing called “Midnight Monopoly”. It was a leisure outlet for those of us who didn’t work or have other entertainment to make fete of an otherwise boring evening. It was always a fun time.

One night two roommates joined the game; as we played, one made an innocent joke about the other. It was not received well, however, and the other guy spitefully and openly countered with the sharpest, crudest remark he could muster. Everyone quickly overlooked the comment, but I sat there appalled. I was the wing chaplain and decided to let it pass and confront the guy once the game ended.

In my room with him, I addressed the comment—how ugly and unchristian it was and expressed to his own roommate and spiritual brother. How could he say such a thing? I explained that he needed to apologize and simply repent. I wasn’t trying to be a dad, but it sure felt like it. The comment had offended and angered me.

Well he didn’t like it. He left abruptly and said nothing to me for two weeks—that is until a knock at my door one evening. “Can I talk to you for a minute?” He explained that he had thought very much about what I had said to him and felt convicted. He acknowledged his wrong and thanked me for having the courage to challenge him. He also stated that he had apologized to his roommate.

The Profitability of Correction

Proverbs 27:5-6 says, “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” Challenging others is never easy, even when done lovingly. Some people let offenses and bad behavior go unchallenged rather than making folk accountable for them. But this is wrong and unloving.

It is a false conception to think we can become successful or mature individuals, even good Christians, if we fail to submit to correction. Accountability safeguards character by cultivating wholesome traits and challenging negative ones. A mode of accountability, correction is essential to personal growth and also God’s plan for us. Being non-teachable and prideful, however, causes us to miss valuable lessons and costs us in the end.

Hosea graphically expresses the need for correction and repentance: “Come, let us return to the Lord. For He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us” (6:1-2, NASB). Here is the idea of purposely wounding, perhaps to set a fracture or to clean away infection.

And sometimes we don’t see that our lives have defect or fester with some sin. So seeking accountability is a positive and proactive move to ensure integrity and godliness. Moreover, godly reproof is a grace and sign of God’s ownership. We should welcome it and not resist it, lest we accept the charge of Hebrews 12:8—“you are not legitimate children at all.”

The wing mate I confronted serves the Lord today around the globe sharing the love of Jesus with orphans and the distressed. I consider what I did a small but necessary part of preparing him for the ministry he performs today.

What might we be leaving untended in the lives of others God is burdening us to correct? And are you asking the Lord to reveal the places in your life in need of correction? Just own enough humility whether you’re correcting or being corrected. It helps to remember Jesus’s words that we bear abundant fruit when we are pruned (John 15:2).

This guest post is from Mike Stephens. Mike is the author of “A ‘Mike’ for Christ“, a devotional blog featuring thoughtful, topical discussion and spiritual reflection.

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Detoured By God

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road
through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said,
“If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”
Exodus 13:17

God chose for His people to go through the desert. His path is not
always the direct route, but His detours are not without reason. We like
to plan our days, weeks, months, even our entire lives. We have a vision
of where we should be and how we should get there, but often our lives
don’t follow our plans. When you find yourself on a detour, look for God
and what He is doing. You may not get the promotion when you want, get
married or start a family on your timetable, but rest assured the Lord
your God has a plan for you and the detour you are on may be for your
own good. He didn’t want the Israelites to give up and return to Egypt
because He wanted the best for them. He wants the best for you too.

What is it God is protecting you from or trying to teach you on on your
detour?

This post is an excerpt from the devotional, “Deeply Rooted” by author Shelly Sorem. Shelly is a Bible teacher and international speaker. She has worked in children, youth and women’s ministries. She has spoken at women’s conferences and retreats around the world. She loves the Lord and has a passion for helping others grow in their faith. She has a bachelor of science in education and a master’s degree in counseling psychology. She currently lives in Texas with her husbands and two daughters.
Her website is www.deeplyrootedinhim.com

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Stuck In The Waiting

I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.…
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

-T. S. Eliot, “East Coker”

I read these words in Philip Yancey’s book “Disappointment with God”. I was going through a brutal spell in my life. If you’ve read the book, maybe it helped. But it didn’t help me. In fact it just made me feel worse for all the people referenced in the book as well as for myself.
Why do bad things happen to generally decent people? I’ll be honest, I’m not sure I’ll ever understand this side of heaven. It might be better if I stopped asking. But there are few things that haven’t escaped me. Maybe they were rungs on the ladder that kept me hitting rock bottom. Here they are:

I’m not in control. Even if I was, I don’t know what’s best for me.

It’s true – and actually this struck me when things were going well. What do you do when the things that happened by “chance” turned out better than your carefully laid plans? This had been the case a couple different times and while I was overwhelmed with gratitude, it eerily bothered me. When my tides turned, I realized that it goes both ways. In the end, I’m not God. I don’t know what’s best for me, I can’t see the big picture of God’s plan for me and I can’t control all the outcomes in my life. Living by faith means accepting both the good and the bad and realizing both are temporal. Accepting the fact that life isn’t fair helps too.

Take responsibility. Don’t sabotage myself.

If you’ve ever wondered if your life could get any worse, let me clear that up for you real quick. The answer is always yes. That may sound like a morbid thing to say, but the truth is that we’re always one decision away from making things much worse. And when things aren’t going well, we’re in the DANGER ZONE. Think about it: if you’re stuck in a crummy job, you are only one decision away from not having a job at all. If your marriage is going poorly, you are only one decision or one conversation away from a further setback. If you aren’t married and wish you were, you are one or several decisions away from creating a lot more misery for yourself and others.

It’s tempting to say that “God wills” my circumstances to be what they are and then act like a victim. But actually we’re usually our own worst enemy. Proverbs 19:3 says, “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then are angry at the Lord” (NLT). When the chips are down, the temptation is even stronger to make foolish choices that add to our pain. We can’t always control our circumstances, but in every situation, we always have a choice of how to respond. And that means we have the responsibility to make a good choice, no matter how good or bad circumstances are.

Realize my pain will be able to be used in a positive way in the future.

If someone had said this to me when I was down, it would’ve brought me up real fast… swinging. That’s not what I wanted to hear. But unfortunately, not “just anyone” said these words. They came from Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, recounting his experiences as a Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz. They were also shared by psychologists to the survivors of the PanAm Flight 73 hijacking in 1986 as they prepared to board their next flight.
Those folks have “cred” in my book. I may not like the message, but I can take it coming from them. When I’m hurting, the last thing I want is “some perspective,” but even so, they’ve had far worse than me.

If you’re in pain, there is a sense in which you’re alone. Proverbs 14:10 says, “Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy” (NLT). No one else can walk your path for you and you may not see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know I couldn’t. When we’re stuck “in the waiting,” as Eliot’s poem says, we likely won’t be able to see the redemption in our circumstances. It’s only by faith that we can believe that this too shall pass.

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach and thought leader. Visit him today at NathanMagnuson.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Your Faith Is Your Responsibility

Right now my phone is blowing up with pictures from all over of the lines people are standing in for the iPhone. With every launch, there seems to be this anticipation that people get so that they can have or see the newest device. Apple has been masterful at marketing and creating demand for their products. They have learned how to create demand like no other company. It’s always intriguing to me to see this.

It would be awesome to see people lined up outside of churches each Sunday in anticipation of this week’s message. It would be incredible if there was a huge demand for people to spend time with God. How would church be different if there was that kind of anticipation? What if we ourselves had that kind of anticipation to hear what God had to say to us? How would it change our lives? I don’t mean this piece to be a Jesus Juke. I’m asking myself these questions too.

I’m not suggesting we adopt a marketing strategy like Apple to get people in the door. I’m suggesting each of us who are believers get excited about God. If it’s a struggle for us week in and week out to go to church, how can we expect others to want to go? If the Bible seems boring to us, how can we expect others to be excited about it? If the thought of spending an hour in prayer (spending time with God) a day seems like a chore, why would we think anyone else would want to do it?

We keep looking at a pastor or priest to motivate us to be who God called us to be. That’s not their job. They are to reinforce what you get from God on a daily basis. What would your life look like if you only ate one meal a week? How hard would it be to survive and to do your job? Why do we think our spirit can survive on one meal a week given by someone else at a place we struggle to go to? Excitement about our faith starts with each one of us. Spiritual growth is our responsibility.

We keep looking for the church to grow and win the lost, but forget that we individually are the church. It’s our responsibility to grow the church, share our faith and win the lost. We expect the pastor to motivate us from God’s Word and never crack open the scriptures during the week. Our faith has to become exciting to us first before it can be exciting to others. We have to daily remind ourselves where we were heading, how we were feeling and what we were saved from if we want others to find what we’ve found. We can’t sit idly by knowing we’re saved without being concerned about others who aren’t.

How would your spiritual life be different if you anticipated going to church each Sunday instead of anticipating when the service will be over? How many of your friends and co-workers can see your excitement about what you believe? If they can’t, what needs to happen to reignite that flame? What do you need to do to make your faith grow and to come alive? It’s not someone else’s responsibility to get you excited about God and to motivate you to serve Him. It’s yours. It’s a daily task and I think that’s part of what Jesus meant when He told us to take up our cross daily, not just on Sunday.

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