The Hardest Lesson

The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked. Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.” – Psalms 58:10-11

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a great injustice? Have you ever been “wronged” by another? One might as easily ask if you have ever lived on this earth! Whether the injustice was small (like someone breaking in line ahead of you) or large (slandering your name), we have all been wronged at one time or another.

The question then is this, “How did you handle it?” Perhaps you didn’t get mad, you just got even. That is certainly what the world would expect you to do, but God’s ways are much nobler. When we are the victims of injustice, He instructs us to leave it with Him. If we seek a righteous position, He will judge the situation and bring vindication. If we submit to God as Judge and Defender of the righteous, then His righteousness is revealed, and His honor is preserved.

Again, the hardest lesson for most of us to learn is that it is not all about us. For if God be glorified, it should not matter if we are also respected, honored, or even acknowledged. He must be all.

Look at your own life. What are the works of hell? They are chiefly these three: self-will, self-trust, and self-exaltation. – Andrew Murray

Practical Holiness

Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David. – Ruth 4:22

The story of Ruth, including her encounter with Boaz, is one of the most heart-warming in all of Scripture. Ruth did everything she could to provide for her mother-in-law. Boaz did everything he could to take care of Ruth. Neither one really expected anything in return, but the blessings for both were great, and God used Boaz and Ruth to preserve the line of ancestors from which our Savior (Jesus) came. Their story reminds me time and again how small kindnesses can turn into huge blessings.

Every day we are individually faced with opportunities to extend compassion and mercy to those around us. Often these opportunities are not convenient or timely, but even a small sacrifice on our part can go a long way toward making another person’s day better or just more tolerable.

Living fully within the “present” means that we must be obedient and Christ-like in the “moment.” We must strive always to be kind and never complaining. We should talk less, listen more, and love always. This is the essence of holiness.

Holiness is produced in us by the will of God and our acceptance of it. It is not produced by intellectual speculation about it. – Jean Pierre de Caussade

Only One Master

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” – John 4:31-34

A young congregant once asked a classmate of hers where she attended church and the classmate replied, “All-You-Can-Eat Baptist!” Having pastored Southern Baptist churches for nearly two decades, I can affirm that many could have adopted the same moniker.

There was a time in my life when I wanted to be a big Southern Baptist preacher, and for a while, I was, but only physically. Like King David, I came to understand that “my sin was ever before me” and adopted a lifestyle that allowed me to lose the dangerous pounds that were negatively affecting my health and potential for continued ministry. Eating is fun, but as in all things God gave for our enjoyment, it must be done in moderation. Balance is difficult, but necessary.

Jesus knew and modeled perfect balance in His life. His nourishment certainly came from food, and I believe He would have enjoyed a good meal like the rest of us, but His sustenance came from an unearthly place. He lived to do the will of His Father. As our Creator, He also expects us to find pleasure in the world that He made, but He alone must be our Master.

Therefore, with Christ in mind and heart, let us all reflect on that for which we live, remembering that anything which holds a higher place in our daily existence than Jesus is nothing less than an idol to be destroyed.

What each one honors before all else, what before all things we admire and love, this for us is God. – Origen

Fearless Leader

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated YHWH’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. – 1 Samuel 15:24

There have been several times in my ministry when doing “the right thing” wasn’t popular or even welcomed. Needless to say, such “seasons” weren’t a whole lot of fun for anyone involved. Yet, it is still necessary to make such hard decisions in order to continue to honor the mission of glorifying God in objective and practice. We would all agree that this is a difficult balance to maintain. Many churches and ministry organizations are tempted to sacrifice biblical growth on the altar of present peace and ultimately enter into a no-growth mentality just to keep from offending anyone. On the other hand, there are also those who would conveniently ignore God’s truth in order to avoid disturbing the status quo.

I personally understand how difficult these tests can be, but I also know that leadership cannot be conducted in fear. Those who are accountable to God have to find a way to lead that is obedient to Christ, no matter the personal cost. Popularity is a definite snare for any leader, and it snagged Saul. Any leader who values his position more than his mission will find himself making bad decisions.

No matter where, who, or what you lead for Christ, be sure of your relationship with Him and follow, no matter what may come. God will ultimately honor the leader who leads His way in His direction.

We fear men so much because we fear God so little. One fear cures another. When man’s terror scares you, turn your thoughts to the wrath of God. – William Gurnall

The Lord’s Side?

When Saul realized that YHWH was with David and that his daughter Michal loved David, Saul became still more afraid of him, and he remained his enemy the rest of his days. – 1 Samuel 18:28-29

King Saul was afraid of David because God was on David’s side. Perhaps, there is no greater indicator of a warped sense of justice! If you begin to dislike or fear those who oppose you because they walk with God, then with whom might you be walking?  Jesus instructed His first followers to “remain” or “abide” in Him. If we are not “with” Him, then we must be “with” someone or something else. We need to remain beside the Lord every moment of every day then when the attacks surely come, we will find ourselves on the right side of the battle!

In the television series “Survivor,” alliances are formed between participants in order to progress in the game. Sometimes those alliances are made between people who don’t really trust one another and winning no matter the cost in character or integrity. Saul aimed to retain control of his kingdom, even though God had determined he had forfeited it. Ultimately, the king that God had chosen became the enemy God rejected.

Today, you must choose. Whose side are you on?

If you are not satisfied with what God chooses for you, what else can please you? – Jean Pierre De Caussade

What’s Up?

As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” – John 9:1-3

The disciples must have thought that trials and difficulties were a result of sin, or at least that a debilitating disease was. Sadly, many people around the world hold to the same beliefs. Perhaps it is part of our human condition to seek causality when the unexplainable occurs. On the other hand, Jesus taught that His Father sometimes allowed the natural effects of living in a fallen world (illness, disease, infirmity, disaster) in order that His power and purposes might be displayed through healing, restoration, or the grace to endure suffering.

Lord, help us to look more diligently for Your works and purposes in tribulation (both great and small). Instead of asking, “Why us?,” may we always ask, “What’s up?,” because whatever we’re in the middle of or going through, we’re in it or enduring it for the glory of God. Right?

You may suffer and yet be un-Christlike, but no person can be Christlike and fail to suffer. If you ever, by the grace of God, become a partaker of the divine nature, you must also inevitably become a partaker of His sufferings. – Clovis G. Chappell

Christ’s High Road

May YHWH judge between you and me. And may YHWH avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. – 1 Samuel 24:12

In over 34 years of ministry, I have had to deal with some pretty mean-spirited people. Leaders must sometimes make difficult decisions, and someone will usually be displeased with what has been decided. One dear lady told me that “every dog has his day, and your day is coming!” In fact, this old dog has had a lot of “days” and many of them were deserved!

People may become upset because they don’t have all the details and they misunderstand the situation. At other times they may be upset because they just don’t like change or a leader’s personality. As a result, I have been personally hurt by the reactions of some and (regrettably) even angered by others. At times like these it is extremely difficult to keep your emotions in check and frankly, I’m not sure I’ve always been a stellar example of control.

The point is this, taking the high road (like David with Saul above) and resisting the temptation to speak evil of another, is the only way that truly honors Christ. It will never be easy, but it is possible if we abide in the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, the greatest evidence of our faith is how we behave when the insults are hurled, for the One in whom we serve, live, and breathe, when attacked, did not retaliate in kind. This is an important mark of our life in Christ and one that we need to bear in all the days to come.

Beware of no man more than of yourself; we carry our worst enemies within us. – Charles Spurgeon

Fully and Truly Satisfied

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” – John 7:37-38

Am I fully and truly satisfied in Christ? I know that Jesus, my all-in-all, should be enough, but if He is, then why do I have need of anything else.

Why do I “need” to watch my favorite television program? Why do I “need” a cup of coffee? Why do I “need” to catch a movie, eat a steak, drink a milk shake, see my kids? If the Lord is my Shepherd, then why do I still “want?”

Jesus said that if I believe in Him, a river of living water will flow from within, speaking of the powerful, consuming presence of the Holy Spirit. There will be no thirst, no hunger, no need that He will not meet if we are filled with the Holy Spirit. A desire is not a “need,” unless we allow it to control us, but if we as believers are controlled by the Holy Spirit, then there is no room to be mastered by anything else.

Am I fully and truly satisfied in Christ?

Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God. – Martin Luther

Lovingly Accountable

When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” – John 8:7

If I am ever quick to condemn another, then all I need to do is remember these words of Christ. Yet at this stage of my life, I rarely have a problem considering my own weaknesses! I just have to remember to do it before pointing out the failings in others. Pride definitely precedes destruction (or, at least, humiliation)!

On the other hand, a necessary mark of authenticity in our relationships (in and outside the church) is finding a way to confront sin that will both honor God’s holiness and His compassionate grace and mercy. Principles for church discipline are clearly stated in God’s Word and I have been a part of a church that handled this properly, but it is never easy to implement. It just has to be exercised in a humble, loving, restorative manner. The congregation that does not embrace this practice will always be less than God intends it to be.

Is it messy? Uncomfortable? Revealing? Yes, to all of these, but if we desire true fellowship with the saints then we must be at the same time both loving and accountable. ALL of us. ALL the time.

Love precedes discipline. – John Owen

Get Over It

Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. – Proverbs 14:29

I used to have a bad temper and “fly off the handle,” a lot. As a child, I was known to “pitch fits” and throw rocks, a great equalizer when your brother and cousin are twice your size! Perhaps, it was frustration over being bullied or just a way to “scare” away an “enemy,” but like the old cartoon character, Yosemite Sam, being loud and crazy sometimes worked.

With age (and hopefully some added wisdom), I have learned to be more even keeled because anger rarely serves God’s purposes. Some leaders have struggled with their tempers, and it hurt their ministries. Learning from their example, I have done my best to be more patient with folks, though that patience may sometimes wear thin. The key to the change (and continued growth) has been a realization that “I” don’t matter as much as “Him,” and I must get over myself in order to set a godly example and move in a positive God-honoring direction.

Anger is an emotion that can be controlled by the indwelling Holy Spirit, but since it can rise up (like many feelings) unexpectedly, a consistent abiding walk is the only way to always be prepared.

Anger is short-lived in a good person. – Thomas Fuller