True Spiritual Grit

There are a few movies that I watched with my father more times than I can recall. Some of them we viewed so many times we both knew all the lines by heart. The Outlaw Josey Wales, Lethal Weapon and True Grit are three of our favorites. I am not talking about the remake of True Grit a few years ago, but the original John Wayne movie. There was a look of joy that went over my dad’s face when The Duke takes the reigns of the horse in his mouth and the two rifles in his hands. In my mind, it is truly one of the greatest movie scenes of all time.

If you have seen the movie, you know that Mattie Ross wants to catch her father’s killer. She is searching for a man to help her, and that leads her to Rooster Cogburn. He is described as a man with grit. That is defined as a person with courage and resolve along with a strength of character. While he has his flaws, he has a resolve that cannot be defeated.

Some days I feel like Mattie as I am continually searching for people with grit. I would love to find some people with true spiritual grit. People who have courage in the face of evil. People with a strength of character when adversity comes their way.

While I believe the Christian life is filled with joy, it is also filled with its share of struggles. There will be people who let you down. There will be days when your good work seems to make no difference. There will be moments when you feel all alone in your convictions. To remain faithful in your spiritual life takes grit.

Some days the only thing you can do is hold onto your faith with the reigns in your mouth and come out with both guns blazing against the evil that is trying to bring you down. I frequently need to be reminded of this on a Monday. Every weekend is full of joy and disappointment and to make it through another week it is going to take true grit.


Saying the Amen

You might use the word every day. If you attend Church, I know you hear it every week. It is a word that I have repeated thousands upon thousands of time. AMEN.

We say at the end of prayers. My dad used to say it out loud when he heard something in a sermon with which he agreed. I knew a preacher who would say something he thought was profound and he would then ask, “Can I get an amen?”

Amen is a word that pervades the Christian life. On any given Sunday it will be repeated dozens of times, and yet I wonder if we know what it means. The basic translation of the word is “so be it.” When used at the end of a prayer it is a declaration that I want what I just said to happen, but if it does not, I will accept what God desires. It is the affirmation the God is in control, and we will allow him to work in our requests.

Jesus uses the word, but never at the end of a sentence. We lose this in our English translation of the Bible. The translators have Jesus saying “Truly, Truly” or Verily, Verily” at the beginning of several statements. The best translation of the words is “Amen and Amen.” Jesus does not ask God and says, so let it be. Instead, he speaks as God and says, “This is how it is going to be.” His words come from a place of authority instead of a request.

No matter how it is used the basic understand remains the say. When we say “amen” we agree with God’s leadership. We are submitting ourselves to his power and his will as revealed through Jesus. It may be a common word, but it still has application. Every time we utter the word amen we are aligning ourselves with God.

I hope that the next time you say it, you comprehend what you are saying. More than that, I hope you know what it means, and so you say it regularly. May your life be lived with a hearty amen in all that you do.

Sometimes the Truth is Hard

I think they are mad at me. They would probably tell people how unkind and mean I was with my words. I am sure they chalk it up to another unkind Christian who likes to make people feel bad.

What had I done to be labeled as a bully Christian?

I told them the truth.

I tried to speak the truth in love. I wanted them to change the way they were living. I wanted them to know that I cared about their eternal soul. Instead, my words were lost because they did not affirm the life they were living. They wanted approval above the truth.

The writers of the scripture pull no punches. They tell us that we are sinners and all our righteousness is as filthy rags. The prophets spoke directly to the people of God about their idolatry. Jesus confronted the religious leaders in their hypocrisy. He called them whitewashed tombs. Sometimes the truth is hard to swallow, but it is necessary to live in reality instead of the world created by our own imagination.

Imagine going to a doctor, and he finds cancer in your body. Do you want him to tell you the truth, even though it will be hard to handle? Do you want him to give you proper treatment even if it hurts for a time? Or do you want him to be a nice guy and avoid the truth? Do you want him to affirm your lifestyle and act like everything is okay? Do you want the truth, or should he avoid it to make you feel good?

I am not saying he needs to be a jerk any more than I need to be one. There is such a thing as tact and decorum. We still need to understand that the truth does not always seem kind.

Honestly, I am okay if they hate me. I have nothing for which to apologize. I spoke the truth to the best of my ability, and I hope and pray they hear my heart behind the words. I dream that one day they will thank me for what I said. Until that day comes, I will continue to speak the truth where it needs to be said, and I hope you will do the same to me.

Building A Reservoir of Hope

One day life will get ugly. The beauty of spring will be lost in the coldness of winter. Someone you love will pass into eternity. Relationships will crumble. You might even face life with guilt and remorse that seems greater than you can bear. When life gets complicated, hope seems hard to find. Let me challenge you today to begin storing up hope for the future.

1. Find Stories & Passages of Hope in the Bible.
The Bible has two ways in which we can see hope. We can watch the characters in the stories endure difficulties and come out better on the other side. Joseph, Job, Moses, Mary, Paul and especially Jesus are narratives that see people overcome all kinds of obstacles. The other way we see hope is found in individual passages. Genesis 50:20, Jeremiah 29:11, and Romans 8:28 are good places to start. God has given us his word, and it is filled with stories and promises of hope.

2. Track God’s Answers to Your Prayers.
One of the best ways to build hope into the future is by looking at the blessings of the past. I continually encourage people to write their prayers and then later to list an answer to those requests. I am amazed at how many times God has gotten me through a difficult situation, but it is easy to forget that when times are hard. If you are not the type of person to write things down, then I would encourage you to spend time in reflection regularly. Lately, I have learned to ride in the vehicle with the radio off when I am alone. It gives me time to pray, think and recall all that God has done for me.

3. Develop Strong Christian Relationships.
Over and over I watch people tell me that they can worship God without a Church family. Then the dark days come, and they tell me how alone they feel. God gave us a community of people who can help us when life gets tough. I especially encourage you to develop a handful of deep relationships with people where you can share your heart without regret. All of us need friends throughout our journey of faith. We need people where we can open our soul and let all of the ugly out. The life of faith has dark valleys, but a friend can help light the way.

4. Notice God’s Blessings Today.
A few years ago, I started doing something that has been extremely helpful to me. I decided to begin every private prayer with a time of thanksgiving for what happened the day before this one. I give a few minutes a day to noticing all the good things in my life that God has given me. This was especially important for me because I can be a pessimistic cynic by nature. Seeing the negative things in life comes much more naturally to me. When times get tough, we can easily slide down a hole of darkness create by our own thinking. See the positive that is in your life today.

I realize that none of these suggestions may seem like they are that significant today. You may smile and say how simple this sounds. But please hear me, a day is coming when you will feel like giving up on God and possibly on yourself. These four things are the batteries that will bring back the light when all seems dark.

The Day I Took My Faith Seriously

I had an uncle named Charlie who was a Baptist minister most of his life. He seemed like a nice guy whenever we were together at family gatherings. My most vivid memories of those times together were of his discussions about religion with my father. They shared many facets of their beliefs, and they both seemed to enjoy the conversations. Some moments were a little tense when the topics of which they didn’t agree came up. For example, he believed the King James Version was the only proper English translation of the Bible. For the most part, as far as I can remember, their discussion was enlightening and encouraging.

At one of our family holidays, I can distinctly remember uncle Charlie talking with my dad about the Christian life. I was starting to have an interest in all matters of faith, and so I listened in on their conversation. This time he spoke about what he called “the second work of grace.” Later I would find out that he borrowed the phrase from the great leader John Wesley. Wesley and my uncle taught that there are two forms of grace. One is saving grace. That one-time moment in which we accept Jesus death on the cross as our place of salvation. Second grace came in the form of life transformation. This could happen instantaneously or over a long period of time. The basic concept is that there are two critical days in the lives of all believers. First is the day they are saved and the second is the day they decide to take it seriously.

While I am not sure you can prove any of this by scripture, I do comprehend it from an experiential nature. My personal story contains both elements. When I was only eight years old, I made Jesus my Savior. At the age of 21, I decided to surrender all my life to God’s will. I was sitting on my parent’s couch in their living room when I told God, “Do with me whatever you want.” That led to a summer mission trip and finally into located ministry.

Through the years I have seen this story repeated in the lives of other people. Many of them came to faith before the age of 18. When they attended college, their religion took a back seat. Then one day they found themselves married or living as a new parent and the call of the Lord came to them again. They returned to their roots, and a second time God’s grace did a work in their life.

Much of my ministry has been walking people toward one of these two moments in their faith. I hope and pray everyone accepts Jesus as their Lord and Savior. My other prayer is that people will take their faith seriously. I teach and preach, push and pull people toward a life wholly surrendered to God. I do not want people to know the history of the phrase “a second work of grace,” what I want is for them to experience it dramatically.

Jesus is looking for fully devoted followers. His grace is big enough to bring you him and has enough power to transform your life – but only if you let him.

What You Missed at Worship Yesterday

One of the modern views of faith is that it is an individual endeavor. We think we can do it all alone. People tell me, “I am just as close to God at the lake as I am in worship.” While this is true in general, something is missing when you are not a part of worship.

Yesterday while I was sitting in the program I started a short list of some of the blessings I received while I was a part of worship.

1. I Spent Time With Other Believers. While I am often focused on the overall program and usually do not have too much time to talk, yesterday was the exception. I was able to visit with people and talk about their lives, our journey of faith, our children, and a host of other topics. It felt good to hear all that God is doing and to know I am not alone in my faith.

2. I Sang My Praise with People Who Love Jesus. I am a music lover. I have it playing all the time in my vehicle, in my office, and on my phone. Honestly, when I am by myself, especially in my car, I enjoy singing my favorite song. (The song “Only Jesus” is my current tune of choice). But yesterday I was able to sing with people who are new to the faith and those who have been believers for longer than I have been alive. In fact, the songs on Sunday were mostly old hymns that have been around for hundreds of years. At one point I stopped singing and listened to the people of God vocalize their feelings about God.

3. I Prayed for the Hurting. One of my most significant issues in life is finding enough time to pray. There are so many needs and so little time. In worship, we stopped for a few minutes to pray and ask God to intercede in our world. It is a powerful moment of faith.

4. I Communed with God. For a short time, I was reminded of Jesus work on the cross. I physically connected to his death through the bread and the cup. There is nothing in the entire world like that moment. It is the highest point of worship because it touches on the amazing love Jesus poured out on the cross.

5. I Shared the Bible. As a preacher, I do not get the privilege of learning on Sunday morning. My experience with God’s eternal truth came through the week as I prepared to speak. Yesterday I was able to share all that God has been teaching me through the week and a lifetime of Christian leadership. Each Sunday I get to use my gifts alongside other people so that everyone has a chance to learn a little more about God.

I do believe that you can connect with God outside of Sunday morning, but I also understand that what we do as we gather is unique. You cannot enjoy all that the life of faith has to offer without regularly connecting with God and his children in a special way. To me every week God offers us the chance to have family time. We congregate with one another so that we might grow together for this God we serve. I am thankful for everyone who was there with me, and I hope you will join us next Sunday.

I am looking forward to it already.

Weekend Reading

This past week I have read several great articles. Here are some of the best. Enjoy.

8 REASONS YOU NEED TO THANK GOD FOR YOUR JOB TODAY – originally posted on Labor Day.

Four Lies That Keep Us from Church

You Can’t Love Jesus Without Loving His Church