They Could Not Help Me

When there have been challenging seasons in my life, it has always been good to have people who cared. But, unfortunately, most of the time, those wonderful individuals had no way of helping me.  They could not walk into my darkness and fix all my problems. 

Sure, some people have tried to offer advice to make my life better.  Everyone is well-intentioned with their words when someone is hurting. 

But the people who made the most significant difference were those who simply chose to stand beside me through my pain and hurt.  They would sit quietly beside me while I cried.  Stand beside me and offer a shoulder to lean on when I needed it.  Their comfort came from their presence and nothing more. 

I think most people are not looking for you to eliminate the pain in their life.  They know you do not have that kind of power. Instead, they are seeking someone to stand beside them and never leave them alone. 

Taking It the Wrong Way

Context is critical.  This is true when reading the Bible more than anywhere else.  When someone plucks a passage out from its original setting, it can be a recipe for misuse and abuse of God’s word.

This is also true for someone who teaches the Bible. A person can sit in the auditorium on Sunday and listen to a sermon and then totally take it the wrong way.  They can pull a story away from its original setting, a quote without noting the context, and twist the words of a preacher to make them say anything too. 

It is significant to notice how each explanation and illustration ties to the overall theme whenever you listen to someone teach the Bible.  Focus intently on hearing the sermon’s big idea and then break down the parts into an application that fits the lesson.  If you do not do this, you can misunderstand and misapply what the preacher is saying.

Too often, I hear people quote a Biblical teacher or share a story that they told and completely miss the point.  Be careful how you read the Bible and be deliberate in how you receive instructions in the scripture. 

When someone takes a lecture on the word of God and misuses it, it can lead them astray along with the people who learn from them. It is dangerous to everyone when we take sermons the wrong way. 

Light to Get Home

Recently I heard an analogy that I thought was helpful.  It is not original to me, and I do not know the source, but I will share it anyway.

Faith is like driving at night with only your headlights to guide the way. 

Imagine a night, and you are lost in the country.  Cell reception is sketchy at best, and you are not exactly sure where you are going.  The good news is that your car is running great, and both headlights work flawlessly.  With just those lights, you can see a few hundred yards ahead of you.  If you take it slow and steady, driving with those lights to guide you, you can make the progress you need.  Mile by mile, you will move toward safety and the direction that will take you home.

Faith is like those headlights.  It will not reveal everything to you.  In fact, it will only guide a little into the future.  But if you follow God’s leading, he will take you one day at a time safely into the unknown.  That will move you forward a week, a month, and then a year.  Over a lifetime of following his light, you will finally find your way home. 

Going Down Fighting

Their marriage was hanging by a thread.  They were both angry, frustrated, and ready to give up.  My issue was they didn’t seem to care.  Neither one appeared willing to change their communication, take counseling seriously, or put extra effort into making their relationship work. 

When couples reach this point, there are a few phrases I hear repeatedly.  One is, “It’s their fault.”  Placing blame on the other person releases us from the burden of changing our behavior.  Another is, “We will just have to see how things work out.”  That is translated as I am not going to put any extra effort into this situation. 

If you want your marriage to improve, there is only one person you can control.  That is you!  Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make your relationship improve? 

The couples who enjoy long, happy marriages are not those with few struggles.  It is those who commit to not going down without a fight.  They seek counsel, make changes, improve themselves and pour into their spouse with all their might. 

The question is rarely, “Can this marriage survive?” Instead, it is usually, “Am I doing everything I can to help it survive?”

Vacation Living

Recently, my wife, one of my sons, and I went on vacation to the beach.  It was a glorious week of relaxation, good food, taking in the sights, and enjoying each day.  Each evening we went to the beach to watch the sunset.  One morning we rose early to see the sunrise.  It was five days in paradise that I am thankful to have enjoyed.

When the week was over, we had the typical dread of returning to our old lives.  Normal means the days are packed full, and there is little time to enjoy each day’s pleasures. 

This has me wondering if it is possible to bring a little bit of vacation living to every single day. How would our lives be different if we took time each day to be thankful and enjoy the moment?  What if we watched the sunset or the sunrise?  Would our perspective be different if we went to a local attraction and looked at it as a person on vacation?

One of the beautiful parts of the Bible is the Psalms. It is a book of poetry and songs that reflect the majesty of God in this world. I imagine David as a shepherd boy sitting quietly in the hills watching the world unfold before him. Then, he takes out a pen and writes words after watching the red sky in the evening as the sun melts into the horizon like, “the fool has said in his heart there is no God.”  I mean, when you have seen beauty and colors like that, there is no doubt that there is someone beyond this world. 

Maybe vacation living is about recapturing a bit of Eden.  It is taking time to notice God in the every day. Perhaps he has revealed himself all around us, but we must slow down to see it. 

It Looks Easy

A master at his craft always makes it look easy. 

Their hands move to form perfect brush strokes.  Their voice hits all the right notes.  In their writing, they combine poetry, intellect, and mystery.  They make clutch shots and always run the right plays.  Every field of art, sport, and music has people who have mastered their work.

How did they get to be so good at their skills? 

They became great by spending a lot of time being bad at their craft.  They only got better through hours and hours of mediocre work and failed attempts at greatness. 

This makes sense in many areas of life, but it doesn’t seem to apply to knowing God.  Either you know him, or you don’t.  Right? 

I would suggest to you that the way you grow as a believer is to keep studying.  Admit there are things you do not understand.  Mentally wrestle with passages that seem to contradict your views.  Read books you agree with and those with whom you struggle.  Ask questions of the masters and listen closely to their teaching. 

Occasionally, I meet people who make the life of faith look easy.  They are clear on what they believe and hold tightly to the profound truths of the scripture.  Their lives demonstrate the grace of God to them and through them.  They are mature Christians in every way.   

When I meet these people, I do not live under the delusion that this life came with little effort. On the contrary, it took years to become the Godly man or woman they are today.  They failed in their words, thinking, and interactions enough times to eventually master them.  Sure, they make it look easy, but that does not mean it is. 

The Empty Nest

My wife and I are entering a new phase of life.  This past Wednesday, we dropped off our youngest son at college.  The house is now empty except for the two of us.  Two of my boys have graduated from universities and have promising careers.  Two are in college as a freshman and a junior. 

This week we returned home from dropping him off, and the house was quiet.  Sure, we know that all of them will continue to come and go for the rest of their lives.  But for the most part, we are alone now. 

I am excited about this new phase of life.  No longer do we have to plan around school functions, sports, and their desires. Instead, we are free to live in a new unrestrained way that we have never experienced before now. 

My wife and I married while in college.  Our lives were full of school, work, and ministry right up until she got pregnant with our first one.  We have been married for almost 27 years and have had children in the picture for nearly 25 of those.  There has been very little time for us together. 

We are not entirely sure what the future holds for us, but we are excited about the possibilities.  We gladly welcome your prayers.  We do know what the future will have more connecting with other believers.  It is an exciting and scary time, and it is hard to believe we are finally here. 

The nest is empty, and the baby birds have all left.  Now is our time to soar. 

Religious Activity

I firmly believe that people need to be involved in the life of their local Church.  They need to be there to learn, grow, connect, serve, and worship.  It is vital to the faith of every believer. 

With that said, I also have to warn against overactivity in the life of the Church.  There was a time when people came to Sunday school and then worship on Sunday morning.  Often they stayed for lunch. After that, they might go home for a couple of hours, and then they had another service on Sunday night.  On top of that, there was a Wednesday evening program too.  Somewhere in there was choir practice and a board meeting.  Many families spent five nights a week at the Church. 

One problem was that no one was making an impact in their community.  No one was out sharing the gospel.  No one was serving the people who were outside of their Christian bubble. 

The other problem was more subtle.  Attending religious activities and events does not always create disciples.  Sure, it gives people a chance to grow, but being present at the Church building every night does not guarantee that you will become a mature follower of Jesus.  In fact, many people who were a part of all those activities began to be egotistical.  They thought they were better than other believers.  With that came a sense of entitlement as their faith stagnated and died.  All while attending every possible program. 

True discipleship of a Christian is more than attending religious activities. 

Churches and leaders who do not believe this fill the calendar with one program after another.  Slowly people quit, and the black creeping death of faith takes over. 

Others encourage people to find a place to worship, serve, fellowship, and grow. First, people need to worship each week.  After that, they need to have a place to dig deeper into the Bible and hopefully connect to other believers.  Finally, they should use their gifts somewhere for the glory of God.  Much of this can be accomplished on Sunday morning and one additional night a week.  The rest of your time can be used to impact your family and community. 

I love Church programs, and I hope everyone uses them to grow as disciples of Jesus.  Unfortunately, your attendance does not guarantee you will.  Seek to engage every aspect of your faith to help you grow, and that does not mean you need to fill every evening with Church. 

False Teachers

The New Testament continually warns that believers are to be on their guard against false teachers. 

One day I asked this vital question, “How does someone become a false teacher?”

There are only a couple of reasons why someone becomes a false teacher.

The biggest reason for many is that there is something to gain.  Some leaders are searching for money, sex, or power.  They distort the gospel of Jesus for personal advancement.  These people have evil desires and manipulate others for their gain. 

There is a second set of reasons people become false teachers.  These are more subtle because they are not truly evil.  Yet, they bring about the same problems. 

Some people have been led astray by someone.  Their mentor might have been seeking evil gain, and they did not know it, and now they are repeating the same mistakes.  Others have been misinformed or uninformed on proper theology.  Still, some misinterpret scriptures while others misapply the Bible. 

I know of a person whose beliefs have been molded by society, the history channel, college professors, and liberal authors. I talked to them about the proper interpretation of the Bible, and they had no idea what I was talking about.  They were a false teacher without even knowing it. 

In a section of Paul’s letter to Timothy about false teachers, he encourages him to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15 – NIV 2011)

There were numerous false teachers already circulating before the end of the New Testament.  They still exist today.  One quest for every believer is to make sure they are not listening to one, but the more significant hope is that we do not become one.

Pulling Others Down

There are two ways to feel better about yourself. 

One is to work hard, think positively, and build a life with which you are happy. 

The second is to cut other people down with your words.  Gossip, see the bad in people, be negative and try to undercut the accomplishments of others. 

The second one is far easier.

I once read that a crab fisherman on the East coast does not need to put a lid on their catch.  Crabs will try to climb over each other continually, and all they accomplish is pulling one another down.  Freedom is never far away, but they never achieve it because they do not work together. 

Don’t be a crab in a bucket.