Do you like it or love it?

I love fishing.

I don’t know exactly why I love fishing. Maybe it was imprinted on me as a child. My dad loved to fish, and we made many memories with a pole in our hands. Perhaps it is the joy of the unknown. When you set the hook, you never know what is at the other end of the line. It could simply be that I love the taste of freshly cooked fish and want more to eat. There are dozens of little factors that make me love fishing.

Since I love it so much, there are very few limits on my fishing. I had gotten up well before dawn and stayed up all night. I have driven hundreds of miles and paid money to have a chance to catch something unique or big. I have purchased hundreds of dollars in the tackle and spent thousands on boats. I have missed meals, sleep, tv, and even dates for a chance to go fishing. The two nights of my Jr. and Sr. prom were spent fishing with a friend. Days, week and years of my life have been spent pursuing this one passion. Do you get the picture? I love fishing.

On the other hand, I like basketball.

I enjoy it most when my children play the game, but I like it as a sport. I watch it on TV when it is convenient. I do not plan my day or any activities around basketball. During March Madness each year I stay up late to watch some games, but I have never gotten up early to watch. I haven’t spent any money on basketball. I have seen two professional games and a few college ones, but those were usually tickets someone else bought. I have no real favorite pro team, but dad made me be an Indiana University basketball fan. I cannot recall ever missing a meal or a date for a game. I like basketball. I enjoy it and watch it whenever my schedule allows.

There are days when we need to ask ourselves honestly, “Do I love or like Jesus?”

Matthew 22:36-38 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (37) Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (38) This is the first and greatest commandment.” (New International Version)

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For Such a Time as This

A young Jewish girl named Esther has become queen. It is almost unbelievable that she should ascend to such a high position. It was a great honor to her and should be to her people. There is only one problem; a nasty man is trying to get her people killed. Queen Esther sits on the throne in a royal position with influence and power that she can use to save her people. A family member named Mordecai contacts her, and he says a line that captures the moment.

Esther 4:14 “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

Mordecai explains that maybe God has her in this position so that she can save her people. Perhaps God has placed her in a unique place to make an impact for the good of his people.

This line of scripture goes through my head repeatedly when people tell me the stories of their lives. Recently a man explained how he and his wife were given the opportunity to offer counseling to another couple at a “just the right time.” Another person shared a story about how he, and some other people were able to help some homeless people they encountered. The list could go on and on. Right people placed in the right position so that they could offer the right action. Coincidence? Destiny? Fate? Luck? Could it have been a divine appointment?

The name of God does not appear anywhere in the book of Esther, and yet his fingerprints are all over its pages. He works and moves through the everyday situations of ordinary people to do incredible things. His people are saved. Lives are blessed. God is glorified.

Who knows but that you have come to your position today, for such a time as this?

Is it possible that God will bring people in and out of your life this day on whom you can have a positive impact in the name of Jesus? What would happen today if you looked around for divine appointments and then acted on this moments? Maybe the kingdom of God would be expanded through your life as people are blessed in the name of Jesus.

Maybe this day is the time for you to have an impact on this world if you will let God use you.

Five Things to Teach Your Children Before They Leave Home

We have headed into the graduation season again. Over the next eight weeks, there will be baccalaureate programs and commencement speeches given by adults and students in almost every location. Once again this year I will be a part of a program for seniors, but I am specifically talking to the parents. As a minister friend and I were working on what we were going to say, I started a list of things that teenagers need to know. Here is what I am thinking.

1. Teach Them to be Godly. You would expect this from a pastor, and I firmly believe it is true. Every child needs a moral compass. They need to be encouraged to read and learn the Bible. They need to be instructed in how to live a godly life. Every person, especially young people, need to know how to love God and their neighbor.

2. Teach Them to be Responsible. All people need to become responsible for their own actions. When they are called upon to act, they are willing to step up and perform while accepting whatever consequences follow. This includes doing the right thing when they see it needs to be done. They are not the victims or passive participants in their lives; they can steer their ship and help the world at the same time.

3. Teach Them to Make Wise Decisions. I am teaching this material to our youth group this month. The fundamental question is this, “In light of my past experience, my current situation and my future hopes and dreams, what should I do right now?” This question will force us to search through the Bible for insights along with asking people who are older and wiser for advice. The right decisions will always make life more comfortable and more joyful over the long haul.

4. Teach Them How to Handle Money. Young people must learn to be responsible with their money and their debt. Many are going off to college and accumulating a huge debt for a degree that has a limited earning ability. Others are racking up credit card debt or spending all their money on their vehicle. If our young people do not handle their money well, it will affect their marriage, parenting and even their spiritual life.

5. Teach Them How to Fail. It is going to happen. All of them are going to make a mistake. They are going to embarrass themselves and fall flat on their face. What will they do after that? Do they know how to get up and start again? Do they know how to ask for and offer forgiveness? Do they understand the importance of learning from their mistakes? Teach them to make failure their friend as they learn and grow into adulthood.

Those were a few of the things that made my list. What would you add?

Recently I read about a survey that explained how parents are very concerned about their elementary school children and have very little concern for their teenagers. Our young people need guidance during these years. They do not need to “figure it out on their own.” This sets them up for failure, heartache, and pain. Teach your children and teenagers well; it will benefit them for a lifetime.

Being Honest About Our Faith

It is easy to be deceived.

We all want to think we are smart enough to spot a con man. We are sure we will be able to recognize a fraud or fake the moment we see it. We are not some simple-minded people who fall for scams and sideshow deception.

And yet, I see people deceived every day, including myself.

This reality has pushed me to become “a numbers guy.” Over the last several years I began tracking the truth of my actions in statistics. I actually started doing this because of sports. Coaches would tell my boys that they were doing something wrong. For example, they would tell them that they were not getting many rebounds in basketball. Then I would start tracking the statistics. How many rebounds did they have? How many did their teammates get? Strengths and weaknesses were revealed through numbers rather than guesses. Quickly I could break down the truth from the lies.

Very often we see things in a way that is not based on truth. Our heart latches on to a piece of information that suddenly outweighs every other piece of information. Then we see the world in a slanted way. Our mind deceives us into believing lies about ourselves. As a preacher, I would say that the voice of evil whispers in our ears and we listen to it with total confidence.

Let me apply this to the Christian life. A person will tell me they are a committed Christian. I might then track the numbers. Suddenly a very different picture begins to emerge. Quite often we believe the very best about ourselves without any real facts to back it up. We are deceived into thinking we are something we are not.

Let me ask you these questions to help you honestly evaluate your spiritual life.

How much time did you spend reading the Bible this week or this month?

How much time did you spend in prayer this week of this month?

How much time did you spend with other believers trying to grow in your faith this month?

How much of your time has been spent in the service of the Lord this month?

How many worship programs have you attended this year?

There are other important questions we can ask, but this will get you started. We must ruthlessly evaluate our lives on a regular basis so that we are not deceived in our faith.

I really hope that you are living life as a fully devoted follower of Jesus. My question is this, “Would the evidence in your life demonstrate your faith to be real?” Be honest.

A Life of Farming

With a little break in the weather where I live in Missouri the farmers have hit the fields in full force. They are working the soil and planting their crops. The dirt is moving, and the seeds are dropping as the year of farming gets underway.

I admire the work of the farmers. It takes patience and perseverance to do this job. It will take 5-6 months or more before they will see a harvest. During that time, who knows what might happen. There could be floods, or there could be droughts. It might be an ideal season with no problems at all. Whatever happens, the final results will not be known for several months for the work they are doing today.

What would happen if you and I approached life more like a farmer? What if we knew that the hard work we did today would not see any results for a long time?

The truth is, whether you acknowledge it or not, you are already living this way. The things you do today will one day reap a reward. If you do the right thing in your family, your marriage, your work and even your soul, it will someday have a result. The flip side is also true, if you neglect your work today, eventually, there will be a negative result.

My question for you today is simple; What are you planting today that will see a reward in the future? What will be the result of your work today in several months or years?

Maybe there is an even more significant question than that; What are you doing today that will have a harvest in eternity?

CS Lewis on Love

Thanks to Aimee Dryden for sharing this quote with me. It is from the book “The Four Loves.”

“Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”
—C. S. Lewis

I Wish I Could Forget

I do not want this to sound arrogant or conceited. God has blessed me with a tremendous memory. I can recall moments in my life with vivid detail. Sure, some unimportant moments get lost in my brain along with some precise minutia. For example, when I quote scripture from memory, I always seem to flip a few words around to the way I would say them.

My memory coupled with my introverted nature allow me to replay scenes from my life over and over and over. This might sound good at first, who would not want to remember interactions with loved ones who have long since passed? But there is a dark side to my mind; it tends to want to relive the moments of my most fabulous failures. It is as if there were a pull toward those places where I made a mistake so that I can correct them in my mind.

At this point, I realize I may have lost most of you. Honestly, I do not know if anyone else’s brain is wired like mine. I am continually reliving everything I have done wrong in my life and especially my ministry. Why did I do that? Why did I not tell them the truth at that moment? What was I thinking when that happened? What would happen if those people walked back into my life today?

Mentally I have a natural tendency toward regret, remorse, and shame. I honestly wish I could forget those scenes and focus only on the future. I believe this is why I am drawn toward the topic of second chances in Jesus. It is only through the grace of Jesus that I do not run and hide. It is only through God’s mercy that I can continue in ministry.

Why do I bring all this up? Well, last night at 3:00 am I woke up to use the restroom. Suddenly, without warning the brain kicked in and I spent a little over an hour reliving my mistakes. I should have, I could have, I will next time, and similar thoughts filled my mind. I finally fell back asleep, but this morning I woke up feeling shame. What right do I have to be a minister?

On days like this, I am forced to remind myself of grace. I throw myself on God’s mercy. I appeal to Jesus for his forgiveness. Sure, I have already asked for his kindness over these matters a thousand times before, but they are still real to me today.

I want to be a preacher of grace and second chances because of what I find in Jesus myself. People like me are continually reminded that we have been forgiven much. Therefore we love Jesus much.

I preach grace because it is the only way I make it through this life.