The Blessings of Hard Work

Grace is God’s gift to us. Salvation does not come by works so that no human can boast. You cannot earn it, and you do not deserve it.

God’s blessing, on the other hand, can be different. Sometimes, not every time, we see his great benefits from our hard work.

Financial blessing can come through an unexpected windfall like an inheritance. Other times it comes through getting up early, working every minute of the day for ten hours or more six days a week.

Most great marriages do not usually happen by accident. They are the result of receiving wise counsel and putting in the effort necessary to build a relationship.

Children who are a success in life rarely occur without help. It usually requires staying up late and working on homework, living through discipline issues and investing time in their life.

A fulfilling spiritual life does not come easy. It takes carving our time to read, think and pray. You need a plan to learn and grow then you must work the plan.

There is a long list of things that can plug into this type of thinking. Many successes and achievements in life are the results of working hard day after day. One of the ways that God blesses us is by giving each person a brain and a body filled with potential. Too often I watch people squander their time and energy on selfish or self-destructive habits. Their lack of focus, energy and effort are why they struggle.

Some blessings are a pure gift to you. Things like where you were born, your parents, their financial situation, your health, and the world at the time of your birth. After that, many things depend on you. Will you do the work required to live a blessed life?

The future lies before you. It is full of possibilities. You have unlimited potential. You should pray for God’s hand of blessing to fill your life. Then get up and get to work. Some things simply do not come easy.

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Your Greatest Weapon Against Evil

My boys officially started football season last night with midnight practice. This is a tradition in my area of the country as teams begin practicing the first minute they are eligible each year. For my third son, this will be the final year of his high school football career.

Moments like these trigger the nostalgia of my coaching days when the boys were little. One of my rituals was to take a few minutes at practice and ask them an important question. I would get in front of the group and say, “Who can tell me your greatest tool for sports?” Timidly someone would raise their hand and say, “Their legs.” “Nope,” I would respond. Then we went through most of the muscles in the body from arms to feet. Again, my response was, “No.” Finally, I would call one of the boys to the front, and I would point at his head and say something like, “Your mind is your greatest weapon.”

Throughout the season I would remind them of this essential truth. A situation might present itself in which the other team would get “inside their head.” They would get angry and make stupid mistakes. I would call them aside and say, “Use your head.” More than once I have turned to the team on the sideline and said, “What were they thinking?”

Great players are not just the strongest, fastest and most athletic. Usually, it is the kid who understands the other teams’ formations. They notice patterns and movements that give away the other teams’ plays. They see and comprehend what is happening before it happens, and this enables them to make plays better than those who only use brute force.

I believe this foundational principle applies to all of life. The race is not always to the swift or the steady but to the wise. They are people who process their situation and move in the right direction. The best application is for those of us who walk the path of faith. The single greatest tool we have in the fight against evil is our brain. Too often people let their emotions take over. They start thinking with their glands instead of their head. Terrible decisions could have been avoided if this person had only thought through their actions and its ramifications.

The most significant battlefield in your world is the space between your ears. You need to keep your eyes open and your mind moving at the speed of life.

I guarantee you that today evil will come knocking in your life. He will offer you a shortcut to success. He will deceive you into believing doing the wrong thing will have the right result. He will tempt with the allure of selfish desires. He will dazzle you with the immediate so that you lose sight of the eternal. Evil will try to manipulate you into choosing the wrong path.

Solomon of the Old Testament promoted wisdom throughout his writings. One of the pleas of Jesus is that we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. Paul challenges believers to renew their mind. I am just asking you to think. The greatest tool you have to stand against evil is located between your ears, why not use it today?

Preaching on the Topic of Marriage

This Sunday I am starting a new sermon series at the Church I lead. It is entitled “Fix My Marriage.” My approach for the series is to walk through the process I use for counseling people with marital problems. Over the next four weeks, I will look at the basics principles for getting your marriage back on track.

Let me be honest with you; I hate preaching on marriage.

I despise it not because I dislike the topic. It is because during a series like this I feel like a hypocrite. I know I will say things for other people to do that I do not effectively complete in my marriage.

Many years ago, I decided that it was okay to preach sermons on things I have not mastered. If I only speak about topics I am doing; then I can run the risk of making people in my image and not in the image of Jesus. I need to speak on topics that the Bible addresses even when I am not perfect in acting them out in my life.

The next four-week I will be trying to help marriages in our Church and community. If you live nearby, we would love for you to join us. I hope to share with you and some steps to making your marriage work better. My marriage is not perfect, I am working to improve it, and I hope you will join me on this journey.

August 5 “Initial Diagnosis”
August 12 “Doing the Work”
August 19 “Handling the Past”
August 26 “Regular Maintenance”

Trying to Hide My Insecurities

Insecurity is defined as “being uncertain about oneself; a lack of confidence.”

Everyone has it. There are things in life we are just unsure about or feel a genuine sense of lacking. When these feelings arrive, we usually try to stuff them down inside while showing false confidence to the world.

If I were honest, I mean painfully and embarrassingly frank with you, I would tell you about all my insecurities. I often feel I am failing in my roles. Being a husband and a father is demanding, frequently I feel like a failure. Then there is my job that worries me. I have never achieved all that I dreamed I could when I was younger.

I have a long list of insecurities that I try to cover and hide from the world.

God pushes us in a different direction. The apostle Paul said in his letter to the Church in Corinth.

2 Corinthians 12:9 But he (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Did he boast about his weaknesses?

That doesn’t sound right to me. That is not how I was raised. Weaknesses are to be covered and stuffed inside. I should act like I don’t have insecurities. Never let them see you sweat.

Paul says that our weaknesses and insecurities are the places where God works in our lives. Those are the places his power can shine the brightest. God can take my life, even with all that it is lacking, and build a great family and a wonderful Church. He can take my weakness and do something amazing. Not because I am great but because he is all-powerful.

I know you are worn out from trying to hide all your insecurities. You tell stories that make you sound like you have everything figured out. Your social media is an ongoing display of how well you are doing in life. Even your pictures you post are at just the right angle so that everything looks perfect. All the while you are completely unsure of yourself and have a lack of confidence.

What if, like Paul, you embraced your weakness? What if you admitted your insecurities and allowed God to work through those?

I bet if you did you would finally feel a sense of God’s presence in your life. No longer would you have to live behind the façade of your own creation, but you could walk in the power of God.

His grace is sufficient, not only for salvation but to cover your insecurities.

Of Superheroes and the Savior

I recently finished a series of sermons on the popular movies of the past year. My last address was on the superhero movie called The Black Panther. It is part of the Marvel universe of films. These movies have become a stable in the cinema during recent years. In fact, four of the top ten highest grossing movies of all time are part of this genre. Their impact on Hollywood cannot be missed from the big screen to the little screen in our homes. Superheroes are everywhere and cannot be ignored.

These movies are all built on a singular premise. Someone is given a unique power in the universe. These powers can range from enormous knowledge and wealth like Iron Man to creature like characteristics of Spiderman. These special people are then given the choice of helping humanity or serving themselves. Frequently, the choice is to save humanity from certain peril by some super villain or avoid getting involved. At that right moment, our hero steps up to save the day.

There are two things I notice about these movies. First, while these characters inspire us with their acts of heroism, they really do nothing to change the world. People still struggle with anger, hurt, pain and ultimately death. They never deal with the issues of the heart that make this world a depraved state where people need saving.

Second, their job is never complete. In the children’s movie, Mr. Incredible has the perfect description. “No matter how many times you save the world. It always manages to get back in jeopardy again. Sometimes I just want it to stay saved. You know, for a little bit. I feel like the maid. ‘I just cleaned up this mess. Can we keep it clean for ten minutes?’”

I ponder these stories frequently as I think about Jesus. His impact on the world is so incredibly different from the movie we would create. He comes with great power, but his goal is not to throw down the forces of Rome and build his own empire. He comes to deal with the heart of humanity and its bent toward evil. His kingdom is not one of flesh and blood instead it is built in the soul of humanity. All this is accomplished through his work on the cross. Scripture underlines to us that his work was done once for all of time. Jesus came that we might be genuinely saved both now and forevermore.

People hand over their money in mass at the latest superhero movie. I suppose it is okay for entertainment purposes and the enjoyment they bring to us. When the chips are down, life gets dark, and I face the final hours. I thank God for sending me a true Savior.

How You Finish Your Story

Standing in a worship program, I started looking at the people in the seats that surrounded me. Through the years I have stood with several different people together in the Church auditorium. I have watched people come and go from the community of faith.

Three stories I see played out regularly.

1. People who start strong in their faith and finish poorly.
All of us know that kid who seemed to be bound for gospel greatness. They appeared to be the next great preacher, worship leader or missionary. They seemed to have a fire for God that none of the other young people had in their faith. Then one day something happened. High school became difficult, their friends left the Church, or a member of the opposite sex led them away from religion. There is a long list of possibilities, but now they are no longer a part of anything that resembles faith. It happens not only to kids but believers of all ages. At one point they would do anything for Jesus, now they have no faith at all.

2. People who start poorly and finish strong.
Next, there is that kid who everyone thought would end up in jail. They grew up resistant to all discussions of faith and Jesus. Their life looked from the outside like a downward spiral into the abyss. Then something happened, and suddenly their life took a dramatic turn. A midlife crisis sent them searching for something meaningful, and they found Jesus. Not only did they attend Church, but they served and became a leader. The second half of their life looked nothing like the first. They finished life on earth with an ironclad faith that ushered them into eternity.

3. People who start strong, become weak but finish strong.
These people also come in various forms, but the one I most often see is this. There is a child who grows up with their parents taking them to Church. Somewhere along the line, they attend a camp or a conference that leads them to place their faith in Jesus. Unsure of their new faith they try to walk a line that is dedicated to God but not enough to seem fanatical. Eventually, their parents allow them to choose their own path and they walk away from the faith they once professed. The years that follow are a sordid mess of good times and bad. They fall in love get married and start a family. Not having a unified center for their new life, it quickly falls apart. Divorce and separation are terms that become real. They struggle with loneliness, and they search for joy. One day someone invites them to Church and a fire is reignited in their soul. They step back into faith with hesitancy but slowly grow into a devoted follower of Jesus.

As a pastor, I see these stories played out again and again in the life of the Church. People come and go. The first story breaks my heart. Unfortunately, I have seen it happen dozens of times. I pray for those people and hope their story will have a different ending.

The second two narratives are why I stay in ministry. Watching people change their lives from darkness to light is a story I can enjoy a hundred times. The good news I want to share with you today is that no matter what chapter of your life book you are currently writing. There is still time to alter the ending. You can compose a new future with God in the center. Forgiveness is possible, and a new conclusion can be secured.

Honestly, I do not care how your life started. How you end your story is what is significant.

Attending Versus Participating in a Church Community

Each week hundreds of people attend the Church I lead. One of my goals for them is to move from a person who attends Church to a connected part of a community of faith. I long to see people become a part of the family of God.

Lately, I have started to notice the difference between attendees versus active participants who are connected to one another.

An attendee walks through the door with an eye of judgment. A connected person arrives with a heart of joy and love.

An attendee will be critical of a mistake on the stage during worship. A connected person will be encouraged that someone used their gifts on behalf of the community.

An attendee will listen to prayer requests for the latest piece of gossip. A connected person will add their hurting brother or sister to their prayer list.

An attendee will be annoyed by people who disrupt their morning with issues. A connected person will see the actions of others as a chance to help them on their journey with God.

An attendee listens to the sermon as a consumer, rating the message like the latest movie. A connected person hears God trying to lead them through their preacher.

An attendee comes to get. A connected person comes to give.

An attendee will find a legitimate reason not to come back next week. A connected person will see reasons to return.

An attendee must tell people they are a part of a Church. A connected person shares their community as an extension of their life.

Somewhere on the journey of faith people cross a threshold. I am not exactly sure where that doorway lies, but at some point, people move from being attendees to connected members. When they crossover I notice a difference in their approach to Church.

Where are you on this journey? What would it take for you to become a vital part of the family of God in your area?