Saturday, September 25, 2010

Axioms, Adages, and Proverbs (2): Good Timber

"Good timber does not grow with ease. The stronger the wind, the stronger the trees." (J. William Marriott)

This is an proverb which is easy to affirm when the weather is calm; much harder to affirm during the storm.  That being said, it is the storms that shape us and form us into the leaders we become.

I read alot of book on leadership and one thing I have found common in all great leaders; they have all gone through a crucible of some kind, and come out the other side better for it.  These crucibles tend to come in three forms; test, trials, and tragedies.  Depending on how you face them and how you endure them, they can either crush you and send you spiraling, or they can be a catalyst for growth.

Crucible: a severe test.

Catalyst: an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action.

When faced with a crucible, some sort of test, trial or tragedy, how do you tend to react?  It reminds me of something Winston Churchill once said,

"A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."

Do you aspire to be a leader, to be great?  Do you hope for influence and a position of authority?  Do you desire to to fully utilize all the gifts and potential that is within you?  If so, you must prepare yourself to face the "fires" of life which are needed and necessary to refine you into the great person that God has created you to be.

I remember my HS Basketball coach who, after one particular hard practice pulled me aside and in love reminded me, "Mike - don't be worried when I yell at you or correct you.  It's only because I see the potential in you.  It's when I stop yelling at you that you should be worried."  In a similar way, God allows us to face these crucibles in order that we might be more fully used by him.  Reminds me of yet another saying;

"...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Philippians 1:6)

Remember - the stronger the storm, the stronger the trees.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is God Enough?

(1 Samuel 8) 7 [God speaking to Samuel] "it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.” 
(1 Sam 12)
12 "But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was moving against you, you said to me, 'No, we want a king to rule over us'-even though the LORD your God was your king. 13 Now here is the king you have chosen, the one you asked for… 17 And you will realize what an evil thing you did in the eyes of the LORD when you asked for a king.

I've been reading through 1 Samuel which among other things, chronicles Israel's move from being a people ruled by judges, to a people ruled by a king.  It is a surprising end to an era in Israel's history; an era that saw them move from trusting God (mostly) and the men He appointed to lead them, (Moses, Aaron, Joshua), to wanting to look like the other nations and have a king (rejecting God).  There's many observations and lessons we could glean, but I want to focus on just 2.

1) Is God enough?  It is clear in this passage that God views Israel's desire for a king as outright rejection.  They no longer trust God.  Instead, they want a king - and in effect they are saying, "we trust in human kings that we can see more than in an Sovereign God that we can't see."  Now before you get all judgmental on them, ask yourself, who or what do you trust in?  It's easy to say you trust in God, but what if things stopped going your way?  What if you lost your job, or house, or cars, or had all your savings lost, or the stock market crashes and you lose your retirement, or you get diagnosed with cancer, or a child dies, etc.  Then who do you trust?  Is God enough?  What if, like Job, everything you had and had worked for were stripped away?  Ultimately, we can't honestly answer that question unless we're in that place.  However, the call for us as believers is nothing short of whole-hearted trust in God.

2) Do you look like the world?  In other words, Israel wanted a king because all the other nations had kings (1 Sam 8:19-20: " 'No!' they said.  'We want a king over us.  Then we will be like all the other nations...").  How many times have you and I been guilty of wanting something or wanting to do something simply because "everyone else has/does it?"  As Christians, we are called to live "in" the world but not to be "of" the world.  Our citizenship is in heaven and we are sons and daughters of God.  In other words, we're not supposed to look like everyone else.  We're supposed to be LIGHT - and SALT.

In the end, Israel was found guilty on both counts; rejecting God as their king, and wanting to look like everyone else.  And still, God promised to bring them back to Him if they would follow Him whole-heartedly; "For the sake of His great name the Lord will not reject His people..." (I Sam 12:22)

I leave you with two questions; 1) Is God enough?  2) Are you "different"?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Axioms, Adages, and Proverbs (1): The Stonecutter

"When nothing seems to help, I go look at a stone-cutter hammering away at his rock, perhaps a hundred times without so much as a crack showing in it.  Yet at the hundred and first blow, it will split in two, and I know it was not that blow that did it, but all that had gone before." - Jacob A Riis

I am starting a new series of blog posts which I'll call "Axioms, Adages and Proverbs," or, from now on, AAP's.  I love to collect these things, these AAP's, which often contain in them great truths and help to keep me on track, especially when times are hard.  I'm leading off with one of my favorite's, above.  Now lest you think I'm getting away from the spiritual component, hang with me on this journey.  Take the above quote - in a word, this is all about perseverance.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-4).

Perseverance is a trait that we all should fact, more than that, it's a trait that God is going to build into us.  Perseverance and Trust go hand in hand.  Remember the story Jesus told in Luke 18 about the unjust judge (read it here)?  
It wasn't because the judge wanted to do right that he gave a widow justice; it was because she was wearing him out by constantly coming to him with her case.  Her perseverance won the day.  The point Jesus was making was simply to never, ever stop praying.  Perseverance.  

Jim Collins
, business consultant, author and lecturer, has spent a lifetime studying success, mainly in the world of business.  In his book "Good to Great" he talks about what he calls "Level-5 leaders."  These leaders come in all shapes and sizes and are not the charismatic types we tend to think of as CEO's.  However, with all their differences they had 2 things in common, Humility, and Will.  Think of "will" as "strength of character," the "never give up" attitude, or in a word, perseverance.

Back to the stone-cutter - what if he had stopped at 100 blows, and given up?  The rock never would have split.  This leads me to another AAP;

"Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up." - Thomas Edison

Makes me wonder; what prayer have I stopped praying that God still wants to answer?  What has He called me to, that I have stopped persevering in?  What break-through is right around the corner, as long as I don't give up?  Persevering is not never know whether you're at the beginning, middle, or end of the journey...whether the break-through has many more blows to go, or whether the next blow will split the stone, and I suppose this is why splitting stone with a hammer is not the type of work for all of us.  Still...I wonder?  How close are you to that break-through?  Have you given up?  It might be time to pick up the hammer and chisel again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Whole or Half?

It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD. 3 And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, "If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only. (1 Samuel 7:2-4)

Are you (and am I) following whole-heartedly, or half-heartedly?  I find that it's all to easy to fool ourselves into thinking we're "X" when in actuality we're "I."  For example;
- one says that they strive for health, yet they eat poorly and never exercise
- one says they believe in balanced finances, yet they have no budget and rack up debt
- one says they live for Christ, yet find themselves consumed with the cares and worries of the world.
There's a gap between our beliefs and our actions.  Someone once said "I will show you what you believe by looking at what you do."

This sounds harsh - it is not meant to.  The goal is not to guilt any of us into "doing" anything but instead to look at the "line in the sand" and see where we fall.  Take that passage of Scripture; the Israelites have been experiencing "discipline" at the hand of the Philistines.  The Philistines at one point capture the ark of God and rout the Israelites, killing over 30,000 of them at one point.  Well having the ark doesn't go so well for the Philistines and so they return it to Israel, which prompts Israel to mourn and seek God.

The next couple of verses are the critical pieces - God, through Samuel, wants to test the level of repentance.  Is it lip service, or are they serious?  In other words, the challenge is laid down - "if you're seriously repenting, then 'for crying out loud,' get rid of all the other 'gods' you have and are worshipping, commit whole-heartedly to God, and He will deliver you."  You see the Israelites had their hand in two places; they were returning to God and seeking Him, but they were also clinging to other 'gods.' They wanted it both ways.

This got me to thinking - what 'gods' do I worship?  Am I, have I truly forsaken EVERYTHING and committed to follow Christ whole-heartedly?  Am I also guilty of "seeking God" yet clinging to other 'gods?'  What exactly did Jesus mean when He said, "
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."? (Luke 9:23-24)

God is love and His grace is un-ending.  Anyone who calls on the name of Christ and believes in Him will be saved.  However, His call is high - He is a jealous God, and is not willing to share us with anyone or anything.  He does give us His Spirit to "guide us into all truth."  However, we do have the ability to "quench the Spirit" and in effect, choose to go our own way.  It all boils down to this; Is there anything keeping you from whole-heartedly following Him?  Today?

Friday, September 10, 2010

The Land Between

A few weeks ago I was able to attend a Leadership Conference.  There were many great speakers, and I want to take a moment and share with you some thoughts from one of the sessions.  The speaker was pastor Jeff Manion, and his session was called "The Land Between."  If you want to hear or see him speaking on this topic, click here.  Or click on the picture to the right to check out his book (which I haven't read).

The Scripture text is
Numbers 11.  The setting - the Israelites have just been rescued from Egypt's army by God, who in miraculous and dramatic fashion parts the Red Sea allowing Israel to pass through on dry ground.  God rescues them from certain death and brings them into the desert.  They are no longer in Egypt, but they have a journey in front of them before they reach the Promised Land.  They are in "the land between."

All of us have been, are currently, or will be in this land.  It's a place where some of us have been often.  Our church is in this land, as we are "in between" senior pastors.  Many men in our church are in this land, "in between" jobs.  In his talk, Pastor Jeff makes 5 points about this land that need little explanation.
  1. The land between is fertile ground for complaint. (vv 1-10)
  2. The land between is fertile ground for meltdown. (vv 11-15)
  3. The land between is fertile ground for God’s provision. (vv 16-17)
  4. The land between is fertile ground for God’s discipline - inflicting pain for redemptive purposes (vv 18-20).
  5. The land between is fertile ground for transformational growth – for learning to trust God.  (vv 21-35)

As I read those 5 points again, I know that I've done all 5.  I've complained, and melted down more often then I'd like to admit.  However, his last point might be the most important thing to remember if you're in the land.  The Israelites were coming out of generations of idol worship and living in the land of the Egyptians. God knew that if they were going to be "His people," then they had to learn to trust in Him.  So it is for us.  If we are truly to be God's people, His sons and daughters, then we must learn to trust Him totally, implicitly, without wavering.  It is here; in the "land between" that we learn to pray, rely, and depend on God…this does not happen automatically.  It is also the place where faith goes to die.  We have to choose.  

Something Jeff said in that session - you “deter” complaint by inviting in trust.  “Trust and complaint are incompatible roommates.”  If that's true, I wonder, am I living in trust or complaint?  Am I one of God's sons who has learned to trust?  If you find yourself in "the land between," remember first, you're in good company.  All of us have been there, are there, or will be there (multiple times).  Second, you just may be in a growth spurt of sorts...transformational growth often happens in this land.  And as I write, I have offered up a prayer for all of you who find yourselves in this land.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Model for Worship

Remember your English class where you learned about the Five W's (or Five W's and 1 H)?  It's journalism 101 in order to have a compelling story.  Who, What, Where, Why, When, (and How).  Without answering these questions, you have a less-compelling, or worse, a flat-out wrong story.

I just came across Psalm 100 which gives us a blue-print for worship.

Psalm 100

 1 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. [How we worship, & Who should worship]
 2 Worship the LORD with gladness; [Who we worship, & How we worship]
       come before him with joyful songs. [
How we worship]
 3 Know that the LORD is God. [Who we worship]
       It is he who made us, and we are his; [
Why we worship]
       we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. [
Why we worship]
 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving [How we worship]
       and his courts with praise; [
How we worship]
       give thanks to him and praise his name. [
How we worship]
 5 For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; [Why we worship]
       his faithfulness continues through all generations. [
Why we worship]

The only thing missing is Where we worship and When we worship - and I think those answers are quite obvious.  Everywhere and Anytime (or maybe, more appropriately, All the time).