Monday, March 30, 2015

Self-scouting

Self-scouting is a tool used by football coaches that helps them discover tendencies in their team... weaknesses that can be exploited by their opponent.  Self-scouting is a helpful tool for preachers too. Studying yourself as you preach will be eye-opening... helping you identify those nervous tics, oft-repeated/overused words, distracting gestures, poor grammar.  The more honest you are in your evaluation, the more helpful it can be.

However, there ARE dangers to self-scouting too.  Here are 4 of the most obvious:

1) Perfectionism - You will never be perfect and you are going to frustrate yourself and those who follow you by being too hard on yourself.  Perfectionism will ooze out of your pores when aren't even aware of it - image will become too important - you will call your observations of others "honest," but the people around you will see you as "harsh."

2) Myopia - You might become everything you think a preacher or leader SHOULD be, but your perspectives might be entirely wrong.  If you think a "good preacher always does THIS" then you will also do it (even to your detriment.)  You will establish habits that are difficult to break.  Your methods will become stale and uninteresting.  You will be critical of others who are highly effective and miss out on necessary change.

3) Discouragement - You can be so hard on yourself that you constantly need the affirmation of others to prop you up.  That neediness is wearisome to those who follow you.  Self-preoccupation is counter-productive to ministry because NOT EVERYTHING is about you - but it will seem that way if you are always measuring yourself.  Failures will be blown out of proportion (and so will victories.)  That roller-coaster you are building for yourself won't be fun.

4) Pragmatism - results can become an insatiable idol that will lead you to down the shady-lane of hypocrisy.

Self-scouting can be likened to other good things (like exercise or dietary supplements.)  In moderation, those things are good for you.  But if you don't believe you can have too much of a good thing, try fiber :)

Thursday, March 19, 2015

"Should we stay together?"

1 Corinthians 7:10-16 - To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.  If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?


“Should we stay together?” a question that will occasionally surface in the course of a marriage. Whenever in a rough spot, one of the first things people do is start considering their options. ALL of them. So let me ask – are you (or someone you know) contemplating the last option – divorce? … H. Norman Wright, in his book, “Always Daddy’s girl,” offers this brief testimonial written by a young woman whose parents chose THAT option:

"Come into the living room, children. We have something we need to tell you." That's how our parents told us they were not going to be together anymore. After they told us they were divorcing, I sat under the table and my mind replayed again and again the words my father said. I didn't know then what it all meant, but I soon learned. After Dad left, I looked through the drawers where he kept his clothes and found an old sweat shirt he had left behind. I hid it in my room and kept it for years. I would cling to it when I was lonely for him. My father came back to see us a few times, but his visits became less and less frequent. Finally his visits stopped completely. I always wondered where he went. I wondered if he thought about me very much. I hoped that he did. But I guess… I'll never know.”

In his book, “the Death of Marriage,” Pat Conroy says: “There are not metaphors powerful enough to describe the moment when you tell your children that their parents are getting a divorce… To look into the eyes of your children and to tell them that you are mutilating their family and changing all their tomorrows is an act of desperation I never want to repeat… It felt as though I had doused my entire family with gasoline and struck a match.”

Divorce is NOT the "solution" people THINK it is. Author Earl Grollman believes divorce can be more traumatic than death. He says, “The big difference is, death has closure – it’s over. With divorce, it’s never over.”

It has been my experience, after hundreds of hours of counseling friends on the brink of divorce, that there are 3 common triggers to marital problems:

Unrealistic Expectations. Somehow, before marriage we convince ourselves that THIS person will make us happy. They are everything we “want” in a mate. And though we may see a thing or two that causes concern, we throw caution to the wind and take the plunge. But once the marriage vows are exchanged, reality reveals THIS person CAN’T make us happy.

Which leads to the second trigger – Critical Comments. In our disappointment with our spouse’s inability to make us happy, we then criticize them. Reminding them of their faults and failures over and over again... putting them down… disrespecting … comparing and insulting them.

And the third divorce trigger is Neglect of the Spiritual, which actually tops the list. We are naturally selfish and tend to obsess about what we perceive as emotional and physical deficiencies in the relationship. Little things get blown out of proportion. Secondary issues become paramount. Walking with the Lord is the only way to truly combat that selfishness.

So, when our marriages are in trouble, what would the LORD have us do?

Our text provides insight. While Paul does not deal with every possible scenario, he does provide 3 cases for our consideration - offering principles that we can apply to OUR situation - helping us find the will of God. 3 cases:

The first case deals Separation. Listen to what he says in vv. 10-11 “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

It would appear that Paul offers THIS counsel to Christians, who, may have been saved AFTER they were already married. With all the talk going on in that church about it being better to be single than married, maybe they asked Paul if they should separate so they could BETTER serve the Lord. Or maybe the things that brought them together when they were lost no longer had a place in their lives, causing them to wonder if perhaps their incompatibilities justified separation. Or maybe for some, their marriages had simply become intolerable. What should these folks do?

Paul tells them that God is not in the business of breaking up a family so that we can find what we THINK might be a better match or so that we can better serve the Lord. In God’s eyes, the marriage vow is a lifetime commitment.

“BUT,” someone might ask, “is separation not a better option than divorce?” Since divorce is a permanent solution to temporary problems, wouldn’t it be better to separate? At least there is still the hope of reconciliation. And that is often the intent. “Let’s take a break until things cool off and we can work things out.” It sounds reasonable. But, coming from an outsider’s perspective, I want to give you 6 reasons why I think separation is a BAD idea:

1. Because separation is one step away from divorce.

2. If one often resorts to such extreme measures to solve problems, it can lose its effectiveness. It doesn’t take a person long to detect subtle forms of manipulation in their mate. When one has established a pattern of over-reacting every time there is a problem, separation might be seen as one more reason you shouldn’t be taken seriously.

3. The counsel of others in their lives. Someone will end up planting seeds of doubt about the relationship and will advise you to end the marriage. You will hear, “Getting a divorce was the best thing I ever did,” OR “If they did that to me, you better know I would leave.” What is intended as “support” for their friend actually invites destruction upon them.

4. Separation is a bad idea because it plants the thought – “I CAN make it without you.” Never doubt Satan’s ability to interfere in the reconciliation process. He is a destroyer by nature and delights in destroying families just like yours every day.

5. Separation is not a good idea because of the message it sends your children – that relationships are disposable – that commitments only mean something if you are happy.

6. You are vulnerable to developing emotional attachments with others when you are separated.

Having said THAT, IF separation IS chosen, Paul says that the couple is to remain emotionally uninvolved with others in the hopes that reconciliation MAY occur.

The word, “reconciled” carries the idea of “a change” from feelings of hostility to feelings of friendship. Often this word is used to describe our relationship with God. When we are not right with God, we are hostile to Him. But God offers to reconcile lost sinners to Himself through the sacrifice of Christ. This reconciliation requires a change of attitude, where the lost man says, “Lord, I have been wrong. Please forgive me.” THIS is the action Paul is describing between a separated husband and wife. Both partners are to remain pure and are to seek God’s help on behalf of their marriage; hopefully it will lead to a change of attitude.

Case #2 deals with the subject of Mixed Marriage vv.12-14 – where one person is a Christian and the other is lost. Marriage is difficult and calls for constant adjustments, EVEN when the couple shares the same convictions. Love, communication, and patience help overcome these difficulties, but when ONE becomes a Christian without the other, a whole new set of problems develop. The Lord prepared us for the impact of the gospel on family life when He said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.” - Matt. chapter 10.

When ONE becomes a Christian, suddenly there is the difficulty of living with a person who no longer shares the same values, goals, and purposes in life. One has been born again and desires to serve God. The other is still in the flesh, filled with all the patterns and passions of the old life. Yet in SPITE of this fact, Paul advises Christians to STAY TOGETHER.

2 primary issues come to mind that might have brought up this subject:

#1) The Christian might have been afraid that being married to a lost person would pull them down spiritually. And it is CERTAINLY TRUE that a person will find it difficult to be involved in church when they are married to someone who doesn’t share their love for God. That’s why Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” And

#2) they may have joined a fellowship where there were godly men and women who were single and may have thought that they would be much better suited with one of them than with their lost mate.

Two very good reasons to leave – but NOT reason enough, says Paul.

He provides two basic reasons for staying in this marriage.

1) Because honoring your marital vow is important.

2) Because someone in your family might be won to Christ now that God has invaded that home. The family dynamic changes when a person gets right with God. The Holy Spirit is NOW in that home. The unbelieving spouse may remain in their unbelief, but it will be a lot harder as they see Christ in you. The more you become like Jesus, the longer they see your goodness and godliness, the greater the chances they will be saved. If you leave, the likelihood of them becoming Christians is slim.

And finally, Case #3, after having dealt with the issue of separation and mixed marriage, he now deals with the subject of Abandonment in vv. 15 and 16. Listen to it, “But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.”

So, what if you become a Christian and your spouse no longer wants to live with you? Paul says, “let them leave.” Now listen, that doesn’t mean that you are to pack their bags for them or apply so much pressure that they WANT to leave. But if they can’t live with a person who no longer shares those old goals and dreams, Paul says, “Let them leave.” It’s called abandonment. And Paul provides an important bit of information when he says, “the brother or sister is not enslaved.” In other words, they are free, at that point, to marry a believer. They are not under bondage to make it work. They are not “doomed” to remain single.

But then he follows with the words, “God has called you to peace.” Don’t let the divorce get ugly. Don’t make a fool of yourself trying to make them stay. If they are bent on leaving, let them leave. This is God’s word on separation and divorce.

Now, setting all the emotion aside, it is a fact that divorce happens; yes, even among Christians. I would also remind you that scripture says God "hates" divorce. God never intended the institution of marriage to suffer the way it has. His desire is for marriage to be joyful and fulfilling and a commitment that lasts a lifetime.

With that understood, there ARE times when divorce IS permissible. While every effort should be made to salvage the relationship, divorce is not - I repeat - NOT the unforgivable sin.

Should we stay together? YES!!! If at all possible, YES!!! But you are going to need the Lord to be FIRST if your marriage is to be all that it can be. Without the Lord, trivial stuff becomes too important. Without the Lord in His proper place, your marriage cannot be all that God intended it to be.

Is YOUR marriage all that God intended it to be? Maybe you desire God’s best and you need His help. You need to spend time with God, asking Him to help you – committing yourself to go about things God’s way instead of YOUR way. There is no time like RIGHT NOW to begin that process.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Musings on Courage

Elisha stilled his fearful servant, saying, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." (2 Kings 6:16)

Courage – that quality of mind and heart that enables men to encounter danger and difficulty with determination. Courage is NOT the absence of fear – but the mastery of it. There are many calls to courage in God's Word:

Think of Paul, who told the young minister Timothy, “For God hath not given us a spirit of FEAR – but of POWER and of LOVE and of a SOUND MIND.” Or John, who wrote, “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them – because GREATER is HE that is in YOU than he that is in the world.” Or what about the words of Jesus, who said, “These things I have spoken unto you that in ME ye might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation – but be of good cheer – I have overcome the world.”

To Joshua, God said, “Be STRONG and of a GOOD COURAGE – be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is WITH THEE withersoever thou goest.”

And THEN we find our text. In a significant moment of courage, Elisha squares his shoulders against the armies of Syria, KNOWING that his servant, Gehazi, has his feet nailed to the floor in FEAR, and says, Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.

This story illustrates why Elisha was so often called, “The man of God.” Under constant spiritual attack, he nevertheless remained steadfast in the power of God. This story is an outstanding example of how taking a stand for God MIGHT mean rejection, hostility, or even physical assault.

Elisha, blessed with the gift of heavenly foresight, exposed the plans of the Syrians to the King of Israel. With each plot to attack to attack Israel, Elisha prepared the King in advance… exposing the plans of the enemy with the help of God.

Deeply troubled, the Syrians began to suspect one of their OWN of treason – of selling secrets to the enemy. But his advisor explained, “Elisha, the prophet, who is IN Israel, tells the King of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”

Elisha, doing what any GOOD servant of God OUGHT to do – exposed the plans of the enemy – and as a result, became the target of the Syrian Army who would have him dead. That’s what happens when you take a stand for the Lord – rather than parades or praise – you become a target of the enemy, who will do everything in his power to destroy you and the people you love.

In SPITE of the threats of the enemy, the Bible teaches us to BE STRONG in the Lord. The secret to victory is NOT in your ability or cunning. The Battle is the Lord’s.

When the enemy attacks don’t worry about setting the record straight... keep doing right.  GOD will vindicate you. Be COURAGEOUS!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Overcoming Discouragement

Jeremiah 3:21-25  "But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”  The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him."

One day the devil put his tools up for sale. All his tools were displayed and priced. And WHAT a treacherous lot of implements there were: Hatred… Lust… Pride… Gossip… and so on.

Laid apart from the rest of the pile was a harmless looking tool, well-worn but priced very high.

“What’s the name of THIS tool?” someone asked. “That’s ‘Discouragement,’” answered Satan. “Why is it priced so high?” inquired the shopper. “Because it is more useful to me than all the others. With discouragement, I can pry into a man’s heart when I can’t get near him with any other tool. It’s badly worn because of how often I use it – most, you see, don’t realize discouragement belongs to ME.”

The devil’s price for discouragement was so high it never sold – and to this day it remains his most effective weapon against the Christian.

Maybe he is using that tool in YOUR life right now? Are YOU discouraged??

When I was a young Christian, I had a LOT of zeal for the Lord. So thankful for what God had done for me, I couldn’t do enough for Him. I was in His word every day, prayed every day… in the house of God every time the doors were open. I practiced tithing and sharing my faith.

Yet in spite of my zeal, I struggled. Haunted by my old life – the sins of the past… the old friends… the old desires… and the insecurity I felt because of those things. I was absolutely convinced that God would disown me every time, in a moment of weakness, I failed.  I was afraid he would TAKE BACK His precious gift of salvation.

In my mind, I was convinced that my salvation was based upon my performance. If I said a bad thing, did a bad thing, THOUGHT a bad thing, I would go to hell if I didn’t beg for forgiveness.

Have you ever struggled like that?? Guilt is something the devil uses to hinder our growth and get us preoccupied with SELF. He wants you to think that Christ’s accomplishment on the cross was insufficient to deal with your sin. He wants you to believe that God will cast you aside if you aren’t perfect.

IF the truth be told, EVERY Christian battles those thoughts.

But Jeremiah learned that God is faithful. He will not walk away from what He has started in you. Don’t let discouragement tell you that what the Lord has done has no meaning or value. When Jesus said, “IT IS FINISHED…” He meant it. Jeremiah was as low as he could get… so low that he even accused God of attacking him. But even when he wanted to quit and die, God was STILL THERE – faithfully waiting for His child to quit fighting and to rest in the loving arms of God. When Jeremiah got his eyes off Himself and focused on the goodness of God – his tears of self-pity … turned into tears of worship.

While guilt is an emotion that often holds us in discouragement, understand, I am not heaping guilt on you when I say this: Get your eyes off yourself, your circumstances, your feelings - and direct your thoughts to God's faithfulness and goodness.  Jeremiah teaches us the power of focusing our thoughts on His relentless love. This is KEY to overcoming discouragement. Your outlook will improve ... when you try the UP-look!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Hardest thing you will EVER do

Jesus said, "...if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

Forgiveness is hard. Especially in a marriage tense with past troubles, tormented by fears of rejection, torn by suspicion and distrust. It is hard to forgive.

Forgiveness hurts. Especially when it must be extended to a person who doesn't deserve it, who hasn't earned it, who MAY even abuse it. It hurts to forgive.

Forgiveness costs. Especially because it requires us to release them instead of exacting vengeance; reaching out in love instead of reminding them of their failures. It costs to forgive...

Forgiveness takes place when the offended person lets the offendER go free. When we, by an act of the will, no longer hold that person responsible to make it right or restore what was lost. Forgiveness is the HARDEST thing you will EVER do.

But there are costs to unforgiveness too. You will cease to grow spiritually if you are unwilling to forgive. Your anger will consume you. People who once knew you for joy will begin to notice your bitterness. God cannot use bitter people – for bitterness is the ‘anti-grace’ of human life. Unforgiveness is UNLIKE God. And its presence will spread like a cancer in the Body of Christ.

Bitterness will render a person useless. The heart becomes hardened… the hurt becomes more important than God’s will. Bitterness shifts the focus of our prayers from GOD and GRACE to OURSELVES and REVENGE. Instead of reflecting the blessings of God, all people will see is our wound.

Though forgiveness is hard, grace demands it and God deserves it.

Ravensbruck was a Nazi concentration camp constructed to house Jewish women and children. Built in 1939, it closed in 1945 after some 130,000 women and children passed through its gates. Of that number, 100,000 died. It was the scene of so much brutality… injustice… and loss. The Nazi’s would stack the dead like cord-wood, like piles of garbage to be burned.

When the Nazi’s were defeated and the prisoners were liberated, officials tried to process the gruesome scene of hate and death. As they searched for things that might identify the dead, they found THIS prayer scribbled on a scrap of paper inside the pocket of a little boy’s coat.

“O Lord, remember not only the men and woman of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne BE THEIR FORGIVENESS.” (emphasis mine)

Do YOU have someone you need to forgive?