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An Antidote for Bullying


One of the ways I am processing the unexpected death of my brother is by remembering the fun times of our youth. The memory verse at one year’s Vacation Bible School was Ephesians 4:32, “Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you (KJV),” and Bob had committed it to memory from the King James Version of the Bible – which is mostly what we had back then. There were a few other translations, but our Southern Baptist leaders assured us that all the others were liberal. Being ten years older, I became very good at harassing Bob. In fact, I “bullied” him (in an older brother kind of way) before bullying was so much in the news. Following this VBS experience, Bob had a come-back for all my bullying attempts. On every occasion, Bob would respond with, “Be ye kind!” Obviously, his new favorite verse, was not very popular with me. A more mature look at the verse shows me that there are three things Paul wants his readers to “be.” We are to be “kind” or gentle. One of those “liberal” translations calls this benign courtesy. We are to be “tenderhearted” or compassionate, feeling warm sympathy toward others, especially if they have been hurt in some way. Finally, we are to be “forgiving,” which is the natural result of being “kind” and “tenderhearted.” As if this were not enough, Paul then holds up Christ as the example for this kind of attitude and action. Without knowing it, Bob had discovered an antidote for bullying, a lesson it would take me a few years to learn. Try kindness this week.

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A Test with Hard Questions

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When the queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s reputation, she came to Jerusalem to test him with hard questions.

2 Chronicles 9:1 NLT

 

Conduct a self-test to see if you have been accepted into kindergarten. Then you can dream of applying for graduate school. Personal faith is the basic test. Until you know Jesus Christ as Savior, you are not ready for higher education. As long as you trust in yourself—feeling you are somehow good enough to please Me—you will fail this test. As long as you depend on your imaginary self-righteousness, you will never pass the test of reliance on Christ.

 

With the most basic question settled, you can take the entry-level exam for the University of the Spirit. It is not necessary to endlessly repeat the basic introduction to Christian living. It is mandatory that you grow in Christlikeness and understand the connection of Truth to every life issue. There are many required courses in heaven’s curriculum for the heart—unselfish love, invulnerable joy, indefinable peace, enduring patience, understanding kindness, sacrificial generosity, unflinching faithfulness, angelic gentleness, and supernatural self-control.

 

Life is a test with some hard questions you will have to answer—

 

Are you holy? Are you faithful to Me? How is your thought life? Do your eating and spending habits honor Me?

 

Are you honest? Are you fair? Do you treat other people justly? Do you always choose to do the right thing?

 

Are you humble? Are you for real? Do you know who I am? Do you know who you are? What price tag have you placed on yourself? Do you consider yourself too good to hang out with ordinary folks?

 

Are you happy? Can you lighten up and enjoy life? Uptight?

 

Are you hard working? Planning your work? Working your plan? Zeal for My cause flagging? Warming up for a burnout?

 

Are you heavenly-minded? Current events sadden you? Able to see beyond earth’s turmoil to My promised bright tomorrow?

 

Are you hospitable? Are you friendly? Do you share what I have given you with others who have less?

 

Study for your final exam—score high and graduate with honors.

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(c) 2013 Johnny R. Almond

Pastor, Hull's Memorial Baptist Church

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

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High school has got to be the most stressful period in a student’s life. In high school, there are so many things you have to worry about. You worry about being popular, getting good grades, wearing the right clothes and hanging out with the right group among other things. However, college is different and they are a number of things you shouldn’t lose sleep over when you get to college. Here are a number of things college students never worry about.

  1. Popularity

College is like a clean slate for most people. In college, most people do not know what you were like in high school unless you went to the same school. This means no one cares whether you were popular or not. College gives you the opportunity to be your authentic self without any apology.

  1. Dressing

In high school, most people dress to be accepted. Students place a lot of effort in wearing the latest styles and keeping up with the rest. In college, this is a non-issue. You can dress in anything you want and no one will judge you. How amazing is that? Well, this is the freedom that comes with being a college student.

  1. Doing your own homework

In high school, you have no choice but to complete your homework by yourself and on time. The great thing about college is that you can always hire essays writers to do your assignments and complete difficult projects that you are unable to do. This is possible because you can meet the expenses easily when in college. In case you need these services, our company fastessays.co.uk/essay-writers has experienced and professional writers who will ensure you assignments meet all your instructor’s expectations. Call us today.

  1. Relationships

In college, you can date whoever you want without worrying about whether or not you are the cutest couple. There is no such thing in college because everyone is busy doing their own thing. Therefore, make sure you take advantage of the young love you develop for people even if they might not necessarily be what you are used to. You might end up making incredible life-long relationships.

  1. Prom

Not having a prom date is probably the worst thing for most high school students. You get judged and people stay away from you because they feel like something is wrong with you. In addition to this, you have to worry about dressing up, dancing and making an impression on your date and the rest of the student. Good news; this is something you do not have to worry about because there is no prom in college.

  1. Stressing about college

From the moment students get to high school, they are constantly worrying about where they will go to college and which major they will choose. This is something that doesn’t bother you in college because the decision has already been made. All you have to do is work towards making your dreams come true.

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. . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” (Philippians 4:11b ESV).

 

If you just joined our journey of discovery into what matters most to God, we are taking a reflective walk through 1 Corinthians 13:4. The third quality that people see in followers who reflect Christlike love is the absence of envy.

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The envy noted here is not a casual desire to match someone else’s house or professional status. It is a strong word expressing a hot jealousy about—and a craving to have—the advantages, perks, possessions, or success that someone else has. Not desirable in a disciple . . .

Stated in the positive, a person not consumed with envy is a person who is content. Think of contentment as “wanting what I have rather than having all I want.”

 

One of the best examples of Christlike contentment in the Bible is the apostle Paul. Although imprisoned and life-threatened, he does not express envy of other Christ-followers who enjoy freedom and comparative safety. Rather, he writes:

. . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.

In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret

of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.

I can do all things through him who strengthens me”

(Philippians 4:11b­–13 ESV)

 

That final line explains how such a counter-cultural response to life’s situations is possible: God is with us. God works in us. God works through us. He is our Enabler. Without Him, we are unable to embrace this lifestyle.

 

Significantly however, Paul says he has learned to be content. Christlike contentment does not automatically appear in our lives simply because we trust Christ as our Redeemer. A disciple is, by definition, an active learner and practitioner—not a passive receptacle. If Paul needed to learn and cultivate Christlike contentment, it is no surprise that we need to learn and actively cultivate it, too.

 

Privately or with some friends, please ponder the relationship of contentment to these issues:

  • Trust: What does our envy of others say about our trust that God loves and leads us?
  • Comparisons: On whom are we focusing—and not focusing—when we succumb to envy?
  • Aspiration: How does Christlike contentment relate (or not relate) to our personal and professional aspirations?
  • Thankfulness: How does thankfulness affect contentment and envy?
  • Worship: How is contentment an act of worship?

 

Do you want to honor Him and do what matters most to Him? I do. Let’s take our eyes off others and fix our eyes on Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith. Let’s cultivate contentment.

 

This week.

 

Today.

 

© 2018 John C Garmo

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“What’s the difference?” It’s the question of a learner, a thinker, a person who’s comparing two not-quite-the-same concepts.

When I taught English in Asia I realized that motivated students have lots of these questions. I remember being asked, “What’s the difference between ‘affect’ and ‘effect’? Or between ‘than’ and ‘then’? Or ‘farther’ and ‘further’?” Most of the time I knew, but occasionally the question itself caused me, the teacher, to realize that I didn’t understand clearly. The power of this profound little question isn’t limited to language learning. “What’s the difference?” can also unearth new insights about disciple making.

As I work with pastors and church leaders, I’ve learned there are some discipleship terms that people confuse, misuse, and abuse. Today we begin a new series entitled, “What’s the Difference.” This series will provide greater clarity and definition around similar, yet divergent disciple making terms.

Today we’ll consider, “What’s the difference between mentoring and disciple making?”

Is mentoring is the same as discipling? Or is disciple making simply religious language for mentoring? Or is it the other way around – mentoring is corporate speak for disciple making?

There’s clearly a lot of similarity between these two. Both a mentor and a disciple maker seek to help another grow, both function within the framework of a relationship, and both desire to see the other person succeed at something. Additionally, in both instances, the influencer is typically older and more experienced than the one they are influencing. With all these commonalities, you may be wondering what’s the big deal if they are used interchangeably?
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The problem of confusing the two lies at their root. Let me illustrate the difference by comparing what a famous adage says about fishing and what Jesus taught about fishing.

The adage says, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Jesus taught, “Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

Though both teach about fishing and both are interested in helping others their essential message is very different.

9570812061?profile=originalThe message of the first is that it’s better to give someone a hand up than a handout. Mentoring is excellent at this. Mentoring historically began with and continues to be focused on helping a person develop in a specific area. Most often it’s related to a career-field or a defined skill. The mentor is a guide who brings his career/skill based knowledge and experience to help the mentee. The objective is to help the mentee grow in that area. Both the destination and the agenda is set by the mentee. Conversations are framed around the questions and struggles of the mentee. The mentor only plays defense. In other words, the root of mentoring is focused on just a slice of the mentees life and its entire purpose is to benefit the mentee.

To be clear, mentoring is beneficial in many contexts. I’m not anti-mentoring! Mentoring has great merit! But Jesus did something different. Jesus made disciples.

When Jesus taught about fishing he said, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men (Matthew 4:19).” Jesus didn’t come to help them do what they were already doing better, he came to change the very purpose of their lives. Jesus’ essential message is to follow me to become like me, to trade in their purpose for His purpose, to exchange the temporal for the eternal.

Disciple making is very different from mentoring in at least four ways:

1. A disciple making relationship must be holistic. It’s not limited to a slice of life or specific skill but rather seeks to impact every aspect of life. It must be this way because who we are impacts everything – our attitudes, thoughts, words, and actions.

2. The discipler puts herself forward as the model. She echoes what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ.” She doesn’t say, “Be who I used to be,” or “Do what I used to do,” but rather “Be who I am. Do what I do.” It requires the discipler to be mature enough to live a life worthy of reproduction and humble enough to share where she falls short. This posture is risky because a discipler offers herself and may be rejected. If a mentor’s knowledge or experience is rejected it doesn’t create such personal wounding.

3. Disciple makers play both offense and defense. On the offensive side, they have a destination in mind. They have an agenda that’s known and agreed upon. A disciple maker intentionally looks at the needs of those he disciples and develops a plan to help him grow. Many times the person being discipled doesn’t see or appreciate these needs, but it’s the job of the discipler to help him develop vision. Like a mentor, the disciple maker also plays defense, but he doesn’t let it take over the process. I wrote expansively about offense and defense HERE.

9570812271?profile=original4. Disciple making is generational. One of the primary reasons Jesus wanted to help the disciples was so that they would “fish for men.” In other words, He helped them so they’d help others. The focus wasn’t them! Jesus was focused on multiplication, not addition. In fact, the success of disciple making relationships should be measured by whether or not they go on to disciple others who then go on to disciple others. I often tell guys I’m discipling that I haven’t made a disciple until they have made a disciple. Yes, it may be slightly overstated but they need to see the fruit disciples are to bear are other disciples.

Do you see the difference? Disciple making and mentoring are not the same. This is essential for us to understand because many good-hearted Christians end up making mentors not disciples. Again, mentoring is good, admirable, and beneficial, but it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t demand enough from either side of the relationship.

Disciple making demands both sides lay down their lives and in faith trust God to produce many.

Justin Gravitt is Dayton (Ohio) Area Director for Navigator Church Ministries. Read more from Justin at his blog, One Disciple to Another.

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Oral Disciple Making:  A Return to First Principles

 

By Jerry Wiles

 

When it comes to following and obeying Jesus, it sometimes takes time to clarify exactly what that means.  With 2,000 years of history and church traditions, there is a very real need to rethink, re-evaluate and rediscover the most important thing about what it means to follow Jesus.   In other words, what is the essence of being a disciple of Jesus, and being a disciple maker?

 

Our very best source for knowing and understanding what it means and how we are to follow Jesus, is Jesus Himself.  When we focus on the clear, plain instructions from Scripture, it can help us simplify what God requires of His people.  It is the life, Spirit and teachings of Jesus that are the foundation of being a disciple and making disciple.  Recognizing that the same Spirit that lived in Jesus then, now live in each of us, as His followers.  He is the master communicator, trainer and disciple maker;  and He lives in us to carry out that purpose. 

 

Many of the rules, practices and traditions that have accumulated over the centuries have sometime obscured the essences of disciples, disciple making and even the gospel.  Much of the teachings in the modern Western Church (especially over the past 500 years) is somewhat limited in terms of reproducibility to the rest of the world.  This is why the methods of Oral Disciple Making, and the concepts, principles and practices of Orality are so important. 

 

What we are learning in the Orality Movement, that has emerged over the past 40 years, is the value of getting back the roots – the first principles -- of the Church.  When Jesus gave us His commission to communicate the Gospel to every person, and make disciples of all people groups, that mandate included those who have no written form and those who have no Scripture in their own language.  This is where Oral Disciple Making methods and strategies is so important. 

 

While I avoid arguing over the difference in the terms discipleship and disciple making, there really is a difference in many cases.  Over the years I have people what they mean by discipleship.  So often the answer relates to some kind of class, a program or curriculum.  When in fact, perhaps the important question is, what did Jesus mean when He said, “Make disciples of all nations (people groups).  What did He mean when He said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” 

 

One of the many lessons we are learning from the rapidly reproducing disciple making and church planting movements is the value of simple and reproducible.  Simple does not mean simplistic, but rather what is the essence of the Great Commission, of communicating the Gospel and making disciples from a biblical context?  Actually, in our modern Western, post-reformation church world with many difference denominational traditions, following Jesus has become much more complicated than it was in the Early Church. 

 

In the Orality Movement that has emerged over the past 40 years, we have had to rethink many of our modern, Western, text-based methods of communication and instruction.  If we are going to be relevant to the unreached people groups, with many of those being in Oral Cultures, it is important to think about how they best learn, communicate and process information.  This is what makes Oral Disciple Making so strategic in terms of completing the Great Commission.  However, with many Oral Preference Learners, even in the so called developed world, we realize the universal applications of Oral methods.   

 

 

JERRY WILES
North America Regional Director of International Orality Network

President Emeritus of Living Water International

 

jerrywiles@water.cc | 281.207.7800 | www.orality.net // www.water.cc/orality 

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The Law of Replenishment

Have you ever run out of gas? Of course, the smarter thing is to periodically check your gas gauge to see when it’s time to replenish your supply.

But many years ago, I had a car with a defective gas gauge. It was pretty scary to never know how much gas was in my tank.

Lately I’ve been think about why the Law of Replenishment is a vital lesson of the Christian life, keeping us from running out of gas spiritually. This principle is especially crucial for leaders, caregivers, and anyone with an active ministry.

Simply stated, the Law or Replenishment says we must periodically refill our spiritual and emotional tank or risk a meltdown.

One of the most insightful statements in the Bible is found in Acts 20:35: It is more blessed to give than to receive. However, while that is certainly true, we must be careful about the application. Giving is only a blessing when we truly have something left to give. The Law of Replenishment warns us against the folly of continually giving, without ever taking time to receive a fresh supply from God.

Jesus, the Model

The world has never seen a more giving person than Jesus. Day after day, He preached, counseled, arbitrated debates, and explained Scriptures – not to mention healing the sick, casting out demons, turning water into wine, feeding hungry multitudes, and raising people from the dead.  

Jesus loved people and loved being a giver, but He also understood the Law of Replenishment. The Gospels are full of illustrations of how He made sure to get replenished after a time of stressful ministry. Here’s one example:

At evening, when the sun had set, they brought to Him all who were sick and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city was gathered together at the door. Then He healed many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…

Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.

And Simon and those who were with Him searched for Him. When they found Him, they said to Him, “Everyone is looking for You” (Mark 1:32-37).

This short passage contains three distinct scenes:

  1. From sunup to sundown, Jesus was in demand by every sick, depressed, or demonized person who could find Him.
  2. Needing to recharge after freely pouring out His life, Jesus went away to a place where He could be by Himself and pray.
  3. Soon Simon found the “solitary place” where Jesus was praying, and he cheerfully notified the Lord that everyone was looking for Him – the beginning of another day surrounded by needy people seeking His help!

In addition to modeling the Law of Replenishment in His own life, Jesus taught it to His disciples after they participated in a time of intense ministry:

The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone (Mark 6:30-32 NLT).

Elijah, Learning the Hard Way

Many of us struggle with this lesson of periodically withdrawing from people in order to refill our spiritual and emotional tanks. Like a car seemingly running for a while on gas fumes, we continue on our journey until we’re absolutely empty.

Often I’ve been like the prophet Elijah, who had to learn the Law of Replenishment the hard way. After courageously confronting hundreds of false prophets on Mount Carmel, things took a downward turn when his life was threatened by Queen Jezebel.

Knowing of Elijah’s great boldness in the past, we would have expected him to easily rebuff this threat. But instead of confidently standing up to Jezebel, Elijah fled for his life. Soon he was cowering in a cold, damp cave – depressed, purposeless, and wanting to die!

Fortunately, in his desperation Elijah had found a solitary place. There were no false prophets to challenge. Nor did he have to call down fire from heaven. And the taunts of Queen Jezebel were far away.

So what did Elijah do? First, he slept a lot. Then he ate some food.

Before long, the prophet was once again able to hear God’s “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). And after his spiritual juices were replenished, Elijah was able to receive a new commission for the next phase of his life (1 Kings 19:15-21).

The Rhythm of Replenishment

Someday I’ll probably have to write a book on the Law of Replenishment. Why? Because it’s a principle I’ve violated time and again. Trying to be a spiritual Superman, my kryptonite has been a failure to regularly check my gauges and realize I’m running on empty.

I should know better by now! The Bible lists a variety of ways God wants us to fill our tanks. Here are three of the most basic:

  • The quiet time principle. Like Jesus illustrated, the best investment you can ever make is to set aside time each day to be still in God’s presence. The amount of time isn’t nearly as important as the consistency of the time.
  • The Sabbath principle. God took a day off after He created the world in six days, and He expects us to have a day of rest every week as well.
  • The holiday principle. Several times each year, God prescribed that His people celebrate a “feast,” consisting of one or more days in which they were to do no work. Although these days had profound spiritual significance, they also provided a yearly schedule akin to our vacations and holidays.
  • The sabbatical principle. Moses and Jesus both went away for 40-day periods to disengage from the humdrum of life and spend time with the Father. Most of us can’t do this each year, but from time to time we need more than a three-day weekend or one-week vacation.

Do you see the beautiful wisdom in this tapestry of rest and renewal God has designed for us? Instead of waiting until our tank is empty and our car is stalled on the side of the road, He prescribes a steady rhythm of replenishment and resupply.

It’s time to get in the rhythm! When you do, the long-term benefits will dramatically change your life. If you don’t…well, remember Elijah’s depressing experience in the cave? You don’t really want to go there.  

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In the Year Billy Graham Died...

After Billy Graham died at age 99, many people wondered who could ever replace him. In some ways, the answer might be no one – for Graham was a unique minister of the gospel and ambassador for Christ. Like Queen Esther, he was anointed to speak to kings, presidents, prime ministers, and the entire culture “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

But there’s another answer that might surprise you. When looking for Billy Graham’s replacement, you need look no further than your mirror. Believe it or not, YOU have a wonderful chance to be Billy Graham’s successor.

Alright, I’m not implying that you’ll necessarily have a worldwide ministry or share the gospel in huge stadiums. And it’s highly unlikely you’ll have opportunities to pray with every President in your lifetime.

However, there’s Scriptural evidence that you can expect something powerful to occur in your life this year – the year when Billy Graham died.

Let Me Explain…

One day the prophet Isaiah had a stunning vision of the Lord: In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). The passage goes on to describe a heavenly scene where angelic creatures continually cry out to one another, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!” (vs. 2-3).

Notice what it says about WHEN this vision occurred: “In the year that King Uzziah died…” Uzziah had been a good king, the type of king people put their trust and confidence in. We certainly need godly leaders like him today, in both the political and ministry spheres of influence.

However, there’s a downside to good leadership! When a nation, a movement, or a church has a strong, godly leader, we tend to put our hopes in that leader instead of in the Lord. Meanwhile, we tend to absolve ourselves of personal responsibilities, assuming the leader will take care of bringing about the needed changes in our society or our church.

Some evangelical Christians did this when Ronald Reagan was President, becoming complacent in our prayers and activism, because he seemed to represent our values. In the same way, many in the African-American community left it to Barack Obama to deal with race relations in our nation and assumed he would bring about transformation in inner-city neighborhoods.

The psalmist warned about our tendency to overly rely upon our human leaders: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in people. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:8-9 NLT).

When a good leader like King Uzziah dies, we’re presented with an opportunity. If we’ve allowed them to eclipse our vision of God, we need to repent. In Isaiah’s case, he wasn’t able to clearly see the King of the universe until the earthly king was removed. But Uzziah’s death provided an opportunity to experience a heavenly encounter with the Lord, which resulted in a new commission.

Perhaps you find yourself in need of a fresh encounter with God today. Maybe you’re bored by your substandard Christian life, crying out to the Lord for new instructions. Like Isaiah, you’re ready to say once again, “Here am I! Send me” (v. 8).

A New Lease on Life

Isaiah’s story, and the death of Billy Graham, illustrate why your new lease on life may be much closer than you think.

Billy Graham faithfully served God throughout his life, but now he’s gone. No longer can we put our trust in him to take the gospel to the nations or speak to the world’s political leaders.

But events like Mr. Graham’s passing give us an opportunity. It’s a chance to once again see the Lord high and lifted up, and also an opportunity to rediscover our own calling.

The principle shown in Isaiah 6 is found in a number of other Bible passages as well:

  • Joshua’s commission: “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, it came to pass that the Lordspoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: ‘Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them – the children of Israel’” (Joshua 1:1-2). After many years of being mentored by Moses, now Joshua’s revered mentor was dead. Unable to rely on Moses anymore, it was time for Joshua to “arise” and “go” – the same commission God is giving to us today.  

 

  • A double portion: Since the prophet Elijah was a great hero in Biblical history, it could have seemed a great tragedy when his ministry ended. However, his protégé Elisha received a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit, and ultimately performed twice as many miracles (2 Kings 2:1-15). I’ve been blessed to experience many spiritual movements during my lifetime: the evangelical movement, Jesus movement, charismatic movement, prophetic movement, apostolic movement, church growth movement, and many others. I’m thank for what God has done in the past, but could it be that He’s preparing a new move of the Holy Spirit – a spiritual tidal wave that will dwarf everything we’ve seen in previous decades and even centuries?

 

  • Greater works: Before the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus made an astounding statement to His disciples: “I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father” (John 14:12 NLT). Although some commentators try to explain away Jesus’ words, His message actually fits in perfectly with the “greater works” pattern throughout the Bible: Joshua was called to take the Israelites further than Moses was able to do; Elisha had double the effectiveness of his mentor Elijah; the New Covenant was far more glorious than the Old Covenant; and the new temple had glory surpassing the previous one (Haggai 2:9).

A Great Time to Be Alive

Moses is gone. Elijah is gone. Uzziah is gone. Billy Graham is gone. And Jesus physically ascended from earth to be seated at the Father’s right hand in heaven.

At this strategic time in history, will we discard anything that has eclipsed our vision of the Lord? Will we heed His commission to arise and go? Will we allow Him to stretch our faith to do greater works than we’ve ever seen before?

When great human leaders like Billy Graham are taken away, we have a fantastic opportunity to see God do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within US (Ephesians 3:20 NIV).

An exciting future awaits when you gain a fresh glimpse of the Lord and your personal commission to change the world.

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Billy Graham & the Law of FOCUS

Throughout Billy Graham’s life, people tried to give him career advice. “You would make a great congressman or senator!” some would say. “Have you ever thought about running for office?” Others even predicted he would have a good chance of being elected President, if they could just convince him to run.

Once a major motion picture studio offered him a million dollars to sign a movie deal. “Your good looks, booming voice, and natural charisma could make you star!” they told him.

But Billy Graham knew who he was and what he was called to do. His only ambition was to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and tell people about the cross.

That’s a great calling! Mr. Graham was just reflecting the words of the apostle Paul, who told the Corinthians, “I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2 NASB).

However, there’s a principle here even bigger than analyzing Billy Graham’s specific calling as a preacher of the gospel: The Law of Focus.

You see, not everyone is called to have a worldwide preaching ministry like Mr. Graham. In fact, hardly anyone is!

Yet the Law of Focus is something that applies to everyone and every calling in life. Whether you’re in ministry, an entrepreneur, or are called to serve in some other role, you’ll be much more likely to succeed if you have focus.

Do You Know Who You Are?

How was Billy Graham able to find and maintain his laser-like focus? He knew who he WAS, and he knew who he WASN’T.

Is the same true about your life? If someone offered you a tempting opportunity today, would you be able to say, “Thank you very much, but that’s just not who I’m called to be”?

When I lived in Ohio, I had a nonprofit organization called Focus Ministries. But, ironically, focus has always been something very difficult for me. I’ve been an attorney, a pastor, an entrepreneur, and a writer along the way, and I’ve always enjoyed “juggling balls” and being multidimensional.

Nevertheless, these days I’m much more focused – and much happier – than I’ve ever been before. Yes, I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had in the past, but at my ripe old age I no longer have the energy to run around like a chicken with my head cut off! I’m convinced that the key to my remaining legacy will be focus, focus, focus.

Setting Things on Fire

Of course, I should have learned this principle earlier in life. When I was a kid, there were no video games or cell phones, so we had to entertain ourselves with simple, nonelectric toys. One of my favorites was the magnifying glass.

It’s amazing all the things you can do with a magnifying glass if you’re creative. Did you realize that by focusing the sun’s rays on a piece of paper, you can burn a hole right through it? I discovered that although the sun would have warmed the paper even without the magnifying glass, only a clearly focused beam of sunlight could actually start a fire.

This illustrates an important lesson in life. Many of us are content to simply provide enough sunlight so the world is slightly “warmed,” when God is looking for a focus that sets things on fire!

You see, Billy Graham sought to do more than just warm people’s hearts. He wanted to set lives aflame for Christ – and because of his single-minded focus, that’s exactly what happened.

Life is short, and I pray you discover what you were born to do. You’ll have no greater joy than when you throw off distractions and fit into God’s great plan for your life.

So, are you ready to regain your focus today? Beware: You might even set some things on fire!

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9570809685?profile=originalPart 1 in this series about what matters most to God in a disciple began: “The most fulfilling journey in life is the path of a person who has an intimate relationship with God, and who faithfully follows Him.” Does this seem to you a reasonable description of a true “disciple”?

 

That description implies a commitment to learning, which includes growing in our knowledge of God (2 Peter 3:18 et al.).  “Learning” also includes developing our skill as a disciple, such as our ability to study the Bible, or teach God’s Word correctly and effectively to others (2 Timothy 2:15 et al.).

 

But the disciple who focuses only on growing in knowledge and skill will collapse—fail—sooner or later: “Knowledge + Skill – Character => Collapse.

 

Worse yet, God warns in 1 Corinthians 13 that such a person will lose God’s approval for focusing on secondary matters instead of on what matters most to Him.

 

So, what does matter most to God in a disciple? 1 Corinthians 13 answers that crucial question: A true follower of God reflects His love in their life. The evidence of His love in that disciple will be Christlike character: “Knowledge + Skill + Character => Worship!

Do you know of a 19th-century scientist and evangelist named Henry Drummond? He was a young man in Scotland who became a good friend of D. L. Moody and assisted Moody in his evangelistic meetings. He was also a thoughtful author. It brought him wide recognition, and he apparently touched millions of lives through his pen.

One of his most significant writings was a booklet titled, The Greatest Thing in the World. It is the result of his study in 1 Corinthians 13 about love. Insightfully, he compares a light beam, a prism, and an array of colors with God’s light, a person’s heart, and agape love. The first is the spectrum of light; the second, the spectrum of love.

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God’s love, beaming into the prism-heart of a disciple, reflects outward to others in various “colors” that comprise the “Spectrum of Love.” Those colors are qualities of Christlike character. What a wonder-filled word picture!

Christ-follower, dare we get personal for a few moments? If so, please ponder and answer these questions personally:

  • Where does agape love rank among the top five priorities of your church?
  • Where does it rank among the top five priorities of your church’s discipleship ministry?
  • Where does agape love rank among the top five priorities of your life?

 

In Part 3 of this series we will begin to explore specific characteristics of agape love that God includes in 1 Corinthians 13. Welcome to this journey into what matters most to God about a disciple!

 

© 2018 John C Garmo

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Billy Graham and the Fruit of Loyalty

Countless books and blogs could be written about the many admirable qualities of Billy Graham. But to me, one of his most remarkable examples was the loyalty and teamwork of his evangelistic team.

As someone who has spent man decades with Christian churches and ministries, I assure you that this quality is extremely rare. Yet, while most Christian organizations are marked by a constant turnover of personnel, Billy Graham stood out in his ability to assemble a team that lasted.

For more than 50 years, Cliff Barrows, George Beverly Shay, and Grady Wilson were regulars in Billy Graham’s crusades. And associate evangelists Ralph Bell and John Wesley White each were with Graham for more than 30 years.

Although the fruitfulness of Billy Graham’s ministry can be attributed to many different features of his character and gifting, this issue of teamwork should not be overlooked as a key factor. As David observed centuries before, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity...for THERE the Lord commanded the blessing” (Psalm 133:1-3).

It’s striking that Billy Graham’s team was marked by loyalty rather than “survival of the fittest.” In other words, he didn’t keep Cliff Barrows on the team because he was the world’s best songleader or MC. Nor did he continue to have George Beverly Shay sing because Shay was the most gifted soloist he could find. Though many organizations, whether secular or Christian, use a survival-of-the-fittest policy regarding those who will remain on staff, Graham chose to honor those whose lives were marked by faithfulness and commitment, not just talent.

Billy Graham could easily have found some more dynamic people to minister in his crusades, and eventually he did wisely incorporate some younger people into the mix. But he also built a team marked by faithfulness and longevity, held together by loyalty to his friends.

Faithfulness or Flashiness?

Many churches and Christian ministries have taken a different route. They promote whoever is the “hottest,” most popular, or “most anointed” at the moment. Older members of the team are shown the door in order to bring in sharper, flashier, less expensive, and younger workers. It’s a lot like an NFL football team replacing veterans with free agents, all the while trying to save money and stay under the salary cap.

Of courses, these Christian organizations have many spiritual-sounding explanations for adopting this worldly way of handling employees. “We think God has something better for you,” they piously explain. Or they say, “God is leading us to make some changes around here,” or “Your gifts would be much better suited for some other ministry.” But behind the facade of spiritual reasons, the true motivation is all about money and image.

When we are building teams in our church, ministry, or company, let’s learn from Billy Graham’s example. Let’s reward faithfulness more than flashiness. Let’s make our decisions based on fruitfulness instead of finances. And let’s value loyalty over image, for the Lord has repeatedly told us that loyalty is something He highly regards:

Loyalty and truth preserve the king, and he upholds his throne by righteousness (Proverbs 20:28 NASB).

He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness and honor (Proverbs 21:21 NASB).

I delight in loyalty rather than sacrifice, and in the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6 NASB).

What can you do if your organization isn’t yet marked by loyalty and a culture of honor? There’s still time to repent and ask God to help you follow Billy Graham’s great example. If you put a premium on faithfulness rather than flashiness, and on character rather than charisma, your team will stand the test of time.

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Enoch's 4 Keys to Smooth Transitions

An important attribute for having a happy and successful life is the ability to make smooth transitions. Why? Because transitions are one of the most inescapable features of life.

Instead of remaining a baby, we transition to childhood. After childhood, we encounter numerous changes as we shift into our teen years. After that, we’re invited to mature into an adult…a senior citizen…and, after we die, a citizen of eternity.

There are many other transitions along the way, and they’re never stress-free.

While it may be exhilarating to go from singlehood to matrimony, the transition isn’t easy. And sometimes the marriage ends, either because of the spouse’s death or an unwanted divorce, requiring a whole new transition.

You probably have experienced numerous other transitions. Perhaps you’ve been downsized at work and have bounced from job to job. Or maybe you’re navigating the opportunities and perils of retirement. Or perhaps you’ve come to point of losing your independence to assisted living.

Each transition has its own unique challenges. Although we sometimes go kicking and screaming into the next phase of life, there’s no way to keep things the same forever. Like it or not, we must keep moving on in our journey.

Enoch’s Amazing Story

Recently I found myself thinking about the remarkable transition made by a famous man in the Bible: “Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:24).  

The Good News Translation says, “He spent his life in fellowship with God, and then he disappeared.” And The Message paraphrase explains that after he “walked steadily with God…one day he was simply gone: God took him.

Even though we’re not given much additional information about Enoch’s startling transition, the New Testament puts him in the Hall of Fame of Faith: “It was by faith that Enoch was taken up to heaven without dying – ‘he disappeared, because God took him.’ For before he was taken up, he was known as a person who pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5 NLT).

Most people just get old and die, but Enoch was snatched off the earth seemingly in the prime of his life. No reason is given, except that God chose to take him.

Despite the sketchy details of how this happened, Enoch’s story can teach us some very important lessons about handling life’s transitions:

  1. As much as possible, prepare yourself for the transition.

Enoch was as ready as he could be for his sudden departure. He had walked closely and consistently with the Lord, lived a life of faith, and maintained a reputation as someone who pleased God. Perhaps his abrupt passage into heaven could be explained by the fact that he had passed the tests of his earthly sojourn and was now ready to advance to the next phase of his journey.

Nothing prepares us better for heaven than to faithfully serve God’s purposes while on the earth. You’ve probably met people who are living for the devil today, yet plan to give their lives to Jesus on their deathbed. Bad idea! Today is the day of salvation, and if someone hardens their heart now, they’re unlikely to repent “just in time” for heaven.

But Enoch’s story isn’t just about “getting to heaven.” Instead, it illustrates that the line between heaven and earth is actually a lot thinner than we may have thought. Enoch was already experiencing a certain amount of heaven in his daily relationship with the Lord, having so much fun that eternity probably seemed like an unexpected bonus.  

Did Enoch experience any trials and tribulations along the way? Undoubtedly so. However, nothing prepares us better for the unexpected catastrophes of life than to follow his example of already having a firm foundation of trusting and obeying the Lord (Matthew 7:24-27).

His example also encourages us to avoid spiritual stagnation or getting “stuck” somewhere in our journey. The description of Enoch “walking with God” implies motion – a life of continual growth and progress. Sometimes Christians focus so much on their “new birth” experience that they fail to do what’s necessary to keep developing in their faith. In contrast, Enoch was growing in intimacy with God right up to the time his earthly life ended.

In recent years, I’ve been intrigued by the “suddenlies” mentioned in the Bible – stories about God giving people a dramatic breakthrough in a moment of time. Enoch certainly experienced one of these “suddenly” moments when the Lord unexpectedly snatched him from the earth. But notice: Years of preparation occurred before this breakthrough moment. Enoch had willingly undertaken the slow, steady process of walking with God before his sudden transition to the gates of heaven.

This is such a great lesson for us. If we’re hoping for a supernatural breakthrough in our health, finances, emotions, or family, God may require us to patiently prepare our hearts and take small steps of faith before the miracle happens.

  1. Experience the next phase in advance.

To the watching world, Enoch’s sudden translation into heaven probably seemed to come “out of the blue” and without warning. He was just out taking a walk, after all! He wasn’t even sick when God decided to take him.

However, maybe the transition wasn’t nearly as sudden as it seemed. Reading between the lines, it’s apparent that Enoch had already tasted of heaven during his daily walks with God. You see, even in this present life, we can experience “the powers of the age to come” (Hebrews 6:5).

Once again, the story provides a principle about transitions. Before the day when we enter fully into the portals of heaven, we can have heavenly encounters with the supernatural realm. Remember the ladder between heaven and earth that Jacob saw in Genesis 28?

It’s also interesting that the Israelites tasted some of the fruit of the Promised Land before actually entering into their inheritance there (Numbers 13:20).

So let’s get practical in applying this lesson to life’s transitions:

  • If you’re getting ready to be married, you’re wise to spend time being mentored by those who already have strong marriages.
  • If you’re about to become a parent, it’s important to learn from others who’ve successfully raised their children.
  • If you’re planning to launch your first business, it’s vital to spend time with entrepreneurs who have displayed wisdom in building their own company.
  • If you sense God calling you into some role of ministry, it’s smart to find others who are already functioning in that same calling.
  • If you’re getting ready to retire, there’s much you can learn from those who have already successfully made that transition.  

The point is this: Before you transition into a new chapter of life, you should do the best you can to get a taste of that next phase in advance.

  1. Let go of your present circumstances so you can embrace the upcoming stage of your journey.

While we don’t know much about Enoch’s circumstances, it was clearly necessary for him to let go of his earthly life in order to move forward into his heavenly life. I’ve always loved the analogy of a trapeze artist, who must let go of one trapeze in order to transition to the next. But although it may be exhilarating to watch a trapeze artist, the process is much more hazardous than it looks.

Yes, people often cheer when a preacher says, “God is doing a NEW thing!” But let’s get real: Most of the time, we would prefer to hang on to the familiar and the comfortable. Moving into unfamiliar territory is usually frightening, and perhaps that’s why God warned the Israelites, “You have not passed this way before” (Joshua 3:4).

Years ago, I experienced a stunning example of this requirement to “let go” in order to experience God’s next assignment. My Grandpa Fraggiotti had congestive heart failure and eventually passed into a deep coma. This went on for a number of days, and there was no change in his condition. We sensed that, out of sheer determination, he was fighting to stay alive. Perhaps this was caused by fear of the unknown, or maybe he simply didn’t want to leave his loved ones.

Even though he was unconscious, we decided to share with him some comforting words about the transition he was about to make. We reminded him of God’s love and of the fact that he had publically given his life to Christ many years before. We also assured him of our love and of our confidence that we would one day all be together with him in heaven.

Surprisingly, within about an hour of our “conversation” with Grandpa, he simply quit breathing. After many days of fighting to hang on to life, he peacefully relinquished himself to God (Luke 23:46).

You probably aren’t yet facing a crossroads like Grandpa Fraggiotti was that day. However, his story beautifully illustrates the necessity of letting go before you can move on. This principle applies not only when you’re standing at death’s door, but to every other transition along the way.

  1. Pour your life into the next generation.

Many other people in Enoch’s generation outlived him. From an earthy perspective, this may seem sad, or even unjust. Yet this shows that the real question is never the amount of years in our life, but rather the amount of life in years. To be honest, some people live lives that are so inconsequential that it’s as if they never lived at all.

When you dig a little deeper into Enoch’s story, you find that his son Methuselah lived longer than anyone else who ever lived! What a great lesson about raising up kids, grandkids, or other young people who can go much further in life than we ever could.

For example, remember how Elijah mentored Elisha? Although Elijah was an incredible man of God, the Bible records that twice as many miracles were performed by his protégé Elisha.

Likewise, Jesus made an astounding prediction about the impact His followers would have: “He who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father (John 14:12).  

At first glance, you may not see any connection between equipping the next generation and getting ready for your own transitions. But think about it: Until others are raised up to do what you are currently doing, it makes no sense for you to transition into some greater role. Preparing the next generation for success is a critical component in transitioning to the next phase of your journey.

Fear Not!

If you follow Enoch’s four principles, transitions never again need to be a scary process. You’ll be well prepared for each new step in your journey, confident that God is moving you “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV).

So go ahead and walk with God today and every day. If you do, your earthly life will be filled with “goodness and mercy,” and someday you’ll step into eternity – able to “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6).

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What Matters Most to God in a Disciple? (Part 1)

The most fulfilling journey in life is the path of a person who has an intimate relationship with God, and who faithfully follows Him. Is it the easiest path to walk? No. Is it the inside track to popularity? No. But is it the inside track to joy? Yes, for eternal reasons.

 

Step one, for any person who yearns to experience this journey (i.e., a “disciple”), starts at the cross of Jesus Christ (John 3:16). It includes genuine conviction, humble repentance, and new loyalty. It is more than salvation from “the wages of sin”; it is also birth into a new family—with that family’s new purposes and new responsibilities,

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But what are good “next steps” of this journey into joy? A short answer is that the disciple commits to learning and becoming. “Learning” includes growing in our knowledge. For example, God tells us in 2 Peter 3:18 to “grow in the . . . knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

 

 “Learning” also includes developing our skill as a disciple. For example, 2 Timothy 2:15 reminds us, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman . . . who correctly handles the word of truth.” As a woodcrafter skillfully wields tools of that trade to create wooden works of art, a disciple of Jesus Christ develops and applies skill in Bible study and in teaching or preaching to present God’s Word correctly and effectively to others.

 

But note this: The disciple who focuses only on growing in knowledge and skill will collapse—fail—sooner or later. Why? Here is a formula for failure:

Knowledge + Skill – Character => Collapse

 

Think of five people who experienced failure in ministry, whose stories you know well enough to understand basically what went wrong. Were those failures related mostly to a lack of that person’s knowledge? Unlikely. A lack of skill? Unlikely. As a seminary president once commented to me, “When any of our graduates fail in ministry, it is almost never for lack of knowledge or skill. It is almost always for lack of Christlike character.”

So what matters most to God in a disciple? Does He care most about that person’s knowledge—even knowledge about the Bible? No. Does He care most about that person’s skill—even skill in witnessing to others? No. Does He care most about that disciple’s use of spiritual gifts? No.

 

Please know this well: God says that a disciple’s knowledge, skill, and use of spiritual giftedness are very important. His Word consistently encourages His followers to grow in those areas of spiritual and practical life.

 

But 1 Corinthians 13 presents what matters most to God in His disciple. God is love (1 John 4:8). His steadfast love permeates all He is and all He does. In His eyes, this is the foundational reality on which a disciple must build, or risk eventual collapse.

 

What matters most to God is that His love in that disciple’s heart reflects outward to others; it permeates all that the disciple is and does. The evidence of His love in that disciple will be character, showing in that person’s Christlike kindness, humility, thankfulness, integrity, and other qualities that characterize Jesus Christ.

 

We were born to worship (1 Peter 4:10–11). Put that together with 1 Corinthians 13, and we have a better understanding of the fulfilling journey into joy that God graciously gives His followers: Our walk with God is our greatest witness to the work of God—and our worship of God.

 

We may also express that path in a heart-nourishing formula:

Knowledge + Skill + Character => Worship

 

Alleluia!

 

© 2018 John C Garmo

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Intro to book: Aligning with God

Introduction

My friend who read my prior book, Houston, we have a problem, concluded, “You recognize that   PROBLEMS are just OPPORTUNITIES in DISGUISE.” The apostle Paul was vulnerable enough to share his own problems with us in Romans 7:15-20 (MSG)  What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary. I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

Can you admit to similar “wretched man” and defeat feelings when comparing how you think, talk, and walk, to how Jesus did it? How are God’s resources working for you? If you’d like more victory in the alignment of your thinking, talking, and walking, with God’s resources, this book is for you! Welcome.

The basics of this book involve the benefits and “how to’s” regarding alignment of our spirit, will, mind and emotions with God and his ways. It’s not rocket science but it’s also not easy since it goes against the grain of our independent nature.

For an infinite, all-powerful, creative God to speak the universe into existence out of nothing is mind boggling, but that was easy, in my opinion, compared with the challenge of communicating with willful man in such a way as to motivate him to replace his own independent ways with God’s ways.

God is not limited in the ways he communicates with us. Examples include circumstances, events, both difficult and delightful situations, writings, dreams, and people. But his best communication is through the written and the living Word, because of the direct, clear message. God’s written word is alive and powerful, piercing even to the dividing of man’s soul and spirit and discerns even the thoughts and intentions of our heart. Amazingly 66 books from a variety of authors and geographies, consistently point to the central theme, Jesus Christ, the living Word. One of his majestic names is Emmanuel, i.e. God with us. John 1:18 AMP  No one has seen God [His essence, His divine nature] at any time; the [One and] only begotten God [that is, the unique Son] who is in the intimate presence of the Father, He has explained Him [and interpreted and revealed the awesome wonder of the Father]. 

John 16:14  VOICE  The Spirit of truth will come and guide you in all truth. He will not speak His own words to you; He will speak what He hears, revealing to you the things to come and bringing glory to Me. The Spirit has unlimited access to Me, to all that I possess and know, just as everything the Father has is Mine. That is the reason I am confident He will care for My own and reveal the path to you.

So this book intends to specifically apply communications from the living and written Word to encourage us in our alignment with God, giving growth and maturity, and enjoyment from thinking and living according to His ways.  So an alternate title for this book is. Learning to think God’s thoughts, talk His talk, and walk His walk, is a delightful experience.  Enjoy!

A great way to look at problems which crop up around us almost daily, is that they bring opportunities to grow and mature spiritually.  James carries it further, stating that these opportunities should cause us great joy, as we anticipate the fruit about to ripen in our expanding lives.  So let’s get started.  [email johnhoelzelsr@gmail.com; I'll email u the book.]

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2018: Your Year of New Beginnings

I’ve never spent much time thinking about Biblical numerology. But this year is different.

As we enter into 2018, I find myself thinking about the number “8” – God’s number of resurrection and new beginnings.

If you want a detailed explanation, I suggest a Google search. But here are a few simple observations:

  • Since 7 is God’s number of completion, 8 starts a new cycle of things.
  • Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, which was the 8th day from the start of the week He was crucified.
  • Noah was the 8th person to enter the ark, an event marking a whole new beginning for humankind.
  • Even apart from Biblical events, the world recognizes 8 as a number signifying a fresh start. For example, a week contains 7 days, so the 8th day is always the beginning of a new week. Likewise, musical octaves (from Latin octavus, meaning eighth) go from A to G (7 steps) before starting again at 8.

Perhaps you’re not very interested in Biblical numerology, but here’s a message that can be life-changing:

For many of us, 2018 could end up becoming “The Year of the 8th Option.”

Let me explain, using the story in 1 Samuel 16 of how David was selected among 7 other options …

The chapter begins with the Lord telling the prophet Samuel to visit Jesse’s house to anoint one of his sons as the next king. Seeing Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, Samuel immediately assumed this was the one he should anoint as king.

You and I might have jumped to the same conclusion, assuming that the first option was the best option. However, if we’re wise, we will heed the Lord’s warning to Samuel:

Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Let’s be honest: We’ve all failed this test at one time or another. We’ve looked at the “outward appearance” of things instead of discerning God’s choice and matters of the heart. We’ve been so eager to resolve a matter that we didn’t wait for the best option to appear.

In many ways, this was how the previous king had been selected. Saul was tall and handsome, coming from a good family and seeming to have a servant’s heart. Yet the choice turned out to be disastrous. This time Samuel wanted to make sure they got things right, so he intently listened to God’s instructions.

One by one, Jesse paraded his sons before Samuel. After Eliab came Abinadab, Shammah, and 7 sons in all. He must have been shocked when the prophet informed him after seeing the first 7 options, “The Lord has not chosen these” (v. 10).

Perhaps this is exactly where you find yourself as we enter 2018. You applied for jobs that seemed promising, but the door was always closed. You dated someone you had hopes of marrying, but things fell through. You found a publisher you wanted to handle your book, but they turned you down. You and your spouse had hopes of being pregnant by now, but somehow it still hasn’t happened.

In the case of Samuel, 7 very promising options appeared, yet the Lord refused to bless any of them. What could the problem be?

As the story unfolds, we see that God turned down the first 7 options for a very good reason: He had something BETTER in mind!   

Samuel probably felt some frustration at this point. He had attempted to meticulously follow God’s instructions, only to reach an apparent dead end. Can you relate?

“Are ALL the young men here?” he finally asked Jesse.

Jesse replied that, yes indeed, there was an 8th option: “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep” (v. 11).

Don’t you love how Jesse says this? “There remains…” another option. Even when you feel like you’ve already exhausted all the options, it’s good to know that God isn’t done yet!

However, Jesse played down the qualifications of his son David. After all, he was the youngest of the sons, consigned to take care of the sheep while the older brothers were invited to attend Samuel’s prestigious gathering.

In the same way, perhaps there’s an option you’ve overlooked. Maybe there’s someone who’s not even on your radar screen right now, but they are called to be a vital part of your life or your team. Perhaps they’re an afterthought, not even invited to the party.

After Samuel took oil and anointed David in the presence of his very surprised brothers, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (v. 13).

Notice that something changed for David that day. Although he probably was already a godly young man, no one seemed to recognize any special gifts or spiritual empowerment until Samuel anointed him. This day was a new beginning for David – and ultimately for the entire nation of Israel.

As we head into 2018, I hear many of you saying to yourself, “I feel like I’m running out of options.” That could be a FANTASTIC place to be! Remember: Only after Samuel ran out of visible options did he discover the 8th option – GOD’S option!

I’m praying for you today. Although you may be growing weary of “hope deferred” (Proverbs 13:12), the answer to your hopes and dreams may be right around the corner.

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Like King David in the Psalms, many of my journal entries in recent years could have been titled, “Why am I so depressed…so dissatisfied with life?” This was especially true most years in November and December, when I faced holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

So it came as a surprise when I noticed this month that I’m happier than I’ve been in years – even decades. How could this be, when most things in my life are exactly the same as they’ve been for the past several years?

Strangely, although I still have the same job, friends, and marital status as I did a year ago, somehow my perspective is radically different. This seemed puzzling at first. Yes, God used my sabbatical in May and June to change my outlook, and the birth of my first grandchild certainly helped as well. But I’m convinced that my new perspective has little to do with any external changes in my life this year – the transformation has been almost entirely a matter of the heart.

While some aspects of my new outlook are difficult to put into words, I’ve identified 6 specific adjustments God supernaturally brought to my attitude this year. Perhaps these will be helpful to you as well:

  1. No more striving. During my sabbatical I recognized my bad habit of striving for God’s affection or people’s applause. How stupid! God already loves me – enough to send His Son to die in my place – and there’s absolutely nothing I can do earn more of His love or favor. That’s a life-changing realization! Likewise, there’s no need to strive for more kudos from other people. Those who matter in my life already love me, and if someone doesn’t love me, I guess they don’t really matter.

This year I also recognized the unhealthy ways I’ve been striving to make more of an impact. Although it’s noble to desire a greater impact for God’s kingdom, my self-image had become far too entangled with my perception of the impact I was having. God had to take me to the other side of the world – New Zealand – to show me the startling fact that I already am making an incredible impact.

While I was in the process of questioning my usefulness and impact, the Lord reminded me that I’m part of an international ministry that’s recording more than one million salvations through our evangelistic outreaches this year. Also, there have been 30 million views of our daily discipleship videos, and I was directly involved in writing the scripts for those. In addition, I wrote books, booklets, pamphlets, and magazine articles that have impacted thousands of people.

I’m not citing this evidence to boast, but rather to illustrate how crazy it is to for me to strive for greater self-esteem based on increasing my accomplishments. It’s time to REST and REJOICE in what God has done!

  1. No more envy. Until this summer, I never realized the deadly grip jealousy and envy had on me. The final item of the Ten Commandments warns about this: “You shall not covet...anything that is your neighbor’s” (Exodus 20:17). God has done a remarkable work in delivering me from envy the past six months, and this has resulted in incredible JOY!

No longer do I envy ANYONE. Others may have a bigger salary, a nicer house, and a faster car, but I don’t envy them. And although I have friends who’ve gotten engaged this year, I’m not envious of them, nor of my friends who already have happy marriages.

In Philippians 4:19, the apostle Paul describes the Lord’s ability to meet our needs, and it’s great to know that miraculous provision is possible during our times of lack. But, earlier in the chapter, Paul spoke about another amazing secret he had learned – the ability to be content regardless of his present circumstances (vs. 11-12). When we recognize how blessed we already are, there’s no need to envy those around us – and that should be a cause for great rejoicing.

  1. No more regrets. If you have regrets today, I can sympathize. None of us is happy about everything we’ve done in past, nor everything that happened to If we’re honest, there are certainly some things we wish had turned out differently.

However, this year Romans 8:28 has become more than a nice religious memory verse for me. God truly can turn ALL things around for good when we love Him and seek to fulfill His purposes. Without the agony of Jesus’ cross, there would have been no forgiveness. And somehow God always uses our “crosses” to release more of His resurrection power and blessings.

Perhaps you’ve faced some horrendous events you can’t even begin to understand right now. My heart goes out to you. But I believe the day will come when you’ll be able to say along with Joseph, “God meant it for GOOD” (Genesis 50:20). You’ll cast off the regrets holding you captive, enabling you to get unstuck from the traumas that once caused you unspeakable pain.

  1. No more complaining. Like never before, I’m making an effort to replace grumbling with gratitude. Paul had a lot he could have complained about while sitting in a Roman prison cell. But instead he chose to focus on the people he was thankful for (Philippians 1:3-7) and the things in his life that were praiseworthy (4:4-8). That kind of adjusted focus goes a long way toward experiencing a happier and more joyful life.

I'm sure I'll continue to struggle with this at times. I'll be tempted to complain about aches and pains, singleness, the traffic in Charlotte, and countless other annoyances. But thankfully God has given me the power to change my focus and choose gratitude – and that makes all the difference.

  1. No more worries. At my advanced age, there are plenty of things a person could worry about. We worry about future health problems and wonder who would take care of us in that event. We worry about whether our financial reserves will run out before we die. We worry about being alone in our latter years. And I’m sure you can think of some other things to worry about as well…

Once again, my circumstances haven’t changed much, but my perspective is quite different than it was last year at this time. Why waste time and emotional energy worrying, when God has consistently proven Himself faithful throughout the years?

When I reflect on my past, I notice that the things I worried about seldom actually happened. Instead, God provided what I needed, even if it was at the last minute. Shouldn’t I trust Him to provide for me in the future too? Hey, during my sabbatical, I lived for six weeks with just the stuff I could fit into a medium-sized suitcase – and I didn’t lack anything.

My concerns about future financial provision gained a better perspective this year when I visited a multimillionaire friend. Once he had lavish homes in several different states, but now he lives in an assisted living center. Although he still has plenty of money, he spends his days in a small, one-room apartment – not much different than the kind of place someone on government assistance would have. Nevertheless, my friend is happy as can be, grateful that he has a bed, a comfortable chair, a TV, his own bathroom, and three meals a day. What else would he really need? At this point, his great wealth has largely become irrelevant.

  1. No more codependence. I’ll admit, I have a long-time habit of trying to rescue people. That may not sound like a problem to you, but sometimes it has caused me unnecessary trouble. You see, those of us who are pastors and caregivers at heart frequently go overboard, forgetting to set boundaries and take care of

Recently God reminded me of the beautiful words of Isaiah 9:6-7, “The government will be upon HIS shoulder.” Too often, I’ve tried to shoulder the problems of the universe on my own shoulders, which is a sure prescription for burnout, if not disaster.

So if you see me trying to rescue a damsel in distress, there’s a good chance you should rebuke me. Instead of trying to solve everyone’s problems, caregivers like me must learn the hard lesson of letting God be God, and pointing people to Him instead of to ourselves (Psalm 46:10). As John the Baptist discovered, we must boldly admit, “I am not the Christ!” (John 1:20).

Imagine the overwhelming joy you’d experience if God set you free from striving…envy…regrets…complaining…worries…and codependence. It would be the best year you’ve had in decades!

I have a few additional reasons for being exceptionally happy this year. My job description at work has undergone some helpful tweaks. My home is also better organized now, because I got rid of some clutter when I moved. It always feels good to get rid of unnecessary “stuff,” doesn’t it?

Looking back on this year, I’m still amazed that most of the significant, joy-producing changes occurred in my heart, not in any of my circumstances. Ironically, these internal transformations probably could have happened in 2016, 2015, or even decades ago. Yet even though I wish I would have learned the lessons much sooner, there’s no time for regrets. Regardless of how long it took me to discover these simple truths, I’m VERY grateful that 2017 turned out to be such a transformational year.

Dear friend, you don’t have to wait until you’re my age to implement these life-changing perspectives. Life is too short to delay any longer. You might as well start being happy as soon as possible.  

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6 Secrets of the Magi

We don’t know the exact time frame of the journey made by “wise men from the East” in search of young King Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). It may have been several months or even a few years after Jesus’ birth when they arrived at Herod’s palace and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (v. 1).

But while some of the details of their journey may be unclear, there’s much we can learn from the wonderful example set by the magi:

  1. Pursuing the Lord was their top priority (v. 1). These men came from a great distance – probably 900 miles or more – to spend time with the Savior. They weren’t just casual believers, but were committed to pursuing a personal encounter with the newborn King. In the same way, shouldn’t we make it a priority to seek the Lord and spend time in His presence?
  2. They came to worship Him (v. 2). Right from the beginning, the magi made the purpose of their journey clear: “We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” May that be our focus as well during this Christmas season. Instead of being distracted by all the trappings of the holidays, let’s take time to worship Jesus!
  3. Nothing could divert them from their mission (vs. 3-8). When God gives us a dream to pursue, we often have to deal with a “King Herod” who tries to distract us along the way. The magi truly proved to be “wise men,” able to discern that King Herod had no intention of furthering their mission. In the same way, we must avoid the influence of toxic people and naysayers during the holiday season.
  4. They had to overcome the discouragement of temporarily losing sight of the star. If your GPS has ever malfunctioned, you know how frustrating it can be to lose your sense of direction. This seemed to happen to the magi at one point, causing them to seek human guidance when the miraculous star was no longer visible. Yet if we persevere in our pursuit of the Lord’s purpose, His guidance will eventually return. We’ll discover that we’re in the right place after all:

Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! (Matthew 2:9-10 MSG).

  1. They not only worshiped Jesus with their words and their time, but they also worshiped Him with a generous offering. “When they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (v. 11). If we have a genuine encounter with our Savior, the King of Kings, how can we not honor Him with our treasure, time, and talents? True worship demands nothing less. Our treasure and our heart are always linked together (Matthew 6:21).
  2. They returned home “another way” (v. 12). Genuine worship will transform us and cause us to walk on a different path than we started on. If necessary, we’ll even be given supernatural direction or be “divinely warned in a dream.” As you worship Jesus this holiday season, He wants to instruct you, change your life, and give you the miraculous breakthrough you need!

May the Lord give you a fresh revelation of His LOVE for you this Christmas – love that took Him from the glories of heaven to a dusty stable in Bethlehem…to a cross on a Jerusalem hillside…to the right hand of God’s heavenly throne…so that you might enjoy spending eternity with Him.

Take a few moments right now to give God thanks for all He has done in your life. Like the magi, your journey may seem long and difficult at times. However, peace and joy will rise in your heart when you put your focus in the right place this Christmas: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (v. 10).

That can be your experience as well.

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Small-town Star

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You, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village in Judah.

Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.

He will be highly honored all around the world. He will be the source of our peace.

Micah 5:2, 4, 5a NLT

 

He was born in a little town, yet He never began.            

Before mountains were sculpted, He existed—in fact, He made them.

Before the planet you call home hung in space, He was your Home.

You cannot understand this, but you can believe it.

 

He entered earth in a dark barn, yet He will enlighten new Jerusalem.

His light illumines seeking minds—His life comforts desperate hearts.

He spoke first light into being—that light shines on, inextinguishable.

You cannot explain this, but you can enjoy it.

 

He was marked by a star, yet He made all the stars.

Heaven’s GPS pointed out His location to those who wanted to know.

I still use circumstances, events, and people to direct people to Jesus.

You cannot figure out what I am up to, but you can follow.

 

He was a helpless baby on earth, yet He is the Sovereign of Heaven.

He enjoyed prerogatives of power and glory, but He gave it up for you.

Rather than demand His rights, He humbly gave His life to redeem you.

You cannot earn this, but you can receive it.

 

He was adored by wise men from a foreign land,

and He will be worshiped by ransomed saints from all lands.

No one else is worthy of universal praise—He alone is the Savior.

You cannot imagine this, but you can experience it.

 

He became human in time, yet He is the Ruler of Eternity.

You cannot see Him now, but in the distant future you will.

Storm clouds veil stars, but dawn will reveal the rhapsody of peace.

You cannot envision this, but you can anticipate it.

 

His star led magi to Him, and the Bright Morning Star guides you.

All wisdom centers on Him—all truth connects to Him.

Wise men traveled a long way to find Him—yet it was worth the trip.

You cannot know it all, but you can know the One who does.

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© 2013 Johnny R. Almond

Pastor, Hull’s Memorial Baptist Church

Author, Gentle Whispers from Eternity

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A Thanksgiving Suggestion

Sometimes preachers have thoughts during their sermons that did not occur to them during the preparation time.  It happened to me several years ago on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.  As expected, I was preaching on being thankful, using the example of the one leper out of ten who returned to thank Jesus for healing (Luke 17:11-19), when I suddenly departed from my notes and suggested the folks think of three people for who they were thankful, then tell them of their thankfulness in the next three days, before Thanksgiving Day. Later that day, the thought hit me that I too, should take this advice.  Thus, began an annual Thanksgiving week tradition for me.  Unknown to me, one of the people I thanked that first year was a relative of a man who was in the congregation where I first offered the suggestion.  The Sunday following Thanksgiving, that man, thanked me for practicing what I preached.  I was sure glad I responded to my own suggestion.  How about you?  Are there people you need to thank this week? May I suggest you do so? 

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I noted in last week’s post that Christianity experienced a seismic paradigm shift when Martin Luther and other reformers essentially zero-based the church’s traditional doctrine of salvation and rebuilt it using only God’s Word—“Sola Scriptura.”

 

Then I stepped back from the details and considered applying that same strategy to discipling ourselves and others. I asked you, “If we zero-base our understanding of what it means to disciple ourselves and others, and then rebuild our understanding Sola Scriptura, how will our strategies—our “discipleship programs”—differ from what it is right now?

 

Why ask such a question? Because a recent Barna Group survey of discipleship across America (Dec 2015) alerts us to a disturbing situation: Despite our numerous church and parachurch discipling tools, programs, and activities, research reveals “the disconnect between how people think about their spirituality and what’s actually happening in their lives.” Among their conclusions: “Church leaders and congregants need better methods of thinking about and evaluating their discipleship efforts.”

 

Our key problem is this: People outside the church see woefully little difference between “Christians” and non-Christians. We need to discern that, acknowledge that, and change that. We need to make disciples who make a difference. Further, we must begin with ourselves, and only then influence others as disciples.

 

If we apply that zero-based strategy, here is what I envision we’ll remember and return to:

  • We’ll honestly and intentionally make love our aim. Agape love is a disciple’s distinctive feature (John 13:35; 1 Corinthians 13).
  • We’ll more clearly discern the relationship of discipline (e.g., solitude, prayer, memorization) and process (e.g., one-on-one, small group) to outcome (agape love, which shows in our Christlike character). Disciplines and processes are many and flexible; the outcome God desires is fixed. God challenges us in His Word to focus more on being than doing; on becoming more purposeful than process-full (Psalm 19:14; Matthew 15:8-9). And knowledge (e.g., theology) plus skill (e.g., Bible study) minus Christlikeness (agape love) leads to collapse.
  • Our testimony—in sharing our faith and in discipling—is more about what others see in you and me than what we say (Matthew 5:14–16). Again, let’s make love our aim. Let’s walk in a manner worthy of our calling (Ephesians 4:1-2; 5:1-2).

 

This week, 500 years ago, marked the start of the Protestant Reformation. Could this week in 2017 mark the start of a Discipling Reformation? “Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.”

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