The Next President

Read: Proverbs 21:1

The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.

Hey all you Republicans out there, relax, your party’s presidential candidate in this unusually strange election cycle is on a short leash. And for all you Democrats, same for you—you need to chill out, too. For those of you who believe Hillary is a dirty, rotten, no-good, horrible person, or for anyone who’s convinced Donald Trump is the Antichrist, lighten up!  If you’re thinking the man or woman in the Oval Office will be calling the shots, think again:

God’s in charge!

I love how Daniel 2:20-21 reminds us that all of the political convulsing we do, especially in a political season like this, is really nothing more than a tempest in a teapot when stacked up against the plans of the Almighty:

“Praise the name of God forever and ever, for he has all wisdom and power. He controls the course of world events; he removes kings and sets up other kings.”

Now I’m not saying that politics is unimportant or that the upcoming elections won’t have consequences. The truth is, the party given power to rule greatly affects the cultural-moral-spiritual direction of America and the person in the Oval Office has great bearing on both the outward strength and the inner fortitude of our nation. It matters, and as believers, we are obligated to be well informed and actively engaged in our politic process. But can I remind you again of this one truth that trumps (no pun intended) all your concerns?

God’s in control! 

God allows politicians to be elected, he keeps the president on a short leash, and at the end of the day, whether rulers rule well or not, God will accomplish his purposes. He is in charge—and in control.  As someone has correctly said, history is really His story.  It always has been, it is right now, and it shall be tomorrow.

God rules!

I hope that gives you great comfort, and I hope it will allow you to be a little more sane and kingdom-focused as the politics of this election year heat up well beyond the point of sanity.

Let me say it one more time just in case you missed it:

God reigns!

“God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it. I firmly believe this. I also believe that, without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” ~Benjamin Franklin, Constitutional Convention of 1787

Instead of all the hand-wringing, read I Timothy 2:1-4—then practice it: “I urge that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Now, like them or not, pray for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (and Bernie, too) every day for the next 30 days! It will please your Heavenly Father—and it will calm your heart!

 

Social Media: The New “Speaking Before You Think”

Making Life Work
Read: Proverbs 29
Focus: Proverbs 29:20

“There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking!”

Just a thought: Social media is the new “speaking before you think.” Unfortunately, Facebook, Twitter, texting, even email, et. al., removes the filters that face-to-face conversations impose. Rather than removing us to a safe distance so we can speak our minds, social media now removes us from that safe distance to where we can now say whatever is on our minds–which sometimes means we say thing that should or would never be said in an in-person conversation.

Proverbs 2:29 says, “There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking!” As those who truly desire to follow Christ, we must reject this new “speaking before you think” style of communication for what the Apostle Paul (and other Biblical writers) promoted: Thinking before we do anything else, either speaking or acting.  Paul wrote in Philippians 4:8,

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

Stop and think before you speak…or write…or hit send! Think first, think early and think often!

My challenge to you today—and it’s not an easy one—is to begin a new habit of speaking only life-giving words to the people in your world, whether on social media or in person:

Think FirstAnd one of the practices you’ll need to develop is to stop and think before you speak. Put your mind in gear before you run off at the mouth! James 1:19 says, “Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak.”  If you’re quick to listen and you’re slow to speak, as James says, then you’ll be slow to use your words destructively.  Think first—if you are going to say something.  Employ the T.H.I.N.K. method:

 

T — Is it truthful?

H — Is it helpful?

I —Is it inspirational?

N — Is it necessary?

K — Is it kind?

 

Practice that this week. Death and life are in the power of your tongue, so think before you speak.

“A gentle word, a kind look, a good-natured smile can work wonders and accomplish miracles.” (William Hazlitt)

Faithfulness – The Truest Success

Reflect:
Proverbs 2:7-8

“He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.”

“Let it never be forgotten that glamour is not greatness; applause is not fame; prominence is not eminence. The man of the hour is not apt to be the man of the ages. A stone may sparkle, but that does not make it a diamond; people may have money, but that does not make them a success. It is what the unimportant people do that really counts and determines the course of history. The greatest forces in the universe are never spectacular. Summer showers are more effective than hurricanes, but they get no publicity. The world would soon die but for the fidelity, loyalty, and consecration of those whose names are unhonored and unsung.” (James Sizoo)

As we yield to His Spirit, this same fruit of faithfulness that is at the core of God’s character will be evident in our lives, too. The more we are led by the Spirit, the less fickle, the less vulnerable to discouragement, the less easily distracted by temptation and the less prone to inconsistency we will become.

Plus, the more others will find in us reliability, trustworthiness, and staying power through both good times and bad—a faithfulness the world doesn’t witness all that often. As serious followers of Jesus, we have been called to faithfulness!

What is faithfulness? Simply put, it is to follow through with a commitment regardless of difficulty. It is to be steadfast, especially under duress. It is to have convictions—and then to live them out no matter what. It is to exhibit relational fidelity—stick-to-it-iveness in friendship—which is arguably the most practical and meaningful faithfulness of all. It is to say, “I will not quit. There may be misunderstandings, there may be disappointments, there may be inconveniences, but I will not quit. I will do what love and faith require of me.”

Faithfulness is simply, sticking to it, especially when it would be easier not to.

Here are some of the ways the Bible says God has called us to faithfulness:

  • I Corinthians 4:1-2 challenges us to be faithful in stewardship.
  • I Timothy 5:9 speaks of being faithful in our marriage.
  • Revelation 2:15 speaks of being a faithful witness.
  • Romans 12:12 says we are to be faithful in prayer.
  • Colossians 1:7 speaks of being faithful in ministry.
  • Revelation 17:14 says we are to be faithful in following Christ.
  • III John 3 says we are to be faithful to the truth.
  • Revelation 13:10 speaks of faithfulness in times of persecution.
  • Revelation 2:10 says we are even to be faithful unto death.

God, who is faithful and true, wants to cultivate in you his very own faithfulness. I hope you are ready for that, because the world is perishing for want of those who are mostly un-honored and unsung, nevertheless are faithful, loyal and consecrated.

“I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable.” ~G.K. Chesterton

Reflect and Apply: How is your relational faithfulness? If you were somebody else, would you want to have you as a spouse or friend or a partner? Ask the Lord to develop you into a faithful person.

The Test of Love

Reflect:
Proverbs 16:1-18:24

“He who covers an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends…A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” ~Proverbs 17:9

“A friend loves at all times!” There is a very complex and profound meaning in the Hebrew language for the word “all” in that sentence. Are you ready for this? It means…well…all. As in, all the time…always…morning, noon and night…24/7. Not sometimes, but all the time! That is when true love is active. It never takes a day off, never goes on a break, never needs a time out, doesn’t take naps. It is always on!

That is especially true when the object of one’s love is not so lovable. For sure, we would agree that love sticks with people through thick and thin, but thin has to include those times when the people we love have done things that cause the relationship to otherwise be on thin ice. Yes, through thick, and especially in thin. That is the real test of love.

And the truest test of real love comes when the loved one offends. That is when true love chooses to cover the offense. Not ignore it–that is what we call avoidance or denial, which is never healthy for any relationship. Covering the offense doesn’t negate the appropriateness of confrontation or setting boundaries or expecting corrective action. No, love that covers an offense fully recognizes the pain, disrespect, selfishness and betrayal of the offender and chooses to pay the cost of the offense by absorbing it, forgiving it, and moving ahead without diminishing the love for the guilty one at all. It’s kind of like Jesus did for us on the cross, wouldn’t you say? By the way, that is exactly what Ephesians 4:32 calls us to do,

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

How did God forgive you? Rather than ignoring or avoiding your sin, he looked your repugnant sinfulness right in the eye and said, “my Son will take care of that! He’ll pay the penalty price in full. It’s on him!” He forgave you freely, fully, and forever removed the transgression from your account and wiped it from his memory bank. That is what it means to cover an offense—and that is the truest test of love there is.

If you want your love to be a real love, then it is to that kind of loving you are called. It won’t be easy; in fact it will be the hardest thing you will be called to do. But being the kind of Christ-follower you are, you are up to it! And that’s a good thing since you are likely going to be called upon to exercise that kind of covering love sooner than you think.

“All the fruits of the Spirit which we are to lay weight upon as evidential of grace, are summed up in Christian love; because this is the sum of all grace. And the only way, therefore, in which any can know their good estate, is by discerning the exercises of this divine love in their hearts; for without love…[we] are nothing.” ~Jonathan Edwards

Reflect and Apply: Since your love is likely to be tested soon, take a moment to proactively pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to offer an immediate response of covering love to your loved one when the offense comes your way.

 

Humility

Reflect:
Proverbs 22:4

“Humility is the fear of the LORD; its wages are riches and honor and life.”

Humility! It is one of the preeminent qualities of Jesus’ character (Philippians 2:1-11) and one of the highest duties of the authentic Christ-follower (Colossians 3:12-14). Yet while humility is a virtue we all laud, and hope to possess, we need to remember that in the days of the Biblical writers, the pagan world scoffed at the idea of humility. To them, pride and dominance were highly regarded, while meekness of character was to be avoided at all cost. So a Biblical writer promoting personal humility was a radical concept in the ancient world.

But those Biblical writers redefined humility in a more noble light; they saw it as simply having a right estimation of oneself rather than what the world saw as a weakness and a character flaw. Having a proper estimation of oneself—that’s really what humility is. I think biblical humility was defined quite nicely by the kids who built a clubhouse and then posted these rules on the door: Nobody act too big, nobody act too small, everybody just act medium.

That’s good: Not too big, not too small…just see yourself as God sees you. That’s exactly what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he taught about humility in Romans 12:3,

“Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought to, but think soberly, according to the faith God has given you.”

It is this proper estimation of yourself that sets something quite powerful loose in your world and produces the kind of “riches and honor” that Solomon talked about. You see, on the one hand, humility frees you from self-centeredness and arrogance, while on the other, it releases you from the vicious trap of low self-esteem. And in the process, true humility enables you to enter into a powerful lifestyle of ministering to the needs of others. That’s what humility does—and there are not too many forces in this world that are as powerful as that.

So how can you cultivate this kind of humility? There are many ways, but here is one: Start thinking more of others and less of yourself. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.”

I came across a parable about man who was talking with the Lord one day and said, “Lord, I’d like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.” The Lord led him to two doors. He opened one of the doors and the man looked in. In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the table was a large pot of mouthwatering stew, but the people sitting at the table were thin and sickly; they appeared famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles, and each found it possible to reach into the pot and take a spoonful…but impossible to get the spoons back to their mouths. The handle was longer than their arms. As the man shuddered at the sight of their misery, the Lord said, “You have just seen Hell.”

They went to the next room and found the same large round table with a large pot of mouthwatering stew in the middle. These people had the same long-handled spoons, but unlike the first room, these were well-nourished and joyful people. The man said, “Lord, I don’t understand.” The Lord replied, “It is simple—it takes one skill: They’ve learned to feed each other, while the miserable think only of themselves. You have just seen heaven.”

Let me give you a challenge for this week: Forget about yourself! Try it. Practice being absent minded when it comes to you. Get you out of your thoughts … and replace them with prayers of blessings and plans for serving other people in your life. As Jesus did, give yourself away with absolutely no thought of getting anything in return. Surprise someone with compassion. Heap some unexpected and undeserved kindness on another. Find the most unlikely object of God’s love, and love them like God would.

Try it, and you’ll experience a little bit of heaven on earth.

“He rides pleasantly enough whom the grace of God carries.” ~Thomas A` Kempis

Reflect & Apply: Identify one person whom you can serve this week—and do it without being noticed!

The Unquenchable Brightness of Being

Reflect:
Proverbs 1:1-4:27

“The ways of right-living people glow with light; the longer they live, the brighter they shine.” ~Proverbs 4:18 (The Message)

“A candle loses nothing of its light when lighting another,” according to the Lebanese-born poet, Kahlil Gibran. So it is with right-living people, says Solomon. As they walk in the ways of God, their wisdom rubs off on those around them. And the more they rub off, the shinier they get.

Have you ever been around a person like that? They just seem to glow brighter as they get older. You just love to be around them, no matter how old they get. Even when their physical body creaks and groans under the weight of age, you just know that being near them means you are going to catch some of the brightness of their being. And the more light they give off, the more unquenchable that light grows.

I’ve been around people whose wisdom seems to grow shinier with use, and those whose lives only grow duller with age. Of course, there are a lot of life-factors involved in who we turn out to be and how we run the final lap of our lives, but ending with an ever-increasing brightness of being requires walking hand-in-hand with Wisdom along the way.

King Solomon said, “Dear friend, take my advice; it will add years to your life.” (Proverbs 4:10, Message) My suspicion is that he was referring not so much to the length of one’s years, but the brightness of one’s life. Now I’ll leave the timing of my demise up to God, but between now and that fateful day, I’m going to edge a little closer to the Source of Wisdom because I’d rather die young and bright than old and dull.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”

Reflect and Apply: Chances are you know an older person who just seems to shine brighter with age. Take them out to lunch—or bring them their favorite meal if they can’t get out. Spend some time with them and ask them to share with you their top five life lessons. Make sure you thank them, and most of all, enfold their wisdom into your own character.

Finding God’s Will

Reflect:
Proverbs 3:5-6

“Trust in the lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight”

One of the most fundamental questions we ask in life is how to discern God’s specific will in the decisions we face.  In his book, Take Another Look At Guidance, author Bob Mumford offers this helpful illustration,

“A certain harbor in Italy can be reached only by sailing up a narrow channel between dangerous rocks and shoals.  Over the years, many ships have been wrecked, and navigation is hazardous. To guide the ships safely into port, three lights have been mounted on three huge poles in the harbor. When the three lights are perfectly lined up and seen as one, the ship can safely proceed up the narrow channel. If the pilot sees two or three lights, he knows he’s off course and in danger. God has also provided beacons to guide us…these lights must be lined up before it is safe for us to proceed.  Together they assure us that the directions we’ve received are from God and will lead us safely along his way.”

Allow me to give you some harbor lights, as it were, that I believe should become a litmus test for determining if the decisions you are making, the guidance you are receiving and the direction you are taking is really God’s specific will for our lives:

The first guiding light is the teaching of Scripture in its entirety.  Honestly ask yourself, “does my decision line up with the will of God as revealed in his Word? Does it align with Scripture? What does the Bible say about this?”

The second guiding light is the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit that come through prayer.  Not only should you align your thinking process and decisions with God’s Word, but you must also ask, “have I adequately devoted myself to prayer regarding this issue? Have I asked God about this—and listened?”

The third guiding light is the God-shaped circumstances of life. Ask yourself, “do the events, circumstances, open doors and closed doors I am currently experiencing indicate this desire or direction is of God?  Is God at work here?”

The fourth guiding light is the counsel of wise, godly people.  You need to ask, “have I submitted this plan to people to whom I’m accountable? Have I given permission to someone I trust to speak truth into my life about this?”

And the fifth guiding light is congruity with God’s unique design for my life.  Here is where you ask quite frankly, “is this consistent with my unique spiritual thumbprint—my spiritual gifts, my God-given temperament, my natural talents, and my spiritual passion?”

If you are to find God’s specific will for your life, then each of those harbor lights need to align.  If they do, you can be confident that a Greater Hand is guiding your steps. If they don’t, pause!

images-1But in the end, pursuing God’s will is not so much about a technique, a method or a litmus test. The will of God is not about a formula; it’s about a friendship. God’s will is not to be found in not a rule, but in a relationship where you invite the Creator of the universe to walk with you side-by-side, moment-by-moment, opportunity-by-opportunity to show you what he wants for your life at each step of the way.

And that is where life gets really exciting!

“To know the will of God is the greatest knowledge! To do the will of God is the greatest achievement!” ~George W. Truett

Reflect & Apply: Are you facing an important decision? Go back and think through these harbor lights—and make sure they’ve aligned before you take the next step.  Most of all, do it in relationship with the One whose will for you means a bright and successful future.