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Simple Truths

Before we can accomplish the most significant achievements in our lives, we must be committed to living out the simple truths. We had breakfast with our 16 month old granddaughter this past weekend. I watched as she dove into a muffin which couldn’t have been more than two inches in diameter. I know she got some of it in her mouth because I saw her do it but I am not sure how that one muffin was able to produce such a mess. Crumbs littered two feet of the table. The floor under her seat looked like an explosion had taken place in the kitchen. Her clothes were dusted and her face was decorated with muffin shrapnel. It was one of the cutest things I have seen in a while because she is sixteen months old. If, however, she was sixteen years old, it would have been a different story. Her life is guided by a very simple truth—get more mature as you get older.
When Paul was wrapping up his letter to the church in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:13-14), he gave a rapid fire list of simple truths that form the foundation for anything significant we want to accomplish. Our goals are more sophisticated than these simple truths but they are not possible without them. As I reviewed them this morning, I thought to myself, these are the equivalent in my spiritual life to taking a shower, getting dressed and brushing my teeth. I want to do more than these today but I need to do these first.
• Be on your guard. I will hear things today that are not true. I may meet people whose motives are not pure. I may encounter an opportunity I have been praying about for a while. To have the proper amount of discernment and urgency I must remain alert and watchful.
• Stand firm in the faith. My faith will be challenged by competing philosophies in this world and some things in life will not turn out the way I want them to. I must wrestle with the questions on my heart and the disappointments of life from a position of standing firm in what I know is true.
• Be courageous. This literally means “to deal with life in a manly way.” Life requires appropriate risk and strategic competition. I will face challenges today which must be met with willingness, resolve and unwavering focus.
• Be strong. Life requires physical, emotional, spiritual and relational strength. It is a journey and a pursuit that cannot be realized in front of the TV. It must be met with goals that require strength.
• Do everything in love. Everything works best when we look out for the best interests of others. Salvation was accomplished because Jesus loved us enough to sacrifice on our behalf. He didn’t do that so we could live selfish, lazy, or mediocre lives. He set us free to be our best. We live like Him when we sacrifice to help others be their best also.
It is always possible that today will turn out to be one of those spectacular days that live forever or it may be a perfectly normal day with few memories. Either way, it will go better if I stick to the simple truths.

Seeds – Before and After

Before and after pictures have become quite popular. They are used to sell diet routines, exercise programs, and real estate investment systems. You know how the presentation works. We show you a picture of what things looked like before the application of the product or service. We then show you a picture of the results. The dramatic change that has taken place is remarkable and motivating.
We are drawn to these scenarios because they reflect one of the most important principles of life. Seeds that are planted produce a harvest. Consider 1 Corinthians 15:35-58. Let me work backward. In verse 58, Paul gives the “after” picture, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” The result we are all looking for is to be rock solid in our faith, our convictions and our relationships. We want to pursue our goals and dreams with the confidence that our efforts are both worthwhile and effective. The big question is, “How do we get there?”
You will notice verse 58 starts with the word “therefore.” One of the basic rules for bible study is “when you see a therefore ask yourself what is it there for.” This is where the before picture comes into play. In verses 35-57 Paul reminds us that everything strong, confident, and eternally significant begins as a seed. He then describes how seeds work:
• Sowing seed is hard work (v. 36). The seed has to “die” first so that it is released from its current state to become what it has the potential to be.
• The seed is unremarkable (v. 37). It is small and unattractive. It looks very different from the plant it will turn into.
• The seed is predictable (v. 38-41). Each seed will produce its own kind of fruit. Wheat never produces fruit trees. Weed seeds never produce roses.
• The plant is much greater in appearance and productivity (v. 42-49). One seed can result in a tree that produces fruit for years.
• The harvest causes people to celebrate (v. 50-57).
• The whole process takes time (v. 58)
Paul’s motivation for continuing to patiently plant seeds by serving others, teaching diligently, telling others about the gospel of Jesus, and training others how to live the Christian life was the belief that a harvest is coming. When a farmer is plowing his field and planting seeds, he works hard. At the end of the day, it doesn’t look like much has happened. You can tell he rearranged the dirt and put great effort into something he believes in. There is nothing, however, that would cause anyone to rejoice or compliment him. He did what needed to be done today so that a harvest could be realized later. There is satisfaction in the work only because he knows what is coming.
I found encouragement in this today. Most of my life is sowing seeds and I suspect your life is the same. Serving others doesn’t seem glorious unless you know there is a harvest to come from the seeds you planted. Standing on your convictions when most people tell you it is foolish, outdated, or unenlightened is not rewarding unless you know there is a harvest. Taking care of responsibilities before you give yourself privileges feels restrictive unless you know there is a harvest.
Take heart my friends. Every good seed you plant today will produce an eternal harvest.

Humbly Remarkable

It seems to be a hard thing to grasp that each and every one of us is a humbly remarkable individual. You have been created with a set of natural talents, influential traits, and a God-given dream in your heart. (Psalm 139:13-18) In addition, if you have trusted in Christ as your Savior you have been given a spiritual gift that is empowered by the Holy Spirit. “Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
Just this week I have interacted with people who have the following extraordinary abilities:
• One young man recently discovered that he has a lot of passion and insight for business. He has always worked hard but he found that he can see the way things ought to work in his company and the steps to get there are getting surprisingly clear to him. I was taken back when he said, “I hope I can keep this up and not lose the opportunity.”
• A missionary friend of mine is visiting in town. He has given an update three times with different groups. In 6 years of ministry in a town in Colombia, 2000 people have made professions of faith in Christ. I was excited to see his enthusiasm over this because he has been frustrated for years by the lack of facilities they have to work with and has wondered if he is really getting the work done for which he was called.
• I interacted with a young mom who has a very compassionate heart who is raising a son with a very compassionate heart. We were talking about how to help her son build discernment about how to really help people. They both see the needs around them very easily but then get overwhelmed trying to figure out what, if anything, they should do about it.
• I got to experience some of the best tri-tip I have ever eaten. A friend of mine has a passion for good food and he spent hours preparing it and cooking it to perfection. He was so excited about it he called me four times to give me updates on how it was progressing.
• I visited a friend who has been in the hospital for almost two weeks. He is in one of those frustrating times of waiting while the doctors are seeking a diagnosis for what is happening in his body. In our conversation, he said to me, “This is hard but God is already bringing good out of it.” He then listed four good things that have happened in relationships for which he has been praying for years.
I see this kind of talent in everyone I meet. Sadly it seems that people struggle to harness the giftedness they have been given. Some people get overwhelmed by their strength. It requires too much of them or their skills are underdeveloped to handle the power their talents produce in them. In response, they sabotage their opportunities. Some people are insecure with their talent. They refuse to believe they are as capable, influential, and effective as they were created to be. Rather than say, “I can do this forever because it is who I am.,” they say, “I hope this doesn’t fail . . .I hope I can sustain this . . . I will do this until someone more capable comes along.” Still others cancel out their influence with conceit. They become what comedian Brian Regan describes as “Me Monsters.” They push people away with pride. They alienate others with arrogance. They realize they are talented but they use it as a club that makes others feel less valuable.
I hope today you can accept the fact that you have been created in the image of God with a unique set of talents and natural influence. The world needs what you have to offer. Enjoy being humbly remarkable.

A Calm Anxiety

Paul had obviously been asked the question, “Is it better to be single or married?” as the backdrop for 1 Corinthians 7. It is no surprise because it is one of the most often asked questions we get in our ministry. Last weekend, we spoke at an event for a group of singles. It was a responsive group and I remember thinking about half way through the evening, there is a lot of potential in this room. What if every one of these folks decided to use one week of their vacation to serve alongside of a missionary? That could be very exciting. It was very revealing when we got to the question and answer time. The most popular question by far (half of all the inquiries) was, “Where can I meet a quality person?” The implication was clear. Most of the people in the room wanted to be married.
When Paul answered this question, he gave it an interesting twist. “What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (v. 29-31) He in essence said that the marriage question is not the real question. The real question is, “How are you going to live in such a way that others figure out who Jesus is?” He was anxious for the salvation of others. He remembered his own wayward determination and he recognized time is short. If people don’t settle their salvation in this lifetime, there is no second chance. We need to be about representing the most important message on earth, whether we are married or single.
In light of this, Paul said there is a big advantage to being single. Unmarried people can be single focused. They can dream about how to use their free time to help others meet their Savior and grow in their faith. They can plan their schedule for maximum effectiveness in their influence. They can set goals that include aggressive involvement in ministry activities. The need for people to know Jesus had captivated his heart and he viewed everything in life through the lens of “how will my actions and decisions help others find their Savior?”
He was calm about his anxiety, however. He added to the discussion, “So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.” (v. 38) Again, he doesn’t see marriage as the issue. Being a positive influence for the cause of Christ is the issue. He even goes so far as to say everyone should adjust their lives for the sake of the gospel (back to v. 29-31)
• Married people should simplify their relationships
• Everyone should reign in their emotional needs to minimize self-focus (mourn and happy)
• Possessions should be kept to a practical minimum
• Worldly commitments (business, financial, political, etc.) should be strategically positioned to have eternal impact
Only someone who is captivated by a cause thinks like this. Athletes discipline their lives to compete. Musicians hone their talent in order to perform. Entrepreneurs risk everything in order to give birth to an idea. In the same way, Paul is calling all believers to live with abandon so that others can share in the eternal privilege we have.
Lord, give me this kind of calm anxiety. Make me intensely interested in helping others meet You as you make me calm about my own needs.

What Drives You?

If you take time to listen to people’s stories, you will be amazed at how they got to be who they are today. And, it goes both ways. You will be inspired by the selflessness of some who genuinely desire to make a positive difference in the world. At the same time, you will be perplexed by the insidiousness of some who seem bent on either selfish manipulation or destructiveness. Just in the past week I have heard a story from each side.
I had the privilege of baptizing a woman who grew up afraid of God who then turned angry toward Him when she lost her mom just prior to puberty. After years of rebelling against Him in an attempt to ignore His influence, she finally gave her heart to Jesus while parked outside of her workplace listening to a radio program. She became convinced that God understood her pain and was a faithful friend who would help her in all areas of life. By her own words, her fear is being changed into confidence and her anger is being transformed into love for others.
In contrast, I heard a story about a woman who was in desperate need of attention. How she came up with this plan is a mystery to me but she decided to borrow a urine sample from a friend who was pregnant. She then took the sample to the doctor’s office and reported it was hers. The office ran the appropriate tests and gave her a document stating she was pregnant. She triumphantly took the results to her friendship circle to announce the “good news.” For a short period to time they celebrated with her and dreamed of the joy that was coming her way. It didn’t last long, however, as she had to report the sad news of a miscarriage.
This is nothing new folks. In Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul had to confront a situation where a young man was sexually involved with his stepmother. In the midst of instructing people how to respond to the situation he wrote these words, “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (v. 7-8) He uses the picture of Passover to address the motives of the human heart. Normally, the Israelites would eat bread that had been leavened with yeast. They would take time to let it rise before baking it. For Passover, however, they would eat unleavened bread because they needed to stay alert and be ready to move as soon as Moses instructed them to leave.
Paul is pointing out that unhealthy motivations (malice and wickedness) tend to start out small and unnoticed but have a pervasive effect on our lives. The thoughts and intentions swell until they take over our lives and produce behavior we would never have imagined earlier in our lives. On the other hand, healthy motivations (sincerity and truth) are pure ingredients in our lives. They are the same tomorrow as they are today. They have clear focus. They naturally call us to selfless behavior and solid decisions. They are easy to represent because they are constant. They are easy to recommend to others because they are beneficial. They are ready for action because they are consistent with the way God created life.
Lord, give me the grace today to be led by sincerity and truth and give me influence to help as many people as possible make the same choice.

Getting Tough on Me

Now that I am an adult, I actually watch news programs. When I was a young man, I was more interested in sports than news but I have grown to where they are of equal value. Yesterday, two stories stood out to me. One came from a political leader who condemned those who disagreed with her. She actually said she would like them to go hell. The reason this jumped out to me is that it came from someone who not too long ago called for people to be more civil and accommodating in their discourse with others. She couldn’t even stay true to her own expectations.
The other story that caught my attention was a commentator who was sharing his opinion about a group of men who engaged in a fight at a football game. He denounced their actions, derided their character, and declared his opinion that they should be banned from attending games if their behavior didn’t change. He even said there was no room for violence of this kind in our society. The reason this caught my attention is that he is a proponent of abortion, which is also a violent act. He would never think to smear the character of someone who chose to end a human life while it was in the womb but he soundly condemned those who fought other adults in a stadium. Again, here was a very intelligent man who could not stay consistent with his own standards.
As I observed these two accounts, I was reminded of the saying, “Life is hard on those who are not hard on themselves.” We all have this inconsistency in us. We all have the potential to believe one thing and behave another. I am convinced this is why there are some very tough sayings in the Bible. When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he was speaking with a group of talented, intelligent believers who had gotten carried away with themselves. They had grown arrogant in their experience and began to think they were more insightful than others. To help save themselves from themselves, Paul wrote, “I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not be puffed up in being a follower of one of us over against the other.” (1 Corinthians 4:6) Rather than trust the truth and live it out as it is, they distorted it with their own “wisdom.” Rather than applying God’s word as a steward, they adapted it as if they were the author.
I am not saying we shouldn’t be thinkers. God gave us active minds and we face situations every day that must be figured out. What I am saying is that we all have the potential within us to distort the facts to our liking and to dismiss our own personal responsibility in favor of personal freedom. The only way to fight against this is to develop a tough-minded approach to our lives if we want to walk victorious. We must train our minds to think like Christ every day. We must correct our thinking any time it tries to wander. We must receive instruction and coaching from others, not because they are smarter than us but because others often see our potential and our inconsistencies sooner than we do.
I am choosing today to be tough on myself because I want to be an example of excellence. I want to fight with my own tendencies so I can live truly free. I know I will never be perfect here on earth but I hope to never be an example of someone who is inconsistent in my convictions.

Short Run, Long Influence

Then and NowI saw a picture yesterday of a leader who has had a great deal of influence in my life. As a young man, I read everything he wrote. I listened to him speak as often as I could. I even bought a series of his that was designed for me to listen 5 minutes per day to increase my skills. He was, and is, a man of integrity and influence. I thought many times that I would love it if my life turned out like this man. If I was honest, I wanted to be like him so that others would want to be like me. What struck me when I saw his picture was the obvious aging that had taken place and the toll that life had taken on his body. He is still energetic and has many more years of influence but his picture shifted my perspective. I could see clearly that we all have short runs that come to an end far too quickly. People can only follow us so far and we can only accomplish so much. The real race is to get people to know us in order for them to know Jesus.
We cannot take out either side of the equation. We are social creatures and we want to follow leaders. Jesus told Peter to “feed my sheep.” Ministry is often referred to as shepherding in the New Testament. As a result, we will always have human leaders and some of them will become well-known. A clear example is 1 Corinthians 1. Paul points out a silly controversy with a sound conclusion in verse 12, “One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Paul, Apollos and Cephas had followers because they were men of integrity and influence. They spoke the truth, lived with character and invested in others. As a result, they created a following. Paul was clear, however, that their influence could only go so far. It was limited in scope and time. The influence of Jesus, on the other hand, knows no limits and lasts forever. That is why Paul asked, “Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (v. 13) Only Jesus paid the sacrifice that lasts forever. Only Jesus gives freedom that lasts forever. Only Jesus places hope in the heart that outlasts all difficulties and fends off all discouragements.
It was an interesting shift of perspective. I still want to be known. I still want to invest in the lives of others so they can grow and learn. I still want to build a ministry that is worthwhile and worth my best effort. More than ever, however, I want it to be clear that the goal is to meet and follow Jesus. I can give people direction, only Jesus can give purpose. I can give people encouragement, only He can give freedom. I can give people help, only He can rescue them from themselves. Hopefully my temporary run in life will result in an eternal run for many others.