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Persistence on the Imperfect Path

This week has been an interesting reminder of the imperfect journey of life. Everyone I encountered along the way has a dream for their future and undying hope that life is going to turn out well for them. One man is highly dedicated to his career and wants to rise to the top of his professions. One mom is working tirelessly to help her kids discover their talents, navigate their education and overcome their obstacles. Another couple will tell you boldly they want to have an excellent relationship with open communication and cooperative decision-making.
At the same time, everyone I encountered was confronted with either a circumstance or an attitude that was holding them back. The businessman has a couple of habits in his life that are counterproductive to his dream which include keeping his passions in focus and responding with something other than anger to situations that are frustrating. The mom was upset because she often gets angry with the people she loves when they don’t live up to her expectations. She doesn’t want to give up her dream but she doesn’t want to be angry with her family for the next decade. The couple honestly admitted they run at very different paces and have started to resent one another for their differences.
BumperSticker(2)I am sure I noticed these folks because they are a mirror of my life. I love my life, I adore my wife and I am proud of my kids. At the same time, I get frustrated with managing finances, integrating with Pam’s spontaneous scheduling and trying to prioritize the relentless tasks of life. Like you, I keep looking for an easier solution.
For all of us who are willing to accept that life is an imperfect journey, Jesus has some strategic advice in Luke 11:9-10, “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” According to the context, Jesus is telling us to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking because some things in life only get accomplished through audacious persistence. As a pastor, I would love to present to you a simple, easy plan for becoming spiritual mature. As an author, I would love to give couples and parents a quick path to family unity and strength. As a concerned friend, I would love to tell you that one of the quick fix programs for weight loss and physical conditioning would actually turn you into an athlete in just 7 minutes a day. That is not the real path of life, however. The real path of life is a mixture of fun and frustration, accomplishment and agony.
I am not sure what you are facing this week but I am confident it has an element of imperfection to it that will require persistence to stay on the path despite the obstacles, frustrations, setbacks and inefficiencies involved. I’ll see you on the path as we keep asking, keep seeking and keep knocking!

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Getting Used to Quickly

It started out like any other day. The alarm went off at the normal time. Pete got out of bed, had his first cup of coffee and got ready for work. He and his colleagues started their daily pursuits in their career like any other normal working day. In fact, it was a rather frustrating day. They worked diligently but circumstances didn’t cooperate very well so the results of the day were unimpressive. They spent more time on maintenance and practicing their skills than on actually achieving any measurable goal.
Then, without any pre-planning, a local preacher asked to borrow his vehicle so he could stand on it and deliver an impromptu sermon. Pete liked this preacher and had nothing better going on this day so he agreed. After the sermon was over, this unassuming preacher challenged them to go back to work and do exactly what they had been doing all day long.
You can almost hear Pete’s thoughts. This preacher borrows my work vehicle and now he thinks he is an expert at what I do for a living. What a waste of time but there is an audience. If I blow off this man, it will affect my reputation. If I take his advice, I am going to be throwing away a couple of hours. I don’t want to do this but I guess I have no choice.
Reluctantly, Peter, James and John loaded up their nets, got back in their boats and went out to the same waters where they had caught nothing earlier that same day. “When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” (Luke 5:6)
Suddenly, life had changed. The man they thought was just a local preacher proved He had authority over nature. Peter’s self-confidence quickly became self-awareness, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (v. 8 ) Their careers were transformed with a single statement, ““Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” (v. 10) Before they could even process the magnitude of what had just happened, “they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (v. 11)
As I look back on my life, the biggest steps have happened quickly. I simply went to a movie at the age of 16 and was confronted with my need for a Savior. I simply went to a leadership conference at 19 having no idea I was going to meet my life partner. On an otherwise uneventful day, I heard the words, “We are going to be parents!” I asked Jim Conway to mentor me as a pastor having no idea that one day, out of the blue, he would challenge Pam and me to become authors. At a simple visit to the doctor’s office for a sinus infection, I was asked the question, “How long have you had high blood pressure?”
These moments changed my life quickly and unexpectedly. It was impossible at the beginning of each of these days to predict how important they were but each of them led to key decisions and sweeping adjustments in my life.
It has become part of the adventure of life for me. Today could be one of those days. Of course, today could just be another routine day of preparation getting me ready for one of those days. Either way, I want to live today with the anticipation that the next time Jesus makes a big change in my life, it will probably happen quickly.

Trust the Transformation

I recently had the privilege of meeting with a young man (I will call him Steve) who had been through a transformational moment in his life. He grew up in a Christian environment and was friendly toward Jesus. I would describe him as one of those guys who waves to Jesus. They like Jesus and they speak kindly of Him but they want to keep Him at a comfortable distance because they aren’t ready to yield to His leadership. Then it happened. He was confronted with the reality of his life and his need for a Savior. He became deeply aware of his personal inadequacies and wanted to find something better than what he had been experiencing. As God so often does, He brought along an individual at the right time to invite Steve to a Bible study and the change began.
My friend gave himself wholeheartedly to the process of growth and he discovered what he had heard others talk about. The Bible came alive for him. It seemed every time he read something, it was meant directly for him. Every story had application for his life today. Prayer began to be a conversation between him and his Savior rather than a religious exercise. His goals in life somehow shifted from self-centered pursuits to serving others.
It was clear to me that God’s hand of favor is upon this young man and that a plan is developing. This young man is being groomed for some position of influence. There is a group of people who need the kind of leadership Steve is capable of and he is being equipped to be their leader. In time, all of us who know him will understand it but right now it simply looks like enthusiasm.
For many, it will be hard to accept the legitimacy of the transformation because they remember his earlier years. I even had the opportunity to meet one of his friends and gave a short report of what was going on. His friend’s face twisted in surprise as he blurted out, “Steve? Really? I would have never expected that from him.”
People had a similar reaction to Jesus in Luke 4. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. He was a child there. He was a teenager there. He was a young man beginning his career there. Then He turned 30 and his public ministry began. “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom.” (v. 16) As part of His ministry, He read from the book of Isaiah and gave His commentary. At first, “All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.” But then they got to thinking, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (v. 22)
Unfortunately, they couldn’t get past their memory of Him as a child. Rather than recognize that Jesus had transitioned from the preparation phase to the action phase, they limited His influence in their lives.
It is a great challenge to each of us. It is hard to judge from childhood, and even the teen years, who someone will be as an adult. May god give us all the grace to trust in the transformation He does in the lives of the people we are surrounded by.

Tempted to Take Shortcuts

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are.” (Hebrews 4:15) When I first read this verse, I have to admit that I thought, That is not possible. He is God and I certainly am not. Most of my temptations seem petty and self-serving. There is no way Jesus was tempted like that.
I have since taken great comfort in the fact that my Savior is real. He knows what it is like to live a real human life with all its challenges. One of the temptations He faced that gives Him clear understanding into our lives is the temptation to follow a short cut when the full journey is necessary.
Luke 4 contains the synopsis of Jesus’ forty days of temptation in the wilderness. I am sure there were more than three instances during this time when Satan attempted to knock Jesus off stride but these three summarize the tactics and they all include a shortcut.
The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” (v. 3) Certainly Jesus was hungry but there was also a commonly held belief that the Messiah would bring something like Manna when He appeared to set Israel free. Jesus is being told, “If you turn these stones into bread, we can not only take care of your need to eat but we can announce who you really are and get on with the program.”
“The devil . . . showed him . . . all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.’” (v. 5-7) Satan had wrestled dominion over the world away from Adam in the original temptation and now He is offering it to Jesus. Jesus is being told, “I know your plan is to be the ruler of all and I know a way to give that to you without you having to go the cross. You don’t have to sacrifice yourself. I can give it to you now!” This is where the temptation to shortcut the process is clearest. Satan could have delivered on this. Jesus could legitimately have taken over as the ruler of the world but He would have been leading non-redeemed people forever. The cycle of death would go on perpetually because there would be no solution for the sin of mankind. The old nature of man would be an eternal struggle because the process of the new birth would never have been instituted. Jesus knew that the long path was the only way to fulfill the plan in this case.
“The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down from here.'” (v. 9) Satan changed his tactic at this point and said, “Okay, since you are determined to walk through the plan, how about we get the show started? If you want people to know who you are so you can become their Messiah, let’s have you jump from the top of the temple so angels can help you make a miraculous landing. After all, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Let’s go big!” Jesus could certainly have pulled this off but He knew that too much attention too soon would short-circuit His goal. It was going to take time to train His followers and establish His credentials beyond doubt.
The greatest work to ever take place on earth was going to take time. Jesus was smart enough at twelve to establish His public ministry but he waited until He was thirty. He was powerful enough at thirty to sacrifice Himself but He took three years to train His disciples so they could succeed as apostles. Shortcuts are great but they aren’t always the best way.
Lord, give us the wisdom to know when to take shortcuts in life and when to just stay the course.