The Command: Do Not Be Afraid

I command you…be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9

As I read the Scripture, I see little room for the follower of Christ to be afraid (except for the fear of God).

Perplexed; yes. Confused; sometimes. Overwhelmed; often. Angry; when necessary. Distressed; possibly.

Yes, I fully agree, just the fact that the command is there does not mean we will always follow it. Quite the contrary; I have been afraid many times. I fight the worry battle like all the rest. Wasn’t it David, the man after God’s own heart, who said that “when I am afraid, I will trust in you”? Sounds like he may have struggled with fear also.

Still, the Bible is consistent, and it consistently reminds us not to allow fear to captivate our lives. Obviously, when God first gave this command to Joshua, being an all knowing God, He knew that Joshua was about to encounter some pretty scary days. No doubt the enemies of Joshua had ample opportunity to attempt to make him squirm.

Today God knows there will be times that cause fear to be our primary emotion. He sees the trouble before it comes. It was He who MADE the disciples get into the boat and face the raging sea. It is He who allows the storms in our lives to come.

God knows there is plenty in life to make us afraid. Still, the challenge remains, and the command remains to not be afraid! And, in those moments, God know we will need to rely on His strength being perfect when our strength is none.

How are you doing these days obeying the command of God to not be afraid?

Call on the Lord today and ask Him to help you overcome your fears!

Knowing When to Criticize

You see things you don’t agree with all the time:

    • The service at the restaurant was poor…
    • The way someone lives their life bothers you…
    • The leadership in a community isn’t what you’d hope for…
    • The pastor says something you didn’t agree with…
    • The next door neighbor gets on your nerves…again…

When do you criticize and when do you let it go?

That’s always a dilemma. We don’t want to be seen as critical, but not saying something may enable bad behavior.

I wouldn’t say it’s never right to criticize. I hope if I’m making major mistakes in my life I have friends who think beyond “To each his own” and step in to help me. The best-received criticism, in my opinion comes from a pre-established relationship with another person. How do we know though when to criticize and when to keep our mouth shut?

Here are a few suggestions of when to criticize:

  • When the offense is continual…
  • When it impacts more people than you…
  • When your conscience won’t let you move past it…
  • When you’re assigned a role to suggest improvement (mentor, supervisor, teacher)
  • When it’s against the law…
  • When it violates God’s written Word…

What else would you add to my list of reasons?

Even still, the way one criticizes often determines how well it is perceived. 

Remember: What you sow determines what you reap. If you pile criticism on to others, without legitimate reasons for doing so, you can probably expect to receive undue criticism in return. We shouldn’t avoid giving or receiving criticism, but we need to learn when and how to deliver it.

Question: Would a post on how to offer criticism be helpful?

(I’ve previously written how to respond to criticism and how not to HERE and HERE.)

I like history, but…

I like history and think we can and should learn from it…

But…

I want my best energy focused on where I’m going, not where I’ve been…

On things I can change, not on things I can’t…

Towards issues of faith, more than issues that have been forgiven…

On the tree I’m planting more than the one that fell…

Building new dreams more than dwelling on regrets…

What about you?

Are you spending more time dwelling on the past or working towards a brighter future?

Be honest.

Getting Gut Honest with God

I love the story in Judges 6 where God called Gideon to save the Israelites from the land of Midian. Gideon was the weakest of his clan from the weakest clan, yet God chose to use him for a powerful leadership role for God’s people. You might read the story again HERE.

Consider a small part of Gideon’s conversation with angel of the Lord:

(I’ve embellished the story a bit to illustrate the way I view the story. My embellishment is in parenthesis.)

“The Lord is with you, O mighty man of valor”

“Well, please sir…(I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but) if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? …

…And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us…”

Imagine the scene. An angel shows up, which was usually a pretty scary part of the story, but instead of reacting in surprise, Gideon respectfully questions where God has been lately. He’s not disrespectful, but he is gut honest with the concerns he has with God.

Do you ever wonder where God is when life seems to be falling apart?

Do you ever question God’s involvement when He seems to be nowhere around?

Do you ever think things may never improve?

Gideon had those type questions, and he didn’t cover them up with phony praise, he let his concerns be known.

Yet God’s angel didn’t curse Gideon. Instead, God used Gideon, in spite of his doubts and fears.

“The Lord said to him, but I will be with you…” Judges 6:16 God simply pointed Gideon back to the faith he originally had in Him. That was not the end of Gideon’s fear or questioning, but it was the beginning of his journey back to complete faith.

Perhaps instead of continuing in our own doubts and fears, you and I should get gut honest with God. Maybe we should tell Him how we really feel. I’m not suggesting we become flippant towards a Holy God. That’s never a good idea. I’m suggesting we be honest with the God who already knows our heart and allow Him to restore our faith and strengthen us for the journey ahead. That often begins when we become real with God with who we are, who we are not, and who He is.

God uses people who are willing to humbly surrender their insufficiencies; their doubts and fears, to His sufficiency.

By the way, He knows your heart because He made your heart.

How are you at being honest with God?

3 Reasons We Need the Church

I was recently asked by someone in our church:

What’s the importance of church?

I have been frequently told, “Why do I need to attend church? I can worship God anywhere.”

And, part of that is true. In fact, the entire purpose of creation is to glorify God…to worship. The idea, however that we don’t need church is in error.

Here are 3 reasons you need the church:

We are designed for fellowship – God designed us in His relational image. We are to love one another. Church was designed for that purpose. The Bible says we are to bear with one another and even encourages us to meet together (Hebrews 10:24). Part of our maturing as followers of Christ is to gather frequently with other believers. The best term I know for when that happens is church.

We need each other – In addition to caring for one another, we are commanded to look out for one another’s spiritual we’ll-being. (Galatians 6) We draw strength from each other. The church is a body of believers designed to work together to make each member and the whole body stronger. When we meet together , and fellowship with each other, we learn each other, observe each other and challenge and encourage each other. Iron really does sharpen iron. God intended it to be that way. If you don’t need help now you may feel you don’t need the church, but God may want you there to help others. One day the person needing accountability and strengthening will be you.

We are God’s children – Until my boys left home, and one of them got married, I never realized how much I would miss them when they were gone. I’ve also learned how much I enjoy when we are all together again. Each Christmas night we have a family tradition. We go to Waffle House. This year the 5 of us laughed and talked and celebrated the best part of my Christmas. When all the children were together again. God loves when His children get together. We get to do that on Sundays, all around the world. We call it church.

That’s part of my reasoning.

Be honest, do you look forward to church or does it feel like an obligation? What’s your reasoning? 

4 Principles Learned from the Book of Esther

I love the story of Esther. If you haven’t read it lately, you can do so HERE.

Here are the four principles I’ve observed from the story of Esther.

1. God has a special plan for your life.

Esther was placed in a royal position, not by chance, but for a purpose.

One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 16:9, “In his heart a man plan’s his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” God didn’t make a mistake where He has you today. I think we spend too long in our life trying to figure out where God wants us to be or wishing we were somewhere else, instead of just allowing God to do something with our life where we are, while waiting for more to come.

2. Sometimes you will have to go against common sense, against what others advise, even against what you want to do in order to follow God’s plan.

Esther would have to approach the king, though she didn’t have permission. This could have meant certain and sudden death for her since it was even against the law to approach the king. Esther’s response: “If I perish, I perish!”

Sometimes God’s will makes perfect sense, as you examine your experience. (I wrote about that HERE.) That doesn’t mean, however, that you won’t be required to take risks for God. The best things in life often come with the greatest risks. The degree of difficulty is not an indication that God is not in it. In fact, the opposite would be closer to truth.

3. The time to follow God’s plan is now.

I find Esther 4:14 interesting. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

We mostly consider that last part of the verse, but notice the “Who knows?” It’s a question. They weren’t sure. They knew she was in the position as queen. She had opportunity to see the King. They knew God wanted to save the people. They knew for whatever reason Esther had been made aware of the plan. But did they know for sure that’s what Esther was supposed to do? Apparently not! They went without being 100% certain. Who knows?

There will be times in your life when you’ve gathered all the information you can, you’ve prayed as well as you know how, you’ve sought Godly counsel; whatever you are doing is not sinful…but there is something inside of you that’s still not sure. You can sleep on it. That’s something I always do. Esther waited 3 days, but at some point you just have to muster the courage to move forward. Without all the answers, are you ready to step out and walk by faith? Don’t be afraid to allow God to determine the outcome.

4. Trusting in God completely brings great rewards.

Esther 8:17 In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.

Esther saved a nation. Her obedience saved God’s people from destruction! The reward for obedience was even better than expected. Esther went before the king prepared for the worst case scenario…she got the very best! Many people became followers of God! The people were inspired by the faith of one woman and one man that everything changed in that nation.

It will always prove profitable in the long run to obey God. When others see us living in radical obedience; obedience that makes no sense, they’ll want some of what we have. The world around you is looking for answers; trying to figure out how to make life work. We may not have all the answers, but we know about a God who does.

When was the last time you asked, God what do You want to do through my life? Are you ready to walk by faith?

Addressing the Loneliness of a Pastor

Pastoring can be lonely. As a pastor, I’m supposed to find my strength in Christ, (and you have to know how helpful that is to be reminded as if those who are not pastors are not commanded to do likewise :) ) and I do seek Christ as my ultimate strength. I teach the Bible regularly, however, that says we are to “bear with one another”. God didn’t design us to do life alone. That goes for pastors also.

From my experience, those in ministry leadership have been some of the loneliest people I’ve known. I hear from them everyday.

I was talking with a young pastor recently. He said, “Who is going to invest in me?” I understand the sentiment. He is struggling for answers he can’t seem to find; practical answers. People are looking to him for leadership and seminary didn’t teach him all he needs to know. I think every good leader asks that at same question; hopefully often.

Later that week I talked to an older pastor. He said, “I go home most days and haven’t heard a single positive. Things are going great. We are growing faster than ever, but it seems I get far more of the negatives than I get to hear of the good we are doing.” All I could do was agree. I’ve felt that way before many times.

When the weight of ministry responsibility appears to rest on your shoulder…when everyone looks to you for the answer…when some days you don’t know which direction to turn…when you are balancing the demands of ministry and family…when you are seen as a key in helping everyone with a problem hold their life together…yet you feel no one is concerned about your personal struggles…and you don’t know who to trust…

Remember God’s words of encouragements:

Cast your cares upon the Lord because He cares for you.

Yes, that is the first answer.

Next, find a mentor; someone who is walking further down the road from you, but going in the direction you want to go. I’ve written extensively about this, but you can start HERE.

And then regularly:

1. Surround yourself with a few pastors at the same level you are organizationally. (If it’s a pastor, youth minister, etc.) It seems to work best if the churches are similar in size and structure. They’ll best understand.

2. Work to develop a close enough relationship with them, over time, where you can trust them. You may have to spend some of your free time and even travel to do this. Learn from each other, seek wisdom from more seasoned people together, and grow together in the ministry.

3. Consistently share burdens, concerns, and encouragements with each other. You can do this occasionally in person, but more frequently over the phone or online. Chances are, they need this as much as you do, so be the one to take the initiative.

I hear what some pastors are thinking, because it has been said to me so many times. You often think those groups aren’t there for you. You’ve tried before and couldn’t find them. I would say:

  • Keep trying. It’s worth it.
  • Treat this like any other friendship. It takes commitment and has to be a balance of give and take.
  • Be willing to be vulnerable.
  • Risk the rejection to extend an offer for friendship.
  • Use social media, denominational leadership, recommendations from others to find these pastors…whatever if necessary. (This has been one of the greatest benefits of social media for me, by the way.)

Some of these relationships I have had to develop outside my own city. I’ve found they are valuable enough to justify the time and financial investment required.

Pastor, help other pastors by commenting with how you handle the loneliness of leadership. 

What about it pastor? Are you struggling today? What are you going to do about it?