God Helps Those Who Cannot Help Themselves!

Occasionally people quote a common saying and ask me where it’s found in the Bible.  I don’t enjoy being the one to tell them that what they have always believed is Biblical, really is just a repeated saying among well meaning people.  My favorite is “God will not put more trials on you than you can bear”.  It certainly sounds good, but that is not exactly what the Bible says.   I wrote a post you might read about that HERE.

Another myth people often say is “God helps those who help themselves.” I would point out the Scripture that says this, but I have not found it. In fact, I think I’m safe in saying that I haven’t found it, because it isn’t there.

While the message sounds good, we need to understand that the only thing we can do to help ourselves so that God will help us is to put our trust in Him to help us! Did I lose you on that one? God wants to help His children. God’s love causes Him to want to bless His children. The thing inside of us, which welcomes His favor, is the love He has for us and the love we have for His Son, not what we have done to help ourselves.

Moses told the Israelites once, before they went into battle, “The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)  Sometimes our job is not to “help ourselves”, but to be still before the Lord and wait on Him to work His perfect plan in our life.

Perhaps you have been trying to “help yourself” so that God would “help you”. Why not be still, do nothing, wait on the Lord, and let Him help you, in His timing and with His plan, just because you are His child?    The greatest way you can help yourself, might be to humble yourself before the God who wants to bless you. (1 Peter 5:6)

My Primary Role As A Pastor

It was a tough day. A couple weeks ago my office seemed to have a revolving door. We have so much activity and excitement in the church right now, but the normal demands of ministry have not slowed to allow margin for the extra work required of me. In the midst of administrative and managerial responsibilities I also encountered a number of hurting people. I was confronted several times with issues where another person had wronged one person and they wanted me to help them change the other person they sense was mistreating them. It has always fascinated me when people expect the pastor to enforce morals on people in order to change them.

One of the principles I have learned in life and ministry is that RULES NEVER CHANGE PEOPLE. It doesn’t matter how many you have, how strictly you enforce them, or even how loyal people are to obey them. Rules alone never change a person. Rules are often necessary to protect people and bring order to chaos, but for people to change a heart has to change. Truth impacting a person’s heart changes people, not rules. I fully realize God uses people in this process, but I believe our role is more about directing people’s attention towards Christ, than it is enforcing their behavior.

The greatest role I have as a pastor, in my opinion, is to introduce people to the life-changing message of Jesus Christ, help them learn the truths of His Word, help them become growing followers of Christ (disciples), but then allow God’s Spirit to change their heart, which will ultimately change their life.

I am praying today for more opportunities to spur hearts towards the life-changing message of Christ.

Don’t Give Up Doing Good Deeds

feet4Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 NIV

It is hard being the nice guy all the time, is it not? I have heard people ask, “Why do I always have to be the one to give?” I’ve heard that question relating to marriages, to parenting, and among friends. Sometimes it just seems that we are the only ones doing good unto others. I know that is not true, but it does feel that way at times. We sometimes start to feel that we are being taken advantage of, do we not?

Paul knew that feeling. Think of the cold nights he spent praying over the church, knowing all the while that many of them would not suffer for him as he was for them. He knew the struggles of building the first church, trying to start from nothing, while many others enjoy the freedom of “Sunday’s off”. A large portion of Paul’s letters is devoted to encouraging the believer to keep going!

May I offer you the same encouragement? Don’t give up! Keep doing the good you know you ought to do. Go the second mile in your Christian walk.  Keep serving others, even when it hurts or you feel unappreciated.  Not because everyone else is doing it, but because of the love you have for your Heavenly Father. Do it because it is the right thing to do. Do it because in the end, you will be rewarded for your faithfulness.

Though it may seem you are being taken for granted, or that no one really cares, remember that Jesus is watching. He’s keeping track and He’s building your reward accordingly. Hang in there! It will be worth it in the end!

Seeking God’s Protection and Comfort

iStock_000004677667XSmallBut you, O God, DO see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless. Psalm 10:14 NIV

The man was really just trying to be nice. The cute little boy cowered, however, into his Daddy’s shoulder…..

I remember when my son was younger, three or less, and we would be in public and a stranger would come up to take notice of the cute little blonde in my arms. The more the person would try to get my son’s attention, the more my son would hide his face in my chest. We called it shyness, but it was really a son seeking protection in his father.

Do you ever have need to seek your Father’s protection?

We see so many hardships in life. We endure struggles and heartaches and are sometimes tempted to ask, “where is God in all this?” Often we fail to recognize God in the midst of trials.

May I assure you of something? God does see trouble and grief. He is not oblivious to our pain. He is carefully watching over His children. At just the right time, God will literally take our struggles in His mighty hand and lift us up out of our pit of despair.

The Psalmist talks about the victim. Have you ever felt like a victim? Do you often feel there is nowhere to turn?  God wants to protect His children. God is looking for victims who will call upon His name.

Climb into Daddy’s lap today! Rest your weary head on His powerful shoulders! Cast your burdens upon Him, because He cares for you! Tell Daddy you love Him and trust Him with all your heart! You might even want to read the Bible together.

Tell Him a little child sent you!

Are You Feeling Unqualified For Today?

This morning, as this is posted 8 hours after it is written, I will speak to a group of Lithuanians who mostly do not speak English.  In fact, my talk will be translated into Lithuanian and Russian.  There is a part of me feeling a bit unqualified.  I am reminded of the story of Moses.

Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. Exodus 4:2 NIV

Moses had plenty of excuses. He couldn’t do what God was asking of him. He was not the right choice to carry out the mission of God. If God really wants to achieve victory….well…He’d just better pick someone else. Moses had the excuses, but God already had the plan…and it included Moses!

God said to Moses, “What is that in your hand?” Moses responded, “A staff”, but he must have looked at the staff and thought, “Well, it’s just a stick God. You’ve seen one before! After all, you made them. I just can’t walk as well now in my older years. This helps me climb over the rocks. Gee, I thought you knew what a staff was…”

Then, Moses observed God do miracles with that ole stick right before his eyes. And that was only the beginning. Moses would see God perform many other miracles with the “ole stick” in the days ahead.

Moses was not eloquent in speech. He did not command a great army. He was in exile from his people. He was not the most obvious choice to lead this great exodus from Egypt, but He was God’s man. And, Moses had everything God needed to complete the task!

You and I do too! Sometimes we may not have what we think we need to accomplish the task of the day or to get through a trial; to conquer the mountain ahead or to see victory, but God has a plan! God asks of you and I today, “What is in your hand?”

God has fully equipped us to do the work in which we are called!

If you do not have confidence in your abilities today have confidence in your Creator! He has prepared you for this day!

3 Questions To Help Answer Difficult Issues

I received a call recently from someone trying to make a difficult decision. I seem to get those kinds of questions frequently. Usually the dilemma a person is facing has no direct, easy answer and the exact answer is not always clearly spelled out in the Bible.

  • The one who has to decide whether to risk losing a friendship to do the right thing…
  • The girl who knows she is in the wrong relationship, but can’t decide whether to let it go…
  • The person who is ready to give up on their marriage…
  • The person working for a boss he or she knows is being dishonest…
  • The person who did something wrong, did not get caught, but wonders if they should confess…

You know the type….
In fact you’ve probably been there…

Usually I do not give the person an answer; either because I do not know the right answer or because I have learned that even if I did he or she might resent the answer I give them. (I wrote a post about that principle HERE) Even though they have asked for my opinion, the person needs to own the decision they make, based on what is in their heart and their personal inclination. I can and will share truth with them, but the reality is that I cannot effectively lead people where they do not want to go.

Through years of counseling I have landed on the following three questions that have proven helpful to give people as a framework to use when working with these type decisions. Often these questions will guide an individual towards the best decision personally without pressure from me. They are more likely to follow a decision they reached on their own.

What can you do?

God’s grace is amazing. Even when we make a wrong decision, God works all things for good. (Proverbs 16:9) When a person understands this truth they actually are more open to making the wisest decision. The kindness of God does lead to repentance.

What should you do?

This is obviously a more difficult question. With this question the person is forced to consider the issue of right and wrong. They should think through this concerning what God would have them to do and what would be best in the short-term and long-term for all parties involved. The separation between the first two questions often helps people work through the correct answer for their situation.

What will you do?

This is the biggest question, because it forces the person to consider making the best decision as opposed to the popular, comfortable or easy decision. When a person answers this question it helps them develop a resolve in their heart to carry through on their commitment.

I give these questions to people and usually let them work through them on their own, at least at first. If they need to talk through them I will do that after they have wrestled to answer them personally at first.

Have you had times when you had to make a difficult decision and could not decide what to do? How did you solve your dilemma?

Walking The Talk of Authentic Christianity

I love this teaching Jesus did for the disciples, especially in the Message Version.

Now Jesus turned to address his disciples, along with the crowd that had gathered with them. The religion scholars and Pharisees are competent teachers in God’s Law. You won’t go wrong in following their teachings on Moses. But be careful about following them. They talk a good line, but they don’t live it. They don’t take it into their hearts and live it out in their behavior. It’s all spit-and-polish veneer. Matthew 23:1-3 The Message Version

I do not know about others, but I want to see authentic Christianity lived out in the lives of others. I do not want to follow someone who teaches God’s Word, but does not live it out in his or her personal life. Jesus seems to say here that some people talk a good talk, but they do not really “get it” in their hearts. They know all the right verbiage, but their actions do not mirror what they say.

One example is how we may teach a Gospel of love, but then we spew so much hate out in the way we treat others. It is okay to denounce sin, in fact we should, but when the sinners who practice the sin we are denouncing do not believe that we love them, then I am not sure people hear our message, because they cannot get past what they see as condemnation.

Jesus had a way of building a relationship with sinners, without condemning them, giving them an example of holiness, but fully convincing them that He loved and cared for them as individuals. He is the guy I want to follow as my example.

How about you?  Do you long to see authentic Christianity?

Dealing With Negativity In the Church

One of the most frustrating things I know about being a pastor is the number of people who are negative about everything.  Thankfully I am in a great church and most of our negativity comes from outside our church, but I talk with pastors every week who tell me that groups of people are always negative about something they are doing.

Jesus taught His disciples how to build the church. The chief goal would be to love people no one else loved, even when they were not very lovely.  We have tried to plant a church with that philosophy.  Along the way we have discovered what Jesus experienced in working with religious leaders in His day. (See Matthew 16:5-12)  When a church reaches genuinely hurting people or when people in the church lead messy lives, the complainers will rise up, mostly among the most religious of people, and when these type people talk, their negative energy (yeast) spreads fast.

I have often told our staff that our ultimate goal is the same as every Bible-believing church in town. We are trying to help people grow to know Jesus and be more like Him.  Churches tend to try different methods, some work and some don’t, and sometimes churches can get more passionate about those methods than about the work the church is called to do, but the goal of the heart of any believer should be the same.  With that in mind, how do we respond to those who choose to complain and remain negative towards our own methods of trying to build Christ followers?

What do you do with negativity towards the mission God has called you to?

  • Be on guard against negative talk. Ask yourself if what they are saying line up with truth. Is it true?  If not, dismiss it.
  • Learn when necessary.  We should not refuse to listen to any criticism. There is an element of truth in most criticism, even among things you need to ultimately dismiss.
  • Surround yourself with the right people.  Some people are negative about everything and never encourage. Find people who can encourage you to walk closer to Christ.
  • Remember negative people spread things about others too.  It often helps me reconcile what a negative person says about me when I realize they are always spreading something negative.  If it were not me being criticized, it would be their next victim.  Do not give as much attention to the consistently negative person. Sometimes we tend to give them the most attention.  The only way you will ever shut down the person who is always negative is to refuse to give them an audience for their negativity.  The fact is that if they are given a continued voice they will bring people into their negativity.  If the same attention is placed on people who are a positive influence then they will bring people along into positivity.
  • Remind yourself of truth.  Ultimately you are looking for truth, not one person’s opinion on truth.
  • Confront untruth. You do not have to go on a witch-hunt for untruth, but you should try to stop the spread of falsities if you hear them being repeated or told to you.
  • Be truthful and positive around others. Decide that you will always be a positive influence. Don’t repeat untruths and avoid being a hypercritical person.   Look for the good in situations. A positive attitude is equally contagious.

What ways do you have to deal with negative people?

The Opportunities From The Fall of Pastor Gary Lamb

I am still somewhat numb over the news and buzz over the fall of Pastor Gary Lamb.  In my previous post I addressed some of these issues, but with the news continuing to dominate many of the blogs I read I decided to address the issue again.  Obviously this is a far more public failure because Gary blogged about it personally and the Internet and social media participation is much larger now than in the past.

I am especially bummed by some of the comments and views I am reading on other posts about this issue. Some people have decided that Pastor Lamb’s situation provides an opportunity to bash him and every church structured like his church.  (For an example, read the comments on Monday Morning Insight’s post about this issue.)  While this is well meaning for the most part, I frankly feel that when a situation like this occurs and gets such public attention that it provides opportunities we did not previously have to do something positive for the Kingdom.

Here are some Kingdom-building opportunities for the church to consider:

  • It gives us the opportunity to show the world how the church treats people who are in sin.  Jesus showed us how He treats sinners in John 8.  We now have that same chance.  Sadly, based on the comments I see from pastors and others on various blog posts, I am not sure we are painting the same picture Jesus did.  And yet we wonder why hurting people do not look to the church as their first place of hope in hurting times.
  • It gives us the opportunity to build or rebuild accountability into our lives and in the life of our church.  Every pastor and minister should be asking if this could happen to him or her with his or her current system, or lack thereof, of accountability.  As I said in my previous post, I know too many pastors who see nothing wrong with being alone with other staff members of the opposite sex.   Hello?
  • It gives us the opportunity to check our own hearts and marriages individually.  If a married person does not seriously take a look at where their own marriage is after reading this story, I would question the sincerity of keeping their marriage strong.
  • It gives us the opportunity to help at least two families rebuild their marriage. Is there a better way to model for married couples outside the church that are in distress that with God’s grace and strength a marriage can be restored than to witness it with one of our own?  I hope the restoration of these marriages gets as much attention as the failure in the marriages has received.
  • It gives us the opportunity to demonstrate grace and restoration of a fallen soldier.  Regardless of one’s take on Pastor Gary Lamb’s qualification for the pastorate or his style of ministry, few can question the impact he has had on so many people’s lives or the passion he has displayed for Christ.  I cannot help but think that produces overall good for the body.  Granted we all need to be checked at times to make sure we are walking in complete truth, and that time is obviously now for Pastor Lamb, but how effective could he be if he is restored, mentored, and sent back out to invest that renewed passion for the Kingdom’s good?  (I believe the body of Christ was questioning the effectiveness of Paul at one point, yet God used his failures in powerful ways.)

Could this be one of those opportunities where God can work all things for good?  Could we place all the negative energies some have towards Gary Lamb  towards praying that God gets glory here and that lives are drawn to Him through this failure?

NOTE: In times like this we should certainly all get refocussed on truth.  To help with this, read the series of devotionals I am posting this week beginning with this one HERE.)

Exciting Series of Devotionals

I am excited about a new series of devotionals, which begins tomorrow and runs for 7 days.  Check back each afternoon for the next week and let’s be encouraged together about the power and strength of our relationship with Christ.  I believe these teachings can be helpful if you:

  • Are struggling to discern God’s voice.
  • Are going through a difficult period in life.
  • Can’t seem to find your way right now.
  • Need to grow in your trust of God.
  • Just want some encouragement.

If any of these match something in your life then check back each afternoon beginning tomorrow.

Feel free to answer this question now: What are you trusting and asking God to do in your life right now?