Love the Lord or the Law?

Paul had grown up in the home of a Pharisee, under strict adherence to the Law of Moses. The term Pharisee once represented genuine piety and deep devotion to God. We can assume that all followers of God would have a similar devotion for God. Look around at the Christians you know. How would you define what a follower of Jesus really looks like? Perhaps your list might look something like this:

  1. Careful student of Scripture
  2. Zealous and active in their stand for God
  3. Appetite for worship and prayer
  4. Consistent in worship attendance
  5. Practices Scripture memorization
  6. Not afraid to pray in public
  7. Active in the local church
  8. Fasts and tithes regularly
  9. Has desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness
  10. Has firm grasp of basic foundational theological truth

For a long time I thought this is what would honor God and help me become more like Jesus. But look again; these behaviors are not of Jesus’ disciples, but of His chief opponents, the Pharisees. Just something to think about.

While there are exceptions, by the time of the New Testament it appears that the Pharisees become synonymous with hypocrisy and cynicism. In Matthew 23, Jesus gets into a name-calling argument with the Pharisees.

  1. They made demands on others that they could not themselves keep (Matthew 23:4)
  2. They made their religious actions something into a show for others (Matthew 23:5)
  3. They loved to be at the center of attention (Matthew 23:6)
  4. They not only would not enter the kingdom of God but were preventing others from entering (Matthew 23:13)

I suppose what they really did was take the love out of obedience, which left only the Law. They became so obsessed with following the Law that they forgot to love God, and others. They choked on each letter of the Law, and God had something to say about them, Isaiah 29:13 for example: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is made up of only rules taught by men.”

Let’s check our motivation for following Christ. Let’s make sure that we follow Him out of love for God and not the reward from God, or simply to be obedient. Paul was a Pharisee, but he was far from God. Let’s not make the same mistake of having a head full of religion and a heart that is missing genuine love for God.

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When You Lose Your Way

Life can be hard, no denying that fact. We work all day, try to be a faithful and loving husband and good and nurturing father, a good employee or boss, a good neighbor and friend, a man of integrity… you try to catch a break every once in a while but then life still falls apart. We eventually ask a similar question as the disciples regarding the blind man, “Who sinned, him or his parents, that caused him to be born blind?” (John 9:2). What did I do to deserve this?

At times we feel as if God is out to get us. Why is that? Why do we not recognize that God is actually the one holding our lives together and the outright assault on our lives is really from our adversary and enemy (who is like a roaring lion ready to devour – 1 Peter 5:8)?

I listen to K-Love radio (when Bethany is in the car, 90.7 fm in Va Beach) and Toby Mac has a recent song with great lyrics (as usual):

You turned away when I looked you in the eye,
And hesitated when I asked if you were alright,
Seems like you’re fighting for your life, but why? Oh why?

Have we been there? Don’t turn away when someone reaches out to you. Remember that no man is an island. How often do we get asked the question, “How are you?” and we casually reply, “Fine” or “Good” or some other meaningless phrase that intends to dodge our hurting or the burning issues in our lives? The church is a community of believers who gather together not because we have it all together, but because we don’t. We gather to bleed together, and share each other’s burdens and pain (Galatians 6:2).

Wide awake in the middle of your nightmare,
You saw it comin’ but it hit you outta no where,
And there’s always scars, when you fall that far.

I love that phrase, there are “always scars when you fall that far.” Each of us has a past we are not proud of, and what I get from this song is just when you think you’re ready to stand, life comes out of nowhere to dash your hopes, dreams and plans. When it happens often enough, scars form, but scars are not always bad. They can remind us of where we have been, keep us from going there again, and help us to be thankful for the intervention that Jesus did in our lives (Romans 5:8, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Galatians 2:20).

We lose our way, we get back up again
It’s never too late to get back up again,
One day you gonna shine again,
You may be knocked down, but not out forever.

We all can get sidetracked and lose our way. We start each day with the greatest of intentions, like living pure lives, showing kindness to our wife, demonstrating more joy as we spend time with our kids, but then (as the Nationwide commercial tells us) life comes at you fast. Remember it is never too late to get back up and do the right and godly thing (1 Corinthians 10:12, Ephesians 6:11, Colossians 1:23, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, James 4:6). The call of Christ is to stand firm!

You rolled out at the dawning of the day.
Heart racin’ as you made your little get away,
It feels like you been runnin’ all your life but, why? Oh why?

You pulled away from the love that would’ve been there,
You start believin’ that your situation’s unfair
But there’s always scars, when you fall that far.

To love is to risk (John 3:16, 15:13, 1 John 3:16, Romans 5:8). We become vulnerable whenever we open up to another person or even to our wife. Perhaps we choose not to hurt today and we close up to those around us. We “pull away from the love that would have been there.” But if we never risk, we will never feel the joy of solid friendships and a rewarding marriage. Don’t pull away or feel that life is unfair or regret past decisions. Risk, open up, and become vulnerable, because it really is worth it.

Sometimes we lose our way due to a conscious decision. James tells us that we will give in to sin due to being tempted by our own lust, which gives birth to sin, which then brings death (James 1:14, 15). We know the darkness that dwells deep within. Don’t be tempted. Flee immorality. Seek to live a life of integrity at all times.

Sometimes we do all the right things and life still may get the best of us, but continue to stand firm. Remain strong, and steadfast, under submission to God, allow the Spirit to guide you in the way you should go (Proverbs 3:5-6). As always, when you lose your way… get back up again.

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Elements of Trust

I enjoy reading blogs on a variety of topics, and I found some information on leadership worth passing on (from George Ambler). In the May edition of the Ignite! Newsletter published by The Ken Blanchard Companies (Blanchard is the One Minute Manager and Lead Like Jesus guy) is an interesting article on trust. The article discuses the ABCD Trust Model from Cynthia Olmstead, founder and president of TrustWorks Group, Inc. which highlights the following four elements of trust:

  1. Able: demonstrates competence, expertise, experience, and capability in getting the desired results accomplished.
  2. Believable: walks the talk of a core set of values, demonstrates honesty, and uses fair, equitable practices.
  3. Connected: interacts with staff, communicates and shares relevant information, provides praise, and gives recognition.
  4. Dependable: is accountable, takes responsibility for own actions, and consistently follows up.

We are well aware that trust is the foundation of all effective leadership, however trust does not just happen. It’s something that a leader must consciously and constantly develop. When it comes to developing trust, actions matter! Cynthia Olmstead goes on to explain that “…people need to see trust in action more that they need to hear about it.” It’s only as leader’s act in a trustworthy manner, by example that trust is developed.

The Bible has plenty to say about trust, too:

  1. Many began to trust in Jesus (John 2:23 NLT)
  2. Put your trust in the light while there’s time (John 12:36 NLT)
  3. Trust in God… trust also in Christ (John 14:1 NLT)
  4. Anyone who trusts in him will not be disgraced (Romans 9:33, 10:11 NLT)
  5. Trust in God’s power (1 Corinthians 2:5 NLT)
  6. God trusted Timothy and appointed him for service (1 Timothy 1:12 NLT)
  7. Trust in God, not the world (1 Timothy 6:17 NLT)
  8. We don’t see yet still trust (1 Peter 1:8 NLT)
  9. The reward for trusting is our salvation (1 Peter 1:9 NLT)
  10. Trust your lives to the God who created you (1 Peter 4:19 NLT) because he will never fail you

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Teaching Values to Our Kids

Did you know that parents are the most valuable tool when it comes to teaching values to children? I used to think that the way you taught values was to sit your kids down and talk to them about values. But I was wrong. Our children constantly see us living out our values and they learn their values from us whether we want them to or not!

As missionaries in Zambia, Kim, Stephen and I took a trip to Harare, Zimbabwe for a little holiday. It used to be a great place to enjoy a nicer restaurant, catch a movie, visit a game park, stuff like that. It was good to get away together as a family. One day we saw that a sequel to a movie we enjoyed in the States came to a downtown theatre. It was Disney’s White Fang 2, and we saw the rating was PG-13, for some unreasonable African reason. In a moment of weakness and selfishness, we lied about Stephen’s age (he was 11 at the time). Our rationalization was that it was a Disney film and we knew better. You know what? I taught more about values in that single action than in all of our father-son chats through the years. I grieved the situation later that day, and even today called Stephen to apologize for that poor example of integrity.

As parents we must get our own values right and then live by those values, because our children will quickly learn our values in action. How does it happen? They learn the value of prayer when they see you kneeling in prayer instead of coming apart at the seams when you face a crisis. They learn the value of fidelity when they see their parents remain faithful to each other even in tough times. They learn the value of honesty by seeing their parents remain honest even in the tough times. Parents are the tools of God to teach values to children. So live wisely – you’re being watched!

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Integrity in the Workplace

Men, we spend a lot of our time at work. This news is not all that alarming, because I read that 10 out of 10 men are trying to discover ways to balance home and work responsibilities. I’m not too sure that many men come to the end of this life and confess that they wish they had spent more time at the office. Check out these haunting lyrics from a band called 33 Miles:

He never thought he cared so much about the minute hand until he started praying for a second chance.
If he could only do it all again he’d trade the long nights that he spent behind his desk for all he missed.
He tells his wife “I wish that this moment in this room was not me dying, but just spending a little time with you.”

Chorus:
You only get just one time around.
You only get one shot at this.
One chance, to find out
The one thing that you don’t wanna miss.
One day when it’s all said and done
I hope you see that it was enough, this
One ride, one try, one life to love….

She never thought she cared so much about those little hands that held on tight the day she left, ’til she was scared to death.
Sitting all alone on a hotel bed, the end of the road, the sun had set on her big plans to feel young again,
She picks up the phone, dials the number, hears that little voice that’s haunted every single mile since she made that choice.

We all want to be right with God and others, so take a look at this verse from Psalm 15:

“LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” (Ps 15:1).

What is it like in the marketplace of America? I discovered that in February 2001 Sales and Marketing magazine did a survey and found that among those surveyed:

  • 58% cheat on expense reports
  • 50% work a second job on company time
  • 36% rush closed deals through accounting before they were really closed
  • 22% list a “strip bar” as a restaurant on an expense report
  • 19% give a kickback to a customer

If Psalm 15 were the core value of every business plan and purpose statement and reviewed with every employee before hiring, the workplace would be a very different place. What type of person can live in the presence of God? Take a look at what each verse of Psalm 15:1, 2, 3, 4, 5 has to tell us.

David will bless God with heart-felt worship (Psalm 15:1). He recognizes that worship is not just good for others, but even for the king. As the man of your house, what sort of example are you setting for your wife and children? Do they see that entrance into God’s presence each week (corporately) and each day (privately or with family) is the ultimate priority in your life?

I like to use the phrase, “a holy walk” when it comes to this man’s integrity. As a man goes through life, his actions (the way he lives) are different, or set apart, from those in the world around him (Psalm 15:2). He keeps his promises (Psalm 15:4)

This man also uses honest words, and speaks the truth, which come from his heart, rather than using flattering or even slanderous speech (Psalm 15:2, 3). We see in this psalm that the man after God’s own heart speaks the truth in his heart, I see this as honesty with his secret words (Psalm 15:2b). He also is full of integrity with his spoken words (Psalm 15:3a).

We also see this man is involved in hard work for the Kingdom of God; the psalmist gets specific in that he “works righteousness.” This guy does what is right, even when it’s unpopular and all others around him are compromising (Psalm 15:2).

And David will bless God with his honoring ways (Psalm 15:5). He lends differently than the oppressors in town, he doesn’t make decisions based on what he can get out of it but on the criteria of whether is it right. He makes the tough call that honors God and builds up people. This man does not take a bribe nor does he look for the short cut.

The promise in this psalm is well worth it, “He who does these things will never be shaken” (Psalm 15:5).

So, ask yourself:

  • Are you blameless in your approach to your work life?
  • Are you truthful in all your dealings?
  • Do you treat customers, vendors and fellow employees as your neighbor?
  • Do you say what you do truthfully and do what you say?
  • Do you follow through even if the outcome may not be positive?
  • Will you lend money without interest to a friend and refuse to take a bribe?
  • Are you passionate about the Kingdom of God and seeking His righteousness (Matthew 6:33)?

If you can say “yes” to these questions, then you are a “Psalm 15 Man” and can live with and abide in God.

Pray that God makes this psalm a part of your life and begin to ask God to show you how to live out this psalm in all you do.

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Answering God's First Question

God called to Adam and asked him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9) and here’s how the first man answered the first question that God had asked him: “I heard… I was afraid… I was naked… I hid.” (Genesis 3:10).

Most men don’t like open confrontation. I have known some physically big and powerful men who were afraid to go home to their five-foot-two-inch wife because they knew they would be facing a confrontation with her the minute they walked in the door.

Many men come across to their wives and children as being fearless, but the fact is, men are very afraid of themselves and of being confronted with who they really are. We know what is deep down inside. Men rarely face themselves because they really don’t know who they are or where they are—and I think they are afraid that somebody might discover the darkness that they secretly know is inside them.

Men tend to talk very easily about things that don’t really matter; seems most of us clam up when the talk turns to the things that matter the most. So we hide.

Here is the nature of relationships: you can’t have a relationship with someone if you are hiding from them.

  • Not a relationship with God.
  • Not a relationship with your wife.
  • Not a relationship with your child.
  • Not a relationship with the guy who stands next to you in the church service.

Relationships are built when we stop hiding and honestly face ourselves, and then allow ourselves to become vulnerable and open with other men. It doesn’t happen in a large group like a church service, but in small groups. That is why our small group ministry is so important.

A man sometimes acts as if he can’t hear, or as if he hasn’t heard, but the fact is, he heard—he what was said but just didn’t like what he heard.

  • He heard his wife when she said she needed more time, attention, or consideration.
  • He heard his kids when they complained that Dad wasn’t around very much.
  • He heard his daughter when she said, “I love you, Daddy,” and he heard her sigh when Daddy didn’t say anything back.

He ran and hid emotionally because he didn’t know how to give to other people what they needed. It is a cruel fact of life that we cannot pass on that which we do not possess: not leadership, compassion, integrity, confidence, love or peace.

A man who is afraid and doesn’t know what to do is a man who feels exposed, naked if you will. He will go to great lengths to hide himself…

  • To bury himself in his work
  • To get involved in an affair that doesn’t require any vulnerability on his part
  • To put up a brick-wall facade around his heart to hide his true emotions.

So men end up afraid, frustrated, whimpering inside, locked up, and impotent. And all the while, they are doing everything they can to cover up their inner feelings and emotional inadequacies.

Truth requires that you open up and share who your really are and where you really are. It requires an honest answer to God’s question, “Where are you?” rather than an excuse rooted in our own fear.

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How Can I Encourage Others?

Believing in people before they have proved themselves is the key to motivating people to reach their potential. Everyone loves encouragement; to have others believe the best about you and your abilities.

Here are four facts about having faith in another person:

  1. Most people don’t have faith in themselves. Many believe they will fail; the light at the end of the tunnel is a train. With even a little faith, anyone can do remarkable things.
  2. Most people don’t have someone who has faith in them. People today are isolated; they don’t get support at home or from their boss. Ninety percent of inmates where told they will never amount to anything and will end up in jail. Even those closest to them do not believe in them.
  3. Most people can tell when someone else has faith in them. Our goal should not be to get people to think more highly of us, but to get others to think more highly of themselves. People can tell when we genuinely trust and believe in another person.
  4. Most people will do anything to live up to your faith in them. People will rise or fall to the level of expectation you set for them. If you express skepticism and doubt, they will return your lack of confidence with mediocrity. People thrive around those who have confidence in them.

How can you become a believer in people? We must believe in them and express that belief!

  1. Believe in them before they succeed. Everyone loves a winner, so it’s tough to believe in someone before they have proven themselves. Every person has seeds of greatness within them, so when you believe in someone you allow those seeds to grow.
  2. Emphasize their strengths. Leaders don’t have to exercise their authority and point out the deficiencies of others. Motivate others to see their potential and to focus on their strengths. Give others the power to succeed. Praise them publicly and privately for a job well done.
  3. List their past successes. Knowing their strengths may not be enough, so listing past successes reminds them of their potential. King David looked back on his successes and had confidence in the future (1 Samuel 17:33-37).
  4. Instill confidence when they fail. When people fail they have two choices: give in or go on. Some people are resilient and can get going, others are not that determined. Give them a push and inspire confidence. We can share our own failures to build their confidence, too. Success is a journey, not a destination. Babe Ruth said that we should never let the fear of striking out get in the way.
  5. Experience some wins together. If you have the will to win, you’re halfway to success, if not, you’re halfway to failure. Work with people and allow them to experience smaller victories. Then hand over more difficult challenges.
  6. Visualize their future success. A person can live 40 days without food, four days without water, four minutes without air, but only four seconds without hope. When you cast a vision, you paint a picture of their success.
  7. Expect a new level of living. We all live under the same sky but we all don’t see the same horizon. Have faith in people, dream big dreams, and expand horizons. Putting faith in others involves risk.

This is a continuation of REAL Leadership, material from John Maxwell’s Leadership 101.

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Help Your Kids Pick Good Friends

I was reading the Lifeway magazine “Living with Teenagers” (Feb 2009) and it’s full of great information this month. One article on finding friends I find exceptionally noteworthy today:

 

Your teenager may have a couple hundred friends on his Facebook page, but how does s/he find real friends? How can parents help?

 

  • Reflect on your own friends when you were a teen.
  • Understand it takes some time.
  • Get to know your teenager’s friends and pray for them.
  • Help them to see that God is relational and created us to connect with others (Matthew 22:37-39).
  • Help them think through the qualities of a good friend; perhaps define the word “friend.”
  • Share examples of poor friends:
    • Shallow friends (Proverbs 18:24),
    • Foolish friends (Proverbs 13:20, Proverbs 14:17),
    • Mean girls – and boys (Proverbs 12:26),
    • Gossiping friends (Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 20:19),
    • Volatile friends (Proverbs 22:24-25),
    • Fair weather friends (Proverbs 17:17).

 

Measure how good a friend you are (each question is worth 10 points):

 

  1. ____ I haven’t passed on any gossip this week; I keep things to myself.
  2. ____ I am a good listener; I make eye contact and ask follow-up questions.
  3. ____ I am even-tempered; I don’t explode or withdraw when upset.
  4. ____ I am happy for people, not threatened, when they succeed.
  5. ____ I feel sad when others (including those I don’t like) fail.
  6. ____ I have the skills to be honest about things that bother me in a relationship; when I’m honest the problem is usually resolved.
  7. ____ I appreciate someone who is honest with me; I receive it gracefully.
  8. ____ I take appropriate responsibility for my behavior.
  9. ____ One of my strengths is picking the right kind of friends.
  10. ____ I can avoid foolish and wicked people without creating a scene.

 

How’d you do? The closer to 100 you are, the better friend you are! Ask your friends to take the test with you in mind and see how the two compare.

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Are You As Trustworthy As You Think?

I was reading Christian Single magazine and found an article written by a person named J.B. which certainly causes one to think!

 

When it comes to relationships, honesty is one of the char­acter traits we most appreciate. Almost all of us think of ourselves as trustworthy, and we are quick to be offended when others are proved dishonest. While big lies might be easy to spot, how truthful are we when it comes to the small things? 

·     Keeping Promises: Have you ever promised to keep a secret, make a date, or help someone out and then failed to do exactly that? Sure, life gets in the way sometimes, and everyone’s entitled to a change of mind. But if your friends find themselves on the receiving end of a string of broken promises, it can mean only one thing: You’re unreliable. 

·     Shirking Work: While most of us still find it hard to break a promise to a friend, it’s much easier to take advantage of a big company. Have you ever called in sick when the only thing mak­ing you ill is the daily grind? Guess what: Your pants are on fire. 

·     Pilfering Post-Itst: An online survey by Reader’s Digest Canada found that 62 percent of its readers copped to stealing office supplies. Maybe you’re just pocketing small stuff like pens, paper, or envelopes to sock it to an impersonal industry. But if taking something that’s not yours isn’t dishonest, then what is? 

·     Ignoring Checkout Mistakes: How do you react if you get undercharged at the supermarket or restaurant? What do you do if the cashier gives you too much change? Your response is more of a statement about your own trustworthiness than their accuracy. 

·     Committing Victimless Crimes: Do you run stop signs way out in the country when you’re sure not to be seen? Do you edge over the speed limit on certain well-known roads? Do you ever pocket income you have no plans of reporting to the IRS? Don’t forget the classic definition of integrity: It’s who you are when no one’s looking. 

 

I am reminded of the young shepherd boy, David, in the classic story of his battle with the giant (1 Samuel 17). David approached King Saul and wanted to take on the one who was trash-talking the armies of the living God. Any king would have been concerned for such a young man to take on a huge warrior. But David’s comeback was a sign of his character. He was confident. He said he killed both the lion and the bear when they would come to steal his father’s flock, and he would do the same for this giant (vss. 34-36).

 

This tells me that David was a person of integrity; he had a responsibility to protect his father’s animals. Who would have ever known if one or two went missing? He risked his life when no one was looking! What kind of person are we when no one is looking? Or for the parents reading this; what kind of person are you when someone IS looking?

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