Discipline


A relatively new marvel of modern technology is a device called a Fitbit. I received one as a gift for Christmas, and it continues to amaze me. A small watch-like apparatus strapped around the wrist is able to understand and interpret human motion (or activity). By analyzing acceleration data, the details about frequency, duration, intensity, patterns of movement, number of steps, stairs, distance traveled, calories burned, and sleep patterns are all made available for wearers to review. Mine revealed the quality of my sleep habits as if I had been to a polysomnography clinic. I continue to be literally blown away!

With all of that, this small gadget would show me something more. In a matter of days, an email message came to my inbox from the Fitbit monitoring system alerting me of a matter I had actually neglected to notice. The message read: “Your Charge battery level is low. Charge your battery as soon as possible.” I looked at the device and as sure as the message was real, the battery indeed needed to be charged. The Fitbit is only designed to run for about a week before it needs to be recharged.

Technology is incredible. In all actuality, these advances are really not new. And to the surprise of many, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are not the creators of such brilliance. Since the beginning of creation, God made us with an even more advanced kind of genius. The Psalter noted that humanity is “…fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139:14) Perhaps one might consider ours a “Faithbit”—a parallel kind of technology (namely, spirituality) designed to help us with a variety of daily motions and maneuvers no matter what we face in life. By faith, we can get up when we fall; overcome great difficulties; traverse great distances amidst the darkest nights, and so much more.

Faith is so amazing that along with it comes an alert system that apprises every believer whenever the battery—that essential power—is low and needs recharging. One might ask, how does one know? Great question! Here are a few hints! A bad attitude or quick temper is an alert that signals your battery is low. A negative spirit or some unhealthy (bad) habits surely indicate your battery is low. Weakness and ungodliness are certain notices that your battery is low. The paralysis of fear and exaggerated worry are no doubt tell-tell signs your batter is low.

If any of these or other similar indicators are the case with you, it could be that your faith-bit battery is low and needs to be recharged immediately. Simply plug it in—that is, pray, fast, spend quality private time with God, read your Bible, worship), and allow God to give you the strength you need to make it a little while longer. In case you don’t have one (a “faith-bit”), it only requires you to take the time to sign up. The only way any of the Fitbit data would be at my disposal obliged me to register online to allow the advocates to keep me informed. You can sign up, too; and you don’t even need a computer. Simply approach the Father in prayer, and confess your sins, and accept the terms (Jesus) for your salvation and justification. He is faithful still to cleanse and forgive you of all your sins if you’ll only ask Him.

In the Wild Card game between Cincinnati and Pittsburg, things changed for the big cats with less than two minutes to go. The Bengals (up by a score of 16-15) intercepted Pittsburg’s backup quarterback Landry Jones’ pass, and all but sealed the Steelers’ fate with just about 1:50 remaining. In fact, success was so sure (so they felt), some players ran into the tunnel towards the locker room as if it were a done-deal; like the game was actually over. And then, it happened!  With less than sixty seconds to go and their entire season on the line, dumb penalties literally took the breath out of the Bengal nation (on the field, on the sideline, and even in the stands). The would-be victors were noticeably stunned. A late hit and an unsportsmanlike conduct call ultimately imploded the Bengals’ hopes and dreams for a chance to go to Super Bowl 2016. They appallingly lost the game and left the stadium in shock, angry, visibly in tears, and utterly dismayed.

 

As Cincinnati’s commitment to discipline literally disintegrated before millions of viewers, it reminded us of some basic principles for encouraging success and winning. If you are reading this note, then perhaps it’s not too late. The game may not be over. With time left, every disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ (true believers) can surely learn from the Bengals’ errors.

 

First, we must always remain focused. Failure to remember the goal and objective can cause a bad decision or a brief distraction to completely derail the train. Believers need to stay focused at all times. The stakes are much higher and far greater than a Super Bowl appearance.

 

Second, we’ve got to maintain discipline. When you have been taught/trained (and professionals surely ought to know better), then you are supposed to do better. There’s no excuse for “losing your cool” on the field of play. It is the clearest signal that one lacks essential discipline and is likely (perhaps even literally) out of control.

 

Third, keep playing until the game has officially ended. If there is still time on the clock, then the contest is not over. All too often we have a tendency to get comfortable and relaxed (a sure hint that things may not end well) before the final horn sounds. This is a terrible miscalculation! And it is one that can literally cost you the game.

 

As the Apostle Paul drew nearer to the end of his ministry career, he wrote to encourage his son in ministry (Timothy). He touched on the matter of finishing well in Chapter 4 of the second epistle where he penned: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (verse 7). These are timeless and insightful words for a world that is recurrently messing up, making unnecessary mistakes, shamelessly losing their cools, engaging in deliberate unsportsmanlike (ungodly) activities, and all sorts of flagrant fouls (debaucheries) that are publically known and being constantly revisited via Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

 

There’s one final take away we can gain from this instant NFL classic. In fact, a few games this season (and in years past) have reminded us of this same truth: “It ain’t over until it’s over!” For believers, it truly ain’t over until God says it’s over!” After all, He’s the One managing the clock! Stay the course, keep fighting, and be disciplined at all times! In the end, we win!!!

Recently I counseled someone who had become rather melancholy about church, worship, and just the whole image of modern day ministry. The smorgasbord of appeals being made from an array of sources makes choosing a church (even Christ) very difficult, and has caused some to be discouraged to the point of disinterest.

The Bible says such a period would emerge. Paul told his colleague and friend there would come a time when people would not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim 4:3), and even said some would eventually abandon the faith (1 Tim 4:1). With the deluge of preachers and self-proclaimed prophets afoot in cyberspace and the world today, it is becoming more and more difficult to know exactly what and who to believe. A lot of stuff out there may sound good, but so much is neither good nor sound.

Is there an actual litmus test for determining legitimacy in ministry? How can one know what and who to believe? Or even know who is real? Our Lord said clearly without regard for personality, charisma, gifts, degrees, apparent success, and the like, there is one sure tell sign. He said, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35, NIV) Succinctly, amidst all the hype and pseudo-energy that characterizes a lot of contemporary preaching, the love of God must and will be unmistakably clear to help confirm if a message and messenger is truly real. The power of God’s love is still able to woo sinners unto repentance if we would simply trust Him.

Remember our childhood days? While we could hardly afford a bicycle, most kids were enamored by the speed and sound a motor cycle made. Too dangerous and expensive for most of us, we remained content to ride our bikes, but would make an inexpensive modification to its operation to enhance our experience. We would simply take a playing card (any card) from a deck of cards, and a clothes pin from where mom would hang the laundry, and clip the card onto the frame of the bike so it would flap against the spokes. Remarkably, it created for us a noise that gave the sense we were riding a motorized cycle. There was only one problem. While it made a lot of noise, it actually had no power.

Chew on that, my brothers and sisters. Please don’t be guilty of the same. Be encouraged!

I admit I am a “control freak.” That’s right; I said it! I like control. The thing about it is I only want control of one thing. I am at peace knowing there are many things over which I have absolutely no control. I have no control over creation, nature, the weather, the seasons, many of life’s circumstances, other people’s behavior, the economy, and more. I actually do not want or need any of these. The one thing over which I have the privilege (and responsibility) and absolutely want sure control of is me. I work daily to do just that—to always be in control of me!

Now, let me be clear. I make no claims that managing such control is an easy assignment. In fact, it is a constant daily challenge. Things can and will happen, and people will continue to do things with which many are in total disagreement and have no real like. Even so, it behooves us to learn quickly the only one over which we have true power and managerial control is self.

One of the hardest lessons for many of us to grasp is the need to maintain proper possession of that personal “emotional remote” we each have been given. You see, the adversary is bent on causing us to lose it. He literally wants us to be out-of-control at every juncture; and especially during crisis and difficulty. He routinely uses tragedy, disaster, calamity, death, and other hardships to trip us up, and to throw us into an emotional frenzy. Try to keep in mind; however, whenever you are out-of-control you have actually placed the “remote” into the hands of another. And when others have that kind of power in your life, you have actually given them too much power. Never should another have the power (and privilege) of “changing your channel”—your attitude and behavior—when bad (or even good) things happen. It is not right that any should dictate another’s reactions and responses like some myopic minstrel or mindless puppet on a string. That kind of manipulative control can be dangerous.

Sadly, we at times forfeit the “remote” to people who don’t know what to do with it when they get it. The one thing we can be sure of is that they are out-of-control, and they are helpless to regain any sense of stability without the aid and assistance of someone else (and hopefully, someone who loves them) who can keep a level head throughout. With the help of God, that’s the kind of person I am determined to be.

Charles Swindoll was only partially right when he wrote, “…life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you … we are in charge of our attitudes.” In reality, we are in charge (control) of more than just our attitudes. We are also in charge (control) of our behavior; and if not, we truly should be.

If somehow (and for whatever reason) you have lost your “remote,” there’s no need to panic, but you need to fix that real soon. The devil didn’t make you do it; neither alcohol nor drugs made you do it. Circumstances and situations don’t make you do it; and for sure, no one else can make you do it. The bottom line is you (and only you) are in control of you! To be sure, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be drunk with (under the influence of) wine, but rather be filled with (in the control of) the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:18; emphasis and italics, mine).

Happy Holidays! And, always be careful to hold on to your “remote!” As a matter of fact, why not simply give it to the Holy Ghost? I promise you He won’t hurt you!

The Apostle Paul wrote to his colleague and cohort, Timothy, and incorporated a familiar trans-generational analogy to illustrate his point. He told this young servant and friend to “…stir up…” the gift inside him (2 Timothy 1:6). A few modern translators relate he was to “…fan into flame…” the gift (NIV, NLT, etc.). We can only assume what Paul meant (exactly), but the metaphor offers key insights for us to gain a reasonable understanding of his admonition as we attempt to interpret these words.

In the chill and challenge of those Eastern mornings or the brisk cold of many a night in Rome, we get the sense (a mental picture) that Paul may have been responsible to manage the fire pits used to warm and comfort prisoners and soldiers. He portrays how a well lit fire (whether in a fire place, a fire pit, or even a grill) unattended can soon become dormant and lose its ability to give heat. He knew that live coals left alone will eventually smolder and become ashen. Born of his experience (or perhaps his careful observation), the Apostle seizes an opportunity to convey to Timothy a truth we all need to learn. To avoid your fire going out, all one needs do is “stir up the gift.” What does that mean in modern language, and how do we appropriate such a strategy for our own lives? Let’s consider the following:

1. PAY ATTENTION TO IT! As in the small matter of our given dexterity, each of us (as infants) began to favor a particular hand which others saw and knew was to be our dominant appendage. In fact, they would be careful to encourage use of the same by placing the crayon or pencil into that hand in the establishment of proficiency. The same is the case when it comes to spiritual gifting. God has factored dexterity into our developmental reality. One sure way to discern it or to discover it is by simply paying attention to it. Notice your strengths and propensities. Others will, too!
2. PRAY ABOUT IT! As curiosity becomes calm, be sure to seek God about the conclusions you may be reaching. Ask Him (God), “Lord, is this your will?” Ask, “Am I headed in the right direction for my life?” I am confident we would each more easily and much more quickly fair better about our gifts and callings if we would spend more time praying about it.
3. PLAN FOR IT! When you are serious, there may be areas of your life that need serious adjustment and personal modification—like debt, education, special training, etc. Begin to position yourself and your circumstances for full-time devotion to “fulfilling your calling.” In that God has invested in you, then you should invest in you, too!
4. PURSUE IT! At some point, plans must eventually be executed and put to the test. Go for it! You have to start heading in that direction. You will never make it to DC if you don’t leave Atlanta. You’ll never become a physician if you don’t attend medical school. If you want to become a lawyer, you first must pass the LSAT. Move definitively in that direction. Pursue it.
5. PRESENT IT (or PUT IT INTO PRACTICE)! Strangely, the world feels gifts are to be received. I beg to differ. Gifts are called gifts because they are designed to be given (presented). Let God use you to be a blessing to someone else’s life so they can be transformed by the love of God in you. Allow your gift to express itself in the lives of other people.

These may not be all that Paul meant, but they surely offer some practical insights into how we can approach the notion of “gift stirring” he mentioned. In all actuality, Timothy’s gift was already in his DNA as it was evident in both his mother and his grandmother. He was spiritually “wired” for service. God did His part (by giving the gift), but it was Timothy’s job to do his part—stir it up!

Think about this in your life’s journey. If others are not being warmed, comforted, enlightened, transformed, attracted, even charmed (benefiting) from the gift of God resident within you (these are all things a flaming fire will do), then that’s a good indication your fire is out. And if yours is out, don’t be alarmed or discouraged about it. Just do what Paul told Timothy! “Stir that thang up!”

Having lived in the Midwest over twenty years, something completely unexpected happened to me a couple of Wednesdays ago that I will never forget. I was exiting my office door onto the wrought iron stair case that leads down to our church’s parking. Wednesday night’s Bible study had just ended and I was collecting my gear—my brief case, clutch, keys, a bottle of distilled water, etc.—and had donned my coat to enter into the smoky gray dusk of the night.

Just as I opened the door to walk out, I stepped onto the landing—an approximate four-foot square iron bottom deck—and recognized something soft (rather spongy) as I stepped out. In my mind, I curiously wondered if it was a sponge, a carelessly discarded food item, or something else I needed to remove. As I looked down in the darkness, I was alarmed to find an 18-inch garter snake uncoiling from under my foot. I jumped back into my office and screamed, “It’s a snake!” Our associate minister was behind me and he was equally surprised at the discovery. Others in the inner office heard the commotion and yelled in disbelief saying, “You’re lying?” Incredibly, I had to report to them it was true. We were all startled and amazed!

The small visitor has negotiated the rail adjacent to the 10 wrought iron steps that rise upward to my private entrance. When I took my weight off of it, it quickly moved away to escape and instinctively curled its tail around one of the rails on the stair case floor. It soon dropped in fear down onto the asphalt parking lot floor. My associate minister and I ran down the steps to the ground and made certain we carefully disposed of it. It was a most harrowing experience.

Upon leaving the church and reflecting over the night’s surprise turn-of-events, I heard (in my spirit) a clear message from God He wanted me to gain. I considered it so critical (and especially at this juncture in Christian history with all that’s going on), that I wanted to share it with others (even you). The message is this: “That old serpent (the devil) is not just trying to gain access into the church through any ordinary door. No, he is especially seeking to get in through the office of the pastor.”

My word of warning to every pastor, every teacher, and every servant in every capacity in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ is this: “Beware! Watch out! Do not be ignorant of his schemes (see 2 Corinthians 2:11), and take heed. Whatever else you do, don’t let him in!”

My prayers are with you all!

Here we go again! It should be no surprise that another Christian scandal has made it to the headlines and piqued the interest of believers everywhere, the viewing world, and especially the media. Although the truth is yet to be discovered, rumors continue to mount and many have already drawn conclusions on the innocence and guilt of the accused. The devil just doesn’t play fair, does he? It is most sad!

Let me be clear! Christ’s church is no stranger to controversy; and Christians and Christian leaders are never exempt from these routine and riotous hazards of the faith. Regrettably, some of these are self-imposed and the results of ones’ own undoing. Many are not! Throughout history God’s people have been under the microscope of constant judgment and incessant criticism. In fact, Jesus said, “…the kingdom suffers violence and violent men take it by force.” (See Matthew 11:12, NASB). As believers we will never escape satanic attack and the inequitable demonic strategies employed to destroy God’s work and our witness. What, then, are Christians supposed to do? How are we to respond when these tragic and unavoidable black-eyes occur? And believe me, this is undeniably a huge “black-eye!” Let’s see!

First of all, whenever a brother or a sister has been charged or is accused of a thing—a crime, an offense (a sin), an indiscretion, a fault, etc.,—as sad as it may be, don’t be surprised. In Revelation 12:10, our adversary is called “the accuser of the brethren.” Satan is still the “father of lies, the master of disguise, and the author of confusion.” These are the indisputable facts, and there’s no way around them!

Secondly, don’t judge. Any rash conclusions reached or quick judgments made about anyone who is accused is both premature as well as immature. “All the facts” need to be weighed! And even further, it is not our right or responsibility to ever reach a hasty “verdict” without giving those facts due consideration. Yes, believers will eventually judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3), but these will surely be based on facts!

Thirdly, remember grace. Were it not for the grace (goodness) of God, any of us could be under attack (under seize, or even under fire) at any given moment. That means while you may not be on the witness stand or public display (today), you don’t have to be guilty of anything for the enemy to accuse you of something. We are ALL guilty of something(s), and it is only God’s grace that keeps ALL of us out of the lime-light and the public line-of-fire. Thank God for His grace and always be sure to extend the same to others who may be struggling or are presently under attack!

Fourthly (and most of all), PRAY! The fallout associated with these terrible misfortunes is incalculable. We should immediately begin to intercede and pray. Consider for a moment those who are directly affected:

(a) The accused—undoubtedly a human being with feelings, family, friends, some form of fortune, failures, faults, and flaws. It cannot be easy for anyone accused (whether innocent or guilty).
(b) The accusers—no doubt, there are some issues within the hearts and minds of anyone who would pursue a legal (and public) course of action to resolve an apparent personal problem or difficulty. The Bible is clear on the way believers are to resolve offenses and settle differences.
(c) The world of believers—whenever scandalous matters are aired before the world for open debate and public consumption it sadly damages the image of the church and the strength of every believer’s witness. There is absolutely no way around it!
(d) The unbelieving world—these (unsaved sinners) don’t need another excuse for failing to choose Jesus Christ as their portion. When you take a look at it, it’s a no-win situation and we all lose; and the only way to combat these kinds of heinous assaults is to engage the most formidable weapon in our arsenal and at our disposal—prayer!

Fifthly (and lastly), trust God to work it out! God alone is judge, and we should trust Him and His power to work it all out for all of our good and more especially for His glory. It is still true whatever the enemy may mean against us for evil, God can (and will) work it out for our good! Trust Him!

Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters. This certainly won’t be the last attack (or perhaps fall) of a believer or man or woman of God. When it’s all said and done, God will still be God, He is still good, He will still be great, He yet remains gracious, and He will always be greatly to be praised!

Peter’s experience with Jesus in Luke 5 teaches us some valuable lessons about fishing and failing. Perhaps (like Peter) your gift is failing you (at the moment), and not yielding the kind of results you feel (or even know) it should or could produce. Ponder these thoughts as you pray further about your situation:

1. Just because you have failed doesn’t make you a failure.
2. It may not be a fault as much as it is fate.
3. The problem may not be with your casting; it could just be your catching.
4. If the fish are not where you are, then perhaps you should go where they are.
5. Your failure can become favor, when you let Christ into your crisis.

I know these are brief and to-the-point, but I trust they will cause you to re-think your circumstance and feel better about your difficulty as you anticipate “catching some fish” with and for our Lord Jesus Christ.

After you have finished making the necessary repairs and critical re-adjustments, get back into the boat and do what you need to do. Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, again!

God bless you as you do!

We have been negotiating a study on the subject of more effective prayer, and I recently offered a challenge to our church to join me as their days begin by kneeling (or bowing down) to pray. The challenge is to participate in this sacred engagement in advance of other conversations, the turning on of a television or radio, or any such human (even electronic) transmission of information we may normally experience. Let God be the first Person you seek, and let your conversation with Him be the first you engage every day for the rest of your life.

Some have asked, “Is kneeling really necessary?” Maybe not! But, have you ever thought about the many things for which we are so readily willing to kneel? We kneel to pick up things we have dropped, to find a coin under a table, to retrieve a shoe that’s too far under the bed, or to see if we can locate a pen or a pill. We will kneel to hook up a computer, to change a tire or the oil in our cars, to tie up our shoe laces, to rest from standing, and a host of other things. The one thing about each of these instances is when so doing, we kneel because we have to. If we don’t, we may not recover the thing we hope to find. On the other hand, even though God does not demand of us to kneel when we pray, it should be our joy to approach Him from our knees as a simple gesture of grateful humility before a great God—the Supreme Power of the Universe. There is none like Him!

I’m extending this challenge and invitation to all of my readers to encourage you to begin your day in prayer with others of us as we kneel before God in prayer. We may or may not be able to do it at the exact same point, but we can certainly start our days in the same position—and that is, on our knees before and in humble submission to our Most High God.

Many have already discovered newfound power, a different kind of acumen, and a spiritual awareness and a capacity that enables ones to be a blessing to a lot of people in a lot of different ways.

So join me (and others) in prayer each morning on your knees. You’re going to feel so much better! God does not want us to kneel before Him because we have to; God would much rather we kneel because we want to!

Let me know how it’s going! Thanks!

Correct doctrine is essential for every believer’s health and witness. Unfortunately (at times), a given people’s methodology—the way they do things—gets in the way of the clear message of the gospel, and becomes more of a hindrance to effective ministry than a help. Our adversary—the devil—has successfully complicated the matter of faith along these noticeably skewed lines (denominationalism). In fact, a closer look at the spelling of the word “denomination,” clearly reveals it resembles the word “demonization” (or of the devil). In my view, denominationalism has been for too long a confusing weapon used to divide the body of Christ than a creative witness to show its diversity.

Some churches today are even deleting their group’s label from the marquis in an effort to more effectively champion the simple gospel of Jesus. Wisely, they yet hold true to those core values that lay the foundation for their persuasion. Their strategy is to present Christ without prejudice or any particular predisposition that publishing a denominational brand may create.

A man just called me as he was driving in the Dallas area approaching an entrance ramp to get onto I-635. An unsettling spiritual concern prompted his call, and after offering my view, I asked him the question, “How many lanes are there on the interstate in front of you?” He replied, “Six!” I asked further, “What kind of vehicle are you in?” He told me the make and model of the one he was driving. Finally, I said to him, “It really does not matter what vehicle you drive, or which of those six lanes you choose, as long as you’re heading in the right direction.” He said kindly, “Man, thanks; I got it!”

Some churches are liturgical, others are loud. Some worshipers are shouters, while others are clearly solemn. Some atmospheres are rather reticent; still others lean toward a more open response. When it’s all said and done, the critical issues for encouraging a nurturing faith and an effective witness are this: (1) the ministry must be Christocentric—that is, Christ is at the center; and (2) YOU (personally) must be heading in the right direction. If these two things are clearly the case, by the grace of God, you should do just fine.

Make sure you’re on-the-right-road, dear friends, and enjoy the ride!

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