Wisdom


Continental Flight 1734 was the carrier on which I was to be flying through Houston on my way to the east coast for a conference. At 7:00 a.m. on the day planned, we pushed away from the gate at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield, and taxied as scheduled toward the runway. Approved for take-off, the jumbo jet quickly began accelerating. Our bodies were automatically welded to our seatbacks with our seat belts fastened as instructed; anticipating lift in only a few seconds. Suddenly, the aircraft noticeably decelerated and it was quite obvious ours was not to be a successful takeoff after this try. In a matter of moments, the captain related the aircraft had experienced power failure with the right engine, and it would need to be fixed before we could re-board for Houston.

After more than an hour delay, another announcement declared the flight was being cancelled due to a mechanical failure, and the gate agents would need to re-book us. Some passengers were concerned as they had appointments they were scheduled to meet. A few were outright angry at the inconvenience. I got in line and waited to be re-booked on another aircraft. Two hours later and the last person standing, when I reached the desk the flight attendant announced our original plane was finally repaired. We would be re-boarding within ten minutes. For me, there was only one problem—I was scheduled to be in Richmond by mid-afternoon to attend the opening ceremony at our annual convocation. The delay was surely going to cause me to miss worship.

I related my conflict, and in a matter of moments, new arrangements were found and secured for me on another airline. I was on my way to my destination with the reasonable assurance I would be there well in advance of the evening’s event. I guess you know I made it.

Church troubles are like mechanical failures and technical difficulties. Of course, they happen in this Christian journey, and sometimes they can delay you (your development, that is). Often times, they may deter you, even discourage your journey. The good thing about it is yours (that is, the church you attend) is not the only carrier to get you to your destination. It’s really not that serious. Sadly, some churches are just plagued with problems. It doesn’t mean the people are not Christian or they will wind up in hell. It means they are simply having a hard time getting off the ground, and just can’t seem to make any headway, and there’s nothing you can do to help them.

You may consider this: If you pray and trust God, He very well may provide for you another carrier that will equally help you reach your destination. So, do what you need to do, my brothers and sisters. Keep the goal in mind. After all, you don’t want to miss “worship.” It will be okay!

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!

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!

As I exited my vehicle at Wal-Mart this past Thursday, I noticed a young couple exiting their vehicle at the same time. Strangely, we had to park a good distance from the main entrance since the parking lot was rather full. I couldn’t help but notice how the guy was dressed. He had on a bright yellow cap with a huge green “G” on it, with a grass-colored bib that was turned backwards on his head. He also wore a green jersey with a huge number four centered on it. White striped on both the shoulders and the sleeves accented his garb as he sported some khaki colored knickerbocker-type shorts that came down to his knees. A pair of sandy-colored sandals finished off his attire that plainly declared he was a Green Bay Packer fan.

Interestingly, earlier in the week, the Packers found themselves on the losing end of a widely publicized battle against their Chicago arch rivals—the Bears. It was a great game that kept fans (and viewers) on edge as it came-down-to-the-wire. In the closing moments, the Bears skillfully positioned themselves to kick a winning field goal to break the 24-24 tie. Green Bay was helpless to do anything realistic with the ensuing kickoff. The game ended 27-24, Chicago! Pundits indicate the Packers actually gave the game away. That was on Monday night! Yet, on Thursday, a man gracefully and publicly wore his Packers regalia without shame. I thought, “What would make a man continue to wear his favorite team’s paraphernalia even though his team lost a game they should have won; and sadly had let him down?” It’s really rather simple:

1. He was clearly a loyal fan and unashamedly loved his team.

2. He knew this game (Monday night’s) was just “one game” and the season wasn’t over.

3. He also knew that Sunday was coming and there likely would be an opportunity for redemption.

Are you a loyal fan of Christ’s church? Or are you someone playing the victim and participating in the negativity about others who fail or fall? My prayer is that we—Christ’s church—will soon embrace these principles. It does not matter who it is or what they have done (or what they may be accused of doing). True believers will (1) always remain as loyal proponents of the church of Jesus Christ just because they love the team; (2) they will work hard to remember this is only one game (e.g. one fumble, one dropped pass, one missed field goal, one flag, one fowl, one strike, one delay of game, or one un-sportsman-like conduct call, etc.), and that the season isn’t over; and (3) they will keep in mind that Sunday is coming; and there should arrive (prayerfully) a fresh opportunity for redemption.

Remain loyal, my brothers and sisters! Keep wearing the Lord’s regalia; and know that God alone is this game’s Official—He’s the Umpire, the Referee, and the Line Judge—and He alone has the power and is in the position to determine if any of us should remain on the team, or can continue to play the game!

In case you don’t know, Green Bay defeated Detroit today!

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!

The other day the control panel in my car sounded and revealed the specific (visual) message, “Check Brake Linings.” Right on cue, my technician discovered it was time for the front rotors and pads to be replaced. I must say I yet marvel at the miracle of technology. Daily we are blown away with newer advances and even more modern measures designed to enhance the quality of our lives. With the creation of telematics—the transmission of data communications between systems and devices—manufacturers can monitor safety, security, and provide information services for consumers where ever they may be via remote control. From a centralized location these observe speed, tire pressure, oil life, brake systems, fluid levels, plus engine and transmission performance. Too, they offer remote access, crash assistance, and can provide turn-by-turn navigation when one needs directions, among other things. Without question, these advances are simply ingenious!

One should not ignore the great possibility that God has allowed humans to make such remarkable technological advances to reveal as well the “High” tech Genius with which we—human beings—have been similarly made (by God). Some continue to complain about knowing God’s will and finding life’s purpose, and without ever realizing a unique monitoring system which allows for the transmission of critical information between us and God. This spiritual system is called faith. It enables proper communication between humanity and God so we can readily experience His safety, security, and the information services He readily provides. Once the faith journey begins, God is appreciably more able to monitor speed and direction, give valuable insight and information, and provide His safety and security no matter what circumstances in life we face. In fact, God mysteriously employs distinct spiritual alarms—like an inner disturb or the absence of peace, restlessness, sleeplessness, uneasiness about decisions, adamant burdens, and more, to let us know something may be wrong or also the best course of action in a given dilemma. These given sacred signals alert at God-directed moments to apprise us of things to which we otherwise may not respond.

What’s the point? By faith, you should enter into a more meaningful relationship with God and begin to pay closer attention to your control panel (your spirit). Learn to recognize the spiritual prompts that alert when things are not right or may be headed contrary to the divine will. If you will keep looking, listening, and learning, God will plainly show you areas where crucial changes need to be made and what you can do to enjoy a better quality of life. Discover how God’s system is far more advanced than humankind’s. Human systems are located miles away from their consumers; but God is “…a very present help in the time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) Human-made systems afford access from a remote location; but God is only a prayer away; and He said if you will come near Him (get close), He will in turn come near to you (see James 4:8). Don’t ever think God would allow a human-made system to exceed the genius with which He has already created us. The Psalmist has clearly stated we have been “…fearfully and wonderfully made…” (139:14)

Become more spiritual today! Do it now? It will surely enhance the quality of your life! I promise you!

I needed a quick bite to eat prior to Prayer Meeting and Bible Study, but wanted to be certain to get something healthy. I went to a nearby deli and got a salad and a cup of soup to boot. The manager, a friend of mine, came over from the register to talk and then went into the back room. As customers continued down the line to check out, an amazing thing happened. The store manager was attending customers when first I came in. Unavailable (for the moment), the operation did not fail to miss a beat. A different person arose from a booth nearby and graciously received payment for each patron’s items; and there was no interruption. Business went on as usual and the customers were met with satisfaction.

I could not help but think about the church. Why does the church often experience such a huge lag in its operation when someone is out-of-pocket or unable to function? If a teacher or ministry leader is absent, many times there is a tremendous glitch because few seem to ever step-up-to-the-plate and in turn handle-the-business. The church must do better!

God deserves and desires just as much excellence (if not more) as does the corporate sector! He is an excellent God, and He prefers excellent service. The sooner the church realizes this it may be we could reach more people who subsequently would see we mean business, and that our love for God and commitment to serve God is real.

Can I get a witness?

For years now I have coined a somewhat lyrical and memorable phrase detailing what it means to be a fully liberated adult. On those occasions when I have incorporated it into a sermonic discourse, it has never failed to generate a rousing response. The statement is this: “You are not a fully liberated adult until you’re actually grown, gone, on your own, and leaving your mama and daddy’s money alone!” A few may disagree, but numerous have noted how it resonates with their own views when it comes to an excellent definition for being a true adult!”

As comical and perhaps factual as this quotation may be, it reminds us of the common quest of every growing (and groaning) teenager as they begin to know privilege, opportunity, more liberty, and some degree of independence. It seems the more they taste it, the more they want of it (and there’s nothing wrong with wanting it either). I believe, however, I can honestly say for every child-rearing adult and loving parent that no child wants to leave home any quicker (or to any degree greater) than their guardians want them to soon be on their way. In the final analysis, there is one inescapable factor we cannot ignore; “these things take time.”

As I pondered this all too familiar dilemma, the Lord pressed upon me another truth—an axiom of sorts—that is indisputably true. It is this: “In one’s quest for autonomy and a want for authority, none get to live without accountability.”

We would all do well to learn this reality. No one should seek to live without the distinct privilege of allowing another (or others) to uphold you in loving and responsible accountability. It is the only guarantor of excellence, ethics, and equality for a healthy society to exist. Lord Acton was right when he wrote, “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely!” This certainly holds true when it comes to the management of our lives!

When you think about it, Jabez’s simple prayer included an insightful appeal that recognized his own need for living right in community. While he requested more real estate, resources, and responsibility, he also asked the Lord to “…keep me from evil so that I may not cause pain.” (see 1 Chronicles 4:10). He wanted God to help him manage himself so that he would not create problems for others who lived with, amid, and near him. He knew in the scheme of things he could not be successful without living responsibly and accountably around other people. Joyfully, God did exactly what he asked Him to do. He can do it for you. Just ask Him!

I have never asked God to help me be a better preacher or pastor. If only He would enable me to be a better person. That is why my desperate plea daily is simply: “Lord, help me to live right!”

How long do I have to go through this? When will my “ship come in?” Will trouble ever cease? When is it going to be my turn? Will my dreams come true? Will things ever get better? These are the universal and unrelenting concerns of so many true believers. They pray, they fast, they seek the loving intercession of others, even labor before the Lord for hours on end; and yet it seems like nothing happens. Things don’t improve or get any different, and the waiting is wearisome to endure. Here’s a real question for you? What if change doesn’t come or things don’t get better? And what if they get worse? Plainly frustrated by waiting, what is one supposed to do? How does one manage in the meantime and beyond this likely possibility?

If God does not discernibly change things for you or improve your circumstances to your delight, and obviously you can’t change them, here are some options:

1. You can start by changing YOU. There’s no need to keep beating-your-head-up-against-the-wall in frustration and disappointment. Arriving at this crucial growth position does not mean you’re happy with or appreciate your situation; instead it means you are learning to accept it. It doesn’t mean you like it; it just means you have decided to live WITH and “to live” IN SPITE of it. Sometimes things just won’t change. “It-is-what-it-is,” and there is nothing we can do to fix it. Don’t become bitter! Get better! Try hard to work on you!

2. Get involved in some area of kingdom service. One of the best ways to avoid depression and overcome the tendency to be overwhelmed by your own plight is to find eager (helpful and encouraging) involvement in another’s struggle. Ask God to reveal to you His opportunities where you can be a real and meaningful blessing to someone else who may be having a hard time. Trust me! You won’t have to look long, you won’t have to look hard, and you certainly won’t have to look far!

3. Listen and learn from both. Someone asked me recently from where I find all my stories? I told them I actually don’t have stories; all I have are experiences. And from these experiences, I am able to joyfully discover stories. How then does that happen? All I do is take the time to reflect on my experiences and process them from every possible angle. When they have “marinated” for a while, I seek God about the lesson He wants me to gain in every one of them. Some believers see life as full of obstacles; I try to see life’s obstacles as learning opportunities. Don’t miss the lesson you are supposed to learn; and don’t rest until you find it. It’s in there!

You can actually turn your negative experiences into positive energy! You can move from frustration to favor. Just ask God to help you, and before you know it you will have stumbled upon a new joy that will give you the strength you need to go on!

Confident He will still help you through it, I remain…

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