Perseverance


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!!!

Fate has a way of introducing situations into our lives that challenge us at the deepest levels. From debt, difficulty, disaster, divorce, death, and beyond, these have a way of putting-the-squeeze on us in ways we would prefer to avoid. Never does God intend for these things to depress or destroy us. To the contrary, He uses these to develop us into power-broking people who can endure trials and prevail at any time, in any place, and under any circumstance. Settle with the fact that some realities just won’t change. Loved ones do age and may become ill. Grown children will eventually leave home; whether at a time we are ready for them to go, or earlier should they decide to take the plunge. Employers may make hard choices that cost us substantially. In short, we will continue to experience losses no matter who were are or what we have attained. We cannot change these!

You should know, though, you have options! You can either fight it—that is, try hard to deny the reality as if it does not exist—or you can face it. You can either take it lying down, or you can stand up in the midst of it and be a victor, and not the victim. When life issues you a lemon, you can actually make lemonade. God gives believers the power to take stumbling blocks, and successfully turn them into stepping stones. Regardless of how painful the dilemma is, we can make it, because it’s not the end of the world. That is, yet! Want to know how? Here’s an approach:

First, thank God for the test (trial). Really, that’s all it is. It’s a test of your faith. I don’t know anyone who tries to intentionally fail a test. There are some Christians, however, who would prefer to simply “not take the test.” Don’t trip! Thank God for it. It’s only a test! Second, ask God to help you learn from it. There is so much to learn in every experience. Turn that trial or challenge into a learning module. God will show you areas where you are much stronger/wiser than you realized, and ways (and places) where you need improvement. No matter what, learn from the experience! Third, be positive! The matter of faith is a “living” reality. Therein lies a power at our disposal to handle and overcome any adversity if we would simply appropriate it. Sing songs of praise and be joyful. Do all you can to celebrate God’s goodness even in the dark places! Make God larger than the problem. Fourth, trust His word (Him) through it! Remind yourself of the promises of God. He alone declares never to leave nor forsake us. He alone has the power to defeat death, hell, and the grave. Read and remember His word.

Daniel had fasted and was praying for three full weeks anticipating a breakthrough and some needed relief for the people of Israel (Chapter 9). While still praying, the angel of the Lord came and told him what he needed to hear. Amazingly, the angel confessed he departed heaven to come to Daniel’s aid a full three weeks earlier, but had been strangely detained by demonic forces (see Chapter 10:13). Even more amazing was the fact Daniel never lost hope. I wondered why! I pondered how we might equally be resilient as we wait on God’s timely intervention into our situations today. Two things came to mind:

(1) God always gives assurance in spite of the appearance. When things appear they are not changing and you find yourself getting a bit weary, pay close attention to how God mysteriously provides assurance even in spite of the appearance. Things are not always as they seem.
(2) Trust the revelation instead of the manifestation. As you read His word, hold fast to what God has said rather than what you see. His word alone can kindle a fire in your heart and give to you the comfort you need to make it through. I am a witness He will!

Dear brothers and sisters; roll up your sleeves and tell the devil “He’s a liar; and the truth is not in him!” Trust God! You can and will make it!

While certain critics continue their onslaught of playwright, Tyler Perry, regarding his latest film, “For Colored Girls,” box-offices prove these so-called experts don’t altogether know everything; and especially about our understanding and appreciation of black art. In my humble opinion, the production struck (strangely) a few spiritual chords I found noteworthy, and afforded me the opportunity to incorporate them into a recent message. Through a combination of varying and independent themes, Perry amazingly caused them to coalesce in a warmly communal scene at the conclusion of the movie that was packed with preaching. If you have seen it already, then you may appreciate these epigrammatic observations from my review.

As these nine ladies stood arm-in-arm on the roof of the apartment building wherein much of the drama took place, I found their dissimilar stories and uniformly unfortunate circumstances portraying these common truths. Somehow they each came to discover (1) You’re not the only one that’s going through; (2) There’s always someone else who is worse off than you; (3) You need me, and I need you; and (4) and if any of us are going to make it, only God can bring us through!

Poetic, yes! But, I submit these are both painstaking and powerful, too!

Settle with these realities, my brothers and sisters. When you do, you may find comfort to stay in the fight, the courage to continue with the struggle, and the strength never to give up (or give in) until the battle is finally over. God is not through with you yet!

Be blessed and may His peace be with you, always!

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!”

God favored me in a most refreshing and remarkable way the other day. After years of searching (and simply refusing to give up), I was able to reconnect with a dear friend I met over 30 years ago while we both were serving as young officers in the United States Army at Fort Benning, Georgia. Reassigned to a new installation in 1981, I moved on and we simply lost contact. We had not spoken since.

Finding him was not easy. It took time and effort, and the closer I got (it seemed), the more challenging the search became. When finally we spoke, the excitement in our voices was both unmistakable and indescribable. We laughed and cried as we talked. I was especially moved as he told of his painful path over the years. Injuries, sickness, difficulties, and even the shadow of death were all a part of his peculiar journey. On several occasions he shared how he almost lost his life in a few accidents during overseas maneuvers. His story brought me to more tears, but I was (and am) so happy to discover he was alive and well.

Of all the things he shared, his voice was strongest when he told me about how God alone had kept him and had brought him safely through. Confidently, he reported he held faithful membership with Eastern Star Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana, where Reverend Jeffrey Johnson serves as pastor. He cited their motto there is the church “Where Jesus is exalted and the Word is explained.” What he said next shook me to the core. He said, “Reg, you know I’m not a preacher and I may not be able to explain the word like many others; but I can assure you of one thing; can’t nobody beat me exalting Him. Believe that!” There was even more joy!

In His own mysterious way, God granted me another measure of His grace by allowing me to reunite with a dear friend and brother who I have not seen in three decades. Incredibly, and perhaps equally as long he was also looking for me.

In case you haven’t already figured it out, I’m really excited about this reunion. I have only heard his voice, but I’m still glad about it. I have yet to see his face or even shake his hand, but I still have joy about it. Just the prospects of seeing him in the near future give me great encouragement, and each time I tell of this experience, my joy excites others.

I should tell you there is a Great reunion scheduled! In these days of economic challenge and personal difficulty, keep pursuing this Friend–the Lord—while He may be found. You, too, will find joy unspeakable and full of glory. In fact, you will be surprised to learn some good news in your search. This Friend has also been looking for you!

Football is perhaps my favorite of all organized sports. Routinely I enjoy a game on television, and will even catch a few highlights on a sports channel. While relaxing at home recently, a game caught my eye. The offense was executing their play as the ball was snapped, and wide receivers ran up the field hoping to get open. The quarterback unleashed a long pass toward the goal line (and near the sideline) as one receiver ran a post pattern toward the pylon—the end zone/out-of-bounds marker. Near the two or three yard line, the player inadvertently stepped-out-of-bounds, but reentered the field of play in pursuit of the descending ball. It was a remarkable catch! The referee signaled a touchdown. The stadium erupted as the crowd went ballistic. The defenders objected and I stood up in utter amazement at the acrobatic reception!

Instinctively, the scoring team’s field goal unit ran onto the field to line up for the ensuing extra point when all-of-a-sudden the game was halted. The play was being reviewed by those in the replay booth. After a short delay, the umpire repositioned himself on the field and reported, “After further review, the call on the field is confirmed; it is a touchdown!”

It is no secret we are often sidelined and knocked out-of-bounds—e. g. mistakes, blunders, indiscretions, bad judgments, weariness, fatigue, etc.—by the opposition (our adversary) while attempting to execute our Lord’s play (God’s will for our lives). In fact, to go “out-of-bounds” (in the eyes of many) actually renders one ineligible to continue or even further to touch the ball. This new rule in professional and collegiate football is affording us some valuable insights into spiritual truths I felt worthy of sharing.

Here they are:

(1) The goal of the enemy is to render us disqualified and totally ineligible to continue in ministry. His strategy is to cause us to “cross of the line” or “step out-of-bounds” through any number of discomforting means—mistakes, blunders, indiscretions, bad judgments, etc. So be aware of his schemes and ward him off at every juncture!

(2) No matter what happens, keep running the route! Had the receiver stopped his course (even though he was clearly pushed out), he never would have caught the ball and certainly would not have scored. Get back onto the playing field as quickly and as responsibly as you can, and continue with the route you have been given! After all, the ball is already in the air.

(3) Remember, lastly, the ultimate decision is not your call to make (nor anyone else’s)! There is another Person (God)—Power, Authority—who sits aptly in the replay booth; and He alone is the Official who determines whether you are “in” or “out!”

Work hard to avoid being side-tracked or side-lined, my brothers and sisters! Let the Lord use you TODAY. If you have been knocked down or in some way pushed out, get back up (or back in) and keep running your route. There’s an entire team (believers) and a stadium full of fans (Hebrews calls them “a great cloud of witnesses” [12:1]) who are counting on you! They (We) need you to score!

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!

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…

While out-of-town at a ministry conference a few days ago, a major cold front and the first real winter storm of the season aimed for the Midwest. Than to stay until the event was ended, I rearranged my travel and returned to Omaha. To be expected, several airports were shut down due to blizzard-like conditions which, too, ushered in a deluge of heavy snow. With accompanying freezing temperatures, nearly 10 inches settled in on Omaha and threatened travel in and around the area both on the ground and in the air. Brrrrr!

As I navigated my connecting airport many were stranded due to the same front that had impacted their plans as well. An earlier flight to Omaha had already been cancelled so I approached the flight desk to see if mine was still listed. Remarkably, it was still scheduled to depart; but at the mention of Omaha the gate agent audaciously asked, “Why in the world would anyone be going to Omaha knowingly heading into a huge storm?” I kindly replied to her, “I’ve got to get home.”

Life for believers is likewise filled with blinding blizzards and similar storms. They often leave us stranded (crippled) in light of the tough conditions we at times must face. These unavoidable difficulties are par the course for every Christian. There’s no way around them. One may ask, “Why do believers maintain faith in Jesus Christ for a future in heaven knowing we will face great difficulties and encounter huge storms along the way?” The answer is simple: “We’re just trying to get home! In fact, it’s the only way we’re going to make it!

Keep trusting Him, dear brothers and sisters! “Trouble don’t last always!”

A cold and dreary atmosphere permeated much of the east coast in the wake of Ida—a much anticipated hurricane that was eventually reduced to a tropical storm. Although the weather conditions resultant from the gulf winds were downsized somewhat, low cloud cover produced dense fog over a great portion of the eastern sea board and threatened air traffic for many travelers. Several flights were actually cancelled due to strong winds that made flying absolutely unsafe. Thankfully (and nervously, I must admit), our direct flight from Newark to Omaha did not make that list. The take-off was extremely choppy and reaching a comfortable cruising altitude all but seemed impossible. In spite of it all, we pressed on!

The science of air travel has always fascinated me. Even more intriguing is the confusion of flying when there is no visibility. I still cannot fathom this process. After years of boarding and deplaning aircraft, I finally decided to ask the pilots when we were aground. My question was a simple one: How in the world do you maneuver this huge jet through dense cloud cover and the often in darkness when in truth you cannot see? I know this is the case, because from my seat (as a passenger), I can’t see. Their response to me was interesting. They conceded my observation was true. From the cockpit, their view was the same as mine; but they said they didn’t need to see. The planes, they reported, are equipped with an instrument panel and multiple sensors. All they needed to do was pay attention to the indicators, and they could almost always land on any runway to within mere feet. I got happy!

If the manufacturers of these large big-iron birds could design airplanes with the essential equipment capable of navigating just about every conceivable condition, how much more, then, does it make sense that our Manufacturer has also equipped us with critical sensors to negotiate every circumstance we face. Through a shifting economy, unemployment, tough times, and more, we have already been equipped to survive, and even overcome.

Be a witness today and find someone who may be struggling and just say to them, “You can make it; God has already willed it so!” Be encouraged, my brothers and sisters!

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