Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Readiness Is All

I read this quote the other day about "being ready" from Tim Fargo, a writer and blogger. He wrote, "Opportunity doesn't make appointments, you have to be ready when it arrives." 

I like that quote even though it's one of those quotes you usually see on a placard somewhere at a leadership conference, or a motivational poster on someone's office wall. It's simple and true.  

The fact of the matter is, most of us don't live our lives poised to take advantage of opportunities.  We don't live our lives ready to step boldly into the future. If we are being honest, most of us live our lives pretty much the same way every single day--the same patterns, the same roads, the same activities...  

And we do this because it feels comfortable.  There's typically not enough going on to bust us out of the inertia that we create out of a need for safety and security.  B

ut on occasion, we experience what storytellers call an "inciting incident"--something that shocks us, moves us, jars us loose.  Maybe it's a good thing like a promotion, or a new love interest, or perhaps it's something not so good like a bad diagnosis or a tragedy.  

The question that most of never really have to answer is, "What do I do when that moment arrives?"  I see this as a spiritual issue, honestly.  It's a problem that takes place between the head and the heart.  

When those inciting incident arrive, we might think we would act a certain way, exhibit a particularly strong faith, give glory to God, etc., but until it happens we don't truly know what we'll do.  

In Luke 9:61 a man says to Jesus, "I will follow, Lord, but first let me go and say goodbye to my family."  Jesus offers this cryptic and challenging reply to the man.  "Anyone who begins to plow a field but keeps looking back is of no use in the kingdom of God."  

Jesus was using a very practical illustration to point out the real problem that most people have when it comes to selling out for God.  If you're plowing a field and keep looking back to see what you've done, you'll get off course and start plowing crooked.  But if you fix your eyes on one spot, and unwaveringly move toward that spot, you'll stay straight. 

This guy was giving lip service to following Jesus, but he had all kinds of things he was unwilling to leave behind to do it.  His excuse was that he wanted to say goodbye to his family--maybe he meant it, who knows?  

But Jesus knew that one excuse would lead to another, and then another, and then the man would find himself not doing what he claimed he wanted to do. He'd be left behind when all was said and done. 

So, how ready are you to follow Jesus--wherever Jesus might be leading you?  How ready are you to put your hand to the plow and fix your eyes on Him as you step forward?  

May you discover readiness you never knew you had.  May you be filled with boldness and courage to follow Jesus and to never look back.  May you be willing to step out of what is comfortable and safe toward what is uncomfortable and life-giving.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Giving Up In Order To Gain

More often than not, when I am reading through my various devotional books and daily Bible readings, I find connections between them, recurring themes, if you will, that speak to me in the moment.  

Today was one of those days.  For some reason four out of the five readings I had today all centered around what it means to pursue things that matter, the things in life that will last.  

I read from the book of Ecclesiastes, where the Teacher wrote, "I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind." 

I had a reading about the ancient Hebrew king of Solomon, who had everything, but became nothing.  He was given wisdom, power, wealth, fame--whatever his heart desired, but threw it all away through selfish pursuits, and self-indulgent behavior

Then there was this passage from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus tells his followers what it takes to truly follow him and embrace eternal life, here and now:  

"If people want to follow me, they must give up the things they want.  They must be wiling to give up their lives daily to follow me.  Those who want to save their lives will give up true life.  But those who give up their lives for me will have true life.  It is worth nothing for them to have the whole world if they themselves are destroyed and lost." (Luke 9:23-25)

I read this quote from Oscar Wilde recently, that kind of stuck with me.  He wrote, "In this world there are only two tragedies.  One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."  

Jesus' teaching to his followers was counter-intuitive.  Give up what you value most, in order to attain what you need the most.  Be willing to sacrifice your dreams, in order to discover God's dream for you.  Be willing to lose your life, in order to find it.  

In the abstract, none of these things make sense, do they?  

But when you place Jesus' teachings in juxtaposition with the words of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes, or the life of Solomon, things get just a little clearer.  The path to success, according to our culture, is not to give up, lose, sacrifice... Jesus basically taught his followers that if they wanted to be "first," they needed to race each other to the bottom. 

Because, in the words of Jesus, "It is worth nothing," to gain the "whole world" if it simply destroys you.  Another translation of that verse is, "What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his soul?"  

May you discover a new way to define success today and every day.  May you find your worth in God's economy, and not the economy of so-called success in our current cultural climate.  May you find everything you need by giving up all that you think you want.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Simplify Your Life - Pt. 3

Recently, my wife and I went on a bit of cleaning spree, and decided to declutter some of our counters, shelves, the back patio, the outside patio, the kitchen, our closet, our bathroom, the kid's rooms... Okay, so we starting decluttering and just couldn't stop.  

What we discovered in the midst of all that decluttering was that we didn't really need all of the things that we thought we needed when we moved into our house several months ago.  And here's the kicker: We actually thought we had decluttered from our old house when we moved into the new one.  

In fact, we hadn't--not really.  But when the counters were cleared, the patios made a bit more sparse, all of the extraneous stuff that populated our kitchen, our closet, bathrooms and kid's rooms disappeared, we made a fabulous discovery.  We felt better.  

It felt better to have less stuff.  It felt better to walk in the house and see the simplicity of minimalism.  And it also felt better knowing that in the end, we don't need stuff to make us happy, in fact having more stuff actually contributes to stress and anxiety.  What Merideth and I were striving for was contentment with less.  Clearing the clutter actually helped us take a step closer to achieving it.  

In 1 Timothy 6:7-8 we hear these words of wisdom from the Apostle Paul about contentment: For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.

I know, I know...  You're thinking that just having food and "covering" isn't really going to cut it in this day and age.  But if you take "food and covering" to mean all of the ways that we care for the basic needs of ourselves and our families--then it can take on new meaning for us as we try to simplify our lives in order to achieve more for the kingdom. 

I believe when we are less focused on the things of this world--we are able to be more focused on the kingdom of God.  

When our counters and shelves, rooms and closets became less cluttered, less filled with stuff, I found myself able to concentrate better on the things that matter most.  I found more joy to share with my children, more attention to give to my wife, and a host of new ideas for how I could impact the world for the sake of God's kingdom. 

I know that it sounds strange, but it actually happens.  When you minimize the distractions, and get rid of the material things that are occupying space in your head (as well as the desire for more that always seems to accompany them) you find yourself much more able to remain focused on what is good, pure, lovely and true.  

May you find ways to simplify your life by decluttering it, clearing space for new ways to see the world through God's eyes.  May you discover new capacity to be shaped by a more minimalist way of life, where your focus is on the kingdom of God and not on the things of this world.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Simplifying Your Life - Pt. 2

Many of us have heard that old aphorism, "It's not the destination, it's the journey."  How many of us, however, really know what it means?  On the surface it speaks vaguely of the importance of being present in the moment, rather than focusing solely on what comes next.  

But there's a deeper meaning to the aforementioned phrase--one that I believe eludes most of us.  I think this phrase speaks directly into the frail and finite ways that most of approach our goals in life.  We find ourselves longing for someday.  

"Someday," we tell ourselves, "I'll finally figure out my purpose in life."  
"Someday, I'll have enough money to do what I want."  
"Someday, I'll get that promotion... reach that milestone... find my dream job..."  
"Someday, I'll get healthy... get moving... do that thing I've always wanted to do..." 

Our longings for someday all too often become the very thing that keeps us from recognizing the importance of now.  I preached a sermon recently where I challenged people to turn their when into now.  It's a simple shift in your mindset, really.  

All that is required to begin focusing on the journey is to pause and take a look at where you are.  In that pause you can begin to recognize the importance of the journey, and that the path you "chose" was not entirely your doing.  That pause gives you the opportunity to be still for a moment and to recognize that there is a God, and you are not Him.  

Proverbs 19:21 offers this wisdom:  "Many are the plans in a human heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."  

One of the easiest ways to simplify your life is to surrender your desires for the future.  This doesn't mean that we shouldn't dream.  We should dream.  We should dream big, audacious, out-of-reach dreams.  This doesn't mean that we shouldn't make plans.  We need to consider the cost of decisions, think and pray about decisions before making them.  

But when you relinquish your desires for the future in favor of God's desires... When you decide to be present in the journey, opening your eyes to see God at work around you, opening your ears to hear God's still, small voice in your ear... When you trust God with the future, and embrace the present... 

Your life gets simpler.  Your way becomes clearer.  Your focus is narrowed.  You enjoy the journey.  

May you discover the joy of your journey, as you simply surrender the future to the One who holds it.  May you simplify your life by embracing the present, and seek to align your desires with God's own.  And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Simplifying Your Life - Part 1

I'm going to spend the next couple of days thinking about what it means to simplify your life.  It's been on my mind lately as I've been preaching on the vision of our church, and talking at length with church members and staff about the importance of a simple, clear vision.  

Years ago, when I arrived at the church I've been serving for the past eight years, I discovered that church leaders had created a "mission" statement some years before I got there.  It was a paragraph long, at least filled with all kinds of ideas.  

At one of our elder meetings, I asked if anyone could recite the mission statement of the church.  No one could tell me anything about it.  At last, one elder (who had served on the team who created it) managed to come up with one part of one sentence.  

The point was made.  Our mission statement was too long, too convoluted.  Hardly anyone knew what it said, and no one was really connected to it.  We needed to simplify things, and so we began working on doing just that.  In the end, we settled on a simply vision statement.  "Our vision is to Know Jesus and Show Jesus to the world."  

This simple vision has carried the church forward for the past seven years--to unprecedented growth, life and vibrancy.  When we started focusing on what really mattered, we began to see changes in the way we functioned, welcomed, conducted mission and ministry.  

I've discovered over time that when I apply the same kind of practice to my own life--when I simplify my focus when it comes to my faith journey.  When I keep my focus on Jesus and living according to his example, I find that my attitude toward others changes, too.  I also find the courage to leave the heavy lifting of life to God, and to simply surrender the outcomes. 

The Psalmist who wrote Psalm 131 declared, "I have stilled and quieted my soul... like a weaned child is my soul within me."  If you have ever had a baby who was going through the process of being weaned off of milk or formula--it's not fun. There's a lot of turmoil, crying and drama.  

But the Psalmist declares the opposite is true about his spirit.  Because he focused on God, because he surrendered the outcomes, he is simply able to be at peace.  

May you experience the peace that, according to the Bible, "passes understanding."  May you be blown away at the level of calm you can have when you simply focus on God, when you simply turn your life over to God, when you simply make God the center of your life. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.