Passing the Baton

Act therefore according to your wisdom, but do not let his gray head go down to Sheol in peace. 7 But deal loyally with the sons of Barzillai the Gileadite, and let them be among those who eat at your table, for with such loyalty they met me… ESV 1 Kings 2:6-7

We often live for retirement at our work, and on one level I understand. Work is hard, and it’s nice to look forward to being done. Or perhaps God is calling us to a new job, and we only have a limited time left. Regardless, at some point, all of us transition jobs, careers and callings, and how we choose to do that says a lot about our spiritual formation. Wise leaders spend time preparing their replacements and then adequately passing off their responsibilities.

As David grew older and increasingly removed from the daily life of his kingdom, cracks began to appear. Two of his sons led revolts and tried to install themselves as king. The first one created a civil war, while David averted the second through wise counsel from his closest friends. When David installed Solomon as king, he didn’t just turn him loose to reign. Instead, he spent time coaching Solomon on the important first steps he needed to take as king. Part of that included explaining to Solomon who the good and bad guys were in the kingdom. There were certain situations David hadn’t dealt with. Perhaps he had lost the will to challenge these evil people. Perhaps he felt he owed them certain things. Regardless, now that Solomon was in charge, he urged his son to sack certain people and deal loyally and faithfully with others.

While we must be careful in what we say about others, we can learn from David’s example the importance of passing our callings off to younger people. I’m forever grateful for the work of my predecessor. He candidly shared with me the joys and sorrows he had while pastoring our church, and his wisdom and insights have guided me well after his retirement. May you do the same. Don’t be afraid of the next generation. Don’t keep your knowledge to yourself. Don’t force them to learn through failure and mistakes. Like David, pass the baton of leadership by sharing everything you can to help the next generation. Then they will stand on your shoulders and thrive. That’s good leadership.


Family Worship

I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you. ESV Genesis 22:5

Sunday morning can feel like a great day to sleep in, watch the Olympics, and just bum around the house with the family. After a week of going a million directions, taking time together as a family is incredibly important. However, more important than just being together is being together in the worship of God.

Did you know the first mention of “worship” in the Bible is by Abraham as he prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac? In the verse quoted above, Abraham exercises tremendous faith, because not only is he determined to take his son and worship (which will involve sacrificing Isaac), his faith is so strong that he believes somehow God will resurrect Isaac and both he and his beloved son will return to the servants. So much truth can impact us from these verses. First, we see the importance of worship in the family. Abraham could have opted for other forms of family time. He could have taken Isaac on a father/son fishing trip, sports activity, or breakfast. Instead he opts to worship with his son. Secondly, we see Abraham’s great faith and get a glimpse into how he passed this faith to his son. When we opt to sleep in, to skip church, to make worship a low priority, we shouldn’t be surprised when our children fail to embrace our faith. Abraham led his son to a sacrifice, and saw his faith greatly rewarded in his future generations. Finally, we see Abraham’s obedience. God called him to worship and he went. God has called us to worship as well.

Yes, in my flesh, I too would rather just sleep in this morning, relax around the house, and not worry about church. However, in my spirit I sense this will be a wonderful morning of worship with my family. Will it involve sacrifice on my part? Absolutely (though nowhere near the level of sacrifice Abraham had to make). Will the results be worthwhile? Absolutely. Just imagine if my children and future grandchildren embrace worshiping the Lord Jesus. That alone is reason to take them to worship this morning. I pray you too join me in taking your family to worship Jesus Christ with your church family this morning. If you don’t have a church home, may you Google one and give it a shot. Like Abraham, you won’t regret it.

God and Ice

He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs… ESV Psalm 147:17

As a snow lover, this winter in Maryland has been quite disappointing, so I take whatever I can get. Today we got a snow/sleet/rain mix that at gave a slight white tint to the grass and put a slushy coating on the roads. Altogether, it definitely made for a great day to relax around the house. With these events, I’m always asking myself what I can learn about God through the weather.

Psalm 147 describes God’s awesome power, and part of the description involves how he hurls down His ice like crumbs. Apparently God was eating a giant loaf of iced bread, and the crumbs that dropped from His table made up our amazing display of sleet and wet snow. When you consider the amount of ice that falls, the power to make this happen is nothing short of amazing–drawing our attention to our Creator in awe. Just think about this for a minute. One inch of water on one acre of land weighs 113.31 tons. (a little over 200,000 pounds). The forecast for today calls for a little over .5 inches of rain/sleet/snow, so on my 4 acre property, God will drop 400,000 pounds of water (2,000 tons). That’s 7.7 million tons of water in my county alone (a relatively small 213 sq. mile county by the Chesapeake Bay). That’s only one of the the probably 20 counties in our area getting rainfall today. God’s “crumbs” of ice weigh over 7.7 million tons…all of which he dribbles down from the sky. Put another way, that’s the equivalent weight of 21 Empire State Buildings…all that God dropped on our county this afternoon with no effort at all. If that doesn’t amaze you, I give up.

Isn’t it amazing how God’s power is displayed all around us? If we only would stop for a moment and think (and do the math), we would find ourselves blown away by His awesome power. May you take some time today to reflect on the weather and consider how great and awesome our God is. If you don’t believe in Him, perhaps this will give you reason to reconsider. Blessings my friends.

Confessions of a Control Freak

For the love of Christ controls us, ESV 2 Corinthians 5:14

I struggle with control, and from my observations, I’m not the only one. Parents try to control their kids (I’ve seen it go so far as a father who bought a house for his son just so he could use that as leverage to control his adult child and grandchildren). We try to control illness (or lack thereof) through worry, constant cleaning/sanitizing, etc. We try to control our spouses through nagging, pressure, under our breath comments, or perhaps gifts, acts of service and flattery. We try to control our jobs by tweaking our Linked in page, kissing up to the right people, pushing our ideas and so forth. I’ve been guilty of trying to control people’s spiritual growth by thinking if I get my sermons, counseling, and teaching right, I can mold and shape people how I think they should grow.

Alas, all of this controlling really only serves to expose the idols of our hearts and mind. In reality, we are trying to be God. We think if we are in control, we will be happy. This drive for happiness compels us to control everything in our life, overwhelming us with the pressures of being God and we often end up frustrated, anxious, depressed and often failing. If only we would listen to Scripture, submit our souls to God and let Him control things, we might find the life and happiness we so desperately seek. Paul gives a mature perspective when He explains that rather than us controlling life, we should be controlled by the love of Christ. For recovering control freaks like myself, this sounds terrifying, but consider the blessings. If we can grasp how much Christ loves us and be controlled by that, we will truly be freed to live. His love for us guarantees our salvation, our forgiveness, our life. Rest in His love. If our kids don’t do exactly what we want, if our career doesn’t turn out precisely right, if our day doesn’t follow our exact plan, God loves us anyway and is working all things together for His good.

May you be controlled by the love of Christ today. May you rest in His love and let Him be God. Playing God yourself is exhausting and life-sapping. Let Him control you and enjoy the life He offers. Relinquishing control never felt so good.

Jesus: the Hope of the World

These two things shall come to you in a moment, in one day; the loss of children and widowhood shall come upon you in full measure, in spite of your many sorceries and the great power of your enchantments. ESV Isaiah 47:9

Perhaps we are growing numb to it all. How many school shootings have I lived through? It seems every few months we hear of another slaughter. The shock is gone. Now I just shake my head. What is happening to our country? Why are so many people dying? Why such violence?

God predicted this in the book of Isaiah. Speaking of Babylon, a country much like ours, He predicted the loss of children and fathers in a single day. It seems to happen on a regular basis in our day. A few verses later, He comments, “evil shall come upon you, which you will not know how to charm away; disaster shall fall upon you, for which you will not be able to atone; and ruin shall come upon you suddenly, of which you know nothing” (v. 11). Does this not perfectly describe our country? The further we stray from the gospel of Jesus, the more corrupt we become and the more disaster we endure. Could it be that God is hoping we will turn from our wickedness and embrace Him?

Let me be clear, this repentance begins with the house of God. I gathered with a few believers last night for prayer, and one of them begged us to pray for our local schools and the people in them. As Christians, we have abandoned our call to take the gospel to the world. We have failed to present people with the gospel. We have failed to be a light in the darkness. We can’t expect government programs to solve problems. We can’t argue gun laws (for or against…either side is foolish). The only hope of the world is Jesus Christ, and the only way they will hear of Jesus is through us–His followers. It’s time to stop shaking our heads, or reacting numbly and going about our way. It’s time to step up, pray fervently, build relationships and share the news that changed our life. We are sinful; sin brings death; Jesus died for sin; those who trust Him have life that begins now and lasts forever. Join me in sharing this hope to our broken world.

People Aren’t the Enemy

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. ESV Ephesians 6:12

My wife and I both had hard days yesterday. It seemed some good friends of mine really got on my nerves and I nearly lashed out and sent a nasty email challenging their love for God, spiritual life and everything else. Apparently I really got on my wife’s nerves, even as I tried to do the things I thought she wanted done. Through the Holy Spirit, she held her tongue and didn’t say anything. God’s grace allowed us to process the day yesterday evening and we both marveled at how well the enemy had pushed our buttons and tried to play us.

You see, people aren’t the enemy. They sure seem like it, but Paul reminds us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood–or living humans that we see, hear, touch, or live with. On the contrary, we are involved in a daily battle with spiritual rulers and authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, and spiritual forces of evil. The adversary is incredibly active, and one of his prime tactics is to convince us that other people are the problem (our spouse, our children, our neighbors, our friends). He often convinces us God is the problem (after all, He won’t answer our prayers, he allows us to suffer, etc.). In reality, the spiritual battle is fierce. Daniel’s prayers were delayed for several weeks as the angel who was to answer battled Satan to get to Daniel. The challenge I faced yesterday was with Satan working my perception of my friends. The battle wasn’t with my friends, it wasn’t with my spouse. Satan (or his minions), worked to frustrate my wife through my actions. Fortunately, God’s grace prevailed as He has opened our eyes to the spiritual world.

Consider this: your spouse is not the enemy. Your children, your boss, your neighbor, is not the enemy. The adversary is the enemy and he continues to stir up strife around you and blame it on others. This is a classic warfare technique, and He does it well. May you be aware of his tactics today. May you put on the full armor of God to stand firm. Ask the Lord to open your eyes to the spiritual battle and the victory we have in Christ. People aren’t the enemy.

Parenting “Hats”

The king covered his face, and the king cried with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 5 Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, ESV 2 Samuel 19:4-5

A few days ago we were watching the Olympic men’s luge if I recall correctly. For the first time, the US men won a medal, and sadly the favored German made some mistakes on his final run, completely falling out of medal contention. As his sled came to a stop, his father/coach came onto the track and hugged him, consoling him. The words of the announcer really explained the situation as he commented that the man was “removing his coaching hat and putting on his father had to comfort his son.” As parents, we wear many hats and knowing which hat to wear at which moment requires God’s grace and our spiritual formation.

David struggled with his “hat choices” as well. As a parent, his soul mourned deeply for Absalom after his death. However, in doing so, he nearly lost his kingdom. Joab rightly challenged David to put aside his mourning hat and put on his kingly/leadership hat. After all, Absalom had led a coup against the throne. He willfully attempted to turn the people against his father, and in many ways received a just reward for his actions. David’s grief got the best of him, and he momentarily failed to choose the right hat for the situation. Only after Joab’s challenge, did David change his focus, encourage his people and begin to restore order in his kingdom. A careful read of the story indicates David never told his sons “no,” indicating he struggled to wear the disciple hat in his parenting. If we fail to wear the appropriate hat at the appropriate time, we risk destroying our children and ruining our own lives.

My wife and I regularly feel this tension. When our kids are struggling, we wrestle with whether they need discipline or encouragement. Do they need comfort or challenge? We generally opt for the tough love approach, but at other times hear the Holy Spirit encouraging us to back off our standards and try a lighthearted approach. Each situation requires a unique approach. Pray hard. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Be willing to change hats. God will guide you.

Christ at Work

…and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” Now I was cupbearer to the king… ESV Nehemiah 1:11

Yesterday in church we considered the challenge of mental illness and all associated with it. To help us better understand the the nuances of mental health, we brought in a Christian counselor to guide us through some practical steps of dealing with depression and anxiety. When she introduced herself to the congregation, she shared that she worked at a secular counseling center, yet had been given great freedom to share her faith through her work. While she’s not able to ask people to receive Christ, she can share the gospel, encourage them to find a church and urge them to consider the spiritual side of their lives.

In our culture today, I think we too often feel as Christians we aren’t allowed to be a witness for Jesus at our work place. However, this is a lie from Satan that couldn’t be further from the church. Yes, we are employed to do a job. However, as we do our work, God may open doors for us to advance His kingdom, even if it doesn’t explicitly involve sharing the gospel. Joseph used his position to secure his family’s well-being. Nehemiah used his to secure resources to rebuild Jerusalem. Esther used her position to save her people. Daniel used his position to witness to the most powerful men alive and point them to God. We must not fear the opportunities God places before us as at our work. While we may not lead Bible studies on company time or lead all our co-workers to the Lord, it doesn’t mean we can’t be a powerful witness.

A good friend of mine used to teach 4th grade in the public schools. While she didn’t explicitly share her faith, she tried to ensure the biographies they read were of believers. She would also take every opportunity when kids asked what she believed to tell them. Another friend asked a question about faith in a public forum, enabling deeper conversation. Mike Pence especially seems to be able to witness effectively in his position. I’ve been quite impressed with how he displays his faith in a very difficult calling. God placed you in your workplace to glorify Him. Do it well!

Standing Sober

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. ESV 1 Peter 5:8

For some reason, I’ve especially felt the prowling of the adversary lately. From an event at church last night that started with him trying to get a foothold, to some things I’m wrestling with today, he seems to constantly be trying to shift my focus off of Christ. It’s amazing how quickly I can get frustrated or knocked off my game. However, when we read the verse above, we should learn to expect these distractions.

Peter warns us to be sober-minded and watchful. Apparently the devil is trying to devour me (and you) today. While I think I’m living just a regular Saturday, the devil is hungrily trying to get me to sin in any way he can. Whether it’s frustrating me as I install new wiper blades, challenging my patience through my children, or tempting my thoughts toward sin in various ways, Satan is constantly seeking to draw my heart away from Christ Jesus. While we should never fear the devil, we need to realize this truth as part of our spiritual formation. For this reason, we have to remain on guard at all times. Yes, we can take Sabbath to relax, but we must always remain in prayer, wary of his sudden attacks. Like a soldier in a combat zone, we must always be ready to defend against an enemy attack. While Christ has died, securing our eternal life, the adversary wants to do everything in his power to ruin our present life on earth. Only by remaining watchful and sober can we avoid the attacks of the adversary.

How has Satan knocked you off your game today? Has he caught you off-guard? May I encourage you to stay focused on Jesus at all times so that you might guard your heart and mind against the attacks of the enemy? The warfare is real, but the victory is assured when we simply stand firm in Christ Jesus. He has won the victory, but we have to claim it in each attack. Stand strong my friend!

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