Remember the Stream

Some days if we are all being honest we will admit that it’s difficult to feel grateful. Yet other times, we’re so moved filled with gratitude we can’t help but feel joy and optimism. These two very different emotions are usually based on circumstances.

But what if we intentionally choose to be grateful in spite of our circumstance?

Researchers describe gratitude as a personality strength: the ability to be keenly aware of the good things that happen and never take them for granted. It’s been shown that individuals who exhibit and express the most gratitude are happier, healthier and more energetic. Grateful people report fewer symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, and they spend more time being active. Also, the more a person is inclined to feel grateful, the less likely they are to feel lonely, stressed, anxious and depressed.

All of that sounds great! But… easier said than done. Have you noticed that most things in life worth doing are not done easily? Teddy Roosevelt once said,

Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty. . . . I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.

It’s not easy to get a college degree. It’s not easy to develop and maintain a healthy marriage and friendships. It’s not easy to raise children. It’s not easy to keep that job and give your best day in and day out. It’s not always easy to be grateful.

Gratitude is a choice we all have the ability to make. Love is an act of the will. Joy is an act of the will. Peace is an act of the will. Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are all choices we make in spite of the world around us and the feelings inside us. We see that all these choices are good and are choices we ought to make. Galatians 5:22-23 says,

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

We must choose to believe, even when doubts flood our soul. We must choose to give thanks, even when our heart doesn’t feel grateful. We must choose to worship, even when our voice doesn’t want to sing. We must choose to serve our Lord Jesus Christ, even when we would prefer to serve ourselves.

Joshua 24:15 says,

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

How about today, we choose to live out 1 Thessalonians 5:18,

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Regardless of what you face right now, choose to give thanks to the Lord for all He has done. Give thanks for His love that surpasses any and every circumstance. Psalm 106:1 says,

Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!

Gratitude unlocks the door to a heart of contentment, for contentment is never found in abundance alone. Contentment flows from the abundance of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:11,

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

There’s an old Chinese Proverb that says,

When you drink from the stream, remember the spring.

We live in a country abounding in resources, prosperity, and freedom. And yet we also experience political divisiveness, violence, a slumbering church, and natural disasters such as the horrific fires in California leaving a wake of death and destruction.

What causes us to rise above the chaos and celebrate the blessings is to “remember the spring” from which we drink. Lets remember the spring of Christ’s love, sacrifice, and honor that granted us freedom from sin. Galatians 5:1 says,

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

John 4:14 says,

But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

If you drink the water of life, remember the spring of His love that never runs dry. As has been said many times, “Freedom is never free.” Our national freedom came at the cost of many lives. Our spiritual freedom came at the cost of the life of One.

Colossians 2:13-15,

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

What are you grateful for today? Let us be grateful for the freedom we have in Christ. And if we drink from the stream of freedom, let us remember the spring from which that freedom flows.

Battleship or Cruise Ship?

How do you view your church? Is your church like a cruise ship or a battleship?

A Disney cruise is great, isn’t it? You enter a whole new world of fantasy and fun. A world centered around you and your experience while you are on the ship. You escape the demands and pressures of the real world, and for the time you are there you have no real obligations. Cruise ships are the mecca of consumerism where you are surrounded with food, shows, activities, pools, and entertainment. You don’t go on a cruise to contribute. In fact, you go to do the opposite. You go to consume. You don’t go on a cruise to make a difference, but instead to be impressed and “wowed.”

Unfortunately this is how many Christians approach church: to consume more than contribute, and to be impressed more than challenged.

Just recently my wife and I got to tour the USS Lexington that is off the coast of Corpus Christi. That thing is huge! It has a flight deck that is 910 feet long and is 196 feet wide! The carrier was commissioned in 1943, and it set more records than any other Essex Class carrier in the history of naval aviation. The ship was the oldest working carrier in the United States Navy when decommissioned in 1991. This carrier participated in nearly every major operation in the Pacific Theater od WWII and spent a total of 21 months in combat. The Japanese reported the USS Lexington sunk no less than four times! Yet, each time she returned to fight again, leading the Japanese to nickname her “The Blue Ghost.”

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But… what was amazing to me was touring the insides of the boat. The carrier housed roughly 3,000 sailors during WWII and the lower decks of the boat were like a city. It has eating and sleeping quarters, medical and dental facilities, a post office, chapel, etc… During the time this carrier was in service every soldier and sailor aboard the ship you would have a job. No exceptions. Every person on that carrier had a task to accomplish every single day.

I say all of that to make this point… many Christians view the church like a cruise ship more than a battle ship. On a cruise ship, the guests pay money for services, and the hired staff takes care of them. On a battle ship, those on board are commissioned, assigned specific tasks, equipped, and well trained, and when they enter into battle, everyone has a role, and they know what to do. We’ve lost the sense of the call to battle.

The church isn’t a cruise liner. A cruise is great for a vacation, but that’s not where you live life, raise your children, or find your greatest sense of fulfillment. Chocolate cake is nice as an occasional dessert, but if that’s all you eat, you start to feel unwell and malnourished. In the same way, if our Christian experience is just about consuming the productions that come from a stage or pulpit, we will become spiritually weak and malnourished.

It’s time to awaken our spirits to a revolution of the high demand of discipleship and servanthood. The church needs to be a battleship where we are preparing for, and engaging in, spiritual battles between ideas and worldviews, and where all of eternity hangs in the balance.  In Mark 8:35 Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him. This is a high calling which requires the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and all of the spiritual tools we have been granted access to. In Ephesians 6:10-17 the Apostle Paul wrote,

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 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. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

So, the next time you enter a church building, see it as a battleship, and notice how that changes your attitude and perspective of why you’re there.

An Unsustainable Pace

Today I was having a conversation with a college student in a grassy area outside the community college here in town. While we were conversing several children ran around playing tag and rolling in the grass. At first, it became annoying and distracting from the conversation that was taking place… but then a question began to nag in my mind. That question was: How are you doing with your playtime?

I couldn’t shake it? The question seemed silly! I’m an adult… I don’t “play.” But as I have thought about it all day the idea has started to unfold and I think there is an underlying importance within that simple question.

How are you doing with your playtime?

Not sure you should even have a playtime? Are you too grown up and mature for downtime, rest, and even… play? Well, maybe this is part of what you’re missing in life, and you like me are beginning to pay the price for the mindset of false productivity.

Research conducted by Dr. Stuart Brown, psychiatrist, clinical researcher, and founder of the National Institute for Play, reveals that a lack of downtime leads to lower work productivity, social isolation, and even depression. In “Dare to Lead” Brown says,

The opposite of play is not work—the opposite of play is depression

Through extensive studies, Dr. Brown and his institute have discovered that play increases empathy, creativity and innovation. It actually impacts our brain waves by creating a “cool down” from the frenetic pace of synapses permitting neurons to pass electrical or chemical signals to other neurons.

So in layman’s terms… if you want to be more productive at work, become intentional about cultivating play and sleep!

Dr. Brene Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, puts it this way,

We have to let go of exhaustion, busyness, and productivity as status symbols and measures of self-worth. We are impressing no one.

Practically speaking, this means many of us need to make some lifestyle and mindset changes. We need to establish boundaries by shutting off email and social media at a set time in order to focus on our families and our spiritual and emotional health. We need to stop celebrating people who work eighty-hours per week and stop bragging about how we’re tethered to our work responsibilities, as though that somehow makes us important.

Are you living at an unsustainable pace? If so… you are opening yourself up to some dangerous side effects of depression, anxiety, and burnout. And you are continuing to feed a culture of workaholic competitiveness in which no one wins.

Jesus’ solution was simple. In Mark 6:31 He said,

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Go with Jesus. Find a quiet place. Get some rest for your own sake!

Sometimes I am woke up at night with the worries and schedule of tomorrow. Sometimes I can’t “shut off my brain” as I try to think through a problem at work or in my life… sometimes they are even problems I have created in my mind or things I have no control over! Sometimes I find the joy leaking out and depression and anxiety rushing in to take its place. When these things happen, I realize that my work place and life pace has overtaken my faith, and I need to go away with Jesus, find a quiet place, and get some rest. And sometimes that even includes… play.

You May be Your Own Biggest Obstacle

Do you have dreams? Goals? Aspirations for your life?

I sure hope so! A life without dreams would have a rather bleak outlook. Or dreams, goals, and aspirations may look a little different, or more realistic, now than they did when we children. But… we have dreams nonetheless.

So… let me ask you. How do you turn a dream into reality? One step at a time.

My wife, Alaina, had a dream to be a Doctor and to help people through medicine. For the past few years she has been walking through that journey and she can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and the accomplishment of her dream. It hasn’t been easy! It hasn’t been quick! There have been times where she has been overwhelmed… but her dream has been her determination and she has never stopped pursuing it. One step at a time.

Just like my wife, we all have dreams, vision, aspirations, goals, and desires… but for some of us the real issue comes down to our determination.

No dream, vision, aspiration, goal, or desire comes to fruition without taking the first step.

God promised the Israelites they would inherit the land of Canaan. The promise was first made to Abraham. Genesis 15:18-21 says,

On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

What an awesome promise! But… the problem was, as you can notice from the Scripture above, there were people and obstacles in the way. To receive the blessing of their promise coming to fruition the Israelites had to step across the Jordan into the land of unknown. They had to face obstacles and overcome them in God’s power. They had to take responsibility and put the rubber to the road.

Alaina would not be in her 4th year of medical school right now had she not gone through the application process. Professional athletes wouldn’t be in the positions they are in without putting in the work required. Skilled musicians had to work and hone their craft to make the music we all enjoy.

Every dream is made up of small steps that propel you to see it come to reality.

I wish I could shout from a mountaintop so that all would hear, “YOU may be the biggest obstacle to fulfilling your dream! Not your parents. Not your education. Not your finances. Not where you are from. Not your boss. Take responsibility! Stop whining, blaming, fearing, dreading, and step into the future God has for you.”

Seek help. Don’t go it alone. Find a mentor. Develop a plan. Create a timeline. And then… take the first step. You’ve heard it said before,

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

I like the way Tony Evans puts it in his book Kingdom Man,

God’s activity in your life is tied to your footsteps.

Listen, you will have doubts, you will have naysayers, you will face obstacles, but you must push through them by a strength that transcends your perceived limitations. What was the Source of strength for the Israelites to step across the Jordan? Joshua 1:9 unveils that strength with a command,

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.

God with us, Emmanuel, is the Source of strength to start moving our feet and taking those steps.

I’m sure at times Alaina has been discouraged and had doubts. We all have! But… if she hadn’t pushed through those doubts and taken her first steps, she would not be where she is currently.

So… let me ask you? What’s holding you back from fulfilling your dream? Maybe it’s not something or someone around you. Maybe it’s something inside you. Pray, seek the Lord, and then start moving your feet.

Receiving a Gift that you Didn’t ask for or Want

Most of us have probably witnessed and kid opening a gift that they didn’t care for. It’s hilarious and mortifying all at the same time. It’s like an accident that you can’t seem to peel your eyes off of. I’m sure that many of you with kids try to condition or prep them beforehand by reminding them not to say that they don’t like the present or that it isn’t something that they wanted or need.

In fact, many of us have received presents from well intentioned loved ones that we do not want or need… but the gifts God gives us are different. They are just what we need! Some of his gifts we acknowledge right away and thank him for it. Whether it’s the good news about a expected child, a job promotion, or a beautiful sunset, we respond with joy and gratitude. Yet there are other gifts He gives that we don’t recognize as good gifts. They don’t come wrapped exquisitely, or even at a time we expect. In fact, we might not realize that God is the sender of the gift at all.

These are gifts that only over time do we look back and see them for what they are.

When I first unwrapped the gift of anxiety in my life, I was not thrilled… I was not grateful. I did not smile and say, “Alright! Just what I’ve always wanted!” But like Joseph, looking back, I can see how God has used something that people see as bad for my ultimate good and development. We see this idea demonstrated in the life of Joseph. Joseph went from beloved son, to slave, to royalty, all for God’s glory and purpose! Genesis 50:20 says,

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

Though there is nothing good about anxiety, God had used it for my good. He had used it to draw me deeper into his grace, He used it to strip me of self-reliance and self-righteousness, He has humbled me through it, He used it to show me my great need for Jesus and to turn me toward him, He has used it to show me I am not in control, He has used it to show me the true source of my peace and joy.

The Apostle Paul wrote about suffering as being a gift in his letter to the Philippians. In Philippians 1:29 he wrote,

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake.

The word “granted” here means “gifted.” It has been gifted to us to not only believe but to also suffer. We’ll take the gift of salvation any day, but the gift of suffering, that’s another matter. That might be a gift we don’t want and definitely didn’t ask for! That’s the kind of gift that is certainly not received with open arms.

But as James, Paul, and Peter point out, suffering is a gift that is intended for our good. Though the particular trial we experience is not good in and of itself, it is used by God for his glory and our ultimate spiritual good. Because it is in our trials that we are transformed into the likeness of Christ. James 1:2-4 says,

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If you never knew or experienced darkness, you would not know how to appreciate the light.

Suffering is to be expected in the life of a Christ follower, therefor we should not be surprised by it. When we suffer, in whatever form it takes, we are following in the steps of Christ. 1 Peter 2:21 says,

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.

But we have the hope that joy lies on the other side of suffering! Eternity with Christ awaits us. And what we experience now can’t even be compared with what is to come. Romans 8:18 says,

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

If we are in Christ, may we accept all God’s gifts with open hands, whether they are what we asked for or not. And in due time, as we look back and see what God has done, may we return thanks to him, rejoicing in his work of sanctification as he prepares us for that wondrous day when faith will be sight and all our hopes will be revealed.

Romans 5:1-5 says,

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Leading or Telling?

How many of us have ever had to speak to a travel agent to get some information on an upcoming trip? You sit in their office, they tell you about places they themselves haven’t been, they show you a bunch of brochures, and they describe the wonderful packages they could put together and how much they would cost you.

One time while on vacation in Arizona with my family we took a guided jeep tour. Our guide met us with the jeep, gave us useful information about the area, and then drove us through the streets, back roads, and mountains of beautiful Sedona. He didn’t just sit in an office and describe the scenery; he drove us through to see the scenery himself!

Travel agents give us information. Tour guides lead us to a destination.

Spiritually speaking, which of those two has helped you grow the most? The agent who tells you what to do, or the guide who shows you what to do? As a pastor, one of my main concerns is that I tell people how to grow spiritually more than show them how to grow spiritually, and I believe many Christians sit back and do the same.

In your Christian life, you can be a spiritual travel agent or a spiritual tour guide. Travel agents sit in climate-controlled buildings and tell people where to go, how to get there, and what to do when they arrive. It’s comfortable. It’s safe. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot like the modern way we do church? Tour guides lace up their shoes and trek alongside you. It’s definitely not always comfortable. It can be risky and messy, but ultimately very rewarding.

Heather Zempel author of Big Change Small Groups puts it this way,

We can’t just talk about prayer . . . we’ve got to do it with people. We can’t just complete a workbook on serving our community; we’ve got to get out there and do it. We can’t just explain to someone, we’ve got to do it alongside them.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1 the Apostle Paul wrote,

Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.

Do you live your life in such a way that you want others to follow? Are you committed to following Christ, so that others can follow you?

The way I learned how to ride a bike was my dad showing me. The way I learned how to pray was by my parents modeling it for me. The way I learned to preach was not just by reading books on homiletics but by actually preaching and having teachers help guide me.

Don’t be a travel agent Christian who just sits in a church building and tells people what to do. Be a tour-guide Christian who walks with others and shows people what to do!

Let’s follow the lead of the greatest Tour Guide who ever lived when he said in John 13:15,

I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

Lets get up off the pew, exit the building, and get to guiding!

A Bridge to Nowhere

What do you do with a bridge when the river moves and it is no longer effective?

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a photo of a bridge in Honduras. The bridge spanned the Choluteca River. The new Choluteca Bridge, also known as the Bridge of Rising Sun, was built by Hazama Ando Corporation between 1996 to 1998 and became the largest bridge constructed by a Japanese company in Latin America. This bridge, which was a gift from Japan to the people of Honduras, was constructed of concrete and steel using modern engineering and construction. It was built to last, and a lot of money was invested in the project.

In late October 1998, the same year the bridge was completed and commissioned for use, Hurricane Mitch struck Central America leaving more than 11,000 people dead, destroying hundreds of thousands of homes and causing more than $5 billion in damages. It was the deadliest hurricane to hit the Western Hemisphere in more than 200 years.

Hurricane Mitch began as a tropical depression on October 22, and by October 26 had intensified into a Category 5 hurricane. Sustained winds reached 180 mph, while gusts were more than 200 mph. After making landfall in Honduras on October 29, Hurricane Mitch moved through Central America before reaching Florida as a tropical storm on November 4th, 1998.

Mitch was an especially destructive storm; it slammed into the country of Honduras and ended up dumping over six feet of rain in less than four days. Honduras and Nicaragua were especially hard hit by the hurricane. In Honduras, floods and mudslides brought on by heavy rainfall washed away entire villages, and the majority of the country’s crops and infrastructure were destroyed. The other Central American nations were also affected by Hurricane Mitch, although the death tolls in these locations were significantly lower than Honduras and Nicaragua.

In total, more than 11,000 people (some estimates put the figure as high as 18,000) died because of the hurricane, making Mitch the most deadly storm in the Western Hemisphere since the Great Hurricane of 1780 in the Eastern Caribbean. Additionally, several million people were made homeless or severely impacted by Hurricane Mitch, which is estimated to have caused more than $5 billion in damages.

The Bridge of the Rising Sun spanning the Choluteca managed to survive the devastating destruction of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the more than six feet of water that it dumped on Honduras as it camped out and intensified over them for several days.

However, the tragic results lie not in the construction of the bridge but in the nature of rivers. Rivers move. Alas, after a deluge of rain and flooding, the river jumped its banks and carved a new channel in which to flow through.

Rivers move… bridges do not.

 

choluteca-bridge.jpg

 

This is especially true of ones built with steel and concrete. In the process, the flood washed away the roads and ramps that connected to the bridge making the once functional bridge into a bridge to nowhere. This edifice of sound engineering found itself no longer over the river. It could no longer serve its original purpose.

What do you do when the river moves?

This story can be used as an illustration for the church today. It is almost like a modern day parable with relevance to our current situation. For many of us… christians, pastors, and churches the river has moved.

As is the case with any successful institution, the church was built with the best social and religious engineering available at the time: as a robust and hardy structure designed to be effective and to last. A lot of time, energy, sweat, and money has been previously invested. In fact, there has been generations of investment, and it has served as a bridge for many to move from death to life. Our design, methods, and ideas have spanned the river… when the river was in the right place.

But… unfortunately society has changed. The result is that what used to be true has jumped the old banks where the church had constructed itself. And now, the church is left with a well-built bridge: a bridge of pews, brick and stone and stained glass; a bridge of doctrine, dress code, residential schools, prayer books, organ music, etc.

And the river is no longer where it should be.

None of our previous methods, techniques, and bridges of the past are bad… they just are no longer spanning the river. Our bridges are ineffective structures. They may be nice to look at, we might have fond memories of how they used to work, but ultimately they are no longer serving the purpose of which they were once intended. This brings up options for how to respond to this new situation.

Can we dredge the river back in place? Can we find enough excavators to dig the river back into its rightful channel? How do we move a river? Maybe it will find its way back under our bridge if we are patient? Or do we find another way?

Might we accept the reality and power of the river? It has moved and it isn’t coming back.

Do we begin to reconsider a new bridge? Can we creatively consider spanning the river with lighter and flexible materials: materials able to be adjusted to moving rivers and changing circumstances?

What do we do when the river starts to move?

The “Ides of March”

March is a month full of madness. We have Pi day, Daylight Savings Time, St. Patrick’s Day, spring breaks, and of course my favorite thing about March… March Madness! Although my beloved Kentucky Wildcats just fell short in the elite 8 I still have one thing to proclaim… Go CATS!

I’ve heard it said that the safest bet you can make in the month of March is that people will be distracted. I know I definitely am! I look at my phone checking the scores of teams I couldn’t have cared less about a little more than a week prior. It’s actually reported that American companies will lose $1.9 billion in wages paid to unproductive workers in the month of March. Do I have your attention, or have I lost you to your bracket?

In spite of all the distractions in March, and might I add any other month, we should never lose sight that our own “Ides of March” moment is coming.

If you’ve heard of the “Ides of March” you might know you’re supposed to beware them from the old saying. Why? In ancient Rome, the “Ides of March” were equivalent to our March 15. In the Roman calendar, this date corresponded to several religious observances. The Romans considered the “Ides of March” as a deadline for settling debts. But for our modern world if you’ve heard of the “Ides of March” it’s probably thanks to William Shakespeare. Tradition has it that a “dreamer” warned Caesar that harm would come his way no later than the “Ides of March.” On his way to the Theater of Pompey, the place of his assassination, Caesar passed the man and joked, “The Ides of March have come,” to which he replied, “Aye, Caesar; but not gone.” In his play, Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare immortalized this event when Caesar was warned by the soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March.” Two acts later, Caesar is assassinated on the steps of the Senate. In the play, and in reality, Julius Caesar was indeed assassinated on the ides of March in the year 44 B.C.

Beware the “Ides of March.” 

Wouldn’t it be nice, though, if someone told you the exact day on which you would die? I can’t help but relate this thinking to the upsets in the NCAA tournament this past weekend. Would the losing teams have played differently if they’d known they were going to lose? Would they have beaten themselves mentally even before the game had started?

If someone told you, “Beware of May 23, for that is the day of your demise,” would that make you live a better life today? Or would you walk around in despair knowing the date of your death sentence?

Well, let me give you some bad news followed up with some good news. First, the bad news: Your “Ides of March” is coming. At some point, you and I are going to die. We don’t know the day or hour, but that particular day and hour are coming.

What’s important is that we don’t live our lives foreboding, or distracted. We should live our lives forgiving, forgetting, and forgoing.


Forgive

Matthew 6:12-15 says,

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Forgive those who have wronged you. It takes way too much energy to hold on to the wrongs and injustices against you. Free yourself from the control of that anger, bitterness, and revenge. Whether the offender deserves forgiveness or not, when you forgive, you are releasing what is inside of you that holds you back from freedom and new life.


Forget

Philippians 3:13 says,

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

Forget what lies behind! Let go of the past, so that the past will let go of you. You can’t progress when your memories of the past exceed your dreams for the future. It’s hard to move forward if you’re always looking back. God told the children of Israel in Isaiah 43:19,

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.


Forgo

Luke 14:33 says,

So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

To forgo means to surrender, relinquish, and renounce your way and accept God’s way as the key to living a fulfilled life. We must give up in order to grow up! Spiritual toddlers keep demanding their way. Spiritually mature Christians are willing to “go without” in order to “go with” God and His plan for your life.


Yes, the bad news is bad: For each of us, our “Ides of March” is coming. But that makes the good news all the better: in Christ, we are going to live! Romans 5:21 says,

So that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Rejoice that through death comes resurrection. Romans 6:5 says,

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

Death is a moment in time that gives way to a place that has no time. We must be willing to let go of earth in order to embrace heaven. If you are “in Christ,” He will lead you through that moment in time when you face your “Ides of March.” The reason we fear no evil (or death) is because God is with us.

Psalm 23:4 reassures us of this. It says,

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

The One who abides with us will bring us past the “Ides of March” to the place where there will be “no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” Revelation 21:4 says,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

As one of my favorite hymns says:

There is coming a day,
When no heart aches shall come,
No more clouds in the sky,
No more tears to dim the eye,
All is peace forever more,
On that happy golden shore,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

There’ll be no sorrow there,
No more burdens to bear,
No more sickness, no pain,
No more parting over there;
And forever I will be,
With the One who died for me,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be,
When my Jesus I shall see,
And I look upon His face,
The One who saved me by His grace;
When He takes me by the hand,
And leads me through the Promised Land,
What a day, glorious day that will be.

Gathering Sticks

Throughout history few leaders have accomplished as much as the apostle Paul, yet he endured an astonishing number of traumatic events: imprisonment, beatings, sleeplessness, hunger, thirst, and many other forms of suffering. 2 Corinthians 11:25 is a small example of the things Paul himself went through. It says,

Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea.

In Acts chapter 27, Luke tells about one of those shipwrecks and includes dramatic details about a terrifying storm at sea that ultimately broke the ship Paul was sailing upon apart. In the aftermath of the shipwreck, Paul and his fellow passengers scrambled for safety onto the shore of an island called Malta. In Acts 28:2 Luke recalls,

The native people showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold.

Remember what happened next? Verses 3-7 continue by saying,

When Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the native people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, Justice has not allowed him to live.” He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They were waiting for him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god.

It’s a minor point, but notice: Paul was a leader who was willing to pick up sticks!

Paul didn’t sit on the sidelines and say, “Someone needs to build a fire. I’m an apostle, a man of God, not a stick-gatherer. You guys go gather sticks while I sit and watch.” Paul didn’t consider the menial task of gathering firewood beneath his dignity. He didn’t excuse his own inaction by saying, “Look, I’ve got more important things to do! I have sermons to prepare and letters to write.” He simply saw a need and pitched in to help build the fire. Paul saw himself as an example, not an exception. He saw himself as a coworker, not a superstar or privileged individual demanding special treatment.

Paul also didn’t use his past and the circumstances he had endured to limit his actions. Paul didn’t view himself as too educated, too undereducated, too important, or too busy to handle the task at hand.

Paul went beyond his “job description” to see that the task got done.

In Scripture Jesus unleashed some of his harshest criticism on leaders who did “not practice what they preach.” We see this in Matthew 23:2-4,

The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.

These hypocritical leaders were professors, but they were not practitioners.

Ask yourself: Are you a professor or a practitioner?

We call teachers who serve on a college faculty “professors” because of their ability to pass along knowledge and expertise to others. More broadly, “professor” refers to anyone who professes opinions and beliefs in a way that instructs others. In this sense, all Christians are professors, for we all have God’s good news message to share and teach. But… it’s not enough to profess faith without practicing it! This is true for all Believers, but this is especially true for those who accept the responsibilities of church leadership.

Jesus calls leaders to service, not self-glorification. Godly leaders shouldn’t aspire for impressive titles, positions, or the honor of man. Jesus insists, in Matthew 23:11

The greatest among you shall be your servant.

Hear this: if someone can’t be trusted with little things (like gathering firewood), why should anyone trust him with big things (like leading a congregation)?

Now each of us should ask ourselves… are our hands dirty? Can people trust us to see through even the menial tasks?

Of course, church leaders must use their time and abilities wisely, and sometimes they must let others wait on tables while they devote themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:3-4 says,

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

But the point is, faithful leaders don’t shy away from hard work. They put their hands and efforts to the task along with the rest of God’s people. Effective leaders are willing to get their hands dirty, and when the need arises, they venture out into the woods and pick up sticks.

 

Just Don’t Stay Down

For those who are involved in my personal life you certainly know that I shoot competitively. This past weekend was my first competition back from my off-season and my first of many to be shot in 2019. This particular match was called “Hard Rock” and is the first of a trio of matches called “Hard as Hell.” My expectations were that it would be hard… but I truly couldn’t have expected what myself and my gear would be pitted against just in order to finish each individual stage.

There were moments in the middle of the snow and sleet trying to manipulate a firearm that was determined to not function correctly that frustration set in and it was all I could do to continue to fight through in an attempt to finish.

At one point while walking back to my vehicle after a slippery run through the woods shooting steel targets an Army Ranger who was there shooting asked me how I did. My response was something along the lines of, “I fell down 3 times on the course of fire. The run was decent, but I know I could’ve done better.” His response was short but sweet. He said, “Well… it would’ve been worse if you had stayed down!”

I am no stranger to the feeling of disappointment when you fail and fall. This past weekend is probably the poorest I have ever done at a shooting competition. But… if you allow yourself to learn from failure and you get back up and go right back at it your character will reflect your resound.

Failure doesn’t have to be the final chapter. Your slips and falls don’t have to determine the outcome.

In August of 1521 Martin Luther wrote a letter to his friend, Philip Melanchthon, and near the end of the letter he wrote these now famous words,

Pecca Fortiter, sed forties fide et gaude in Christ

Our translation of this is,

Sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly!

Luther’s words have often been misunderstood as granting permission to sin or encouraging people to sin, but I’d like to suggest another view which perhaps can help all of us deal with our daily struggles with temptation, failure, disappointment, or despair.

Who hasn’t experienced the disappointment of trying to move forward only to fall back? Of trying to keep a promise only to forget? Of trying to overcome only to give in? Of trying to do what’s right, think what’s right, and follow what’s right only to fail? We all have! When we experience these disappointments, set backs and failures, we tend to slip into one of two patterns.

First, we enter into what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called a “cheap grace,” where we dismiss our sin in light of God’s grace without any inner transformation or true repentance. This is a “boys-will-be-boys” mentality of accepting and writing off our sins and failures as a natural and almost unavoidable outflow of our human nature. The Apostle Paul described this tolerance of sin in Romans 6:1-4 like this,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

This first pattern is one of flippancy toward sin where we dismiss it and continue to repeat the cycle of sin, brief regret, quick prayer, moving on, back to sin, brief regret, etc. The problem is the cycle goes unbroken, and we do not experience the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The second pattern is where our sin and failure is followed by us being overwhelmed with guilt and shame and causing us to withdraw to a defeatist mentality. We either become a legalist where we hide behind a mask of “all-is-good spirituality” while struggling with guilt underneath, or like that Army Ranger pointed out we can alternately develop spiritual stage fright, where because of our fear of falling we hide behind our anxieties of the “what-ifs” and we fail to step out with bold obedience.

Both of these patterns consist of an attempt to overcome our sin patterns by some external means rather than the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I believe the words of Martin Luther are helpful to us in whichever pattern we find ourselves. Following Jesus is a call for us to die to self and be reborn with the power of His indwelling Spirit like Jesus says in Mark 8:34,

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

In fact 2 Corinthians 5:17-18a says,

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God.

In other words, we cannot do it on our own! We cannot overcome our sins in our own strength and power. Therefore, we live our lives boldly in the transforming power of God’s grace. We don’t have to walk in fear of failure, but instead we walk in the love of Jesus Christ.

Martin Luther’s words are not given as a license to sin but to stop living in the fear of falling, failing, and sinning!

I’ve never walked a tightrope strung across two high rises, but I imagine that the person doing so must focus on the destination rather than on what lies below. Like a tightrope walker if we live our lives thinking most about not falling, we most likely find ourselves in the disappointing posture of having fallen. It’s when we live our lives thinking most about the love of Jesus Christ that we find ourselves standing on His path of righteousness.

And when you do fall, because you will fall, get up, turn from sin and shame, live in the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and refocus your life on Him. Failure can be eye-opening if you allow it to be! An old proverb says, “Fall seven times, stand up eight.” As long as you keep getting up, you’re not failing. Don’t be anxious about sinning, but rejoice in Christ!

You will fall… just don’t stay down!