The Best Monday I’ve Had All Week!

The Best Monday I’ve Had All Week!

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A friend of mine, while serving as the preaching minister in a local church, became known for consistently saying, “Today’s the best Sunday I’ve had all week!”.  At first glance, it may be easy to chalk that up to it being the only Sunday in the week, but it was really a statement about attitude rather than frequency.  I’ve worked in ministry long enough to be certain he wasn’t saying that everything had gone just as he had wanted during the previous week, or that the events of the day were even going fully according to his plan.  No, I believe it was one tool of many which he used to remind himself and others that it was a day given by God and a day meant to be used to honor God — no matter what!

I thought about that example today as I worked through my morning routines on a Monday that is anything but routine.  While we often think of Monday as the start of a new work week, it almost always has baggage from the previous week hanging around.  For me, last week was filled with struggles and issues that remain unresolved but aren’t really within my ability or responsibility to resolve.  Nonetheless, they weigh on me and can have a tendency to fill my mind to the point of distraction and even discouragement if I let them.  With last week’s burdens still hanging over me, I woke up to fresh snow that I wasn’t expecting — meaning extra work to start the day.

But then my routine kicks in.  The sidewalks are cleared, the building is cleaned and prepped for the day, and I settle in to write the prayer guide for next week.  After some time with God, we settle in on a topic based on Colossians 3:2 which says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  Monday mornings I typically set aside to write the prayer guide that I will publish and send out the following week.  Some weeks the topic comes easily and other weeks it is a struggle to hear God clearly in regard to where the focus should be.  Some weeks I’m not sure who the primary audience is that God will use it to reach and other weeks I’m pretty sure it is meant to speak directly to me before it goes out to anyone else.

The reminders I worked on this morning were priceless.  Reminders to not worry, to be open to the instruction of Scripture, to allow the Spirit to fill my all of me including my mind, to be transformed by having a renewed mind, to engage my mind in prayer, and to surround myself with like-minded people who seek to honor God.  Yes, it’s the best Monday I’ve had all week — not because it is the only Monday I’ll have all week, but because it came with an attitude adjustment that calls me to reset my mind on the things of Christ.  Now that doesn’t mean the struggles are gone or resolved, they remain and some of them continue to grow.  What changes, and what must change, is how I set my mind in the midst of things beyond my responsibility and control.

The morning made me think of the photo I put at the top of this post.  It is one I took last Saturday and I would guess most people looking at it are drawn to the blue sky and bright white clouds.  Yet within the same photo is a base of drab browns and grays of a sparse winter landscape.  Your view of that photo is really dependent on where you set you mind, whether consciously or subconsciously.  On this best Monday you’ll have all week, it is time to set your mind on things above!

In prayer,
Tom Lemler  

Just Looking

Just Looking

What are you looking at? I mean, when you’re not reading this wonderful blog, what catches your eye on a regular basis? Is there any harm, or benefit, in “just looking”? Do you even give much thought to the things you not only see but to that which you allow your thoughts to rest upon for more than a moment?

Most of the major purchases I’ve made in life began as “just looking”. Sometimes the “just looking” phase is a research time in order to find the best possible solution to something that I actually need. Many times, though, the “just looking” is more of a dreaming or longing for something that I know I don’t need but somehow it has caught my attention.

I’m not sure there is a problem with just looking . . . other than it is not possible to do over some length of time. No, the problem typically lies in what we are just looking at rather than in the fact we are looking. It seems our thoughts, and then our actions, typically follow our line of sight. So, “just looking” becomes “just thinking” which, in time, becomes “just doing”.

From Eve “just looking” and seeing the fruit forbidden by God was “good for food” to the heroes of the “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 who were “just looking” for a kingdom whose architect was God, the Bible is filled with stories of people whose actions were determined by the direction of their gaze. Some show the pitfalls of “just looking” in the wrong direction. Eve “just looking” at what God said was off limits. Lot “just looking” at the cities of the plains which were filled with wickedness. The people of Israel “just looking” at the nations surrounding them. Each followed their “just looking” with actions which led them into sin they probably thought they would never be involved in.

Others chose to fix their gaze on things of a more noble nature. Abraham was “just looking” for a land promised by God of which he did not know. Moses found himself “just looking” at God rather than the treasures of Egypt. The Bereans were “just looking” at scripture to see if what they were being taught was from God. Each of these, and many more, turned their “just looking” into a faithful pursuit of God even when the visible wasn’t always complete.

And then there’s David. David portrays the range that most of us deal with throughout our life. There are times, such as when facing Goliath, that he is “just looking” at God and not being distracted by the enemy. And then there are other times, such as His relationship with Bathsheba, when he is “just looking” at the things of this world in a way that he shouldn’t and it leads him deeper and deeper into sin. That is why God tells us to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” When we live a life “just looking” at Jesus and the truth found in His Word, we will find our thoughts and actions will follow our gaze and be pleasing to Him.

So, what are you “just looking” at today? Where is it leading your thoughts? How will your actions be influenced by the things you allow your eyes to settle on today? Are there things you are doing now as a result of “just looking” in the past that you wish you had never gotten involved in? How about good things that your past “just looking” has led you to? What do those experiences tell you about what you ought to fix your eyes on today?

I pray that you and I would pay close attention to the things we rest our gaze upon so that the influences of what we say and do would lead us to a life pleasing to God.

In prayer,
Tom Lemler

A Life of PRAYER

A Life of PRAYER

I had the opportunity to preach yesterday but didn’t remember to take my mp3 recorder with me, so no audio to share this time.  As I practice, and teach about, a lifestyle of prayer, there are a number of things that I find happen through such a way of life.  I’ve prepared several sermons that highlight some of what a lifestyle of prayer is, and yesterday’s message was one of them.

Many times when we try to describe something we skip the most obvious part of it because it is so obvious we think everyone must know that much about whatever we are describing.  In an attempt not to do that, the message I shared was “A Lifestyle of Prayer is a Life of PRAYER”.  But not only is it a life filled with prayer, it is a life filled with the results of prayer and that is what the sermon focused on — some of those results.  With no audio to share, here is the outline and some of the main points from the message.

A Lifestyle of Prayer is a Life of . . . 

  • Peace:  The Bible teaches that it is through a continual process of presenting our requests to God through prayers and petitions that we can replace anxiousness with peace.  Prayer may not bring an immediate change to the circumstance that has caused you to be anxious, but it should serve as a reminder of who is really in control of the situation.  Our prayers should fill us with peace as we grow in our trust of God to carry us through, and beyond, the anxious moments of life.  
  • Respect:  As we live with prayer as a lifestyle, we find that our approach to God grows in regard to the respect we give Him.  It seems our respect often fluctuates based on how real we view God to be.  When we are consistently engaged in conversation with Him through prayer, we find that He not only demands respect but that He deserves respect.  It is this life of respect that continually reminds us that while prayer is a conversation, it is no ordinary conversation — it is communication with the living God.
  • Answers:  This is the part of prayer that we often desire most and can be the most likely to wreck our prayer life when it doesn’t happen according to our expectations.  Yet a lifestyle of prayer is a life of answers — some “yes”, some “no”, some “not right now”, and some so far removed from the answer we wanted that we fail to see it.  When our prayer life is sporadic, we often fail to “connect the dots” of God at work and thus miss the answers He is providing.  But the more that prayer is woven into every aspect of our life, the more we begin to notice that God has been answering all along in ways that are for our good.
  • Yielding:  In nearly every relationship we have, the more time we spend with someone the better we get to know them.  An active prayer life is time spent with God both talking and listening so that we begin to become familiar with the things of God that He has revealed by the power of His Spirit through His Word.  In a life of prayer, the yielding is often interwoven with the answers as we learn to accept that His answers are better than ours.  When we can pray, “not my will but Yours be done”, and really mean it, we find that we will be more likely to yield to the answers that God provides as we learn to trust Him.
  • Encouragement:  A life of prayer can bring great encouragement — not just to those who pray, but to the people that see and hear of the mighty work of God that takes place in the lives of those who pray.  It is this encouragement that not only emboldens the life of the one who prays, it often causes others to consider what a life of prayer would do for them.  While we ought to pray just for the privilege of talking with the creator of everything, many times it is the benefit that prayer brings into our life that keeps us going back to God.  Let’s face it, if every conversation we have with a person makes us feel poorly about our self for some reason, we will likely not seek to continue that relationship.  However, when our time with God brings daily encouragement to both us and those around us, our desire to pray ought to grow each day that we live.
  • Renewal:  Isaiah wrote that “even youths get tired and weary, but those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.”  A lifestyle of prayer can result in a life of renewal as we continually seek the “new mercies” that God promises each morning.  The Bible teaches that we are to be transformed by a renewing of our mind, and prayer is a major part of that change of mind that can bring about a godly transformation.  When we allow a growing lifestyle of prayer to bring peace, respect, answers, yielding, and encouragement into our life, we will find that we are indeed being renewed daily by the power of God’s Spirit and through the truth of His Word.

When we live a lifestyle of prayer, we ought to find that these qualities are growing in our life.  And as they grow, we find that we are more drawn to prayer as a way of life each day that we live.  It is my prayer that each one of us would grow in our desire to live a lifestyle of prayer that results in a life of PRAYER!

In prayer,
Tom

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Spring Reflections

Spring Reflections

I enjoy taking photographs of items that are reflected in various bodies of water.  As I’ve done this, I’ve discovered at least two key ingredients to a good (and accurate) reflection.  One is the stillness of the water and the other is the purity of the water.  In nature, both ingredients are highly variable even from one day to the next in the same body of water.  The photo below is one I’ve taken many times and sometime the water is calm and pure giving a clear reflection of the spring house, and other times there is no reflection at all.  The source of the water comes from a spring the little house is built over — thus a “spring house”.  The water is pure and clear coming from the spring, but once out in the open it doesn’t always remain so.

I suppose the same is true in my efforts to accurately reflect Christ so that He is seen when others observe me.  The source, Christ, is unchanging in its purity and clarity so any imperfection in the reflection has to come from me.  My ability to be still and know Him as God will be a determining factor in how well He is reflected in my life.  The purity I live my life with will either help people see Jesus in me or cloud their view of Him.  As I spend time at the well of Living Water and allow His Spirit and His Word to continually wash over me, I find that the turmoil and impurity of life no longer gets in the way of others seeing who resides within.

I pray that you and I would desire our lives to accurately reflect Jesus.  As we live out that desire, I pray that we would be both still and cleansed so we would not become a distraction to the reflection of Christ others should see in us.

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A Voice in the Crowd

“The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  
John 10:2-5 (NIV)

How often have you witnessed or experienced someone saying, “I would recognize that voice anywhere!”  Most of us have people in our lives that could be talking in the midst of a crowd and not even knowing they were there, we would immediately recognize their voice and know who is talking.  That type of recognition doesn’t happen overnight.  It requires much time spent conversing and listening so that we not only know the sound of the voice, we also know the character of the content of what will be spoken.

It is fairly easy to find people who want to hear from God.  Hold a class or teaching series on knowing God’s will and people are quick to sign up.  Change one word in the title and focus the class or teaching series on doing God’s will and all of a sudden participants are nowhere to be found.  Is it possible that many within our modern Christian culture have such a difficult time hearing God’s voice because we have consistently failed to listen to the things we know He has said?

Rarely a day goes by but what I hear or read the statement, “My God would never ____________” with the blank being filled in by something that even a casual reading of scripture would show God has in fact done or said.  I find it interesting that these statements are always “My God would never” and not simply “God would never”.  We have indeed created God in our own image and often define Him in ways that make us feel comfortable and safe.  In the midst of such a culture, it is no wonder we struggle with hearing and knowing the voice of our Shepherd.

It is in our quiet times with God and His Word that we become familiar with His voice and begin to recognize the things that He would say by understanding the things that He has already said.  The quiet times are necessary so that we are prepared to hear our Shepherd’s voice even in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.  Scripture teaches us that Jesus would often withdraw to “lonely places” to spend time with His Father, but as you read about the life of Jesus it should be clear that He recognized and obeyed the voice of His Father even in the midst of the crowds.  God expects and wants us to listen, to recognize His voice and to follow it, each moment that we live — whether in quiet times or in times surrounded by the crowds of this world.

Jesus says that His sheep will know His voice and they will follow Him.  When you and I struggle with questions about hearing God, perhaps we need to seriously examine if the problem is really in the hearing or in the following.  I pray that you and I are not only hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word as well.

In prayer,
Tom

The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom

 “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'”
John 8:31-32, 36 (NIV)

I had the privilege of sharing a sermon this morning from John 8:31-59 as I chose to address the topic of freedom on this Fourth of July holiday weekend.  I opened by reading a poem, Freedom, that God had put in my mind to write yesterday morning.  Then, as my custom is, I used a word of the sermon title as an acrostic to outline my sermon.  God calls His followers to know, live, and share a freedom that can only be found in the truth of Jesus who claims, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As we unwrapped “The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom”, we first looked at the Teaching that leads to freedom.  Jesus stated that by holding fast to His teachings we show that we are His disciples and will be set free by the truth of them.  Jesus made it clear in the story of the wise and foolish builders, that there is a difference between knowing the teachings of Jesus and actually putting them into practice.  It is by being a “doer of the word and not a hearer only” that we find the Teaching that leads to freedom.

The second point of the message addressed our need to practice a Repentance that leads to freedom.  Repentance is a word, and practice, that most of us tend to avoid because it requires an admittance that there is something not right in our life.  Often lost in a culture that loves to quote “judge not”, is the clear message of Jesus that He came not to call the righteous but to call sinners to repentance.  The real excitement in that last sentence ought to be the realization that Jesus came to call you and I to a Repentance that leads to freedom!

Through Jesus, we also gain an Understanding that leads to freedom.  Some of my favorite passages in the Bible are when Jesus addresses His disciples and refers to them as “dull” or asks them, “do you not understand?”.  I love these because it shows that Jesus knows that my understanding of who He is and the freedom He offers is a growing process.  In one of those passages there is an expressed concern about the keeping of some Jewish ceremonial practices to be considered clean.  Jesus explains that it is what is inside of a person that makes them clean or unclean  It is knowing, and trusting, the promises of Jesus to wash away my sins that gives me an Understanding that leads to freedom.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the message was this fourth point as I addressed the Traditions that lead to freedom.  I must make it very clear, it is not the traditions themselves that lead to freedom rather an examination and understanding of why I practice them.  Jesus made it clear to those accusing Him of forsaking the Law of God, as found in the Old Testament, that His intention was not to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it.  He was keeping and fulfilling the law not for the sake of tradition but because he understood and believed the purpose behind it.  When we seek the old paths, paths founded in the truth of God’s Word, and walk intentionally in them as part of our relationship with God, we discover Traditions that lead to freedom.

Finally, we considered the Honor that leads to freedom.  Jesus could do and say the things He did while on earth because He wasn’t concerned about bringing honor and glory to Himself.  He was despised, ridiculed, rejected, and crucified all while living in complete freedom.  His stated goal was to not bring glory to Himself but to honor His Father.  It is so easy to get caught in the trap of compromise as we become afraid of what people will think of us.  Most of us want people to speak well of us and to honor us for our accomplishments and for who we are.  The problem is not so much in honoring people or being honored by people — God tells us to give honor to whom honor is due.  What keeps us from experiencing freedom is our desire to bring honor to ourselves.  It is when we make the focus of our life all about bringing glory to God that we can experience the Honor that leads to freedom.

Like the Jewish listeners in the days of Jesus, I think many people are disgusted with the idea that someone would set them free.  That original audience believed they were already free and had never been enslaved to anyone or anything — sounds rather familiar and contemporary to today’s culture, at least to me.  As much as we like to fight for our freedoms and shout to be heard, it doesn’t appear to be working all that well.  Perhaps it is time we turn to The TRUTH that Leads to Freedom!

In prayer,
Tom

After All, It Was Just a . . . Piece of Fruit!

After All, It Was Just a . . . Piece of Fruit!

 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.”
Luke 16:10 (NASB)

Fruit assortment

Just a piece of fruit.

When I read the Bible, I often try to put myself in the scene in some way.  To imagine myself in the skin of one of the characters or think about how I would react if I was the character.  When I read the beginning of Genesis, I think about Adam and Eve and why the temptation worked so well.  It’s easy to imagine because temptation is something we’ve all given in to.  The instruction from God was very clear yet Satan presented a case for why ignoring that instruction was actually to their benefit.  If they would just eat the fruit, their lives would be so much better.  They would be so much wiser.  They would be like God!  Surely the benefits outweighed any consequences and God would understand . . . after all, it was just a piece of fruit.

I doubt that Adam and Eve anticipated the shame and regret that would descend upon them so quickly — they had never experienced either before.  I’m not even sure they fully understood the severity of the consequences their actions produced.  What was death?  There is no indication they had witnessed death of any kind until God provided the garments of skin for them.  After being driven from the garden to live a life of hard work and painful toil just to survive, I wonder how often they questioned the appropriateness  of their punishment . . . after all, it was just a piece of fruit.

And from that time forward, mankind has followed in their footsteps.  We hear simple instructions yet we convince ourselves that the benefits of not following them somehow make the instructions irrelevant.  We see the short-term benefit while paying no attention to the eternal consequences of not being faithful in the little things.  We go about life as we want to live it, ignoring and dismissing all instructions that might inconvenience us in any way.  When called into account for our lack of faithfulness in the little things, we insist that it really shouldn’t matter . . . after all, it was just a piece of fruit.

As I was removing tape and staples (which should not have been there) from the auditorium wall at church, the verse at the top of this article came to mind.  It also brought to mind an incident from the first summer I was responsible for the maintenance at camp.  We were in our second season of using some very nice additions to the dining hall and health officer’s cabin at the camp and some very strict instruction and policy had been laid down to protect the huge amount of work and investment that had gone into them.  To protect the new walls, we had a very strict no tape of any kind on any of the painted drywall.  We made it through most of the summer until one week a volunteer came and insisted that they needed to tape decorations all over the back wall of the dining hall.  When they were unable to convince me that the benefit to them was worth ignoring the instruction, they went over my head to my boss who gave them permission to do what they wanted . . . after all, it was just a piece of tape.

When the end of the week came and all of the tape was removed, the effects were quite obvious.  When the tape came off, so did the paint!  My boss noticed it and remembered the words of the camp board at the building dedication, “Take a good look at these additions.  We expect them to look like this and be maintained in this condition.”  So, I was given instruction that I must repair and repaint the entire wall before any of the board members came on site.  Yet not once was there any acknowledgement that this was caused by a failure to follow simple instruction and policy . . . after all, it was just a piece of tape.

While this was a specific example that related to my frustration of once again removing tape and staples that should not have been present from a wall, this same mindset is far too common.  We adopt a belief that the ends justify the means so it doesn’t really matter how we do things as long as it brings a perceived benefit to us.  So we take things from work . . . after all, it was just a few things they didn’t really need.  We speed . . . after all, it was just a few mph over the posted limit.  We cheat on our spouse . . . after all, it was just some harmless fun.  We _____________ (you fill in the blank) . . . after all, it was just ____________!

I pray that when you consider the instructions given by God in His Word, including the instruction to obey those in authority, you would be found faithful in the little things . . . after all, it’s just the right thing to do!

In prayer,
Tom