“Buy the truth and do not sell it;
get wisdom, discipline and understanding.
The father of a righteous man has great joy;
he who has a wise son delights in him.
May your father and mother be glad;
may she who gave you birth rejoice!” (Proverbs 23:23-25)
Another day is gone and this one also marked the completion, or beginning ;), of another year in my life. God has given me many friends and acquaintances who have kept my Facebook page filled with birthday wishes.
I don’t think I’ve ever had so many people wishing me a happy birthday as I’ve had this year! I appreciate greatly each thought and sentiment expressed. For me, birthdays are typically just another day. I don’t keep track of them so I end up having to do the math just to figure out how old I am whenever someone asks.
God knew how much I needed the many wishes for a happy birthday and He used them to encourage me and to make me think about some interesting questions. What makes a happy birthday? How do I recognize one? Who should be happy because of my birthday? How widespread is happiness, or joy, because of my life? Do people bless or curse the day I was born? Do I bless or curse the day I was born?
As I thought about these and other questions, I thought about people like Job. His suffering made him wish he had never been born. Yet within the affliction he endured, and the constant questioning of “why?”, he refused to lash out at God and curse Him for the condition he found himself in. I think Job eventually realized the truth of what God says through Isaiah, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:9)
I believe Job discovered that his birth, his life, wasn’t all about him. When we look at life, and even our birth, as being all about us, our world becomes a very small place. God calls us to consider His ways and His thoughts which are much higher than our own. He not only clearly sees our current situation, he sees why we are here and where we are headed just as clearly!
God’s concern isn’t so much for my happiness as it is for my faithfulness! The question isn’t, “Am I getting everything I want or desire?” but rather, “Am I investing what God has given me into others so that my life bears much fruit?”! It was these questions that led me to verses like the ones at the top of this post. These verses give characteristics that when lived out give others cause to rejoice and be happy at the day of my birth! Truthfulness, wisdom, discipline, understanding, and righteousness bring joy and delight — not only to the father and mother of such a person, but to the people around you as you grow in these qualities.
Do I, do you, want a happy birthday that is a true reflection of the joy that God has brought to others through us? Then let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith so that He can fill us with truth, wisdom, discipline, understanding, and His righteousness through the power of His Spirit.
May this anniversary of the day of my birth truly be happy for me as well as for each of you that God has connected my life with!
Praying that when your day arrives, not only is it a happy birthday but that many others are happy and rejoice that you have a birth day!
It seems like I’ve gotten “lost” over the past couple of months when it comes to writing. There are a number of reasons for that which I hope to write about soon. However, I do want to finish up this 4-part series with this final segment called, “Teach”.
As I looked at in the previous three articles, there is a progression that we move through as we break free from being “lost”. We begin by learning to listen. We hear a lot of things, but we are not particularly good at listening — especially when it comes to listening to God.
As an outgrowth of listening, we begin to observe. We take notice of what God is doing in, through, and around us. Our observations lead us to see a different path, or direction, we ought to be taking so that we’re no longer in a lost condition.
The hardest part for most people is often the third stage where we must surrender. All of the listening and observing does little good if we are unwilling to surrender to what God has called us to be. Surrendering is an admission that we are lost and in need of direction that only God can give.
That brings us to this final stage — one that is often overlooked because we think that completing the stage of surrender brings us out of our lost condition and completes our “quest”. But there is much more to it. We don’t become “un-lost” strictly for our own benefit. We must teach that which we’ve learned on our journey. Jesus states in Matthew that we are not simply to make disciples through a process of bringing them to full surrender, we must also be busy about “teaching them to obey all that [He] commanded.”
I’ve been taught, and believe, that you cannot teach what you do not know. I would go a step further and say that you cannot effectively teach what you do not practice. We teach by what we say, but we often teach much more by what we do. In order to effectively teach what Jesus commanded, we must be doing what Jesus commanded. As we live a surrendered life, we must be busy teaching that same surrendered lifestyle to others. Listening is not natural for most people, so when we use the tool of listening we gain a valuable practice that we ought to be teaching to others. As we observe the working of God, we ought to teach others to take notice of what God is doing in and around them as well.
I pray that as you take note of these L.O.S.T. principles, that you would apply them in your life and live them out in a way that teaches others that you have found direction through a relationship with Jesus Christ.
Okay, it would seem since it has been quite some time since I began this series that I must have gotten lost somewhere in the writing process.
Maybe part of the delay is that part three is the hardest part for me to actually do. I can handle the listening and the observing because I’m still involved in seeking out the solution. Part three in dealing with being lost is that we must surrender. There, I’ve said the word: Surrender! Being lost causes us to surrender our will and desires to one who knows where we are and how to get to where we need to be — that is if we want to be “un-lost”.
I generally have a good sense of direction and usually can find my way around new places rather easily. Even when I am out traveling and end up in unfamiliar territory, I often just keep driving, figuring eventually something will look familiar or I will see a needed road sign or somehow discover where I am at so that I can begin to make my way back to where I want to be. At times I am so confident of my ability to figure out where I am at that I end up in unknown territory, way out of the way, lost, before I finally surrender and pull out a map to help me discover where I’m at and how to get to where I am going.
While that is hard enough for me to do, the more difficult times are when the map isn’t available, or doesn’t help, and I am forced to completely surrender and tell someone that I have no idea where I am at and need their help to get to where I am going. You would think that after enough practice having to do that, it would be easier — especially when it becomes apparent how much time and energy could be saved simply by surrendering and asking directions much earlier.
Many times, people remain in their lost state in relationship with God because they refuse to surrender. There is no way to make it to a vibrant and growing relationship with God except to surrender to the lordship of His Son, Jesus. He put it this way in Matthew 16:24-25:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses (surrenders) his life for me will find it.”
Then in John 14, Jesus comforts His followers with the news that He is leaving to prepare a place for them and that He will return for them. He assures them that He will be back to take them to the place that He is going to and that they know how to get there. Thomas is not so sure and responds, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” The answer from Jesus in John 14:6-7 is classic and points out that the disciples did know the way to where Jesus was going — that way is Jesus Himself!
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
Wow! When I am lost, I must surrender to the only way out. This cuts straight across the grain of modern thinking — particularly modern religious thinking. Rather than surrender to God when lost, people have a tendency to “drive around”, thinking that somehow they will find another way to get to where they want to be. Recent surveys show that many “religious leaders” profess that there may be multiple ways to get to heaven and varied paths to God. It makes me wonder what they do with the Bible, especially the words of Jesus above from John 14:6. Jesus could have said, “I am a way” or “I am the primary way” or even “I know the way” but instead He said, “I am the way”! Just in case we miss the exclusive nature of His statement, He emphasizes it with the next sentence, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
When a person is in a lost condition, separated from God, surrender is absolutely necessary. There is only one way to go from lost to relationship with God and only Jesus can get us there. It is time for each of us to really examine our life and commit it to being a life surrendered fully to Jesus.
In my previous post, I wrote about the need to listen. In part two, I want us to consider our need to observe. Just as we often have difficulty listening, we often fail to observe for a variety of reasons.
We use the word observe in a couple of different ways. We may talk about observing the law and our focus is on obedience. However, when we talk about observing a sunset, our focus is usually on enjoyment. As I thought about these two very different reactions to the same word, I began to realize that maybe they are not so different after all.
From a Christian point of view, when we think about observing God’s commands, we define observe as including both the aspect of noticing something and then responding appropriately to it. God doesn’t simply say, “Look at my commands!” Yes, we must look at them. We must take notice of what God has said through His Word, to “gaze intently into His perfect law”. We need to pay attention to the work God is doing in and through us in transforming us to be what He wants us to be. God has given us His very own Spirit and we need to “see” the work He is doing so that we can be a more accurate representative of Jesus.
But we have to move beyond simply noticing, or seeing, when we observe. To observe correctly, we must respond appropriately. It is hard enough to “see”. The distractions and busy-ness of life often keep us from focusing on the things God has placed in front of us to observe. We stumble through our Christian life because we are not paying attention to where we are going. Yet many times when we do take in the information that is needed, we still stumble because we fail to have an appropriate response to what is “seen”. This is where I think the two examples that I started with connect. The appropriate response to “seeing” God’s commands is to obey them. An appropriate response to seeing a sunset is to enjoy it as part of God’s incredible creativity.
When we feel “lost” in our spiritual walk, it is a good idea to stop and take a look around. Ask yourself some basic questions: How did I get here? Does anything look familiar? What do I see and hear around me? What dangers currently exist? How do I get back to where I was? As we ask these questions, and genuinely seek answers to them, we begin to recognize the correct responses that we ought to make. As we begin to put our faith into action and actually do what we observe needs done, we begin the process of truly “observing all that [He] commands”.
I pray that when we observe, we do so not only with our senses but with our actions as well.
I found a Facebook flair button some time back that I really enjoy. It simply says, “Not all who wander are lost!” I, like many people, have great difficulty in admitting that I would ever be lost. “It’s a scenic route,” I might say. “I’m just exploring,” is another phrase that often comes in handy when I have no idea where I am at.
As one who does tend to wander, take the scenic routes, and simply explore, I’ve learned some helpful tips for those times when I am lost. It doesn’t matter if we are lost physically or spiritually — if we’ve wandered away from home or from God, these same tips can be of great help to us.
The first lesson of L.O.S.T. is to Listen! Many times when I am in an unfamiliar place where someone else may say I am lost, my first action is to simply be still and listen. A period of time focused on listening can tell us many things about where we are at. Listening can alert a person to potential danger in a certain direction. It can also help us identify a path, or course of action, that ought to be considered or pursued. Listening can let us know if anyone is even looking for us and it gives us an idea of where they are.
In John 10, Jesus states that His sheep, those that follow Him, know His voice and listen to Him. Jesus describes the safety that can be found when we acknowledge Him as the true gatekeeper in our life. He not only seeks us out when we wander, He guards and protects us as part of His flock. It is His voice that calls us to safety and the familiar confines of the fold. We get there and we stay there by listening.
We must become familiar with the voice of Jesus and live in obedience to it. Listening is so much more than simply hearing. As James puts it, we must hear the Word of God and put it into action. That is true listening — it is responding appropriately to what is being heard. Jesus lets us know that there will be “strangers” who call us to follow them. Satan himself calls to us with the purpose to “steal, kill, and destroy”.
Feeling lost? Why not take the time to seriously listen? Listen intently for God to speak through His Word and through His Spirit and then respond appropriately to Him.
I pray that you and I would be better listeners — not simply hearers of the Word, but doers of it!
What Is “It” Worth?
We have many ways of determining the worth, or value, or something. We may look at how much something costs, how much someone would give us for it, or even how much it means to us. Physical items often seem fairly easy to determine their worth, even when that value varies somewhat depending on who is looking at it.
Non-tangible items, particularly relationships, may be much harder to place a value on. When trying to determine the true worth of a relationship, we must honestly ask a hard question: “How much effort am I putting into this relationship?”.
While this is true in our relationships with people, it is a critical question in evaluating how much value we place on our relationship with Jesus. Most Christians would say they desire a growing and vibrant relationship with Jesus. Yet many times, we expect it to exist simply because we want it. The idea of putting work and effort into it never crosses our mind or we decide we’re too busy to invest any significant time or energy into developing that relationship.
Prayer, Bible reading, Scripture memorization, Bible study, Listening to God, and other spiritual disciplines takes time and effort. Our desire for a passionate relationship with Jesus ought to draw us to do whatever it takes to know God personally.
What is it worth to you? How much are you investing in it? Jesus desires this relationship so much that He gave His life to make it possible.
The National Day of Prayer was yesterday and we had a great Concert of Prayer service at the Deer Run Church of Christ in South Bend, Indiana.
While I love special prayer times and days, it is practicing a life of prayer that really gets me excited. Next week, May 5-10, I will be in the Louisiana gulf coast region to pray. God has given me the opportunity to join with a friend of mine to spend a week praying in the greater New Orleans area of Louisiana.
Our goal is to listen to God and follow His lead in the conversation He has with us. Our desire is to encourage Christians in their efforts of physical and spiritual rebuilding taking place in the region. We will spend time praying in the communities of the region, on the campus of the University of New Orleans, and with the ministry of Operation Feed My Sheep.
If you are currently in the gulf coast area south of New Orleans and would like to join together sometime the week of May 5 – 10 for prayer, let me know.
If you would be willing to partner in prayer with my friend and I as we take this Prayer Journey, I have developed a prayer guide to help people know how to pray for us. You can download a .pdf file of it at this link: New Orleans area Prayer Journey Prayer Guide.
If this type of prayer involvement interests you, I am also planning a similiar Prayer Journey in the Salt Lake City area of Utah for June 23-28. Contact me for more information if you are interested.