Elijah’s Unanswered Prayer


Although the prophet Elijah is famous for his mighty prayers, I’ve always been more intrigued by the prayer God ignored.

James 5:17-18 recounts Elijah’s amazing feat in praying for Israel’s rain to stop for three and a half years, then praying for the rain to suddenly be restored. In-between those two monumental events, Elijah found time to supernaturally multiply a widow’s food, raise her son from the dead, and call down fire from the sky on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 17 & 18).

Pretty impressive stuff. The Bible says nothing is impossible for God, and it seemed as if nothing was impossible for Elijah either.

But there was one prayer that didn’t get answered. Elijah prayed this just as earnestly as any of his other prayers, if not more so. Yet the Lord ignored him.

The surprising scene occurred when Queen Jezebel threatened his life and Elijah escaped into the wilderness: “He prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life’” (1 Kings 19:4).

The prophet prayed that he would die.

Perhaps you’ve never prayed a prayer like this—or won’t admit that you have. But at times some of the rest of us have prayed this, and we can learn some important lessons from Elijah’s story.

Based on Elijah’s track record of answered prayer, we might have assumed God would simply say okay and grant his request. If his other requests were so easily granted, why wouldn’t the Lord give him what he wanted this time?

The answer is this: As we see later in the chapter, God still had plans for Elijah. Yet those plans were hard to see while Elijah was hiding out in the cave and feeling sorry for himself.

It’s interesting that before giving the prophet his new commission, the Lord made sure he got some rest and nourishment (1 Kings 19:5-8). The story shows how our state of mind can be negatively influenced not just by difficult circumstances, but also by things like fatigue and poor nutrition.

Next, God whispered to Elijah with a “still small voice,” cutting through all the noise and hoopla that had been surrounding him (1 Kings 19:11-12). If you’re feeling depressed and hopeless today, nothing will help you more than to tune out the noisy distractions and hear God speak to you again.

One of the other causes of Elijah’s hopelessness was his sense of loneliness, feeling that there was no one left but him to follow in the ways of the Lord. Twice he told God about his woeful aloneness:

I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life (1 Kings 19:10, 19:14).

Have you ever felt disconnected from family, friends, or the community of believers? Or perhaps you’ve felt all alone in some of the battles you’ve been facing. This is a depressing place to be.

But God pointed out that Elijah’s perspective was all wrong! While the prophet felt like he was the only one left to stand for righteousness, the Lord told him, I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18).

How could Elijah feel so alone at a time when the Lord still had 7,000 faithful followers? Maybe you’ve felt this way in a megachurch or at a conference or concert. Sometimes the loneliest feeling of all is to be surrounded by thousands, yet not truly connected to anyone.

Elijah clearly tended to be a loner in his personality type, but even loners need to be connected. God took care of this with the final step in the prophet’s restoration, giving him a new relationship that was central to his new commission and purpose.

When the prophet felt as if his life’s purpose was over, the Lord gave him a new mission and vision. Elijah first was told to anoint some new kings, but then the pivotal moment came when God said he must anoint Elisha “as prophet in your place” (1 Kings 19:16).

The prophet’s new commission was to train his replacement! How would you respond to a mandate like that?

Elijah didn’t initially seem too happy about training someone to replace him. But isn’t this what true ministry is all about? Isn’t the primary task of every leader to equip others for their role in God’s kingdom? (See Ephesians 4:11-12.)

To sum up this story, God ignored Elijah’s request to die. Instead, He showed him a new purpose—one that ultimately had more significance than anything he had done before.

Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end until a “double portion” of his spirit rested upon his successor, Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-15).

Think about that for a moment. What if the Lord said to you, “I don’t want your life to end until there’s a double portion of blessings resting upon your kids and those you mentor in the next generation”? Nothing is as important as that.

So it’s okay if you take some time to rest and get nourished, even if you have to hang out in a cave for a while. But then listen for God’s voice and His new commission in your life. And don’t be surprised if it has something to do with training your replacement and equipping the next generation.

As long as you still have breath, God still has plans.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

When Your Life Grows Stale


I wasn’t prepared for what God spoke to me as I prayed with a friend recently. It was just a single word, with no explanation given or needed.


I wish I could tell you that this word from God was meant for my friend. But I knew it was an arrow pointed directly at me.

Everyone knows what staleness is like. The cracker or potato chip that once was crisp and tasty is now bland and tasteless, somewhat like eating cardboard.

Ordinarily people simply throw things away that have become stale. “This product is past the expiration date,” they say, “so I’m just going to toss it.”

Dictionaries give lots of interesting descriptions of staleness: dry, hardened, flat, musty, stagnant, boring, tedious, or having lost novelty, interest, or freshness.

Have you ever become stale in some area of your life? Perhaps stale in your relationship with the Lord, your marriage, your career, or your ministry?

Unless the proper precautions are taken, things that once were tasty and appealing can become unpalatable and disgusting as time goes by.

Surely I’m not the only one this has ever happened to.

Thanks to The Message paraphrase, I have a Biblical reference on the subject of staleness. Jesus told the Christians in Laodicea:

“I know you inside and out…You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot! You’re stale. You’re stagnant (Revelation 3:15-16).

What a sad condition these believers found themselves in. Jesus said they were lukewarm, neither cold nor hot. They were existing at room temperature—pretty much like a corpse!

And when we become lukewarm, we inevitably end up stale and stagnant as well. Life loses its zest, and everything begins to taste like a stale potato chip.

Sometimes stale potato chips, crackers, or nuts can regain freshness when you put them in the oven for a while. In the same way, God has ways to make stale things fresh again. He can bring revival to your spiritual life and new vitality to your marriage, your job, or your dreams.

One day every bit of our staleness will be remedied by the one who says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5). But the good news is that we don’t need to wait until Jesus returns to experience “newness of life” (Romans 6:4, 7:6).

Don’t give up. You haven’t reached your expiration date yet. Today can be the day when your life starts becoming crisp and tasty once again.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

My Own Hot-Mic Moment


In case you haven’t heard, Donald Trump lost a lot of votes recently when a 2005 video surfaced of his vulgar comments about women. Trump’s campaign wasn’t going so well anyway, but he seemed to have a chance. Barring a miracle, his hot-mic moment has now made victory extremely unlikely.

I once had my own hot-mic moment, so I’m pretty sensitive to this sort of thing. I don’t make lewd comments about women, so my personal hot-mic episode had nothing to do with anything like that. It happened more than 20 years ago when I was a pastor going through a nasty church split.

If you’ve never gone through a church split, you are very fortunate. All I can say is that Christians seldom act like Christians when a massive split is underway.

One of the disgruntled members of our church had once been a very good friend of mine. I’ll call him Ralph to protect is identity, because I don’t think he would want me writing a blog about him.

One day Ralph came, unannounced, to my office at the church and said he wanted to talk.

“Jim, I know the source of the problem that’s been causing the church’s disunity,” he told me quite earnestly. “You’ve been operating under a Jezebel spirit, and the disunity has been coming from you.”

If I had been having a better day and was full of the Holy Spirit, I may have reacted with more grace and humility. Or perhaps I may have even chuckled a little that he would make such an unfounded accusation.

But I was weary that day…frustrated…and irritated that this once-upon-a-time friend would now be one of my greatest adversaries.

“Ralph, you may be right about that Jezebel thing,” I shot back at him. “But I’m not the one it’s coming from.”

The conversation quickly degenerated as I listed three or four people who seemed to me to be operating in a divisive spirit. Defending myself as a man of peace and integrity, I slammed those I saw as troublemakers.

As you can imagine, Ralph left even more agitated than he came in. He was convinced I had stubbornly rejected the heaven-sent message he had brought me in the name of the Lord.

Within 24 hours, I learned that Ralph had secretly recorded our unseemly conversation with a hidden recorder. He played back the recording for his disgruntled friends as clear evidence that I was slandering members of the church.

Although more than 20 years have passed since my hot-mic moment, the memories still hurt. I’ve long since forgiven Ralph, and hopefully he has forgiven me as well. But I was disappointed at him, and even more disappointed in myself.

What a painful lesson. And what a reminder that we probably should treat every conversation as if it was being recorded for public consumption.

In fact, everything we speak is being recorded, as Jesus warned: “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36 ESV).

Have you ever had a hot-mic moment? Have you said something that did great damage to other people or to your own reputation?

Ironically, Hillary Clinton has had her own problems with unwise words. While she seemed to take great delight in Trump’s problems with the hot mic, WikiLeaks is now releasing hacked transcripts of her Wall Street speeches and confidential email communications of her staff. Some of her top staffers have written derogatory things about Catholics, evangelicals, Hispanics, Bernie Sanders’ supporters, and just about everyone else you can imagine.

The leaked emails from Hillary’s campaign make it clearer than ever that she is a very dishonest person, taking completely different positions in private than in public. And the emails demonstrate that the Clinton Foundation undoubtedly was involved in pay-for-play access to Hillary’s connections while at the State Department.

It’s a bit troubling that privacy is apparently now a thing of the past for any of us. Yet this wouldn’t be such a problem if we were heeding Jesus’ warning: “There is nothing hidden which will not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light” (Mark 4:22).

So very true. And at times so very painful.

The apostle Paul said it this way: “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29 NLT). Let’s never forget that our words are incredibly powerful, able to impart either life or death to others (Proverbs 18:21).

If anything good can come out of this election, perhaps it will be a reminder to each of us to be careful of what we say or write. You never know when someone may be watching, listening, or even recording.

And even if no one on earth hears our words, we can be sure the tape recorder in heaven is running 24/7.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Spotting True & False Contrition


I’m writing this on the Jewish Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and I can’t help thinking about a Biblical word that’s been in the news a lot lately: contrition. While this isn’t meant to be a political blog post, I think it’s important to read today’s headlines with an understanding of the nature of true repentance and contrition.

I recognize that dealing with this issue can easily lead to Phariseeism, as if others have been guilty of false contrition, while I’ve managed to escape such foibles. And even though the Bible provides many telltale signs of false contrition, I admit that it’s always dangerous to judge another person’s heart.

Contrition never comes easily. None of us enjoys humbling ourself and contritely acknowledging our sins and shortcomings. And, as Jesus pointed out, it’s all too easy to notice the speck in our neighbor’s eye, while excusing the plank in our own eye (Matthew 7:3).

The story of true and false contrition begins in the Garden of Eden, so it’s no wonder these are such deeply ingrained tendencies, not easily shaken. Yet if we don’t deal with the blind spots in our own lives, there is certainly no hope for repentance on a national or international level.

Although an entire book could be written on the nature of true contrition, here are some highlights of what we can learn from the Scriptures:

  1. True contrition does not include finger-pointing and blame-shifting. When God came to Adam and confronted him about his disobedience, Adam gave the classic response, “The woman whom You gaveto be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). In essence, Adam said it was all the woman’s fault. And since the Lord was the one who had given him the woman, it ultimately was God’s fault as well. And of course, Eve had a great line too, basically saying, “The devil made me do it” (Genesis 3:13).

King Saul was a master at this kind of blame-shifting. When rebuked by the prophet Samuel for impatiently offering a burnt offering, Saul claimed it was Samuel’s fault for not arriving on time (1 Samuel 13:1-14). False contrition always finds some lame explanation or pins the blame on someone else.

In light of this, it’s interesting that when Donald Trump apologized for his inappropriate sexual banter 11 years ago, he couldn’t resist adding that Bill Clinton’s sins were certainly much worse than his.

And who could forget Hillary Clinton blaming “the vast rightwing conspiracy” in the 1990s when the news media asked about her husband’s infidelities?

Seems like not much has changed since the Garden of Eden.

  1. True contrition doesn’t minimize our offense. Hey, I used to be an attorney, so I know all about how to plea bargain, only admitting guilt to lesser charges. Notice that Donald Trump explained his lewdness as mere “locker room talk,” as if that somehow made it better.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton says it was just a “mistake” to do State Department business on a private email server in her home—even though the mistake potentially exposed the nation and its covert operatives to great danger if her emails were hacked.

Once again, Saul was a prime example of how not to show true contrition. He consistently minimized or explained away his offenses. After he disobeyed God’s instructions in 1 Samuel 15:1-29, he offered the “religious” explanation that he was merely keeping back the best of the sheep to sacrifice to the Lord. When he realized Samuel wouldn’t buy that spiritual-sounding argument, he essentially said, “Okay, I have sinned. But now let me get on with what I was doing.”

With Saul oblivious to the seriousness of his actions, Samuel told him the shocking news, “The Lord has rejected you from being king” (vs. 24-26). False contrition typically expects to suffer no consequences from our sins, but there will be consequences nevertheless.

  1. True contrition doesn’t quibble about words and definitions. In the course of his impeachment testimony, Bill Clinton famously argued that his statement “there’s nothing going on between us” had been truthful. His rationale was that he didn’t have any ongoing relationship with Monica Lewinsky at the time he was being questioned. Clinton said, “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is…If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement.” Wow. Spoken like a true lawyer.
  1. Although rare, true contrition happens best when it’s not just because we got caught. Waving his finger at the press, Bill Clinton adamantly claimed, “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.” His story only changed when it came to light that his semen was still on the blue dress she had saved.

Likewise, Hillary persistently claimed she never sent or received classified government information on her email service—until the FBI found otherwise.

But this certainly isn’t an issue confined to politicians of just one party. Remember Nixon’s attempted cover-ups during Watergate? And do you think Donald Trump would ever confess offenses that weren’t caught on video?

Even King David seemed prone to denial and cover-up. Somehow he avoided remorse over his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband until he was confronted by Nathan the prophet (2 Samuel 12).

Yet once his sin was exposed, David responded quite differently than Saul. His repentance was both deep and complete (Psalm 51). No minimizing. No rationalizing. No blaming of others. No plea bargaining.

In stark contrast to Saul, David recognized the severity of his sins and his desperate need for the mercy and forgiveness of God. And rather than just showing contrition in order to rehabilitate his imagine or gain respectability in the eyes of people, David sought something much deeper: a clean heart and right standing again with the Lord.

Isn’t it stunning how easily we can excuse and explain away the sins of the politicians we like—those of our own party or political philosophy—while harshly judging those we think should be defeated. Morality and righteousness have been put on a sliding scale, depending on the outcome we desire, rather than on God’s unchanging truth.

We should all be thankful we’re not running for President, because it would be brutal to have our own sins and dirty laundry exposed in the glaring light of the media. As the psalmist correctly noted, “If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared” (Psalm 130:3-4).

You see, contrition is not just something our nation needs—it must start with you and me. And thank God, we have every reason to be honest about our sins rather than try to hide them (Proverbs 28:13, 1 John 1:9). Because of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, we have a Defense Attorney who can truly forgive and erase our misdeeds (1 John 2:1-2).

Before we decide who to vote for, let’s ask God to search our own hearts and expose our wicked ways (Psalm 139:23-24). He promises to dwell with those who have “a contrite and humble spirit” (Isaiah 57:15), and we still seem a long way from that now.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

The Only Thing That Will REALLY Make America Great Again


It is abundantly clear that no political candidate can “make America great again.” But that doesn’t mean all is lost.

As every student of history knows, America was in crisis in 1863. Despite Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves in January of that year, the Civil War raged on, with no end in sight.

Today America is in crisis again. The symptoms aren’t yet as obvious as in Lincoln’s day, and some people are in denial that anything is wrong. We will never correct our course unless we are willing to acknowledge that our course has been faulty.

While presidential candidates may promise to make America great again, they offer solutions that fail to recognize what made America great in the first place. Their faulty premise is that greatness will return if we have better trade deals, more jobs, a more equitable tax structure, or a stronger military.

We can argue about whether such things are an improvement. But none of them will make America great again.

In stark contrast to what is being promised today, on March 30, 1863, Abraham Lincoln issued a presidential proclamation “Appointing a Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer.” Calling the nation to repentance and a spiritual awakening, he pointed to our need for God’s grace and favor. In support of this, he paraphrased Psalm 33:12, saying, “Those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord”:

Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord…

We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness…

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or follower of some other political philosophy, I hope you will grasp the power of Lincoln’s message. We need more than better politicians or better policies. We need a spiritual awakening that begins with you and me.

In addition to Abraham Lincoln’s diagnosis of our need for national repentance and revival, the words of nineteenth-century historian Alexis de Tocqueville are amazingly prophetic today: “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Forgive us, Lord. We need more than a good President. We need to once again acknowledge You as our King.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

The Basic Incompatibility of Men & Women

Attractive young hipster couple on white background

A friend was surprised by my reply when he said that he and his wife were incompatible.

“Of course you are!” I said. “Apart from a miracle by God, men and women are inherently incompatible.”

“Hmmm… a miracle from God?” he wondered aloud.

Then I told this friend the result of my informal study on the subject. “Based on personal observations and lots of statistics, there aren’t nearly enough couples who ever receive that miracle from God,” I opined.

I recounted a conversation I’d overheard between two men, one divorced and the other married.

The divorced man was complaining about his lonely lot in life, all caused by the fact that his wife had left him for another man. Although he apparently thought he would get some sympathy from his married friend, that’s not at all how the conversation went.

“Don’t you realize, there are MILLIONS of men who would gladly  trade places with you?!” the married friend told him.

So sad, but so true. Not only are many people unhappily divorced, but there are also countless people who are unhappily married.

Remember what I said about needing a miracle from God in order to have a different outcome than this?

When I look at what the Bible says about this difficult subject, here’s what I conclude: God made men and women inherently different, but not inherently incompatible. The incompatibility didn’t begin until sin and selfishness entered the equation in Genesis 3.

You know the story. Eve was deceived  by the serpent into disobeying God and tasting the forbidden fruit, but Adam apparently did so quite intentionally. Why? My guess is that he didn’t want to be separated from Eve, the wife he dearly loved.

But here’s where the story gets quite ironic. By disobeying God in order to be with his wife, Adam created an ongoing state of friction (incompatibility) within the marital bond.

We see this when the Lord confronted Adam about his disobedience. Instead of immediately repenting and accepting responsibility, Adam chose to throw Eve under the bus, blaming her for his decision: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). And notice that Adam found a way to blame the Lord  as well…

By choosing to embrace the woman instead of obeying God, Adam unwittingly created a barrier to his relationship with both. Apart from a miracle, there would never be harmony again between men and women, or between humankind and God.

But thank God for His miracles! Through the cross of His Son Jesus, He broke down the wall of separation and alienation, making it possible for us to freely enter His presence.

That same cross solves the incompatibility between men and women. You see, the only hope for marital bliss is for the partners to die to themselves. Like Jesus, they must set aside their own interests and lay down their lives for each other.

The good news is that God makes this miracle readily available to those who will embrace the cross. Yes, it ultimately takes TWO to have a happy marriage, but it always starts with ONE. Someone has to take the first step, trusting God to work His miracles in their partner’s heart as well.

Are you willing to go first? You never know whether a miracle might come, replacing incompatibility with harmony, and maybe even some bliss.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

2 Men Who Were Stuck


Once upon a time, two men were stuck. The men were brothers—sons of the same Father. Yet they were as different as day and night.

Although both were stuck, the men were stuck in very different ways. And one of the brothers never did seem to realize how stuck he had become.

If we pick up the story in the middle, we find one of these men stuck in a pigpen. A dirty, filthy, stinky, slippery pigpen. After growing up in a privileged home, he had so squandered his opportunities that he seemed to have no future at all.

Meanwhile, his older brother was playing it safe. Proud that he’d never made reckless decisions like his foolish brother, this man was dependable…faithful…hard-working…exemplary in every way. Never causing any trouble, he was the kind of son any father would delight in having.

And the father in the story was a good father—a very  good father. Right to the end, he loved both of his sons, even the one who got stuck hanging out with pigs.

Against all odds, the seemingly hopeless brother came to his senses. He got unstuck. He humbled himself and came home to his father.

At this point, something quite remarkable happened. Instead of chastising his wasteful son for living life in a pigpen, the father threw a big party. No expense was spared in this massive and joyous celebration of the younger son’s improbable return.

Even though the father was overjoyed, the older brother was not. In fact, he was angry. So angry that he refused to join in the festivities. So angry that he refused to enter the father’s house. So angry that he missed out on the great celebration.

Until then, no one even realized that the older brother had been stuck all along. No he wasn’t stuck in a pigpen, like his brother had been. He was stuck in the land of obligation and duty, of self-righteousness and religion.

How odd that the brother in the pigpen got set free, while the older brother remained stuck in his pride and bitterness right up to the end of the story.

How could such a thing happen? I think I know, because I too am an “older brother.”

You see, the younger brother came home, well aware of his need for the father’s mercy and grace.

The older brother sought to earn the father’s favor by hard work and moral uprightness. Despite years of serving diligently on his father’s estate, he never really entered into the joy of his father’s unmerited, unconditional love.

This story, told so beautifully by Jesus in Luke 15:11-32, has been on my mind a lot lately. This all started when I was asked an unusual question by an older man of God I had just met: “Jim, do you really know that God loves you?”  he asked quite earnestly.

How dare he ask a question like that?  I wondered. Didn’t he know I was saved back in 1969 and had basically served in some form of ministry ever since? Didn’t he know about the sermons I had preached, the books and blogs I had written, or the leaders I had discipled?

But as I sought to honestly answer his question, it became painfully clear that I had unwittingly become stuck in the same mindset as the older brother.

I had to admit that I felt God’s love only when He used me to preach a great sermon, write an inspirational blog post, or make a difference in someone’s life. When I did something “useful” in His kingdom.

It was all about good works, productivity, and merit—not about the amazing grace of the Heavenly Father who throws parties for His kids.

The good news is that God can’t wait to throw a party for you and me today. The bad news is that unless we humble our hearts and acknowledge our need for His grace, we’re in danger of sulking outside the door instead of entering in.

Do you see why this is one of the most important stories ever told? Our Father dearly loves both the prodigals and the older brothers. But often the prodigals are the only ones who really experience the fullness of that love.

How ironic that the brother who was stuck in the pigpen ended up getting unstuck, while his older brother remained stuck from the beginning of the story until its end.

Isn’t it strange that it’s often easier to get untangled from sin than it is to get unstuck from the clutches of works-based religious duty and obligation?

A few chapters earlier, Jesus explained that a person who’s forgiven much will love Him much, but a person who thinks they don’t need much forgiveness will only love Him a little (Luke 7:47).

In reality, we’ve ALL been forgiven much, and we’re all loved much by our Father. The trouble is, when we base our relationship with Him on our meritorious works, we miss out on the grace and can’t enter the party.

Lord, set us free from our elder brother tendencies. Let us experience Your loving embrace as the prodigal did.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

The Heresy of Unbalanced Truth

scale balance

Recently I attended a new church plant and was horrified by the young pastor’s message. His premise was that all Americans are rich in comparison to the rest of the world, and we should feel guilty about that. According to his perspective, our materialism is the biggest hindrance to living the normal Christian life.

Why was I so troubled by this pastor’s earnest sermon? He quoted lots of Bible passages along the way, including the story of the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22) and the verse about not serving both God and Money (Matthew 6:24).

Much of my annoyance with this anti-materialistic rant stems from the fact that I used to preach almost exactly the same message. “Live for the kingdom, not for money!” I would passionately said. “And if you happen to have any money beyond your basic necessities, you should give it all away, just like Jesus told the rich young ruler.”

Hmmm… What’s the problem here? Isn’t this a sound Biblical perspective?

As I looked around at the pastor’s small, fledgling congregation, I saw that it was mostly composed of young people. My guess was that many of them were struggling just to pay their rent, utilities, and car payment. I could be wrong, but I didn’t spot a lot of rich young rulers that day. And by the looks of the cars in the parking lot, these weren’t extravagant spenders.

I took away several lessons from this church visit…

First, I concluded that even if a message is Biblically accurate, it may be the wrong message for a certain audience. If I had been preaching to the young congregation that day, I would have given a much different message. Instead of telling them they were too rich, I would endeavor to stir their faith that God wanted to bless them and meet all of their needs (Philippians 4:19).

And that brings me to my second conclusion: Most heresies are not an absence of truth, but they’re merely unbalanced truth. The pastor said many things I fully agree with. For example, he told his flock that material things never bring a person true and lasting happiness. Very true.

But the problem is what he failed  to say. He shared the truth, but it wasn’t the whole truth. And because of that, I’m convinced it misrepresented the heart of God.  

A few days after this church service, I had lunch with the pastor. He’s a pretty humble guy and received it well when I told him his message was heretical.

I explained that he had missed a key point in the rich young ruler story. How could Jesus demand that this man sell everything he had and give the money to the poor? Take a closer look at what He said: “Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven” (Mark 10:21).

You see, Jesus’ goal was not to turn the rich man into a poor man. To the contrary, He wanted the rich man to have true and lasting riches—“treasure in heaven.”

From cover to cover, the Bible is a book about God’s desire to have a covenant relationship with His people. What does that mean? Among other things, it means that EVERYTHING we have belongs to Him, and EVERYTHING He has belongs to us as His beloved children.

This explains why the disciples readily dropped their fishing nets and left their boats in order to follow Jesus (Luke 5:1-11). They had just seen Him supply them with a miraculous catch of fish. They “forsook all and followed Him” because they saw they could trust Him to abundantly meet all their needs!

So I agree with the young pastor that we should lay all of our earthly possessions at the feet of Jesus. In fact, that’s a great thing to do on a daily basis.

However, the point of laying things down is to enter into a covenant relationship with Jesus (2 Corinthians 8:9). Once we’ve laid our possessions on the altar, He usually tells us to take them into our hands again so we can make an impact on a lost and needy world (Matthew 14:15-21).

Does your Heavenly Father want to bless you? Absolutely! And for two distinct reasons: because He loves you, and because He wants you to be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2).

My visit to the new church plant was a reminder that we must be careful in handling Scripture, making sure we’re “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). Even the devil quotes the Bible, after all (Matthew 4:1-11). As a former attorney, I’m keenly aware of how dangerous it is to only present one side of a case, while conveniently ignoring any contrary facts.

Our Savior was full of grace, but also of truth (John 1:14). He opened the pathway to heaven, but also warned people of the dangers of hell. And yes, He cautioned us not to be controlled by a quest for earthly possessions—even as He promised to give us an abundant life (John 10:10).

I’m convinced the truth will set you free today (John 8:32), especially if you embrace the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So help us, God.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Your Whac-a-Mole Options

whac-a-mole-arcade boys

When a friend recently asked me how I was doing, my response was troubling.

“My body and mind seem to be slowing down,” I said, “but my responsibilities seem to be speeding up. That’s a bad combination!”

As I later reflected on that conversation, the Whac-a-Mole arcade game came to mind. As the game begins, the moles pop up fairly slowly, but their speed continually increases until the game finally ends.

This prompted me to think of a story about three young boys who took different approaches when they played Whac-a-Mole at the county fair one day…

The first boy just did his best. As the moles first began to emerge, he had little trouble whacking each one. But by the final moments of the game, the moles were getting the better of him. Unable to keep up with the frantic speed, he became exasperated.

The second boy, after watching the plight of his friend, came up with a clever plan to foil the pesky moles. After easily whacking a few moles at the beginning of the game, he calmly went to the back of the machine and pulled the power cord before things got out of hand.

“Why did you do that?!” his friends demanded. “You can’t just stop the game in the middle.”

“I outsmarted those moles,” the boy explained. “I cut the game off before the speed got too fast for me.”

But his two friends pointed out the folly of his logic. By pulling the plug, he had ended his chance of scoring any more points. Yes, he had avoided the frustration and feeling of failure that comes when you can’t keep up—but this impulsive act had diminished his final score.

The third boy had watched his two friends and devised a better solution. He alertly noticed a speed control on the side of the Whac-a-Mole game, and he turned it to the slow, “senior citizen” mode. All the moles still popped up, but practically in slow motion. This young man ended up getting the highest score, because he could easily keep up with the speed.

What are the lessons in this story?

  • If you play Whac-a-Mole at the regular speed, you’re likely to become overwhelmed and frustrated at the end.
  • When you become overwhelmed and frustrated, at times you might feel tempted to simply pull the plug.
  • But the better solution is to adjust the speed control, acknowledging that you aren’t as fast as you used to be.

You’re probably thinking at this point, “Jim, I see no way to adjust the speed control in my life. The ‘moles’ just keep popping up, totally out of my control.”

Believe me, I’ve had similar thoughts. Finding life’s “speed control” seems difficult, if not impossible.

But here are a few thoughts that can liberate you from your Whac-a-Mole dilemma…

  1. First, consider this amazing truth: Some of the “moles” popping up can simply be ignored!

Like a batter in baseball, you mustn’t swing at every pitch people throw at you. You have to be patient…know the pitches you can hit…and say “no” to curveballs that are out of your strike zone.

  1. Next, you need to acknowledge that you’re not Superman or Superwoman.

Yes, it’s humbling to admit you need to slow down life’s Whac-a-Mole game a bit. But that option is preferable to going insane or simply pulling the plug.

  1. Finally, you need to recognize that God has given you permission to rest…to take Sabbaths and vacations…and simple to SLOW DOWN.

“Slow down. Take a deep breath. What’s the hurry? Why wear yourself out? Just what are you after anyway?” (Jeremiah 2:25 MSG).

What great advice! Slow down. Take a deep breath. Quit being in such a hurry.

As I’ve reflected on the lessons I learned from the Whac-a-Mole story, I find myself meditating on this great principle from Scripture: “Only in returning to Me and resting in Me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15 NLT).

As we return to the Lord and learn to rest in His presence, life will slow down a bit. Noise will give way to quietness. New strength will come, and confidence will rise. We might even enjoy life—really enjoy life—for the first time in years.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter

Lessons When Your ‘Clicker’ Goes Bad


For the past few years, I’ve used a “clicker” to control the PowerPoint slides when I preach. In the old days I had to wait for the guy in the sound booth to advance my slides, but no more!

Being in control is exhilarating, so it’s no wonder I love the PowerPoint clickers. Best of all, they eliminate the need to rely on anyone else to help me while I preach. I can do it all by myself, and I like it that way.

When I was preparing for a ministry trip in Ohio a few months ago, I purchased a fancy new clicker that had a longer range and some additional bells and whistles. I couldn’t wait to use it for the first time, and I shared my excitement with the church where I was preaching.

“This will be the first time I use my new PowerPoint clicker,” I told them with pride. “I love these clickers, because they allow me to be in complete control. It’s so cool not having to wait for the slides to move and not having to rely on anyone else.”

But when I pushed the button on my new clicker, nothing happened. The slides wouldn’t advance. Something was wrong with my beautiful clicker, and I had absolutely no ability to change what was on the screen.

But of course, I’m always looking for a “prop” to illustrate my messages, so I didn’t miss a beat.

“Well, I guess my defective clicker is a parable about life,” I said sheepishly. “We all like to think we’re in control of the events in our lives, but control is just an illusion. Only God is fully in control, and we must patiently submit to His sovereignty.”

Since then, I’ve concluded there are some things we can learn when our “clicker” goes bad and we can’t change the slide on the screen.

Although I’ve never thought of myself as a control freak, the defective clicker revealed how much I’ve been seduced by a misguided pursuit of control. It also exposed my dysfunctional quest for self-reliance, never wanting to feel dependent on anyone else. The Bible says God created us to live in community and cooperation, mutually dependent on one another to fulfill His purposes (1 Corinthians 12). Yet that is hard for independent folks like me.

Perhaps, like me, you’re more of a control freak than you’d like to admit. If so, I encourage you to buy a PowerPoint clicker—but make sure it’s one that works.

With a functional clicker, you’ll be able to move your slides forward and backward to your heart’s delight. You can even use the included laser pointer to emphasize what you’re trying to say. I’m sure people will be impressed!

However, let me warn you against false expectations. You still won’t be able to control your spouse, your kids, your boss, the weather, the stock market, or most other circumstances in your life.

But you still might find the clicker helpful. Even if you’re unable to control anything else in your life, you hopefully can at least move your PowerPoint slides.

Share this:
Share this page via Email Share this page via Stumble Upon Share this page via Digg this Share this page via Facebook Share this page via Twitter