Where Will Your Heart Be Buried?

Lately I’ve been thinking about Dr. David Livingstone, the famed Scottish medical missionary and explorer who spent most of his life in the remotest parts of Africa. For six years, he completely lost contact with the outside world, but in 1869 the New York Herald newspaper sent Henry Morton Stanley on an expedition to find him.

It took nearly two years, but Stanley finally found Livingston in poor health in a village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Despite Stanley’s urging, Livingstone refused to leave Africa and return to civilization, where he could get better medical care.

Dr. Livingston died just a few years later from malaria and internal bleeding caused by dysentery. It is said that he took his final breaths while kneeling in prayer at his bedside.

Two of his followers, Susi and Chuma, fulfilled Livingstone’s wishes by removing his heart for burial in Africa, while carrying his body and journal over 1,000 miles to the coast, where they could be returned to England. His remains eventually were interred at Westminster Abbey in London…but his heart never left Africa.

This story should be a challenge to each of us. Hopefully we love our home country, home state, or hometown, but where is our calling and our mission field? David Livingstone had poured his life into reaching the African people. His faithful followers, Susi and Chuma, understood where his heart was, and where it must remain.

May our  passion in life be this focused and clear. Livingstone’s story puts a new light on Jesus’ statement to us, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”  (Matthew 6:21). Livingstone’s treasure was the African people, and his heart was there also. So where is YOUR treasure?

 

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Train Your Replacement!

The mighty prophet Elijah had been used by God in some dramatic ways: proclaiming to King Ahab that there would be no rain until further notice; multiplying a widow’s meager food; raising a boy from the dead; challenging the false prophets of Baal and calling down fire from heaven; and praying for the return of rain.

But these activities—and the demonic threats of Queen Jezebel—took a toll on the man of God, to such an extent that in 1 Kings 19 he pleaded for the Lord to end his life.

Yet instead of heeding Elijah’s request, God provided him with some time to sleep and eat, and then gave him a new commission: to train his replacement!

Then the Lord said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place”  (1 Kings 19:15-16).

The assignment to anoint some new kings probably seemed like no big thing to Elijah (even though it’s interesting to note that it was Elisha who ended up actually carrying out the task). Yet Elijah clearly didn’t seem very excited about the prospect of anointing and training a prophet to serve, not just beneath him or beside him, but in his place.

How would you like being replaced? What if you were earnestly seeking God’s will for your life, and finally He spoke: “You need to train someone to replace you!”?

Although the Lord’s word to Elijah was a specific command applicable to his own situation, it illustrates a principle that applies to all of us who are in any type of leadership. Every leader is called to be a part of the process of training others do what he or she is doing.

Look at Paul’s challenge to Timothy, one of the men he was training to replace him:

The things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2).

Paul was not threatened by the prospect of working himself out of a job by training others—in fact, he saw this as the very goal of his life and ministry. Not only did he raise up Timothy and Titus for ministry, but a careful reading of his letters and the book of Acts indicates Paul had equipped a large number of leaders for ministry (for example, see Acts 20:4 and 2 Timothy 4:9-21). Many of these were a part of his apostolic team.

Success Without a Successor

Tragically, many of the otherwise great men and women of God throughout history failed at this key element of effective leadership. They were gifted theologians, but other theologians were not trained. They were successful pastors, but no one was equipped to take their place. They mightily preached the gospel, but no one of similar caliber was left after their death.

Many years ago, I was sharing the “train your replacement” principle at a leadership conference in England. Although I thought I had given an effective presentation, the man who had organized the conference seemed to publicly rebuke me when I was done. “I’m not ready to retire yet!” he retorted. How sad. He had entirely missed the point. By training his replacements, he wouldn’t have to retire at all: God could have promoted him to a level of even greater influence.

 

Let us learn the lesson well: Success without a successor is really failure. Because of this, some churches that seem to be flourishing are actually in a very precarious position: Too much of their success is built around the gifts and charismatic personality of one dynamic leader.

What about you? Are you pouring your life into others and training them to do the things you’re presently doing? Are you willing to train your replacement?

 

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The Only Gun Control Law That Will Work

I’ve never owned a gun, nor have I ever been the victim of gun violence. As a result, I’ve been pretty wishy-washy on the whole gun control debate. I’m certainly grateful for the protections of the 2nd Amendment, but I also would love to keep assault weapons out of the hands of crazy people.

I’m sympathetic to the argument that America’s founders never envisioned assault weapons when they wrote the 2nd Amendment. But I’m even more  concerned about a very disturbing trend in our country, particularly under the current administration:

  • Individuals have fewer and fewer rights.
  • States have fewer and fewer rights.
  • The federal government has rapidly increasing rights.

I don’t like the trajectory of these trends, particularly when the top person in power has openly criticized “those who cling to their guns and religion.”

But what about stricter gun control laws? Like I said, I’m pretty wishy-washy on the subject. Yet even the most ardent gun control fans will have to admit that the numerous laws already on the books haven’t been particularly effective. Some of the worst gun violence, in fact, seems to be occurring in the places with the strictest  laws.

The Bible provides some very insightful observations about all of this:

  • The first murder in history occurred in Genesis 4, when Cain killed his brother Abel. There were no laws against guns, nor were any guns even invented yet. However, Cain found a way to kill his brother anyway. There wasn’t actually a “law” against murder at the time, but God assumed anyone walking in a close relationship with Him would certainly know better.
  • When the 10 Commandments were given in Exodus 20, murder was on the short list of things people shouldn’t do. However, that didn’t do much to solve the murder problem. Nor did people quit making idols, worshiping other gods, committing adultery, violating the Sabbath, lying, or being jealous of their neighbors. Although the Law came with great fanfare, I guess you could say it didn’t really work.

To summarize these examples: It didn’t work to not have any law, and even after the Law was finally given, it proved unsuccessful in putting an end to the things it prohibited. Based on these facts, I don’t have a lot of optimism that a new gun control law today will save any lives. While it’s terrible to let insane people have guns, it’s also  terrible to allow grandstanding politicians to demagogue the issue and enact insane laws that have no chance of actually fixing the problem.

Of course, the ultimate form of gun control  is self-control  and sound minds  (2 Timothy 1:7). Under the New Covenant, there is an internal law  instead of an external one. God says, “This is the covenant that I will make…: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people”  (Jeremiah 31:33).

If laws engraved by God on tablets of stone didn’t work, it’s highly unlikely that new laws from Washington will work either. We need a revival in the land, changing people’s hearts, restoring families, and putting a hedge of protection around our children.

 

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It’s All About Trajectory

“How are you doing today?” That’s the question I’ve often asked people over the years.

But I’ve concluded that this is probably the wrong question. I’m thinking of trying out a new query for the people I encounter:

“How’s your TRAJECTORY today?”

This is a much better question, isn’t it? Although I hope you’re having a good day, it’s much more important that the overall trajectory of your life is upward.

Perhaps your finances aren’t great  today, but hopefully they are better  than they used to be. You may not be in perfect  health, but I pray you’re keeping those New Year’s Resolutions to make your health better  than last year.

And the real  question about your marriage or your relationships with your kids is not how they’re doing right now. Instead, the question is whether you are sowing positive seeds today for a better trajectory tomorrow.

Not to get political, but I certainly wish Congress could pass a law to improve the President’s State of the Union addresses. Let’s get rid of all the campaigning, platitudes, and promises, focusing instead on one key question:

What is our national TRAJECTORY?

Perhaps we could even change the name of this speech to “The Trajectory  of the Union Address.” What do you think?

A Trajectory of the Union speech would have to give an explanation for the current trajectory of the nation’s economy, national debt, defense, and moral and spiritual climate. And to borrow a word from the Green Movement, we must ask whether the current trajectory is SUSTAINABLE.

For example, is it sustainable  for the United States to continue borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends? Try that with your own  budget sometime, and see how long you can keep it up.

How long has it been since you’ve applied the sustainability question to the various facets of your life? Maybe it’s time to ask whether your employer’s cash flow is on a sustainable path. Or perhaps you have to face the question of whether your church is on an upward trajectory, stuck on a plateau, or declining—with everyone just getting old and dying off.

Trajectory is a Biblical concept, after all. The pathway of a righteous person is supposed to shine “ever brighter” (Proverbs 4:18). As we grow in our relationship with the Lord, our trajectory should be a transformation from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). And since our destiny is to become like Jesus, we should show evidence of becoming more like Him every day (Romans 8:29, 1 John 3:2-3, 2 Peter 1:5-8).

Perhaps you’ve experienced times of failure in the past, but you can’t allow that to determine your trajectory today. And no matter how things are going at the moment, remember that you are called “UPWARD”  (Philippians 3:13-14).

If you’re not happy with your life’s trajectory today, there’s good news. We serve the God of resurrection and new beginnings. He can take a tailspin and turn it around.

But the trajectory question is a reality check. You can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results.

 

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Michael Jordan & the Secret to Overcoming Failure

When you remember sports stars of yesteryear, you probably remember their finest moments. Babe Ruth is famous for hitting 714 home runs  in his career, and few people remember that he also struck out 1330 times, almost twice as often.

I guess the moral of the story is that if you want to hit a lot of home runs in life, you can’t be afraid to strikeout from time to time. If Babe Ruth had spent time thinking about his strike outs, he would have become too discouraged to be the great ballplayer that he was.

Basketball great Michael Jordan said on a TV commercial toward the end of his NBA career: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost more than 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot—and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed.”

Should we consider Michael Jordan a failure at basketball because he missed a lot of shots and lost a lot of games? Of course not. Yet missing the winning shot in a big game would have sent some players into a tailspin. They might have gone into a slump for several games, unable to shake the memory of their failure. But not Michael. He learned to start each game with a clean slate.

Michael Jordan had actually learned to overcome failure several years before starting his career in the NBA. In 1978 he was cut from the basketball team at LaneyHigh School in Wilmington, North Carolina. Instead of giving up, he worked hard to improve his game. He made the team the following year, and by 1985 he was the NBA rookie of the year.

No one ever became a great success in life without also experiencing some failure along the way. The person who’s intent on never making a mistake has probably never made much of anything.

The key is your ability to shake it off and bounce back. You have to forget about that last shot that you missed.

In my mid-20s I went on a date with a girl and ended up telling her my life story. “You sure have failed a lot!” she told me after a while. Well, I’ve failed many more  times in the years since then.

However, when I examine the lives of the Biblical heroes in the Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews 11, I see plenty of failure before their ultimate triumphs. And I love the apostle Paul’s conclusion in Philippians 3:13-14: “One thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

I guess we all need some “selective amnesia” as we age. We have to forget about the strikeouts and missed buzzer-beaters and focus on the great opportunities ahead. Let’s keep swinging for the fences. Let’s keep shooting, particularly after we’ve missed our last shot.

 

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If Your Life Was a Word Cloud

I love word clouds. These computer-generated word assortments depict the frequency, size, or relative importance of the words on a website or print document.

The main thing I love about word clouds is that they don’t lie. You may think the theme of your website or document is one thing, but the word cloud will tell you what your REAL message is.

If you do a word cloud of the Gospel of Matthew, for example, it should be no surprise that the name Jesus is very BIG. The other key words are God and Kingdom.

In contrast, the word “church” is only used in two passages of Matthew (16:18 & 18:17), and these are the only  times it is mentioned in the four Gospels. Think about this for a moment. Is it possible we’ve sometimes been guilty of magnifying the church as even bigger than the kingdom—or even bigger than Jesus Himself?

The beauty of word clouds is not only the words that turn out to be BIG and bold, but also the ones that are SMALL and faint. What a wonderful illustration of life’s priorities.

So, what if someone created a word cloud of your life—your words, thoughts, motives, and actions? What words would be BIG, and which ones would be SMALL? Would JESUS and KINGDOM be big or small? Would you be encouraged by your life’s word cloud, or embarrassed? Would you be willing to have the words projected on a screen for all to see?

The good news is that there’s still time to improve your life’s word cloud. Of course, this won’t be an easy process. You will have to deny yourself daily, take up your cross, and follow Jesus (Luke 9:23).

But changing your word cloud will be worth it. Just think of the beautiful new picture God will create as Jesus increases and you decrease (John 3:30).

 

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The 2 Most Intriguing Super Bowl Personalities of All Time

From its beginning, the Super Bowl has been filled with larger-than-life personalities. One of the most memorable for me was Super Bowl III MVP Joe Namath, who famously “guaranteed” a victory for his underdog New York Jets.

Since then we’ve seen famed quarterbacks such as Roger Staubach, Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, and John Elway. And many notable coaches have spanned Super Bowl history, from Vince Lombardi to Tom Landry, Bill Walsh, and Bill Belichick.

But my vote for the most intriguing Super Bowl personalities of all time would go to two people who’ve never played one snap of Super Bowl football. In fact, they’ve never been on the payroll of an NFL team. Until recently, few people had even heard of them.

My vote would go to Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, parents of John and Jim Harbaugh, coaches in Super Bowl XLVII. It’s no easy task to raise just one Super Bowl coach—but two? That’s quite a feat.

What a reminder about what true leadership is all about. Jack and Jackie won’t be remembered as much for their individual accomplishments as for the success they instilled in others. Their children built upon their legacy and took it farther than they could have ever dreamed.

So instead of worrying so much about our own credentials or accomplishments today, let’s learn from Jack and Jackie Harbaugh’s example. Let’s raise up kids, disciples, and protégés who dream their own dreams and do great things in life—far surpassing our own achievements.

This was the spirit behind Jesus’ message to His disciples before He left the work of the Kingdom in their hands: “Anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works” (John 14:12).

After all, that’s what real leadership involves: helping those around us to accomplish “even greater works.”

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