On the Brink of Your Breakthrough

Your breakthrough is probably a lot closer than you think. Whether you need a miracle in your health, finances, relationships, or peace of mind, it’s possible that the answer is just a few steps away.

But I can understand if you are skeptical. You may have been waiting a long time already.

Abraham and Sarah had waited many years for a son, and you can understand why they would laugh upon hearing God’s prediction that their breakthrough was finally less than a year away (Genesis 17:15-17, Genesis 18:9-15). Yet their baby boy came just as the Lord promised, and they named him Isaac, which meant “Laughter” (Genesis 21:1-7).

If you laughed when I said your breakthrough was probably close at hand, you may want to call your eventual breakthrough Laughter, as Abraham and Sarah did. Of course, God always has the last  laugh (Psalm 2:4), but I think Laughter is a wonderful name to call the breakthroughs He gives us.

Often it seems that our breakthrough is far away or simply impossible. The four lepers who sat glumly at the city gate certainly didn’t feel like they were on the brink of any breakthrough. The city was surrounded by an enemy army, and its inhabitants were gripped with famine, starvation, and hopelessness. But within a single day,  the lives of these men were profoundly transformed (2 Kings 7:3-11).

Jesus’ disciples had fished all night and caught absolutely nothing, and their prospects looked anything but bright. Yet everything changed when they obeyed His surprising advice: “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat!”  (John 21:6)

Doesn’t this seem like a pointless instruction? If there were no fish on the left  side of their small boat, why would it make any difference if they tried the right-hand side?

But the disciples were closer to a breakthrough than they could have imagined. They took Jesus’ advice, and that made all the difference. Within moments,  they had caught 153 large fish.

How long will it take for YOUR breakthrough? Isaac was born within a year of God’s prediction to Abraham and Sarah. The lepers received their windfall of treasure within 24 hours of their step of faith. And the disciples received a miracle catch of fish within mere moments of obeying Jesus’ instruction. A breakthrough doesn’t have to take very long at all.

So here are two questions for you to ask: What do you need from the Lord? And what is He asking you to do?

After you have followed His instructions, your long-awaited answer can come with remarkable speed. Laugh if you want, but it’s true.

 

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Get Off Your Merry-Go-Round!

If you need a turnaround in some area of your life today, perhaps you can profit from the wisdom of NBA star Tracy McGrady when he was recovering from injuries and a shooting slump. Trying to explain his new outlook, he told the sports reporters, “My career was sputtering until I did a 360 and got headed in the right direction.”

I never was a math genius, but I know enough to realize that a 360-degree turnaround would be sending McGrady in exactly the same direction as he was headed before.

Many people make this same mistake. They think they’re making a turnaround, when actually they’re just spinning in circles. Plenty of motion, but not much progress. In the end, nothing has really changed. Yes, they turned things around 360 degrees, but what they needed was a 180-degree  course correction.

I’ve discovered that I’m not a big fan of things that go in circles. Even though I live in Charlotte—the heart of NASCAR country—I’ve never understood people’s fascination with cars that travel hundreds of miles at incredible speeds, only to end up several hours later in exactly the same spot as they began.

I’ve also become disenchanted with merry-go-rounds, electric train sets, hamster wheels, and treading water in a swimming pool. Isn’t it better to invest our time and energy into things where we can see PROGRESS instead of pointless repetition?

But I’ve known lots of people who never seem to get offer their merry-go-round or hamster wheel. If you run into them a decade from now, you can be certain they’ll be right where you left them. How sad.

One of the things I love about walking with God is that it’s a life of CHANGE and PROGRESS, rather than circles and stagnation. We’re called to leave Egypt and journey to the Promised Land—not taking the circular route that leads us back to Egypt or on a 40-year trek in the wilderness.

If TVs had been invented during the days of Moses, the circular journey of the Israelites could have been televised as some kind of reality show. Instead of NASCAR’s Daytona 500, it could have been called “The Israelite 40.”

Do you see why I hate circular journeys? The Israelites experienced this insanity long before Einstein or some other 20th century philosopher defined it as “Doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.”

Yet lately I’ve been reevaluating my position on this. The Lord eventually did  bring Joshua and the Israelites BACK to the place where they first boarded the merry-go-round instead of entering the Promised Land. The sight of this place must have brought back terrifying memories to Joshua, for God and the Israelites had to spend most of Joshua chapter 1 trying to alleviate his fears: Have I not commanded you?”  the Lord said to him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go”  (Joshua 1:9).

How ironic. God had brought Joshua and the Israelites back full circle—360 degrees, as Tracy McGrady might say. He did this in order to heal them, restore them, and prepare them to move forward  into the place of their destiny.

The same “full circle” principle is found in John 21, when Peter and the other disciples tried to return to fishing after Jesus’ death. The Lord appeared to them and gave them a miracle catch of fish—reminiscent of the scene when He first called them to follow Him in Luke 5:1-11. The cure for their failure, discouragement, and bewilderment was to take them full circle and remind them of their original calling.

So perhaps Jesus wants to bring you back to your first love today or back to the kind of miraculous, joy-filled life you experienced when you first encountered Him. Just as He prescribed a 360-degree turnaround to the Ephesian Christians in Revelation 2:5, maybe He’s speaking a similar message to you: Turn back to Me and do the works you did at first.”

No, the goal certainly isn’t to go in endless circles. But sometimes you have to return back so you ultimately can move forward. You have to be healed from your fears and failures, so you can be launched into a whole new level of faith and fruitfulness.

 

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The Truth About Radicalization

Within hours of when the Boston bombing suspects were identified, terrorism experts were barraged with an intriguing but misguided question: How did these young men become “radicalized”? After spending several years in the United States, why would they hate us—to such a degree that they would carry out horrific acts against innocent bystanders?

Well, I’m sorry, but this question totally misunderstands what it means to be radicalized. There’s nothing “radical” about hatred or violence. Those are easy  traits, certainly not radical ones.

Nor is there anything radical about envy—a prominent feature of humankind ever since the sad tale of Cain and Abel.

You see, radical means “going to the root or origin” of a problem. Hatred, violence, and class warfare certainly aren’t radical by this definition. Why? Because such things only deal with symptoms and external issues, not the root causes.

The Boston bombers weren’t true radicals. They were simply angry, envious, and perhaps demonic young men. Their radicalization was counterfeit, for it failed to address the heart of the matter—which is always a matter of the heart.

Jesus was a true radical, for He warned people they would never enter into His kingdom as long as they held on to hatred, jealously, or unforgiveness. He rejected the Zealots’ call for violence, but He said the answer wasn’t in being religious  either—you must be spiritually reborn. Your proud, hard, self-centered heart must be replaced!

What does it look like to be a true radical? Jesus said you must love your enemies and those who persecute you. Instead of killing people who disagree with you, you must lay down your life in serving them and showing them the truth.

We need some true followers of Jesus today—people radicalized through and through by a gospel message that transforms lives and brings a touch of heaven to earth. We need genuine disciples of a Savior who offers the world healing balm  instead of bombs of destruction.

We need leaders who understand what it means to go from comfortable Christianity to radicalization for Christ. May God raise up a new generation of radicals like William and Catherine Booth, who mobilized an army of love and salvation that brought transformation to hell-holes around the world.

May we have more leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., who preached that people should be judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin. That message was far more radical than those who prescribed violence as a solution to radical prejudice.

So, are you willing to be radicalized by the lordship of Jesus Christ? Or will you be swayed by counterfeits or an easy-believe-ism that requires nothing but verbal assent to the claims of the gospel?

Lukewarm Christians will neither change the world, nor persuade misguided souls like the Boston bombers to abandon their foolish thinking. The only way to defeat counterfeit radicals like the Boston bombers is to become true radicals for Jesus, the Lamb of God and friend of sinners.

 

 

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Take Off the Training Wheels!

Good leaders are like training wheels on a bicycle. They are a indispensable to get you started, but they’re removed once you’re able to ride on your own.

The transition away from training wheels can be scary, but it’s exhilarating to discover you can succeed without them. You can travel farther, faster, and have lots more fun on the journey.

Good parenting is the same way. Newborn babies are utterly dependent on their parents for their very survival. But gradually they mature and become self-sufficient, able to navigate life on their own. Wise parents understand this process. They are willing to remove the training wheels at the appropriate time, even though this involves a certain degree of risk.

However, some leaders—and some parents—insist on keeping the training wheels on for too long. Either they are fearful of an accident, or they simply love the sense of being “needed” by those they lead.

Ephesians 4:11-12 says leaders are called “to equip God’s people to do his work.”  You see, the purpose of “training” wheels is to train  people to ride without them.  Do you see the parallel here?

Any other kind of leadership is self-serving and even toxic. Wise leaders and wise parents will resist the urge to create a culture of dependency. Like a mother eagle, they will prepare the next generation to FLY!

Of course, some people don’t want their training wheels removed. They are scared to ride through life without constant supervision and control. No wonder there are so many codependent families and churches—not to mention codependent politicians and their constituents.

As you assess your own relationships today, consider taking a step of faith and removing some of the training wheels. Entrust yourself and the people you are leading to God (Acts 20:32). Yes, some oversight and accountability may still be needed, but learn to maximize freedom.  Teach people to depend on the Lord instead of on you.

This is the only way people can soar into their destiny. I don’t think you’ll see any training wheels in heaven.

 

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Your Ticket to Ride

The Forgotten Mandate of Passover & the Resurrection

As I’ve reflected on the Feast of Passover and Jesus’ resurrection recently, I’ve been struck with a glaring omission in my typical perspective on these events. My Passover focus is generally on the blood of the lamb the Israelites were told to put on their doorways to protect them from the death angel. Likewise, when I think of Jesus’ cross and resurrection, the main theme usually is how Jesus’ blood brought us a new covenant of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

All of this is true and awesome, of course. But I have been stunned lately by a truth I’ve often lost sight of: Neither Passover nor the cross and resurrection were meant to offer protection, comfort, and security while people remained in the same place  they started.

Instead, these events were a mandate to begin a journey  to the Promised Land. They were a travel pass, or to use the Beatles’ old terminology, a ticket to ride.

The Israelites were told concerning their Passover observance:  “Be fully dressed, wear your sandals, and carry your walking stick in your hand. Eat the meal with urgency, for this is the Lord’s Passover”  (Exodus 12:11 NLT). Sometimes we’ve gotten the misconception that they put the blood on their doorposts and then just hunkered down in fear or uncertainty of what would happen next.

However, the ultimate message was much different: They had been redeemed from slavery and were to be ready to leave on their journey to a new life. Yes, Passover was to begin in the safety of their home, but it was to trigger an exciting journey into their destiny.

The New Testament includes a similar commission—a “mandate to move,” I like to call it. After the devastating events of Jesus’ cross, His shell-shocked disciples were just hiding out, “meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders”  (John 20:19). When the resurrected Jesus suddenly stood before them, He offered them peace and forgiveness, as we might expect. But He also did much more than that: He empowered them with the Holy Spirit and gave them a mission: “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you”  (v. 21).

Don’t miss the lesson here. Jesus doesn’t just comfort us, He commissions us. We are called to be sent, not sedentary or stagnant.

Before His ascension, Jesus repeatedly emphasized the “Going” aspect of our mandate:

“GO into all the world and preach…” (Mark 16:15).

“GO and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19).

And Jesus said this mandate to GO wouldn’t be complete until His disciples had reached “the ends of the earth”  (Acts 1:8).

This commission—which truly was and is a “GREAT Commission”—shouldn’t really have been too surprising to the disciples. Jesus had already told them they would become “fishers of men”  if they followed Him (Matthew 4:19). And the Great Commission is a part of the same mandate as humankind was given in Genesis 1:26-28, calling us to reflect God’s image, to multiply, and to fill the whole earth with His glory.

We see a similar picture in Abraham’s calling to be a blessing to the whole world:

LEAVE your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and GO to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others…All the families on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:1-3).

What a fantastic promise! But it all hinged on Abraham’s obedience to “leave” and “go.”

If you have a boring, uneventful, and unfulfilled Christian life today, you may need to reexamine the mission you’ve been given. If you’re still hiding being locked doors, it’s time to be touched with resurrection power and began a journey outward to bless a lost and needy world. He’s already given you the ticket.

 

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