The Prince, the Slipper & the Magic

Keys to a “Happily Ever After” Life

Another Cinderella movie?!  I could hardly believe it. Haven’t we all heard that story a thousand times already?

But despite my skepticism, I sensed that a fairy tale love story might do me some good. And sure enough, the new Disney movie was filled with numerous sermon illustrations that will definitely come in handy some day.

There’s a reason these old Disney stories never really go away. We’re all  looking for a Prince (or Princess) Charming to rescue us from a mundane, inconsequential life. And we all sense our lives are incomplete unless we find the “glass slipper” custom made just for us.

Believe it or not, these two themes were a central part of the transformation of Saul of Tarsus into Paul the Apostle. When Saul/Paul encountered the risen Jesus on the Road to Damascus, he asked two great questions that hold the key to OUR transformation as well:

“Who are You, Lord?” (Acts 22:8)

“What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10)

Paul’s first query could be called the “Prince” question. He was desperate to know the identity of the powerful Being who had knocked him to the ground and spoken to him from heaven. Of course, this ultimate Prince was none other than Jesus, and He replied, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting” (v. 8).

We can search in vain all sorts of other places for peace, satisfaction, and fulfillment. We can dream of some earthly prince or princess to complete our lives and bring us lasting happiness. And we can make a futile attempt to fill our emptiness with popularity, career success, or financial security.

But every other prince or princess, and every earthly attainment, will eventually let us down unless our life is built upon the true Prince of Peace and Lord of Lords. The only fairy tales with truly happy endings are the ones authored by Him. Why? Because He’s more than just a handsome Prince—He’s a Savior.

The Slipper

Paul’s second question could be characterized as the “Slipper” question. After we discover the identity of the Prince, the most important follow-up question is to ask Him what He wants us to DO with our life.

This second question deals with our spiritual gifts and our calling. We will continually be restless in life until we find “the slipper that fits”—the God-ordained role we’re meant to play in His kingdom and in this world.

We’ve all visited shoe stores and tried on shoes that were too big, too small, too wide, too narrow, too stiff, or uncomfortable for some other reason. What a relief when we finally come across a slipper or shoe that fits us perfectly—just as if it was personally designed for us by a master craftsman.

Next to the all-important question of knowing who Jesus (the Prince) is, nothing is more life-changing than knowing who YOU are meant to be in Him. So I hope you’ve asked Him that second question, “What shall I do, Lord?” And I hope you’ve taken time to listen for His reply.

Remember the scene in John 13 when Jesus knelt down to wash the disciples’ feet? Well, today I see Him kneeling down before you and me. And in addition to making sure the dust and dirt are off of our feet, He’s giving us glass slippers to wear.

Perhaps you’ve tried to fit into someone else’s shoes, but that never works, does it? Your feet end bruised and calloused until you finally realize you need a better fit.

The Magic

Another reason we love the Disney fairy tales is that they always include some magic. It’s not just that the protagonists are handsome, beautiful, hard-working, or intelligent. They need something magical and supernatural in order to get to their happy ending.

In the same way, the Christian life is a magical, supernatural life, energized by the Holy Spirit instead of mere human effort. Without Christ living His life through us, all we have is dead religion—which doesn’t make for a good fairy tale at all.

So after watching the new Cinderella movie, I can confidently list three things you will need in order to have a happy ending in your Christian life: (1) A love relationship with Jesus, the Prince; (2) Recognition of your glass slipper, the customized purpose you were born to fulfill; and (3) Reliance on the power of the Spirit to bring about His “magic” in your life.

Cinderella’s life was dreary until she experienced these three things, and yours probably will be too. But I’ve got a feeling God is about to work some of His magic to turn things around for you.

Yet you may ask, “Is it really possible to experience a ‘happily ever after’ kind of life?”

I understand why you may be skeptical. This world is full of discouraging circumstances, making it exceedingly difficult to “wish upon a star,” as the Disney theme song prescribes.

Nevertheless, King David’s words at the end of Psalm 23 show us that “happily ever after” is possible, after all: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

David was a king who had met the Lord as his loving Prince and Good Shepherd. And He was confident the “goodness and mercy” of that Prince would last him all the days of his life.

And notice that while we all hope for a “happily ever after” outcome in this present life, God gives us something even better to look forward to—happiness with Him for all eternity…forever.

No wonder the Disney movies are so popular. They’re just tapping into our heart’s longing for our Heavenly Prince, our glass slipper, and the magic available by His Spirit.

And why are we presented with the Cinderella story time and time again, decade after decade? Perhaps it’s because we need periodic refresher courses in love—much like we need regular reminders about the beauty of the gospel.

Some things never get old, nor should they.

 

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Surprised by Heaven’s Serenade

After a hiatus of several decades, I decided to pick up my guitar again. The ramifications have been revolutionary…almost shocking at times. Although my singing and strumming are as bad as ever, the experience has caused me to make some unexpected discoveries about the nature of true worship.

On the most elementary level, worship begins with singing songs ABOUT God. Many of today’s most popular praise songs include the phrase “Our God…” In songs like that, we are singing about our Lord’s many great attributes, but we aren’t necessarily interacting with Him.

On a somewhat higher level, our worship must move into songs directly TO God. This is described in a wonderful line in Misty Edwards’ song, “I Won’t Relent”:

I don’t want to talk about You
Like You’re not in the room
I want to look right at You
I want to sing right to You

Too often, church services are characterized by lots of talk ABOUT God, but not enough genuine interaction WITH God. No wonder people walk away uninspired and unchanged. They needed a touch from the living God, and all they got was a history lesson instead.

Lately, I’ve been surprised by several other insights about the nature of worship—not just during church gatherings, but in my personal times with the Lord as well.

One of my recurring word pictures is an orchestra prior to a concert. If you’ve ever been early to such an event, you’ve heard the strange sound of the orchestra members tuning their instruments. Before they attempt to perform together, they must first make sure they’ve individually tuned their instrument to the right pitch.

The apostle Paul describes the church as the body of Christ, with uniquely gifted members who work together for the common good (1 Corinthians 12). Perhaps if he was writing today, he would also note that the church is meant to be like an orchestra, with a variety of instruments that can function together because they’ve been tuned to a common pitch.

Why is there so much discord in the church? Because we haven’t individually taken time to tune our hearts to the Master’s perfect pitch.

Recently I’ve sensed God’s desire to draw me into a level of worship I haven’t experienced for a long time. Beyond just singing ABOUT Him or even singing TO Him, I’ve been startled to hear Him say that He wants to sing back to us.

Yes, as amazing as it may sound, the Lord wants to SERENADE His people! The Bridegroom wants to sing love songs to His bride!

Wow. Do you see how revolutionary this is? It’s not enough even to sing songs TO God, for He wants to speak to us during our worship and sing back to us.

If you find this mind-blowing and hard to believe, I understand. But it’s in the Bible (and not just in the Song of Solomon!).

Zephaniah 3:17 says:

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing (NIV).

The Message paraphrases this, “He’ll calm you with his love and delight you with his songs.”

Isn’t it incredible that the God of the entire universe would take time to sing love songs to you and me? Yet that is exactly what the Bible says.

Still not convinced? You can find this same principle in a number of the Psalms (e.g., 91, 95, 32, and 2). The psalmists begin by addressing the Lord, then He breaks in and speaks back to the psalmists.

Psalm 91 starts with He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” Adding to this beautiful picture, the text goes on to list some of the awesome blessings derived from living our lives in God’s presence.

However, in the final three verses of the psalm, God Himself breaks in with His own commentary and promises:

“If you’ll hold on to me for dear life,” says God,
    “I’ll get you out of any trouble.
I’ll give you the best of care
    if you’ll only get to know and trust me.
Call me and I’ll answer, be at your side in bad times;
    I’ll rescue you, then throw you a party.
I’ll give you a long life,
    give you a long drink of salvation!” (vs. 14-16 MSG)

Not only does God want to serenade us, but He says He wants to throw us a PARTY! He wants to speak to us…encourage us…and even DANCE with us!

In the process, He will repeal “Spiritual Prohibition” and gives us “a long drink of salvation!” No wonder the early Christians were accused of being drunk (Acts 2:13-15). And the lovers in the Song of Solomon had a similar experience: “Oh, lover and beloved, eat and drink! Yes, drink deeply of your love!” (5:1 NLT)

So my friend, if you’ve found “worship” to be a dry and empty exercise lately, I encourage you to go deeper. Don’t stop until you’ve heard heaven’s love songs. Soak in the Lord’s presence long enough to get intoxicated with His love.

When your heart is tuned to the Bridegroom’s serenade, everything around you will begin to change. When you hear His love songs, you’ll have no alternative but to dance with Him.

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When a Preacher Doesn’t Feel Like Preaching

I love preaching even more than I like breathing, eating, or taking a walk on the beach. So it was very strange recently when I found myself having absolutely no desire to preach.

What could the problem be?

Of course, some pastors preach every Sunday and are simply burnt out. I could never keep that kind of schedule again. But since I haven’t preached in several months, burnout clearly isn’t my problem.

Another part of my melancholy over the issue is the fact that things didn’t go well the last time I preached. Every pastor has faced this at one time or another. Your sermon is a dud on Sunday, and by Monday you’re thinking of switching careers.

At other times, a preacher may simply be experiencing spiritual dryness. It’s horrible trying to preach a message to others when you yourself feel empty and disconnected with God.

And a similar phenomenon occurs when there’s some kind of emotional trauma going on in your personal life—such as a trial in your health, finances, family, or relationship with church members. It’s no wonder you don’t feel much like preaching when you’re bleeding inside.

Whatever the cause may be, it sure helps if you have a friend or two to share your angst with. With some prayer, wise counsel, and encouragement, your perspective usually can be restored much quicker than you think.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on Jeremiah’s decision to quit preaching and prophesying. It’s hard to blame him, really. He was delivering lots of bad news to the people of Judah, and all he got in return was ridicule and rejection.

Finally, Jeremiah decided he couldn’t take it anymore. Why waste his words on people who responded with such contempt?

However, when he considered taking a preaching vow of silence, that didn’t go well for him either:

If I say I’ll never mention the Lord
    or speak in his name,
his word burns in my heart like a fire.
    It’s like a fire in my bones!
I am worn out trying to hold it in!
    I can’t do it! (Jeremiah 20:9 NLT)

What a dilemma this mighty prophet faced. When he boldly declared God’s message, no one responded in a positive way. Instead, he became a laughingstock.

But when he determined to simply shut up, he found himself in even more agony. God’s Word inside him was like FIRE in his bones! After becoming utterly worn out when he tried to hold it in, he finally said in exasperation, “I can’t do it!”

I don’t know what you are going through today. Perhaps you are tired of speaking out. Maybe you’ve given up making any real difference in people’s lives.

Yet my prayer is for God to ignite such fire in your bones that you won’t be able to remain silent. No longer will you hold back. No longer will you just go through the motions.

If you are dealing with burnout, I pray you will get the rest and renewal you need. If you’ve been wounded, I pray you will discover God’s healing balm. And whatever it takes, may the Lord restore the joy of your salvation and passion for your calling (Psalm 51:10-13).

May you feel the FIRE again, my friend. We need to hear God’s Word from your lips.

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Living Life on Standby

Recently I faced a number of situations where I was put on standby, and none of them were much fun.

At work everything was put on hold two days in a row because of the “possibility” of a very important meeting that never ended up happening. During that same week, a pastor asked me to be on standby to preach for him in case bad weather prevented him from getting back from a ministry trip on time—but he returned successfully.

Meanwhile, I was looking forward to a new initiative in my personal life, only to find out about a six-month waiting period before I could even begin. More waiting. More standby.

I don’t like being on standby. There’s all the stress of preparation and all the frustration of waiting, but the payoff seems so uncertain. I hate to waste time, and that’s usually what it feels like when I’m on hold.

And I bet you’ve faced some “standby” situations too. Perhaps you’re waiting for some kind of medical diagnosis or procedure…a new job or promotion on your present job…the launch of a new ministry…or resolution of some relationship issue.

Lots of people in the Bible were put on standby, with mixed results. Noah’s life couldn’t progress until he completed construction of a gigantic ark—and that project took over 100 years.

Abraham and Sarah were on standby for decades to receive their promised son from the Lord. While waiting, they cooked up a scheme to have a child by other means. The result was the birth of Ishmael—and thousands of years of conflict in the Middle East.

King Saul was told to be on standby until Samuel could return in seven days and present a burnt offering to God. But Saul grew impatient when Samuel didn’t return in the designated time, so he offered the burnt offering himself. As minor as this infraction may seem to you and me, it marked the first step in the unraveling of Saul’s reign.

The disciples were put on standby as Jesus prayed and sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. He found them fast asleep, unable to pray and stay awake during even one hour of standby mode.

As these stories illustrate, it’s a hazardous thing to be on standby. We tend to get impatient…take matters into our own hands…and often do something crazy.

However, I’ve found that God often has a reward in store when we learn how to handle the standby mode correctly. Perhaps an illustration from the world of pets may help…

If you throw some object into the backyard, your dog is likely to retrieve it and bring it back to you. Most dogs do this instinctively, without any training. You can give him a treat to reward him for his efforts, if you would like. But the dog hasn’t really accomplished much, has he? Rather than displaying any feat of obedience, he was simply doing what came naturally.

However, what if you want your dog to get the object and then sit quietly in place until you ask him to come to you? That’s a skill likely to take some training from you and some self-control by the dog. You must teach him what the command “Stay” means, and he must fight all of his natural instincts in order to comply.

It’s pretty impressive when a dog has learned to obey his master in doing something contrary to animal instincts. You really should treat him with a reward when he can do that.

Well, I would like to say I’m a voice-trained dog, but too often I’m not. Too often, I still do what comes naturally instead of what the Master is commanding.

The key to dog training is repetition, I guess. And that seems to be the same pattern God uses in training us to be voice-trained believers. Hopefully, we will learn the lessons in time.

I encourage you to take a hard look at the standby situations in your life today. Are you patiently waiting, listening for your Master’s instructions rather than doing whatever is right in your own eyes?

And perhaps you need to be challenged about the opposite side of the coin: Do you think you are waiting on a green light from God on some issue, when He’s actually waiting on YOU to take action and get started?

Let’s listen to our Master’s voice today, my friend. If we do, I’m convinced our standby periods will be rewarded.

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Regaining Your Lost Song

When our family moved from Florida to North Carolina, we realized after a few days that our blue Parakeet was being awfully quiet. Tweety, as we called him, had always been a joyful chirper while we lived in Florida—but now it seemed he had lost his song. For a whole month, Tweety’s silence continued, to the point that we wondered if he would ever be the same again.

I missed the cheery atmosphere that Tweety had previously provided, something I had taken for granted and not appreciated like I should have. It appeared that the trauma of moving 10 hours away and adjusting to a new climate was more than he could bear. When days past without a song from Tweety, I became concerned that he might even die from the strain of our move.

Then, as suddenly as it had disappeared, Tweety’s song returned. Once again, his happy chirping filled our kitchen and lifted our spirits.

Tweety’s resilience is a lesson for us all. Resilience is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”

Birds aren’t the only creatures that can lose their song—people can too! In fact, I’ve experienced this myself numerous times over the years. Sometimes, like Tweety, I’ve experienced traumatic events that temporarily robbed me of my joy and my sense of purpose. At other times, my song disappeared amid sheer boredom or fatigue. I just didn’t feel like singing anymore, or even living, for that matter.

During these times when I lost my song, it seemed as if it might be gone forever. Life is pretty dreary when you’ve lost your vision, and that happens to me from time to time.

Thankfully, God has always restored my lost song in time. Sometimes He does this instantaneously, but at other times I’ve had to wait for weeks or even months.

During my “lost song” episodes, I’ve had a surprising epiphany: Often when my song returns, it comes in the form of an affirmation of some dream or vision that God had already put on my heart years before. But at other times, I’ve been blessed by unexpectedly receiving a “new song”—some fresh insight into the Lord’s future plans for my life (Psalm 40:1-3, Jeremiah 29:11).

If you’ve presently lost your song, as has happened to Tweety and me, recognize that you aren’t alone. This is a universal human experience, and if you’re a visionary, creative type like me, you’re likely to get hit the hardest.

Time is on your side in the restoration process. Make sure to surround yourself with loving friends who can help you regain your equilibrium and perspective. And a brisk walk or trip to the gym might help you get rid of the cobwebs too.

Don’t believe the lie that your joy will never return. Instead, turn your heart fully to the Lord. Spend time in His Word, where you’ll see how some of the Bible’s greatest heroes lost, and then recovered, their vision and their song.

Some of your most valuable lessons will be discovered in the midst of life’s storms. He is in the restoration business, and He knows exactly what you need to get your song back.

Can’t you hear the music begin to play in the distance? When you hear heaven’s irresistible serenade again, you can’t help but sing. You might even want to put on your dancing shoes.

 

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The Perils of a Fat Faith

A few months ago I had a horrifying epiphany that will impact me the rest of my days. In a moment of time, I caught a glimpse of all the teachings and insights God had poured into my life—most of which have never been shared with anyone.

I saw my large filing cabinet of sermons that have never been delivered…my books never completed or never published…my discipleship materials and leadership tools that few people have ever seen.

It was a sickening sight. What a tragic waste, I have murmured to myself ever since.

This caused me to reflect on the great model presented in Ezra 7:10, where we see God’s desire for us to Learn, Do, and Teach.

By God’s grace, I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I’ve also endeavored to put His Word into practice. But what about the final leg of the stool, teaching others the things He has taught me? Of course, I have done that to some degree, but it’s distressing to see how much of this content has never been fully utilized and shared.

My epiphany came into even clearer focus recently when my pastor gave a sermon about the frequent comment in Leviticus that God wants us to give Him “the fat” of our offerings. For example, Leviticus 3:16 says, “All the fat is the Lord’s.” Over 50 times, God refers to “the fat” in the book of Leviticus!

While listening to this message, I suddenly saw what fat really is: unutilized fuel. Our body puts on fat when we ingest more fuel (calories) than we burn. It’s a hoarding mechanism, our body’s method of storing fuel for another day. And anyone who’s tried to lose weight knows that once the body stores unutilized fuel as fat, it’s extremely difficult to get rid of it.

Finally, I had a framework to explain my epiphany. Put simply, I’ve ingested a lot more spiritual calories over the years than I’ve burned. And while it’s a blessing to be so well fed, the downside of this situation is spelled F-A-T.

It would be one thing to store fuel for your future if you knew you had to make it last for many decades to come. But it doesn’t work that way. You must “use it or lose it.” The fat does you absolutely no good—and instead does you harm—if you store it instead of burn it.

I can’t think of a more repulsive word picture than a morbidly obese person lying motionless in their coffin. What a tragedy. All that unutilized fuel going to waste.

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