The Blessings of Hot Water

People and tea bags really do have a lot in common—you never fully know what’s in them until they’re in hot water. Although unpleasant, adversity is often exactly what we need to reveal our character and the true strength of our commitments.

When the heat is on, everyone can see what we’re made of, whether positive or negative. Attitudes and inclinations we’ve succeeded in hiding during pleasant circumstances suddenly become revealed for all to see.

The church in the book of Acts was in hot water more often than not. Lots of persecution, lots of problems, lots of apparent setbacks. But through it all, the believers grew stronger and became more like Jesus. Rather than diminish during hard times, their love for one another kept increasing. And when threatened not to share their faith, they became bolder than ever.

If you’re in hot water today, you may not like some of the things you’re discovering about yourself. You may even become dis-illusioned for a while, because the Lord often uses adversities to remove the illusions from our lives—such as the illusion of self-sufficiency.

God loves you and intends this whole process for your good. All sorts of dross and impurities may be rising to the surface today, but you’re going to come out like pure gold in the end (Job 23:10). So go ahead and thank Him for putting you through the fire from time to time.

 

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Starting Over…at Any Age

I’ve been thinking a lot about the book of Ruth lately and the subject of “starting over.” The story describes two women, one old and one young, and both of them needed a new beginning.

Naomi and Ruth had experienced traumatic losses when their husbands died, and sometimes traumas like that can leave people “stuck” and emotionally paralyzed.

But Naomi makes a radical decision—she will return to Bethlehem, the place she and her husband originally lived before a famine led them to relocate to Moab. Ruth made a radical decision too—she would accompany her mother-in-law Naomi back to Bethlehem.

One of the intriguing things about this story is that Naomi received a fresh start by returning to her roots, but Ruth received a fresh start by going somewhere she had never been before.

I encourage you to take a moment and ask yourself what kind of new beginning you need today, whether in your health, your finances, your family, or perhaps even your relationship with God.

The next question is whether your fresh start will come from returning to your roots or through taking a bold new venture to do something you’ve never done before. Are you willing to listen to God’s instructions on this?

After Naomi lost her husband and sons, she would have thought you’re crazy to suggest that the rest of her life could truly be the best of her life—but it was. Not just for Naomi, but for Ruth as well.

Read the story for yourself sometime. You’re never too old or too young to get a fresh start.

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4 Steps to Getting Unstuck

The longer I live, the more convinced I am that most people are paralyzed or imprisoned in some way. No wonder the Bible tells so many stories about those who got healed of paralysis or set free from bondage and imprisonment.

When we read such Bible stories today, it’s easy to miss how these events apply to our lives. If we’ve never been physically paralyzed or lame, we can struggle to relate to the paralyzed man in Mark 2:1-12 or the lame man in Acts 3:1-12. And if we’ve never done jail time, we can assume there’s not much we can learn from Joseph’s release from an Egyptian dungeon (Genesis 39-40) or the supernatural prison breaks of Peter (Acts 12:1-19) and Paul and Silas (Acts 16:16-40).

But, you see, the imprisonment most people face today is emotional and spiritual rather than physical. They’ve been traumatized by their journey through life, whether through the consequences of their own bad decisions or through the unkind actions of others.

In John 20:19-29 Jesus’ disciples were locked in a self-imposed prison after experiencing the trauma of their Master’s unjust arrest, brutal beating, and horrific crucifixion. Today we sometimes call those events “Good Friday,” but there seemed nothing “good” about the cross of Calvary at the time. The disciples were understandably devastated, gathered together behind locked doors because of fear of the Jewish leaders.

Suddenly Jesus appeared to these shell-shocked men. Although preachers sometimes say, based on Revelation 3:20, that Jesus always knocks before entering our situation, that’s simply not true. This time He just came right on in, bypassing every defense mechanism in order to release these traumatized followers from their emotional bondage.

This is one of the most pivotal scenes in the entire Bible. It’s not an overstatement to say that the whole fate of the church and the expansion of God’s kingdom rested on what would happen in the lives of these shattered men.

The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus, believing that their lives would ultimately change the world. Now their dreams seemed to have reached a cruel dead end. Dazed and confused, they were very unlikely candidates for any kind of heroic, world-changing mission.

So how did Jesus turn the worst of times into the best of times for these emotionally damaged followers? He addressed four different snares that were holding these men in spiritual captivity:

  1. FEAR – Not just once, but twice, Jesus told them, “Peace be with you.” And when they “saw the Lord,” their fear and anguish were replaced with great joy. If you are feeling “stuck” in some area of your life today, it’s likely that fear is one of the things holding you back. Just as He did for the disciples, Jesus wants to penetrate your closed doors and replace your fear with faith, and your anxiety with His peace and joy.
  2. PURPOSELESSNESS – These men who had taken such bold steps to leave their careers and families in order to change the world with Jesus were now left without a purpose or a vision. They had abandoned and denied their Savior in His hour of need, and now their traumatized condition seemed to disqualify them from any significant usefulness in His plan. Nevertheless, Jesus re-commissioned and affirmed them with fresh vision and purpose: As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”What an encouraging story for us today. Even when we feel like failures, unusable by God, He can reaffirm our calling and give us a new commission to impact the world.
  3. WEAKNESS – In addition to a lack of purpose, Jesus’ disciples were suffering from a lack of power. A new commission would have fallen on deaf ears unless they also received new empowerment. Recognizing their need, Jesus breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In their own strength, they never would have been able to fulfill His majestic plan for their lives—nor can you or I. But, empowered by the Spirit, we can transform the world (Acts 1:8, Philippians 4:13).
  4. FORGIVENESS ISSUES – Jesus showed them His wounds, proof that they had been forgiven by His shed blood. But then He talked to them about their calling to extend His forgiveness to OTHERS. If you are in some kind of spiritual prison today, there’s a good chance that forgiveness is one of the keys needed to set you free. Perhaps you need to RECEIVE God’s full forgiveness of your past, releasing you from any guilt, shame, or condemnation. Or maybe you are still locked in emotional bondage because you’ve not yet forgiven someone who has hurt you. Either way, forgiveness is an indispensable key to your spiritual and emotional freedom.

I encourage you to read this list again, asking God to show you which of these four keys are needed to help you get unstuck and ready to fulfill your destiny as a follower of Christ.

Perhaps you’ve been hiding out behind closed doors for a long time now, traumatized by some experience that has been hard to shake. But if Jesus could take these distraught men from the shadow of the cross to the glory of resurrection life, surely He can transform your life and give you a new beginning.

Like Jesus’ disciples, you may seem like an unlikely world-changer today. But once He has freed you from fear, given you fresh vision, empowered you by His Spirit, and dealt with your forgiveness issues, your life can be amazing. You don’t have to wait any longer!


OHIO FRIENDS: I would love to have you join me at Judah Christian Community in Columbus as I preach there Sunday, May 31, at 10 a.m. The church is located at 972 Beechwood Road, and we will meet for lunch at the Whitehall MCL Cafeteria afterward for lunch. Don’t miss it! My message will help you see your past, present, and future in a whole new light!

 

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Michael Jordan & the Key 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 Laney High 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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A Strange Kind of Anchor

If you’re like me, the word “anchor” has some negative connotations. For example, dictionaries say an anchor is a device for preventing or restricting a ship’s motion. I certainly don’t relish the thought of having my motion prevented or restricted, do you?

Another undesirable connotation of “anchor” is that it either ties you to where you ARE (your present circumstances) or where you’ve BEEN (your past). In either case, that kind of anchor sounds very dreary to me. Who wants to remain stuck to their present circumstances or their past?

However, the Bible describes a very different  kind of anchor, one that connects us to a hope-filled future instead of to our present or our past:

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf (Hebrews 6:19-20).

While faith is a “now” kind of reality (Hebrews 11:1), hope is an optimistic attitude about our future. The writer here says God wants us to have His supernatural hope as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

Look at how revolutionary this is. While maritime anchors lock a ship in place and prevent progress, this spiritual kind of anchor is tethered to the positive future God has promised us (Jeremiah 29:11).

How do we know this? Because we’re told the anchor goes before us, tied to “our forerunner, Jesus.” It’s not an anchor that settles for our present circumstances. Quite the contrary, it’s an anchor that’s pulling us toward a whole new realm of living.

Also notice that our spiritual hope isn’t supposed to be based on anything we see around us. Just as a ship’s anchor disappears below the water line, the hope described here “enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain.”  This hope isn’t locked in to any kind of earthly circumstances or events, but rather to God’s destiny for us in the unseen realm (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Just as an earthly anchor will prevent a ship from drifting, an anchor of hope serves the same purpose. Yet there’s a key difference. If you pull on a maritime anchor, you will go nowhere. But when you pull on your anchor of hope, you’re propelled forward  into more intimacy with Jesus and greater fulfillment of His plan for your life.

Even on cloudy days when your circumstances look bleak, you can count on this anchor to hold. Your Forerunner has already overcome death and defeat, and He’s the One your hope must be constantly anchored to.

May your soul find rest in Him today as He draws you forward into His presence and His purpose.

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