Get Ready for a New Season

I lived in Florida for a few years and still have mixed feelings about the experience. Although there were definitely some perks in being close to the Disney World and numerous beaches, I found there was one thing I really missed from my years up north: SEASONS.

Although I like summers, it was nearly always summer in Florida. There was no variety. Nothing to look forward to. Just hot all the time.

Winters were horrible in Ohio, but at least you could look forward to springtime and summer. And when you were scorching in August, you knew that fall was right around the corner.

While studying the book of Ruth recently, I was struck by the first five verses: Now it came to pass…”  Isn’t that awesome? No matter what you may be going through today, it’s only temporary. It didn’t come to STAY…it came to PASS!

In other words, a new season is coming. You may be sweltering in the dog days of summer right now, but cooler days are ahead. As Solomon wrote, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

I’ve discovered that our faithfulness in this season often sets the stage for God’s blessings in the next season. Even the ants seem to instinctively follow this principle, preparing food in the summer for the coming winter (Proverbs 6:6-8).

However, in order to enter into the blessings of the new season, we must forget the traumas of the seasons that have passed:

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland (Isaiah 43:18-19).

This is such good news if you’ve been passing through a “wilderness” or “wasteland” in recent months or years. God is declaring a new season—a “new thing” where you will find your way again and experience abundant streams in place of the parched ground.

So, GET READY for a new season! Even though your present season may seem as if it’s here to stay, it’s destined to pass.

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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He’s Saving the Best for Last

There’s an old saying that tells us, “All’s well that end well.” Although I’m not sure this is absolutely true, the Bible clearly does provide many supporting anecdotes.

There would have been nothing “good” about Good Friday if it weren’t for Resurrection Sunday. The seemingly tragic and unjust story of the cross ended in complete triumph. Resurrection changes everything.

The final word in the Old Testament (Malachi 4:6) is CURSE (Hebrew cherem), quite a sobering reminder if we’re ever tempted to live under the Law again. But fortunately the story of redemption isn’t over yet. The New Testament ends on a completely different note: The GRACE of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen” (Revelation 22:21). Praise God for His grace. It changes everything.

If you would have met Job midway through his story, you would have declared him a quite pathetic fellow. But his story certainly ended well: “The Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before” and The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part” (Job 42-10-12). Don’t you love happy endings like this? Happy endings can change just about anything.

That’s why I love the story in John 2 where they ran out of wine at a wedding feast. We’ve all run out of something at one time or another, and it’s not a pleasant experience.  Yet the story ended well, for Jesus turned water into wine.

It’s exhilarating to read that Jesus didn’t turn the water into some kind of ordinary or CHEAP wine. No, the master of the banquet said the BEST had been saved for LAST (v. 10). I’m claiming the “best for last” principle for my life, and I hope you are too.

However, perhaps you feel like you’re still living in Good Friday or in the middle of a story akin to Job’s. Maybe you’re not yet ready to declare, “All is well.”

But the good news is this: Your story isn’t over until it’s over. A day of resurrection is coming. Until then, God is still at work to bring ALL things together for your happy ending and a glorious fulfillment of His purposes (Romans 8:28).

So take a deep breath and trust Him to finish the work He has begun (Philippians 1:6). He will.

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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Would YOU Have Enlisted in David’s Army?

Everyone wants to be associated with winners…champions…success stories. And that’s exactly why we need the lessons about life and leadership found in the story of how David’s mighty army began.

The scene takes place in 1 Samuel 22:1-2, when David was running for his life as King Saul attempted to find and kill him. The prophet Samuel had declared that David would be the next king, but the fulfillment of that prophecy looked very unlikely at the moment.

David had no palace where he could set up shop. He found no lofty mountain citadel where he could safely oversee the battlefield. Nor were there any barracks where he could gather and train an army.

Instead, he escaped to a seemingly hopeless training ground: “the cave of Adullam” (v. 1).

If you had to choose sides, would you have wanted to align yourself with David? Yes, he had Samuel’s prophecy going for him—but not much else.

A cave is a dark place…a confining place…and often a damp, moldy place as well. And for those of us with tendencies toward claustrophobia, it would have been a terrifying place.

Yet something miraculous happened there in the cave of Adullam: 400 people gathered in support of David! It’s as if they had a vision for him, at a time when he probably struggled to have a vision for himself.

Of course, these folks didn’t seem to have any more potential than their haggard leader. The well off and “respectable” people of Judah didn’t see much hope for David’s ragtag group, and it’s probably no wonder. David’s “mighty men” consisted ofeveryone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul…and he became commander over them” (v. 2).

How would you like to lead—or even be associated with—such a forlorn group?

Think of it: David’s initial army didn’t look like “the best and the brightest” in the eyes of the world. Just like Jesus’ motley band of disciples many years later, no one would have chosen them to succeed in rocking the world.

In addition to all of their other liabilities, David’s men initially were paralyzed by fear. When the Lord instructed him to attack the Philistines in the next chapter (23:1-5), David’s followers protested that they were too afraid to complete the mission: Behold, we are afraid,” they said, trying to excuse themselves from combat.

However, David’s men fortunately didn’t remain in the cave, cowering in the darkness. Despite their misgivings, they went out and won a great victory.

Although the story of David’s army begins in the cave of Adullam, it doesn’t end there. Soon others were gaining confidence in David’s leadership and flocking to his side (1 Chronicles 12). Even though they were skeptical and slow to respond, they eventually recognized he was a victor…a person of destiny…and someone they should follow.

By the end of the story, these fearful, distressed men had become giant-killers, just like David, their captain (2 Samuel 21:15-22). They were true disciples, able to do the same works as their master.

What an encouraging message! Even if you feel like you’ve been hanging out in the cave of Adullam for a while, remember this: God is preparing you to be a mighty warrior! He’s getting ready to take you from the dark place into His marvelous light and victory.

So don’t judge your situation by what your natural eyes see today. Look forward to God’s prophetic vision for your life and for the other warriors around you. He’s preparing you to slay giants!

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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5 Simple Stress-Busters for a Better Life

I recently started playing my guitar again, and I’ve been struck by the importance of proper tuning. If just one or two strings are too tight or too loose, every chord will sound like discord.

Stress works the same way. If our lives had no stress at all, we’d be like a guitar string dangling in the air. That kind of life is boring, purposeless, and unfulfilling.

However, many of us have grown accustomed to far too much tension on our strings. Not only does that create an off-key sound, but it also runs the risk of snapping the string. Before electric guitar tuners were invented, I broke lots of strings that way.

Although entire books have been written on the keys to handling stress, I want to share 5 of the most important and most practical lessons I’ve learned in my personal struggles with this important issue:

  1. TRIAGE. Perhaps you’ve heard this term associated with sorting out the victims in a battle scene, terrorist attack, or natural disaster. Often it’s not possible for the medical team to save all the victims, so they must prioritize. For example, some of the victims will die even if given medical care, while others will survive whether they are given treatment or not. So often the top priority is to determine where you can truly make a difference—starting with those whose very survival will be determined by whether they receive care.

Of course, this analogy is far from perfect. But like a triage situation, most of us have more problems coming our way than we can possibly handle all at once. We will inevitably be overwhelmed by anxiety unless we determine some kind of prioritization of the needs we face.

To put it rather crudely, most of us feel like a mosquito in a nudist colony: There’s plenty to do, but we just don’t know where to start. That’s why it’s essential to have some kind of grid or criteria to help us decide where to begin.

  1. FOCUS. This principle follows directly on the heels of triage. After triage helps us sort things out, focus enables us to devote our time and resources in the direction of one thing at a time. This is incredibly hard for most of us, especially in the age of multitasking, but it’s a crucial part of reducing our stress.

As a kid, I loved playing with magnifying glasses. It seemed almost magical to start fires by focusing the rays of the sun. In contrast, I noticed that unfocused sunrays only made things warm—there was little impact and no combustion.

If we truly expect our lives to make an impact, there must be focus, for that’s the only way to set the world on fire! Accordingly, a friend recently sent me this acronym: F.O.C.U.S. = Follow One Course Until Successful. That’s good advice, isn’t it?

  1. HONESTY. I’ll never forget the time a friend began an internship with a company that had the mistaken impression that he was a computer guru. As a result, the company was expecting him to do all sorts of things he was completely unqualified for. Talk about stressful! It was a very humbling situation, but the only solution was to honestly inform the company of his true competencies. It was a hard conversation to have, but quite a relief when things were out in the open.

While people typically use lies to avoid difficulties, such schemes always backfire. By its very nature, dishonesty is stressful. When we’re disingenuous, we inevitably create all kinds of unnecessary anxiety.

  1. SELF-AWARENESS. Not long ago, I was introduced to some new friends who specialize in helping people “brand themselves.” They asked me all sorts of probing questions about my mission and vision in life, trying to get me to clarify my true “identity” and purpose.

At my age, you would think I would be pretty good at giving an “elevator speech” about who I am and what I do. However, this was much more difficult than I had hoped. After all, I’ve been an attorney, a pastor, a writer, and a businessman during my varied career, so it’s not really surprising that focus doesn’t come easy for me.

But this is an important issue. Without a deep awareness of our God-given gifts and purpose, we have no way to screen out the distractions in our lives. There’s no grid to help us say “No” to things that are outside our sphere, because we don’t even know what our sphere is.

A lack of self-awareness will also cause us to struggle to know whether to delegate a task or handle it ourselves. Often we end up shouldering things that others should be doing—and this results in a lot more unnecessary stress.

  1. TRUSTING GOD. Perhaps this sounds like a religious platitude, but it must be much more than that. The Bible repeatedly tells us to cast our burdens on the Lord, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 55:22).

There’s NOTHING more stressful than trying to play God instead of allowing God to live His life through us. The old hymn correctly observed, “Oh, what peace we often forfeit, oh what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry, everything to God in prayer!”

So the wisest advice I can give you today is this: Recognize that He’s God, and you’re NOT! It’s no wonder your life is stressful if you’ve inadvertently switched roles with the Almighty.

Take a moment to review these 5 keys once more. What practical changes do you need to make in order to tune the strings of your heart to the proper pitch?

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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Bitter or Better? Here’s How to Turn Things Around

Recently I was stunned by two observations while attending a reunion of old friends I hadn’t seen in many years.

The first observation was that virtually everyone had dealt with some kind of crisis or loss since I’d last seen them. A few had gone through a health crisis, such as a heart attack or kidney failure. Others were grieving over lost loved ones or reversals in their career. And several had experienced the pain of divorce or difficulties with their children.

This first observation was a great reminder that we ALL “go through stuff” in life. No one is exempt. Your trials may be different from mine, but we’re all in the same boat in many of the tough experiences in life.

However, the second observation was just as eye-opening: While everyone had gone through adversity of one kind or another, their reactions and outcomes were entirely different. Put succinctly, adversity had caused some of these friends to become BITTER, while others had clearly become BETTER.

This same principle is seen in nature, where fire causes completely different outcomes in the elements it touches. When wood  is placed in the fire, it turns to ashes. However, when gold is placed in the fire, it is refined into purer gold (Job 23:10). The fire doesn’t determine the outcome, but simply reveals the character of what it touches.

Of course, people aren’t inanimate objects like wood or gold. We’ve been given freewill, the power to choose our attitudes and responses to the events we face in life. Because of their choices and their character, two people can experience exactly the same kind of trauma, with totally different outcomes.

I’m intrigued by how God turned things around for many Bible heroes who experienced hardships or losses. Job…Joseph…Naomi…David and many others could be cited.

Naomi recognized that her losses had made her bitter, and she even wanted her friends to call her by the new name, “Bitter” (Ruth 1:20). I admire Naomi in this, because few people are that self-aware or that honest about their condition. Bitter people seldom seem to realize their malady.

It is also very encouraging that Naomi’s friends were determined to see the best in her, and they never called her by the very unflattering label she had chosen for herself. Instead, they continued to call her Naomi, which means sweet or pleasant.

I hope you have friends like that. There is no greater asset if you need to make the journey from bitter to better.

Fortunately, by the end of Naomi’s story, both her heart  and her circumstances had changed in a positive way. Although she admittedly had been bitter at certain points in her journey through life, she didn’t stay that way.

Isn’t it great to know that bitter people—whether Naomi or you and I—can move on toward better attitudes  and better days?  No matter what we’ve gone through or are going through today, we can entrust our lives to the Lord. No matter how hard our hearts have become, we can ask Him to soften them so we don’t remain captives to bitterness.

Even though many Bible characters experienced a joyful new beginning when they got unstuck from their bitterness, others never learned the keys of going from bitter to better. For example, Esau is cited as a tragic example of someone who never recovered from the “root of bitterness” that had become entrenched in his heart (Hebrews 12:14-17).

I hope you haven’t allowed life’s traumas and losses to make you hardhearted, cynical, or bitter. But if you have, there’s still time for a turnaround. The poison of bitterness can be replaced by its antidote—grace and forgiveness.

So drop the excuses for your bad attitudes. If you’ll let Him, God stands ready to give you a heart transplant, and that will transform your circumstances too.

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I would love to preach at your church or conference, be a consultant to your leadership team, or help your organization navigate the waters of transition. You can reach me at info@JimBuchan.com.

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120 People Showed Up!

How You Can Move from DUTY to EXPECTANCY

Most churches would be thrilled if 120 people showed up at one of their prayer meetings. Well, the truth of the matter is that most churches no longer even have prayer meetings. Attendance was so meager that the churches lost heart and concluded it wasn’t worth the effort.

In contrast, 120 people gathered together to pray for an entire week preceding the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus had instructed His followers to “wait for the Promise of the Father,” when they would receive the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-8).

You would certainly think no one would want to miss out on such an offer. Who wouldn’t want to receive “power from on high” (Luke 24:49), enabling them to perform miracles and be a bold witness for Christ?

Yet there’s a sad, and somewhat bewildering, back story here.

Hundreds of people presumably knew of Jesus’ promise, but failed to show up and join the others in prayer. We can infer this from passages such as 1 Corinthians 15:6, where we learn that the risen Christ was seen by over 500 people on one occasion.

Surely they all would have been told about the coming outpouring of the Spirit. Surely they all would have dropped everything else in order to experience such a transformational event.

But only 120 people showed up to pray.

Why were so many people absent when the Holy Spirit came? Were they simply too busy? Did they think they had “better” things to do? Despite Jesus’ promise, were they skeptical that anything of significance would happen?

We can only imagine what their reasons were. But whatever the reasons might have been, they look rather silly in retrospect.

I’ve been thinking lately about how important it is to “show up,” whether in our personal prayer times with the Lord or in our gatherings with other believers. I’ll admit, sometimes I don’t see much happen when I show up. And sometimes I probably just give up too early—right before some breakthrough would have occurred.

I’ve concluded that there are two primary motivations for why we show up for things. One is DUTY, and the other is EXPECTANCY. Although duty isn’t necessarily an improper motive, expectancy is clearly a much better motivator.

Most of us go to work more out of duty than out of expectancy. The same is true of showing up for our six-month dental checkup.

But duty shouldn’t be our primary reason for going to church. We should come with great anticipation, expecting to meet with God, even as we are meeting with fellow believers.

I don’t know if Peter, James, and John were expecting much to happen the day Jesus took them up the mountain to pray (Matthew 17:1-8). Perhaps they assumed it would be just an “ordinary” day. But to their surprise, He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light” (v. 2).

It was no ordinary day.

Prior to climbing the mountain with Jesus, the three disciples may have felt they had “other things to do.” However, they chose to show up—and the Lord met with them in a powerful way.

Is there somewhere God is calling YOU to show up…some divine appointment He’s asking you to keep? Then don’t go just out of obligation or duty. Be expectant that He will meet with you and change your life!

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I’m Sorry for Your Losses

When my dad died recently, I was greeted everywhere by the same condolences, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Well, my dad was 94-years-old and in failing health before his death, and I’m confident he’s now enjoying his new, strong, and pain-free body in heaven. Yes, I will miss the long talks we had every few days, but I know it won’t be long until I’m with him again. And in the meantime, my loss is his gain.

Dealing with the loss of my father has caused me to think about the many other kinds of losses people sometimes face. In addition to the death of loved ones, there are such things as health setbacks, divorces, lost jobs, broken friendships, and financial reversals. Our losses come in many different shapes and sizes, and sometimes they come without warning.

Losses hurt, especially when we deal with more than one loss at a time. There’s only so much we can take. At some point, even a straw can break a camel’s back.

While most people are familiar with the numerous losses experienced by Job, lately I’ve been thinking more about Naomi, a lesser-known character in the book of Ruth who suffered multiple losses during her lifetime.

In the beginning, she and her husband Elimelech, along with their two sons, probably had a pretty nice life in Bethlehem. But then famine struck, leading to Naomi’s first losses. The family moved to Moab in search of food, and she suddenly lost both her homeland and her friends. With no Facebook, Skype, or even phones back then, her friendships seemingly were lost forever.

In Moab, Naomi’s losses only multiplied. First Elimelech died, then her two sons. She found herself having to endure life as a widow, with no blood relatives, living in a foreign land.

I’m sure people must have told Naomi something like we’re told today at such times, “Naomi, I’m sorry for your losses.”

Such sentiments would have been sincere and well-meaning, and Naomi herself was keenly aware that her many losses had taken a toll. No wonder she concluded, The hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” (Ruth 1:13)

While Naomi’s feelings were certainly understandable, they were totally wrong. God wasn’t against Naomi! Not in the least. Quite the contrary, He was getting ready to bless her with an unfathomable turnaround that would impact not only her own life, but history itself.

If you’ve read to the end of the story, you realize that the Lord had a plan for Naomi all along. Although there were plenty of losses along the way, each one paved the way toward her destiny. With every loss, Naomi was positioned one step closer to mentoring Ruth to fulfill her role in the lineage of Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem over 1,000 years later.

If it hadn’t been for the famine, Naomi and her family never would have gotten to Moab, where her son Mahlon married Ruth. If her husband and sons hadn’t died, Naomi never would have moved with Ruth back to Bethlehem, where Ruth would eventually marry Boaz and bear a son.

Consider how remarkable this is: More than 1,000 years before His Son would be born in Bethlehem, God sovereignly arranged events in the lives of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz to foreshadow the nativity. What a great testimony to His ability to orchestrate the events in our lives as well, even using our losses to prepare us for ultimate gains.

So, if God has removed something from your life recently, I’m sorry for the loss you’ve experienced. However, just as He did for Job and Naomi, He may be using your losses to prepare you for far greater blessings and breakthroughs ahead.

This may shed some new light on what Paul meant when he said he gladly “suffered the loss of all things…that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7-10). Instead of spending much time lamenting about all his losses, Paul rejoiced that he kept gaining more of Christ. While the losses were no doubt painful, gaining more of Jesus made it well worth it in the end.

I’ll admit, I’m still grieving over the death of my dad and other losses in my life as well. But I pray I’ll experience what Job, Naomi, and Paul all found in the end—a new outpouring of the Lord’s grace and favor.

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