Benefits of Cheering for the Winning Team

I’ll admit, I had never even heard of New Zealand’s “All Blacks” rugby team until I visited the country a few weeks ago. But it didn’t take long for me to become a fan. Rugby Fever had clearly captivated New Zealand, and nearly everyone seemed to rise at 5 a.m. to watch the match against South Africa, broadcast from London.

Today I was rewarded for my newfound allegiance to the All Blacks. They made history by beating Australia 34-17 in the Rugby World Cup final.

If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with YOU, stay tuned while I tell you about two other teams I’ve been cheering for this fall. For the first time in forever, BOTH the Carolina Panthers and Ohio State Buckeyes are undefeated at this point in the season. Amazing…

So what’s the point of this?

I’ve been thinking about the importance of cheering for the winning team—not so much in sports, but in life. We all have choices to make about the political candidates, the lifestyles, and the values we will align ourselves with.

And it sure feels good when our “team” ends up winning.

But most of the time we don’t know in advance whether our team, our cause, or our candidate will win or lose. Fortunately, in the case of the All Blacks match today, I recorded it rather than watching live. So by the time I actually viewed the match, I already knew the outcome.

If you believe what the Bible says, this has great significance. In the final chapters, we’re told that God ends up winning—and overwhelmingly so. Those of us who align ourselves with the Lord and His purposes will experience this ultimate victory as well.

However, most of us have had times when we’re not really sure whether we’re on the winning team. There seem to be losses…setbacks…disappointments along the way. Sometimes we lose elections, Supreme Court decisions, and public debates, and it’s tempting to think the devil and the forces of evil are winning the game.

That’s why it’s so important to have confidence in the final outcome, no matter what may be going on around us. Sure, we don’t know how all the details will play out along the way. But we can be assured that when the dust settles and the final score is tallied, our God will be sitting on the throne, reigning over His creation (Revelation 4:1-2). All the kingdoms of this world—even the ones ruled by ruthless despots today—are destined to become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ (Revelation 11:15).

And I learned one more lesson from the All Blacks…

It was a stunning to see an entire nation united  in support of one team. It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced such intense national unity in America, even during the Olympics.

Watching New Zealand’s allegiance to their national rugby team made me wonder what would happen if every professing Christian in America had that kind of passionate devotion to the cause of Christ. Instead of being splintered by our diverse denominations, doctrines, and congregations, what if we were united with passion to crown Jesus as our King?

Far too many of us have split loyalty, hedging our bets about which kingdom we will support. Hard as it might be at times, why not believe the Bible and throw our allegiance wholeheartedly to the winning team?

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Reflections on a Kiwi Wedding

Abbie and Hamish kiss 2015

One week ago, my daughter Abbie married a wonderful New Zealander (Kiwi) named Hamish McKoy. It was such a joy to be a part of their lovely wedding at a venue an hour and a half from Wellington, New Zealand.

Each of the Americans in attendance fell in love with the people of New Zealand and especially with Hamish’s parents, John and Judy McKoy. It’s a magical place over there, one I hope you can experience firsthand someday.

At the wedding reception I shared a few thoughts I’ve had about Hamish and Abbie’s unfolding love story, which began 10 years ago when Abbie first visited New Zealand. Although there were many twists and turns in their relationship in the years after she returned to the U.S., God never allowed them to forget the brief time they spent together.

I don’t know if you’ve looked at a globe of the earth recently, but New Zealand is a LONG way from America. I took about 25 hours of flying for me to get there from Charlotte, North Carolina, if that gives you some idea of what I’m talking about.

In thinking about how Hamish and Abbie overcame the huge distance between them, I remember five powerful words in Scripture: “Many waters cannot quench love” (Song of Solomon 8:7). Isn’t that beautiful?

Solomon’s words got me curious about how MUCH water there is between the U.S. and New Zealand. According to reliable sources (Google!) there are 187 quadrillion gallons of water in the Pacific Ocean—and yet all that water could not quench the love of Hamish and Abbie.

More stunning than that, the Bible says Jesus left the grandeur of heaven to bridge an even greater chasm, the one between God and humanity. His love could not be quenched. Nothing could stand in His way. Love did indeed win when He came and died for us on the cross.

I hope you have experienced that amazing love…

Lately I’ve also been reflecting on another love story—the Disney tale about Cinderella. I’m especially moved by how the Prince searched throughout the land to find the person who fit the glass slipper he’d found at the ball.

Why does this story resonate so deeply with us? I believe the glass slipper illustrates three things we’re each craving in life:

  1. A person (a prince or princess to share our lives with)
  2. A place (somewhere to call home, like Abbie and Hamish have found in their community of friends and family in New Zealand)
  3. A purpose (a sense of calling, confident that we’re fulfilling God’s plan for our lives)

As I reflect on last week’s Kiwi wedding, this is my prayer for YOU: May you find the Lord’s special person, place, and purpose. This doesn’t mean your life will always be easy or pain-free. But it can be AWESOME nevertheless.

Don’t settle for a boring, purposeless life, my friend. Your glass slipper awaits. Your Prince wants to give you a life that is magical and filled with wonder. Something like a fairy tale.  

glass slipper

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What Is That in Your Hand?

Jim preaching JPG

If you had just 20 minutes to prepare a sermon, what would your topic be? That was my uncomfortable predicament while visiting friends in Auckland, New Zealand recently.

My friend Rob was scheduled to preach at a Filipino church that Sunday, and I was expecting just to sit in the front row and cheer him on. I knew he was dealing with some health issues, but I always thought he would rally in time to preach.

But in the 20 minutes it took for his wife to drive us to the church, it became clear that I better get serious about giving the message. Up until that time, nothing was on my heart, but I suddenly got inspired by God’s incredible question to Moses in Exodus 4:2:

“What is that in your hand?”

When the Lord asked this question, the only thing in Moses’ hand was a crude shepherd’s rod. It wasn’t much. Just a piece of wood. An inanimate object. A tool of Moses’ trade.

God was commissioning him for the daunting task of delivering over a million Israelites from slavery in Egypt. And all Moses had in his hand was the wooden staff he had used for 40 years to tend his flocks of sheep.

Do you see how powerful this message is for you and me? Like Moses, we’re being called to do great things…supernatural things…things much bigger than we could ever accomplish without divine assistance.

Too often we think our problem is that we lack some important ingredient or resource for success. But notice that God wasn’t asking Moses to give Him something he didn’t already have. Instead, He asked Moses, as He is asking us today…

 “What is that in your hand?”

Moses had been carrying around that ordinary piece of wood for many years, and nothing dramatic had happened as a result. But after Moses surrendered the wooden rod to the Lord, it became “the rod of God” instead of merely the rod of Moses (Exodus 4:20). No longer a mere piece of wood, this rod enabled Moses to part the Red Sea, bring water out of a rock, and defeat enemy armies.

What is in YOUR hand, my friend? Money. Time. Possessions. Influence. Some kind of special God-given aptitude.

If you’re honest, the thing in your hand probably seems totally inadequate to meet the needs around you. However, you’ll be amazed by what can happen when you surrender it to the Lord.

Remember…

  • Samson slayed hundreds of Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey.
  • David defeated Goliath with a slingshot and five smooth stones.
  • Jesus’ used a young boy’s lunch—five loaves and two fish—to feed thousands of hungry people.

So go ahead and give God what you’ve been holding on to. It’s not doing you much good in its present condition anyway, is it?

Don’t delay. Anytime you transfer what’s in YOUR hands into HIS hands, miracles happen. He will give you back the rod you’ve surrendered, but this time it will be infused with supernatural power to change the world.

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Recovering Your Lost Dreams

Abbie and Hamish kiss 2015

This weekend my precious daughter Abbie is getting married to a wonderful New Zealander named Hamish McKoy. As we prepare for the festivities on the outskirts of Wellington, I find myself reflecting on a lesson I learned from Abbie over two decades ago.

It was bedtime at the Buchan household, and I asked my two young daughters, “What do you want to pray before you go to bed, girls?”

Molly, seven years old at the time, prayed for the Dubles, some good friends who were missionaries in Kenya.

Then Abbie, who was four, chimed in, “Lord, I pray I don’t have any bad dreams. No! I pray I don’t have any dreams at all!”

At first I thought it was humorous that someone would not only pray against bad dreams, but against having any dreams at all. But then God pointed out the surprising fact that I often had similar feelings toward my own dreams.

As you’ve probably already discovered, it’s painful when our fondest dreams turn into nightmares. Although we may not be as honest as Abbie was in her prayer, at times it would seem a great relief to eliminate our dreams altogether. Wouldn’t it be easier to just become a zombie or a mind-numbed robot…putting your life on autopilot and eliminating any new initiatives or risky adventures?

Becoming a Dreamer Again

If you’ve become a disillusioned dreamer, you’re not alone. Yet it’s important to see that not all “dis-illusionment” is bad, for we all have “illusions” in our lives that are not from God. (Remind me to tell you that story about the Perfect Church sometime…)

Jesus’ death on the cross was the most disillusioning event in history. His closest followers were devastated, going from their grandiose expectations at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (John 12:12-19) to hiding out in a locked room for fear of the Jews (John 20:19). Peter and some of the others even sought comfort in turning back to their old occupation of fishing (John 21).

And the pain of disillusionment can be felt in the words of the two disciples walking to Emmaus, “We had hoped that He was the one who was going to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). How sad! These men “had hoped” they could count on Jesus to fulfill their dreams, but now their hopes were past tense.

However, at the very time these discouraged men were feeling this way, the resurrected Lord Jesus was walking right beside them! What a great lesson. When our dreams are dashed to the ground and all hope seems lost, the Source of ALL hope is right there with us, ready to open our eyes again to new possibilities.

You’re Never Too Old

Perhaps you think you’re simply too old to dream. My generation of fellow Baby Boomers was perhaps the greatest generation of dreamers to ever live. But now we’re getting OLD, as my kids can attest to.

So is it time to admit defeat and simply stop dreaming dreams? No way! In fact, God has a prophetic word just for us: “In the last days…your young men will see visions, your OLD men will DREAM DREAMS” (Acts 2:17). Let it be, Lord!

No matter how old or young you may be, I encourage you to keep on seeing visions and dreaming dreams. Yes, as Abbie recognized, dreams sometimes are scary or even painful. But we’re entering into days when we’ll need God to raise up a new army of dreamers—taking bold action to impact the world for His kingdom.

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Why You May Need Holy Testosterone

Years ago, I was the editor of a major Christian leadership magazine and had a brainstorm for my upcoming column. I wanted to call my article “Crushed Testicles,” based on Leviticus 21:20.

I wasn’t really surprised when my boss said he liked the article but thought the title was a bit too graphic. We ended up calling the article “Holy Testosterone” instead.

Although I was fine with toning down the title, in retrospect I wonder if we did the right thing. The Bible never shies away from graphic language in fear we might be offended. It doesn’t include any disclaimers or apologies when Leviticus 21:20 (NASB) lists “crushed testicles” as one of the characteristic that would disqualify someone from the priesthood. Now, as then, courage and “holy testosterone” are indispensable qualities of successful leaders.

This is not an argument against women in leadership, for the New Testament makes it clear that all believers are now called upon to enter the church’s “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). And, like Joshua, we’re all called to be “strong and courageous,” whether male or female (Joshua 1:7).

In contrast, though, we as Christian leaders in America have too often become polite, respectable, noncontroversial and steeped in religiosity—very different from the Lord Jesus we profess to emulate. As if Caspar Milquetoast were our role model instead of Jesus Christ, we’ve often chosen “getting along” over being true leaders…pleasing people over pleasing God.

The implication of the phrase “crushed testicles” is not that someone was born (or “born again”) with this condition. Rather, such a condition is nearly always the result of some injury on the way to becoming a leader or in the midst of serving. Whether this is applied to those who leave seminary with less “testosterone” than when they went in, or to those emasculated and crushed by church conflicts or satanic onslaughts while in the ministry, it’s a debilitating condition that God wants to remedy.

If you have been in ministry any length of time, you’ve no doubt been injured or bruised. It goes with the territory. To put it bluntly, our testicles get crushed by the pressures, rejections, and betrayals we encounter along the way.

Our tendency when injured is to lose our boldness and shrink back from further battle. But this is the very reaction we are warned against: “Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward…My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:35-39).

Many of those who went into the ministry with a vision to change the world are now staying in ministry only with a vision of retirement. Testicles crushed along the way, testosterone depleted, they set their sights only on surviving, not thriving.

Let’s face it: The ministry is not for the faint of heart. In order to be successful, we need holy boldness…courage. It does no good to have vision if we’ve lost our nerve and our will to fight.

The stress on Christian leaders in America is seldom the result of overt persecution. Sadly, most of us have not been enough of a threat to anyone to be persecuted.

Instead, the stress comes primarily from the daily wear and tear of babysitting self-absorbed believers who are more concerned about their own needs than about the gospel. Having chosen to babysit rather than confront, emasculated leaders find themselves increasingly frustrated with a ministry typified by spinning of wheels instead of changing of lives.

Those with crushed testicles not only are crippled from leading, they also are disabled from reproducing. Like eunuchs, their castration prevents them from having normal “intercourse” and raising up a new generation of leaders. Amazingly, this lack of spiritual reproduction has become accepted as normal by many who are in leadership today. Losing sight of the clear biblical mandate to equip new leaders, many leaders have become content to have no spiritual offspring.

Be clear on this: It is not a sin to have been crushed. But it is a sin to wallow in an impotent condition, not letting God heal us and restore our courage to lead and reproduce.

After listing the traits that would disqualify a person from the priesthood, God concludes Leviticus 21 with this word of encouragement: “I am the Lord who sanctifies them” (v. 23). This means that no matter what condition you find yourself in today, God is committed to help and heal you if you let Him.

Take heart! Today there can be a whole new beginning for your journey of faith.

 

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Recovering from Spiritual Amnesia

The Perils of Forgetting Who You Are

There’s a lot of amnesia going around lately, and I wonder if you might be a victim. To my surprise, I’ve discovered that I’m a recovering amnesiac myself. More on that in a moment, but first let me give you some background on the kind of amnesia I’m referring to.

Several years ago, my wife and I watched a rather lame made-for-TV movie on the Lifetime network. A woman was comatose after a serious car accident, and when she awoke she had no idea who she was. Eventually she regained her identity and reestablished her relationship with family members, but it wasn’t easy.

There’s a similar scene in my favorite musical, “Man of La Mancha.” Don Quixote has fallen into a coma after suffering what amounts to a nervous breakdown, and he’s seemingly on this deathbed. When visited by the love of his life, the “virtuous lady Dulcinea” (also known as the barmaid Aldonza), he doesn’t even recognize her. Even worse, he doesn’t seem to recognize himself as the valiant knight who had once pursued “the impossible dream.”

It’s a terrible thing to forget who you are. But fortunately, Don Quixote rediscovered his dream and remembered who he was. Reawakened to his destiny, he was ready again “to march into hell for a heavenly cause.”

I had a similar experience a few years ago. No, I wasn’t in an accident, nor did I fall into a coma or experience a nervous breakdown. I certainly wasn’t on my deathbed, at least not physically.

But just like the woman in the TV movie or Don Quixote, I had forgotten who I was.

My recovery was triggered by a phone call I made to an old friend named Jim Byers. We live in different states, and I had lost touch with for more than a decade until the day I happened to stumble across him on Facebook.

At first this phone call was a little awkward. What would we talk about after so long? I considered ending the call after just a few minutes, saying something like, “Well, it was great hearing your voice again, Jim. I just wanted to say hello.”

But like a mighty locomotive, the conversation slowly gained momentum. We talked of old times, when we joyously ministered together and reached out to pastors and churches across the state of Ohio in the 1980s. God really used us back then, and we had a blast in the process.

Although I lost track of how long we talked, it must have been more than an hour and a half. I rarely talk to anyone that long, but it was worth it.

So what does any of this have to do with amnesia?

After my marathon conversation with Jim Byers, I concluded that I had forgotten a piece of who I am. Oh, it’s not that I have a bad life now. I have some friends here in the Carolinas, and I believe my preaching and writing have never been more powerful.

Yet there was something special about the way God used Jim Byers and me to encourage pastors and help them find the resources they needed for greater vitality in their churches. I miss those days, just like I’ve missed the depth of friendship I experienced with Jim.

Of course, there’s another side of this. Paul says we should forget some of the things in our past so we can press onward toward our calling in Christ (Philippians 3:12-14). Yet he also told Timothy to REMEMBER and “fan into flame” what God had spoken to him and done in his life in the past (1 Timothy 1:18, 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:5-7 NIV). If Timothy was to “fight the battle well,” he needed to remember who he was.

What about you? Have you, by chance, forgotten some important aspect of who God has gifted you to be? Do you need to read some of your old journals or have a conversation with a friend you haven’t talked to in decades?

If you’ve been an amnesiac like me, this can be your day to reawaken your dreams. It’s time to remember the glorious quest that once brought great joy to your heart.

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When God Tells You to Shut Up

Would a loving God ever tell His people to “shut up and listen”? Well, that’s basically the meaning of a word that occurs 74 times in the Bible.

Although scholars aren’t certain the precise meaning of the word Selah, the best suggestions are “pause and think about it” or “stop and listen.” The Hebrew word is generally used in the context of songs or poetry, and it seems to denote a time to stop singing and let the words sink in.

Why does God have to tell us 74 times to be quiet and ponder what we’ve heard? Probably because listening is so hard for us! Well, at least it’s hard for me. Maybe you’ve mastered the art of silence, but I know I haven’t.

Often I mindlessly read the Scriptures, sing worship songs, or listen to sermons. The words don’t sink in, because I’ve never paused to meditate on what they really mean.

The Selah commandment seems harder in the 21st century than it has ever been before. We are so time-conscious that we don’t want to waste even a second to stop and listen…ponder…reflect.

Life has become an endless stream of activity, conversation, and noise. No time to pause and take it all in. Never a moment to consider what it all means. No, we’re wired for sound every waking moment.

Yet Selah was never meant to be an option. God commands us to take Selah moments to pause and reflect on who He is and what He is saying to us.

In the course of just 11 verses, Psalm 46 tells us three times to Selah. Verse 10 famously puts Selah in context: “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

When was the last time you quieted your heart enough to know—to really know—that He is God, and that He will ultimately be exalted in all the earth? What a life-changing habit that would be.

Other translations of “be still” have been offered: cease striving…let go…relax. Can you think of anything more therapeutic than a good dose of Selah every day? I can’t.

So I encourage you to take time to Selah today. It will surely change your life.

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Moses or Aaron — Which Kind of Leader Are YOU?

I would much rather be a leader like Aaron than like his younger brother, Moses. Aaron was clearly the more popular of the two, and for good reason. While Moses often seemed aloof—a loner and introvert—Aaron was a man of the people, far more comfortable in social settings.

We see the style of these two leaders in stark contrast in Exodus 32. Moses shunned the people in order to climb Mount Sinai and spend 40 days with God. Aaron stayed down at the bottom of the mountain, where he could hang out with the people.

Which of these leaders would you like to be? Isolated for 40 days—just you and God—or partying with the people in joyous revelry?

When the people got impatient waiting for Moses to return, they “gathered around Aaron” (v. 1), the leader they knew would give them what they wanted. Their request was remarkably straightforward: “Make us some gods who can lead us.”

How would you have responded to such a request? Would you rebuke the people or “go along to get along”?

Incredibly, Aaron complied with their plan and asked them to bring him their “gold rings” that he could melt and shape into a calf they could worship (vs. 2-4).

Notice that bad decisions typically end up being about the gold—the money. How many politicians, preachers, and CEOs have gotten themselves in trouble by telling people, “Bring me the money!”

Of course, Aaron rationalized that all of this was done so the people could have “a festival to the Lord!” (v. 5). Isn’t that astounding reasoning? Yet it has happened again and again throughout history: practicing paganism “in the name of the Lord.”

And you have to admit, Aaron really knew how to throw a party. After going through a few religious rituals to relieve their conscience, the people “celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry” (v. 6).

All the while, Aaron was the chaperone—the “adult” on duty during an episode of “Israelites gone wild.”

Both God and Moses were livid about the situation. After smashing the stone tablets containing the 10 Commandments, Moses angrily demanded from Aaron, “What did these people do to you to make you bring such terrible sin upon them?” (v. 21)

Moses apparently thought Aaron must have been tortured or threatened with his life in order to permit such an idolatrous orgy. But no, it was all too easy for the people to persuade Aaron to do their bidding. He was a man of the people, after all.

Aaron seems to have been completely tone deaf to how serious this offense was. First, he blamed the people. Then he acted as if the calf had just miraculously appeared when gold was thrown into the fire.

But his brother had been with God, and he wouldn’t buy any of these lame explanations: “Moses saw that Aaron had let the people get completely out of control, much to the amusement of their enemies” (v. 25).

Are you a leader, or parent, who allows people to “get completely out of control” in order to have them like you? Do you choose to look the other way instead of take a stand?

When God’s people compromise with sin or idolatry, the result is always the same, as Moses points out: We become a laughingstock to the Lord’s enemies. Instead of being respected or liked, our credibility is undercut.

So I ask you again: Would you rather be a leader like Moses or like Aaron? Let’s be honest: It would be no fun at all to be in Moses’ position in this story. Who wants to be the “bad guy,” calling for repentance and spoiling people’s “fun”?

There always are consequences to Aaron’s kind of people-pleasing leadership. “Then the Lord sent a great plague upon the people because they had worshiped the calf Aaron had made” (v. 35). At the end of the day, the pleasures of sin were replaced by a plague of judgment.

Last year a prominent Christian humanitarian organization displayed the Aaron kind of leadership. After announcing that it was changing a longstanding policy on a moral issue, the ministry reversed itself just two days later because of the public outcry.

With Exodus 32 as a backdrop, I can’t help but wonder if both of their decisions were based on fear rather than faithcompromise rather than conviction…and popularity rather than passion or prophecy.

And if my suspicions are true, both of the decisions were more motivated by “gold” (money) than by God. Why? Because the Aaron kind of leader always looks to money rather than God’s anointing to grease the wheels of ministry.

I guess I would rather be a Moses kind of leader after all.

 

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Debunking 8 Myths About the Christian Life

While studying the origins of the Church at Philippi, I was startled to discover how the story contradicts many of our common misconceptions about the nature of the Christian life. The narrative in Acts 16 debunks at least 8 myths—and I bet you’ve believed some of these misconceptions yourself.

Myth #1: As long as you’re well-intentioned in pursuing spiritual activities, any direction is okay.

The apostle Paul never intended to plant a church in Philippi. In fact, he had other plans. Plan A was to minister in Asia, but he was “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia” (v. 6). Plan B was to preach in Bithynia, but God closed that door too. Finally, the Lord spoke to Paul through a dream that he should go to Macedonia, where Philippi is located.

This story shows that God has a specific plan for our lives, even when it comes to “good” activities like evangelizing and planting churches. Yet it’s bewildering in Acts 16 to see God actually forbidding Paul to preach the gospel if that means going in the wrong direction. While the Great Commission tells us to go into “ALL the world” and “to the ends of the earth” (Mark 16:15, Acts 1:8), God wants to direct us on how to proceed.

Myth #2: If you’re a very spiritual person, you’ll always get it right the first time.   

It would be hard to be any more spiritual than Paul, yet it wasn’t until the third try that he found God’s optimal direction for his life (vs. 6-8). That’s such good news for you and me. We shouldn’t despair if we don’t hit the bulls-eye at our first attempt to find the Lord’s perfect will.

Myth #3: The most important ingredient in church planting is good preaching.

Hey, I’m a preacher, and I certainly put a high value on good preaching. But if you read Acts 16, you’ll see that the secret to Paul’s success clearly was PRAYER, not preaching. He met Lydia (his first convert) at a place of prayer (vs. 13-15), and he was on his way to pray when he cast a demon out of the fortune-telling slave girl (his second convert, vs. 16-18). And the Philippian jailer (his third convert) was saved after Paul and Silas caused an earthquake through their prayers and worship (vs. 25-34).

I surely hope your church or evangelistic ministry has great preaching, but these illustrations demonstrate that prayer must be the foundation of everything else we do in God’s kingdom. Without that, our impact on people will be superficial at best.

Myth #4: If people are saying the right things, that automatically means they have the right spirit.

Oh, how I wish I would have understood this misconception earlier in my ministry! Many preachers, politicians, or church members say all the right things, but they are being motivated by something other than the Holy Spirit.

Look at what this demon-possessed girl was saying while following Paul and Silas day after day: “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation” (v. 17). What’s wrong with that? Most pastors would have put her on the front row so everyone could hear her words of affirmation! But Paul discerned that her right-sounding message had originated with the devil rather than the Holy Spirit. Can you tell the difference?

Myth #5: If you’re in God’s perfect will, everything will always go great for you.

Believing this myth will bring tragic consequences, because it means you’ll also believe the corollary: If things AREN’T going very well for you, you must not be in God’s will. What a horrible, yet incredibly common, misconception. Even though Paul and Silas were following the direct leading of the Holy Spirit to minister in Philippi, the result was catastrophic. Their clothes were torn off, they were brutally beaten with rods, and they were thrown into prison, with their feet in shackles (vs. 22-24). All this happened because they were following God’s will!

Myth #6: Nothing good ever happens after dark.

Verse 25 says Paul and Silas received their breakthrough “at midnight.” I love that. Some of God’s greatest miracles seem to happen at our midnight hour—when things look the bleakest and all hope is gone. We may not be shackled in a jail cell, but perhaps we’re imprisoned to an addiction, a health problem, a mound of debt, or a toxic relationship. No matter what the situation may be, the Lord can break off our chains “suddenly” (v. 26).

Myth #7: God’s salvation is a fragile thing, easily lost.   

Paul later described his complete confidence that the One who had BEGUN a good work in the Philippians would also COMPLETE it (Philippians 1:6). Exactly how confident was Paul in God’s ability to care for these new converts in Philippi? In one of the most stunning plot twists in all of Scripture, verse 40 says that after meeting with “the brethren” gathered in Lydia’s house, Paul “encouraged them and departed.”

The “brethren” numbered just a handful of folks at this point, all of them new believers. But instead of staying to care for these converts, Paul and Silas left town! He entrusted them to their Heavenly Father’s care, believing that nothing would be able to separated them from His love (Romans 8:31-39).

Myth #8: Everything in God’s kingdom rises and falls on leadership.

I’ll admit, there’s a lot of truth contained in this statement, and I’m sure I’ve quoted it myself at times. However, there’s also a misconception here, because we’re often wrong about who is supposed to provide that leadership.

For example…

  • The Israelites could have panicked after Moses died and his unproven understudy Joshua was suddenly in charge (Joshua 1).
  • David’s family never considered him a worthy candidate to be the next king (1 Samuel 16).
  • All of Jesus’ disciples except John denied and deserted Him, and they certainly seemed to be a bad bet to lead the church and reach the world.

But the Church in Philippi is one of the most remarkable examples of God raising up unlikely leaders. In Paul’s opening greeting to the Philippians (1:1), he refers to the “overseers and deacons.” Isn’t that unbelievable? When Paul left Philippi, the church consisted of Lydia’s household, the slave girl, and the jailer’s family.

So where did the overseers and deacons come from? Did they get imported from some Bible college or seminary? Were they transplanted from the church in Jerusalem or Antioch? Certainly not. These were homegrown leaders.

My friend, what are you trusting in for the success of the church? Are you relying on the grace and power of God, or in the charisma and qualifications of the human leaders? Thankfully, Jesus is both the Author and the Finisher, so we would do well to fix our eyes on Him (Hebrews 12:2).

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Luggage or Baggage — Do You Know the Difference?

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While preparing to fly to New Zealand next week, I’ve reflected on my visit last year to a local flea market in search of new luggage. Perhaps that sounds like an insignificant event, but it was an exhilarating experience for me. Why? Because new luggage was a declaration of my intention to go someplace!

You see, if you’re stuck and immobilized, there’s no need for luggage. The only reason you need luggage is if you have a vision to travel and advance!

When I was shopping for new luggage, I didn’t really know where I would be going. But the exact destination wasn’t the issue at the time. It’s all about mobility, fresh vision, and getting unstuck.

I was beginning to sense God stirring a vision I first had in my mid-twenties—to play a role in filling the earth with the glory of the Lord (Habakkuk 2:14). Pursuant to that vision, purchasing new luggage was a step of faith and a prophetic declaration. It was a statement of my renewed desire to fulfill God’s purposes in my life.

However, I’ve also been thinking of another word, baggage, which often is used as a synonym for luggage. Although the two words can mean the same, baggage has some very negative connotations: “things that impede or encumber one’s freedom, progress, development, or adaptability.”

While luggage is all about vision for the future, baggage is focused on our failures and frustrations in the past. We’ve all been encumbered by unwanted baggage at one time or another. The baggage may be from past sins or failures, broken relationships or shattered dreams—or anything else we allow to weigh us down and impede or progress.

Luggage is symbol of our availability to go where God sends us. Baggage, in contrast, involves whatever “stuff” is slowing us down from running the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2).

If you’re like me, you probably have some baggage you’re not even aware of. Ask God to search your heart, my friend. Lay aside the baggage, and go shopping for some new luggage.

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