Out with the Old, in with the New

A new year typically is a time of “out with the old, and in with the new.” Inevitably, there are some things we must let go of, while reaching out toward new things ahead.

I recently found myself humming an old tune, which is an apt prophetic picture of where many of us presently find ourselves as a new year begins:

He flies through the air with the greatest of ease,

The daring young man on the flying trapeze.

Just as a circus trapeze artist must let go of one trapeze and fly through the air until grabbing the next one, I often have found myself in a similar position—flying through the air in transition between the trapeze left behind and the one still to come. We know we aren’t where we used to be, but we’re not where we’re going to be either.

It must be an exhilarating experience for a trapeze artist to fly through the air like that. But I’m sure it’s also a bit terrifying to know that the force of gravity will take its effect if the next trapeze doesn’t come within reach soon.

Much of the church is in a similar place, it seems. We have been propelled by many wonderful trapezes, past revivals and moves of God. But now many of us are flying swiftly through the air, on our way to a coming trapeze that is not yet altogether visible.

If we recognize that God’s plan is to take us “from one degree of glory to another” in this process (2 Corinthians 3:18), this can be an exhilarating experience. However, it’s easy to feel apprehensive as well, with nothing to hang onto except the Lord Himself.

Experienced trapeze artists realize they dare not look down or they will surely miss the next trapeze. Big mistake! Instead, the Lord’s intention is not only to keep us from falling (Jude 1:24), but to enable us to soar on eagles’ wings (Isaiah 40:31).

Despite the dangers, this is no time to play it safe. If we insist on clinging for dear life to our original trapeze, we are certain to make no progress at all. We’ll never go any higher unless we exhibit the courage of “the daring young man” who was willing to defy gravity and fly.

Be bold and courageous, my friend. As you let go of the past and press forward, I pray you will be strengthened for exciting new transitions on God’s flying trapeze.

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Your Title Deed to a Better Year Ahead

What are you hopes and dreams for the coming year? I was journaling about that question today. My conclusion was that I have many small hopes for next year and one big one.

What about you?

When I was discussing this with a friend recently, he made an interesting prediction. “Jim, I feel as if we’re about to ‘turn a corner.’ Many of the things God wants to do for us aren’t even visible right now. We’ll have to turn the corner in order to see them.”

My friend’s statement got me thinking about one of the most intriguing verses in the entire Bible: Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

On the one hand, faith is a “NOW” experience—something tangible we can hold in our hands today. However, faith has no real meaning unless it’s connected to “things hoped for”—God’s promises for our future.

As you head into a new year, what are the things you’re hoping for? Even though they may be “things not seen”  yet by your natural eyes, by faith they can nevertheless be REAL.

The writer of Hebrews continues this thought throughout chapter 11. All of those in the Bible’s “Hall of Fame of Faith” had to trust God for things they couldn’t yet see…

  • Abraham and Sarah were promised a son.
  • Moses and the Israelites were told about a Promised Land the Lord had prepared for them.
  • The disciples were promised the Holy Spirit, who would soon come and empower them.

The Amplified translation of Hebrews 11:1 says faith is the “title deed”  to things not yet experienced by our physical senses. These things may be right around the corner or many years off. We simply can’t see them yet.

However, when God made a promise to someone in the Bible, it was as good as done. Perhaps the person wasn’t actually living in their Promised Land yet, but they had the title deed.

Many of God’s promises are generic and timeless. For example, we’re promised His faithfulness (Lamentations 3: 22-24), His presence (Matthew 28:20, Hebrews 13:5), and His continual goodness and mercy (Psalm 23:6). Not only does He promise to meet all of our needs (Philippians 4:19), but He also promises to give us the desires of our heart  if our main delight is in Him (Psalm 37:4).

Of course, the Bible has many other general promises applicable to all of us who are believers in Christ. But what about situations where we need something more personal, addressing a very specific need in our lives? What if we’re asking God to do something for us that isn’t specifically covered by any of the generic promises in His Word?

In such cases, we need to hear His voice!  We must draw near to Him in prayer and listen for the promptings of His Spirit. Like Peter, who wouldn’t dare step out of the boat until summoned by Jesus, we need to await His instructions.

So…

Do you have your title deed—your promises from God—for the coming year? If so, you can wait patiently for their fulfillment. Or if action is required on your part, He will enable you to take bold steps of faith and overcome all obstacles.

At times your title deed will be a direct promise in the Bible, energized by the Holy Spirit as you pray. At other times, He will customize a promise just for you. Either way, the assurance that comes with the title deed will give you deeper rest and peace than you’ve ever experienced before. No more striving…worrying…fretting. The moment He declares something, you can consider it finished.

So take a deep breath and thank God for everything He’s promised you. If you have the title deed, all you need to do is trust and obey. He will take care of everything else.

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5 Secrets of the Magi

We don’t know the exact time frame of the journey made by “wise men from the East” in search of young King Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). It may have been several months or even a few years after Jesus’ birth when they arrived at Herod’s palace and asked, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?” (v. 1)

But while some of the details of their journey may be unclear, there’s much we can learn from the wonderful example set by the magi:

  1. They made it a priority to pursue the Lord (v. 1). These men came from a great distance to encounter the Savior. They weren’t just casual believers, but were committed to having a personal encounter with the newborn King. In the same way, shouldn’t we make it a priority to pursue the Lord and spend time in His presence?
  2. They came to worship Him (v. 2). Right from the beginning, the magi made the purpose of their journey clear: “We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.” May that be our focus as well during this Christmas season. Instead of being distracted by all the trappings of the holidays, let’s take time to worship Jesus!
  3. Nothing could divert them from their mission (vs. 3-8). When God gives us a dream to pursue, we often have to deal with a “King Herod” who tries to distract us along the way. The magi truly proved to be “wise men,” able to discern that King Herod had no intention of furthering their mission. In the same way, we must avoid the influence of toxic people and naysayers during the holiday season.
  4. They not only worshiped Jesus with their words and their time, but they also worshiped Him with a generous offering. “When they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (v. 11). If we have a genuine encounter with our Savior, the King of Kings, how can we not honor Him with our possessions? True worship demands nothing less. Our treasure and our heart are always linked together (Matthew 6:21).
  5. They returned home “another way” (v. 12). Genuine worship will transform us and cause us to walk on a different path than we started on. If necessary, we’ll even be given supernatural direction or “divinely warned in a dream.” As you worship Jesus this holiday season, He wants to instruct you, change your life, and give you the breakthrough you need!

This Christmas, may the Lord give you a fresh revelation of His LOVE for you—love that took Him from the glories of Heaven to a dusty stable in Bethlehem…to a Cross on a Jerusalem hillside…to the right hand of God’s throne in Heaven…so that you might spend eternity with Him.

Take a few moments right now to give God thanks for all He has done in your life. Like the magi, your journey may seem long and difficult at times. But peace and joy will rise in your heart when you put your focus in the right place this Christmas: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy” (v. 10).

That can be your experience as well.

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Rediscovering the Power of NOW

We’ve all met people who seem to live their entire lives focused on the past. Within minutes of starting any conversation, they’re talking about some childhood trauma…their ex-spouse…their past health challenges…a loved one who has died…or a job they lost decades ago.

And then there are people like me, who tend to have the opposite problem. We continually tell you about our dreams for the future…our goals for the coming year…or the bucket list we want to accomplish before we die. This imbalanced tendency becomes even more extreme as New Year ’s Day approaches every December, when we become obsessed with putting our plans together for the coming year.

Of course, I would argue that my imbalance is better than the alternative. Isn’t it better to live in the future than to live in the past? It surely seems that way to me. I would much rather be a futurist than live my life looking in the rearview mirror.

One great thing about being a Christian is that we usually can find a Bible verse to justify our imbalances. For example, futurists like me love to quote verses like Proverbs 29:18 about people perishing if they don’t have a vision. And what about the apostle Paul’s famous statement in Philippians 3:13 that he was forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead”?

But lately several of my friends have challenged me to “enjoy the moment” and “live in the now.” They’ve pointed out that most of my days are spent thinking about what I’ll be doing in some future day. And rather than enjoy the meeting or conversation I’m in at the moment, I’m usually looking ahead toward some future meeting or conversation.

I’ve concluded that these friends have a valid point. As a result of my obsessive futurism, I often miss out on the cool things happening in the moment…in the NOW. Part of this could be blamed on my optimism, I suppose. It’s good that I’m expecting the future to be better than my past or the present. However, the problem for a futurist is that the present never actually comes—we’re always focused on a time still ahead.

What about you? Are you missing out on the blessings of the present because your mind is stuck on events in the past? Or do you suffer from the same malady as I do, allowing your thoughts of the future to rob you of the joys you could be experiencing right now?

While it’s true that the Bible recommends spending some time planning and preparing for the future (e.g., Proverbs 6:6-8), that shouldn’t cause us to overlook our need to live in the NOW:

“NOW faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

“Behold, NOW is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2).

TODAY, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 4:7).

I’m coming to see that although the past and future can have a powerful influence on our lives, neither of them should be more powerful than the NOW. That’s why it’s always better to start a new diet or exercise program today instead of tomorrow. None of us really knows what will happen tomorrow, so we better get started now if we sincerely want to change our lives in some meaningful way.

We need to help each other on this. If you catch me obsessing about the past or the future, please remind me that the only way to change anything about my life is to encounter the presence of God and the love of my friends and family today…NOW.

Now you are here

 

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So, What Are You Afraid Of?

When my friend Jacob recently entered the world of online dating, he found it to be a terrifying experience.

“Jim,” he confided, “you wouldn’t believe how different the dating scene is than when I was in my twenties.”

Jacob’s marriage of 30+ years had ended several months before, and now he was embarking on a mission he never expected: the search for a new wife.

Sensing his discomfort with the whole situation, I asked, “What are you so afraid of? Why don’t you just relax and enjoy the ride?”

“That’s easy for you to say,” he replied. “You just don’t understand…”

“OK, explain it to me then. What exactly is so terrifying about meeting new people and going on dates?”

Lots of things are terrifying!” Jacob said, clearly irritated that he had to spell things out for me. “Some days I’m afraid I’ll never find the woman of my dreams. Other days I’m afraid I will find the woman of my dreams, but I’ll mess things up and she won’t love me in return.”

“Sounds like a real dilemma,” I acknowledged.

As our conversation continued, it became clear that my friend was still hurting from his unhappy marriage and the rejection he felt when his wife left him. But I encouraged him that God had a plan and he shouldn’t give up.

“You’re still dealing with the grieving process, Jacob. That’s normal after what you’ve gone through, but as you trust the Lord in this, I know He will keep working to heal your heart.”

Just a few weeks later, Jacob called to say that my prayers for him must be working.

“Jim, I’m so excited. I found this amazing woman on Match.com, and she has agreed to meet me for coffee tonight.”

I told Jacob I was happy for him and asked him to let me know how things went on his big date.

Sure enough, my friend called on the way home from meeting this beautiful and successful woman he had found online.

“We talked for nearly two hours,” Jacob gushed. “It was going really well until we got to the part where we asked each other what we’re looking for in a partner.”

“That sounds like a fair question. So what did you tell her?”

Apparently Jacob gave this lovely woman a lengthy description of how he wanted someone faithful and kind…affectionate…loving unconditionally…never holding a grudge…grateful for the little things in life…and always glad to see him.

To his horror, she replied somewhat indignantly to his wish list, “It sounds like what you really need is a DOG!”

After I got done laughing at my friend’s plight, we ended up discussing the many benefits of having a dog while going through life’s transitions.

“You’ve got to admit, Jacob, dogs can be pretty cool. They’re low maintenance, easy to please, and they lick your face for no reason at all…”

Well, I probably shouldn’t have laughed at my friend’s anguish. But Jacob’s online dating experiences have given us some good opportunities to discuss two universal forces in life: FEAR and FAITH.

On the one hand, the Bible assures us that God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). However, that certainly doesn’t mean He won’t place us in scary situations from time to time.

Remember the shepherds in the Christmas story? (Luke 2:8-20) They were just minding their business one dark night when “an angel of the Lord” woke them up with a terrifying divine encounter.

The shepherds’ experience follows a pattern found throughout the Bible: First, God puts us in circumstances that cause our fears to rise, and then He comforts those fears by telling us, “Do not be afraid” (v. 10).

Isn’t that pretty funny?

Jacob and I have concluded that fearful circumstances are simply part of God’s healing process to REVEAL and then HEAL us of our fears. It’s all part of His love for us and His determination to uproot anything that’s keeping us from His BEST for our lives.

So the next time you sense fear rising in your heart, don’t shy away from it. Face it head on and recognize it for what it is: God’s plan to set you free from fear so you can enter into His highest purposes for your life.

Remember how the Israelites cowered in fear on the brink of their Promised Land (Numbers 13)? They didn’t realize it at the time, but their FEARS were actually pointing the way toward their FUTURE. Unnecessarily, they spent 40 years in the wilderness before they were willing to confront the fear and unbelief lurking in their hearts.

So, what are YOU afraid of today? It’s probably a clue to an important breakthrough God wants to give you in some area of your life.

Yes, you may want to get a dog too. But that’s only a temporary solution.

 

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Thank God for Late Bloomers

Most people my age seem to have concluded that their best years are behind them. As a result, they’ve put their life on cruise control, content to grab a few fleeting moments of gusto amid years of decline and purposelessness.

Although I can sympathize with these sleepwalking friends, I’ve chosen to reject their unhopeful mindset. I’m still idealist enough to believe my final third of life can be the most enjoyable and impactful time I’ve ever had on this earth.

Perhaps you think this is just wishful thinking, but I’ve taken courage from historical figures who were late bloomers. Their greatest accomplishments happened in the final decades of their lives:

  • Ray Kroc launched the McDonald’s hamburger chain when he was 52.
  • Ronald Reagan never was elected to public office until age 55, when he became the Governor of California. Ultimately he became the oldest President in U.S. history and one of the most successful.
  • Harland “Colonel” Sanders launched his Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise when he was in his mid-60s.
  • Moses, famous for setting the Israelites free from slavery in Egypt, wasn’t commissioned by God for that assignment until he was 80. Despite growing up in luxury in Pharaoh’s household, he spent many disappointing years as an underachiever after killing an Egyptian and fleeing to the desert at age 40.
  • Sarah finally bore her first child, Isaac, when she was 90—and her husband Abraham was 100, when his body seemed “as good as dead” (Romans 4:19).

Stories like these have caused me to conclude that it’s never too late to make your greatest impact on the world.

So I hope you haven’t already checked out of life. Your greatest joy and most important assignment may be just ahead.

If you’re still not convinced, I call your attention to Jesus’ first miracle, when he turned water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Tasting this miraculous wine, the head of the banquet marveled, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now (John 2:10).

My friend, Jesus still can turn water into wine. He can take a drab, unexciting life and add unexpected flavor and fizz. And yes, the rest of your years can be the BEST of your years.

So quit spending all your time looking in the rearview mirror. Go ahead and open your heart to the Lord and the exciting possibilities He has for your future.

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Success Secrets of History’s Greatest CEO

By any measure, his accomplishments were astounding and unparalleled:

  • With virtually no start-up funds and only a handful of staff, he established an organization that has seen annual growth for 2,000 years.
  • He led the organization for just three years before leaving it in the hands of his handpicked successors.
  • Without any of the benefits of modern technology, his product was marketed in every known nation on earth in less than a century.
  • From its humble beginnings, the organization founded by this leader has grown to billions of adherents around the world, some of whom are willing to die rather than give up the life-changing product he introduced.

The “CEO” I’m referring to, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve recently been thinking about 5 of his success secrets we all can profit from:

  1. Put as much emphasis on preparation as on implementation. Jesus spent 30 years in preparation for a 3-year ministry. In contrast, many pastors today spend 3 years at seminary in hopes of having 30 years or so of fruitful service. In our impatient, microwave society, we nearly always undervalue the importance of careful preparation.

Jesus urged his disciples to take time to lay a firm foundation before trying to build anything. On a sunny day, it may be tempting to build a house on sand, but storms will surely come to every life (Matthew 7:24-27). Instead of being overeager to start the building process, Jesus said we should first “count the cost” and see if we have what it takes to finish the job (Luke 14:28-29).

Every successful sports team understands this principle. The key to victory is in painstaking preparation, not just showing up for the game.

  1. Carefully select your inner circle. Few things will impact your life more than the entourage of friends you choose to live your life with. On the positive side, the Bible says if you walk with wise people, you will become wise (Proverbs 13:20). But it also warns, “Bad company corrupts good character” (1 Corinthians 15:33).

Jesus was very deliberate and purposeful in selecting his inner circle. In addition to spending time getting to know each of the men who ultimately would become his disciples, he spent an entire night in prayer before the final selection was made (Luke 6:12-16). How much time, attention, and prayer do YOU give toward selecting the main people you spend time with?

Notice that Jesus’ selection process wasn’t based on people’s resume or their outward qualifications. If you were going to choose a team to take your message and product to the ends of the earth, would you pick theologically inept fishermen and tax collectors?  However, guided by prayer and discernment, Jesus saw the great potential of these men, even though they seemed to be unlikely candidates for success.

Despite his careful vetting process, Jesus frequently had to confront those in his inner circle when they got off track. For example, Peter wanted to block Jesus’ pathway to the cross and was sternly told, “Get behind Me, Satan” (Matthew 16:21-23). Are you willing to stand against your friends when they try to hinder God’s will for your life?

  1. Remain focused on the mission instead of the numbers. Those of us in ministry can be especially prone to place an undue importance on statistics. How many people attend our services…the size of the budget and staff…how many seats in our sanctuary…etc.

And often the numbers are truly a significant indicator of God’s blessing on our endeavors. For example, I work at Inspiration Ministries, and in 2015 more than 125,000 people will have clicked the “I prayed the prayer” button on our salvation website. Every four minutes or less, someone is indicating a decision to make Jesus Christ their Lord and Savior! I thank God for this tangible fruit from our outreaches.

Throughout the Bible, we’re frequently told about the number of people involved in one story or another, so it’s fair to conclude that numbers matter to God. However, Jesus also realized how fickle and misleading numbers can be. His ministry rapidly grew to more than 5,000 people, only to fall back to the original 12 disciples when he preached an unpopular message one day (John 6). On another occasion, he experienced a crowd cheering “Hosanna,” followed just days later by some of the same people shouting, “Crucify Him.”  And then all of his disciples scattered at the cross except John. So much for “numbers” as a sign of success.

These illustrations in the life of Jesus also are a reminder that our mission is to make DISCIPLES, not just CONVERTS or fair-weather followers (Matthew 28:19-20). The next time a friend boasts of the Sunday attendance at his church, ask him how many of those people are truly becoming dedicated disciples of Jesus instead of spectators in the crowd.

  1. Have a clear succession plan. Even if you build a very successful organization, the real test will come when you die, retire, or leave. Will your successors have the skills they need to continue and even expand the mission?

Entire books could be written on this, but let me just quote two mind-blowing statements by Jesus about his succession plan. In John 16:7, he assured his disciples that it was actually to their advantage for him to leave them, because then they could be empowered by the Spirit. And he was so confident in the outcome of this empowerment that he promised they would be able to do even greater works then he had done (John 14:12).

So, who are you empowering in the next generation to follow in your footsteps and expand the mission you’ve started?

  1. Understand who you must please in order to be successful. Modern-day CEOs have lots of “bosses” that they must keep happy. For example, they must have the support of the board, the stockholders, and their management team, and it’s incredibly hard to please all of these people. You may not be a CEO today, but there’s a good chance you have many bosses you’re trying to keep happy: spouse, kids, friends, boss at work, pastor, etc.

In contrast, Jesus only had one person he was trying to please. And even before Jesus’s ministry had begun, his Heavenly Father had declared his great pleasure: This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).

When you recognize that you ultimately have just one Boss (2 Corinthians 5:9), all of life becomes simpler and more peaceful (Psalm 46:10).

My friend, whether you have any aspirations to be a CEO or not, I encourage you to put these 5 success secrets into practice. Your life will surely change for the better.

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