When Your GPS Signal Returns

Magi 2

Recently I was praying with a friend who was struggling to find God’s direction for his life. As we prayed, I vividly remembered the Bible’s account of how the magi temporarily lost sight of the star that had started them on their journey:

Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time! (Matthew 2:9-10 MSG).

What an intriguing story. The magi had been so moved by their initial sighting of this star that they left everything and set off on a journey of hundreds of miles just to glimpse and worship the newborn King. But at first the star only guided them as far as Jerusalem, where the religious leaders and King Herod pointed them to Bethlehem as the likely place of the Messiah’s birth.

As these men set off for Bethlehem, something very exciting happened: “Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies.”

As this passage came to mind, I immediately recognized how it applied to my friend’s situation. Several years before, he had sensed clear direction from the Lord to proceed in a certain direction. Yet the cares and circumstances of life had hindered him—and now his original vision seemed like a dim memory.

Sensing the Holy Spirit speaking into his situation, I told my friend with great confidence, “The star of guidance is going to appear for you again!”

I also pointed out that, as with the magi, it would likely be the “same star” as he had seen before. To use a modern parallel, it’s as if his GPS had quit working for a time, but now it was about to resume charting the original direction.

Perhaps this is a word of encouragement for you as well. Is your spiritual GPS still functioning? As God did in the case of the magi, sometimes He sovereignly removes our external guidance for a time, causing us to seek Him once again. However, notice that the magi experienced great joy  when they saw the star again—and so it will be with us.

As the magi discovered, incredible joy rises in our hearts when we realize we’re in “the right place” at “the right time.” And it’s important to see that the star didn’t just lead them in some random direction: “It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child.” That’s the ultimate purpose of all divine guidance, isn’t it? God wants to lead us closer to Jesus.

A personal note…

The same night as I prayed with my friend, my sleep was restless. Finally, at about 3:30 a.m., I gave up sleeping and started pondering how the story of the magi’s renewed guidance applied to my own life.

Like my friend, I’ve been sensing that the Lord wants to give me fresh vision and guidance. I’ve even been planning a sabbatical when I can get some needed rest and a new perspective.

But there at 3:30, tossing and turning on my bed, some things became very clear to me. Like the magi, I had sought direction from friends and “religious leaders,” when what I really needed was to see the star again.

In mere moments, I began to receive some of the “fresh vision” I craved—and it turned out to be a return of some “old vision” I’d lost sight of and neglected.

Surprise, surprise, surprise. It turned out that I already had  vision. As with the magi, when the “star” of guidance appeared to me in the middle of that restless night, it was the same star that had set me on my journey several years before.

I know I still have a long way to go. But I’m headed toward “Bethlehem” to see the King, and I’m pretty excited about it.

I pray you’ll take time to look again for the star that got you started. Although the night around you may be dark, that’s when stars shine the brightest.

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The Surprising Christmas Story in John’s Gospel

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7 Life-Changing Christmas Facts in the First Chapter of John

When we think about the Christmas story, we usually start with the Gospel of Luke and Gospel of Matthew. There we see the shepherds, the magi, and the angel Gabriel’s stunning declaration to Mary. Other colorful characters appear, including Elizabeth and Zacharias, Simeon and Anna.

But John’s Gospel presents the rest of the story. As the final of the four Gospel accounts, it reveals the deeper meaning of the events in Bethlehem that first Christmas.

In the first chapter of John, we see 7 important facts about the true meaning of Christmas…

  1. Christmas is about eternity, not just about Bethlehem.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

You see, Christmas didn’t start with Gabriel’s appearance to Mary or with the manger scene. The Son of God stepped out of eternity as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Numerous Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Him, and these amazing predictions came through several different people over the course of five centuries from 1000 to 500 BC. Twenty-four specific prophecies were fulfilled in just the 24 hours before Jesus’ death.

Just as your Heavenly Father could look down through the centuries and foresee the details of Jesus’ life, nothing in your life is catching Him by surprise. The same God who fulfilled His promises in intricate detail in the life of His Son Jesus will be faithful to fulfill every promise of His Word for YOU today!

  1. Christmas has been under attack since its inception, but Jesus and His message are invincible, destined to prevail.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [overcome] it.

King Herod massacred babies in an attempt to eliminate the newborn King (Matthew 2:16-18). Throughout history, others have tried to diminish the memory or message of the Messiah.

But John’s Gospel points out the wonderful fact that darkness is powerless to overcome the light. That’s very good news if you are facing some kind of darkness in your  life today.

  1. Although we love the Christmas stories about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi (people who loved Jesus), many people either were unaware of Jesus’ coming or else completely rejected Him.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

Even today, there still are billions of people in the world who have never heard the name of Jesus even once. Others know about Him, but have rejected His message.

Instead of being offended by this rejection or taking it personally, we should be motivated all the more to proclaim the name of Jesus, the only One who can save humanity from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

  1. Christmas ultimately is not just about a baby born in a manager; it’s about His power to give a new birth to anyone who receives Him as Lord and Savior.

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

As C.S. Lewis well said, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” Our physical birth is not enough, Jesus told religious leader Nicodemus. We must receive a spiritual birth too, being “born again” in order to see and enter God’s kingdom (John 3:1-7).

  1. Christmas is the story of Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14), and His presence is always characterized by both grace and truth.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

God loved the world so much that He didn’t just send a letter, a postcard, an email, or an Instagram. He became flesh, personally stepping into our world.

In contrast to the example of many of His followers today, Jesus was full of BOTH grace and truth. This is a great reminder that we’re called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)—never shrinking back from sharing the truth, but always communicating it with grace.

  1. Christmas would be a meaningless event if it hadn’t been for Jesus’ death and resurrection.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The baby in Bethlehem grew up! John the Baptist accurately discerned His calling as God’s sacrificial Lamb—the Savior who was born to die (Isaiah 53).

  1. Christmas illustrates the promise of an open heaven, with God not only sending His Son, but also every other blessing we need (Ephesians 1:3, Philippians 4:19).

49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus was referring to Jacob’s vision of an open heaven, with a ladder between the heavenly and earthly realms (Genesis 28). As John’s Gospel unfolds, we’re told clearly that Jesus Himself is the ladder or bridge to heaven, and there is no other pathway but Him (John 14:6).

Yet Christmas is about more than just getting people to heaven. Jesus also brought some of heaven down to US, and He told us to pray for heaven to be revealed through our own lives as well (Matthew 6:10).

Along with Jesus, we’re privileged to receive everything else that’s included in God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33). That’s why Paul could say in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us ALL things?”

This Christmas, I hope you’ll remember that the God who loved you enough to give you His Son will also hear your prayers and give you the other things you need in life. The next time you hear someone say, “Merry Christmas,” keep in mind that it’s not just about a historical event in Bethlehem. It’s a transcendent reality meant to change your life today—and your future in eternity as well.

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The Key to Experiencing Thanksgiving All Year Long

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Thanksgiving is clearly the greatest holiday ever created in America—and not just because of the great food and football games.

A few years ago I had a new revelation while writing Thanksgiving notes to some friends. In past years, I would say something like, “I’m thankful for YOU this Thanksgiving.” That certainly was true enough, but it missed an important point: I wasn’t only thankful for these friends on one day of the year, but rather was grateful for them all year long.

Suddenly my mind was flooded with Paul’s words to his friends in Philippi: Every time you cross my mind, I break out in exclamations of thanks to God”  (Philippians 1:3 MSG).

Isn’t that cool? At the mere thought of his friends, Paul had a “Thanksgiving moment.” Even when distance or jail cells prevented him from seeing them face to face, his Thanksgiving rose to God whenever he even thought of these people he loved so much.

I hope you have friends and loved ones who brighten your life like that. Whenever someone mentions their name or the Lord brings them to mind during your prayer times, you light up inside. You find yourself welling up with gratitude that such a person would be a part of your life.

This year I found myself realizing in a whole new way that if you have good friends and are a person of prayer, you can experience Thanksgiving anytime. There may not be any turkey or football, and your loved ones may not be physically present with you at the time. But you can “break out in exclamations of thanks”  nevertheless.

Let’s be honest, though: We all know people who don’t bring such a cheery reaction when they come to mind. Rather than sparking joyous praise, they bring us concern or sadness or even a tinge of anger when they come to mind. This could be someone who has wronged us, who we’ve not yet forgiven. Or perhaps it’s a spouse or child who’s not living like we think they should.

Fortunately, Paul has an answer for this kind of situation too—when instead of thankfulness, we feel burdened down when we think about how another person is doing. Just a few verses after the words above, Paul adds one of the most beautiful promises in the entire Bible: I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns”  (Philippians 1:6 NLT).

Look at how these two verses work together: In verse 3 Paul describes his great joy and thankfulness every time he remembers his fellow believers in Philippi.

But in verse 6, he reveals the secret of why he could rejoice even when some people weren’t doing very well: He knew God was still at work! Instead of remaining distraught about the circumstances of such people, Paul knew He could commit them into the Lord’s loving hands, confident in His ability to change their heart and turn things around for them.

Do you see how your whole perspective changes when you look at the people in your life through this two-fold lens in Philippians 1? Every day—and every moment of every day—can become a time of spontaneous Thanksgiving. So you don’t have to wait another 364 days—let the hallelujahs ring out now!

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Whose Side Is God On?

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One of the fascinating aspects of each election cycle is to watch both Democrats and Republicans imply that God is certainly on their side of the issues. Meanwhile, theologians debate whether God is a Calvinist or Arminian. And sometimes entire nations—especially the United States—portray themselves as being on the side of God and righteousness.

So how can we tell whose side is God really on?

There’s a great story in Joshua 5:13-15 that should give us cause for concern on this subject. The scene takes place shortly before Joshua is planning to lead the Israelites against the formidable city of Jericho. This was the first step in his campaign to take possession of the Promised Land, and Joshua was facing some anxiety.

As he was gazing at Jericho in preparation for the coming events, Joshua was suddenly confronted with a mighty angel of the Lord, with his sword drawn for battle. The angel clearly would be a formidable warrior, and Joshua certainly hoped he had come to fight on the side of the Israelites.

“Are You for us or for our adversaries?” was his logical question for the angel (v. 13).

However, the angel didn’t frame his answer the way Joshua might have hoped: “No,” the angel replied, “but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come” (v. 14).

Do you see the irony here? Joshua hadn’t asked a yes or no question. He wanted to know—as we all do—whether God was going to fight on his side or his enemy’s side.

But God never comes to take sides—He comes to take over! The angel’s reply let Joshua see an important insight about spiritual or political battles: Instead of trying to get God to fight on our side, we had better humble ourselves to make sure we are aligning ourselves with His side.

Joshua got the message loud and clear. Falling on his face to the earth, he worshiped God and said, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Liking this response, the Commander of the Lord’s army told Joshua to take off his sandals, for he was standing on holy ground (vs. 14-15).

What a great model for us as well. The Bible declares, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). But the surest way to know that God is truly “for us” is to make sure our highest objective is to seek His kingdom and accomplish His will. When we’re willing to do that, Jericho will be no match for us.

If the recent election was won by the political candidate you supported, here’s my advice: Don’t stop praying!

And if your preferred candidate lost the recent election, here’s my advice: Don’t stop praying!

Rather than either gloating in victory or moaning in defeat, it’s now more important than ever to seek God’s grace and favor on the nation. That will only happen when we lay aside our personal assumptions and agendas, seeking His kingdom and glory above all.

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When a Nation Needs Divine Favor

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The Intriguing Message of “Annuit Coeptis”

I can’t tell you for sure whether America’s Founding Fathers were influenced by the New Age or infiltrated by the Illuminati. But some of the Latin phrases they used are pretty intriguing.

For example, a few years ago I took a look at Annuit Coeptis, which is found on the Great Seal and the back of our dollar bills. This Latin phrase can be translated “He (or Providence) favors our undertakings” or “He has prospered our endeavors.”

Wow. Our Founders somehow realized they never would have succeeded without divine favor. This recognition of the need for God’s favor should be our quest as well—especially in the chaotic times our country now faces.

A psalm attributed to Moses reflects this passion very well:

May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands (Psalm 90:17).

So what does it take for a nation to gain—or to lose—the Lord’s favor? Amid the horrors of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln wrestled with this very issue:

We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness…

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

Whether you’re a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or follower of some other political philosophy, I hope you will grasp the power of Lincoln’s message. We need more than better politicians or better policies. We need a spiritual awakening that begins with you and me.

In addition to President Lincoln’s diagnosis of our need for national repentance and revival, the words of nineteenth-century historian Alexis de Tocqueville are amazingly prophetic today:

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Forgive us, Lord. Heal our land. May Annuit Coeptis be our testimony once again.

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When the Curtain Is Pulled Back

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One of my all-time favorite movie scenes is in The Wizard of Oz. “The great and powerful Oz” was trying to intimidate Dorothy and her friends, and his scare tactics appeared to be working.

But right when all hope seemed lost, something quite providential happened. Dorothy’s dog, Toto, pulled back the curtain Oz was hiding behind. It turned out that despite all the smoke, sounds effects, and bombast, the mighty Oz was actually just a feeble old man.

Shockingly at times, God has been “pulling back the curtain” lately. He’s exposing things for what they really are—and the reality behind the curtain is alarming.

When the Wizard was exposed, he famously said, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!”

In the same way, today’s embarrassed politicians try to persuade us to “pay no attention” to the video clips, emails, and other evidence we can plainly see with our own eyes. But it’s too late. Once the curtain is pulled back, how can we not pay attention?

Yet for months it seemed that most Americans were paying no attention to the foibles of the candidates they were supporting. As long as a candidate was from their own party, all sins could be forgiven. But now that God is pulling back the curtain, the corruption is simply too blatant to ignore.

When the curtain is pulled back, we see things as they really  are, not just as they appear. The “spin” is gone, the hype looks foolish, and our heroes as seen as mere mortals once again. It’s as if the Piped Piper’s spell is broken, and we wonder how we ever could have been so gullible.

It’s interesting to see how someone responds when their deception is exposed. When Dorothy and her friends discovered that the Wizard was a fraud, he initially reacted in great rage. “Do you presume to criticize the Great Oz, you ungrateful creatures?” he asked indignantly.

Doesn’t this sound like how many politicians act when the curtain is pulled back? They blame their accusers, castigate the news media, and act as if they should be immune from criticism.

When the curtain has been pulled back this year, corruption has been exposed in both political parties and even in revered institutions like the FBI and Department of Justice. And while the news media is sometimes unfairly criticized, it turns out that much of the criticism is deserved.

As God has mercifully pulled back the curtain, the unseen realm has been exposed, and the apostle Paul’s warning in Ephesians 6:10-13 has rung true. Our real battle is more than a clash between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. A demonic spiritual element has been working “behind the curtain” to pull strings of influence in our political affairs.

Thankfully, some of this wizardry is finally being exposed for what it is. I’ve heard that if anyone catches a glimpse at how sausage is made, they will never eat sausage again. Hopefully the same wisdom will apply when the curtain is pulled back on the corruption of our political candidates—how can we ever vote for such a person again?

One of the other great scenes in The Wizard of Oz occurs when Dorothy accidentally pours water on the Wicked Witch of the West, causing her sudden demise. “I’m melting!” she says pathetically as she dissolves on the ground. Dorothy is astonished, not just that the Wicked Witch is dead, but that the Witch’s followers rejoice  when they realize her power has been broken.

I rejoice that the Lord is pulling back the curtain today, because I know that repentance is always a precursor to revival and national restoration.

However, I’m also aware of the sobering fact that the curtain will one day be pulled back on each of us. Today our political candidates are being exposed, but tomorrow it may be you and me. How would you fare if all your conversations were recorded and your emails were leaked to the press? What if the whole world saw what your marriage is like behind closed doors? What would the IRS find if they audited your taxes?

It’s such a great time to search our own hearts and ask the Lord to deal with any sins we’ve tolerated “behind the curtain.”

“Cleanse me from secret faults,” King David prayed (Psalm 19:12). “See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

That’s a great prayer for us as well.

 

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The Exorcism Before the Election

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Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Independent, or simply a member of the Apathetic Party, I feel an urgency to bring something to your attention. In the fog of the election season and all its political ads and pundits, it’s easy to overlook root issues that must be addressed before Election Day.

Although I don’t usually write much about the devil and demons, the current situation demands an exception. Whether you are for Hillary, Trump, or someone else, there’s an important matter not mentioned in any of the party platforms…

Before the final votes, we need a National Exorcism.

Yes, you heard me right. Our central problem isn’t the Democrats or Republicans, but rather the demons and strongholds.

I don’t really need to provide specifics at this point, but the evidence is clear to anyone willing to face the facts and look beneath the surface…

Hillary has her demons. Trump has his demons. And let’s face it: American has its demons, and this has led to our crazy match-up of candidates.

The apostle Paul told the Ephesians that their real battles were not a matter of flesh and blood. Likewise, I’m sure he would remind us today that our struggle isn’t primarily between political ideologies:

We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

Thankfully, Paul also wrote that Jesus is positioned higher than any of these unseen enemies:

He is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. God has put all things under the authority of Christ and has made him head over all things for the benefit of the church (Ephesians 1:21-21 NLT).

You see, our prayers have spiritual authority to lift the demonic fog that’s blinding so many people’s eyes to the real issues facing our nation. Romans 11:8 calls this fog “a spirit of stupor,” and it’s extremely dangerous to have an election unless that spell is broken.

Before it’s too late, will you join me in praying for our country? Will you join me in humbling ourselves before the Lord and repenting of our national sins and narcissism?

Frankly, I don’t want the Democrats in power. But I don’t want the Republicans in power either. Nor the Libertarians or Green Party.

I’m not particularly excited about having the first woman President or the first billionaire President. The governing establishment has become too demonic to be remedied by any mortal person, whether male or female. And the strongholds are too deeply entrenched for any single election to fully change.

It gets down to this: Instead of just having the right outcome in the election, we need right hearts and a spiritual revival. Rather than just choosing the best person to be President, we need to look to King Jesus for “the wisdom that comes from heaven” (James 3:17).

When we submit ourselves to God, the Bible says we can resist the devil, and he will flee from us (James 4:7). That’s really good news, isn’t it?

May our nation submit to God once again, starting with those of us who profess to follow Jesus as our Lord (1 Peter 4:17).

Then let the national exorcism begin!

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Elijah’s Unanswered Prayer

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Although the prophet Elijah is famous for his mighty prayers, I’ve always been more intrigued by the prayer God ignored.

James 5:17-18 recounts Elijah’s amazing feat in praying for Israel’s rain to stop for three and a half years, then praying for the rain to suddenly be restored. In-between those two monumental events, Elijah found time to supernaturally multiply a widow’s food, raise her son from the dead, and call down fire from the sky on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 17 & 18).

Pretty impressive stuff. The Bible says nothing is impossible for God, and it seemed as if nothing was impossible for Elijah either.

But there was one prayer that didn’t get answered. Elijah prayed this just as earnestly as any of his other prayers, if not more so. Yet the Lord ignored him.

The surprising scene occurred when Queen Jezebel threatened his life and Elijah escaped into the wilderness: “He prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life’” (1 Kings 19:4).

The prophet prayed that he would die.

Perhaps you’ve never prayed a prayer like this—or won’t admit that you have. But at times some of the rest of us have prayed this, and we can learn some important lessons from Elijah’s story.

Based on Elijah’s track record of answered prayer, we might have assumed God would simply say okay and grant his request. If his other requests were so easily granted, why wouldn’t the Lord give him what he wanted this time?

The answer is this: As we see later in the chapter, God still had plans for Elijah. Yet those plans were hard to see while Elijah was hiding out in the cave and feeling sorry for himself.

It’s interesting that before giving the prophet his new commission, the Lord made sure he got some rest and nourishment (1 Kings 19:5-8). The story shows how our state of mind can be negatively influenced not just by difficult circumstances, but also by things like fatigue and poor nutrition.

Next, God whispered to Elijah with a “still small voice,” cutting through all the noise and hoopla that had been surrounding him (1 Kings 19:11-12). If you’re feeling depressed and hopeless today, nothing will help you more than to tune out the noisy distractions and hear God speak to you again.

One of the other causes of Elijah’s hopelessness was his sense of loneliness, feeling that there was no one left but him to follow in the ways of the Lord. Twice he told God about his woeful aloneness:

I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life (1 Kings 19:10, 19:14).

Have you ever felt disconnected from family, friends, or the community of believers? Or perhaps you’ve felt all alone in some of the battles you’ve been facing. This is a depressing place to be.

But God pointed out that Elijah’s perspective was all wrong! While the prophet felt like he was the only one left to stand for righteousness, the Lord told him, I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal” (1 Kings 19:18).

How could Elijah feel so alone at a time when the Lord still had 7,000 faithful followers? Maybe you’ve felt this way in a megachurch or at a conference or concert. Sometimes the loneliest feeling of all is to be surrounded by thousands, yet not truly connected to anyone.

Elijah clearly tended to be a loner in his personality type, but even loners need to be connected. God took care of this with the final step in the prophet’s restoration, giving him a new relationship that was central to his new commission and purpose.

When the prophet felt as if his life’s purpose was over, the Lord gave him a new mission and vision. Elijah first was told to anoint some new kings, but then the pivotal moment came when God said he must anoint Elisha “as prophet in your place” (1 Kings 19:16).

The prophet’s new commission was to train his replacement! How would you respond to a mandate like that?

Elijah didn’t initially seem too happy about training someone to replace him. But isn’t this what true ministry is all about? Isn’t the primary task of every leader to equip others for their role in God’s kingdom? (See Ephesians 4:11-12.)

To sum up this story, God ignored Elijah’s request to die. Instead, He showed him a new purpose—one that ultimately had more significance than anything he had done before.

Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end until a “double portion” of his spirit rested upon his successor, Elisha (2 Kings 2:1-15).

Think about that for a moment. What if the Lord said to you, “I don’t want your life to end until there’s a double portion of blessings resting upon your kids and those you mentor in the next generation”? Nothing is as important as that.

So it’s okay if you take some time to rest and get nourished, even if you have to hang out in a cave for a while. But then listen for God’s voice and His new commission in your life. And don’t be surprised if it has something to do with training your replacement and equipping the next generation.

As long as you still have breath, God still has plans.

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Wayne Gretzky’s #1 Success Secret

Today is the birthday of former Canadian hockey star Wayne Gretzky, nicknamed “The Great One.” After 20 seasons in the National Hockey League, Gretzky became regarded as the greatest hockey player of all time.

I’ll be honest, I know very little about hockey. But I’ve always been impressed by a brilliant key Gretzky used to become so successful.

“I go to where the puck is going, not to where it’s been,” Gretzky explained.

That sounds obvious, I suppose. But during my 40+ years serving in various leadership roles in businesses and churches, I’ve been astounded at how seldom the Gretzky Principle is implemented.

Consider this…

– Too often, new businesses just try to imitate the success of Amazon, Google, Apple, or some other notable company. That seldom works! A better approach would be to anticipate “where the puck is going” and come up with a whole new paradigm and business model.

– Too often, new churches mimic some other church that has been successful—but seldom with the same results. Why do so few churches break new ground with a unique, cutting-edge vision from God?

My concern is that many leaders are simply going where the “puck” has already been. And, sadly, many of my fellow Christians are especially guilty of this. We claim a desire to be culturally relevant, but our understanding of the culture is typically 5, 10, or 15 years behind the times. By the time we get around to implementing our new initiatives, the “puck” has long since moved on.

So what about you? Are you continually frustrated because you’re always a few steps too late in chasing the puck?

The reality is this: Very few people are gifted to be visionary leaders, able to anticipate the future. In the past 100 years or so, we can name innovators like the Wright brothers, Einstein, Steve Jobs, and some others. But the list isn’t very long. There’s clearly a shortage of people who are able to accurately foretell where the puck is going.

However, I’m convinced that God has already been to the future, so He knows all about it. And the closer we get to Him, the more we’ll be in sync with what’s ahead, not just with what’s behind.

The Bible describes a number of people who changed the world in innovative ways, and I aspire to be like them. For example…

  • David impacted the world by serving the purpose of God in his generation (Acts 13:36).
  • The sons of Issachar “understood the times” and had a strategy for what God’s people should do (1 Chronicles 12:32).
  • Queen Esther was a model of someone perfectly prepared “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14).

I encourage you to take a few minutes today to ask yourself, “Where is the puck going, and how can I best position myself and prepare?” You’ll be surprised by how this new approach will change your outlook and your life.

 

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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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