2018: Your Year of New Beginnings and Discovering the ‘8th Option’

I’ve never spent much time thinking about Biblical numerology. But this year is different.

As we enter into 2018, I find myself thinking about the number “8” – God’s number of resurrection and new beginnings.

If you want a detailed explanation, I suggest a Google search. But here are a few simple observations:

  • Since 7 is God’s number of completion, 8 starts a new cycle of things.
  • Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week, which was the 8th day from the start of the week He was crucified.
  • Noah was the 8th person to enter the ark, an event marking a whole new beginning for humankind.
  • Even apart from Biblical events, the world recognizes 8 as a number signifying a fresh start. For example, a week contains 7 days, so the 8th day is always the beginning of a new week. Likewise, musical octaves (from Latin octavus, meaning eighth) go from A to G (7 steps) before starting again at 8.

Perhaps you’re not very interested in Biblical numerology, but here’s a message that can be life-changing:

For many of us, 2018 could end up becoming “The Year of the 8th Option.”

Let me explain, using the story in 1 Samuel 16 of how David was selected among 7 other options …

The chapter begins with the Lord telling the prophet Samuel to visit Jesse’s house to anoint one of his sons as the next king. Seeing Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, Samuel immediately assumed this was the one he should anoint as king.

You and I might have jumped to the same conclusion, assuming that the first option was the best option. However, if we’re wise, we will heed the Lord’s warning to Samuel:

Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

Let’s be honest: We’ve all failed this test at one time or another. We’ve looked at the “outward appearance” of things instead of discerning God’s choice and matters of the heart. We’ve been so eager to resolve a matter that we didn’t wait for the best option to appear.

In many ways, this was how the previous king had been selected. Saul was tall and handsome, coming from a good family and seeming to have a servant’s heart. Yet the choice turned out to be disastrous. This time Samuel wanted to make sure they got things right, so he intently listened to God’s instructions.

One by one, Jesse paraded his sons before Samuel. After Eliab came Abinadab, Shammah, and 7 sons in all. He must have been shocked when the prophet informed him after seeing the first 7 options, “The Lord has not chosen these” (v. 10).

Perhaps this is exactly where you find yourself as we enter 2018. You applied for jobs that seemed promising, but the door was always closed. You dated someone you had hopes of marrying, but things fell through. You found a publisher you wanted to handle your book, but they turned you down. You and your spouse had hopes of being pregnant by now, but somehow it still hasn’t happened.

In the case of Samuel, 7 very promising options appeared, yet the Lord refused to bless any of them. What could the problem be?

As the story unfolds, we see that God turned down the first 7 options for a very good reason: He had something BETTER in mind!   

Samuel probably felt some frustration at this point. He had attempted to meticulously follow God’s instructions, only to reach an apparent dead end. Can you relate?

“Are ALL the young men here?”  he finally asked Jesse.

Jesse replied that, yes indeed, there was an 8th option: “There remains yet the youngest, and there he is, keeping the sheep” (v. 11).

Don’t you love how Jesse says this? “There remains…” another option. Even when you feel like you’ve already exhausted all the options, it’s good to know that God isn’t done yet!

However, Jesse played down the qualifications of his son David. After all, he was the youngest of the sons, consigned to take care of the sheep while the older brothers were invited to attend Samuel’s prestigious gathering.

In the same way, perhaps there’s an option you’ve overlooked. Maybe there’s someone who’s not even on your radar screen right now, but they are called to be a vital part of your life or your team. Perhaps they’re an afterthought, not even invited to the party.

After Samuel took oil and anointed David in the presence of his very surprised brothers, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (v. 13).

Notice that something changed  for David that day. Although he probably was already a godly young man, no one seemed to recognize any special gifts or spiritual empowerment until Samuel anointed him. This day was a new beginning for David – and ultimately for the entire nation of Israel.

As we head into 2018, I hear many of you saying to yourself, “I feel like I’m running out of options.”  That could be a FANTASTIC place to be!

Remember: Only after Samuel ran out of visible options did he discover the 8th option – GOD’S option. And David not only was the last  option…he also was the best  option.

I’m praying for you today. Although you may be growing weary of “hope deferred”  (Proverbs 13:12), the answer to your hopes and dreams may be right around the corner.

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My Misguided Venture into Organic Gardening

Tomato

Two months ago, I enthusiastically ventured into the world of organic gardening. It was a very modest beginning, planting a small tomato seedling some friends had given me.

I was scheduled to be out of town for a week, but I fully expected to see some tomatoes when I returned. However, no such luck. The seedling had grown, but no tomatoes could be found.

My friends assured me this was normal. “Tomatoes don’t grow overnight!” they explained with a grin.

Despite their explanation, I was disappointed to have to wait so long for tomatoes to appear on my plant. I had planted it in good soil, with plenty of sunlight and water. Why was it growing so slowly?

As I’ve reflected on the source of my disappointment, I think it may stem from the story of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” one of my favorite tales as a child. When Jack’s “magic beans” were thrown on the ground one night, he woke up to a HUGE beanstalk the very next morning.

How cool was that?

Even better, Jack was able to capture a goose that laid golden eggs during one of his trips up the beanstalk. His magic seeds enabled him to get rich—and to get rich quick!

So now you see why I was disappointed that my tomatoes got off to a slow start. I was comparing my experience to Jack’s beanstalk, not realizing that normal seeds require patience  in addition to good soil, water, and sunlight.

The Bible has a lot to say about seeds, growth, and harvests. Yes, we’re promised that we will reap whatever we sow (Galatians 6:7). But we’re also warned against “growing weary” in our seed-sowing, “for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart”  (v. 9).

It’s sad that most of us live in a world of microwaves and fast-food drive-throughs instead of seeds and harvests. We expect instant gratification and immediate results. And if the tomatoes don’t appear right away, we’re tempted to quit watering the plant.

Perhaps, like me, you’ve planted some things and are still waiting for the fruit to come. Let’s not lose heart! Let’s keep watering and fertilizing the seeds, confident of a positive outcome down the road.

No, I can’t promise you overnight success and a huge beanstalk tomorrow morning. But God has promised that if you’re faithful to do your part, in “due season” your harvest will surely come.

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A ‘Little by Little’ Strategy for Progress in 2016

By nature, I’m an “all in” sort of guy. One of my favorite mantras is “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.” So when I set an objective, I’m always looking for the quickest and most direct route to get there.

Lots of us guys are like that. We don’t just want a new car that can get us to our destination, we’re looking for how fast it can take us from 0 to 60 mph.

But not everything in life works like that…

  • If it took you two decades to put on those extra pounds, you won’t be able to remove them in two days.
  • If you’ve been on a downward spiral of debt for years, you’ll have to be patient as you make the necessary changes to dig yourself out.
  • If you’ve allowed your muscles to deteriorate since the beginning of the century, a week at the gym isn’t going to immediately turn things around.

I know, it’s hard to accept the reality that some things take time. Ever since the invention of the microwave oven, our understanding of goal-setting has been skewed. Why can’t we make the changes in our lives as fast as it takes to cook a bag of microwave popcorn?

As another year begins, I find myself (as always) trying to figure out my objectives. You probably have been doing that too. As we dive into 2016, I’m trusting that we’re right on the brink of some wonderful changes and progress. Today I feel the same kind of excitement the Israelites must have felt when they were about to enter into their Promised Land.

But I’m also reminded of a word of caution God gave His people as they prepared to enter into their place of new beginnings (Exodus 23:28-3). Even though He had prepared a great land for them to enter and enjoy, He made certain things clear about what they would experience in the process:

  1. They would encounter enemies and obstacles (v. 28). No matter what you hope to achieve in the new year, it’s certain that you will have to overcome some hurdles along the way.
  2. They would have to view possession of the Promised Land as a long-term process, not a quick and easy event (v. 29). As Christians we’re sometimes so wrapped up in one-time events and breakthroughs that we don’t commit ourselves to persevere for the long haul. Let’s remember: We’re in a marathon, not a sprint.
  3. Although God would help them in this journey of faith, they would have to recognize that their progress would come “little by little” (v. 30). I’ll admit, I don’t really like this. I would prefer God to always give us progress as a quantum leap. But that is seldom how things work. Yes, if you starve yourself for 40 days, you can say you’ve lost weight. But the “little by little” plan is far healthier and works better in the long run.

So, my friend, I hope you’ll be patient and persistent as you pursue your objectives for the new year. Little by little, the Promised Land can be yours.

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4 Indispensable Ingredients for Holiday Happiness

Seems like everyone is wishing each other a Happy Thanksgiving, but few people stop their hustle and bustle long enough to consider what a happy holiday entails. We pull out our recipes for pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole, holiday Jell-O, and eggnog, sure enough. But seldom do we take a similar look at the indispensable ingredients for positive time with our loved ones.

You may want to add some additional items to this recipe, but here are 4 ingredients I believe are vital to holiday happiness:

  1. LOVE. People have many different definitions of love, of course. One of the most accurate definitions is “seeking the highest good of other people, even at your own expense.” This sets the standard pretty high, doesn’t it? Love isn’t just a warm feeling, but rather a choice to give away part of your life to others.

The holidays usually provide a real test of whether your love is unconditional or merely reciprocal. Reciprocal love means loving someone back who has already shown love to you. That should be pretty easy! Someone send you a greeting card, so you send them one back.

However, the test of unconditional loves comes when some of the people you’re celebrating the holidays with have hurt you during the year. Can you forgive and keep loving them? Or will your attitude be icy and callous when you get together?

  1. JOY. I am well aware of all the WORK involved in putting together a Thanksgiving meal—both in the preparation and in the cleanup. But hopefully the work can be joy-filled work, complete with some frivolity and outbursts and laughter. The Bible says a “merry heart” is like medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22). A person who cultivates that kind of joyful heart will have a continual feast”—never needing to wait for a special holiday to celebrate (Proverbs 15:15).

But let’s be honest: Sometimes the holidays give us special reasons to be sad rather than joyful: the death of a loved one, a marriage breakup, medical concerns, or family members who now live far away. However, that is even MORE reason why it’s so important to tap into God’s supernatural joy, enabling us to dispel any grief or sorrow with a spirit of gratitude and praise.

  1. PEACE. Who wouldn’t like drama-free holidays this year? Yet, since people are involved, you can pretty much bet there will be some measure of drama. The question, then, isn’t whether you’ll be surrounded by some drama at times (you surely WILL be!). The question is whether you will be able to maintain your own peaceful heart, even while many things are swirling frantically around you. If you’re struggling with this, I recommend the prescription found in Isaiah 26:3: You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Keep your heart set on Jesus!
  1. PATIENCE. Lots of things can conspire to test your patience during the holidays. Kids misbehave. People show up late. Turkeys take longer than expected to bake. Husbands seem more intent on watching the football games than helping with the preparations and cleanup.

Since there’s a high probably that your patience will be tested, you might as well take a deep breath and realize there’s no big hurry, after all. And it’s not worth losing your cool just to put someone else in their place (see Luke 10:38:42 if you don’t believe me).

Perhaps you’ve noticed that these 4 vital ingredients are also the first 4 components of “the fruit of the Spirit” described by Paul in Galatians 5:22-23. I point this out as a word of encouragement. For even if you aren’t feeling much love, joy, peace, and patience so far, God offers you an infinite source for finding more. The Christian life is meant to be a supernatural life, and God’s Spirit can fill you will all the missing ingredients you need for a happy holiday season.

Let me leave you with this paraphrase of Galatians 5:22-23 in The Message:

What happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.

Friend, I pray you have a Spirit-filled Thanksgiving this year. When that happens, your day will be full of love, joy, peace, and patience. What a great new holiday tradition!

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4 Tips for Finding the Needle in Your Haystack

In a vivid dream recently, I was frantically searching for something that seemed very difficult to find. A huge stack of stuff was in front of me, but the object I was looking for was very small.

As I was about to give up my search, someone happened to walk by. Sensing my frustration, he asked, “What are you trying to find?”

“I’m looking for a needle in the haystack,” I said in dismay.

Unfortunately, the dream ended there, leaving me to reflect on the profound question: How can someone find a needle in a haystack?

This old word picture is pulled out whenever a search seems daunting, if not impossible. But as I’ve reflected on my dream, I think there are some other insights as well. It’s doubtful that any of us are looking for literal needles, so the issue is more about our quest for the important things in life amid all the superfluous “stuff.”

I’ve concluded that there are four keys for discovering the needle buried in our haystack:

  1. Separate the plentiful from the rare. Hay stands for something very plentiful, while needles are comparatively rare. Plentiful things have less value than something rare, and that’s why coal is less expensive than diamonds. Example: Why was the Proverbs 31 woman worth more than rubies? Because, sadly, a woman like that is very rare! So the principle here is to rid your life of the plentiful, less-expensive things. Instead, focus on the rare and exceptional things that are of much greater value.
  2. Separate the nonmagnetic from the magnetic. If you have a strong enough magnet, you might be able to attract the needle instead of wearing yourself out trying to find So if you’re upset because you can’t seem to find what you’re looking for in life, you might want to change your approach. Instead of working so hard to FIND something, put your focus on BEING something. You just might attract the missing “needle” in your life.
  3. Separate the light-absorbers from the light-reflectors. When light hits a needle, it shines. In contrast, hay merely absorbs the light, with no significant reflection. So in order to find a needle, one tactic would be to shine more light into the haystack. The needle will reflect more of the light back, especially if you do the experiment at night. The point here is that you’re called to reflect God’s light and glory, and you should eliminate the things in your life that don’t enable you to do that.
  4. Separate the temporal from the eternal. One of the other differences between hay and needles is that hay burns up in fire, while needles are purified by fire. That means if you want to find a needle from among the hay, all you really need is to start a fire! You see, when everything else is burned away, the needle will become obvious. However, I’m afraid most of us are far too attached to the hay to take such drastic measures. We have far too much “clutter” in our lives—temporal stuff that wouldn’t survive the fire. If you’re serious about finding the needle you’re looking for, you have to honestly ask yourself: Am I willing to allow the Lord to burn away the hay (the temporal things) in my life in order to reveal more of the eternal?

My dream about needles and haystacks ultimately led me to an even more sobering question: Is the underlying problem that we actually LOVE the haystack more than we want to find the needle? If so, we’ll never allow God to burn up the hay so the needle can be revealed.

If we love the hay (the things of this world) more than we love the needle (the eternal work God wants to do in our lives), we will inevitably face frustration. We’ll find ourselves so attached to the world that we’ll be unable to change the world.

Many of my fellow baby boomers are facing this uncomfortable reality. In our younger days we set out to be world-changers, but now we’re merely adapters, content to blend in with the haystack.

The apostle Paul wrote about this kind of thing in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, when he warned us to be careful about the building materials we use to construct our lives. Will we be content to build with “wood, hay, and straw,” creating nothing more than big haystacks? Or will we choose the more enduring materials instead, “gold, silver, and precious stones”?

Someday most of what we see around us will burn up. What will remain? The answer is being determined by the priorities and values we live by today.

 

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Will You Settle for Less than the BEST?

If given the choice between a meal at the fanciest gourmet restaurant or McDonald’s, which would you choose? There are several reasons people frequently opt for fast food, and this points to some larger issues in how we make important, life-altering decisions in our lives.

Of course, sometimes you might just be having a Big Mac attack, craving greasy, high-calorie food instead of things that are better for you. Yes, there is some immediate pleasure, but how does that make you feel a few hours later?

At other times, your decision to settle for fast food may be a matter of cost. Hey, you can get LOTS of food at McDonald’s for the price of a good steak at Ruth’s Chris. But think about it: You also can buy dog food relatively inexpensively if that’s what you are willing to settle for.

Although I don’t eat much fast food these days, I’m sure it’s main attraction for me was simply SPEED and convenience. Even when I could afford Ruth’s Chris, I didn’t want to spend an hour or two to eat there. Usually, I was in a time crunch, on the way to some meeting or appointment. Sitting down for a gourmet meal wasn’t enough of a priority to carve out time in my schedule.

I’ve been challenged by these principles lately, for they don’t just apply to my diet, but to other priorities and decisions in my life.

For example, am I truly willing to practice delayed gratification instead of indulging my “sweet tooth” for momentary pleasures? Am I willing to patiently pay the price to receive God’s BEST for my life instead of settling for mediocre options and outcomes?

Many Bible stories speak to these issues, but I’m especially intrigued by the prophet Samuel’s quest to find the next king (1 Samuel 16:1-13). The Lord had instructed him to select the new king from among the sons of Jesse, which at least narrowed down his search.

But it turned out that Jesse had many sons, so it potentially could be a long day to determine which of them was God’s choice.

Starting with the oldest son, Eliab, the prophet began his review process. “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”  he said enthusiastically (v. 6).

This misguided assumption by Samuel should cause each of us to pause and realize how we might be prone to the same error. Like a McDonald’s drive-through, the easiest decision would be to simply anoint Eliab and be done with it.

Yet as the story continues, God tells Samuel his perspective is all wrong:

Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart (v. 7).

Think of how this might apply to your own life today. If you’re considering a business deal or new career offer, are you content to merely examine how it appears on the surface? If you are seeking a wife or husband, are you prone to be swayed by their physical appearance rather than what God has done in their heart?

One by one, seven of Jesse’s sons came before Samuel, and the Lord surprisingly turned each of them down. From a human perspective, each of these young men probably seemed like good candidates: handsome, strong, and with a good upbringing.

But could you imagine how Israel’s history might have been different if Samuel had settled for one of these first seven options? It would have been quite easy to do so, especially when Option #8 hadn’t even appeared on the scene yet.

Samuel must have been puzzled when God refused to put His stamp of approval on any of Jesse’s first seven sons. “Are ALL the young men here?”  he asked in frustration (v. 11).

No one had even thought to invite David to the big event. After all, he was the youngest, assigned to the menial task of caring for his father’s sheep.

Like Samuel, perhaps you’re looking at your options today on some important matter. Maybe you’ve already discarded the first seven possibilities, and you see no other prospects on the horizon. So…will you wait for Option #8—the option that’s still hidden from your view?

It had been a long day for Samuel, just as our selection processes in life may seem long and arduous. But when David finally appeared, there was no doubt that He was God’s man. “Arise, anoint him; for this is the one!”  Samuel said, certainly with great relief.

My friend, God has wonderful plans for you. He wants to give you His best. But that means you’ll have to be patient, waiting for the other options to pass by.

Your “David” is right around the corner. I hope you won’t settle for anything less.

 

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The Excruciating Wait

As almost everyone knows, faith is an indispensable key to getting your prayers answered (Matthew 9:29). But when you look at the stories of men and women of faith throughout the Bible, you nearly always see another vital ingredient at work: PATIENCE.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise, since we’re clearly told it’s through “faith AND patience” that we’ll be able to activate God’s promises (Hebrews 6:12).

Yet waiting is hard. It was difficult for people in Bible days, and perhaps it’s harder than ever in today’s instant-gratification, microwave, fast-food and fast-everything culture. If we have to wait more than five minutes for our food at McDonald’s, we’re ready to call for a Congressional investigation.

But the waiting process is even harder when it seems to go on forever, with absolutely no signs of a breakthrough. And when the thing we’re waiting for is very important to us, the wait can be EXCRUCIATING.

No wonder Solomon wrote, Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12). Perhaps you’ve experienced that kind of painful delay at times. I certainly have.

However, we’re in very good company if we’re struggling to wait for God to fulfill His promises. Here’s just a partial list of Bible heroes who had to endure an excruciating wait time:

  • Abraham and Sarah had to wait decades for God to give them a son.
  • Jacob had to wait and work for seven years to win Rachel’s hand in marriage—but then ended up with Leah instead. Seven additional years of work were required by Laban so he could have Rachel too.
  • Joseph as a teen was given some vivid prophetic dreams about his destiny, but he had to endure excruciating years of adversity before his dreams were fulfilled.
  • David was anointed by the prophet Samuel as Israel’s next king, but he wasn’t able to actually take the throne until many years later.
  • Martha and Mary asked Jesus to come and heal their brother Lazarus—but He seemed to arrive too late! Fortunately, Jesus not only was able to heal, He also could raise their brother from the dead.

Are you agonizing today about some prayer request that hasn’t been answered yet? Is there some longtime dream you’re waiting for God to fulfill? If so, don’t give up! Be patient, and avoid the temptation to take matters into your own hands, as Abraham and Sarah did in having a child by Hagar. Good things are birthed in God’s “waiting room.”

Earlier in this blog post, I shared Solomon’s observation that “hope deferred” can lead to a sick heart. Thankfully, the verse doesn’t end there. Solomon adds this great promise: “When the desire comes, it is a tree of life.”  Other versions say “a dream fulfilled” or “a longing fulfilled.”

This is fantastic news for all of us. Yes, our hopes and dreams may be deferred or detoured at times. But the excruciating wait will make the fulfillment all the more meaningful and wondrous.

Our patience will be rewarded. I’m counting on it.

 

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On the Brink of Your Miracle

Years ago my car engine burned up because the oil had leaked out. I’m sure the leakage had been going on for a while, but the destruction to my engine happened quite rapidly, mere moments after I saw the warning light on my dashboard.

Lately I’ve been reflecting on my need for “oil” of another kind—the oil of the Holy Spirit. And I’ve also been challenged about the necessity of regularly checking the warning lights on my spiritual dashboard.

Jesus told an intriguing story about this in Matthew 25. The opening scene looked like something from The Bachelorette, with 10 young women waiting for the bridegroom to arrive. Jesus said five of them were foolish, and five were wise, yet there was only one difference: The wise ones knew they needed extra oil for their lamp.

Unfortunately for the foolish women in this story, “the bridegroom was a long time in coming” (v. 5). Of course, this parable is a rebuke to those who expect Jesus to return so imminently that they needn’t prepare for the long haul, but I believe there’s another message as well: At times our faith, love, endurance, and faithfulness will be tested by our need to WAIT for our Lord to come into our circumstances with a breakthrough of some kind.

In the story Jesus told, as in our lives today, the bridegroom typically comes “at midnight” (v. 6), right when the night seems darkest and our hope is running out. However, midnight represents a tipping point in many ways, when nighttime reaches its zenith and inevitably begins to turn to day.

Recently I’ve found myself humming an old gospel song that says, “Don’t give up on the brink of a miracle.” When midnight is approaching and you still haven’t seen the Bridegroom’s intervention, it sure is easy to lose heart and give up.

Paul writes about this in Galatians 6:9-10:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

So what are the lessons for us today?

First, we must recognize that the Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint. Because of that, we need to continually check the gauges on our spiritual dashboard, ensuring that we have enough “oil” for the long haul.

Second, instead of falling asleep, as the women in Jesus’ story did, we should live in great expectancy that our Bridegroom may soon come and break through with a miracle in our circumstances. Even though we may have been waiting for quite a while to have some of our prayers answered, the tipping point could be closer than we think.

In the meantime, we’re encouraged to keep “doing good,” using every opportunity to show love to the people God has put in our lives. No matter what “season” we presently find ourselves in, we’re called to sow seeds of faith and kindness. Although we don’t know “the day or the hour,” we can be confident our harvest will come.

When we take these lessons to heart, we’re sure to experience great blessings ahead—whether the Bridegroom comes as quickly as we want Him to or not.

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Get Ready for a New Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Living Life on Standby

Recently I faced a number of situations where I was put on standby, and none of them were much fun.

At work everything was put on hold two days in a row because of the “possibility” of a very important meeting that never ended up happening. During that same week, a pastor asked me to be on standby to preach for him in case bad weather prevented him from getting back from a ministry trip on time—but he returned successfully.

Meanwhile, I was looking forward to a new initiative in my personal life, only to find out about a six-month waiting period before I could even begin. More waiting. More standby.

I don’t like being on standby. There’s all the stress of preparation and all the frustration of waiting, but the payoff seems so uncertain. I hate to waste time, and that’s usually what it feels like when I’m on hold.

And I bet you’ve faced some “standby” situations too. Perhaps you’re waiting for some kind of medical diagnosis or procedure…a new job or promotion on your present job…the launch of a new ministry…or resolution of some relationship issue.

Lots of people in the Bible were put on standby, with mixed results. Noah’s life couldn’t progress until he completed construction of a gigantic ark—and that project took over 100 years.

Abraham and Sarah were on standby for decades to receive their promised son from the Lord. While waiting, they cooked up a scheme to have a child by other means. The result was the birth of Ishmael—and thousands of years of conflict in the Middle East.

King Saul was told to be on standby until Samuel could return in seven days and present a burnt offering to God. But Saul grew impatient when Samuel didn’t return in the designated time, so he offered the burnt offering himself. As minor as this infraction may seem to you and me, it marked the first step in the unraveling of Saul’s reign.

The disciples were put on standby as Jesus prayed and sweated drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane before His crucifixion. He found them fast asleep, unable to pray and stay awake during even one hour of standby mode.

As these stories illustrate, it’s a hazardous thing to be on standby. We tend to get impatient…take matters into our own hands…and often do something crazy.

However, I’ve found that God often has a reward in store when we learn how to handle the standby mode correctly. Perhaps an illustration from the world of pets may help…

If you throw some object into the backyard, your dog is likely to retrieve it and bring it back to you. Most dogs do this instinctively, without any training. You can give him a treat to reward him for his efforts, if you would like. But the dog hasn’t really accomplished much, has he? Rather than displaying any feat of obedience, he was simply doing what came naturally.

However, what if you want your dog to get the object and then sit quietly in place until you ask him to come to you? That’s a skill likely to take some training from you and some self-control by the dog. You must teach him what the command “Stay” means, and he must fight all of his natural instincts in order to comply.

It’s pretty impressive when a dog has learned to obey his master in doing something contrary to animal instincts. You really should treat him with a reward when he can do that.

Well, I would like to say I’m a voice-trained dog, but too often I’m not. Too often, I still do what comes naturally instead of what the Master is commanding.

The key to dog training is repetition, I guess. And that seems to be the same pattern God uses in training us to be voice-trained believers. Hopefully, we will learn the lessons in time.

I encourage you to take a hard look at the standby situations in your life today. Are you patiently waiting, listening for your Master’s instructions rather than doing whatever is right in your own eyes?

And perhaps you need to be challenged about the opposite side of the coin: Do you think you are waiting on a green light from God on some issue, when He’s actually waiting on YOU to take action and get started?

Let’s listen to our Master’s voice today, my friend. If we do, I’m convinced our standby periods will be rewarded.

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