Does Anyone Believe in You?

With four seconds left in the game and trailing the Saints, 24-23, Vikings quarterback Case Keenum lofted a desperation pass to Stefon Diggs near the New Orleans 35-yard line. After Diggs went high in the air to snag the pass, coaches yelled at him to get out of bounds so the Vikings could attempt a last-second field goal.

But Diggs disregarded his coaches. When no one tackled him, he decided to head for the end zone instead of going out of bounds. In one of the most amazing finishes in NFL playoff history, he went untouched to a 61-yard touchdown as time expired.

If you didn’t see the play, you may want to check it out on YouTube.

After the game, Case Keenum said it was the third happiest day of his life – behind the day he gave his life to Jesus Christ and the day he married his wife.

Pretty cool…

Yet I was even more  struck by something Stefon Diggs said after the game, as he fought back tears of joy and disbelief. “My coach believed in me…my quarterback believed in me…and God believed in me,”  he explained.

I don’t know much about Stefon’s background. But reading between the lines, I wondered if he was implying that his coach, his quarterback, and God were the ONLY three who really believed in him!

Most of us have faced some naysayers along the way, and it’s a powerful experience when you know someone truly believes in you.

That’s why one of my favorite Bible verses is 2 Corinthians 7:16, where the apostle Paul writes, I rejoice that I have confidence in you in everything.”  Although most people have never given much thought to this verse, it contains a life-changing principle, especially when you realize who Paul was writing to.

You see, the Corinthians were his “problem church.” Paul’s letters reveal that they were seriously divided, with factions supporting various human leaders. They also argued about spiritual gifts, meat offered to idols, and even Jesus’ resurrection. The squabbles were so intense that the Corinthians were taking each other to court before the city’s secular magistrates.

Even the Lord’s Supper had become a problem. While it was supposed to be a unifying practice in the church, it has become a travesty in Corinth, a total embarrassment. Meanwhile, the church was tolerating blatant immorality among its members, and no one was doing anything to confront the misdeeds.

If all this dysfunction wasn’t enough, Paul realized that many of the Corinthians no longer respected his leadership – even though he had been used by God to bring them the Gospel.

How would you  handle a church like this?

Even though you or I may have been tempted to just knock the dust off our feet and have nothing further to do with the Corinthian believers, Paul had a quite different approach…

I rejoice that I have confidence in you in everything.”

Doesn’t that sound ludicrous based on the condition of these wayward Christians? Well, yes, it sounds pretty crazy…unless you understand one of Paul’s most important leadership secrets: His confidence in the Corinthians was based upon His confidence in the Lord.

“Such confidence we have through Christ TOWARD GOD”  (2 Corinthians 3:4 NASB).

Is there someone today you’re struggling to have confidence in? Perhaps you’ve lost hope that anything will ever change with your spouse, a son or daughter, or someone in your church or workplace.

We’ve all come to that place at one time or another, losing hope that those around us will ever change. And to be honest, sometimes they don’t  change.

However, the basis of Paul’s secret was his confidence that God would answer his prayers and turn things around in the people and situations that concerned him. For example, immediately after telling the Philippians of his constant prayers for them, he made this beautiful declaration of confidence in how they would turn out:

“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus”  (Philippians 1:6 NASB).

I can’t help wondering where Stefon Diggs would be today if someone didn’t believe in him. For that matter, where would you or I be if God hadn’t sent friends and mentors to encourage us and believe in us?

Perhaps you’re struggling today, feeling like no one expects you to succeed. Maybe your parents, your spouse, your children, your friends, or your boss have expressed their displeasure and their doubts – and perhaps you don’t even believe in yourself.

If so, remember Paul’s message to the Corinthians. While things didn’t look very good on the surface, he bet on God to turn things around and complete the work He started.

Even with only four seconds left on the clock, with God’s help you just might score the winning touchdown.

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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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Turning Your Water into Wine

I’ve recently been captivated by the story of Jesus turning water into wine (John 2:1-11). I’ve concluded that we all  have “water” of some kind that needs to be transformed into wine.

Water is an essential, elemental part of life. But in this story it also stands for the plain, the ordinary, and the bland. Wine, in contrast, has flavor and fizz. Jesus said this kind of wine must be put into “new wineskins,” because it is needs room to expand and grow.

Take a second and ponder what boring, bland parts of your life may be due for a transformation like this. Your job? Your ministry? Your marriage? Your relationship with the Lord?

The good news is that Jesus can turn ordinary  things into something extraordinary. If you’ve lost your fizz in some area of your life, He can help you get it back. And if you’ve been stagnating instead of expanding and growing, your turnaround can be closer than you think.

But transformation comes with a price. Jesus’ mother told the servants at the wedding feast, “Whatever He says to you, do it”  (v. 5). I guarantee that if you follow this profound advice, your water will surely be turned into wine.

But it’s a pretty radical statement, isn’t it? Are you willing to do WHATEVER He tells you to do? Think about it. That’s the price of transforming your circumstances and your life.

The wedding feast “ran out of wine”  (v. 2), and perhaps that’s how you’re feeling today as well. You had  money…but it ran out. You had  love…but now it seems to be gone. You had  dreams…but somehow they evaporated or turned into nightmares.

At such times, it’s easy to feel frustrated or disillusioned. “I never thought it would be this way,” you moan. That’s exactly how the people at the wedding feast must have felt when they ran out of wine.

But the story isn’t over yet…or at least it doesn’t have to be.

No wine? No problem! All you have to do is find out what Jesus is telling you to do. More often than not, He will tell you to give Him something you HAVE (like water) in order to get something you NEED (like wine). Sounds fairly simple, doesn’t it?

So what do you have  today, and what do you need? Like exchanging water for wine, I promise you it will be a great exchange indeed.

Those who taste the newly made “wine” in your life may well be like the master of the feast, who did not know where it came from” (v. 9). They’ll wonder where you got such peace, joy, and zest for life, even amid difficult times. What a great chance to tell them about Jesus, the one who can turn their water into wine too.

If you’re a Baby Boomer like me, you may have been tempted to feel that life has passed you by and your best years are now behind you. But this story ends with some additional good news. Jesus didn’t just replace the old wine with something new: He saved the BEST for LAST! (v. 10) He can do the same for you, when you do what He says and give Him what you have.

 

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It’s All About Trajectory

“How are you doing today?” That’s the question I’ve often asked people over the years.

But I’ve concluded that this is probably the wrong question. I’m thinking of trying out a new query for the people I encounter:

“How’s your TRAJECTORY today?”

This is a much better question, isn’t it? Although I hope you’re having a good day, it’s much more important that the overall trajectory of your life is upward.

Perhaps your finances aren’t great  today, but hopefully they are better  than they used to be. You may not be in perfect  health, but I pray you’re keeping those New Year’s Resolutions to make your health better  than last year.

And the real  question about your marriage or your relationships with your kids is not how they’re doing right now. Instead, the question is whether you are sowing positive seeds today for a better trajectory tomorrow.

Not to get political, but I certainly wish Congress could pass a law to improve the President’s State of the Union addresses. Let’s get rid of all the campaigning, platitudes, and promises, focusing instead on one key question:

What is our national TRAJECTORY?

Perhaps we could even change the name of this speech to “The Trajectory  of the Union Address.” What do you think?

A Trajectory of the Union speech would have to give an explanation for the current trajectory of the nation’s economy, national debt, defense, and moral and spiritual climate. And to borrow a word from the Green Movement, we must ask whether the current trajectory is SUSTAINABLE.

For example, is it sustainable  for the United States to continue borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it spends? Try that with your own  budget sometime, and see how long you can keep it up.

How long has it been since you’ve applied the sustainability question to the various facets of your life? Maybe it’s time to ask whether your employer’s cash flow is on a sustainable path. Or perhaps you have to face the question of whether your church is on an upward trajectory, stuck on a plateau, or declining—with everyone just getting old and dying off.

Trajectory is a Biblical concept, after all. The pathway of a righteous person is supposed to shine “ever brighter” (Proverbs 4:18). As we grow in our relationship with the Lord, our trajectory should be a transformation from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). And since our destiny is to become like Jesus, we should show evidence of becoming more like Him every day (Romans 8:29, 1 John 3:2-3, 2 Peter 1:5-8).

Perhaps you’ve experienced times of failure in the past, but you can’t allow that to determine your trajectory today. And no matter how things are going at the moment, remember that you are called “UPWARD”  (Philippians 3:13-14).

If you’re not happy with your life’s trajectory today, there’s good news. We serve the God of resurrection and new beginnings. He can take a tailspin and turn it around.

But the trajectory question is a reality check. You can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results.

 

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