6 Secrets from the Magi

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

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

  1. Pursuing the Lord was their top priority (v. 1). These men came from a great distance – probably 900 miles or more – to spend time with the Savior. In contrast, King Herod and the religious leaders wouldn’t even travel the six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The magi showed they weren’t just casual believers, but were committed to seeking a personal encounter with the newborn King. In the same way, shouldn’t we  make it a priority to seek the Lord and spend time in His presence?
  2. They came to worship Him (v. 2). Right from the beginning, the magi made the purpose of their journey clear: “We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  May that be our  focus as well during this Christmas season. Instead of being distracted by all the trappings of the holidays, let’s take time to worship Jesus!
  3. Nothing could divert them from their mission (vs. 3-8). When God gives us a dream to pursue, we often have to deal with a “King Herod” who tries to distract us along the way. The magi truly proved to be “wise men,” able to discern that King Herod had no intention of furthering their mission. In the same way, we must avoid the influence of toxic people and naysayers during the holiday season.
  4. They had to overcome the discouragement of temporarily losing sight of the star.  If your GPS has ever malfunctioned, you know how frustrating it can be to lose your sense of direction. This seemed to happen to the magi at one point, causing them to seek human guidance when the miraculous star was no longer visible. Yet if we persevere in our pursuit of the Lord’s purpose, His guidance will eventually return. We’ll discover that we’re in the right place after all: “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).
  5. They not only worshiped Jesus with their words and their time, but they also worshiped Him with a generous offering. “When they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh”  (v. 11). If we have a genuine encounter with our Savior, the King of Kings, how can we not honor Him with our treasure, time, and talents? True worship demands nothing less. Our treasure  and our heart  are always linked together (Matthew 6:21).
  6. They returned home “another way”  (v. 12). Genuine worship will transform us and cause us to walk on a different path than we started on. If necessary, we’ll even be given supernatural direction or be “divinely warned in a dream.”  As you worship Jesus this holiday season, He wants to instruct you, change your life, and give you the miraculous breakthrough you need!

May the Lord give you a fresh revelation of His LOVE for you this Christmas – love that took Him from the glories of heaven to a dusty stable in Bethlehem…to a cross on a Jerusalem hillside…to the right hand of God’s heavenly throne…so that you might enjoy spending eternity with Him.

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

That can be your  experience as well.

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Driving Under the Influence (of Love)

Love influence

Last year I wrote some blog posts about the intoxicating power of love, describing some of my friends who’ve recently entered the hazardous world of dating.

In the right setting, romantic love is a very good thing—something designed by God Himself. If you doubt me on this, just spend some time reading the Song of Solomon…

However, like all intoxicants, romantic love is also quite dangerous. It can impair our judgment and slow our reaction time. Those under the influence of romantic love may feel invincible, when actually they’ve never been more vulnerable.

So what can a person do to minimize the dangers of this powerful intoxicant? Picture a guy named Joe who drove to an uptown bar and had far too much to drink. Finally, it’s 1 a.m., and he’s in no condition to drive home. Here are Joe’s main options:

  1. STOP. Don’t go anywhere until the intoxication has worn off. When it comes to a relationship, you need to assess whether it’s fundamentally healthy and life-giving or toxic and detrimental. If it’s toxic, the only sane option is to immediately end it. If you’re not sure, you may need to back away until some of the intoxication has worn off.
  2. CALL UBER. If you’re wise enough to recognize your impaired condition, you’ll call Uber, a taxi, or a “designated driver” to get you home safely. If you’re experiencing an intoxicating relationship, you may need to call in some trusted friends who are still sober. Recognizing that your own judgment is questionable, you must surround yourself with sound-minded advisers who can offer you objective feedback.
  3. GO EXTREMELY SLOW. Here the analogy breaks down a little, because you shouldn’t be driving at all if you’ve been drinking. But although you shouldn’t throw away a promising relationship because of fear, you should proceed with caution…i.e., slowly. If your judgment is clouded by the exhilaration of romantic love, you are putting yourself in real danger if you trying driving down the freeway at 70 miles per hour. Your chances of a collision are much less if you travel at a mere 25 mph.

If you are single and seeking a mate, my prayers are with you. May God direct your paths, as He’s promised to do when you trust Him (Proverbs 3:5-6). The Bible teaches that “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, and obtains favor from the Lord” (Proverbs 18:22). God is the ultimate Matchmaker, after all.

If you are married, maybe you can’t relate to this blog post at all. Perhaps it’s been many years since you’ve experienced the joys and perils of intoxicating love. How sad! Yet it’s not too late for God to restore some of the “first love” intoxication you experienced in your earlier days. Will you open your heart today—both to Him and to your spouse—allowing His amazing love to rekindle your original passion?

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Love & Other Mysteries

V Heart

It seems a person of my age should have figured out everything by now. But in some ways the opposite is true—I’m more aware than ever of life’s mysteries.

The writer of Proverbs 30 seemed to have a similar experience, marveling about the things he couldn’t really understand:

There are three things that amaze me—
no, four things that I don’t understand:

how an eagle glides through the sky,
how a snake slithers on a rock,
how a ship navigates the ocean,
how a man loves a woman
(vs. 18-19 NLT).

This man was humble enough to recognize he didn’t “know it all.” He was still in awe of God’s wonder-filled creation.

First, he watched an eagle soaring high in the sky, without even flapping its wings. That’s impossible! the writer thought to himself. The eagle is flying higher and higher, without exerting any effort at all.

Of course, eagles are a picture of our lives as believers. The Bible says we can gain new strength and rise up as eagles when we wait on the Lord, relying on His power rather than our own (Isaiah 40:28-31). Just like the mystery of an eagle’s flight, the Christian life is meant to be supernatural and amazing, rather than a matter of strain and struggle (Colossians 1:27).

Next, the writer of Proverbs 30 sees a snake rapidly slithering across a rock. How does it do that?! he wondered. Snakes have no legs, after all. Like the effortless flight of eagles, the movement of a snake seems almost magical.

The ability of ships to navigate the oceans was also bewildering for the writer. If ships could only go in the direction of the winds, that would be understandable. However, he observed that ships frequently travel against the headwinds and the ocean currents. They are able to make progress toward their intended destination even when circumstances make matters difficult.

This is another great picture of the Christian life. We don’t have to drift helplessly in the water, nor must we be blown about by the shifting winds of our culture. Against all odds, we can set our sails to catch the breeze of God’s Spirit, and we can set our rudder to achieve our life’s purpose.

Finally, the writer comes to the most humbling, most baffling, most incredible mystery of all: love between a man and a woman. Even if you can figure out the wondrous mysteries of eagles, snakes, and ships, only a person of extreme hubris claims to fully understand the dynamics of male-female relationships.

Well, actually, I used to understand women pretty well—when I was in my twenties and still single! I even recorded a Bible study message explaining it all. Yes, I had women figured out back then, and I was happy to tell anyone who would listen.

Oh well…

Hopefully I’m not the only one who is still struggling with life’s mysteries. Are there still some things “too wonderful” for YOU to understand? If so, that’s fantastic! May you never lose your sense of wonder and amazement. And may you always recognize your need to rely on the Lord rather than on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Remember: In this life we’re destined to merely know “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Someday in heaven, though, we’ll be able to ask God about all the mysteries we were never able to figure out.

 

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Success Secrets of History’s Greatest CEO

By any measure, his accomplishments were astounding and unparalleled:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Choose Wisely

Life is all about choices. Every choice has a consequence of one kind or another, either positive or negative. And sometimes the consequence is not apparent for a long time after the choice has been made.

There’s a stunning scene toward the end of the 1989 movie, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.” Both Indiana Jones and a Nazi named Walter Donovan had been in search of the Holy Grail, the legendary chalice Jesus and His disciples used in the Last Supper. Indy wants the Grail so he can save his dying father, but the Nazi selfishly wants the Grail as a fountain of youth to give himself eternal life and an advantage over his enemies.

After passing through an assortment of traps and tests, both men encounter an ancient knight who is guarding the Grail. To their amazement, there isn’t just one chalice on the table before them. The numerous choices include cups of gold, platinum, silver, clay, and wood.

Bewildered by all the choices, Donovan asks the knight which chalice is the Holy Grail. In one of the classic lines in movie history, the knight replies, “You must choose. But choose wisely, for as the true Grail will bring you life, the false Grail will take it from you.”

The Nazis in these movies always make wrong choices, and Donovan was no exception. Attracted to the most glittery and expensive-looking chalice on the table, he smiles and says, “Truly the cup of a king.”

Donovan fills this cup with water and takes a drink, expecting instantaneous eternal life. But to his horror, he instead begins to rapidly age and decompose, leaving nothing but bones, dust, and his metal Nazi pin.

At this point, the wise old knight observes, “He chose…poorly.”

Our hero, Indy, fortunately has more sense than this. Surveying the options before him, he selects a simple wooden cup, concluding that it must be “the cup of a Galilean carpenter.” With much fear, based on the grim consequences to Donovan, Indy drinks from this humble chalice.

“You have chosen wisely,” the knight tells him, much to Indy’s relief.

There’s an old maxim that says, “Not everything that glitters is gold.” In fact, as the Nazi discovered in this movie, some things that glitter are actually fool’s gold.

Years ago, I heard a great Christian song based on Proverbs 8:1-2 (ESV): Does not wisdom call? Does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand.”

Every day, we face a crossroads of whether we will choose wisely or choose poorly. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God challenged His people long ago:“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it’”  (Jeremiah 6:16 NIV).

Today God is offering us rest for our souls, but we must choose wisely. Instead of opting for what seems right in our own eyes, we must “ask for the ancient paths.”  The Holy Grail stands before us, but the table is increasingly cluttered with other options.

 

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Secrets of the Magi

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

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

1.   They made it a priority to pursue the Lord  (v. 1). These men came from a great distance to encounter the Savior. They weren’t just casual  believers, but were committed  to having a personal encounter with the newborn King. In the same way, shouldn’t we  make it a priority to pursue the Lord and spend time in His presence?

2.   They came to worship Him  (v. 2). Right from the beginning, the magi made the purpose of their journey clear: “We have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”  May that be our focus as well during this Christmas season. Instead of being distracted by all the trappings of the holidays, let’s take time to worship Jesus!

3.   Nothing could divert them from their mission  (vs. 3-8). When God gives us a dream to pursue, we often have to deal with a “King Herod” who tries to distract us along the way. The magi truly proved to be “wise men,”  able to discern that King Herod had no intention of furthering their mission. In the same way, we must avoid the influence of toxic people and naysayers during the holiday season.

4.   They not only worshiped Jesus with their words and their time, but they also worshiped Him with a generous offering.  “When they had opened their treasures, they presented to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh”  (v. 11). If we have a genuine encounter with our Savior, the King of Kings, how can we not honor Him with our possessions? True worship demands nothing less. Our treasure  and our heart  are always linked together (Matthew 6:21).

5.   They returned home “another way”  (v. 12). Genuine worship will transform us and cause us to walk on a different path than we started on. If necessary, we’ll even be given supernatural direction or “divinely warned in a dream.”  As you worship Jesus this holiday season, He wants to instruct you, change your life, and give you the breakthrough you need!

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

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

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George Zimmerman and Me

A revealing personal look at life & leadership

I find myself sympathetic to George Zimmerman, because I made some of the same fundamental errors many years go. No, I didn’t kill anyone, nor was I in reasonable fear that my own life would end. And my errors didn’t involve any racial overtones.

I was just dumb.

I don’t believe George was guilty of murder, manslaughter, or even a civil rights violation. But when you hear my own story, I think you’ll see that he probably did  break some cardinal principles for successful leadership.

I wasn’t the coordinator of Neighborhood Watch, as George was. Instead, my first leadership assignment occurred at age 10 when I was appointed as one of the “Safety Guards” on the playground of my elementary school.

I’ll admit, I was rather proud of myself when they handed me my red armband, the symbol of authority to keep order on the playground. And after only two days of patrolling, I had the first major opportunity to exercise my authority.

I happened to spot a disgruntled-looking student walking by himself and throwing stones at the ground. Here is my chance to straighten this guy out,  I reasoned. The boy was much  bigger than I was, but I figured there was no reason to worry. After all, I  was the one with the red armband.

In retrospect, I can see that the stones weren’t really a threat to anyone’s safety. He might as well have been throwing

Skittles  to the ground. But at the time, it seemed perfectly reasonable to stop a kid from throwing stones in the playground.

However, this angry young man refused to listen to my demand that he immediately stop his behavior. Not only that, but my effort to exercise my authority as a Safety Guard resulted in a serious punching match—one he got the better of.

Frankly, I don’t even remember the punching match. I just remember sitting in the school office with bumps all over my head, while the secretary called my mother to come and pick me up early. As Mom later put an ice pack on my aching head, I tried to explain to her that I was just trying to exercise my authority as a good Safety Guard.

I don’t think she understood.

Leadership Lessons from My Playground Rumble

In retrospect, I bet George Zimmerman wishes he would have handled his encounter with Trayvon differently. But the slow motion perspective of hindsight is always a lot clearer than what we see on the spur of the moment.

As I look back, there are some clear lessons that can be gleaned from my painful experience as a Safety Guard:

1. Authority must be based on more than titles or outward symbols.  I was thrilled when they called me a Safety Guard and gave me an armband so everyone would know of my authority. But true authority is more than that. Even though we may have a badge, a diploma, a clerical collar, a special robe, or some other emblem of our office, we cannot naively assume that everyone will follow our leadership.

2. To some extent, authority is not merely delegated, it must be earned.  While I certainly believe in the principle of delegated authority, as a practical matter people will not wholeheartedly follow a leader unless they see that the leader has “paid the price” and laid down his or her life for them in some way. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:2 that the Israelites were “baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,”  which seems to mean that Moses’ credibility as a leader was not really established among the people until they saw how he handled the crossing of the Red Sea.

3. Authority is best exercised where there is a relationship.  If I had known  the guy throwing the stones, I’m sure we could have worked out something without the necessity of a brawl. Authority that is impersonal, driven by titles rather than a relationship, will almost always result in rebellion or resentment toward the authority.

4. The manner in which the authority is exercised is nearly as important as having the authority itself.  My problem as a Safety Guard wasn’t a lack of valid delegated authority; my problem was in knowing how to properly exercise the authority I had been given. Leadership mishaps are likely to happen when people are given authority but never trained in how to handle it.

5. The timing in which authority is exercised is often crucial.  As I look back, I can see that I was much too eager to exercise my new authority as a Safety Guard. If I had just taken time to pause briefly and better assess the situation, I would have recognized that the guy throwing the stones wasn’t really endangering anyone. Some leaders, like I was that day, tend to be hasty in using their authority.

What about you? Do you have the character and maturity to properly exercise the authority you’ve been given?

We need to pray for George Zimmerman and the family of Trayvon Martin. Except for my pride, I’ve pretty much recovered from my introduction into leadership as a Safety Guard. But the lives of George and the Martin family will never be the same.

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