Category Archives: Encouragement

My new friend–a Maasai warrior and pastor from Kenya

So…have you ever killed a lion? Have you ever jumped into a pit and killed a marauding lion on a snowy day? Have you ever risked your life to defend your loved ones from a giant cat with bad intentions?

I haven’t, although I’ve talked about it a lot. In my preaching I’ve often highlighted the exciting lion-hunting passages where King David, Benaiah, and others risked their lives to defend against these frightening beasts. They’re great passages, and they help to illustrate powerful spiritual truth about: A) our need to engage in spiritual battles, and B) God’s grace to help us overcome them.

Recently, my appreciation for these passages radically increased when I became friends with an actual warrior from the Maasai tribe in Kenya, East Africa. Pastor Jeremiah is a Maasai warrior, and he has actually been a member of lion-hunting war parties (I should probably mention that he was armed with only a wooden club).

Interacting with a man who has literally stared down a lion with nothing but a heavy stick changes you. It brings a slightly different perspective to the metaphorical idea of lion-hunting. Whereas I urge people to “fight the figurative lions that want to assault your family and faith” this guy has actually looked into the eyes of a real one. He has actually faced his fear and put his life on the line in the pursuit of honor and the defense of the people he loved.

When you look at this pastor, he looks so kind (and he is). But he also has a fierceness  and a courage that our generation needs to recover. He sort of reminds me of Jesus “who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thankful for the fight!

Do you do the whole let’s-go-around-the-room-and-share-what-we’re-thankful-for thing on Thanksgiving Day?

It’s a great practice, and if you’re like me you probably express thanks for God’s grace in your life, your loved ones, and the many blessings of freedom we get to experience in America. However, if we were able to transport the Apostle Paul into our Thanksgiving Day gatherings and plop him down on our sofas, I think he would add something unique to the conversation. I think he would stand and say, “I’m thankful for the fight.”

In his famous words in 2 Timothy 4:7 he said that the fight of faith was a good fight.

I think there are three things that make a fight good:

  1. A fight is a good fight when we’re fighting for something good.
  2. A fight is a good fight when we fight well in the fight.
  3. A fight is a good fight when we win the fight.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are destined for all three:

  1. We are fighting for the greatest good in the universe—the expansion of God’s kingdom in the hearts of every man, woman, and child on our planet.
  2. We have the revelation of Scripture and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to help us fight well in our part of the battle.
  3. Finally, we are promised victory. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

I don’t always love the fight, but I’m grateful for it—and I can concur with the Apostle Paul that it is indeed good. Can you?

The thing that’s lower than your ‘low’

Have you ever done the limbo and tried to see how low you can go? During junior high roller skating outings my friends and I used to limbo on roller skates, testing our coordination and risking injury as we contorted our way below the ever-lowering limbo bar.

How about in life? Have painful life circumstances ever drug you lower and lower until you wondered, “How low am I going to have to go?” Have you ever gotten so low that you thought, “Surely this is it—this is rock bottom. There is no way that anything could be underneath this low. This is as low as I can possibly go.”

There is actually something lower than your low. There is something deeper than your rock bottom. And you will love it. Psalm 95:4 says, “In God’s hand are the depths of the earth.”

Think about that. Your deepest depths actually have something underneath them—God. His hand is upholding you even when you feel that you’ve gone as low as you can possibly go, and His hand will eventually lift you up.

That’s the next part of the verse. “In God’s hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to Him.” When we are languishing in the depths it feels like we will never see a mountain peak again, but we will. If we could fast-forward through our life we would eventually see that there was something lower than our low, and we would also see that the hand that sustained us in the lows also lifted us back up to the mountain peaks again.

If you are in the depths hold steady; there is something lower than your low. And if you are on the heights remember that the same God you are experiencing there will still be present even if storm clouds reappear and threaten to hide Him from your view. The Scripture is true: He will never leave you or forsake you.

Do we truly understand what a ‘blessing’ is?

How do you define a blessing? When you pray for God’s blessing in your life what are you seeking and anticipating? Peace? Rest? Healthy relationships? Prosperity on all fronts?

If God’s goal for our lives were peace, ease, and prosperity then I would agree that those things would be His ideal blessings for us. However, if His goal includes something else (and Scripture certainly indicates that it does), then it is probable that His blessings will include some other things as well.

According to the New Testament, God’s desire for us is ongoing transformation into the image and nature of Jesus (2 Corinthians 3:18; Galatians 4:19; Romans 12:1). Since this is the case, then God’s blessings must necessarily include some things that will help us transform.

If a high school sports team has a goal to become state champions, their coach must assign them grueling tests and workouts that will develop a championship heart in them. They must be stretched, pushed, and challenged until they become champion caliber athletes. When the goal is a championship the coach cannot bless them with endless rest days and easy workouts.

The same is true for us. If God wants us to grow He must bless us with situations that cause us to grow. This isn’t fun and it’s never easy, but it is necessary. Perhaps our prayers of gratitude should go beyond thanks for the sweet and easy things. Perhaps we should add: “God, thank you for the battles that teach me how to fight…thank you for the trials that force me to grow…thank you for the tests that refine and grow my faith…and thank you for your commitment to never stop transforming me. I accept these blessings—none of them will be wasted on me. By your grace, I will transform. Amen.”

Love, not answers

I am a “fixer” are you? My nature in nearly every situation is to try to help people “fix” whatever problem they’re facing. Perhaps it’s because I’m a dad or a pastor, or it might be from all of my years coaching various sports teams. Regardless of its origin, it is part of my nature to try to remedy broken situations.

That’s why it kills me when I can’t.

The most difficult situations for me are the ones that I can’t fix with wise words or encouragement. And that’s terribly problematic given my life vocation because in pastoral ministry I am constantly faced with both natural and spiritual problems that I’m not able to fix. I can hardly ever fix a spiritual problem on the spot. Sure, I can point people toward the ultimate answer, Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t always fix a problem in the moment. And quite frankly, people probably need my counsel far less than I think they do.

Fortunately, God is teaching me something in this season of my life that is freeing me from the pressure of being a self-perceived fixer. He is teaching me that sometimes love, not answers, is the best offering I can give. Yes, people need counsel. Yes, they need wise instruction, but sometimes they just need to step into a moment or an atmosphere of love.

Lately, when I leave a meeting or an interaction wishing that my prayer or counsel had changed everything in a moment, I am sensing the Spirit whisper to me, “Love-fueled listening and affirmation is never wasted.” It’s never a waste of time or effort to love and support a person. Even if we can’t immediately fix their problem or move them more quickly through their process, we can sustain them along the way. We can be a voice of faith, hope, and love that whispers in their ear, “You’re going to make it! You’re not alone in your struggle. I’m not the fixer but I know who is and someday you will see His remedying power again.”

If you have the answer for someone, great let them have it! But if you don’t, you still have what they need. Love.

Nemesis

In Greek mythology Nemesis was the retribution goddess that brought justice and consequence against those who yielded to pride or exploitation. Her name literally meant, “to give what is due” and she ensured that people got what they deserved.

She was portrayed as a winged goddess with a whip and dagger, the perfect equipment for tracking people down and disciplining them severely.

In our day and age it can often seem like justice is forever postponed or delayed. We know that Nemesis is a myth, but we long for the reality that the myth proclaimed. Why does evil seem so entrenched? Why does injustice so often rule the day? When will oppressors get what they deserve?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that this would not always be so. Indeed, he said, “Evil carries the seed of its own destruction”[1] and it’s true. History is replete with the accounts of oppressive empires that flourished for a season and then sunk into ruins. Today, tourists take pictures of those ancient remains.

Evil will not prevail. Human suffering and exploitation will not get the final word. God is just and the Scriptures remind us that a day is coming when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).

Until that day, we have the honor of extending God’s love and justice to our spheres of influence. We get to see the incremental advance of goodness, kindness, and faith, knowing that someday, like Pharaoh’s army on the seashore, the forces of injustice will be fully and forever swept away. Let’s carry on as unflagging ambassadors of God’s faith, hope, and love.

[1] Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, Philadelphia: Fortress Press: 1963, p.83.

A moral obligation to be intelligent

Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing…” (Luke 23:34)

In his book Strength to Love Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that it was not merely sin that nailed Jesus to the cross; it was also ignorance. “The men who cried, ‘Crucify him,’ were not bad men but rather blind men. The jeering mob that lined the roadside that led to Calvary was not composed of evil people but of blind people. They knew not what they did. What a tragedy!”[1]

History is replete with accounts of men and women who engaged in woeful behavior based largely in either ignorance or misunderstanding. Mankind’s historical inquisitions and persecutions had strains of ignorance and intellectual blindness running through them that made their outcomes doubly tragic: they were evil, yes, but they were also uninformed. Misunderstandings of science, racial equality, mental illnesses, and many other things have led to oppression, enslavement, and misguided notions that have traumatized the human race.

We are called to be better. I think we should ponder these words from Dr. King and consider where they might apply to our perspectives and our engagement with the world: “Sincerity and conscientiousness in themselves are not enough. History has proven that these noble virtues may degenerate into tragic vices. Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. The church must implore men to be good and well-intentioned. But devoid of intelligence, goodness and conscientiousness will become brutal forces leading to shameful crucifixions. Never must the church tire of reminding men that they have a moral responsibility to be intelligent.”[2]

Let’s commit today to redoubling our efforts at being good, just, conscientious, and intelligent.

[1] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., The Strength to Love, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), p. 43.

[2] Ibid., 46.