Monday, December 31, 2012

Great expectations

“Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?”
(Amos 3:3).

Sometimes it is difficult to agree upon expectations, and in reality, we deal daily with expectation management. We are expected to do certain things at work, at home, and in friendships. We also project expectations on others. We know God expects faithfulness from us, and we have our expectations of Him, but expectations can get us into trouble.

We can expect the wrong things. Our expectations can be unclear or unrealistic or unrighteous. The same can be said of what others expect of us. At work you thought one outcome was expected while your supervisor expected something different. Even after the goals were put into writing, there were still different interpretations of the facts.

Indeed, it is easy to corral expectations of simple tasks. I can expect or even require my children to complete their homework. This is not unreasonable. I would be an unfit parent if I did not provide some framework of expectations for my children. However, I would be an equally ineffective parent if I had expectations of my children but did not communicate them with grace and understanding. Clarifying expectations takes time.

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Furthermore, the more your trust grows in a relationship, the fewer the expectations. Trust precludes the need for expectations. Trust causes many expectations to expire. When you place your total trust in God, you default to character expectations. You expect His love to be unconditional. You expect His forgiveness to be infinite. You expect to avail yourself of His wisdom. Your expectations are character driven rather than cynically driven.

It becomes about God’s will, not our wants. Healthy expectations revolve around God and His desires. The focus is off me but on God and others. He orchestrates the concert of life; so the goal is to discover His role for me and follow His lead. Then the motive with people becomes one of serving them in order to carry out God’s plan for their lives.

How can you facilitate understanding God’s will for your spouse, child, or work associate? This is not always easy to discern but character-driven expectations can get to the point of their true need, and you can help meet that need. Focus on building trust in the relationship, and communication will flow more clearly and compassionately.

Focus on fewer expectations and more on trust. Allow your expectations to begin and end with the character of God. Expect less, you will receive more. You can expect His faithfulness. Agree to expect what God expects, and allow your expectant desires to birth God’s will. “And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us” (2 Corinthians 8:5).

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Got Word?

“For no word from God will ever fail.” Luke 1:37

God’s word never returns void and because of the Spirit’s inspiration, it is always successful and accomplishes what it was intended for. Mary and Elizabeth received a word from the Lord that He had blessed them with very special children. Sons who would represent their heavenly Father with a servant spirit and who would boldly proclaim the word of God. Yes, the Bible communicates Christ’s words in a transformational way, but Scripture requires respect, and honor.

Do you read the Bible for information or inspiration? Is your goal to study the Word, learn facts about God, or to know God intimately? If you are a serious student of Scripture you will encounter Christ in your search for truth. The word of God is a hammer that chisels pride from your heart, a fire that brands truth into your brain, and a sword that slices ego from your soul. Watch for a word from God, for it will lead you to success, and righteousness.

“Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? Jeremiah 23:29
As you take time to meditate on God’s word, it begins to marinate your mind with wise, and pure thinking. Beyond your personal interaction in prayer and study, make sure you are engaged with other believers who are followers of Christ who will challenge and sharpen your thinking, as iron sharpens iron. Life change and spiritual maturation result from a clear understanding of why you believe what you believe. Yes, ask your heavenly Father to fill your mind with what really matters to Him, as opposed to feeling like this is a quid pro quo relationship as it is not.

Do you have a word from God for a major decision you are facing? If not, wait until you do, and then validate your thinking with other godly advisors. If you do, then proceed in the power of the Holy Spirit and trust the Lord with the results. It may not make sense in the short run, but you can trust Him in the long run. God’s word always comes to pass.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12

Monday, December 17, 2012

Don't get to full of yourself

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all His ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37).

Pride will eventually give way to humility. It may not happen overnight. It may have to follow a painful process, because pride can be very, very stubborn. Like an embedded splinter deep in the flesh of your foot, it is hard to remove. You cannot remove it alone, and there is constant throbbing and pain until it is extracted.

This is the plight of pride. Pain and suffering are its cohorts. Pride provides a false sense of security. Spiritually minded people know it is only a matter of time until a fall, as pride will catch up with you. Humility was once a staple in your spiritual diet, but success has squelched your humility and subtly replaced it with pride. Authority without accountability generates pride.

The more authority you possess, the more you are required to submit to accountability. Otherwise, you cannot handle this freewheeling power. Your behavior defaults to pride without the checkmate of humility. This is true in relationships, business, ministry, and churches. Beware of obsessing over control.

Paranoia is an application of pride. You are fearful of losing control. It is better to hand over control than to lose control. Humility gives control, while pride grasps for it. So be open and humble about your insecurities. We are all insecure to some degree. Humility builds security, and pride tears it down. The humble have nothing to hide. So root out pride, replacing it with humility.

The process of pride’s removal begins with submission to Christ. It is acknowledging His lordship and ownership over your life. He is in control. He is large and in charge. Nothing in your life has sneaked up on God. He can be trusted. He holds your life, family, health, and career in His hand. You start by humbly bowing to God with your head and heart. He is to be feared and loved.

You have the awesome opportunity to worship and adore Him. When you walk with God, you walk in humility. Pride cannot coexist in a growing relationship with Jesus Christ. Pride is extinguished in the presence of Jesus. Pride is like a roach lurking in the dark recesses of your heart. The Holy Spirit’s light reveals pride and convicts you during times of prayer and Scripture meditation.

The second offense to pride is praying people. Ask people to pray for humility to infiltrate and occupy your life. You want the occupation of humility on the soil of your heart and mind. Be transparent with others about your sins and shortcomings. Talk about them with the motive for change.

Humble yourself, and trust God to humble others. It is easy to recognize pride in others while it is still looming in your spirit. Run from spiritual pride. It is the worst kind. It is insidious. It is self-righteousness in nature, and it chokes the Holy Spirit. Humility grows in an environment of honesty, openness, prayer, and change. Be a change agent on behalf of the humble. Humble pride!

“All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5–6).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Pray on it

“Pray that the LORD your God will tell us where we should go and what we should do” (Jeremiah 42:3).

There is wisdom in praying about “that,” whatever “that” may mean. It may mean waiting on marriage because one parent has yet to bless the engagement. “That” could represent a check in your spirit over a business deal or an additional financial obligation. Praying about “that” is the Lord’s way to protect, preserve, and provide for His children.

What are you currently facing that needs your prayerful attention? Perhaps it is a career transition—pray about that, consider changing churches—pray about that, tempted to quit school—pray about that, or weigh an opportunity to volunteer—pray about that. Prayerfully ask, “What does the Lord want for my life and what is best for His kingdom?”

“Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12–13).

It is in the discipline of waiting that we discern the best course of action. Consider cloistering yourself with Christ for twenty-four hours just to listen and learn. It is rare that prayer is a waste of time; indeed, it saves time. When you pray about “that,” you allow the Holy Spirit to tap on the brakes of your busy life. Slow down and listen to Him.

Prayer positions you to be productive in the ways of God. Abraham’s senior servant experienced this. “Then he prayed, ‘LORD, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham’” (Genesis 24:12).

When you, your family, your church, your company, or your ministry prays about “that,” you receive liability insurance for your life from the Lord. Where He leads, He commits to provide. Where He reroutes, He creates the necessary resources. Where He shuts doors, He opens another with greater kingdom possibilities. So pray about that knot in your stomach, and watch Him free you in effective service for your Savior Jesus.

“Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man” (Nehemiah 1:11).

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Cross Culture

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind.” Ephesians 4:17 NKJV

Followers of Jesus are called to walk against the grain of a Godless culture. Indeed, Christian character is meant to be like a thermostat influencing the spiritual temperature of culture, unlike a thermometer that merely measures the degrees of decadence. Prayerful pursuits are probably not a path of least resistance or conflict free efforts. A walk of intimacy with Jesus and ethical behavior invite push back from culture.

Our goal is not to create controversy, but to be peacemakers who win over accusers with counter-cultural kindness. However, there are those who may never change, who are quick to categorize our values as narrow, intolerant and insensitive. These skeptical souls need our grace during disagreements and our forgiveness over fractured relationships. Do you have a family situation that requires you to take the high road of restoration?

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Ephesians 6:12

Furthermore, your ultimate opponent is Satan and his menacing demons of deception, distraction and discouragement. You are engaged in a spiritual battle in the heavenly realms that is only overcome by the blood of Christ and His testimony on your behalf. In prayer you boldly confess the blood of Jesus as your salvation and security. A cultural canopy of darkness is lifted by the Lord’s loving light. So, walk empowered by the Spirit.

Yes, be in the world but not of the world. Be attractively different without being repulsively weird. Your walk against the culture is a mission of mercy that requires perseverance and prayer. Some who dismiss you now will one day search you out in their season of suffering. Culture needs the calm of Christ delivered by your winsome walk with Him. Without apology, model acceptance while risking rejection. Walk wisely.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What words reveal

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me, is one of the biggest untruths we learn in our childhood and has substantial significance in our adult lives.  Words are powerful things, as a matter of fact more powerful than a stick or a stone.  God has revealed Himself to us in detail in His written Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  It is the Word preached that, when heard, can lead to repentance and salvation (Romans 1:16, 10:17).  It is the Word that just by its very reading can move hearts and change minds (1 Timothy 4:13).  Jesus Himself is even referred to as the Word (John 1:1) so you know it is the most powerful thing in the world.  Language and communication are God’s inventions, and, as such, Satan has great interest in perverting them.  That is what the evil one does, taking the good things of God that can be used for edification, grace, enlightenment, and empowerment, and love and making them into something vulgar, dehumanizing, and certainly not pointed to the glory of God. 

As believers, we need to recognize that there are jokes that we shouldn’t laugh at, there is gossip that we shouldn’t participate in, and there are words that we shouldn’t use.  Bridling the tongue is a very difficult part of the believer’s life, but it is one that we cannot dare to ignore.  James 1:26 says, “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.”  Part and parcel to sanctified living by the power of the Holy Spirit is controlling the words we speak and focusing on saying only that which is useful for edification and God-honoring purposes. 

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”  Believe it or not, I have heard some professing Christians argue that using some degree of foul language is purposeful to convey certain truths or feelings.  Some even try to claim that Paul used what we refer to today as curse words or swear words when he spoke of his former life without Christ as being “dung” (Philippians 3:8).  The word skubalon, translated as “dung” or “rubbish,” carries extreme revulsion as of excrement, but it was not a parallel in any way, shape, or form to the curse words used today in our time, in our language, and in our culture. 

The reality is that Paul, who spoke of dung while being under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is the same Paul who in Ephesians said that we should use no unwholesome word.  So either unwholesome means that believers can speak the same derogatory words that the world speaks, or Paul was consistent in his own application of his admonition for God-honoring language.  The truth is that Paul was willing and able to state something strongly without crossing the line into worldliness. 

“Unwholesome” carries the meaning of rotten, putrid, corrupt, of poor quality, unfit for use, worn out, and worthless.  We can all think of words, discussions, outbursts, and conversations that fit these criteria.  Worldly talk does not bring grace to the hearer or to the speaker, and it most certainly does not edify.  It only defiles.  As Jesus Himself said in Matthew 15:11, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.”  Pure and undefiled religion before God involves keeping oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27).  Part of the way we demonstrate the legitimacy of our walk with God is by not letting even a hint of the immorality of the world impact our speaking and conversations.  Ephesians 5:3-4 says, “But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” 

Filthiness is translated from sapros, the same word used in Ephesians 4 for unwholesome.  Gutter talk and dirty words are certainly in view here.  Silly talk is from morologia, meaning foolish words.  By not thinking through what we say before we say it, particularly in light of Biblical truth, we likely will say things that we will later regret.  We should focus on making our words purposeful.  Jesus always lived His life with purpose and objective.  Sure, we can expect that He made some degree of small talk, but it was also with a God-inspired agenda, seeking to create an opportunity for the gospel.  He didn’t waste words on pointless gibberish, and neither should we.  Coarse jesting is translated from eutrapelia.  This includes any rude or abusive remarks such as a racist attack or personal insult.  It is the student making fun of the teacher or another student.  It is the locker room degrading into sex jokes.  Sexual innuendos, a plague in our day, is certainly in view here. 

We would do well to follow Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3:8, “But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth.” Our words betray our hearts by revealing who we really are and what we really think.  Some people can control their tongues better than others, but unless their hearts are right, eventually evil speaking will pour forth from their mouths.  This is why we need to objectively evaluate our walks with Christ by taking a look at what we laugh at, what we say, and whether our words are abusive to others or offensive to God in any way. 

Our words should edify, minister grace, and demonstrate how thankful we are to be changed from the inside out and freed from language that defiles, debases, and dehumanizes.  The apostles couldn’t help but speak of Christ and His glory and gospel, and, even under duress, they spoke praise and thanksgiving.  We, under much less severe conditions, too often refuse to give thanks and rather speak malice, anger, abuse, and filth.  As God’s people, let us be those who minister healing to others through kind and gracious words and who stand out as an example from the world by speaking truth and not by speaking filth.  In many ways, we are, after all, what we speak.

Monday, December 3, 2012


“But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and you will have saved yourself” (Ezekiel 3:21).

Effective accountability partners are not passive. Once someone invites a friend into his or her life for accountability, it is a serious responsibility. Accountability is active, engaging, and encouraging. The giver and the receiver of accountability have entered into a trusting relationship. Indeed, wisdom listens to the warning of its accountability partner or group.

Authentic accountability requires caring confrontation. A little bit of short-term discomfort and embarrassment will save you a lot of long-term regret. Thus, when you encounter emotional situations, keep a level head. Accountability facilitates objectivity. When you are under pressure, you have an objective team that gives you wise perspective. Your accountability group is there as a buffer to unwise decision making.

“Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning” (Ecclesiastes 4:13).

Accountability provides much needed courage for another to do the right thing. Sometimes it is hard decisions that paralyze us into non-action. However, avoiding a difficult decision today will compound its inevitable consequences in the future. Accountability encourages you not to procrastinate when you are afraid. It relieves your fears and bolsters your faith.

For example, team members may need to be terminated for the good of the company and for their individual betterment. Prospective church volunteers may need to be told “no” because their character is not fitting for a leadership role. Your young adult children are not prepared for marriage because they need to first move out from home and experience independent living. Accountability helps everyone move forward in God’s will.

Above all else, live like you are accountable to almighty God, as one day we all give an account to Him for our actions. “They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:4–5).