Thursday, June 20, 2019

Let's go deeper

In Luke 5:1-11, we read about a time when Jesus had just finished preaching a sermon from the wooden pulpit of a borrowed boat. Because the crowd was so large, He had taught them from a distance. “He got into one of the boats,” we read, “which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the land. And He sat down and began teaching” (Luke 5:3).
Jesus led a group Bible study with those who had gathered along the shore, and after finishing, He gave the benediction. Following the benediction, He narrowed His attention to the owner of the boat, Simon (who would later be called Peter.) What started as a generic sermon to the multitude now became an instruction to somebody. What began as a message to the masses moved to a message to an individual. You’ve experienced that before—when the lesson, verse or truth has your name written all over it.
It’s one thing to go to church, read a book or listen to a sermon on a radio program and hear a general principle that can be applied to a general audience. It is an entirely different thing when God grabs His Heavenly highlighter and speaks directly to you. Which is what He did to Peter when Jesus told him, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).
In one short statement, Jesus told him where to go—into the deep. He told him what to do—let down your nets. And He told him what to expect—a great catch.
In an even shorter reply, Peter complained, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing” (Luke 5:5). In other words, Sir, we have tried. There is no hope.
What Peter didn’t know is a clue that I am going to tell you now. Two clues, actually. These are two clues that will let you know when you are in the vicinity of receiving something very special from God.
Clue number one: God is not allowing anything that you do to work.
You feel that you have done everything you can—run the numbers, gone job hunting, read the books, gone to counseling, but it still isn’t working. When this happens, I would like to suggest to you, like Peter who struggled all night only to end up with an empty net, that you are exactly where God wants you to be.
Clue number two: What God asks you to do doesn’t make sense.
Talk to any fisherman who has worked on the Sea of Galilee and they will tell you that putting a net into the deep waters in the day is not the way to catch fish. What Jesus asked Peter to do not only contradicted his experience, knowledge, history, background and training, but it also contradicted his instincts.
Thankfully for Peter, even though he complained, he eventually did the thing that Jesus asked him to do. And because he did, we read that, “they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break” (Luke 5:6).
Do you know how many fish it takes to break a fisherman’s net? If we were to ask Paul, he would probably tell us, “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
Oftentimes God allows our scenarios in life to get hopeless—He allows our efforts to become fruitless—He allows our knowledge and instincts to prove useless in order that we will see that it is He who works within, through and for us with His power.
He does this because He wants you, like Peter, to witness Him come through for you in your hopeless situation so that you will experience Him and trust Him in the way that He wants to be experienced by you.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019


When Jacob had finished giving instructions to his sons, he drew his feet up into the bed, breathed his last and was gathered to his people. Genesis 49:33

Jacob gave his dying instructions to his sons as they waited at his beside. They lingered there out of love and respect. They had observed his life. And though not perfect by far, it was a life of overall faithfulness to God. The sons of the father wanted to receive his blessing and they were proud of the legacy left to them, a legacy of faithfulness to God.

What legacy will you leave? If you died today, how would you be remembered? These are important questions for your children’s sake. Maybe your parents did not leave you a godly heritage. Nevertheless, you have a wonderful opportunity to start a new tradition, one based on the principles of Scripture. Lord willing, your legacy will start a godly lineage that will reach across the future for generations to come. Yes, your name will probably be forgotten, but what you stand for will be held in high esteem for all to remember.

"We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done" (Psalm 78:4).

Perhaps you can start by documenting your family vision and mission. Write down outcomes you are praying for related to your family. Pray that your parental example of character compels your children to walk with Christ. Hold the Bible in such high regard that its commands and principles are lived out in love and obedience. Love your children with acceptance, discipline, training, and kindness. Follow the ways of God, and your children will see and secure a clear path of purpose to pursue.

Moreover, consider a family credo that defines what you value as a family. Character traits like humility, hard work, community, forgiveness, communication, and relationship. Weave these beliefs throughout the language and behavior of your family. Challenge each child to be intoxicated by Scripture, so much so that God’s word is on their breath and seen through their behavior. Slow down and be intentional in legacy building. Then your children and your children's children are more apt to love Christ.

“But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children” (Psalm 103:17).

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Better together

If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 1 Corinthians 12:19-21 (NRSV)

In post-apartheid South Africa, as an entire culture sought healing and health after years of turmoil and racial division and injustice, Archbishop Desmond Tutu spoke with great boldness and clarity, calling an entire society to see the humanity and dignity in the other, famously saying, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” While this sentiment finds native expression in the African philosophy of Ubuntu, Archbishop Tutu was most certainly looking explicitly to the teaching of Jesus and the Biblical vision of unity within diversity, which St. Paul so famously speaks to through the image of a “body.”

It is remarkably easy to build a worldview that is entirely informed and shaped by our personal interests and individualistic impulses and desires. We eat what we want to eat, shop where we want to shop, and play where we want to play. If you don’t fit into the categories that I find interesting or compelling, why should I bother getting to know you or your passions? You do you and I’ll do me, as we say. And while at one level this is a cultural inevitability, as South Africa reminds us, the stakes of division are often much, much higher than fashion or musical preferences.

We must never underestimate the cost of division within the body of Christ. As Jesus reminds us in the High Priestly Prayer, our unity is directly linked to the mission of God and is our testament to the unifying power of God’s love in the face of hatred and division.

“The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:22-23).

One of the great joys of serving as a pastor is serving the communion meal to the congregation. In this act, the beautiful diversity of the church is on full display! I am frequently reminded that the church is one of the only places in our entire lives in which such racial, cultural, and economic diversity comes together in a posture of humility and equality. Before the Lord, we are simply sons and daughters, equally loved and cherished by him. A Fortune 500 CEO and a 5th grade student pray the Lord’s Prayer in unison, their voices uniting in petition and praise. A man suffering from severe mental and physical limitations and a woman who is a world-class athlete receive the same bread and drink from the same cup.

We come together, not as individuals who happen to brush shoulders, but as family united together by the same Lord who reminds us that our identity is deeply bound up in our ability to dignify, honor, and embrace the other.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Praying in the Spirit

The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Revelation 8:4

Prayer is not meant to be perfunctory, but powered by the Holy Spirit. When I am preoccupied and attempt to pray, I short circuit the Spirit’s work. However, when I pray in the Spirit with my mind engaged and my heart fully focused, there is full contact with Christ. The flesh seeks a quick fix, but the Spirit desires deep affection that develops over time. Spiritual prayers flow from praise and worship to Almighty God. He receives the prayer aroma of His daughters and sons as the sweet aroma of a holy sacrifice to Him alone. The Holy Spirit is our prayer whisperer.
Prayers for justice in this life may not be answered until the next life. Like the distinct aroma of incense, the prayers of God’s people flow up into the nostrils of God. The altar normally designed for mercy is repurposed for justice. As the prayers of the saints in heaven ascend to the Lord, the Lord’s judgment descends on the earth and its inhabitants. Without consequences for evil, grace and mercy lose their luster. Yes, prayer and faith facilitate God’s purposes into action.
“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Ephesians 6:18).
Pray on all occasions. With bowed head recognize Jesus as the provider of a delicious meal. Before you partake of the tasty morsels, taste His grace. Pray and prepare your heart prior to a hard conversation, so any anger or harshness is replaced by patience and compassion. Pray as you think about a big decision; ask questions like, “Is my motive to glorify God?” “What counsel would I give to someone else in a similar situation?” Spiritual prayers have the Spirit’s leading.
Variety is the spice of an effective prayer life. Employ a plethora of prayers that protect you from familiarity that can breed boredom. Pray for patience, so you are slow to anger. Pray for the sick, so they might be healed. Pray for opportunities to share the gospel, so the seeds of salvation will grow in the hearts of lost souls. Pray for those who suffer, so their comfort comes from Christ. Pray for forgiveness, so your heart is healed and filled with the Holy Spirit!
“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being” (Ephesians 3:16).

Friday, June 14, 2019

Take rest

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.”– Mark 6:31

Jesus sent the twelve apostles on a short-term mission trip to preach the word, heal the sick, and cast out demons (Mark 6:7-13). After some unspecified time, the disciples return to Jesus and report to him all they did and taught (Mark 6:30). The ministry of Jesus consisted of words and works. The apostles continued Jesus’ ministry by proclaiming truth and performing miracles.
This is the ultimate basis of spiritual accountability. Each of us should regularly check in with Jesus and report our words, works, and ways to him. Paul writes, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). Live every day as one who will give account to Jesus for what you say and do.
How did Jesus respond to the apostles’ report? Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). This is a wonderful picture of the concern, gentleness, and wisdom of Jesus. After the disciples told him all they did and taught, Jesus did not grade their efforts. He did not use this as an opportunity to teach and train the disciples. And the Lord did not immediately give them their next ministry assignment. Jesus was most concerned about the toll their ministry efforts had on them. So he bid them to get away from the crowd, retreat to a quiet place, and rest from their labors.
The Lord’s concern for his first disciples is the Lord’s concern for all of his disciples. The psalmist described the Lord as a compassionate father: “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14). Paul has one of the best descriptions: a treasure in jars of clay (2 Corinthians 4:7). A great investment has been made in us. But we are merely clay pots. As weak people, we need regular time of rest, refreshment, and relaxation. Vance Havner said it well: “If you do not come apart and rest, you will come apart.”
But Mark 6:31 is about more than taking vacations. Jesus called his disciples to rest after they wore themselves out doing kingdom business. This verse is not a call to take a break from your worldly pursuits. It is a spiritual challenge: When is the last time you wore yourself out ministering to others in the name of the Lord? Unfortunately, many churches exist by the 80/20 principle: twenty percent of the members do eighty percent of the work. But that is not the way it is supposed to be in the church. Paul exhorts us all: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). May the Lord fill our congregations with saints who are so busy for the Lord that he bids us come apart and rest awhile.
Take note of one more thing. The apostles retreated from the crowd to a quiet place with Jesus. I would recommend that you take a vacation whenever you can. But do not take a vacation from Jesus. Your vacation should never involve locations, company, or activities that exclude Jesus. “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Rough seas

In the book of Mark, chapter six, we read that the disciples got into a boat, at night, and took out across the sea. In their obedience to Jesus, the disciples ran directly into a storm. Their obedience literally took them into the nucleus of a disaster.
I wish I could tell you that following Jesus means you will never have to face any storms. I wish I could tell you that following Jesus means that the waters of life will always be calm. I wish I could tell you that following Jesus means life will be rosy and all of your days sweet. But I can’t.
These disciples were following Jesus, and they ran right into rough seas. The disciples discovered, as many of us have also discovered, that you can be both in the center of God’s will, and still in a storm.
There is a lot of preaching today as well as many Christian books that tell you that if you follow Jesus, then you will never have to face any challenges in life. That wasn’t true for Jesus or for anyone else I know who has followed Him. Following Jesus doesn’t offer immunity from troubles. What it does give is the opportunity to experience Him in the midst of the trouble.
Life comes with troubles, regardless of whether or not you follow Jesus. You get to choose if you want Him to join you in your troubles, or if you’d rather go through them alone. Experiencing Jesus in the storm allows you the chance to see His power over whatever it is you are facing in your life. Keep your eyes focused on Him, and experience the calm that focus brings your way.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019


When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. Genesis 39:3–4 

What brings you fulfillment in your work? Is it the sense of accomplishment? Is it the opportunity to encourage someone? Is it the satisfaction of caring for your family? Is it the sense of security from a steady income stream? Your vocational fulfillment flows from a combination of these characteristics and more. When you are fulfilled in your job, you are able to filter through the negatives on the way to the positives.
Our vocation is the love of Jesus. Wherever God has put you, that is your vocation.
Mother Teresa
Be careful not to equate feeling passionate about your position with being fulfilled in your work. Passions ebb and flow around the excitement of a situation, like a start-up when everyone is thinking and working twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. But this passionate breakneck pace is not sustainable. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Indeed, if you are absorbed in your work, not constantly glancing at the clock, then perhaps you are in a place of fulfillment.
“He named him Noah and said, ‘He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed’” (Genesis 5:29).
Is it your sense of control over the outcome that draws you to serve where you work? You feel empowered, you are able to expand your skills, and you can make a meaningful contribution in your community as a parent or an employee. Vocational fulfillment flows from a heart engaged in a mission that means something to you and to the Lord.
If Christ has placed you where you are, can you be content to serve Him wholeheartedly? The Almighty’s vocational assignment carries its own sense of satisfaction. Joseph found favor because God placed him in his leadership role. In the same way, use your workplace platform as a launching pad for the Lord. Your ability to support others, offer promotions, and create a caring culture facilitates fulfillment for everyone. Vocational fulfillment is a faith journey that brings out the best in you and those around you. God blesses the work He assigns. Have you accepted the Lord’s assignment?
“From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph” (Genesis 39:5).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

work your gift

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:7 

Though we are hesitant to admit it, one of the driving questions behind many of our decisions in life is “What’s in it for me?” Even when doing a good deed and serving a greater cause, we still like to be rewarded for it or at least be acknowledged for our efforts. For example, think of the annual public broadcasting telethon, with the “rewards” increasing with each level of donation you make. We give, but we want to receive as well.

This inclination towards self isn’t a modern phenomenon but is at the core of what it means to be a human being in a broken world. We are, by default, turned in on ourselves, and this temptation was escalating in the early church. Having recently been taught about the Holy Spirit as a giver of good gifts, the early Christians were eager to receive them. Why? Because we like to receive gifts! They hoped these gifts would make them spiritually enlightened and fulfilled. In fact, an argument was emerging as to who in their community was, in fact, the most “spiritual” of them all. In the face of this escalating debate, Paul steps in to remind them of a foundational truth: God gives you gifts so you can give them away for the good of others. 

Rather than getting caught up in comparing gifts or envying others for what they have, Paul reminds us that the Lord is the one who gives gifts, and it is our job to receive them with humility and joy. Do you believe God knows you even better than you know yourself? Do you trust that he desires your good and will empower you to live a flourishing life in his kingdom? If so, rather than focusing on what you lack, cultivate a heart of gratitude and joy for what you have been given! Take time to discern the unique gifts you have been given, and honor that gift by nurturing and cultivating it.

One of the greatest ways to tend to the work and gifts of the Spirit in your life is to continually look for ways to give your life away without any strings attached! Remember that God’s plan isn’t just your private joy and salvation but that he gives himself away for the life of the world (John 6:51). How can you take your part in the grand story of redemption God is telling over creation? In your willingness to give without expecting anything in return, you model and embody a life lived for the sake of others and to the glory of God. 

"You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).

Thursday, June 6, 2019


Have you ever gotten mail in your mailbox that isn’t addressed to you? You take it out of your mailbox and read that the address doesn’t have your name on it. It just says, “Occupant.” You get that piece of mail by virtue of you being the “occupant” of that home. Trials are a lot like that. Just by virtue of being an “occupant” on this planet in a fallen world, we will face trials.
Of course, no one likes a trial. No one wakes up in the morning, stretches and says, “Ah, what a beautiful day for a trial! I think I’d like to have a trial today!” That would be an unusual person who would do something like that. Yet no matter how much we want to avoid trials in our lives, trials are inevitable.
Trials are adverse circumstances that God allows in our lives to both identify where we are spiritually as well as to prepare us for where He wants us to go. There is no escaping them. You are either in a trial now, you’ve just come out of a trial, or you are getting ready to go into a trial.
But even though we all have to experience them, I want to remind you to take comfort in knowing that trials must first pass through God’s hands before reaching us. Nothing comes our way without first having received His divine approval. And in order to get His divine approval, there must be a divine reason for Him to approve it. We need to trust that God has our best interest in mind when He allows us to experience a trial. God will often reveal Himself to us in a deeper way when we are in the midst of a trial. Trust His heart in those times when you do not understand His hand.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Molding me

So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands, so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him… Like the clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand Jeremiah 18:3, 6b

You are God’s work of art. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ then God is your master. He is the potter and you are the clay. Your life is destined to be a masterpiece in the hands of your Master, Jesus. It requires a lifetime of molding and shaping, but your life is most attractive after God’s grace governs your life.

There are at least two prerequisites of a life masterpiece molded by God. One is a masterful artist and the other is moist clay. One without the other is doomed for failure. A gifted artist can be motivated and available, but without a subject he only works in his imagination. A person can long to be the object of an artist’s inspiration, but there must be a relationship for them to benefit.

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).

God is the artist and you are His subject. His part is to mold and create. Your part is to be available and teachable. This is how your Master works. He needs your life coupled with your undivided attention and your moldable heart and mind. Dry and brittle clay is useless in the hand of the potter. It cracks under pressure and gives in to discomfort.

However, clay that is moist and moldable is full of potential. In the beginning the sticky mire is hard on the eyes and uninviting, but over time it begins to take shape. The molding process is not easy. Sometimes you feel discombobulated and shapeless. You know God is in control, but your circumstances have you feeling upside down and spiraling out of control. This is God’s wheel of wisdom. Uncertainty and dizziness is God’s opportunity to grip the dampened clay of your heart and form dependence on Him.

Feel His fingers of compassion, hope and holiness. He not only comforts you, but also conforms you into the image of His son, Jesus. He has the big picture in mind as He looks down on the potter’s wheel. Your perspective is limited, as your look up from the clay soaked wheel peering up into the faithful face of the potter.

He is passionate about His work of art. Out of billions in the world you are His unique masterpiece. You are His one and only. He broke the mold on you and everyone else. No one is quite like you. No one! Yes, He is still smoothing up rough edges and spinning out impediments to His will. Your life stays moldable through humility and teachability.

Sometimes it is the water of adversity that keeps the clay moist. Other times it is success that dampens the dirt. Whatever God is using to mold your character do not resist. Let Him process your life through His caressing and caring hands. It is better to be in the hands of God, spinning in uncertainty, than to be on our own, risk-less and rest-less. You are a beautiful masterpiece in process that one-day will be completed by your Creator.

“But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use” (Romans 9:20-21)