Archives For Spiritual Growth

dunking a basketball

Anyone who has ever played basketball has dreamed of dunking the ball.

But for people like me, who tend to suffer from height challenges along with reduced jumping abilities, it’s out of reach. The basket, that is. But I can jump high enough to touch the bottom of the net. Granted, that’s over a foot away from the rim. And you can’t just touch the rim, you must be able to elevate above the rim.  That’s beyond me.

So I was pretty impressed when I ran across a video of a guy who is only 5’2” dunking the basketball. That is unheard of. It’s rather incredible, really. Most people at that height would assume it was impossible.  Maybe not even try.  Obviously this guy went above and beyond expectations.  It would be so easy to be like everyone else.  To assume it couldn’t be done.  But he didn’t sell himself short, and now he amazes everyone who sees him at his game.

Let’s move outside the arena of basketball. In fact, let’s go back to a guy named Moses.

I bet you have heard of him. Did you know that he almost sold himself short? Thankfully God stepped in and made him go for it.

It all started when God showed up one day and asked Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt. Most would have jumped at the opportunity. Not Moses.

He balked. Big time!

Moses’ first response was to fall back on what others thought about him.  At least his perception of it.

First, he was a “nobody.” Because of that he didn’t think anyone would listen to him or follow his leadership. He had no credentials.

Then Moses answered, “But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” Exodus 4:1 (ESV)

And there was more to his insecurity issues.  Apparently he didn’t have the gift of public speaking. And since leaders have to speak on occasion, he was convinced he was the wrong guy. So he “said to the Lord, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Exodus 4:10 (ESV) 

And then he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” Exodus 4:13 (ESV)

Now stop and think about it for a moment. You have heard of Moses because he eventually relented and did what he thought he could not do.

He did what he was not qualified to do.

He did what he thought someone else could have done better.

Thankfully Moses trusted God to use him. But what if God had allowed Moses to sell himself short? Many today consider Moses to be the greatest leader in the Old Testament.

I often wonder what Moses thought about when he went to bed at night.

Did he ever think, “I almost sold myself short.”

Perhaps a good question to ask is “Where am I selling myself short.” Maybe it’s time to go out and try to dunk that basketball.

CheckmateAs another football season is about to begin, training camps are opening up.

However, there is one star Running Back who will not be in camp.

In 2014 Ray Rice was caught on video punching his wife–fiancee at the time–in an elevator. As the video went viral, the Baltimore Ravens were essentially forced to cut him from the team. Also, because of the despicable act the NFL also banned him for a period of time. Now that the ban is over, teams are not that likely to reinstate him.

All because of one foolish act.

One. Foolish. Act.

For Ray Rice it cost him millions of dollars. Let that sink in. Millions. That is costly.

And to some degree we have all paid a price for a particular act. Usually they are small things, like sleeping through our alarm one morning or eating too much during the holidays or even getting a speeding ticket.

But what about the more serious “foolish acts”?

Things that impact your entire life and derail you from the path you had planned to take.   Some things can even destroy your dreams.

I’ve witnessed the fallout of a happy marriage when a one-night stand destroyed it all.  Or what about the single Tweet that cost a young college-grad her job before it even started.  Or the person who didn’t get a promotion because of something posted on Facebook.

Many will have to watch their hopes and dreams crumble because of one foolish act. Sad.  Ray Rice is one of them.

Did you know the Bible tells about a person who could only look at his dream from a distance?  It was Moses.

In Deuteronomy 34:4 it says, “And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.”

Why?  Because of one foolish act during Moses’ time leading Israel to the Promised Land. Water was scarce and the people were complaining. If you are a parent and have ever traveled a long distance with your kids, perhaps you can relate a little.

At any rate Moses was human and lost his patience. In fact, he got angry. However, despite the circumstances Moses still needed to obey the LORD.

And the LORD had told Moses to speak to the rock.

But that’s not what happened.  “Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock.”  (Numbers:20:10-11 ESV).

While it may seem like a small thing to hit the rock rather than speak to the rock, it was still an act of rebellion. Plus when you look more closely it appears to the people that Moses was the provider of water. After all, he is the one who hit the rock.

Had he spoken to the rock and water came out it would have been obvious that the LORD was the provider.

Because Moses that day, in a moment of anger, acted rashly and brought attention and honor to himself, he had to suffer the consequences.  God took it seriously, and that one foolish act proved to be very costly.

So stay alert in your decisions and your actions. Be aware of oncoming temptations. Don’t be sidelined by one foolish act.

Unsplash_successAre losers really losers?

It sounds contradictory. It seems like a dilemma.

In the sports world we define so many great athletes and coaches not only by wins & losses, but also by championships.

Can you imagine being a football coach who takes your team to the super Bowl 4 years in a row and you are still labeled as a loser by many only because you didn’t walk away with the trophy? It happened to Marv Levy as coach of the Buffalo Bills. In one of those games, the outcome would have been a win if a field goal kick had been just 2 feet in the other direction.

Bud Grant was the coach of the Minnesota Vikings who also lost 4 Super Bowls. Was he a loser?

Many great coaches have only gone to the Super Bowl once. Because they walked away with the trophy that one time, we label them as winners.

But think about it. Do you realize how hard it is to get the Super Bowl even once? How about taking your team four times? Very few coaches have ever done that. So are they losers? I would say not.

In Hebrews 11, there is a list we often refer to as God’s Hall of Fame. In verses 36-39 there are a group of people who aren’t even named. They were virtual unknowns who never saw their reward on earth. No recognition, no pats on the back, no rewards. In fact, the polar opposite. But God was watching, and eventually God made it right. In verse 40, it says “God provided something better…”

And today while many still consider Marv Levy and Bud Grant losers, they did get elected to the Football Hall of Fame. Because there are those who recognize their true value as winners.

Guess what? You may be smart, loaded with talent, and loaded with skill. But the circumstances around you just are not in your favor. You may feel like you are losing your own personal “Super Bowl”. But you are not a loser. Keep on keeping on and stay in the game. God is keeping score.

July 1 is a big day in sports since many NBA (National Basketball Association) players become free agents. Which means they are looking for contracts with sweet deals and lots of money. Some have landed huge contracts, including guys you have never heard of.

I even mentioned to Carol that the amount of money is unreal when compared to some of the contracts in the NFL (National Football League), and football is by far a more popular and lucrative sport in this country.

And wouldn’t you know it?

NFL players have noticed and begun to compare. Now their huge contracts are considered peanuts to some of the newer ones in the NBA.

Before July 1 the NFL players considered themselves winners. Now they are losers. That’s what comparing does.

There is always someone who is faster, smarter, richer, prettier, talenter–OK, I made up that last word, but you get the picture.

One NFL player even tweeted that he had picked the wrong sport.

And you will do the same thing. You will think, “I should have chosen……….as my career.”

The fact is when you compare, you will never measure up.

No wonder the Bible warns against comparing. “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12, ESV).

No wonder depression is at an all time high. We are comparing our lives with the highlight reels of our friends and neighbors on Facebook, Twitter, or in life in general. It may happen in sports July 1, but it invades our lives when someone we know gets married, gets a new car, lands a new job, or takes an exotic vacation.

And we can’t catch a break. Or so it seems.

On June 30 NFL players went to bed as winners; when they went to bed on July 1, they felt like losers.

Avoid the trap. Avoid comparison or you too will go to bed at night feeling like a loser.

Photo By Erik Drost [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photo By Erik Drost [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

As a guy I typically don’t like to read instructions. Which means I sometimes get it wrong and sometimes it takes longer to accomplish the project.

Bottom line: I needed the help the instructions provided.

But the greatest help we need comes from people. (Yes, I do believe our greatest help comes from God, but God Himself often provides help in the form of people).

The city of Cleveland just won their first championship in 52 years because Lebron James had help.

Let’s back up. Lebron had earlier played for Cleveland seven years with no help and no title.

So Lebron left and headed for Miami. Why? He was chasing a ring. A championship ring, and it was obvious that no help was coming to Cleveland. Miami already had a star player and Lebron invited another friend to join with him in Miami. Now there are three superstars in Miami, just the kind of help Lebron needed. Two championship titles soon followed.

But Lebron’s heart was always in Cleveland — he grew up in nearby Akron. However, when he left earlier there were a lot of hard feelings. People even burnt his jersey. When Lebron was gone, Cleveland was terrible. So terrible they were awarded high draft picks. And they used a number one pick in the draft to draft a star player, Kyrie Irving. (Note: When Lebron was at Cleveland, they were a decent team, which meant they never were awarded high draft picks, which mean Lebron never got the help he needed).

After two championships in Miami, Lebron headed back to Cleveland with one goal: bring the city a championship. He knew Kyrie Irving was already there.  And he invited a couple more players to come with him. Why? He knew he needed help.

And let’s not forget that Lebron James is considered to be the best basketball player in the NBA….for the last ten years.

Even the best need help.

As a result, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the 2016 NBA Championship, and Lebron James was voted the Most Valuable Player of the series.

The best of the best needed help.

So where does that leave us?

In need of help.

In need of others.

In the Bible Moses had Aaron, David had his mighty men, and Jesus had his twelve disciples.

The best and the brightest realize their dreams need help.

Perhaps today the only thing standing between you and your dreams is help.

Timed excuseSo far we have only introduced a couple types of wisdom. Clearly you can be wise and unwise at the same time. Which leads us to the final aspects of wisdom.

In my last post I talked about planning well and persuasively presenting your plan. But that alone will not guarantee the outcome you want. So let’s press on.

3.  You also need philosophical wisdom. This is not the Greek idea which was often simply theory. That sort of wisdom is all bark and no bite. Here I am using the term to describe the ability to think clearly, concisely, and concretely. That will come before the type of behavior that will honor God. True wisdom is knowing and doing. Of course, our thoughts should line up with biblical teaching. Too often someone will voice an opinion and say, “Well, I don’t have a verse to substantiate my belief….” Let’s be honest. That may be an indication that it is not true wisdom.

So why did Absalom side step Ahitholphel’s effective plan and turn to Hushai’s plan? Absalom lacked number 4.

4. Perceptive wisdom is similar and also desperately needed. When the woman shared her story, as persuasive as she was, David soon smelled something fishy. His perception was right on target. However, not long after that when Absalom came and feigned spirituality, David lacked the perceptive wisdom to smell disloyalty in the air (2 Samuel 15:9). Granted, whenever someone plays the God-card, it can be very difficult to argue with them. But this only underscores the need for prayer.

What if Absalom had this? He would have gone with Ahitholphel’s superior plan and not lost his life as a result of his poor decision.

5. Most of us on a daily basis need practical wisdom. During the day some of us are not the best at execution. We plan well, but at the end of the day we fail to get stuff done. We’ve all had wasted days. Which means we could all use a little more practical wisdom and thereby have more productive days.

6. Last, but not least, is proactive wisdom. David seems to have lacked this at times. As proactive as he was on many occasions, often it was his lack of proactivity that cost him greatly. Sometimes he, like us, failed to act. Absalom was recalled home, but for two years the king never went to see him. That proved to be unwise.

7. At this point I would like to talk about a seventh type of wisdom that has more of a wide angle view.  It is panoramic wisdom. It may seem a little redundant; however, it does underscore our often limited view of what wisdom actually entails.

For instance, on my phone I have the ability to take a panoramic photo. That is, I can take a picture that will take in the entire scene rather than just a part of the scene. Sometimes it’s helpful to take a very wide angle or inclusive photo. After all, if it involves a group of people, who wants to get left out? The same is true with wisdom. Which aspect of wisdom do we really want to dispose of?

Wisdom involves a host of virtues like knowledge, insight, understanding, learning, and discretion. Wouldn’t you agree that we should be praying for all of those? Also, because it’s often hard to possess all the wisdom you need, it is helpful to seek the counsel and advice of others. David did, and Absalom did.

Within these chapters you will find a mixture of wisdom and a lack of wisdom. Isn’t it amazing how we can be so wise and yet unwise all at once?

Full of wisdom, yet devoid of wisdom?

Which underscores the need to pray for wisdom.

What kind of wisdom are you praying for today?

Timed excuseIn my last post I introduced the subject of wisdom. Wisdom is one of those traits that can be used for good or evil. Our goal is to use wisdom to benefit ourselves, others, and even the organization or business we are associated with. We are gleaning our thoughts from 2 Samuel 17 and 18.

Here’s the storyline in a nutshell. Absalom, David’s son, has been living in exile and Joab wants him to be recalled home. However, as the story continues into chapters 17 and 18 more examples of wisdom and the lack of wisdom will illustrate even more how much we need to pray for wisdom. Six kinds of wisdom pop up in the story. Six kinds of wisdom you can and should pray for. And then a seventh which encompasses all six.

1. So Joab comes up with a plan. To get from here to there you will need planning wisdom.

Joab planned well in the sense that he was successful in getting Absalom recalled. Yes, you may read the story and would rather call it a scheme, and you would be right. However, I simply want to point out that his planning ultimately worked.

In chapter 17 Ahithophel also comes up with an effective plan.

Now Ahithophel urged Absalom, “Let me choose 12,000 men to start out after David tonight. I will catch up with him while he is weary and discouraged. He and his troops will panic, and everyone will run away. Then I will kill only the king, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride returns to her husband. After all, it is only one man’s life that you seek. Then you will be at peace with all the people.”This plan seemed good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel (verses 1-4; NLT).

2. The plan was acknowledged to credible. However, as good as the plan was it lacked something, which we shortly see. And it was ignored because of what it lacked. So keep in mind that you may have the right plan, but it never gets executed because planning wisdom alone is not enough. Ultimately, you have to sell your plan.How was Joab going to convince the king to recall his son? He needed to make an emotional appeal. And who better than a wise woman who feigned to have her own family issues? So in comes the woman who was able to grab David’s attention and persuade him to act. She had persuasive wisdom. Granted, many use this type of wisdom to manipulate crowds or individuals for selfish reasons. In 2 Samuel 15:6 Absalom deceived the people. There is somewhat of an art to be persuasive. You must you the right words, tone, style, and even environment to persuasively move people.

Let’s jump back to chapter 17 and look at Ahitholphel’s plan. Once again, it was a very good plan. However, it lacked persuasive wisdom. Hushai came along and offered another plan. Actually, an inferior plan. But his plan had metaphors and appealed to Absalom’s emotions. Which plan was accepted and adopted? The one that was more persuasive.

So while you may be praying as you plan, don’t forget to pray for the ability to effectively communicate and persuade.

It may make the difference in whether or not it is well received.

In my next post we’ll look at four more types of wisdom.

Timed excuseJames 1:5 (NLT) exhorts us, “If any of you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”

Most of us probably approach the subject of wisdom from only one angle.

We simply want to know what to do next. Let’s call this particular wisdom. Perhaps you are looking to buy a new car and you want to make the right choice. Or it could be a career decision or any number of current decisions.

However, let’s expand our thinking of wisdom. For some good illustrations of the various kinds of wisdom read through 2 Samuel 14 and the beginning of 2 Samuel 15.

For starters there is popular wisdom. In many ways this is not wisdom at all, but if we have bought into the surrounding culture’s mentality, we think we are wise. I’m not sure you want to pray for this type of wisdom.

Many have unknowingly bought into the flavor of the day. But anyone can go along with the crowd. Absalom was all style and no substance, which incidentally makes many politicians, celebrities, and sport’s stars our modern-day heroes.  But Absalom proved to be deceptive, and he hurt a lot of people.

With that in mind let’s dig a little deeper.  Perhaps a good place to start is to read and reflect on the two chapters mentioned above. Here’s the bottom line: We can be wise and unwise at the same time. Full of wisdom and devoid of wisdom at the same time. Seems paradoxical, but a very real reality.

There are four main characters in those chapters, and they all possess wisdom. Not all wisdom is used wisely or for positive reasons. Some actually use their wisdom in order to manipulate others. Sad, but true.

That in itself calls for wisdom.

We’ll come back in the next post to discuss the types of wisdom you need to pray for. Until then read and reflect upon the two chapters mentioned above.

You can have results or excuses. Not bothExcuses. We use them all the time. Sometimes we quite frankly just don’t want to do something.
Maybe some are legit, but could we be hurting ourselves, could we be holding ourselves back from reaching our full potential?
We have to ask, don’t we?

In the church world several scenarios tend to come up regularly.

1. We may be encouraged to schedule some time for Bible study.

Excuse: I don’t have the time.

2. Could you serve in this area perhaps greeting or children’s ministry?

Excuse: That’s not my area of giftedness.

3. This week would be a great time to start tithing.

Excuse: I can’t afford to give that much.

4. Would you like to join us this week in small group?

Excuse: The time frame doesn’t work for me.

You get the point. Granted many of our excuses are genuine. Moses certainly seemed to have some legitimate reasons for not wanting to do what God asked of him. In Exodus 3-4 Moses has the incredible burning bush experience with God. Following that God commissioned Moses to return to Egypt and be the leader and main spokesman for Israel.

To be honest public speaking always seems to rated at the top of our fears, so Moses reluctancy is reasonable. Or is it?

Now Moses appears to have good excuses for not responding to God’s call. But then all excuses seem plausible or we would not give them. Moses seems to be lacking self-confidence in his speaking abilities, but then who hasn’t felt linguistically challenged at some point.

Is that a good reason not to go?

God didn’t think so. In fact, God eventually got angry.

And thankfully Moses did ultimately go.

So what was the outcome? Moses became the greatest leader in the Old Testament, and perhaps in the entire Bible, next to Jesus.

The bottom line: Moses’ excuses were keeping him from his full potential. I’ll bet he was glad that God kept on him. What if God had given up and said,”Fine, don’t go, I’ll find someone else.”

How sad that would have been. Not only for Moses but for the nation of Israel and ultimately even us.

So the next time someone asks or challenges you, before you give an excuse ask yourself: Is my excuse holding me back from my full potential?

 

 

(null)Let’s face it. Many never get started reading and studying the Bible.
First, let’s talk about the obstacles.
1. Clarity. The Bible can be a bit intimidating so where do we start? Not knowing what we want can keep us from ever starting. Why not set a goal to read five days a week?
2. Competence. Let me assure you that whether you are brand new to reading the Bible or have studied it for years you will always feel a somewhat incompetent. But that should drive you to the Bible, not away from it. Over time you will hone your skills and feel at home in your Bible. It will take time, but you must not delay starting.
3. Commitment. All of us are busy. But clearly Christ-followers see the Bible as important. It is simply going to boil down to discipline. So schedule it. Put it on the calendar.
4. Courage. This is similar to point #2, but the focus is on fear. You may fear that after a week or two you just can’t do it. Or you are afraid that you will quit. Or that you will attend a small group and have nothing to share. Or worse, what you share will not fit what the Bible is actually saying. When you started eating you missed your mouth with the spoon. My guess is you are still eating, but have learned how to hit your mouth every time. Same with the Bible. So don’t let fear keep you from getting started.
Game Plan for Getting Started
1. Purchase a Bible you will actually read. Trust me on this one. Different people like different translations. Carol and I both grew up reading the KJV. However, when we got married I bought her a NASB and she loved it and loved reading the Bible much more. Go online and read some out of the NASB, ESV, NLT, NIV, KJV, NKJV, and the NEB. You can go to www.youversion.com to check them out. Also you may want to experiment a little at

www.lumina.bible.org which has the NEB along with some notes. I have given the initials but once you begin searching they will all make sense. Also you may want to start out with a Life Application Study Bible. It only comes in a few translations though. However, it is very helpful and is a great place to start. I say that but it has some insightful scholarly notes also.
2. Take advantage of the Bible reading plan in the weekly bulletin at New Hope Church. That will get you through the New Testament every two years. You’ll notice I keep colored pencils next to my Bible. I encourage you to write in your Bible and use a variety of colored pencils for various subjects. Develop your own personal system as to which color you will use. For instance, I use red for verses that deal with the cross, salvation, and Jesus.
3. You will need a Concordance but can typically do word and phrase searches digitally at no cost at www.biblegateway.com  If you want a hard copy then you will likely want the NIV Concordance.
4. Next it is helpful to have a Bible Dictionary like The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary which is full of helpful articles, full-color maps, and graphics.
5. Another handy reference book is Eerdmans Handbook to the Bible. Once again, a lot of these resources will raise your level of confidence and get you up to speed at a much faster rate.
6. Digital resources are both free and expensive. Check out www.e-sword.net  www.olivetree.com  www.bible.org  as well as ones mentioned previously. Then there are websites like www.probe.org  that is loaded with hundreds of articles on everything from Theology to Current Events.
7. Keep a notebook handy and write down any observations and questions you have from the text you are reading. You don’t have to have answers now, but you will not forget. Also, you may prefer to do your reading online and store your notes their. Plus you can do the same thing on your phone or tablet.
8. Ask questions while you read. Joshua 1:8 talks about meditating on the Bible. That word has the idea of muttering, talking to the Bible. Talk to the Bible and it will talk back to you. So ask questions like:
* Is there an example to follow?
* Is there a sin to avoid?
* Is there a prayer to repeat or does the verse bring a prayer to mind that I can pray right now?
* Is there a command to obey?
* Is there a verse to memorize?
9. At this point it can be very helpful to have a commentary at your side. I recommend that you start out with a one-volume commentary like The Moody Commentary on the Whole Bible. It also comes in a digital version. You certainly don’t want to reach a wrong conclusion and say what the Bible is not saying. So having a solid commentary can help you stay on track and aid even more to your understanding of the Bible.
You don’t have to do all nine to get started. Actually a Bible is all you need. However, every prospector likes to have a few extra tools in the bag. The more tools the more likely you will enjoy all the nuggets you are able to mine from the Bible.