“What if they don’t accept me” the student asked. He had been invited to interview for a position and his anxious condition caused him to seek my advice. His concern was a universal one. Everyone seeks acceptance of some kind, even those who boast they don’t care what anyone else thinks about them. Counselors tell us that acceptance is a necessary element in the development of our personality. People look to various sources to find this acceptance. Some seek it from other people. Some seek it from God. The apostle Paul tells us how to gain acceptance from God. It comes through Jesus Christ, “the Beloved.” “. . . He (God) has made us accepted in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6). Once we feel accepted by God, it is easier to feel good about who we are. “So,” I said to the student, “if you are accepted by God and you accept yourself as God made you, then leave the interview in God’s hands.” The real challenge is not acceptance. Jesus died to make that available for us. The real challenge is that acceptance is not equal to arrival. Through Jesus, God accepts us where we are, allows us to accept ourselves, and then walks with us along the way. Acceptance is the beginning of a wonderful journey; arrival is the end of the journey. The closer I get to the end, the more I appreciate the beginning. How about you?
I watched the super bowl last night. What a game! In the midst of all the on-field excitement and the funny commercials I couldn’t help but notice that the camera kept showing the backup quarterback on the sidelines. He was excited and kept shouting encouragement to his teammates, even though there was little chance of him getting into the game. With the exception of born super-stars, most want-to-be athletes have spent some time “warming the bench.” Somewhere I read that there are four stages of benchwarmers: (1) I can do better (2) Coach doesn’t know what he is doing (3) I hope someone gets injured (4) I hope we lose. While the Christian life is often compared to a game, it is more. And the last thing we need is benchwarmers. We need to clear the bench and get everyone in the game. After all, “we are members of one another” (Rom. 12:5). I don’t need you on the bench offering encouragement to me. I need you in the game, moving together toward the same objective. I stand amazed at how far we Christians have diverted from this simple truth.
I just returned from the semi-annual meeting of America’s National Prayer Committee. What a great group of cross-denominational folks. I’m one of only a few Southern Baptists on the committee of approximately 100 and possibly the only one from the academic world. I love being with them. No one cares who I am or what I am. I’m just Dan. In one of the many prayer times, someone prayed the prayer of Jehoshaphat (could this be a new book title?) – “Lord, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on You” (II Chronicles 20:12). How many times have I felt this way, not knowing exactly what to do, yet trusting with all my being on God’s directions? What an encouragement on days when confusion or uncertainty reigns. Jehoshaphat was troubled because a “great multitude” of the enemy was coming against him. Did God answer the prayer? Sure did! God sent Jahaziel to say, “Do not be afraid or dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (II Chronicles 20:15). Do you face a multitude of concerns this week? How about joining me in praying the prayer of Jehoshaphat?
Ideas from other cultures fascinate me. For instance, the Hebrews spoke of the future as though it was behind them, rather than in front, believing that you could see what was in front of you, but not what was behind you. Thus the unseen future was described as behind one, while the known past was described as in front of one. Maybe that’s what inspired the intriguing quote by 19th century Dutch philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, who said, “ Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” I’m no philosopher and not much of a theologian, but I have learned this much along the way – the future, wherever it is perceived to be, is in God’s hands. The Psalmist proclaimed that our God, “will be our guide even to death” (Ps. 48:14) and I’m fairly sure death is in the future, not the past. So, with your hand in God’s hand, join me in having a good day – yesterday.
Is there ever a time when God cannot provide? Have you ever doubted God’s ability to provide? I have. I can now confess that I was not sure God could provide enough income for me in retirement. How foolish! In Psalm 78:20-33 others wondered if God could provide. This time there was doubt that God could provide a table in the wilderness. In spite of God’s provisions in the past, the people still wondered. God had provided a miraculous exodus from Egypt as well as reminders of His presence along the way – water from rock, manna, etc. Their sin was not in wanting food in the wilderness, but in doubting God could provide food. It was not a sin against another person, but against the God, who had delivered them. They doubted that God, who had delivered them, could now provide them the basic necessities of life. Human nature is such that if God performs a miracle there, we doubt He will do it here and if He does one here, we doubt He’ll do it again. Let’s establish a fact: God provides, even in the wildernesses of our lives. He will provide for me this week – and for you as well. Rejoice!
I was asked in a recent internet interview, “What key concepts (of prayer) do you present to your students; future leaders in the Church?” I teach first that prayer is biblical, throughout the Bible from the first mention in Genesis to the final verses of Revelation, as well as modeled by Jesus. The most often used verb in the ministry of Jesus is not preach, teach, or heal, but pray. There is a popular bumper sticker that reads, “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it!” Well the Bible teaches prayer and that settles it whether you believe it or not. I also teach the principles and methods of corporate prayer and personal prayer. I teach simple, often overlooked truths, like – We don’t talk “to” God, we talk “with” God. And never talk to people about God until you’ve talked to God about the people. Then I always teach the global implications of prayer. If God’s purpose is for the nations, then how can we pray for less? The bottom line, like with other disciplines, is that prayer is more caught than taught. So, in addition to my classroom teaching, I try to model a life of prayer for my students.
To read the entire December 7 Internet interview on “Praying Pastor Blog” click here.
I finally did it. I took a week’s vacation that was not connected in any way to a ministry assignment. It took me forty-four years in the ministry before I accomplished this feat. I know, I know. Save the sermons! I’ve preached those same sermons to others. But I finally did it. Joanne and I took the Copper Canyon Train tour into Mexico – a train ride through six canyons, five of which are larger than the Grand Canyon. As I sat on the hotel balcony, more than 8000 feet above sea level, overlooking the canyon at sunset (Pictures are on the Disciple All Nations web site. Click on “Our Photo Gallery” in the left side menu.) I remembered a passage of Scripture. I guess you can take me out of a ministry situation, but you can’t take the ministry out of me. The Psalmist declared of God, “Your righteousness is like the great mountains; Your judgments are a great deep” (Ps. 36:6). While God’s righteousness is as easily visible as the mountains in all their majesty and strength, God’s judgments are often as unknown to us as the secrets of the deep canyons between the mountains. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “God’s dealings with men are not to be fathomed by every boaster who demands to see a why for every wherefore.” While we are privileged to walk by sight in the high mountains., we must walk by faith through the deep canyons. That’s a good thought for a new year that will be filled with both mountains and canyons. Walk on!
Did you ever plan a trip and have someone or something re-arrange your well-made plans? It happened to the wise men. I’m not sure how well-made their plans were but their instructions were clear. Herod told them to, “go and search diligently for the young child” (Matthew 2:8). Somewhere along their star-directed way, they picked up a few gifts. They should have let their wives do the shopping for them. Gold is not a bad gift for any occasion. Frankincense was OK assuming no one was allergic to it. But myrrh was a commonly used funeral ointment. Hardly a gift fit for a new-born child. You know the rest of the story, or do you? Have you ever noticed the interesting words at the end of the account? “They departed for their own country another way” (Matthew 2:12). No one, wise or unwise, ever has a genuine gift-giving encounter with Jesus and goes back the same way. When we meet Him and give Him our lives, we can never walk the same path again. Those things we once loved we now despise. Those things we once distrusted, we now love. These two words may be the most descriptive of all the language used to explain the conversion experience and the subsequent following of Jesus. “Another way.” The wise men experienced a divine interruption, followed by a divine revelation and then followed by divine directions. “Another way.” Today is the day before we celebrate the birth of our Lord. Are your gifts to Him appropriate for a Child/King? And having encountered Him again this Christmas, which way will you go?
Christmas is a costly celebration. It seems as though everyone from the lending institutions, to the counseling offices to the travel agencies makes money off Christmas. And the cost escalates each year. I read recently that if the gifts given in “The Twelve Days of Christmas” were purchased just once – from a partridge in a pear tree to a dozen drummers drumming – in today’s markets, the cost would be in excess of $19,000 plus tax. Even the eight maids would earn minimum wage for milking. I was in a church once that spent an enormous amount of money on “The Greening of Christmas.” I couldn’t help but think about the real green in their greening. Come to think of it, Christmas has never been inexpensive. Think of the cost of that first Christmas (or at least the birth of our Lord, from which we derived the Christmas celebration). There were government costs due to the required census registration, travel costs for Mary and Joseph, likewise for the shepherds and the wise men, Innkeepers costs, the cost of pigeons and doves for consecration in Jerusalem, gifts from the wise men, the cost of an unexpected trip to Egypt. And when the earthly costs are tabulated, add in the cost to the Father in the giving of His only Son to mostly ungrateful humanity. And you thought your expenses were high at Christmas! “Thanks be unto God for His indescribable gift” (2 Cor. 9:15).
One word I hear frequently spoken and sung at Christmas is the word “glory.” Among other places, it comes from John 1:14. After describing the origin of Jesus the scripture states, “We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father . . .” Later Jesus prayed that those whom the Father had given to Him might “behold My glory (John 17:24). Like with many subjects, we speak and sing that which sounds good but has little meaning to us. Why do we behold the glory of Jesus? I don’t think it is because He needs it. If you owned the cattle on a thousand hills, the earth and the fullness thereof, would you need glory? Maybe we speak and sing glory to Jesus because He is the only one who knows what to do with glory when it comes His way. I certainly don’t know how to handle glory when it comes my way, do you? Mostly, I just get the “big head” when someone tries to glorify me with earthly praises. While He doesn’t need it, Jesus receives glory and encourages us to glorify Him even more. If Jesus doesn’t need glory and yet encourages us to glorify Him, the benefit must be for us. Now there’s a glorious Christmas thought.