Hungry for God

“Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.’” (Matt. 2, NLT)
So, these wise guys show up and Herod worries about the birth of a rival king, the Christ. He’s evidently up to speed on Jewish belief and he has an idea of what this means.

He gathers the chief priests and men learned in the Law. He asks them the question: “Where will the Christ be born?”

Hands shoot up all over the room. “Bethlehem!” says one, beaming with pride to have distinguished himself in front of his colleagues. He probably quoted the verse from the Bible.
“Bethlehem…” says Herod as his eyes narrow.

Stop the film! Wait! I want to ask a question.
Here are the leaders of God’s people. Strange men have traveled hundreds of miles to seek for the Messiah of Israel, talking about a star or something. Herod poses the question, “Where will He be born?” Every one of them knew the answer. That was kindergarten stuff, they knew it so well.

So What? What’s for Lunch?

Then they all went home? Went home!
Not one of these spiritual leaders was hungry enough for God and looking for the Messiah to make the little trip down to Bethlehem and see what was up?

“Oh, David, you don’t know. We get these Messiah alerts all the time. No big deal. You’ve got to be realistic. He’ll come in His own time. Besides, have you seen how these wise men are dressed? Weird. Wonder what’s for lunch?”

Question for David, sitting in front of his computer, typing these words: “Would you have gone?” How about you? Would you have gone?

Am I hungry for God? Bible knowledge gushed out of the ears of these learned Jewish leaders. But not one of them had enough spiritual insight to realize that at last, this was it. The Messiah had come.

All their head wisdom didn’t tip off their heart that something had changed.

But, the hungry hearts continued their voyage. Scholars speculate about these “wise men,” “magi,” or whatever. Were they astrologers? Who knows?

Funny where you find hungry hearts isn’t it?

The truth is that they had probably heard about the Messiah from the time of the Jewish captivity in Babylon, hundreds of years before. They might have read Daniel’s prophecy about the coming King.

The trip from Babylon to Jerusalem was 520 miles as the crow flies. Following the main road, one would travel 900 miles (this was the road taken by armies and large bodies of men). The trip from Jerusalem to Bethlehem was about six miles.

These strange men walked (or rode their camels) hundreds of miles (plus six), to find the Messiah. And the leaders of God’s people couldn’t walk six miles to check it out?

Here’s a truth: It’s easier to say, “No,” and go home to the status quo than it is to take the time to see if it’s real.

Leaders do have to be prudent about people claiming to have the latest revival from God. We’ve swallowed that line enough to know that it isn’t always so. But, sometimes it is.

When you check out something that claims to be of God, don’t go like a hunger-crazed fish looking at a worm. Swim around it a bit to see if there is a hook. Look to see if there is a line attached, etc.

Does this honor God? Does it draw people to Jesus for salvation and help?

Does it help people be delivered from sin and to live a holy life? A LOT of what passes for God is just glitter and noise, so be careful. Observe the fruits.

But, by all means, go with a hungry heart. Pastor, if you lose your desire for God, so will the people you’re responsible for.

Knowing God

Once in France I received about four different invitations to a meeting that was going to “help people live something new with God.”

When I went, though, there was a ton of talk about outward manifestations. I saw and heard a lot of strange things, and honestly, I do think the people loved the Lord. But, I’m not sure I heard the name of Jesus one time that night, at least not in the teaching. “Manifestations,” yes plenty of them, but Jesus?

I wonder if there is anything more important than a heart that wants to know God through his Son. Bible knowledge without experience won’t get you there. Spiritual thrill-seeking won’t get you there, but hunger and thirst for the living God always gets you there, most especially when your search for more of God is grounded in His Word and prayer.

We’re after God, not just feelings, experience or a doctrine. We want more of Jesus.

Hmmm …
“Grief never ends but it changes. It’s a passage, not a place to stay. Grief is not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith … It’s the price of love.” (source unknown)

Dealing With Strong Personalities

It’s not always easy but it can be a tremendous blessing

Soon my wife and I will have been married 48 years and if we’re still together without one of us being strangled, it’s that we seldom hang wallpaper together.

We have two different philosophies about putting up wallpaper. She seems to think that everything must match. All those tiny flowers must fit together perfectly.

My philosophy is: “the faster the better. I’ve got other things to do. Who pays attention to those silly flowers anyway?”

Do you see a potential for conflict here?

It’s often true, if you want to ruin a relationship, try to work together. I’ve seen it with pastors, people at work, friends … in marriage.

Why is that?

Understanding the Problem

The easy answer is pride. We desire to be first. We feel threatened, out of control and don’t want anyone over us, especially someone we know well. Sometimes that’s the problem, but usually there is more to it than that.

Leaders like to lead. They like responsibility. They love shepherding others towards a goal.  It’s not just pride. Leaders point the way.

But when you have two or three strong leaders in the same group… can you see a potential for conflict there?

It gets more complicated. It has to do with our giftings and calling in life. We see the world through this lens. That gives us different priorities. For instance:

I wonder if  two men ever lived who were more spiritual than Paul and Barnabas. While Barnabas mentored Paul, they worked well together. But eventually they got into a ginormous disagreement. (Preachers don’t “squabble.” They “maintain a different point of view,” though it may sound like a nasty argument to the untrained ear.

Barnabas wanted to take John-Mark on a missionary trip with them. Paul couldn’t see it. Mark had run home to mama with his tail between his legs the first time then took him along on a trip. That left them in a bind and Paul wasn’t going to chance that again.

Barnabas believed in second chances.

Who was right? Paul was. This second missionary journey lasted about three years. Paul’s team traveled over 2700 miles, more than half of it on foot. He got the tar beat out of him in Philippi, survived a riot in Ephesus and overcame lots of other challenges. If John-Mark had taken such a trip he would probably have scurried home again, never to return to ministry.

Wait, though. Maybe Barnabas was right, because by most accounts, God used John Mark to give us the third Gospel in the New Testament. Paul later said, “Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.”

How did he go from reject to, “helpful to me in my ministry,”? Because Barnabas did for him what he had done for Paul before, and no doubt many others. Paul grew churches; Barnabas grew men of God.

Each one of them came at the ministry from a different angle. Both of them were right because they followed God’s calling for their lives.

Solution

The solution for pride is repentance at the Cross, but make sure it’s pride you’re dealing with. Sometimes it’s calling or gifting that’s motivating us. How do we deal with these differences?

–Try to understand ministries that are different than yours. Paul and Barnabas would have saved a lot of hurt if they could have said, “Okay, Barnabas, you’ve got a calling to build leaders. My primary calling is to evangelize and plant churches. At this point in time, these won’t work together so let’s shake hands and each one of us will do what God made us to do, but in different places.

–Talk before working together. In the heat of battle things are not always going to happen the way you talked about, but at least you’re not surprised. The better you know the other’s motives– even when you don’t understand their actions– the more likely you are to give them the benefit of the doubt.

–Give leaders a leadership role. Someone must be the last word, but if a leader feels he has something important to do and great latitude to do that, he’s often fulfilled, even in an supporting role. If it fits in the overall program let the leader develop it, even if he might fail. He’s got to have some credit if it works and responsibility if it fails. That’s part of the excitement of leading isn’t it?

–Program different giftings into the whole. NO ONE has everything. The wise man finds others who are strong where he is weak and lets that person complement him. They honor each other. RESPECT other giftings and make place for them. That should be the way it works in marriage. Let her do what she’s strong in doing. Let him do what he does well. And, there where they are both weak? Pray a lot. A lot!

When Good People Clash

How do you lead a person who has a strong personality? (Or a wife who has strong leadership abilities?)

–Discussion is good, but it’s not enough. Being understood is important, but we all want to think our contribution really is valuable. This is essential. We need to feel our life is making a difference.

–Give her a job that challenges her capacities and lets her grow. Don’t just use people to fill holes to further your goals. Choose people who will grow in that context. Make sure each one has work that’s important to the job and that he/she considers it important. A great leader conveys the importance of the job to each one who works with him.

— Affirm and honor him before others—the Church, your mutual friends. We need to feel that others respect and value us and what we do. Show respect, publicly and privately. Don’t criticize him behind his back. When he needs to change, have the courage to deal with him face to face.

–Can we listen when our wife speaks to our need for change? Pastors for our associates?  Bosses, for our colleagues? Do we affirm our wife’s abilities and successes or do we feel threatened?

–A strong leader must also learn to follow. His natural bent is to lead but if he can’t follow, he isn’t qualified to lead. Otherwise he’s just bossy. If you haven’t learned submission, you have no right to ask others to submit to you.

–Learn—sometimes we learn more from a bad leader than from a good leader. A good leader helps, develops and challenges those who follow him. A bad leader makes life miserable or frustrating.See what’s not working in others and DON’T reproduce it.

–Try to grow together. Iron really does sharpen iron through contact. Talk. Hold each other accountable and be submissive enough to listen and consider. Help him see his weak points and his strong points. Let her help you see yours. Don’t quit when you bump heads, but back up and see what’s going on.

So, if you do all that you’re ready to put up a tent with your wife, work with your boss and I’m ready to put up wallpaper with Phyllis. Wait, stop! Scratch that wallpaper. For that we’ve got to add one more element–divine intervention.

Hmmm–

“One of the greatest needs of good leaders is the gift of discernment when it comes to people. Knowing who surround yourself with and knowing who to leave standing outside the gate.” missionary Jimmy Abrams

A Fifteen-year Old Dream Is Born

Almost 15 years ago I wrote a Coffee Stain called Strange Eagle (Coffee Stains celebrated its 18th birthday last month). At the time I felt a “nibble” in my heart that it would be a good idea for a book. Bruce, a Coffee Stains reader, wrote me and said the same thing.

I’ve spent 15 years trying to be a better writer, trying to sustain momentum, incubating and writing the book that developed. The hero changed a bit and became more human. I found out some things about him I didn’t know, and he found some excellent friends to help him (so did I. Thanks to all my readers, grammar experts and infographists who contributed).

Some of Wesagi’s friends are a bit comical, but they’re excellent all the same. Plus, he faced a challenge I didn’t even know he would have.

I thought you might want to read the Coffee Stain that gave him life. If you’re interested in the paperback or the Kindle book, you can find where to order it at the end of the Coffee Stain.

Strange Eagle

 

Strange Eagle peered through the shimmering darkness to the lake far below.  From his perch on the mountainside he sucked in his breath as he had so many times, reacting to the beauty of the moon reflecting on the dark waters. Tears sprang to his eyes.

His father had called him War Eagle the day of his birth.  The name “Eagle” fit.  His people knew that no warrior fought more bravely than he and no hunter filled the lodges with winter game more than this young man did.

But he was different.  Peculiar. They remembered the day he had stopped a furious Mocking Wind from beating a slave boy they had taken from another tribe.  The two warriors had been near blows when the older men stepped between them.  Mocking Wind took every occasion to ridicule him after that.  Strange Eagle kept silent.

Why would anyone care about a slave?  Especially from another tribe!

Oddest of all, he took very little part in their religious festivals.  He often wandered the forests and mountains alone, thinking.  Even the most famous warriors knew that all sorts of dangers lurked in the woods at night.  Spirits roamed freely.  Who knows? Maybe he was consulting with them…

He was strange all right, this War Eagle. The name stuck.  Strange Eagle.

And he was strange enough not to care.  Something deep inside him was restless.  When he looked into the explosion of stars filling the night sky, he knew that something more than petty spirits or ancestors created all that.  Someone seemed to call him from just beyond the black veil and his heart hungered to know that Someone.

Tonight, as his eyes turned again towards the heavens, something came alive inside.  The moon, the stars, all creation itself seemed to shout to him, excitedly announcing the coming of a King from beyond.  A Judean shepherd heard the same voice more than a thousand years before.  “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4, NIV).

Strange Eagle opened his heart.  Deep, deep inside he knew that this was the One he searched for in all his wandering.  “Take me,” he whispered into the fiery night.  “Take my life.  I’m yours.”

Men said afterwards that Strange Eagle was different, but they liked him all the same.  They couldn’t help it.  He fought to protect them in battle.  He stopped to help them when problems troubled their lives.  He smiled more than a normal person.  He even treated his enemies justly.

Mocking Wind always hated him, but men kept their distance from that rascal.  They noticed that those who followed him always ended up hurting.  On the other hand, Strange Eagle’s smiles seemed to infect his friends.

He was an odd fellow, this Strange Eagle.

Lord, bless us all with your strangeness.

Here’s where you can buy the book: $3.78 for the Kindle version, $9.56 for the paperback (plus postage).  CLICK

After you read it, think to review it on Amazon. Reviews are gold.

Image by James Wheeler from Pixabay

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Living Under the Spout Where the Blessings Come Out!

Rachel Beckwith only lived nine years, but she managed to give more than most of us do in eighty years. She made a powerful impact on a continent she had never visited.

When she was five, she had her hair cut off to give to an organization which makes wigs to help children who lost their hair because of illness. When she was nine, at church she heard about an organization called “Charity Waters” which digs wells for villages in Africa.

One out of ten people in the world live without access to clean water.

Rachel decided to ask people to give to Charity Waters for her birthday instead of giving her a gift. She set up a giving page (https://my.charitywater.org/rachel-beckwith-1/rachels9thbirthday) but was a bit disappointed that she only raised $220 of her $300 goal.

Shortly after that she was killed in an automobile accident.

Friends wanted to honor her and began to give to her project. The story spread like wildfire and at last count she had raised $1,265,823 so that tens of thousands of Africans could have clean water. Continue reading

Recipe for an Overflowing Life

‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.’

(Luke 6:36-38, NIV)

Doctors today amaze me. Your knees stop working? They replace them! Bad hip? No problem, they’ve got an operation for that.

Personally, I’m waiting until they start brain replacement surgery. Mine’s about used up. I told my wife that we were going to have to work together because I’ve only got half a brain left and she’s got a half left also. It seems that one half brain plus another half brain would equal a whole brain. No, it’s still just a half.

A halfwit plus a halfwit doesn’t equal a wholewit. It equals a nitwit.

Actually we are heading in the direction of artificial brains. Today we have AI–artificial intelligence (or artificial ignorance). Love those shows where you see a room from a robot’s point of view. Someone enters and you hear a mechancial sound as the little machine zeros in on the person. “White male. Late 60’s. Needs to lose ten pounds. Kind of goofy looking.” Then a death ray zings out from the robot and fries the poor guy, followed by a mechanical voice which announces, “Threat terminated.”

We’re all a bit like that robot.

Threat Terminated

We constantly judge and evaluate others. Our judgements often reveal more about us—our values, our prejudices, our pride, our insecurity—than it does about the person we’re judging.

If we have a low opinion of other people, it may reveals one of two things: either we have a low opinion of ourselves and we’re trying to bring others down to our perceived level or we are arrogant and feel no one is as competent, smart, and good as we are.

Neither of those attitudes smell good. Continue reading