Category Archives: Motivation

Sermon on the Mount

I am building a group of men to think for themselves.  To rightly divide the word of truth.  The vehicle for this building is a study on the Sermon on the mount.  It is in Matthews Gospel Chapter 5,6,7.

But as I read these words over and over again, I am amazed at the teachings of Jesus.  He was teaching the disciples on a grassy hill about the Kingdom of Heaven.  The hearers were amazed at the teachings of Jesus for it was from authority.  It meant something to them.  The sermon was one of those in which after the last AMEN, you simply said, “wow”. It pierced their hearts with truth. Not like another law book or set of rules.  Jesus taught them about the things which impacted their lives.  

The Scribes and Pharisees taught speaking and re-speaking the same words.  Words without life and conviction. Jesus said to those who listened, “your righteousness must surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.  This new law of the Kingdom of Heaven, this new way of truth and life, this abundant life points to dire need for a new righteousness.

The Kingdom of Heaven is a righteousness of faith empowered by the Holy Spirit to enable  you  to  lovingly,  willingly  and  delightfully  yield  your  will  in  total  submission  to  His  examination  of  your  heart  so  that  you  may  be  completely  set  free.

As with any revolutionary idea these words of Jesus were and still are misconstrued. It would be easy for anyone reading the Sermon on the Mount to wince once and a while. We have to be different from everyone else.  We can’t even think about getting angry and wishing someone ill, just looking at a woman is the same as having relations with her, divorce is out of the question, can’t make a oath, turn the other cheek and pray for my enemies.

In a quick read the task of obedience is overwhelming. “Jesus have you just traded one set of laws for another?”  The demands of Jesus are simply too difficult. Who among us have never hid wrong attitudes in our heart?  Who is not guilty of disobeying the rule of the King? 

The inevitable result is to fall short of God’s glorious ideal. We try and try to uphold that ideal with every ounce of our strength, but we fail again and again.  We end up living a life full of disappointment, guilt and failure.  And that is just the point. 

your conscience burns within you knowing that Jesus does not rule simply until you’ve had enough.  But rather than leaving you naked in your rebellion and exposed to judgment, He forgives you. He heals you. He restores you. He lifts you up and strengthens you to carry on the journey of faith for yet another day.

In our men’s study we simply say, “there are only two things in the Bible, 1) Revelation and 2) reconciliation.”  God reveals Himself in his plans and ideals and we are to reconcile ourselves to that revelation. When we fail.  And fail we often do. Failure should lead ourselves back to God for His strength, His guidance, His forgiveness, His love, His reconciliation.

Wandering

As the Israelite’s wandered in the wilderness for 40 years looking for God and His will, I have constantly tried to understand what motivated the Israelite’s to go in circles for all these years in an environment that was trying to kill them with every step.  I would think they would have grown tired of constantly moving and getting nowhere. As a Christian, I find that at times I also take to wandering.  Why do I do the things I do?  I think there is a direct relationship between the wandering by the Israelite’s  when they were trying to find their purpose and following a Godly leadership, with my own Christian walk today. I would think that there are four ways to understand the motivation of Christians in today’s modernistic world: Gizmos, pathways, rebels, and stubborn fatalism.

Israel in the wilderness was called to follow an external device of smoke and fire.  True they had a leader. Yet even Moses was guided by these heavenly prompts. When the manifestation of God moved so did the Israelite’s.  It did not matter what the path these prompts pointed toward, there was an inner belief that these manifestations knew where they were going. They were guided every mile, every year to following the presence of God. When the smoke moved, they moved. Following as they were pointed, may well be characterized as a mechanical device or Gizmo we find in most cars: the GPS. When we want to go somewhere, we simply punch in a destination and there is a turn by turn guide to grandma’s house. It tells us when we will get there and even if there is any delay on our path.  We listen carefully to a voice, usually a woman’s voice, telling us where to turn, what road or exit to take, even the name and number of the street or highway which is on our path.

When our GPS Gizmo tells me to turn, I make every effort to follow and fully expecting she knows better than any path I could figure out. But there are times when I may well think “That’s not right”, or “I want to make my own path” or  “I know better than this,” or I want to stop along the way to get a Diet Pepsi.”  But when I do, my loyal GPS gleefully reports, “Recalculating.”

That little disembodied voice say does not say, “this is not what I told you to do.” Instead, this tiny Gizmo realizes the place you are and plans a new path. Recalculating is saying, “I will start from when you have gone astray and I will map you a new path to your destination. I will set you straight. Trust me I will get you want to go.”

Sometimes I question this seemingly blind faith in the displayed path.  I know for a fact there are two routes from the church to my house and they both get me there.  The problem is my GPS GIZMO randomly chooses one path over the other because they both are the same distance and duration.  To the Israelites God was their heavenly GIZMO.  God gave them a turn by turn directions and the first type of Israelite and consequently many blessed Christians will find their way to the promised land.

The second way we can look at the wandering at the wilderness and also our Christian walks in our wandering is characterized by the ant. The total purpose of an individual ant is to serve the whole.  To follow the rules of searching to find a source of sustaining resources is the entirety of one class of ants.  Some stay home and take care of the young.  Some receive the bounty provided by the wanderers.  The wanderers provide for the rest of the ants.  Each ant has a responsibility to do their job and not to stray in the least. The philosophy of an ant is to survive the journey.  And they do this by sending out individual ants in search of a new source of food and bring it back the report to the nest.  To find their way back to the nest they produce tiny scent trails wherever they go.  They spread out as far as their scent will allow them to go.  If they don’t find anything they simply die.  Wandering along looking for some choice morsel or better yet a large source of choice morsels like a dollop dropped from my peanut and butter sandwich.  If they find the gooey mess, they follow their own scent trail back and tell everyone.  In rapid succession, hundreds of ants follow blindly the previously laid down path.  All the while, the additional scent is laid down to reinforce the path. Every ant in this parade simply follows the ant in front of them.  Every time a new path is found a group of ants will follow.  Every time there is a new source of plenty there are followers.  Each Ant following dutifully the ant in front of them.

A problem arises when the lead ant loses the scent for a moment and doesn’t know which way to go. When the scent is lost the lead ant turns abruptly looking for the scent again and all the while, every ant behind follows. The lead ant repeats this turning until it finds the scent. What often happens is they run across their own scent line and turn to follow it and in doing so they make a giant circle and they go around and around and around each of the succeeding circles.  Every ant following in step following the ant front of them. The mindset of every ant in the parade is to constantly follow the ant in front, “he must know where he’s going.” Every ant following believes and accepts the, “follow the one in front” idea and is fully convinced that they are going the right way.  And every trip in the grand circle it increases the scent and they can’t stop.  They go around and around and around and ultimately, they simply die of exhaustion. A catastrophic end. Again the Hebrews followed until most of them who had experienced Egypt died.  In the Christian walk we must keep the cloud in mind not the person in front.

The 3rd characteristic of those who would find themselves in the wilderness trying to find God’s will is the rebel. The rebel mindset says to himself, “there must be something more in my divine destiny of life.”  In the Hebrews in the wilderness, they were characterized as the “Grumblers”.  They grumbled about the quality of water, they grumbled with the lack of food, they grumbled with the lack of variety of provided food and they complained because there was not enough water.  Dissatisfied with Moses on the mountain they were the first ones to, “make a god for ourselves.”  This rebel belief reveals itself with trying and changing everything. A complaint of “we have always done it this way” is confronted with “we have never done it this way.” Let me be first.

These rebel firsts keep saying, “I have to go faster, fly higher, explore everywhere, to boldly go where no one has gone before.” “I am the creator of my destiny.” Or “I can do anything I want.” The rules of sanity and common sense simply doesn’t mean anything to me. It doesn’t matter if I crash and burn; at least I can be an example of what not to do. It is a modern self-description. It is a mindset that says, “I have emerged from the cave where man created God, created faith and created religion and I no longer will follow blindly. It is an attitude of personal self-responsibility. “I know who I am and I don’t need or want some old sage to dictate my life.”

The rebel is plastered all over YouTube.  Riding bicycles off of a roof into a swimming pool, or trying to jump over a car while it is coming at you at 20 miles an hour are examples of this rebel attitude.

It is the rebels who have stretched the common beliefs of the church. “Let’s have a church in a deserted drive-in theater,” or “we don’t need pews” or “let’s get tables and coffee” were all once thought of rebellious ideas. “Let me be the first, at least I will be cool about it.”

They live by their own rules because everyone else seems stuck in a pattern and that pattern is I can’t live with. This rebel spirit believes and is willing to die for that belief. Columbus was going somewhere and if he died along the way so be it. Alan Shepard strapped himself onto the back of a rocket to prove something not only to himself but everyone who was going to follow him. It is not a question of, “lead or follow” but just stay out my way.  And like Evil Knievel and all his copies, more often than not they crashed and crashed hard.

The last group of wanderers is those who simply give up: the fatalists.  “If we keep going, day after day, we will ultimately die, so why go on.”  To the fatalist, any path is a path to destruction.  The Egyptians wanted to kill them, the people in the destination wanted to kill them, the desert wanted to kill them, all the new laws set by Moses are all filled with death and punishment, I might as well just dig a hole and climb in. When the Christian does not see that perfect path before them like a heavenly GPS, or another ant in front of them, or there is no unction in your gumption to change the path, the fatalist simply sits down and dies. “If I don’t know where I am to be, this spot is good enough.”  These fatalists die alone because they find no responsibility to follow anyone or conform to any path.  

 Four paths:  Follow the presence of God, follow the other ants in front of you, rebel and do your own thing, or give up. As we walk the walk that is Christianity, it is my choice and it is your choice.

Christmas

As we come to the celebration of the birth in a manger of a Messiah King, each of us must look toward our own spiritual needs.  Pie, and drink may well satisfy the physical. It is not the satisfaction the dusty soul seeks.  It is a sweet well of cool water that flows and urges us to drink of the Well of Life. It is not great intellectual knowledge of the great things of man or even God, but the very person and presence of God.  Some would well say restore the Christ in Christmas.  Instead I think there is a greater need to restore Christ in Christians.  This yearning after God has never completely died in any generation.  There have always been some that have looked beyond the Santa Clause hats and grossly decorated trees and insisted on reading the story in the Bible of the reason for beginning and end of Christmas. Please my friends and loved ones, take time this week to read Luke Chapter 2 verses 1-20 for your own and perchance around that aforementioned tree, read it to the those you love and care for the most.

Merry Christmas

Encouragement

Encouragement is not telling someone they have done well.  That is simply a reward for something done.  You may well call it honor, or accolade but it is simply something which acknowledges effort.  It is a pat on the back for something accomplished.  It is something well expected after a job is well done.  While this reward, this acknowledgement is a good thing, encouragement, is telling others that you believe in them before they even start. It is action before the battle.  Encouragement is to help someone to make a good start.  It is the coach telling the team they have it within them to beat the other team.  It is one Christian putting an arm around another when he is about to face a big decision.  Encouragement is not a, “I knew you could do it” but a “I know you can do it.”  It may be a subtle difference but the very act of encouragement leads to better results than a pat on the back afterwards.

Sure, there is always a possibility of failure, of not living up to the encouragement, never-the-less it is a much better than waiting for that failure.  Those things, those efforts that never begin are always failures.  It is better to start well than to do nothing.

I believe there are six ways to encourage:

  1. Show you care – When you take the time to learn about others, it shows that you care. This empowers and encourages them.  It confirms both our understanding of the task and an honest assessment of the possibility of success. One of the single best ways to encourage others is to care about what they care about.
  2. Tell them with words – Take the time to tell your small group, your brothers in Christ, that you believe in their abilities and that you are confident that they will succeed. It is never enough to just sit and think about success or failure.  Encouragement should be more than good thoughts.  It is not about awareness of the task.  It must go further to be encouragement.  It takes effort and a communication of that encouragement.
  3. Tell them in writing – The great thing about encouraging someone in writing is that he can keep the note forever. An email, or better yet a real, post office delivered letter is something that may well make the difference.  That is why Hallmark is successful; they make a palpable, touchable, savable product that conveys encouragement. It is the gift that keeps on giving.
  4. Share with others – When you are in public praise your fellow Christians. Be open with our praise and private with your criticisms. And while you are at it praise and encourage when no one expects it.  Encourage when they are faced with both little and great things.  Tell others of your confidence, your trusting faith in someone to everyone who do or do not want to hear it.
  5. Trust them with greater responsibilities – When you assign responsibility to someone, even if you verbalize it, you are saying, “I trust you.” Trust conveys belief. When you give someone responsibility, remember you are not only trusting them with the expectation of success, but you are allowing them to make mistakes. When you micromanage or try to “fix” things along the way, it is discouraging and demotivating. Give responsibility, trust the person, and get out of the way.
  6. Help them – This might sound like the opposite of #5, but let me be clear that helping is not micromanaging or meddling. Simply ask how you can help them. Sharing in a task delegated by the person responsible is not taking over.  It’s important for others to know that while you trust them, you are also there to help. This goes beyond just helping with projects or task. It is saying I trust your way of doing things.

Hebrews 3:12-13  See to it brothers and sisters, than none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But ENCOURAGE, one another daily, as long as it called today.

Did you learn anything?

It was an accomplishment.  Stepping off the school bus in rural Iowa.  It had been the first day of school.  Her clothes were a little more wrinkled that when he set off that morning to learn, to study, to be a grown up.  There was a little mud on the sweet pink and white checked dress from playing with the kids at recess.  And now she was boldly walking up the path to home where dad was waiting to see how it had went.

After a big hug, a peanut butter sandwich made with extra grape jelly, and a cold glass of milk, Dad asked the big question, “Well did you learn anything at your school?”

The daughter stopped and looked at her dad and with a look of disappointment she answered, “I guess I didn’t learn enough”

“Why do you say that my little sweet pea?”

“Well Dad it is like this, I have to go back tomorrow.”

Learning takes a lifetime.

A Prayer of Connection.

My LORD and my God.

By my very existence I know that I am an image-bearer of you the Most High God.  Listen to me as I call upon your name in the full expectation of our like-minded Spirits were created to connect. 

I praise you because of your calling, I belong here.  I belong here on this earth. I belong here at my Kings table.  I belong here at the feet of Jesus.  I belong here within this community of like-minded believers. I belong here not because I deserve it but because you desire me to be here.

Sweet Jesus, you deserve to be loved, you deserve our reverence, you deserve all my praise. I will not allow anything, nor my situation, not my lack of faith, not my feelings of unworthiness keep me from your presence. I do not my rejectors and nor my naysayers keep me from worshiping. I don’t buy into their lies.

In your presence, I am strangely warmed, I am blessed, I am encouraged, of your concern of my plight.

There is no other place I would rather be.  I am yours.

Please don’t give up on me. Don’t stop drawing me to this place of belonging. I trust you God to lead me wherever it may be.  I give you the lead in all my ways. My hope is only in you.  Reveal to me your will, your path, and your road to blessings. Because you are here my Jesus, I call upon your name to bless our lives.

No choices left?

I completed a Bible study a couple of months ago with ten men about decision making. It was about the choices we make and what criteria we as Christians should use.  But while looking through my obligatory Facebook friends, I was struck by a forlorn and heart-breaking post.  He lives in the back of his car, lives from moment to moment and he seems to be saying, “I have no choices left.”  The outpouring of this helplessness is being spewed out for the world to hear and it is all negative.

In John 15 there is an account of an invalid.  Someone in worse circumstances than my acquaintance.  He could not walk.  He couldn’t gain meaningful employment.  His only choice was to depend on a few that knew him to bring him to a place of prayer, the pool of Bethesda.  No options, no hope, no dignity, no expectations other than getting into the swirling waters first.  But even that was almost impossible because he had no one to help him in. As Max Lucado said, “God’s efforts are strongest when our efforts are useless.”

Jesus told the man, “stand up, pick up your mat and walk.” In a moment a flash of a second the man was able to do just that.

We have to take Jesus at His word.  When God tells us to get up and get out, God enables this motion, this progress to something better.  I believe there is a stubborn unwillingness to cast off our maladies and just do.  When Jesus forgives your sin let the guilt go with it.  When Jesus says you are a child of God, act like it.  When Jesus says something it is our obligation to believe Him.

When Jesus says, “stand up,” don’t just sit there thinking of all the reasons not to but in faith, get up and go.

Just saying.

Take them down!

Delight only comes with abiding and our desires change as we abide.

I want what I want when I want it.  I want Joy.  That deep inner delight that comes with the assurance of all things working out and working out my way.  I do not want trucks that break down.  I do not want my back to hurt all the time.  I do not want to take pills to survive.  I want that inner relish for life that fills the soul.  John 17:13 says flatly that Jesus came into this world to give me full measure of His joy within me.

If it is mine, if it is promised, if it is my possession, if it is full measure, if it is to be a deep welling joy, where is it?  Driving the streets with my little granddaughter, she is oft to say, “take it down” in response to seeing Christmas decorations still hanging from the eves of homes.  “Christmas is over.”  It is as if the time for joy and peace on earth is now complete and we can get about our dreary lives.

How can I life I Thess 5:16 when it says, “Rejoice evermore,” when all the Christmas lights are gone?  I would suppose it is the difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is a fleeting thing, if you pursue it blinks at you and it is gone.  I guess I have said this before happiness is not joy.  Happiness is on the outside blinking red and green.  Joy is internal warmth of dwelling in the God of Christmas and the rest of the year.

Priorities

Some things are much more important than others.  Choosing between two things or options before you there is an inherent prioritization. Your mind immediately wants to put them into a logical order.

Figuring out what most important is part of life.  Sometimes we even have to say no to one thing in order to say yes to something more important in our lives.  At issue is we want both.  “I want my cake and eat it too.”  To live according to the tenants and teachings of Jesus we must set priorities. 

My first priority is that relationships are more important than things. People are always more important than thing I may accumulate.  Don’t get me wrong here, I have several things in my life, but when given a choice between a relationship and this accumulation of plastic brightly colored stuff, people win.  You see people are ultimately forever.  Wives are more important than what chair I sit in at night.

Second, Intellect over emotion.  I once heard to never make a decision when I am upset, sad, jealous or in love.  Emotions rule the immediate. In my life I must slow down and let emotion subside.  The intellect allows the spirit to speak.  The intellect allows the soul to make a logical decision.

Third, Joy over happiness.  Happiness is short term.  Joy comes in abiding.  Our desires will change the longer we abide in Him.  Joy is beyond a smile.  If you seek happiness it will disappear. Happiness is a good thing but when it is rooted in joy it is the best.  I believe we can’t always have happiness, but we can always have the joy that comes with God.

Fourth and last.  In setting my priorities I must choose the future over the past.  The past is over.  I can’t change that, but I can be forgiven.  The past does not necessarily dictate our future.  Our habits of yesterday can be broken.  The future has its foundation in today’s decisions.

He is here

It is one of the things we cannot live without.  The deepest part of our soul cries out for it.  Without it, we start to shrink moment by moment.  All our efforts seem pointless without the zest of it.  Some have died from the lack of it. 

That thing is hope. Hope that life will turn out.  Hope that someone is standing in our corner.  In all the places you could find yourself this exact moment, there is a truth.  That truth is that Hope is here.  It is not a false hope that makes untrue promises.  It is not a guarantee of an outcome invented by any man or woman.  It is not a fantasy or an illusion or even a make-believe invention.  It is a real and everlasting Hope.

It is a hope based on the truth proclaiming God is still God.  It is a hope that God is really holding it all together.  It is a hope that God has not turned His face away.  It is a hope God can and is involved in our lives.  He is intimately acquainted with every heartache; more that we can ever know.  Hope is here

It is a hope that you are loved in your worst moments.  It is a hope that pursues you even as you turn away.  Make no mistake.  Hope is here.  No matter where you have been.  No matter when you are now.  Hope is here.  Because Hope is a person. His name is Jesus.