Who has the power to make your life flourish?

Who has the power to make your life flourish?

When I was growing up, we didn't have very many TV channels. At best, we could usually get four or five through the over-the-air antenna. I have always been someone who struggled to fall asleep at a normal time, so growing up, I would often find myself watching TV while trying to doze off. I remember noticing a pattern with many of the shows that came on during those late hours. Many of the shows were paid infomercials by people who made some sort of promise that they could give you the kind of life you've always wanted.

Some shows focused on your finances. Others focused on your health. There were also programs that spoke of spiritual issues. Truthfully speaking, most of these shows were garbage. I'm grateful that I was able to see through that, even at a young age, but I knew people who fell for the pitches and promises of these late-night gurus because they were so desperate for help that they would listen to anyone who sounded at least moderately convincing.

But the promises we find in Scripture go deeper than the vain promises of men. In God's word, we learn that there is one leader who actually does have the power to make our lives flourish in every healthy way. That person is Jesus Christ and this chapter of Jeremiah's book speaks prophetically of Him while also cautioning us about the presence of contrasting leadership that seeks to steer us in ungodly directions.

Why is it so hard to listen to what I need to hear?

Why is it so hard to listen to what I need to hear?

A while back, I had a very strange experience. I was teaching an adult Sunday School class to a group of about twenty-five people. As I was speaking, I noticed that very abruptly, I lost the hearing in my right ear. I paused for a moment because it was a very strange sensation, told the class what was happening, tried to wiggle my ear to see if the problem would go away, and when it didn't correct itself, I just continued to teach the class.

I visited my doctor the next day. He explained to me the nature of the problem, and walked me through the process of correcting it. It took about a week, but by the end of the week, after one more visit to the doctor, my hearing was restored. I'll spare you the details of what was wrong, but I was quite relieved to have my hearing again after losing it for several days.

Ironically, sometimes when our hearing is in perfectly good order, we still struggle to listen. That's what this passage of Scripture is speaking about. The Lord's people were struggling to listen to the instructions, directions, and counsel He graciously offered them, and they were paying a price for their willful ignorance.

In our context, why is it so difficult for us to listen to what we really need to hear? This portion of Scripture helps us understand why.

You'll regret settling for a cheap substitute

You'll regret settling for a cheap substitute

Something that seems to entertain my children, when it comes up in conversation, is how many years I can get out of a pair of shoes. In fact, I have a pair of sneakers that I like to wear that still look reasonably new, even though I bought them several years ago.

But that wasn't the case when I was a kid. As a child, I would go through sneakers rather quickly. I was always outside doing something and I played several sports that involved a high degree of running, so if a pair of sneakers lasted me a few months, that was considered good.

Being one of three siblings, the rate at which I would burn through a pair of shoes during that season wasn't a minor expense for my parents. That being the case, on occasion, we would opt for buying some knock off brands from time to time. Unfortunately, even though it initially felt like we were saving money, those shoes didn't hold up very long. They were cheap substitutes and I can still remember the way they would crack and tear after very little use.

There are some areas where it doesn't pay to settle for a cheap substitute, the most obvious being in our spiritual lives. There is no substitute for a relationship with the true and living God. No idol or humanly invented deity can comfort the heart and give lasting hope to the soul. That's something the Lord makes clear to Jeremiah in this passage of Scripture.

Does my heart match the image I convey?

Does my heart match the image I convey?

I think it's fair to say that most, if not all people, desire to experience good national leadership during the course of their lifetime. Jeremiah's life spanned the reign of multiple kings of Judah, but the events spoken of in Chapter 7 took place during the reign of a godly king. For a time, Josiah reigned as king in Judah. His reign began when he was eight, but when he was sixteen, he became a fully devoted follower of the Lord. In his 20's, he sought to eradicate idols from the land. He also ordered the remodeling of the temple. In the process of remodeling, the books of the Old Testament Law were rediscovered and Josiah encouraged the people to begin obeying the Lord's teaching again.

2 Chronicles 35 tells us about the completion of the work on the temple and the celebration of the Passover that took place at that time. The people were excited, and in a very celebratory mood. From all outside appearances, it would have seemed like a great revival was taking place among the people and that a renewed interest in walking with the Lord was taking place on a large scale. But the Lord knows people's hearts. He knows when we're faking. He knows when we're trying to craft an image that's the opposite of what's taking place in our hearts. It was into this context that the Lord spoke through Jeremiah to address the distant hearts of the people of Judah that were being disguised by their outward display.

Amazingly, God still wants you back

Amazingly, God still wants you back

When I was in my early 20's, I knew a couple that had been dating for several years. From all outside appearances, it seemed that their relationship was healthy and strong. They spent time together. They enjoyed each others personalities. Their spiritual beliefs seemed to mesh. Everything looked fine. Then, seemingly out of the blue, the woman left her boyfriend for another man. On top of that, she abruptly married the other man which puzzled us all.

At the time this was taking place, my wife and I were dating and getting near to the day when we were planning on marrying. I couldn't help but wonder how I would react if something so unexpected and painful happened to me.

Fast forward a few months, and we learned that the woman ended her abruptly established marriage. We were told that the man she married was abusive and engaged in additional forms of sin. Not long after that, we learned that her previous boyfriend had accepted her repentance, and taken her back. Again, I couldn't help but wonder what I would have done in a situation like that. I also found it difficult not to feel slightly judgmental at how flighty and foolish that woman was starting to seem to me.

Multiple times in Scripture, the Lord refers to his children as being his bride. The people of Israel and Judah are spoken of this way. Likewise, those who trust in Jesus Christ and are part of His church are spoken of as His bride. Historically, the people the Lord has called His own have struggled to remain faithful to Him. We've wandered from Him like a faithless spouse. We've been flighty and foolish. Yet amazingly, God still wants us back. This portion of Scripture illustrates some very interesting things about God's loving heart toward His bride.

Stop giving God your excuses

Stop giving God your excuses

What does it take to become good at something? By what standard might someone actually be considered great at something? Typically, our standard for measuring the skill, talent, or giftedness of a person is by the results they produce. And if that's the kind of standard we applied to the prophet Jeremiah, we might call him a failure, and we would be dead wrong.

Jeremiah was a prophet to the kingdom of Judah beginning in the year 627 B.C. He was faithful to the Lord's calling on his life. He was courageous in the midst of persecution. He was given a thankless task as he proclaimed the truth to a rebellious people that didn't want to hear what the Lord was saying through him. His message was mocked. He was called a liar. His life was threatened, and the people of Judah did not repent of their sins.

But God gave Jeremiah the task to speak the truth to a dying nation, and Jeremiah relied on the Lord to provide him the strength to accomplish this task. Later in his life, he was taken to Egypt and it's believe that he was stoned to death and buried in an unmarked grave because his message was so despised. Yet we can be confident that he received a rich welcome into the presence of God as one who trusted in Him and poured out his heart and his life trying to point others to the Lord.

Now I see things differently

Now I see things differently

Everyone walking on this planet sees their life from a particular lens. We all have a worldview that influences how we interpret our circumstances and surroundings. Our worldview impacts the way we value other people. Our worldview also influences the way we choose to make use of the time we've been blessed with.

At one time in our lives, we lived in ignorance. We were ignorant of some of the deepest realities that we're surrounded with all the time. It's likely that we lived in ignorance to who we were really created to be. We lived in ignorance about the purpose of our experiences. We lived in ignorance toward the suffering of others. In general, we lived in ignorance to the bigger picture of God's divine plan.

But our gracious Lord is kind enough to offer us the privilege to begin to see things in a new light. Through faith in Jesus Christ, our eyes are opened to things that we didn't have the capacity to gain a full understanding of through natural means. Jesus enables us to see things differently, and as He does so, the manner in which we choose to live our lives can't help but be impacted as well.

What does Christ enable us to see differently? What difference does that make?

Christ has a kingdom that will not be destroyed

Christ has a kingdom that will not be destroyed

The other day, I was reading an article about what's currently taking place in Venezuela. Their government and economy has been collapsing. There's a lot of unrest and disorder. People are very low on food. The article mentioned a man who had been a little over 300 lbs., but now, due to the scarce availability of food, his weight had dropped to around 130 lbs. As this crisis continues to drag on, people are fleeing the country. Neighboring nations have started to enact policies on how best to handle this large influx of immigrants who are trying to escape Venezuela while the country appears to be collapsing.

Throughout human history, you can see many examples of leaders and nations that rose to power, but later collapsed. Some nations managed to last a long time. Some didn't. During the 1930's and 1940's, Hitler himself used to promise the German people that he was forming a government that would last 1,000 years, but we all see how that worked out.

Deep down, I believe there's a longing within all of us to be part of something bigger. We want to be part of a strong kingdom with righteous leadership, but even the best historical examples can only give us a partial taste of what that looks like. We will only experience that in its fullness when Jesus rules and reigns on this earth in His righteousness. This Scripture tells us that He leads the kingdom that will never be destroyed.

Christ has taken our gloom away

Christ has taken our gloom away

Years ago, I used to be a news fanatic. I would watch 24-hour news channels every chance I got. I was up on everything that the news told me was taking place in our country and everything they said was taking place in the world. Then, after a season of realizing that my constant diet of the news cycle was becoming more of a downer than anything, I stopped watching it so much, and now I barely watch it at all. I had as much of the bad news as I could take.

Somewhere along the line I also noticed that, even though I don't watch the news very much, I still seem to be on the receiving end of an abnormal amount of bad news, and I've come to accept that reality. When you're a pastor, you're often asked to pray with and for people in times of dire need. Just the other day I was asked to pray for a family from a church I served at in college that tragically lost two children in a fire. It broke my heart and I have been thinking about it every day since.

There is no shortage of bad news in this world, and if we don't possess the capacity to see beyond this moment in time, we can easily become locked in a gloomy perspective. But by the grace of God, we're made capable of seeing what's up ahead. The counsel of His word tells us that there is hope for all who trust in Christ. He is the one who takes our gloom away.

What makes a great leader?

What makes a great leader?

There's a question that I started asking when I was a young man, that I continue to ask today. I wanted to know, "What makes a great leader?" When I was a child, my aunt had an almanac that contained a lot of interesting information, including profiles of every U.S. President. Every time I visited, I used to sit down and read that thing. Eventually, after years of pouring through it, she gave it to me and I still have it. I was fascinated by reading the stories of the leaders it spoke about.

Growing up, I worked in our family grocery store. As a child, I observed the leadership of my grandfather, father, and uncle as they ran the business. I watched them hire, fire, and interact with employees. I observed and participated in the strict and sometimes severe ways they treated shoplifters. It was a very helpful context in which to learn leadership principles.

In the years that followed, I worked in various contexts alongside different bosses. Some were excellent leaders and some were terrible. Some I admired and copied and others I appreciated in a different way because they helped me learn what it felt like to serve under a bad, unethical, or ineffective leader.

You may or may not consider yourself a leader, but if you have any form of influence in the life of someone else, you are, at least to them, a leader. And if the Lord has given you the privilege to influence others at home, in society, at work, online, or in the church, it's worth asking the question, "What makes a great leader?" Thankfully, we find some answers to that question in God's word.

Don't let your trials surprise or discourage you

Don't let your trials surprise or discourage you

The other day I heard someone tell the story of what his friend once told him was his ideal life. His friend said he hoped to be living on a beach somewhere in Hawaii, with a simple hut that had a satellite dish so he could watch a lot of TV. He didn't want to experience any stress. He didn't want to be bothered with long conversations. In general, he didn't want to have to interact with very many people. This was his picture of stress-free life.

If you were given the ability to carve out the ideal version of your earthly life, what would you want it to look like? Would you be by yourself or are other people included in your vision? What are some of the stresses that bother you now that you would make certain to not include?

As fun or interesting as it may be to try to imagine what an easy life might look like, the reality is that isn't something we've been promised on this earth. In fact, when you look at what Scripture tells us, we're encouraged not to be surprised or discouraged by our trials. These things will come and the Lord has a purpose for them.

What else does His word tell us about the trials and difficulties we might experience as those who trust in Jesus Christ?

Living an others-centered life in a self-centered world

Living an others-centered life in a self-centered world

The other day, out of the blue, I received a brief note of encouragement from someone who used to attend our church, but moved away. I appreciated it and I made sure to tell her that. I also told her that in my opinion, she seems to be one of those unique people that has a gift for encouraging others. In fact, after mentioning that, she confirmed that encouraging others is something she takes great delight in doing.

Isn't it nice to have a few people like that in your life? Why do their actions tend to stand out as special to us? I think one of the reasons they stand out to us is because they're so different from what we experience in many other areas of life. In many contexts, we're forced to deal with people who care more about themselves than they care about others.

Driving can be one area where this becomes apparent. We're in the process of helping my daughter, a new driver, practice the skill of driving. Recently, I told her that the way people drive tends to be an extension of their personality. Gracious drivers tend to be gracious people. Aggressive and dangerous drivers tend to be selfish people that can't even be bothered to think about the safety of others when they're on the road.

Jesus isn't selfish, and His desire for the body of Christ is that we reflect His heart in the ways in which we interact with and treat each other. He invites us to look after each others' needs. He invites us to make sacrifices for the benefit of those we care about. His word teaches us what it looks like to live an others-centered life in the midst of a self-centered world.

Take a look at some of the principles the Holy Spirit inspired the Apostle Peter to share about this subject with the church.

Giving up your old passions to live for God's will

Giving up your old passions to live for God's will

Think back to when you were twelve years old. What was life like for you then? Was that an easy time of life for you, or was that season of life more on the awkward side? I know for me personally, that was a challenging year of my life. I was in a new school. I was trying to figure out who I was and how I wanted to carry myself when I interacted with others. I was easily impressionable and many of my personal influences were not very good. The things I valued were, for the most part, unhealthy.

Over the next few years, things changed. The context that I lived in didn't change, but the people and the values that I allowed to influence me did. By God's grace, He put people in my life that had the desire to honor Him. Some of my greatest influences during the second half of my teen years were people who were just a few years older than me and they blessed me with a highly visible picture of what it meant to trust in and follow Christ.

During that season, I remember drawing a line in my life. I had an extremely strong desire to no longer live according to the faithless, worldly mindset I had welcomed into my life for far too long. I wanted to move beyond that manner of living and experience what it meant to be a fully devoted follower of Christ because I became convinced that that's exactly what God wanted for me.

And when we look at the content of 1 Peter 4:1-6, we can see that that's exactly what the Lord desires for all of us. He invites us to draw a line in our lives and to move forward as His family, instead of drifting backward into the mess He rescued us out of. So how can that be done?

What did Jesus actually do for us?

What did Jesus actually do for us?

Imagine attending a church worship service and never hearing the message of the gospel taught or proclaimed. Sadly, there are many contexts where that has been an issue historically, and it's also a concern in some contexts during present day. It can be a little too easy for us to lose sight of who Jesus really is and what He has chosen to accomplish on our behalf.

When we read the Scriptures, sometimes we have the benefit of learning something new. Other times, we have the benefit of being reminded of something we already know that we haven't necessarily thought about in a while. The portion of Scripture that we're about to look at probably incorporates both benefits. As we think about its content, some Christians will learn something new while others will be reminded of things they haven't thought about in a while.

What would our lives be like without Jesus? What kind of future would we be currently looking forward to if He hadn't intervened on our behalf? Sometimes, it can be far too easy for us to become complacent in our understanding of what He has accomplished on our behalf. We're so used to the benefits He brings to our lives that we don't consider the kind of mess we'd be in without Him.

This portion of Scripture helps us gain a better glimpse of some of the obvious and some of the behind-the-scenes things Jesus accomplished for us. The work He has done on our behalf is of far greater significance and far greater effect than we often realize.

How can I overcome my fear of other people?

How can I overcome my fear of other people?

Do you consider yourself easy to intimidate or not easy to intimidate? Are there certain personality types that produce a certain level of fear within you when you encounter them? Are there people in your life that you care a little too much about their opinion than you really should?

One of the most common fears we face on a regular basis is the "fear of man." Sometimes, we're afraid of what people might say about us, think about us, or do to us. I have also learned that those who try their best to convince me that this isn't something they struggle with, are also wrestling with this kind of battle (often on a deeper level than they're willing to admit).

Truthfully, it isn't hard to see why people become fearful of other people. In this world, who has hurt you the most... rabid dogs, great white sharks, poisonous snakes, or other people? We all have the same answer to that question. Other people may have slandered us, caused us physical or emotional pain, and may have intentionally conveyed a stand-off attitude toward us that keeps us at a distance.

Because of what we've experienced in the past, it's reasonable to be concerned about what people might have the potential to do to us in the future. That's certainly something the early church that Peter wrote his letters to would have been wrestling with as they experienced persecution, suffering, and disdain in their culture. But becoming overly fearful of other people isn't Christ's desire for His church.

So, if we've been wrestling with the fear of other people, what kind of counsel do we find in God's word to help us overcome that struggle?

What does spiritual maturity really look like?

What does spiritual maturity really look like?

We have been designed by God to grow mature. Just a quick glance around creation illustrates that. We see that in His design for humanity. We see that in His design for plant life. We see that in His design for animals. In the natural realm, the Lord has designed us to progress from infancy to maturity.

In the spiritual sense, this is also true. When we first come to Christ, we operate like infants. Everything is new to us. We begin the process of learning the Scriptures. We practice the process of walking by faith in Christ. We are strengthened by Him in the midst of trials and adversity. And by His grace, we have the privilege to grow spiritually mature.

One of the shocking realities that occurred to me when I was a new believer was the fact that many professing Christians don't place a high value on their spiritual maturity. It isn't one of their major priorities, nor is it a priority they attempt to model to their children. As a result, it feels like something is missing. Young believers aren't benefiting from the example of older believers and older believers aren't experiencing the joy of helping younger believers learn how to walk with Christ.

Thankfully, God's word gives us a picture of what spiritual maturity really looks like. Whether you feel like you've been blessed with great examples in your life to copy or not, we can all look to this section of 1 Peter 3 to find the picture and the pattern we're being invited to adopt as our own.

How should we honor and respect our spouse?

How should we honor and respect our spouse?

Few things in this world are as joyful, dangerous, unpredictable, and emotionally challenging as getting married. Biblically speaking, marriage isn't a contract, it's a covenant. It's a permanent pledge before God. When you make the choice to marry someone, you take the risk to entrust many aspects of your well-being to their care or provision. You also make the pledge to love them unconditionally and care for them in every high and low moment that comes your way over the course of your life, for decades and decades.

Marriage isn't easy, but few things of lasting value ever are.  What does Scripture tell us about how God has called us to honor and respect our spouses?

Do I have the heart of a servant?

Do I have the heart of a servant?

There are certain aspects of the Christian faith that are quite different from some of the more common cultural expectations. One of the big differences is the attitude or the heart that we're encouraged in Scripture to convey. Some aspects of our culture seem to value dominance and control, but God's word encourages us to value cultivating the heart of a servant.

Servanthood is easier to value in theory than it is in practice. Many times I have heard it said that, "Servanthood sounds great, right up to the point when someone actually treats you like a servant." I know for me, this has been a lesson that the Lord has chosen to drive home to my heart quite a few times. When I was directing the Pocono Mountain Bible Conference, this was a lesson I had to re-learn every week when I took off my director's hat and helped wash dishes for retreats and mop cabins after they were used.

Is this a lesson you can sense the Lord trying to teach you as well? What has He been teaching you about the value of servanthood? Has Christ given you the heart of a servant? If so, how is a servant called to live, even in the midst of a world that doesn't always esteem servanthood?

Who have I been built to be?

Who have I been built to be?

As a Dad, it has been fascinating to me to watch my children grow up. I probably annoy them a little because I tend to take a lot of pictures, but it amazes me to watch how quickly they have changed and how drastically different they seem when I look at pictures or videos I took just a few short years ago. They're growing bigger, stronger, and more mature.

Regardless of our age, every one of us is a work in progress. As God's children, there are things that the Lord has already done for us, as well as things that He continues to do for us. He is building us and strengthening us. He is facilitating maturity in our lives. What do you suppose He wants His finished product to look like? Who is the Lord building us to be?

Draw a line with your past

Draw a line with your past

Everyone has a past. Each of us can recall aspects of our life experiences that have taught us lessons, brought us pain, or caused us to feel embarrassed. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you were given the opportunity to go back in time and live your life over?

The good news is that in Christ, we have been made a new creation and a line has been drawn with our past. Through Him, we aren't who we used to be. We have been granted a new name and an identity that isn't anchored in our mistakes, failures, embarrassments, or old nature. Still, sometimes we struggle with issues from our past that resurface again in our present. What kind of line is Christ inviting us to draw with our past? How is the Holy Spirit empowering us to live, no longer for ourselves, but for Christ in the present?