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Friday, July 18, 2014

My battle with Toxicodendron radicans.

35 years on this earth and I somehow managed to avoid Toxicodendron radican … otherwise known as Poison Ivy.

A few weeks ago, our church had a workday where we gathered on a Saturday to do manly-chores and spruce up the place. I chose the “sawing-stuff down” task along with a few friends and to work we went.

I felt good afterward; like I just did some blue-collar, sweating-in the-sun-stuff. When I got home I bragged to my wife about all the hard work that was done, she ignored me, and then I took a nice cool shower and relaxed!

It was a few days later that I discovered a “mosquito bite” on my right forearm. I gently scratched it and then ignored it. The next day I complained to my wife that mosquitoes must love me because I have even more bites than the day before … after almost taking a hatchet to my arm I decided to take a look at it in the mirror. There, I stood motionless as I came to the realization that those where not mosquito bites at all, rather I had contracted Poison Ivy.



Poison Ivy, I have discovered, is no walk in the park. See, the thing with Poison Ivy is that the MORE you scratch it, the MORE it spreads. It seems as if Poison Ivy WANTS to spread. Isn’t that a nice little trick? That is like feeling hungry and then eating only to feel even more hungry. I have to tell you, this reminds me very much of the Biblical concept of sin. Sin entices you; it leaches on to you when meddled with, and finds a way to stick around. And, the more time you give it, the more it spreads. Also, Poison Ivy does not discriminate. It does not matter how rich or poor you are, it does not care if you are black or white and it is not concerned if you are a guy or a gal. Another parallel can be drawn here as sin is no respecter of persons. Sin has an open door policy and the applications are always enticing.

Let’s venture back to the Poison Ivy for a moment.
Not only does this green demon spread on your skin, it easily jumps to those around you. Got it? Let’s go back to the sin thing again. Similarly, sin not only has a destructive effect on your life, it also ruins the lives of those around you. That is the thing with sin. It not only destroys you, it destroys those around you. I remember listening to a wife of an addict complaining that she cannot find her keys. My first thought was that her husband had stolen them. Nope. Every day she had to find a new hiding place for her keys to prevent her husband from finding them in the first place. Sin wrecked his life, but it was not done yet, it now was wrecking hers.

The book of James paints a vivid picture of this process, Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
Did you see it? L.S.D.
-Lust.
--Sin.
---Death.

It is all there in a poison formula. Sin entices you. Sin overtakes you. Sin spreads. Sin produces ugly results.

Perhaps we can draw one last parallel here? Getting rid of my Poison Ivy has been a painstaking process. There were lotions, scrubs, wraps, and lots of weird glances. It even caused me to form some new habits, including wearing long sleeves the next time I am working in a wooded area. A perpetual sinful lifestyle has found its way in your life because of choices you have made (and continue to make), the patterns you have developed and the people you surround yourself with. Think deeply about those 3:
The choices you make (and continue to make). 
Now ask: How can I avoid making bad decisions?
The patterns you have developed. 
Now ask: How can I create positive new patterns in my life?
The people you surround yourself with. Now ask: How can I surround myself with healthy individuals?
Reflecting on those questions with some wise folk is a good step in getting you out of the weeds.

I guess there is a silver lining in everything as Toxicodendron radicans taught me so many lessons about sin. Hopefully, I am wise enough to avoid BOTH in the future. 


Thursday, July 10, 2014

How a secure man leads

I know John Adams felt it after succeeding George Washington.

I know Steve Young felt it after filling in for Joe Montana.

And I know Joshua felt it after replacing Moses.




They all felt FEAR.


Following a legendary leader is a daunting task.  You have both inner doubt and outer unrealistic expectations.  You might think to yourself that you can never live up to the character, capacity or competency of the person you are now stepping in the shoes of. You're probably also aware of the crowds expectations -or lack there of-  concerning your leadership.


Joshua, the son of Nun was the person that followed the great Israelite leader Moses.


In Deuteronomy chapter 1 verse 38 we read: "Joshua the son of Nun, who stands before you, he shall enter there; encourage him, for he shall cause Israel to inherit it" (it referring to the land).


What stood out to me was how intentional Moses was with embracing his successor. Did you notice the two words right in the middle of the passage, "encourage him"?  Moses knew that Joshua would be following in some huge footsteps and that he would probably face self-doubt and also a rough crowd.


I think one lesson that we can learn from this passage is when there is someone young/new in a position maybe you can seek to encourage him or her like Moses is suggesting here.  I recall a classmate saying once, "you don't know what you don't know ."  It took me a second to get what he was saying, but I finally figured it out ... After that, my mind started to change toward those that were new to a position. I started asking myself, "how did I come to know the things that I know now?" or "learn the things that I have learned?"  In most cases it was because someone came alongside of me and helped teach me. They pointed me in the right direction and were a guide in my life. Similarly, it seems as if Moses is trying to get the people to positively surround Joshua as he leads them.


Another important lesson drawn from the scripture is how secure Moses was.  Often times, as the seasoned leader goes and the younger leader replaces him/her there is a sabotaging affect.  This is not the case with Moses however.  Notice again how he is the initiator of the encouragement.  He believes in Joshua and he knows the difficult task of leading the people of Isreal to the Promised Land.  Dr. Martin Luther King understood this concept as he once said, "The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood."  Moses was this kind of man. 





1) A secure leader encourages.

2) An insecure leader initiates. 

These are 2 really simple, yet powerful principles that if applied would improve all our lives.


A PRAYER: Lord, May I be an encouragement initiator to others, especially to those who have accepted God's calling in their life. Amen.


---Now go do it.


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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Out of the Closet

"Pray, but when you pray, move your feet."

This is one of my favorite proverbs and it has transformed the way I view prayer. The main idea conveyed in the proverb is that we should be men and women of both prayer and action: simultaneously.
It seems to me that too many in the Christian community are either one or the other.  There's the, "I'll be in my prayer closet praying ... till Jesus returns girl." And then there is, "I just served at the soup kitchen-went on a mission trip-healed a lepar-cut the grass at my church guy."


In Skye Jethani's book, "With" there is a telling account of the Rev. Billy Graham. 
In 1982 the today show scheduled an interview with the Rev. Billy Graham. When he arrived at the studio, the producers informed Graham's assistant that there was a room that had been set aside for him to pray before the broadcast.  Graham's assistant thanked the producer, but told him that the room would be unnecessary.  The producer was taken back due to Graham's rejection of the prayer room.  Then, Mr. Graham's assistant informed the producer that, "Mr. Graham started praying when he got up this morning, he prayed while eating breakfast, he prayed on the way over in the car, and he'll probably be praying all the way through the interview."  This, I believe embodies the African proverb perfectly. 

This is also a Biblical concept too.  The Apostle Paul instructs believers to, "pray without ceasing" which basically means that we are to commune with God throughout the course of our day. Hear this clearly, I am not discounting prayer in secret, (there is a time for this) rather I am calling you out of your closet into a state of action. The great American, Frederick Douglass said, "God never answered a single prayer of mine until I started praying with my legs." 


Reflect:
Do you need to close the door of your prayer closet, get out there and put your faith to work?  
Or
Do you need to add a vertical dimension to your actions by communing with God in the midst of your day?

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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Welcome to Hell.

A Short Story ...

I once heard a story about the difference between Heaven and Hell.

A man dies; he’s met in a kind of divine foyer by an angel and taken to a huge room with a long table, covered with plates and bowls heaped with delicious food. There are people sitting all along both sides of the table, but they look angry, frustrated — and famished. Suddenly the man notices that none of the people have elbow joints.
They’re all desperately trying to feed themselves, and they can’t reach their mouths.
The angel says, “This is Hell.”





Then the man is whisked by the angel to another room that looks exactly the same –long table heaped with food; people down both sides, no elbow joints ... but these people look happy and well-nourished.
“This is Heaven,” the angel says.
Then the man looks closer, and sees that all the people are feeding each other across the table.

There are perhaps several points embedded in the story, but one that stands out to me is that much of life is about perspective. It has been said that life is not about the cards that you are dealt; rather it is how you play the cards that you have been dealt. God has placed you here on earth for a reason. And if you are reading this post, then you can assume that you still have one. I believe the best way to find that purpose is by helping others. 

While reading, "Savior or Servant?" (Putting Government in its place) I came upon this quote from the book of Acts:
"No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had" (4:32). The author goes on to explain this verse by saying the following: "In this case, an extra ordinary enthusiastic community of Christians cared more for eternal values then for their own material assets."  I John 3: 16-17 teaches, "But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth."
I admit that this is all very challenging so maybe something you can do is give someone a little glimpse of heaven right here on earth.  My mentor told me that the best way to look like Jesus is by serving others. So go ahead and welcome people to heaven. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"She left her water pot"

John chapter 4 tells us of an interesting meeting between 2 unlikely people: 
A weary Jesus & a thirsty Samaritan woman.
After their exchange, she leaves the thing that she came for behind; her water pot. 
Why?

It is because she found something better. She drank from Living Waters that sunny afternoon. Her soul was now quenched instead of just her thirst. There was an eternal fulfillment, rather than just a temporary one.

Ironically, this past Sunday I preached on Psalm 128. 
In the Psalm, it teaches about something I call, "simply satisfied." 

"How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways.
When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands,
You will be happy and it will be well with you."


Notice how a person blessed by God enjoys the fruit of their labor and finds happiness?  The picture painted by the Psalmist is that there is a certain contentment within the person that is blessed by God.  When a person finds their gravitational pull from their Creator it flows into their everyday life. They become simply satisfied with the most meaningful things in life: family, friendship,  and making a positive contribution to their world. 

Now, have you noticed that virtually everyone in our current country is totally discontent?  Everything gets old in a snap, and it seems as if we live in a throwaway world.  "I need the new GREEN I PHONE! ... My old one stinks!" 




It seems as if nobody is content with what they have, and everyone feels inadequate. I am afraid we have taken the worlds bate and the hook of coveting our neighbors goods is sunk deep into our cheeks. 


The human heart was designed by God, so who better to know how to fulfill it?  Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that even though she thinks she is desperate for a temporary drink of water, she in fact is really searching for something that will satisfy her deepest longings ... And on that marvelous day, He, the solution to her longings was standing right in front of her. 

"Jesus said under her, I that speak unto thee am He."