3 Ways to Deal with Your Stressors Today: Encouragement Letter

My wife, Heidi, has struggled with several stressors in her life this week. So, this morning I sent her a quick email of encouragement. Later I realized that many others may also need encouragement today. Hope this helps:

Take time to recognize Jesus’ presence with you; he’ll be with you through every single thing you do today. He is present with you now. He gives you your unique purpose in this world. He gives you all the power you need for today.

Let go of anxiety. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Remember, you don’t have to depend on your own understanding, knowledge, skills, etc. Instead, trust the Lord with all your heart. “Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take.”

Have a GREAT day!

Kim Davis: What Would Jesus Do?

Like you, I’m reading and listening to people who don’t understand why a Rowan County, Kentucky, clerk is refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on her religious beliefs. This is a clash of worldviews. Some see their religious liberties being violated. Some see their rights, as upheld by the Supreme Court, being violated. Some see this as religious intolerance and evil. Others see it as intolerance of religious beliefs and long-held values.

My brother-in-law (who describes himself as “anti-religious” and may be surprised that I describe myself the same way) recently asked some questions on a Facebook post that I have considered seriously and am trying to use good reasoning and biblical insight to answer, at least for myself. Before I get to those questions, I want to encourage my Christian friends to do the same. We absolutely must listen to those who are asking questions about what we believe and why. We must try to respond with both love and truth. We must be humble and caring in our communications. I see a lack of that from some of my fellow Christians today. To my non-Christian friends and family members, I’m sorry for all the unkind rhetoric that’s out there. I don’t believe it represents the hearts of true Christ followers. Please try to differentiate between the “religious” people and real followers of Jesus.

The Initial Questions

One of the questions my brother-in-law asked was this: “Does she issue marriage licenses to religions that she doesn’t agree with such as muslims and jews? Does she not sign off on divorce papers?” I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I do think the questions are legitimate. Where do government employees draw the line in regard to where their biblically based beliefs conflict with the nation’s laws and the contemporary culture? I don’t have answers for those questions, but I also don’t believe it is our primary role as Christians to hold rallies and constantly fight against our governing authorities. We can transform society through the power of God by helping people know him and believe in Jesus. Christians, please read Matthew 28:16-20 again. That’s our mission.

The BIG Question
My brother-in-law asked another great question in his post that I think is the main issue: “Is this what Jesus would support?”
Let’s tackle that one from the Bible and with sound thinking.
I’ve seen social media posts recently quoting Peter and the other apostles in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” That sounds like a good reason for the county clerk to refuse to issue marriage licenses, doesn’t it? But that’s what we call proof texting, that is, finding a Scripture verse to prove our point of view and then twisting it or taking it out of context. But as always we must use good biblical interpretation. Peter and the other apostles were not responding to a government edict here. They weren’t refusing to do what the Romans were telling them to do. The group they were in conflict with were the religious leaders, specifically the Sanhedrin and the high priest. So this biblical instance would be more akin to a Christian today being told by a head religious leader such as an elder or the Pope to refrain from preaching about Jesus. That’s not at all the case for Kim Davis.
So let me get back to the main question: Is this what Jesus would support? In other words, what would Jesus tell Clerk Davis to do? I don’t want to guess on this. I’d like to go to the source and see what Jesus actually did in situations like this.
Two Examples from the Life of Jesus
I can think of three times when Jesus dealt with people who worked for the government: Levi (Matthew), Zacchaeus, and the Roman centurion. Jesus treated all three men with great love and respect. I’ll look at the first two of them in this post. Both Levi and Zacchaeus were tax collectors who worked for the Romans to collect taxes from their fellow Jews who lived in Roman territory. Let’s look first at Levi and what we can learn from his situation to answer this question.
Jesus saw Levi sitting at his tax booth and simply said, “Follow me!” The tax collector responded immediately: “Levi got up, left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:28). The next thing we read is that Levi threw a party and invited Jesus, all the disciples, his tax-collector friends, and other “sinners.” They all were eating a banquet meal together. Jesus was building relationships with them. I imagine him laughing with them and telling stories . . . with “sinners.” The fact is Jesus was the only non-sinner in the place. I don’t see judgment here. But I see lots of grace. This was Jesus’ way. Just then the religious leaders showed up to spoil the party. They just couldn’t understand why Jesus, a rabbi, was hanging out with these people. Jesus explained that this was why he came to earth: to love and to call and to reach out to those who need him the most.
Seems to me like this scene is being played out today. But what about the issue of marrying same-sex people? This wasn’t the issue for Levi, of course; his issue was extorting money from his fellow Jews for his own gain. Nothing is mentioned in this passage about what Jesus told Levi about how he should conduct his business. All we know is Levi left his tax booth behind to follow Jesus. Jesus changes us from the inside-out when we decide to follow him.
Perhaps the other taxman, Zacchaeus, can help us out here (see Luke 19:1-9). He was not only a tax collector, but the chief tax collector in the region of Jericho and a very wealthy man. For whatever reason, he wanted to see Jesus, and more importantly, Jesus saw him, and invited himself to Zacchaeus’s house for dinner. Again, don’t miss the relational aspect here. Zacchaeus decided to become a follower of Jesus too, and during dinner, he stood up to tell Jesus he would make everything right. He’d give half of his possessions to the poor and repay up to four times what he had cheated people of. This passage does not say Zacchaeus stopped being a tax collector. Unlike Matthew, apparently he continued working for the Roman government, carrying out his legal duties, but he did so with integrity as a follower of Jesus.
One Application for Kim: Two Choices
What can we make of these two biblical cases in relation to Kim Davis? Here’s my application. If she can continue to carry out her legal duties as a government employee and Christ follower, she should do so. But she then must do what her job description entails. If not, she can quit the job, because her duties conflict with what she believes is the right thing to do as as Christ follower who believes that marriage is between one man and one woman. I believe those are her only choices.
I think Romans 13:1 applies in this situation: “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities” (see also Titus 3:1 and 1 Peter 2:13-14). If you work for the governing authorities, you are subject to their laws and rules. If you cannot in good conscience carry out those rules, it seems to me that you leave the job, which itself can make a statement about your priorities.
One Vital Question for the Rest of Us who Follow Christ
The big question in all this is, How do Christ followers live in a culture that is increasingly based on beliefs other than the Bible? Christians live with a specific standard for truth: the Scriptures. But much of our culture does not. Truth is relative, not absolute, in the minds of many people. We are living in a society very much like that of the early church, which means our beliefs are no longer the vast majority view. We live as they did as “foreigners and exiles” on earth (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13), looking forward to “a better country—a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16).
While I live in this world, in this culture, I believe my purpose is to live for God and to allow him to make an impact through my life. As a follower of Christ, who humbly modeled for us how to live (read Philippians 2:1-11), I want to extend as much grace to others that I can. I want to speak God’s truth in love.
My prayer is that God can change each of us, from the inside out, to reflect his love for the world. He lovingly wants what is best for humankind; and I believe that’s why he has provided his truth through the Word. People don’t need the law; they don’t need for us to correct them. They need God’s unconditional love, which transforms lives.


Is Your Small Group (or Church) Ready to Go Underground?
Christians and Religious Knowledge

The Brazil Cell-Church Conference: What I Learned … #2: Community Is Not All It Should Be (even in Brazil)

It’s been a couple weeks since returning from my trip to Brazil, training cell pastors and leaders at two conferences. Yesterday, I shared the first of some of my discoveries from my trip: Community Is a Way of Life in Brazil, and because of that cells fit into that culture.

While I believe that’s true, I also noticed that the Brazilian church, like the church in most places, is still lacking many of the biblical components of true, authentic community. That’s my topic for today:

2. Community Is Not All It Should Be.
I’ll tell the truth. When I was asked to speak to the pastors and leaders in Brazil, I wondered what I had to teach them. I’ve heard so much about the strength of the church and the cells in Brazil. I was told they are the “cell-group Mecca.” One widely known cell-church leader told me the Brazilian Christians “are far ahead of us in experiencing the supernatural presence and power in their cells than US churches experience.” Another cell-church leader told me about a church in Brazil with 10,000 cells.

It’s easy to idealize (even idolize) the churches in other countries. We read about the great things God is doing there, the growth of the churches through groups, the spiritual vitality of the people. But we don’t always hear about the weaknesses. Afterall, they had asked me to come and speak specifically about leader burnout and the vital signs of healthy groups.

While in Manaus, in the northern part of the country, the pastor of the church where the conference was held told me about some of the struggles many of their cells had. These sounded very familiar to me.

Lack of Authenticity
While the Brazilian people naturally share life together, they still seem afraid to share deeply about their inner lives. Like so many people I know, they tend to hide from one another, a situation that’s been around since Adam and Eve after the Fall (Genesis 3:8).

Lack of Confession
This hiding results, of course, in abandoning the New Testament admonition of confessing our sins to one another and praying for one another so that we may be healed (James 5:16). I could tell, even through our language barrier, that this pastor yearned to see his people be able to break free from their sin through authenticity, confession, and prayer. Oh, for more pastors who have this level of compassion for their people!

Lack of Christ-Centeredness
I spoke in my second session about the idea that a healthy group is a Christ-centered community. Even in my remarks, I mentioned that much of this was probably review for them, but after the end of the session in both cities where I spoke, many people thanked me for sharing this vital principle. Like so many groups, many of them had let other priorities rather than Christ take first place in their groups. Satan is tricky. He gets groups focused on otherwise good things that take our attention off of Christ, and the result is we don’t experience his presence and power or carry out his purposes as we should.

Spiritually Struggling Leaders
I sensed the Holy Spirit leading me, over and over, to speak truthfully and personally about the vitality of leaders’ spiritual lives, taking time, regardless of how busy they are, to spend time with God, to get away from the crowds and their groups and to spend time in solitude with the Father. In Aguas de Lindoia, I felt led to share my own story of allowing my ministry to come before my relationship with God and my relationship with my wife, and the terrible toll that took. Many pastors hugged me afterward, some with tears in their eyes and very firm holds on my shoulders, thanking me for sharing. It’s so easy for us as leaders to confuse our priorities–to allow our passion for God to become a consuming zeal for ministry that then takes over our lives. Our call as leaders is to delight ourselves in the Lord, not in our ministry. God overflows through leaders who delight in him. He gives them the desires of their hearts.

Read the rest of the posts in this series HERE

My Valentine’s Message for Women Only

This post is written to women. (If you are a man, you can stop reading now.) It’s Valentine’s Day, after all, so I want to share what’s on my heart today with all the women God has so graciously put in my world.

I’m writing this with the #1 woman in my life, Heidi Mack, in mind, of course. And also, my daughters, Sarah Mack and Anna Mack, and I hope they have already received this message from me, but I am also sending this to every woman God has put in my life over the years….

If God gave you a candy heart today, what words would it bear? 

If God gave you a Valentine’s Day card, what would it say? 

If God gave you roses today, what would he jot down on the note to you? 

Go ahead, imagine each of these messages to you from your Bridegroom – words just for you as his treasured beloved. Or, if it works better for you, imagine the words from your Father, the One who loves you more than any other, the King who is head over heals for his precious princess.

Just imagine his words sent to you today.

I love you more than you can imagine! I lay down my life for you.
I am yours and you are mine!
You are my partner in the work and ministry of reconciling the world back to me.
I love you and am here to daily bear your burdens. Bring them to me.
You can find rest and peace in me. Trust in me. Pour out your heart to me. I am your refuge.
My love and faithfulness for you reaches to the skies!
I am your refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
My love for you is unfailing!

(Men, if you are still reading, don’t forget that these are all examples for how we should be loving the women in our lives!) 

I believe God would tell you today something such as this:

My love for you, my darling, is patient and kind. It is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged (that’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?). It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the TRUTH wins out. My love for you never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. My love for you never, that’s right never, fails.

One more thing. You are beautiful. The Creator of the Universe took his time fashioning you and he purposely created you with and for beauty. My wish for you today is for you to see yourself only as God sees you, to know you are accepted by him without cosmetics or makeovers. When he looks at you he delights in you because he created beauty in you; you are his masterpiece.

And he put those affections for you on your heart. 

Want to Be a Great Leader? Live with Integrity!

Our world is in desperate need for leaders with integrity. 

A healthy leader whom God will use to carry out his mission, bearing lasting fruit, is a person of high integrity. But you already knew that, didn’t you? Yet here’s the thing. Integrity is pretty easy to believe in and talk about; but it’s incredibly hard to live out.

Integrity has been defined as doing the right thing even when no one is looking. But it’s more than that. It’s telling the truth even when the facts might damage your reputation or your career. It’s obeying God even when it doesn’t make sense. It’s loving your spouse even when they hurt you. It’s keeping your promises even if you’d never be caught. It’s turning the channel when your favorite TV show “goes there.” It’s following God’s Word even when it’s inconvenient … or extremely difficult … or even if you’d be persecuted for it.

Integrity is impossible in your own strength. 

To live with integrity, you must first love God with all your heart, strength, and mind. Having integrity means you know God is in control of your world, no matter what the circumstances look like. Integrity and faith are intricately connected. Faith and living with integrity both look beyond the current circumstances of your life to something, Someone, bigger, more powerful, more important.

People of integrity seek God’s kingdom first, knowing he will take care of everything else. Living with integrity means you really do believe and trust in God.

“Joyful are people of integrity, who follow the instructions of the Lord” (Psalm 119:1, NLT). I often don’t see immediate payoffs for keeping my integrity. My integrity costs me something, at least in the short term. But none of these circumstances can take away my joy or the blessings that come from doing the right thing, by following the instructions of the Lord, with God’s power. After all, he is in control.

People of integrity “do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths” (v. 3). We compromise with evil when we stray off his paths, the paths he has cleared, the paths he is walking ahead of us on, the paths he desires for us to walk. His Word is our map for these paths.

The writer of Psalm 119 confessed, “Oh, that my actions would consistently reflect your decrees!” (v. 5). Being a person of integrity does not mean being perfect. It does, however, mean being honest, truthful about yourself, and transparent.

People of integrity are humble people. They confess their sins to God and to people they trust.

How do you know if you are living with integrity? The psalmist provided the answer: Then I will not be ashamed when I compare my life with your commands” (v. 6). How are you doing with this? As you read and meditate on Scripture, do you compare your life with God’s Word?

People of integrity are thankful people. The psalmist said, “As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should!” (v. 7). Thanksgiving is coming up soon. Do you want to be truly thankful to God? Live as you should! In other words, live with integrity each day.

In the final verse in this great section, the psalmist says, I will obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me!”(v. 8). I can relate with that, can’t you? Actually, it should probably say, “I will try to obey your decrees. Please don’t give up on me when I fail!”

Integrity is impossible without God, but it does take intentional, everyday effort on my part. The biggest thing for me that makes integrity possible is spending time with God each day, reading his Word, listening to him, and growing in my relationship with him. I learn what integrity is from his Word, and he gives me the strength I need to live his way.

Do you want to be a leader after God’s own heart? Live with integrity.

When Cupid’s Arrows Bring Pain

Today I am blessed to celebrate Valentine’s Day with my beautiful bride and love of my life, Heidi. Valentine’s Day 2012 was not so happy. I won’t go into details in this public place–not yet anyway–but many of our close friends and family know the past several years have been a struggle for us.

I know we’re not alone. Marriage is a gift from God and, like many gifts, it comes with human heartaches and yes, even suffering. Cupid’s arrows actually do pierce our hearts, bringing both romance and pain. There’s one very good reason for this, of course. Marriage, as good and holy and fulfilling and intimate as it can be, is a partnership between two imperfect people. Wait … imperfect does not feel strong enough here. Let’s try broken, severely messed up, fatally flawed. 

I agree with John and Stasi Eldredge, who say that marriage is a divine conspiracy. God lures two very different people together–both with different backgrounds and ways of relating and approaches to life. “Our mutual brokenness is drawn together like a match and gunpowder.”* God does this so that he can transform us … and, as the Eldredges say, to get us to face our styles of relating and repent of them. Others have said the same thing: marriage is not meant so much to make us happy as it is to make us holy.

A year ago, in the midst of so much uncertainty and pain and heartache, I began meditating every day on Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” I had to ask God to help me understand what it meant to delight in him. At first I prayed this in reverse. I asked God to give me the desires of my heart: restoration of my relationship with my wife … and then, when I got what I wanted, I would delight in God’s provision. God in his patience showed me something far better. When I learned to delight in him regardless of the circumstances, he would give me my heart’s desire, because my desires would finally match up with his desires.

Last Valentine’s Day, I wrote these words in my journal:

I know, Lord, that you are in control. I once again surrender all this to you. I thank you with all my heart and I will be filled with joy because of you. Even in extremely difficult life circumstances, I can have joy in you and because of you. I delight in you! And that does not depend on my circumstances or situation. Today I will sing praises to your name, O Most High!

Today, you may be celebrating Valentine’s Day alone, or perhaps you have a sense of uncertainty or you are in a state of pain and heartache. I don’t want to minimize or moralize your pain today with some sugary sweet Valentine’s Day platitudes. Yes, I am indeed blessed that my marriage has been resurrected. We are working on our relationship every day, reconciling with God’s grace, and being restored. We struggle but we do not struggle alone. Yet I realize that not all situations work out as ours has. I have many good friends who are still feeling the pain of loneliness, the lament of “Why is this happening?” the yearning for renewed hope.

My prayer for anyone who is hurting this Valentine’s Day is that you will find your hope … not primarily in a mate or a job or anything else that is perishable and undependable and broken. My desire for you, and me, and Heidi is to find our joy in a God who never leaves or forsakes us–to delight in him and allow his desires to overwhelm our own desires.

* from Love & War, by John and Stasi Eldredge (Doubleday Religion, 2009).

What Do You Do When Life Sucks?

What do you do when life sucks? What do you do when it seems everyone and everything is against you? What do you do when your marriage isn’t what you want it to be or you are struggling with your kids? What do you do when your pile of bills is way bigger than you can pay? What do you do when you’re trying to lead but things are not going as you expect and hope? What do you do when you feel totally discouraged, hurt, and afraid?

Have you been here lately? Are you here now?

I want to encourage you–and myself–today. God is working, regardless of what you have done or are doing. He is at work, regardless of how you feel or the circumstances you are in. He cares for you and has a plan for your life no matter how long you’ve been asking and waiting.

In Psalm, 69, David tells God about his dire circumstances and opens up about how he is feeling. He said he was exhausted from crying for help (v. 3). Have you been there? I have.

After sharing all this for 12 verses, David says an important word: “But.”

“But,” he says, “I keep right on praying to you, Lord, hoping this time you will show me favor.”

  • When life sucks … keep right on praying.
  • When your circumstances are bad … keep right on praying (see Philippians 4:12-13). 
  • When you feel depressed, hurt, mad, confused, or whatever … keep right on praying.
  • When you’re not hearing any answers … keep right on praying.
  • When you’ve been praying a long, long time … keep right on praying (trusting in God’s, not your own, timetable).
And one more thing: as you keep on praying, keep delighting yourself in the Lord, as well. Worship him. Put him and his kingdom and his righteousness first. Trust him, regardless of how things seem or how you feel. Take a walk outside and delight in God’s creation. Hold a baby and delight in God’s miracles. Read the Bible and delight yourself in God’s Word. Care for a friend and delight in the opportunity to serve. God promises that when you delight yourself in him, he will give you the desires (favor) of your heart … in his timing, for his glory. (As you delight yourself in him, I believe his desires become your desires, and he is glad to to give you those!) 
How will you respond when life sucks? 
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