Call of Duty for Christ Followers

Today: Proverbs 20 

If you are a follower of Christ, war is not an option. You have a real enemy. You have a battle to fight. If you are not fighting now, it’s either because: (a) the enemy does not see you as a threat to him, (b) the battle is waging, but you are either unaware of it (most of us have not been very well educated about or equipped for this war) or you are simply pretending it’s not happening (which is perhaps the most dangerous position of all), or (c) the enemy is just waiting for an opportune time to strike.

Plans succeed through good counsel; don’t go to war without the advice of others (Proverbs 20:18, NLT).

On the surface, this verse is about a king’s wisdom to seek godly advice, especially in going into a literal, physical battle, where the stakes are literally life and death. It seems political leaders around the world could learn from this simple proverb!

But the same wisdom applies for us who follow Christ. As Christ-followers we have entered a spiritual battle. Jesus used this wisdom of seeking advice from others before going to war as a vivid illustration of “counting the cost” to follow him (Luke 14:31-33). If you are going to follow him, be prepared for a war!

Over the last couple years, my family and I have been thrown into a full-scale battle. The enemy’s attacks are unmistaken and ferocious. I recognized the attacks and put on the armor of God, but, like too many Christians, I was not sure exactly how to wage this war. But I knew the stakes were very high, so I asked. First, I prayed (and still am praying), asking God not only for his strength and protection, but also for his wisdom to do this battle the right way. Second, I called and met with a number of wise Christian friends and counselors, who gave me the advice I needed to make difficult and strategic decisions along the way. I also knew these allies were and are praying constantly for me and my family. This battle is far from over, but I can see that God is clearly in control. The defeated enemy will not win me or my family over. The battle is the Lord’s, but he has put me in to fight with his strength.

If you are a Christ follower, you, too, have a battle with the enemy to fight. When you enter the battle for your life or your family, don’t fear. But don’t go it alone, either. Find your platoon of comrades to be by your side.

Where is the enemy attacking you or your family right now?
Who is in your platoon? Who is giving you godly advice?
Your friends are also fighting battles with the enemy. How can you stand by their sides?

Larry the Cable Guy, Nike, Frank Sinatra, Burger King, and How We Think

Today: Proverbs 19 

 
“Get ‘er done!” – Larry the Cable Guy
“Just do it.” – Nike advertising slogan
“I did it my way.” – Frank Sinatra
“Have it your way.” – Burger King 
 
These are the ways our culture teaches us to live. They say … 
    You da man! 
    You are the master of your own destiny. 
    Only you have the capacity of change yourself. 
 
This way of thinking makes you the transcedndent one in you life. It makes you the Lord and Savior of your own life. It makes you an idol, a false god that you put before the real God. 
 
God’s Word, especially in the book of Proverbs, teaches us a different way — God’s way — to live our lives:

You can make many plans, but the LORD’s purpose will prevail (Proverbs 19:21, NLT).

God is in control; only he is sovereign; only he is Lord. He keeps teaching me that He is God, and I am not!
 
If you are a Christ-follower, don’t forget this vital principle: “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). So, “don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2, NLT). 
 
The book of Proverbs is all about helping us change the way we think. Just look at the various proverbs that compare the way a fool thinks and acts to the way a wise person thinks and acts. This is why I like reading the book of Proverbs every so often: it fills my mind with God’s principles for how to think. 
 
In comparison, consider these wise ways of thinking about life from a few of the wisest people who ever lived:
  • “Get ‘er done”? … “The Son . . . can do only what he sees his Father doing” – Jesus (John 5:19).
  • “Just do it”? … “I do nothing without consulting the Father” – Jesus (John 5:30).
  • “I did it my way”? … “I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not done evil by turning from my God” – David (Psalm 18:21).
  • “Have it your way”? … “Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and revering him” – Moses (Deuteronomy 8:6).
 
How do you find yourself thinking?
Do you usually think and act like your life is your own?
How can God transform you by changing the way you think?
 

Do You Love Your Dross?

Today: Proverbs 17

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of God’s kitchen! He’s cooking up something good, but it’s going to get really hot!

Fire tests the purity of silver and gold, but the Lord tests the heart (Proverbs 17:3, New Living Translation).

What about you and me will be consumed by the refining fire and burned away? What will come out of the fire and made more pure?

The technical term for the stuff that gets burned off the silver or gold or us is “dross.” It means, “a waste product taken off molten metal during smelting” (Dictionary.com). The problem is, we really like our dross. God sees it as impurity but we see it as a part of who we are. When God burns it off of us, we must let it go, mourn its loss, and then move on with the new purer self into which he is refining us.

Peter says exactly why and how God uses these tests:

So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while. These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world (1 Peter 1:6-7, NLT).

What is the higher purpose of this fiery trial? What dross in my life is it burning away? How can I be truly glad even in the midst of the refining fire?

Are You Making Plans and Setting Goals? Should You?

Today: Proverbs 16

Right now, many small groups are making plans for the fall season. So are families as their kids are going back to school. One of the vital signs of a healthy small group is that it proactively sets goals and makes plans.

But is it right to make your own plans and set your own goals? 

There are some in Christian leadership circles who say that believers have no right to make our own plans or set our own goals. We should simply wait and go where God tells us to go and do what he tells us to do.
While there is some truth in this, the Bible, especially in Proverbs, provides a different way of looking at this.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed (Proverbs 16:3).

In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps (Proverbs 16:9).  

Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21).  

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men (Colossians 3:23).

I notice a few things in these verses:

  1. I notice the words “you” or “a man’s.” God gives us the responsibility and freedom to make our own choices. We have free will.
  2. I notice the word “whatever.” I believe that on rare occasions God does tell us one specific thing we need to do. But much more often, he allows us to make the choice, but to do whatever it is for him.
  3. It seems to me that God is not against us making plans and setting goals. The real question is whose plans and goals? God does not limit our freedom, but he desires for us to make decisions that ultimately put his kingdom first and honor him.

What do you think about making plans and setting goals for yourself, your small group, your family, or your organization?

How can you do so in a way that puts God first and honors him?

What goals and plans are you making for this year?

Back to School … Attitudes and Choices

Today: Proverbs 15

Summer break is over for my three younger kids. This year, our youngest, Anna, starts high school. She is excited and anxious (worried she’ll get lost in the hallways). Sarah is a junior this year, and Dru is a senior. Both are focused on “what’s next” after they graduate: colleges and careers.

I woke up early and before waking them up, I read Proverbs 15. I immediately knew what today’s verse of the day would be:

The wise person makes learning a joy; fools spout only foolishness (Proverbs 15:2, NLT).

As we sat together at the kitchen table and they ate chocolate chip muffins and drank their Starbucks frappuccinos (special treat for the first day of school), I shared this verse with them and encouraged them to think about it today.

My hope is that learning will be a joy for each of our kids this year! But this verse is not based on my hope. It’s based on their attitudes and choices. “The wise person makes learning a joy.” This will be a choice each of them will make each day. They can choose to say: “I hate school. I don’t like my algebra teacher. I don’t understand chemistry (Oops, that’s what I said in high school!). I’m bad in math. I’m going to get lost in the hallways……” Or they can choose to say: “My algebra teacher has some personality flaws, but I’ll have grace on her and focus on completing my assignments. Chemistry isn’t easy, but I’ll find a way to get this! I’ll find my way through the halls and there are plenty of people to help me if I need them.” You get what I mean.

This is not just about our kids, of course. As adults, our attitudes will often determine our outcomes. Maybe we need to go “back to school” to learn how to make better choices! Maybe we need to have other people, wise counselors, in our lives to show us the way and encourage us. Who are those people? How will I choose to respond to my challenges today?

What challenges are you facing today? How will you choose to respond? Do you need any attitude adjustments? Who will you talk to about this?

Doctrinal Impurity in Small Groups

Today: Proverbs 14

As a “small groups guy,” people often try to suck me into a debate about doctrinal impurity that may come about in a small group discussion. In a recent discussion on a Facebook forum, one leader said, “Without the right leadership you end up with far too much ‘I think’ or ‘what this means to me’ and not enough solid truth.”

The guy is right; the “right leadership” is vitally important. But what is meant by “right leadership”? Others on the forum pointed to a need for high control by the church over what is taught in groups and by whom. Some believe that to be a small group leader you must first become a Bible expert so that you don’t unintentionally teach doctrinal error. And yet, doctrinal error has been taught by some of the most Bible-literate people in the world, like the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, for instance.  Others believe that church leaders must select what curriculum every group will use and figuratively look over leaders’ shoulders in an attempt to guard what is taught. This high-control form of leadership leads to low trust in the leaders who have been called to shepherd the flocks entrusted to their care.

As I think about this issue, I have a few questions that I think are worth considering:

  • Who is the “right leader” for a small group? What skills, knowledge, personality traits, and heart attitudes does this person need?
  • How can church leaders equip and empower leaders to lead, and then entrust them to lead? How does good coaching help to equip, empower, and entrust?
  • Is the Bible to be read more for head knowledge or for wisdom and understanding? Do these two necessarily go together or can the latter be found without a comprehensive amount of the former?
  • Do the fears that people have about small groups fostering doctrinal impurity also apply to individuals reading the Bible themselves? (The same issue has been applied to individuals as to groups; some–entire religious bodies, in fact–have said that a person should not read the Bible without a religious expert in the room so that this expert can interpret what the Scriptures mean.)
  • What is the role of the Holy Spirit in groups and for individuals? (Jesus called the Holy Spirit the “Counselor” and the “Spirit of truth” [John 14:16-17] who would “teach you all things” [v. 26] and “guide you into all truth” [16:13].)
  • Have we come to a point where we trust Bible scholars more than the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our groups?

I am not against gaining knowledge of the Scriptures. If you are a leader, you should know how to correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). But remember that knowledge is not your aim, love is (1 Corinthians 8:1; 13:2). Knowledge is a means to the end of getting understanding. As I am reading through Proverbs, it’s obvious that what God wants for us is wisdom and understanding:

Wisdom is enshrined in an understanding heart; wisdom is not found among fools (Proverbs 14:33, NLT).

 I believe God gave us his Word as a guidebook for how to live life the best way — his way — not merely as a book of doctrine (although it does contain the right doctrine). When we sit to read God’s Word, we come into a time of communion with God where we can hear from him, where we can get a glimpse into his heart and how he cares for us and how he wants us to live. As we read God’s Word, we allow his Spirit to work within us to show us things we would not see, to change us in ways we could not otherwise be changed, to give us wisdom for life that we would not otherwise have, to empower us with his love so that we may overflow into the lives of others around us.

As I begin reading God’s Word each day, I like to pray something like this: God, here I am, I’m listening. Through your Holy Spirit, guide me into your truth today. Show me what you want me to see today. Use your Word to transform me — to mold me into what you want me to be.

If you lead a small group, you can start out your group meetings in a similar way. Jesus is present with you when you meet in his name (Matthew 18:20). His Spirit will guide you if you let him.

Look at the bulleted questions above. How would you answer those?

Save

Waiting for God to Answer

Today: Proverbs 13

I sometimes act like a whiny adolescent when I ask my Father for something. This is what I want, and I want it now! I may not pray those words, but God knows all about my attitude. Why aren’;t you answering my prayer, Lord?  I ask.  I mean, I know this is inside your will. I know that as a loving Father, you want what’s best for me, and I know this is best for me. I know you will receive all the glory if I get this. I know. I know.  See the problem here? Sometimes we pray as if we know more or better than the sovereign God who created the universe!

While reading Proverbs 13 today, I came across verse 12:

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when dreams come true, there is life and joy. (New Living Translation).

Delayed or deferred gratification makes the heart feel sick for a while, sometimes even a long while, but we also know that perseverance through times of waiting develops maturity, wisdom, character, and hope in us (James 1:2-4; Romans 5:3-5). This takes trust.

Trusting God means trusting in his timing.
Trusting God means believing God is working for good in our lives.
Trusting God means being certain that God always keeps his promises.

The apostle Paul said that “when the right time came, God sent his Son” (Galatians 4:4, NLT). God knows what he is doing! He could have sent his Son hundreds of years earlier, but that would not have been the right time. He could have waited and sent his Son years later, but that would not have been the right time either. God had a plan for sending his gift of salvation, and he still does.

Whatever you are waiting on God for right now, God knows the right time to send his answer (and his answer may or may not be exactly what you are asking for!).

What are you waiting on God for today? How will you trust him with the timing?

WANTED: Wise Leadership! Proverbs 11

Today: Proverbs 11 

Without wise leadership, a nation falls; with many counselors, there is safety (Proverbs 11:14, NLT). 

As we head toward Election Day in the United States, this proverb has never been more vital! Both sides would argue that they are wise leaders and their opponent is not. Their policies are wise and the other candidate’s are unwise. This proverb has wider implications for us however.

Without wise leadership a ____ falls.

You can substitute just about anything for nation–family, church, small group, business, self–and it’s true. Wise leadership is vital.

The first four vital signs of a healthy group (from my book Small Group Vital Signs) are about wise leadership: (1) a healthy group understands that Christ is the real leader, (2) a healthy group has a healthy, growing, overflowing human leader, (3) a healthy group shares leadership with a core team, and (4) a healthy group is proactive; they have goals and plans. The last three of the seven vital signs only happen because the group has wise leadership!

Note that wise leadership is not a solo endeavor. “With many counselors there is safety.” Proverbs repeats this principle many times in different ways. Never lead alone. Never make a major decision without seeking the guidance of many wise, godly counselors. Never try to get through a crisis without the encouragement of good friends. Never try to break out of bondage without the accountability of some people you trust. Never lead a group or anything else by yourself.

What would you put in the blank for your life right now? Without wise leadership, what will fail? Do you need to step up and provide wise leadership?

Dumb Criminals and the Hope of the Godly: It’s All in the Mind: Proverbs 10

Today: Proverbs 10

A man was released from jail at 12:01 a.m. At 12:09 a.m. he was spotted climbing over a chain link fence back onto the jail grounds, and attempting to pass a cigarette to an inmate through a steel grate covering a window. At 12:10 a.m. the man was back in custody, charged with illegal entry into a prison facility and disorderly conduct. True story.

I love dumb criminal stories. They prove the saying, “A person reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7) to be true.

Out of Proverbs 10, verse 24 stood out to me this morning:

“The fears of the wicked will all come true; so will the hopes of the godly” (Proverbs 10:24, NLT).

This proverb shows that a person’s attitude, the way he thinks about things, affects what he does and how his life goes. The King James Version of Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” Our actions begin with what is inside of us. What we do starts with how we think. Our emotions get ahold of the way we think and they can solidify those thoughts within us until we act upon them.


Some people live with a lot of anxiety, which probably stems from guilt for the way they are living or even just the way they are thinking. Because their hope is not in the Lord, because they do not trust him to provide, they worry, and because they worry and cannot trust him, they steal and cheat and lie and slander and more to try to take care of themselves. Eventually their anxieties come true and they must deal with the consequences.

But what about the hopes of the godly? Do they always come true? I can tell you that it does not always seem that way, not at first anyway. My own hopes may not immediately come true, but I know they eventually will. The godly do not put their hope in this world, because they know this world is not their real home. Yet, sometimes God still gives the godly the things they hope for in this wolrd when they keep their eyes and hopes fixed on what God wants, not what they want.
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires”
Psalm 37:4, NLT). 

Taking delight in the Lord is a way of thinking about life. It’s an attitude that comes as you grow in your relationship with God. How do you get to this way of thinking and living? The apostle Paul told us exactly how: “Give your bodies to God. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will accept. . . . Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will know what God wants you to do, and you will know how good and pleasing and perfect his will really is” Romans 12:1-2, NLT, my emphasis).

What do you think about your thoughts and attitudes affecting who you are and what you do?

Please Rebuke Me! Day 9 of Proverbs

Today: Proverbs 9 

Wise people love being rebuked. In fact, Proverbs 9 tells us, a wise person will love you all the more because you have helped him see something in himself that perhaps he did not see, and he can change it. I want people to give me feedback, criticism, and rebuke because it makes me wiser.

Mockers and fools, however, hate you if you rebuke them; they get defensive and may even counter-attack you. So what can you do to help the mocker or fool? Pray for  him. Pray God will bring her to the place where she will seek wisdom.

Here’s the passage I’m referring to:

Anyone who rebukes a mocker will get a smart retort. Anyone who rebukes the wicked will get hurt. So don’t bother rebuking mockers; they will only hate you. But the wise, when rebuked, will love you all the more. Teach the wise, and they will be wiser. Teach the righteous, and they will learn more (Proverbs 9:7-9, NLT).

Now, this raises a question in regards to what Jesus taught in Matthew 18:15-17, where he provided guidelines for dealing with someone who sins against you. We use Jesus’ guidelines all the time in small groups and in the church at large. But what if the person who has sinned against you is a fool? Do you go to him and show him his fault, and if he doesn’t listen, take someone else along, and if he still won’t hear you, take it to the church?

Perhaps Jesus’ first words in this passage are helpful: “If a brother sins against you.” This is a fellow Christ-follower in your community. But does that mean he or she is wise? Maybe not. I think Proverbs is cautioning you about how to approach a person–in your group, in your church, in your family–who does not have the emotional maturity and wisdom to receive your rebuke well. You’ll likely get a smart retort and you won’t win your brother or sister over. Instead, pray for the person. Pray that the Holy Spirit convicts him or her to what is right. Keep loving the person regardless (See Matthew 5:44).

God brings wisdom to those who seek him and are in community with others.

The other side of this is how you receive a rebuke. If you are wise, you will welcome constructive criticism. You want to grow and gain more wisdom, so you listen and then work on the issue. Many of us are blind to areas in our life that need to become better … but others see them! So welcome a rebuke from a friend. Thank him for it. And then ask for some accountability to deal with the problem.

 I’d love to hear what you think on this one. How is it best to deal with a fool who is in the wrong?