3 Keys to Following God

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Gospel of Mark. I like his “just the facts” approach to the Gospel story. I had a little laugh recently while reading the following passage:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else–to the nearby villages–so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.”  Mark 1:35-38 (NIV)

Doesn’t it seem odd to you that Jesus left as soon as the crowds began to gather? Typically, most leaders are hoping to draw a big crowd, but Jesus did something quite unusual at that point. When His ratings spiked–He took a hike! When the numbers were high–he said goodbye. When the crowds grew–he bid them adieu.

Doesn’t that strike you as being unusual? Why did Jesus do that? What can we learn from this story? Here are three keys to following God as a true believer.

3 Keys to Following God

1. God’s plan is rarely like our plan. He knows best, so we should trust Him and follow Him. He often leads us to do the unexpected…..the unpredictable…..the unthinkable!

2. We should never allow others to shape us by their expectations. I am a people-pleaser and the opinions of others matter greatly to me. But, I know that I should seek to live for an audience of one. Although we want to be good examples to those around us, ultimately, we should simply try to please God.

3. We should never exchange good for God. Some things are good to do, but they are not the things God has led us to do–they are good, but they are not God. The challenge is to live in such a way that we can discern the difference.

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3 Ways to Respond to a Challenge

Did you know that only one miracle is mentioned in all four Gospels? Do you know which miracle it is? It is the miracle where Jesus fed a large group of people by exponentially multiplying the lunch of a small boy. I have often wondered why this miracle is so important that the Lord included it as many times as He did.

One day in preparing to preach from John’s account, it hit me that Jesus described how three different people responded to His challenging question, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5).

3 Responses to Jesus’ Challenge

1.  The response of Philip. How did Philip respond? He took out his iPhone and fired up his food preparation app and did the math. The story tells us that 5,000 men were present, so the number was probably 10,000+ when the women and children were included. Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii (8 months wages) worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little” (John 6:7). Then notice what Philip did next. He dismissed the challenge immediately. He gave up without trying. And, he didn’t even consider God in the equation.

2. The response of Andrew. Andrew’s reaction was an improvement, but not much of an improvement. He inventoried available resources and said “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” (John 6:9). After that he dismissed the challenge and he seemed to also leave God out of the equation.

3. The response of the little boy. Interestingly, the little boy is almost invisible in the story. We know nothing about him or his family. We don’t even know his name. All we know is that he was willing to share what he had. I don’t believe for a minute that he was the only person there with food. You mean to tell me that no one had a PB & J? A can of Vienna Sausages or Beenie Weenies? A bologna sandwich? A granola bar? Or a Snickers? Surely others had food, but he is the only one in the story who shared it with the disciples. God took his small gift and used it in a marvelous, miraculous way to feed everyone who was present that day.

Are you facing a challenge? How about your church? If so, then you’re normal. We all face challenges on a regular basis. This is earth, not Heaven. We have not arrived yet. How will you and I respond to the challenge we currently face? Will we respond like Philip and dismiss the challenge immediately? Will we respond like Andrew and take an inventory of what we can do? Or will we respond like the little boy and give what we have to the Lord and trust Him for the results?

Prayer: “Lord, please help me to respond like the little boy in the story with the challenges I face!

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10 Questions to Assess Spiritual Health

As you will recall, no group was busier being “spiritual” than the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day, but, for them, busyness did not translate into Godliness.  Whitney offers the following 10 questions to help the reader assess his or her spiritual health:

10 Questions to Assess Your Spiritual Health
  1. Do you thirst for God?
  2. Are you governed increasingly by God’s Word?
  3. Are you more loving?
  4. Are you more sensitive to God’s presence?
  5. Do you have a growing concern for the spiritual and temporal needs of others?
  6. Do you delight in the Bride of Christ (the Church)?
  7. Are the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life increasingly important to you?
  8. Do you still grieve over sin?
  9. Are you a quicker forgiver?
  10. Do you yearn for Heaven and to be with Jesus?

The list above will help us assess our spiritual fitness in the same way the scales help us assess our physical fitness.

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5 Mistakes During Conflict

I’m currently reading a good book entitled Redeeming Church Conflicts: Turning Crisis into Compassion and CareTara Klena Barthel and David V. Edling do a great job in the book defining conflict and uncovering what the Bible says we should do when conflict arises.

In the first chapter, they shared five mistakes that most people make when conflict happens. These mistakes are the beginning of a tragic downward spiral.

5 Mistakes People Make During Conflict

1. We think our evaluation of the situation is always right. I’ve made this mistake and you have as well. It’s easy and natural to do, but it’s not best to do. In order to resolve conflict, we must be open to listen to the “other side” and be willing to consider that we are not totally right on the issue.

2. We treat people differently than God treats us. God treats us with love and grace. He forgives us when we don’t deserve it. During conflict, we often treat the other person with contempt and disrespect which leads us to disdain their perspective.

3. We assume that God is on our side. Although we may accept that those on the other side of the conflict are believers, we believe that we uniquely have God’s attention, care, and blessing more than our opponents do.

4. We become defensive. As soon as we become defensive, we become closed and narrow. We believe that God takes our side on the issue and condemns those on the other side of the conflict in the same way that we do.

5. We are marked by pride and selfishness. These characteristics are not from the Lord. Instead, Christ wants us to be marked by humility and love which leads toward reconciliation.

Conflict is a normal part of life. No one is exempt! But, as believers, God calls us to respond differently than the world and to DO OUR BEST to resolve the conflict.

If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Romans 12:18 (NKJV)

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4 Steps to Forgiving Those I Hate

How can we forgive people we hate? How can we show grace to those we can’t stomach? The honest truth is that we can’t! In our own strength, we are unable to forgive those who have hurt us deeply, but with God’s help it is possible.

4 Steps to Forgiving Those I Hate

1. Turn our hurts over to God. We should remind ourselves that nothing happens that God does not allow. As a result we should acknowledge our hurts and ask God to help us with them. He may choose to teach us through them and shape us into the person He wants us to be. God never wastes a hurt!

God never wastes a hurt!

2. Ask God to transform our hate to love. In time, God will change our hearts to match His heart if we allow Him to do so. We should pray and ask God to start the process of healing and forgiveness in our hearts.

3. Read what God’s Word says about forgiveness. The Bible is replete with verses on this topic. Reading what God says is a major part of how He moves us towards a heart of forgiveness. Here are a couple of passages on the topic:

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.”  Matthew 18:21-22 (NIV) 

“He said to them, ‘When you pray, say:  Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us. And lead us not into temptation.'”  Luke 11:2-4 (NIV) 

4. Remember that we sinned against God. God forgave us when we didn’t deserve it, so we should forgive others when they don’t deserve it. We are never more like God than when we grant forgiveness to undeserving people.

Don’t spend the rest of your life without rest in your life!

If you’re struggling with hard feelings toward someone . . . if you’re mad, hurt, bitter, or all the above rolled into one, then let it go! Forgive! Do it for their sake! Do it for your sake! Do it for the Lord! Don’t spend the rest of your life without rest in your life. Unforgiveness can slow down or even sidetrack your spiritual growth.

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5 Things I Hated Doing as a Pastor

In my previous two posts I wrote about 6 Things I Hated Hearing as a Pastor followed by 7 Things I Loved Hearing as a Pastor. In today’s post I want to explore 5 Things I Hated DOING as a Pastor. Keep in mind that I loved being a pastor and I loved most the tasks that came along with the position, but I didn’t love everything.

5 Things I Hated Doing as a Pastor

1. Preaching on difficult topics. I preached on marriage, divorce, homosexuality, fornication, adultery, abortion, tithing, racism, prejudice, laziness, gossip, and numerous other difficult subjects, but I didn’t love doing it. As a pastor, I preferred to preach about Jesus and the encouraging passages that abound, but I knew that I was accountable to God to preach the whole Bible even when the topics were not popular or culturally acceptable.

…even when the topics were not popular or culturally acceptable.”

2. Visiting new parents in the hospital. I didn’t really hate visiting new parents, but it always felt a little awkward. I felt better visiting when the mother and the father were both present or when my wife could join me. As their pastor, I wanted to let them know that we celebrated with them on the birth of their child, but at the same time, I wanted to respect their need for privacy. As a man, I was certain that I didn’t understand everything that the new mother was going through physically and emotionally, so I wanted to give her space for rest and healing.

3. Addressing church conflict. When I faced conflict during my early years of ministry I simply prayed and hoped that it would go away. As the pastor, I began to realize that I had to lean into conflict and work towards reconciliation, but it was something that I always dreaded.

…I began to realize that I had to lean into conflict…”

4. Asking for help. In the perfect church world, all the church members would jump in and volunteer when needed. Since that rarely happened, I often had to personally ask people for help.

5. Administering church discipline. The Bible clearly teaches that there are times when church discipline is required. The purpose of discipline is to help the offender discover his sin and his need for repentance. Even when church discipline was appropriate and best, it was always very difficult.

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7 Things I Loved Hearing as a Pastor

In yesterday’s post, I talked about 6 Things I Hated Hearing As a Pastor. Fortunately in the churches I served as Senior Pastor, I heard far more words of encouragement than words of discouragement. Here are a few of the things I loved hearing most as a pastor.

7 Things I Loved Hearing as a Pastor

1. Pastor. I loved being called “pastor.” I’ve had no higher calling or greater privilege in my career than serving as a pastor of a local church. When someone said “Pastor Steve” or “Pastor Rice” it always warmed my heart and made me grateful to God.

I loved being called “pastor.”

2. Pastor, I’m praying for you. You’ve heard the saying “I need the prayers and you need the practice.” I don’t know if the person who offered to pray for me needed to practice, but I knew that I needed their prayers. What a privilege that they would take time to pray for me!

3. Pray for me pastor. It was always humbling when members of the church or community asked me to pray for them. They trusted that my prayers would make a difference in their lives–what a blessing this was!

4. Thank you pastor. Words of gratitude were always welcome. I did not serve as a pastor in order to receive the praises of men and women, but since I’m human, it felt great to be appreciated.

…since I’m human, it felt great to be appreciated.

5. Pastor, I’ll be glad to help. Some individuals were always ready to jump in and help, always ready to say yes. They were always willing to give of their time, finances, talents, and gifts.

6. Pastor, tell me how to become a Christian. The “Good News” never got old. Possibly the highest privilege of a pastor was being present when a person placed their faith in Jesus Christ. Heaven was present and eternity was changed!

7. Pastor, help me know how to read the Bible. The Bible is the most important key to spiritual growth. Through our reading and study of the Bible, we hear the Word of the Lord. I always found great joy in helping church members know more about God’s Word.

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