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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4 Life Lessons from Hiking

The last few years, Laura and I have become interested in hiking. We don’t plan to thru-hike the Appalachian or the Pacific Crest trail anytime soon–we mainly focus on day hiking. As a result, we enjoy the trail with very little planning and minimal cost. I’ve noticed that there are a lot of similarities between hiking and everyday life.

4 Hiking Lessons

1. Good equipment helps. Good hiking shoes, trekking poles, and backpacks make hiking more enjoyable and hikers more proficient. Likewise equipping ourselves as pastors, disciples, church members, and/or parents makes all the difference. We don’t know what we don’t know, so it helps to be equipped with new knowledge and abilities.

“We don’t know what we don’t know…”

2. Sometimes you hike uphill. We love trails that have lots of climbing. We seek them out when we plan. It’s great exercise to make your way up a long, challenging climb. It’s so rewarding when you reach the top. Life often seems like a long, challenging climb. Christians are not exempt from difficulty. Those difficult life moments often shape us into better people and mold us into more dedicated Christians.

3. Sometimes you hike downhill. Trails that go up eventually come down. Going downhill is easier, but not without challenge. You can easily lose your footing because you are moving faster and with little resistance. Going downhill can lead to a lack of concentration and focus which usually ends poorly. Life is a lot like going downhill. When things are going well and success seems easy we often make quick and uninformed decisions that cause us to fall. “Downhill” makes us feel invincible which leads to decisions laced with arrogance. Solomon warned us that “Pride comes before destruction and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, HCSB).

“Downhill makes us feel invincible which leads to decisions laced with arrogance.”

4. You can do more than you think. Now that we are hikers, we’ve climbed hills we never imagined that we could. Slowly, steadily, step after step–eventually we reach the top! I’ve watched several YouTube channels of men and women who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. When they finished the 2,181-mile trek, they were amazed they covered the entire distance on foot. One guy said, “It blows my mind to think that I just walked from Georgia to Maine!” We should dream big and shoot high in life and in Christ! Through Him and over time we can do more than we could ever imagine (Phil 4:13).

A Real Bullseye

A little boy got a real bow and arrow for his 10th birthday and immediately went outside to practice in his yard. A few minutes later his father stepped outside to check how he was doing and was amazed to see a dozen arrows dead in the center of a dozen different bull’s-eyes that were painted on the trees in the backyard.

“That’s astounding, Son! You just got that bow a few minutes ago. How do you manage to hit a bullseye every time?” “Easy, Dad. First I shoot the arrow. Then wherever it lands, I paint circles around it!”

…wherever it lands, I paint circles around it!

That’s a cute story, but a deeper lesson is easy to find. I have found that many live theirs lives exactly that way. Instead of aiming for the targets of life set forth by the Bible, they draw circles around their own lifestyles and call it a bullseye. As a preacher, I must strive to preach the truth of the Bible without compromise. When this is done, we know where to aim in life.

As a preacher, I must strive to preach the truth of the Bible without compromise.

As Christians, we should stand for what’s right! We should stand for the truths in the Bible. I believe if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything! With that in mind, let’s stand for what we know is right even when others don’t understand. I like the way the Apostle Paul said it in Philippians 3….

Instead of aiming for the targets of life set forth by the Bible, they draw circles around their own lifestyles and call it a bullseye. 

“I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14

Paul did not say, “I’m not pressing toward anything in particular . . . I’m just drawing a bullseye around my lifestyle.” Paul didn’t say, “I press toward what this cultural deems acceptable.” Paul didn’t say, “I press toward what would make me appear to be a really super nice guy!” No! Paul said, “I press toward the mark!”

This mark had been set forth for Paul by the Lord. Our marks are given to us in God’s Word. Take a solid stand on God’s Word, but be nice about it!

5 Things I Hated Doing as a Pastor

In similar 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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3 Reasons to Smile More

My wife works for two of the finest dentists in Kentucky, so we often talk about teeth at our house. Lots of customers come to their office wanting to improve their smile. I think that they’re wise in doing so, because there are good reasons to improve your smile and even more good reasons to smile more often.

3 Reasons to Smile More

1. We will make more money. According to a recent study, the way we look has a direct bearing on our paycheck. According to the study, those who rated lower in appearance earned less than those who rated average or above.

…the biggest factor is the smile on our face.”

Appearance includes the style and neatness of our clothing, the shine on our shoes, the crease in our shirt, our choice of colors, the way we fix our hair, our makeup, and all the elements of our personal grooming. However, the biggest factor is the smile on our face, followed closely by our attitude and sense of humor. A good sense of humor and a positive attitude are particularly important as we move into the upper echelons of business.

2. We will make more friends. People do not want to be around an ol’ stiff, stick-in-the-mud! They are attracted to a person who is positive and friendly. A genuine smile is a good indicator of the type of person we are which causes others to want to get to know us.

…we can draw people to us in order to point them to to Christ!

3. We will make more converts.  In case all of this talk sounds less than spiritual, remember that we are ambassadors for Christ. As wise, conscientious ambassadors we want to improve our “abilities.” Let’s improve our respectability, approachability, and like-ability. In this way we can draw people to us in order to point them to Christ!

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