A reminder in adversity

solo treeIt takes two things to blow down a tree: a heavy wind from the outside and rot and decay on the inside. So it is with man. The winds of adversity may cause him to bend, but if — by God’s grace — he’s strong and vigorous within, he will arise and grow to new heights after the storm passes.

Author unknown

Picture occurs courtesy Stuart Low photography

What restoration doesn’t mean

2013-09-08 RestorationFor 22 years Joseph had been in Egypt while his brothers lived daily with the lie they had propagated about his death. For that same time Joseph’s father believed him to be dead, and never stopped mourning for his son. You would have thought that such a restoration would be a great celebration. I’m sure it was, but it was not without its challenges. Don’t be caught off when you confront challenges in the restoration process. Here are three from the Joseph account.

Restoration doesn’t mean you will be without regret.

Joseph had a gift for each of the brothers who had sold him into slavery: a new cloak (Gen. 45:22). Can you imagine wearing your new cloak on your three-week journey to tell your father you had lied to him when you had torn up Joseph’s cloak and stained it with blood?  The cloak was a garment by day, and a blanket by night. A 24/7 reminder of what they wished they hadn’t done.  Even when we have been restored in our relationship with another, we may still have regrets for a past that we wasted.

Restoration doesn’t mean that there will no longer be conflict.

One of the final warnings Joseph gave his brothers was: “Do not quarrel on the way” (Gen. 45:24). A great reminder that just because we’re restored doesn’t mean our old habits of blaming others will no longer be a problem. The brothers had years of habitually lying and failing to take responsibility for their actions.  A change of heart was a start, but it did not instantaneously bring about a change of life style. Don’t be discouraged when, having restored a relationship, you still have some conflicts. Give thanks for the restoration, and work at changing the old habits in your communication.

Restoration doesn’t mean you will find it easy to trust.

When the brothers do tell their father that Joseph is alive, Jacob goes into shock. He doesn’t believe them (Gen. 45:26). That shouldn’t be surprising. He is asked to believe sons that have just confessed they had been lying for 22 years in a row. If you are working towards being restored in a broken relationship, don’t assume trust will come naturally. The other person’s belief in you will come, but it may take time. Joseph’s story gives us a unique insight into this truth. The passage says, “But when they told him all the words of Joseph, which he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived” (Gen. 45:27). Jacob couldn’t deny what he could see. So it is with trust. Be thankful that there is a commitment to restore the relationship, and don’t demand that the offended party trust you too early. Give them time to see the change. Trust grows when what we say synchronizes with what they see.

13 Ways to Submit to Imperfect Authorities

Each of us has authority figures we struggle with. If you don’t have one now, you will sooner or later. What do we do in those situations? We know its easy to complain, or resist, but is that what’s best? 

I first met Dr. Robert Smith when I was having my own struggle with authority. I had been told how he had sweetly submitted his preferences to his spiritual leaders in a situation he would not have chosen for himself. That’s why I wanted to meet him. I desperately wanted to know how he did it.

Ultimately, God arranged our meeting. While attending a conference of several thousand people we broke from the plenary session to our seminar locations. As the seminar started an older gentleman slipped in and sat next to me. As I looked up to greet him I realized I was looking into the eyes of Dr. Smith. I could hardly wait for the seminar to finish so that I could start-up a conversation with him.

I recounted my struggle with authority, and what I had heard of his spirit of submission in a similar challenge. Then I asked him how he did it. He recounted that years earlier he had written a biblical paper on how you submit when you’re frustrated by your authority. He smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, “I could either submit, or go back and overturn everything that I’d taught and believed. I chose to submit.”

Dr. Smith’s paper was later published as the booklet: Authority Issues: When it’s Hard Being Told What to Do. I have given away hundreds of his booklets. Here are a few of the highlights:

Those in authority often make life very difficult. What should you do when it seems that wrong or unjust decisions are being made? What can you do instead of resisting, complaining, or becoming bitter and angry?

  • Go to God with your struggles and questions (Hab. 1:1-5).
  • Remember that God is in control (Prov. 21:1).
  • Recognize that God can use the leader’s failures for your good and his glory (Rom 8:28-29; Gen. 50:20)
  • Recognize that the difficulty will not be too much (1 Cor. 10:13).
  • Thank God for everything, including the leadership over you (Eph.  5:20).
  • Place your trust in God, not the authority (Hab. 3:17-19).
  • Depend on God’s grace to help (2 Cor. 9:8).
  • Be an example of a godly response (Phil. 2:5; 1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6).
  • Pray for those in authority over you (1 Tim. 2:1-2)
  • Honor those in authority because of their position (1 Pet. 2:17; 1 Tim. 6:1-2).
  • Concentrate on your responsibility (Matt. 7:3-5; Rom. 2:1).
  • Respond as Christ did (1 Pet. 2:21-23).
  • Return good for evil (Rom. 12:21).

 You may acquire Robert Smith’s booklet through www.NewGrowthPress.com

Six steps to improve communication with others

James gave some of the best advice ever on communication when he penned,

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20)

This is especially necessary in our family relationships.

The author is unknown, but I have found the simple acrostic ladder to be helpful in applying the truths from James 1:19-20.

Look at the person speaking to you.

Ask questions.

Don’t interrupt.

Don’t change the subject.


Respond verbally and non-verbally.

The difference between a peace-maker and peace-keeper…

Peace-making is rarely confused with peace-breaking, but it is often confused with peace-keeping. When I first traveled to Bosnia in 2001 on a humanitarian aid effort I got a good look at peace-keeping. The United Nations had divided up the land between the Bosnians and Serbians. Without a doubt there were heinous crimes committed during their civil war. There had not been an attempt at repentance, forgiveness or restoration.

The UN’s answer to the conflict was to significantly limit the interaction between the conflicting parties. They drew strict boundaries in the villages. Serbians lived within their territories, as did the Bosnians. For those of us who are conflict avoiders this might seem like a good option. But to avoid the conflict does not resolve the conflict.  

The following chart from the junior edition of Ken Sande’s Peacemaker is helpful in distinguishing the difference. Peace-keepers tend to fall in the escape mode. Peace-breakers easily move to the attack mode. Only the peace-makers are the ones who will make the personal sacrifices to work it out.

You have three options in the work it out category:

(1) Overlook. Perhaps the point of offense is only a preference on your part, or you don’t see the sin done against you as intentional or characteristic of the other individual. The apostle Peter encouraged us,

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).

(2) Talk it Out. Perhaps you are unable to overlook the sin. You were hurt deeply. Maybe you are beginning to see a pattern of this type of sinful behavior on your friend’s part. Then it’s best to talk to them. Critical in winning your brother is that you initially do this between the two of you without a third-party. Jesus reminded us,

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother (Matthew 18:15)

(3) Get Help. It could be that your attempt at contact is rejected. There may be a refusal to acknowledge sin or you sense the conflict is only getting worse. Don’t be afraid to seek help. Jesus went on to say,

But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16).

Be careful. It’s a slippery slope. Always attempt to stay within the work-it-out  boundaries. No wonder Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God” (Mat. 5:9).

Just doing ministry…

When it comes to understanding ministry there is no limit to what you can find. Walk into any Christian bookstore and you will find more publications on ministry than you can possibly count.  There are different means, different ways, different ends, different groups, and different publishers. Ministry in the 21st century is like the ultimate all-you-can-eat buffet. Pick and choose what you want. If you don’t like the taste of it, put it back (that’s probably the last time you’ll follow my family through the buffet line!).

There are even different ways we use the word ministry. When someone senses that God wants them to become a pastor or missionary in a full-time way we say they’re called to the ministry. When we feel the need to do something for someone (either to help paint their house or fix a squeaky door) we call it ministry. When we speak of a church or mission organization we call it a ministry.

The Bible uses the word ministry less than 30 times. 

My favorite Biblical character that demonstrates ministry is a New Testament character by the name of Stephen. His story is told in Acts 6. When the apostles needed someone to serve the tables and take care of the elderly Stephen was the first name on the list. He was chosen because he was full of faith and the Holy Spirit. But it is evident that he also had a servant spirit.

It wasn’t long before he was not only waiting on tables, but he was doing works that only God could have done through him (Acts 6:8). When he began to communicate with the religious leaders of the day his words were so clear and powerful that they had no way to answer him (Acts 6:9-10). If you wanted to see a man with courage read his story in Acts 7. There, with his life on the line, he articulates the Gospel without a quiver in his voice. Here was a man who knew what it meant to do ministry, and yet he is never referred to as a minister. May God challenge each of us with his example.

Lessons learned while waiting in line

For many of us waiting is one of the hardest lessons to learn. I have discovered that one of the best ways to wait is to ask the question: “Lord, what are you teaching me through this?”

We all have a tendency to think of God’s teaching lessons as being for someone else. Like the first humans in the garden of Eden we can see others in need of God’s instruction better than we can see ourselves. Or perhaps we look at the situations far too narrowly. If we can only figure this out or work harder than we can quit waiting. I’m all for the fact that we should work diligently along side of prayer.  But what you and I must understand is that anytime we are waiting, and find our selves anxious, worried, or frustrated our anxiety is linked to one thing: our need for control.

Think of that the next time you’re standing in line. You have an agenda. You have things to do. No one in front of you understands that do they? You are simply trying to control what’s on your plate that day, and so you grow increasingly frustrated because it’s not working out the way you planned.

Next time you stand in line for anything, ask yourself “What is God teaching me through this moment?”  So often we think the only lesson we’re going to learn from waiting is patience. Patience is a side benefit of waiting; it is not the sole purpose. Anytime we are frustrated in our waiting – It is always about control.  Doesn’t God know our schedules and our events for the day? Although we aren’t in control of the events of our lives He is.

A friend of mine says it this way: Every trial has a note attached: “Made in heaven just for you.” That’s the essence of what Paul said in Romans 5:3-5 when he wrote, “And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

When a Pastor Faces a Fork in the Road

If you have pastored at the same place for any length of time you know firsthand some of the hardships in ministry. The unexpected criticism. The weariness of soul. Trying to serve faithfully when your heart may not be in it. Investing countless hours in a life only to have them turn their back on the Lord.  I call those forks in the road. There are lessons that can be learned there. I shared the following presentation place with a group of faithful servants at a pastor’s conference in Maine.

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Leading and Following

We live in a day and age where there is a growing distrust in anyone who claims to be leader or CEO. Every news release seems to reflect that the major leaders in our world care only for those who work for them when they might personally benefit in someway. One writer said it this way, “We live in an age of 51-percent majorities, public opinion polls and an increasingly distrustful populace. As a result, non-leader politicians stick their fingers in the air to read the winds of public sentiment on nearly every issue. The leaders are becoming the followers and the followers, more and more, the leaders.  

Leaders don’t trust their followers, and followers don’t trust their leaders. With rare exceptions, leaders and followers can be trusted for only one thing in today’s world—to do what they think is in their own self – interest.” So that is the world in which we live. We don’t trust our leaders, and we are convinced that no one can safe-guard our best interest as well as we can. It is into that world that Jesus’ words and example are so very refreshing.

For Jesus said, “Follow me” (Mark 1:17).  Meaning that when we come to faith in Him we ought to come understanding He is the leader, and we are the followers. As Christians, where He goes we will go, and where He leads we will follow.

If you are still of the opinion that anyone who claims to be a leader only has his best interest in mind then check out Jesus’ example! For the Bible teaches that He took up a cross, and died on it to pay for the sins of those who have placed their faith in Him (Col. 1:19-23). When was the last time we saw a leader in our generation who was willing to die for those who didn’t have his best interest in mind?

Might I encourage you to put your cynicism about leaders and followers aside, and follow the One who said, “follow me,” and then died and rose again on your behalf.