Archive for the ‘Discipleship’ Category

Are You Focused on Talent or Calling?

“Don’t worry about this Philistine,” David told Saul. “I’ll go fight him!”     “Don’t be ridiculous!” Saul replied. “There’s no way you can fight this Philistine and possibly win! You’re only a boy, and he’s been a man of war since his youth.”   1 Samuel 17:32-33

Goliath had challenged the Israelite Army to send one man to fight him – winner take all. The stakes were high. No one wanted the responsibility that would come with fighting Goliath. No one had the confidence they could defeat Goliath. And this included King Saul. After all, the warrior who lost that battle would not only lose his life, but doom all of Israel to be the slaves of the Philistines.

But along came David, a shepherd boy. You can put the emphasis on both “shepherd” and “boy.” Notice the lack of warrior in his curriculum vitae. Yes, he claimed to have killed bears and lions in defense of his sheep, but who could be sure? He was only a boy. He was only a shepherd. So why did King Saul allow David to fight Goliath? If David were to lose, the entire Israelite nation would be in bondage to the Philistines. Certainly it would be irresponsible of a leader to empower a youth who had been untested in battle to take on such responsibility. 

We are often encumbered with concerns about the qualifications of others in the service of Christ. We are often afraid to empower the called. Perhaps we don’t trust their calling. Or just maybe we want others to conform to our preconceived ideas of how to slay the giants in our lives, our churches, our communities. Even when Saul had decided to empower David to fight Goliath he gave him the traditional warrior’s garb. But David shed it quickly in favor of his own garb in which God had empowered him to fight lions and bears, and on this day, Goliath himself.

How quickly we are to judge the aptitude of others for service based upon the tools we think are needed to accomplish the task. But the only aptitude anyone needs to serve in God’s church is to be called by God. We are too often enamored with the tools people possess to slay the giant in our midst to even recognize whether or not they are called to the task at hand. If God can use David to slay the giant, he can use anyone He calls to perform any task He chooses. We focus on talent and giants. God focuses on the heart where His call will find residence. Perhaps if we were to learn to recognize God’s call in our own lives, we would recognize it in the lives of those around us. Perhaps our questions of one another seeking to serve in God’s army would focus on the call in our hearts rather than the talent in our heads.

I don’t know why Saul allowed David to fight Goliath. I suspect he was not focused on David’s call from God. But whatever the reason, it was the right decision and one for us to prayerfully consider as we seek to empower others in God’s service. May we always remember the lessons from this battle between David and Goliath. May we remember that battles are won by God through us as He empowers us to use the tools that we already possess. That is why spiritual gifts are fundamentally different from talents. The soldiers in Saul’s army had plenty of talent with all of the right tools. But it took a shepherd boy who knew God’s voice and responded to His call to slay the giant.

Israel didn’t learn the lesson inherent in the victory that day, which doomed them to defeat after defeat. But we don’t have to repeat history. We can learn the lesson. We can seek to know God’s voice, hear His calling, and allow Him to defeat the giants in our own lives. And then when He calls us to slay even bigger giants in the world around us, we will be ready with our sling shots and pebbles. 


Do You Know Your Weaknesses?

…For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:10

I stayed with my sister in Florida the summer after I graduated from high school. It was a great summer with many life lessons along the way. Among the greatest lessons I learned was the limits of my own abilities. I have always struggled with an ongoing dichotomy in my soul. At one extreme there are days when I think I can do anything. And then there are the days I don’t think I’m good enough to accomplish a single thing. The fact is that each of these attitudes are simply opposite sides of the same coin, self-worth.

That summer I was given the opportunity to paint the living room, kitchen, and master bedroom of a church member’s home. I would be leaving Florida                        in a week and thought I had plenty of time to complete the task. The pay was attractive and I had painted for my brother-in-law back in Indiana the past two summers. So this would be easy. After four days on the job and not even close to being half done, I discovered that painting was far more complicated that I had realized. It was one thing to focus on a single task for the day as one following instructions, but quite another thing to be responsible for every aspect of the job. That is when my sister came to my rescue and helped me complete the job within the next two days.

There are times when I  think I can lead a church, make life decisions, and overcome any temptation without God’s help. The real problem is that I can do quite a bit without His help. We all can. But then along comes the bumps in the road. Every road has them. These bumps include the projects I can’t quite complete, the temptations I can’t quite overcome, and the life decisions I can’t quite get a handle on. Not only do the bumps inevitably come, but they come at the most inopportune times. They come four days into a project with no hope of completing it. They come right after I thought victory was a done deal. They come immediately after I was certain I had all the answers.

The apostle Paul learned to embrace the bumps in his road once he learned to embrace his weaknesses. Once he recognized his weakness as an opportunity to experience God’s grace, goodness, and strength, his self worth actually grew. And so it can be with us. The more clearly we identify our own weaknesses, the greater the blessings we will be prepared to receive from God. I have learned in leadership that general ideas never lead to specific actions. And so the more specifically I understand my own weaknesses, the more specific are the blessings and power God is yearning to bestow upon me.  

The strength I receive from God is in proportion to the weakness I recognize in myself. It is in this context I believe Paul could say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13) I am spending time today identifying my weaknesses as I submit my life once again to the power and strength to Him who can do more than I could ever ask or think. The road to strength comes in the bumps of recognizing my own weaknesses. Do you know your weaknesses? 

Light in the Darkness

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.   John 1:5

I had recently moved to southeastern Washington from Illinois and was excited about the prospect of backpacking. So after much thought and research, I decided to go to the north side of Mount St. Helens for my first backpacking trip in the Northwest. I arrived late in the afternoon with two of my adult children. We only hiked about two miles when darkness quickly descended upon us necessitating that we pitch our tents at a spot beside the trail. We were able to get a bite to eat and find our way into our sleeping bags before we were engulfed in darkness. And I mean total darkness. It was a cloudy night. There was no light from the moon or stars. In fact, I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face.

Fortunately, we all had flashlights. But the battery in my light had nearly lost its charge. My light was very dim, and yet it provided all the light I needed to see that dark night. On the other hand, the battery in Kelsey’s light was fully charged. Her light was much brighter than mine making it much more effective at seeing every detail of the terrain around us. But when she inadvertently shined it directly into my eyes, I was totally blinded. 

I learned a valuable lesson in life that night. The brightness of my light is not as important as how I use my light. Jesus is the Light of the world. When I accepted Jesus into my life many years ago, His Light began expelling the dark thoughts in my mind and the selfish desires deep in my soul. Little by little the darkness continues to leave my life. I wish I could say all the darkness was completely gone, but it’s not. The truth is, I still have plenty of selfish desires and sinful thoughts. And yet herein lies the value and the proper use of the Light of Jesus in my life. He gives me His Light to illuminate my path. He gives my His Light that my life may be happier, brighter, and filled with peace. When I am walking next to a fellow traveler in life, my light can help us both as long as I don’t use it against him or her. 

You see, it is when I decide to turn the Light onto my fellow traveler, to shine it in his or her eyes, that the precious gift of Jesus becomes a blinding force rather than a precious gift. We too often want to use the Light of Jesus to illuminate the sins of others thereby using His Light as a judgment in their lives rather than a ministry of reconciliation and love. When I am tempted to argue the “truth” with a fellow traveler, I think about that night on the north side of Mount St. Helens. I remember how it felt to be blinded by the light that would have otherwise helped me find my way, and then I remember to use God’s Word to shine Light onto the path and not into the eyes of the one next to me. 

May we remember why Jesus has given us His Light as we read in Psalm 119:105, Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path. 

Is Love Enough?

But the believers who were scattered preached the Good News about Jesus wherever they went.  Acts 8:4

A few weeks ago I saw a picture of a Christian in Syria with a rope around his neck as he stood on a wooden box. He was about to be hung by the ISIS extremists for being a Christian. The man was smiling. It was not a smile of defiance, but rather one of peace, love, and compassion. As I looked at the face of this man, I knew he was much more than a Christian, he was a disciple of Jesus. 

Christian is a name given to people who are disciples of Jesus by those who do not believe in Jesus. The word Christian was first used by the people of Antioch (one of the Roman Empire’s largest cities) to describe those who followed Jesus. You can read about this in Acts 11:26. Jesus, however, calls us to be disciples, followers of Him. The issue is that Christianity is a religion that has been organized around the teachings of Jesus. But a disciple is person whose life revolves around the love of Jesus. One is based on teaching knowledge about God. The other is based on living in relationship with God. 

These two concepts do not need to be in opposition to one another. When I think about it, I actually want to understand someone I love. I want to know what he or she likes and what makes them happy. When a person I trust tells me that yellow is not my color, I choose to avoid wearing yellow shirts. When someone I love gives me a necktie, I find myself wanting to wear it at every opportunity. However, when a stranger whom I just met at a dinner party tells me that yellow is not my color or that I need a new necktie, I do not respond favorably to such information. In fact, I might find myself wearing yellow shirts just to prove that I am not bound by such a person’s opinions.

So when I read Acts 8:4, I know there is something pretty amazing about Jesus. When His followers were put into prison, tortured, and even killed, those who survived did not go into hiding, but rather told everyone who would listen about the Good News. But what is the Good News? It could not have been that you would be persecuted if you believed in Jesus. There had to be something they were sharing that was compelling, something more than facts and data and teachings. Could it be as simple as love? Could the Good News simply be a love story? Could the most compelling concept in the world that can cause a man with a noose around his neck to smile really just be a 4-letter word – LOVE? In a word, yes!

When all we have is love, we have more than we deserve and can give more than we have. When all we have is love, our hearts are united with the heart of God, our darkness is turned to light, our misbelief is turned to truth, our discouragement is replaced with courage, and our weakness is replaced with power. I don’t care if you call me a Christian, but what I really want to be is a disciple of Jesus. 

What Bad Things Has God Given You?

Job replied, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”    Job 2:10  

When I was an OB/GYN resident at Bethesda Naval Hospital, we had morning rounds every weekday. During this time each resident would present the history, diagnosis, and treatment of each of the patients she/he had been assigned. There were times the attending physicians (those who were ultimately in charge of all patient care) would praise us for our technical abilities or diagnostic skills. But there were many instances of criticisms from the attendings, or even worse. Once I was asked to report the very next day on endometriosis, a benign gynecologic disorder that can cause pain and infertility. My attending wanted me to outline the causes of the disease, diagnostic testing options, and the therapeutic modalities. I was up most of the night preparing this paper due the next day. It was painful. It was humiliating to be called out in front of my fellow residents. And yet it helped me to not only learn about endometriosis, but to develop the habit of doing the necessary research to benefit my patients each and every day.

Job is described in chapter 1 as a man who was blameless and a man who had complete integrity. He loved God and followed His commands in his life. We read that Job was a family man who prayed and sacrificed for his children. He had been blessed with wealth as he was selfless, hard working, and humble. And then we read that he lost his farm animals, his sheep, his workers, and his children. If such losses weren’t enough, Job then lost his health. As he sat in agony with boils covering his entire body, Job responds to the the advice of his wife to curse God with a very insightful question, “Should we accept only good things from the hand of God and never anything bad?”

This is a tough question. None of us ever want to receive bad things. But before I think about what it means to receive something bad from God, I think about what it was like to endure morning rounds at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Those were bad times. I dreaded the hour from 7-8am every weekday. And yet I learned to develop the intellectual discipline necessary to care for my patients throughout my career as a physician. I have even learned to accept the good with the bad from my friends which has taught me innumerable lessons about unconditional love, forgiveness, honesty, trust, and transparency that have made my life richer.

And so I resonate with Job’s rhetorical question. Some of the greatest blessings in my life have come to me when I have embraced the bad things from God. When I pray for humility, he brings morning rounds into my life. When I pray for a deeper love of humanity, he shows me the need to forgive. When I pray for insight, He uses the Word to expose my need to change a habit. And when I pray for forgiveness, he shows me how I need to confess my faults. Perhaps we should be thanking God more for the bad things He gives us than the good things!  


The Time of Your Life

“The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Acts 1:7-8

From my third year of medical school in 1980 until I retired from medicine in 2004, there were only two years that I had control of the call schedule. This occurred when I was the department chair at the US Naval Hospital in Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines. And those were the two toughest years of my professional life, largely because of my authority over the time my colleagues would be required to work in the hospital. When we were “on call,” we took care of every obstetrical and gynecological patient who would come to the hospital for evaluation and treatment. With 52 weeks in a year and 3 physicians to cover those weeks, one physician always had to take one more week of call than the other two. So there was constant tension. Time is the most precious commodity on earth. 

So when Jesus tells us that God has authority to set dates and times, I find it very reassuring. I want God, who knows the end from the beginning and is full of mercy and grace, to be in charge of how much more time sin will be allowed to exist on this earth. As a follower of Jesus, the Father sets my call schedule.  Just like a physician on call has been given power to provide the necessary treatment for people who come to the hospital, we see from our text today that Christ-followers are given power by the Holy Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus. To be a witness for Jesus simply means that we are His hands and feet to care for the hungry, the homeless, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned.

Jesus gave this response in answer to the following question asked by the apostles, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and store our kingdom.” In other words, they were asking if they could get off the call schedule. They didn’t want to take care of any more sick people. They wanted to be in charge of their time. They wanted to do their own thing. And the truth is, we do too!

But Jesus says that the Father alone is in charge of our time.  It’s a simple message really. But it calls me into account. I don’t make the call schedule. I do not have control over how much time I have. But I am in control over how I use the time I have. And for that, God has given me all the power of the universe at my disposal. So I ask myself as I ask you, What are you doing with each second of each day? Do you even think about it? Have you been a witness to others of the love of Jesus in your life? When you truly think about it, the only way to have the time of your life is to give your life to Jesus.

Peace Be With You

And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said.   Luke 24:36

How do we get peace? It’s what we all want. When your best friend in the world is upset with you, nothing feels right anymore. When your mom or dad, sister or brother, son or daughter tell you to leave them alone for whatever reason, you feel isolated and dejected. When your core beliefs are attacked by someone you respect and love, you feel anxious and alone. So when the disciples witnessed not only the death of Jesus, but the humiliation and repudiation of Him and His ministry, they were distraught. They had no peace.

Every year there was a friendly battle between the firefighters and policemen in my home town. They would gather in the street in front of the large downtown Fire Station. The object of the battle was to use the force of the water from the fire hoses to push the other side behind a line drawn on the street. The water pressure coming from those hoses was massive. It would knock anyone off their feet and push them back. The confrontation was set up to be like a tug-of-war, but with water pressure. Both sides faced each other head on. So when the policemen sent some of the men to sneak around to the side of the firefighters with hoses, they easily blew them back behind the line. The battle was over. I saw my dad and other firefighters swept off their feet and rolled backwards like rag dolls. I was humiliated for my dad and all the firefighters. That image is seared into my memory.

I imagine the disciples felt a 1000 times more humiliated and confused when they saw Jesus spit on, called names, flogged, and placed on a cross. Whatever peace they had in their hearts was ripped out that day at Calvary. Their world spun out of control. I can only imagine they had a sick feeling in their stomachs from an anxiety that caused a deep ache in their hearts and a fog in their heads. And so they were dejected when Jesus walked with two of them on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection. There He “took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27)  As they looked at Scripture through the eyes of Jesus, they began to see a bigger story. Their former belief in Jesus as their earthly savior was replaced by the truth that He was their heavenly Savior who had come to reconcile them to the Father. As Jesus explained the Scriptures to them, they felt a “burning” in their hearts. (Luke 24:32) This burning is none other than the Word of God piercing the heart like a sword.

We can do one of two things with that burning. We can reject it and go our own way, or we can accept it and follow Jesus. We read that all of the disciples gathered sometime later to hear how two of them had met Jesus. Perhaps those two were explaining the Word when He suddenly showed up and said, “Peace be with you.” Peace always follows Jesus. The disciples felt a burning in their hearts when Jesus taught them the truth in the Scriptures. But they didn’t have peace until they sat down with Jesus, ate with Him, and saw Him for who He truly is – their Savior.

Peace doesn’t come from the burning in my heart. But that burning can motivate me to invite Jesus into my heart. When I eat with Jesus and open my heart to Him, peace settles my stomach, calms my heart, and clears my head. No wonder Jesus tells us in Revelation 3:20, “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” Do you want peace? Eat with Jesus.

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