Find your wilderness

“However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities. So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.”‭‭Luke‬ ‭5:15-16‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
In Luke chapter 5, Jesus healed two lepers and told them not to tell anyone. The Bible says “However, the report went around concerning Him all the more; and great multitudes came together to hear, and to be healed by Him of their infirmities.” All of a sudden, Jesus’ ministry work became more demanding. 

Can you imagine what it’s like to personally minister to a multitude of people? The best example I could come up with is from my days working fast food in college. 

In college, I worked at an Arby’s restaurant that was located two blocks away from Jordan-Hare Stadium at Auburn University. On football game days, all five registers would be opened with all five lines stretching out of the lobby and through the opened double doors. The people just kept on coming. It was stressful, demanding work being pressed by such a large crowd. At the end of the day I was drained and fatigued. 

What do you do when life just keeps on coming? How do you handle the stress and fatigue? Jesus gives us the answer: withdraw and pray. 


We all need to withdraw and rest our bodies to help with physical fatigue. But we also need to withdraw our minds, hearts, souls, and spirits through prayer to help us deal with other forms of fatigue. Here are a few examples:

Decision fatigue – the mind is so overworked making decisions you either choose not to make a decision or all your decisions are automatically “no”. 

Emotional fatigue – your heart has experienced so many intense emotions (joy, anger, happiness, pain) that you’ve become numb and can’t empathize with others. 

Social fatigue – your mind is so overworked trying to fulfill all of your social roles (spouse, parent, employee, parishioner, neighbor) that you begin to act out of character at the wrong times. 

Sensory fatigue – you’ve been so bombarded with images, videos, sounds, and smells that you become annoyed by the hum of the motor on your refrigerator. 

Spiritual fatigue – you’ve wrestled with the devil and yourself so long in an attempt to live right that you’ve decided church isn’t working, and you’re just gonna let yourself go this weekend. You justify it by saying “I’ve been good so I deserve it.”

Prolonged exposure to these types of fatigue can lead you to snap on your kids, leave your spouse, quit your job, curse out your friends, quit your ministry, leave your church, or worse. 

The best way to respond to this fatigue is to withdraw and pray. Find or create your own personal wilderness where you can be alone with God. Get away from the noise and distractions so you can let God resettle you and recharge your batteries. 

My wilderness is my porch. That’s where I get alone with God to pray, think, and strategize. Sometimes I have to create a wilderness when I’m in public places by putting on my earphones with worship music, classical, or soft instrumental jazz. 

Let me encourage you to find your wilderness. Get alone with God. Let him help you process all of the issues of your life. He will give you to strength to move forward. 

God and Riches

““No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:24‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

This week in the message Turning the Tables Part 2 I talked about our financial priorities. One of the issues addressed in the message was the known tendency of African Americans to be influenced by name brands and luxury items. Simply put, sometimes our desire for luxury items and famous labels can lead us to make poor financial decisions more often than other races. 

Let me say something here. It’s not wrong to have the finer things in life. So don’t go sell your Mercedes and trade it in for a bicycle. Having nice things isn’t the problem. Jesus told the congregation at the sermon on the mount, they couldn’t serve God and mammon (wealth and riches). He says they will either love the one and hate the other. How does that apply to our financial decisions?

It all boils down to the decisions we make in critical moments and opportunities. 

Critical moments are the times when our finances are thin or have impeding obligations on them. Sometimes we’re enticed to make purchases in these lean financial times. If we’re ruled emotionally by our desires for luxury items, we will make ill-advised purchases. The end result is, we put ourselves in uncomfortable and unnecessary financial risk. 

Opportunities are the times when we can use money as a tool to put ourselves in a better financial position. These are times when we’re stable, our money isn’t obligated, and/or we’re blessed with an unexpected increase. When these moments come in our lives some of us immediately begin to imagine the things we can buy with the extra money. Then we spend it just as quickly as we received it. 

Both of these examples ended with decisions to serve our desire for riches. There is however another option; instead of serving riches, we could serve God with our riches. When we adopt a spiritual mentality that says “all that I am, and all that have belongs to God” our decisions are very different. 

In critical times, we would pray and make the choice to take care of our obligations. By doing so we relieve our financial stress and have a more abundant quality of life. From this position of stability we are free to minister to others instead of creating new financial problems in our lives so others need to minister to us. In times of opportunity we would pray for the Lord’s guidance. He could lead us to invest in ourselves by saving the extra money to carry us through the lean times. We could pay down debt, get ahead on mortgage or car payments, or invest it in ministry. 

We can’t serve God and riches, but putting God first and serving God with our riches can lead to an abundant life. Jesus said it best. 

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:33‬ ‭NKJV‬‬

Keep learning to follow. 

Thanks for reading these posts from Hosea 4. If you’ve missed any of them, please refer to previous posts. As we continue in this passage in Hosea, God is still speaking to the spiritual leaders of his people and reveals he’s rejecting those leaders because they stopped following God.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.”
Hosea‬ ‭4:6‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
http://bible.com/114/hos.4.6.nkjv

Having the high title of a leader doesn’t exclude us from being a follower. In fact, every leader must first be a follower. If we’re not following God and other successful leaders, we won’t grow. If we aren’t growing we can’t lead our people to higher heights.

More specifically, God reveals his priests forgot the law and therefore failed to follow his law. This is significant because God’s law was a guide for every portion of society, including leadership. His law was like guard rails that kept their business dealings, societal norms, and treatment of people in line. It provided a vital source of best practices.

Fast forward to today. If you’re a leader, pastor, or business owner, you will have greater success if you follow the principles that serve as guard rails for your industry or vocation. Whenever a leader fails or makes a mistake, it can be traced back to violated principles. Violations of ethics and moral standards, lack of financial accountability, or simply neglecting tried and true principles have ruined careers and caused the demise of ministries and businesses. Failure to follow sound plans and wise counsel is devastating also.

But that’s not all. After failing to follow God and his law, the priests decided instead to follow the crowd.

“They eat up the sin of My people; They set their heart on their iniquity. And it shall be: like people, like priest. So I will punish them for their ways, And reward them for their deeds.”
‭‭Hosea‬ ‭4:8-9‬ ‭NKJV‬‬
http://bible.com/114/hos.4.8-9.nkjv

Eventually the priests and leaders began to follow and play to the crowd. When the people brought their sin offerings, the priests were happy because they could eat well. They set their hearts on reaping benefits from the crowd. The end result of following the crowd is that God said you couldn’t tell the difference between the priests and the people. At that point, the leaders were no longer spokesmen for God, but rather, acting in their own regard.

 
When we play to the influence of the crowd, popular opinions, trends and fads, we are no longer operating in our leadership capacity. When we chase the crowd we are no more a leader than a surfer riding a wave. The surfer can’t claim to lead the wave just because he’s out front. He can’t stop the wave. He can only ride it. We’ve all seen people who rode the waves of popularity to gain high positions, but faltered when it was time to step up and lead in earnest.

Let me close by saying, leaders should be followers of leadership, followers of God, and followers of principles, instead of following the crowd. If you have ideas to share about this subject I’d love to hear from you. Please consider leaving a comment and sharing this post with others.

The Heart to Lead

Recently, our church held a Clergy Appreciation Service and personally, it marked eight years for me as a pastor. Eight years! That got me thinking. So, I’ve “Googled” average pastor tenure and several sites say the average is three to four years. Think about that. On average, in less than five years, the pastor and church will part ways.

I’d like to share some thoughts about this from a leadership perspective for pastors. I know it’s not always the pastor’s fault but maybe this post can help those who are stepping into new positions. Let’s look at King Solomon.

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“So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?””
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭3:9‬ ‭NIV
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When God offered the young King Solomon anything he desired, Solomon asked for a discerning heart to govern God’s people. He didn’t ask for fortune, fame, or any of the perks of being king. He was personally secure in his position. This is important because insecure leaders expend more energy and bravado trying to secure their positions instead of leading the people. I’ve heard many seasoned pastors say “the moment you have to say ‘I’m the pastor’ you’re not the pastor”. Solomon wasn’t like that. He was already royalty by birth. We can learn from Solomon’s example. As believers, we are born again, joint heirs with Christ, which makes us royalty. The riches of the kingdom of God are ours to enjoy. We don’t need the church to validate us or feed our ego.

Additionally, Solomon was already anointed king of Israel, meaning he was chosen by God to lead the people. In our case, pastors are anointed and chosen as well. You see “pastor” is a gift from the Holy Spirit, not a job or title. Those who are gifted by the Holy Spirit to pastor are already anointed to do the job. However, if you’re a preacher / minister who isn’t gifted to pastor, but you’ve been given that title, you will always struggle because you’re not in your gifted role. Pastors have the royal pedigree and the spiritual anointing to lead God’s people. What more could we need? We need the heart to lead.

Solomon asked God to perform a spiritual transplant by giving him a heart to lead the people under his care. When I talk to pastors who have served one congregation for 10, 20, or 30 years, they all exhibit a genuine love and concern for the needs of their congregations. Today, as pastors, we need to care enough about our congregations to want what’s best for them. Some of our church members have been hurt by previous pastors and are bitter toward us. Some of them have been bruised by everyday life and bring those scars into the church, pointing their pain at everyone, including the pastor.

My pastor told me on many occasions “hurt people will hurt you”. That’s why it’s so important for new pastors to ask God for a discerning heart. Without it, we could mistake aggression for hatred. We could take every outburst personally rather than looking past the hostility to see the church’s true needs. So God, please give our pastors a discerning heart to lead your people, and bring stability to our churches.

We’re all heroes

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The world is in danger and needs a hero. There is a person or group who wants to rule the world. So someone is on a quest to find the chosen one or an unlikely hero emerges on the scene. The hero is trained, empowered, or equipped to perform a task against all odds to stop the villain from taking over the world. Through some event or battle, the unlikely hero succeeds, saves the world, gets the girl, and lives happily ever after.

Does that sound familiar? Sure it does. We have all watched movies like this. This formula or some variation of it, is used for movies like Star Wars, the Avengers, Superman / Batman, and The Lord of the Rings. Why? Maybe it’s because we root for the underdogs. Maybe it’s because it appeals to our innermost desire to be heroes ourselves. 

God needs heroes and he is looking for average, ordinary people he can empower to do extraordinary things. 

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.” (‭I Corinthians‬ ‭1‬:‭26-31‬ NKJV)

God isn’t looking for the strongest, fastest, smartest, or most popular people to live heroic lives. Through Paul, he tells the church to look around and see not many mighty, noble, wise, or strong are among them. Instead, God has deliberately chosen to make heroes out of the underdogs. 

You see, God doesn’t necessarily need the biggest and best because at any moment, through his Holy Spirit, he can empower the church. God’s people have divine potential to help others in need, mend broken hearts, and transform lives with the Gospel. Ordinary people like you and I are being used by God to bring light to dark places of employment, hope to depressed communities, and security to the weak and disenfranchised. 

So as you go to the theaters to watch your favorite heroes on the big screen, remember, we’re all heroes in God’s eyes.

The World’s Mission

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As Christians, we have a mission to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, reconciling the world to God. (Matthew 28:19-20, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). But did you know the world has a mission too? When I speak of the world’s mission, I’m speaking of the system of beliefs, ways of living, motivations and goals of the world we live in apart from Christianity. Take away the Christian values of morality, the values of ethics, the holiness, glory, godliness and righteousness, and what you have in essence is the world’s mission. Basically if you remove the church from the picture, here’s what’s left.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. (‭I John‬ ‭2‬:‭15-16‬ NKJV)

There it is in a nutshell; the world is all about spreading the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. If your flesh can enjoy it, if your eyes can behold it, and if your ego can desire it, the world has it to offer. Our media, entertainment, and social practices all support this system. 
 
Let me clarify something here: The world system and mission is bad, but the world itself is good. When God made the world, he said it is good. The problem isn’t the world. It’s how we interact with the world and how we allow it to influence us.

We should be “in the world” but not “of the world”. That means we should enjoy all that God has provided for us without allowing our lusts to cause us sin. All sin can be grouped into the three categories of the lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life. The world we live in will always tempt us with those things. 

Instead, we should seek God’s guidance as we live in this world. He can give us vision to recognize the effects of the world’s influence on our lives. He can give us wisdom to escape the world’s temptations. He can give us power to overcome sin. 

Carrying His Name

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“Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. For My own sake, for My own sake, I will do it; For how should My name be profaned? And I will not give My glory to another.” (‭Isaiah‬ ‭48‬:‭10-11‬ NKJV)

Here are some truths I believe about the Christian life: God wants you in his family and God wants to make you better. Once we become a part of God’s family by accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, he begins the life long process of completing the “good work” he has begun in us (Philippians 1:6). Why would God do this? First, because he loves us. Secondly, because we carry his name.

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7 NKJV)

The word “take” in this scripture from the Ten Commandments literally means to pick up and carry. Think of it like a bride who takes on the last name of her husband. God says, don’t take my name upon your life carelessly or without sincerity. It’s for this same reason God says he will refine his people for the sake of his name. 

For his own name’s sake, God will allow us to endure affliction in an effort to make us worthy of his name. Just as raw silver ore is heated to cause impurities to be exposed and discarded, God will heat up our lives to expose and remove our impurities to make us into beautiful people who are worthy of his glory. This way, our lives will reflect his goodness to the world, instead of having those who see us speak poorly of God due to our short comings.

Numbering Our Days

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“So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

What’s the best way for you to spend your time in 2015? When Moses wrote Psalm 90 his appeal to God was “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” As we experience each day of the New Year, we need to pray for God’s help to  wisely prioritize the things that really matter. Here are three days we need to number this year. 

Days with God
There are only 52 Sundays in the year. Even if you attend all 52, 1 hour worship services, that will only add up to a little more than 6 work days or 2 complete days in worship out of 365. If you really want to see your faith increase, you’ll need to add more days with God by reading scripture, engaging in prayer, and having daily personal devotions.

Days with Family
Even though I work from home, I’m still working and not engaging my family. My daughter is gone to school eight hours a day, my son is at work, and my wife is working as well. Then weekends are usually taken up with ministry related activities. So I must be deliberate about planning family time, and so should you. Don’t let the year go by without making your family a priority. Actually, don’t let a week go by without spending some quality time with your family.

Days for Self
Work, school, church, and extra activities can crowd us in easily. We may look up from our desks in June and realize we haven’t had a break. By then it’s too late. Make time to refresh yourself this year. You’re not good to your family, church, or job if you’re burned out. Be deliberate about taking time for yourself and protecting that time with a kind but firm “no” when others try to add to your schedule.

Pray and ask God to give you wisdom on how to manage your time in 2015. With his guidance, this will be your best year. 

Battle of the Mind

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Let’s face it, we all have some un-evangelized places in our minds. I know I do. These are the places where negativity, doubt, and the subtle thoughts that lead to sin reside. How we deal with these thoughts is vitally important because whoever controls the mind, wins the spiritual battle. 

As Paul talks about spiritual warfare in 2 Corinthians 10:5, he gives us some ideas on how to win the battle over our minds. Take a look and then we’ll unpack a few thoughts. 

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; (2 Corinthians 10:5 KJV)

1. Don’t own every thought. Some thoughts, ideas, and imaginations need to be cast down. When negative or impure thoughts enter our minds, we can’t let them roam free. We can’t let our minds become idle. “An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.”

2. Compare every thought to the knowledge of God. The more we know about God; his words, will, and ways, the easier it will become to identify negative thinking. We must ask ourselves “are my thoughts pleasing to God?”

3. Make every thought obedient to Christ. Christ is Lord and ruler over the domain of our minds. Therefore, every negative, impure thought that enters our minds must be made obedient to his authority. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we must make a choice to reject bad thoughts and submit our minds to the Lordship of Christ. 

What are some other ways to win the battle of our minds?