Above The Noise

Sometimes an opportunity seemingly drops in your lap for the next big thing.  When you find the TV sale, car, house or job of a life-time, it can be incredibly exciting.  You might even find yourself thinking, “I must be living right” and you very well may be.  Sometimes big opportunities are unexpected blessings and at other times they are expected rewards.  You may have been saving Christmas money for years to be able to afford that new TV, or driving the wheels off of your current car.  You might have the opportunity for promotion because of the endless hours of hard work and dedication you have given to XYZ Company.  But, should you buy it, or should you take that opportunity to do more and to earn more?  When it feels right, is the answer always, “YES”?

Very early in my engineering career, I remember reading Psalm 1:1 “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…”[NKJV] I was in my office and jumped up to go and share it’s wisdom with a co-worker.  She was wrestling with a desire to step away from her job to be home with her two quickly growing boys.  She was incredibly talented in her role and was consistently given opportunities to advance her career. The words were screaming from the pages and I wanted to encourage her to listen to those who could give her solid godly advice; not just sound corporate advice.  Neither direction was inherently wrong, but the decisions she made would set some distinctively different paths.  To keep it short, it has been fun to hear from her over the years.  I hear how her boys are growing and how she is so thankful to be available as a mom to lead them at critical times.  The family had to make some different financial decisions but in the rear view mirror she was convinced that her choice to invest at home was the right one.

Fast forward several years…On the tail end of a very successful project I was leading, the “next big thing” discussions began with my boss and my boss’s boss.  There were several production leader jobs coming open and as a young engineer I was on the verge of an early opportunity to excel.  With visions of sugar-plums dancing in my head, I began to enjoy the possibility of being rewarded well for my hard work.  I began to dream about the perks that came with such a position, and began to feed the desire to have the new role.  In the same season, God was pressing me about investing more heavily in ministry to others.   I was unclear what ministry would look like vocationally or the timing of such a transition. Neither direction seemed inherently wrong, but I was certain decisions made would set some distinctively different paths. 

I began seeking advice from my company mentors as well as input from trusted Christians.  As Nancy and I were completely open to God’s will and whatever was next, Psalm 1 came full circle.   I remember burying my forehead in my hands as I read, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly…” because the words were screaming directly at me.  I was attempting to pursue the dreams of this life as if they were some how independent from the call of the eternal. I was reminded that I MUST allow the voices that represented God’s counsel to speak the loudest in my life.  To keep it short, I will never forget a manager asking, “Here is the acid test.  Are you ready to give up your career?”  And how my heart raced as I responded, “I think I am willing to take that risk.”  The decision to step off of a fast paced career path was frightening and even disillusioning at times, but I could not have scripted a more exciting path to today.

I am not saying that you should necessarily pass on every big promotion, or suggesting that the only option is to drive your car past it’s expiration date. Ungodly counsel is loud, constant, and convincing.  It will find you…on every screen and speaker you encounter.  Unless you “delight in the Lord’s instruction” [Psalm 1:2 HCSB] and seek Godly counsel, the one voice you need to hear may be drowned out by the noise of this world.

Be The Tree

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…but His delight is in the Law of the Lord…”
Psalm 1:1-2 (ESV)

Everyone is influenced by someone- including you. None of us live our lives in an vacuum, and there are few places where this becomes more evident than in our everyday decision making. Every decision we make is an exercise in yielding ourselves to certain people, and certain messages. This being the case, it becomes incredibly critical that we take the time to consider who and what is speaking most loudly into our lives and influencing our choices.

Psalm 1 presents us with two broad categories of influence, both enormously potent- the “counsel of the wicked” and the “law of the Lord.” Defining these two sources briefly, the “law of the Lord” is found in God’s Word, the Bible, and in the lives and influence of those who walk according to it. On the flip side, the “counsel of the wicked” is found in the world’s values, and in the lives and influence of those who walk according to it. This “counsel” comes to us in many varied forms- film and television, music and art, politics and even human religion. Often, at first glance, it seems to carry much in common with what God says is true and right. But upon closer examination, the deceptiveness and destructiveness of the world’s “counsel” becomes clear.

The “counsel of the wicked” is ultimately rooted in a lie- a tremendously tempting lie- the belief that what matters most in life is doing what makes you happy, as quickly as possible, at any cost. The world we live in promises us in a thousand different ways that if we could just look like this, have this relationship, have this experience, have this new “toy,” achieve this success, then all of our problems will suddenly fade away, and we’ll finally be happy. The ways in which this lie drives much of our decision making are seemingly unending…

• We drift in and out of relationships- including marriage- in the hopes that this time, this person will finally provide us with what we’re looking for. Inevitably, though, they don’t- and we’re left to make our exit and resume our search again.
• We bury ourselves under a mountain of financial bondage- in the hopes that this time, this purchase will finally satisfy the longings of our soul. Inevitably, though, they don’t- and we’re left to spend more to acquire more to appease our appetites.
• We run in and out of jobs- and even careers- in the hopes that this time, this move will finally give us the sense of purpose and achievement we can’t seem to get. Inevitably, though, we find ourselves disillusioned yet again, left to blame someone or something else for our unhappiness, and look for the next opportunity.

I could go on, but I think by now the point is clear. The “counsel of the wicked” always overpromises and under delivers- and in the wake of decisions made according to this influence, there is often grave damage to you and to others who are inevitably impacted by your decisions.

The “law of the Lord,” though, leads us in a drastically different direction. While Psalm 1 present the “wicked” as windblown “chaff” which is tossed and thrown amidst the pressures of life in this world, the man or woman who “meditates on the law of the Lord” is pictured as a “tree planted by streams of water.” In contrast to the flighty and unreliable nature of the world’s counsel, this is an image of strength, steadiness, and endurance over the long haul of life. It isn’t an image of ease- after all, trees are subjected to the same natural pressures as “chaff”- but it is a picture of resiliency in the face of life’s storms.

In every decision we make, we have a choice to yield ourselves to one of these two sources of influence- the “counsel of the wicked” or the “law of the Lord.” To use the psalmists’ imagery, we can either be the “chaff,” or we can be the “tree.” Being the “chaff” will always seem tempting on the front end, because it seems to lead to quick results. But when all is said and done, the “chaff” will be long gone; only the “tree” planted by the “streams of water” of God’s Word and wisdom will remain. God desires- for His glory, and for your good- that you would anchor yourself in those “streams,” believing that in the end, the “fruit” borne out from that choice is better and sweeter than anything this world can offer.

Practically speaking, what does it look like to “be the tree”? Two recommendations- seek wisdom from wise people, and saturate yourself in God’s Word. I don’t think you need me to tell you that if you want to take a step toward faithfulness in any area of life (i.e. marriage/parenting, generosity, evangelism), it helps to find someone who is a few steps down the road from you and ask them to speak the truth out of their experience into yours. Perfect examples don’t exist this side of heaven, but living examples of godliness do; find them, and engage them however you can.

But even more important is making the choice to saturate yourself daily in the eternal wisdom of God’s Word. Don’t wait until you’re “under the gun” of a big decision to open God’s Word for answers. Take it with you everywhere you go by rooting yourself within it consistently. Read it, study it, meditate on it, memorize it, talk about it with others, and ultimately live it. There is no greater source of nourishment available for our souls- and no greater source of wisdom for our decisions- than what God has provided us in His Word. You’ll never “be the tree” that God desires you to be until you’re planted in those “streams.” As you walk this week, ask yourself these questions…

With whom am I walking, standing and sharing life?
To whom or what am I yielding in the process of making life decisions?

Am I seeking wisdom from wise people, or am I submitting myself to the “counsel of the wicked” in any way?
Am I saturating myself daily in God’s Word, growing the deep roots that I need to make godly decisions?

My NBA dreams were shattered, but I had God’s Word

You may not know this, but I almost went to the NBA. Only a few things held me back. First, I was 5’11” and 125 lbs. I have added some pounds since then, but mostly rock solid muscle of course. Secondly, I was limited in talent. Apart from that, I was a shoe in.

Seriously, I love playing basketball. It is one of my favorite hobbies. Always has been. I actually was a decent player too. I was quick and could shoot the ball fairly well.

Here is a truth about playing basketball you may not know. Once a person steps on the court, all the masks come off. If you want to know who a person really is, you observe them playing basketball. I am convinced of it. I actually think it should be a prerequisite for job interviews or premarital counseling. Have the bride and groom to be go one on one. Watch them play one hour of basketball. You will know if it’s meant to be. Trust me.

When I was 21, I was leading a ministry at a Christian camp. We played basketball regularly with the high school students. I was “this close” to NBA stardom (I hope you have caught on to my slight sarcasm). Then, in an instant. I changed direction catching the ball and my leg bent in a way it shouldn’t have. I knew my knee was shredded.

Of course, the physical pain was intense and would be for some time. But here is what flooded my mind the moment I hit the ground: I was saving for a ring to propose to my girl and that cost money. I was on my way to seminary for a Master’s degree. That costs money. I knew I would need surgery and I didn’t have insurance. That would cost money. On top of that, I knew that I didn’t have money.

So, in this instance, it would be understandable by many that the first words to come out of my mouth would probably get me fired if I were to quote them in this blog. But, what came out of my mouth surprised even me.

In all my frustration and pain as I rolled around on the gym floor, I began quoting James chapter 1. “Consider it pure joy my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be made mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

You see, just a month earlier, Jessica and I committed to memorize God’s Word together. We hid this deep in our hearts. And it made a difference.

Here’s what this practice does:
If gives you victory over temptation.
It gives you comfort in despair.
It helps you communicating the Gospel and the greatness of God.

Chuck Swindoll wrote, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified” (Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life).

Will you hide His Word in your heart, so that in times when you least expect, it will overflow in your speech and action?

Really?

Stop-Sign

“Indeed the safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

The Screwtape Letters is a very unique view into life. The story is written from the perspective of one demon training another on how to deceive people and prevent them from following Christ.

This particular quote makes a Scripturally true observation. The road to destruction is wide and many choose it. The road to eternal life is narrow and few choose it. On this wide road of destruction there are no milestones reminding you of where you are actually headed or signposts to warn you about the dangers involved in the decisions you are making.

Your life decision makes your life’s decisions. This principle is the Decisional principle of life. There are decisions that, once made, make other decisions. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” This truth reminds us that the decision to come after Christ makes many, many other decisions in life.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick;
 who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) It is a tough truth in life but sin, ours and others, has so damaged us that our own heart is sick and deceives even us. The worst advice you can give in life is “just follow your heart.” Follow wisdom. The heart will lead you into folly, failure, pain, and problems.

Before making a decision, stop…collaborate and listen…wait, not that is not it.

Before making a decision, stop and measure your motives. If the heart is deceitful, then we know motives are not always easily measured. Ask yourself this question. Why am I doing this, REALLY?

Trust in the Lord, and do good;
 dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:3-5)

Motives are best measured through the filter of the Eternal Decision. Are you or are you not a follower of Christ? Does this look like following Christ? Did he tell me to do this or not do this.

If you want to measure your motives, measure your trust. Who and what are you trusting in? If you want to understand your own trust, measure your direction. You are going in the direction you trust, or at least once trusted.

There is a direct relationship between delight and desire & desire and direction.

Delight in the Lord leads to your way being committed to him because you desire what he desires. This relationship, however, can be difficult and deceiving. We delight in what we desire and we head in the direction of what we desire. But we also find that the direction we headed because of what we desire is often not nearly as delightful as we thought it would be.

This leads us to three questions this passage causes. These are questions we must ask ourselves to examine our delight, our desires, and our direction?

What am I doing?

The verse says do good. Are you doing good?

What am I dwelling on?

The verse says to dwell in the land…the Promised Land. Dwell in the promises of God. What is consuming your thoughts, soul and mind?

What is delicate in my life?

The verse says befriend faithfulness. It means to tend to with care and concern. What in your life gets special attention and concern to guarantee that it happens.

If you want your delights to change, your desires must change. For your desires to change, your direction must change. Yet it is the Lord that sets himself as our delight. We must simply choose to go in the direction that delights in Him.

Let the Lord, himself, be your delight. Move in that direction and He will change your desires.

End Of The Road

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it…Matthew 16:24-25 (ESV)

Yesterday, we launched a new series at Fellowship Church called Decisional. As the name suggests, over these next weeks we will be discovering together how to effectively navigate life’s many decisions, particularly those “decisional” decisions which reach beyond the “right here, right now” to resonate with influence and impact well into the future. And on the spectrum of life’s decisions, there is no more “decisional” decision than our response to the invitation which Jesus lays before His disciples- and before us- in the above text.

“If anyone would come after me…” With this simple call, Jesus makes two critical truths clear- one, that this invitation is open to “anyone” who would take it, and two, that there is no “middle ground” to be had here. In response to Jesus’ invitation, there are only two directions in this life- with Jesus, or without Him. We may not like being painted into that corner, but if we want to dwell in the realm of reality, we simply must turn one way or the other; Jesus won’t allow us to remain “neutral” here.

Now, a moment of honesty- If I’m Jesus, and I want people to take me up on my offer, I’m not certain that I would employ His stated strategy. He pulls no punches as to the nature of following Him, making explicitly clear from the outset that it will mean self-denial, the daily “taking up” of a Cross, and the “loss” of one’s life. Jesus says to anyone who’ll listen, “The decision to follow me is the decision to die.” Not exactly the most compelling “sales pitch” you’ve ever heard, is it? So why, then, would anyone choose this direction? If the alternative to following Jesus is being your own master, living life your way, calling your own shots, why would you give all of that up to go with Him?

The key to understanding the answer to that question lies in 16:25. In this verse, Jesus reveals the absolutely upside down nature of the economy of the Kingdom of God. He says to His disciples, and to us, “If you choose what looks like “life,” in the end you’ll lose it all. But if instead you follow me down this road toward “death,” you’ll find real life, the very thing for which you were created.” You see, Jesus has a perspective far broader and far reaching than ours; He knows what’s at the end of each of these “roads.” He knows that the road opposite His, as attractive as it may seem in the short term, is ultimately a dead end, while the road after Him is the pathway to eternal life.

The principle that underlies Jesus’ invitation is this- Whatever you live for in this life ultimately becomes your reward. You want to be your own god? Go for it. But recognize that at the end of that road, you have yourself for your hope- and trust me, you’re going to make for a thoroughly disappointing god. On the contrary, if you choose to follow Jesus, regardless of what challenges you may face along the way, He will be waiting for you at the end of that road. Better than that, He will be with you as you take every step along the way. Oh, that God would give us a sense of just how desperately we need Him to satisfy our restless hearts!

So what does all of this have to do with our decision making? Everything. You see, your life’s Decision will make your life’s decisions. The direction in which you set your life- with Jesus, or without Him- will become the “filter” through which your everyday decisions are made. Decisions about your family and relationships. Decisions about your finances. Decisions about your work. Decisions about your sexuality. Decisions about everything.

That’s why before we can talk about our everyday decisions, we must grapple with our eternal Decision. Jesus has made Himself clear; there is no “bait and switch” happening here. The only question now is, How will you respond? Will you go His way, or yours? The crossroads is before you. Your move.

Decisional: Navigating Life’s Decisions

decisional

We kick off a new series today titled Decisional.

We all make decisions every day in many, many ways. We choose one option among many in life day in and day out.

There are certain moments in life, however, that we must make a decisional decision. A decisional decision is directional. It affects the decisions that come after it.

Jesus says in Matthew 16 “if anyone would come after me…” He then spells out what one must do. It requires denying yourself and taking up your cross. It requires us to lose our life so might find life.

The decisional decision is “if anyone would come after me.” That decision makes many other decisions for you. Following Jesus means doing certain things in life – worshipping, speaking the Gospel to others, giving sacrificially, etc. The decision to do those things is made the moment you decide to follow Jesus, whether you realize it in that moment or not.

This one decision also decides some things you will not do. Commit adultery. Murder. Hate your neighbor. Etc. Whether you realized in the moment you decided to follow Jesus or not everything you decided, in that moment, you decided to not do some things in and with your life.

This week we kick off a series about Decisional decisions. Following Jesus is THE Decisional Decision in life, but there are others, too. There are decisions you make that make other decisions.

What are some other decisional decisions people make?

The Big Picture Continues…

The Big Picture of the Bible focuses on Jesus.

What about now? What about today? Did the story of God end with the New Testament or does it continue today?

The Church is today’s Big Picture.
The Church is God’s current collection of parts and people for his purposes and plans. We are “on screen” in the story of God.

In Matthew 28:18-20 we read Jesus’ last words to his followers before he ascends into the Heavens. They are words of action and mission. They are words of power and authority.

It is by the power of Christ and in the authority of Christ that we know that the eternal victory is won but the everyday battle continues. We know this battle and we have caught glimpses of this victory in our everyday lives as we struggle to faithfully live out our part in God’s mission.

This active mission is spoken in four action words: Go. Make. Baptize. Teach.
Go means, well, go. It means consistent, constant, and concerted effort.
Make means cause people who are not followers of Christ to become followers of Christ.
Baptize means to put under the water and bring up out of the water those who are boldly confessing with their lives that Jesus is Lord.
Teach means to instruct in a way that causes more than head knowledge but life change.

There are three tensions in this mission.
Go to get or get to go?
Is church something you go to get what you want and/or need in life? Or is church what you get to go be in the world around you?
Make meetings or meet to make?
Is church something you need to make sure you make the next meeting at? Or is church a place where you gather with the purpose of being a part of making disciples alongside other followers of Jesus?
Taught to learn or do we teach to teach?
Is the responsibility of leaders and pastors in your church to teach you so you might learn or to teach you so you might teach others?

We are not the ending point of this story. We are never the focus of any chapter in it. Jesus is the focus and he is the ending.

We get to go as ambassadors of Christ and make his appeal to the world around us.
We meet to make disciples. We have the privilege of not forsaking the gathering of the saints as we are corporately and individually made more into the likeness of Christ.
We teach to teach. The purpose of everything the Church teaches you is so that God might use you to teach others. Everyone is not a “teacher” in the traditional sense but we are all teachers in the spiritual sense. Who is learning who Jesus is because of you?

God has not invited us to church activities, but to be the Church in action.

This is not a call to abandon faithfulness in the gathering and working of the Church but a call to understand why you are there. You are not there for you. Jesus is the focus of this Big Picture. So get focused and get active.