10 Life Lessons We Can Learn From The 2015 NCAA Basketball Tournament

duke-blue-devils-NCAA-national-champs-400x242Life Lessons Learned From This Year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament

We just completed a fantastic NCAA tournament and though for me the greatest part of March Madness was that the team who has been my favorite team since 1986, the Duke Blue Devils, won the National Championship, there was far more than just a championship that grabbed my attention this year.   One day after that great final game, I sat down and made a list of 10 life lessons that even if you are not a sports fan can learn from what we witnessed this March and early April.

  1. Enjoy Every Moment – For many, One of the greatest  memories coming out of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament was Georgia State’s RJ Hunter hitting the game winning shot that caused his coach/father, Ron Hunter, to completely fall off his stool in celebration.   That had to be one of the proudest moments that father had ever had, coaching his son who hits the game winning shot.  However, what stood out to me was Ron Hunter’s words later when he said that he wanted to enjoy this time tournament with his son as a father, not merely as his coach.  He stated that he was enjoying every minute , soaking in every moment, of his time in the tournament.

 

What an incredible truth that we all need to take to heart.  Our moments on earth are fleeting.  Those times to be treasured with our families are here today and gone tomorrow.   Ron Hunter knew that his coaching time with his son would be over soon.  His relationship with him would never be the same again, so he made sure he enjoyed every moment he could.

What about the people in your life?  Your family?  Your closest friends?  If you are a coach, like I am, what about your players?  Do you treasure and enjoy every minute you have with them?  Your time with each of those closest to you is fleeting.  One day, it will be over.  Don’t let the time slip away from you.  Enjoy every moment.

  1. Don’t Ever Give Up – It seems that every year in the tournament, there are teams who have no business winning a game, somehow pulling off the miracle and beating a much better opponent. Often times, these wins come when a team is trailing with seemingly very little chance to win, yet they continue to play with a never say die  And when it is done, they somehow manage to pull off the great upset.  2015 was no different.  How many people had their brackets completely busted by  a team winning that no one expected to win?

That never give up attitude needs to permeate through every aspect of our lives.    No matter how bleak things appear to be, no matter how much it seems there is no chance, don’t ever give up on the people in your life, the circumstances in your life, and especially yourself.  I sometimes wonder what we miss out on and what great things didn’t get accomplished because we gave up too soon.  Just as in so many tournament games, it is never over until the final buzzer sounds, our lives are never over until that final buzzer calls us home.  Until then, don’t ever give up.

  1. When you play for each other rather than playing for yourself, you accomplish more.  – One of the reoccurring themes you heard in postgame press conferences  this year was how that particular group of guys played that season more for each other than they did themselves.  As a result, those teams as a whole were much better than the sum of their parts.  Perhaps no one epitomized that concept more than the Wisconsin Badgers, who came within a couple of breaths of winning the whole thing.  This was a group of guy who hung together after last year’s heart-breaking loss in the semi-finals, committing themselves to each other to return to make another run at a championship.   Throughout the year and the tournament, they played hard, played smart, and played together like few basketball teams do.

In virtually every facet of our lives, whether it be our job, our family, our church, or some cause or organization that we believe in, we will always rise higher and make a stronger impact when we live for other people instead of ourselves.  When we become part of something that is bigger than ourselves, that is when we find success.    Conversely, if we live for mainly ourselves, failure becomes the end result.

Allow me to challenge you to live to love and serve others instead of living for yourself.  Although that has become a forgotten fact, that living to show love to other people is what Jesus Christ said is the one essential thing that proves who follows Him and who does not.

  1. To be successful, you must learn to change and adapt. Many Duke haters will want to argue the greatness of Coach K, but the one thing that can’t be debated is his ability to adapt and to change to be successful.  During his three decade plus tenure of coaching at Duke, he has changed and adapted his style to keep up with the changing times.  The way he coached his first national championship team is not the same way he coached any of his other four national championship teams.  His style of play changes to match the players he has and he always adapts to the needs of his players as to how he leads and motivates them.

However, as a basketball coach, one of the things that most impresses me about Coach K as a coach is his ability to adjust things during any given game.   How many times in this year’s tournament alone, did he make a simple adjustment here and there to bring his team from the brink of defeat to the victor’s podium?   Whether it was changing from their staple man-to-man defense to a zone defense or changing their offensive formations to exploit a mismatch, Coach K once again has proven that he is a master of in-game adaption.  One only has to look at the final 9:00 minutes of the championship game to see this point.  Down by nine points and his star player going to the bench with four fouls, his Blue Devil team outscored the Badgers 29-15 the rest of the way.

How many of us learn to adapt and change in the areas of our lives that we live?  Do we face each person and each situation as unique or do we rely on doing the same thing as we always do.  Parents, do you deal with each of your children the same way?  Do you raise them the exact same way as you were raised?  Or do you adapt to the changing times and pressures?  Do you adapt to the needs of each of your children?

In any area of our lives, if we stay stuck in doing things the way we always have, without adapting and changing, then it is doubtful that any of those areas of our lives will ever be truly successful.  Why?  Because our focus is on the formula and not on the people.   If you focus on the people you walk through life with, then all those relationships and what comes out of it, will be more successful.

  1. Without hard work and preparation, nothing great is accomplished. – As I watched the tournament games this year, there were times I was very impressed with the preparation teams put into scouting their opponents.   It went far deeper than know the spots on the floor where people liked to shoot or what mismatches they could exploit.  In some games, it was if a team knew exactly what their opponent was going to do.  Some of these teams were so well coached that each player automatically knew how to adjust when they had been forced into a mismatch.  They could not have done this without a lot of hard work and preparation.

Many of us dream of winning our own version of the national championship in different areas of our lives.  We want our family to win.  We want our career to win.  We want other interests in our lives to win.  But none of those will win if we are not willing to put in the hard work and preparation needed to make us win.  It takes time and it takes effort.  Nothing great is accomplished just by showing up.  You have to work and you have to prepare.  That is the only way to accomplish great things.

 

  1. Greatness is temporary and fleeting – All we heard about all year was how great Kentucky was.  How no one could beat them.  They would be that first undefeated National Champions since Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers pulled the feat in 1976.  They were anointed as National Champions before the tournament ever began.  Yet, just like the 1991 mighty undefeated UNLV team who had been called by some the greatest team ever, this Kentucky Wildcat team fell in the semi-finals.  Once again, the undefeated team went home without a championship.  Their greatness was temporary and two other teams battled for the crown.

Always keep in mind that greatness is fleeting.  We are only as good as what we do today.  Sometimes the worst mistakes people can make is living on their laurels and not doing the little things to continue to get better.  No matter what area in your life you are thinking about, if you are not continually improving and getting stronger, the greatness that you might feel will be temporary.  Your job may be great right now.  Your family may be great right now.  Your finances may be great right now.  But in one single moment, a Wisconsin might sweep in and destroy your dream.  Keep working, keep striving, and keep getting better in every area of your life so no one can ever “badger” you into defeat.

 

  1. Win with dignity and lose with class – Perhaps more than any other year that I have watched the tournament, this year showed the worst side of coaches and players in defeat. From a few Kentucky players walking off the court after their loss without shaking hands with the team who beat them to Wisconsin’s  coach, Bo Ryan refusing to acknowledge Duke’s play, but instead blaming the officials for their loss, this tournament showed how not to face defeat.

Before this year, it has been common practice to praise your opponents for outplaying you.  But this year showed what I fear might become more and more common.  Play the blame game.  What are we teaching the younger generation when we blame others for our losses.   It is not your fault.  Someone cheated you.  You are not to blame.    Whatever you do, don’t take responsibility for what happened to you.   As a coach, I know that I cannot let my players blame anyone else for their losses.  As long as they don’t take personal responsibility and blame other people, then they will never learn what it takes to win.

Isn’t it that way in life too?  When we don’t take responsibilities for our own failures, no matter what area of life they are in, we will never truly succeed in those areas.   Blaming your relationship issues on the other person will never teach you what you need to do to change.  Blaming your failure at your job on your co-workers or even your boss will always lead to continued failure.

That is why in every area of our lives, we need to learn to succeed or win with dignity and when we fail or lose, we do it with class.  We take responsibility for our failure, learn from it, and move on.

  1. Defense still wins championships – From a basketball coach’s perspective and a sports enthusiast in general, I love those teams who still make defense a major part of their game. A year ago, Connecticut rode their great defense to a national championship.  This year, the Duke Blue Devils took their defensive prowess to the next level holding opponents to the lowest scoring average in NCAA post shot clock tournament history.   For years, I have termed the final four minutes of a game, “Winning Time” and this year’s Blue Devils seemed to find a way in the final segment of each big game to turn up their defensive intensity.  Their defense, especially down the stretch, became the biggest reason they were able to win many of their games – including the championship game.

For me, in this age of the glitz glamor of offense, it is refreshing to see a team hang its hat on and win with defense.  However, in my musings about the greatness of Duke’s Defense in this tournament, I came to the realization that in many ways we too need to hang our hats on our ability to defend against those things in our lives that pull us down.   For many of us, in many areas, if we don’t put up defenses in our lives, we WILL be crushed.  We will fall to external attacks and pressures.   Stress will eat at us until we break, relationships will be strained to the point of crumbling, and we will break down both physically and emotionally.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  If we know our weaknesses (and we all should know where we are weakest) then we need to learn how to defend against it.  If you want to keep from losing in any area of your life, then learn to play defense in your life.  Learn to stop your opponents that are set to beat you.  Defense really does win.

  1. Sometimes, it is the role players in our lives that propel us to greatness – If you watched the NCAA National Championship Game, you saw two of Duke’s best players go to the bench in foul trouble with the Blue Devils trailing by nine points in the second half. Enter, little used reserve freshman wing player, Grayson Allen.  The same Grayson Allen who did not even get off the bench the first time Duke played Wisconsin.  However, in the championship game, Allen stood taller than he had all season, scoring 8 straight points (16 for the game) to bring his team back into the game.  It would not be a stretch at all to say that without Grayson Allen, the Blue Devils would not have won Coach K’s fifth national championship.

Just as Grayson Allen’s play propelled Duke to the championship, we all have those people in our lives who may not be the front and center of what we do or are all about.  But for any of us who ever has or ever will accomplish anything great in our lives, we have to know that without the help of others, we would never win that championship.  So whatever it is that you accomplish in life, make sure that you find your Grayson Allen’s that are part of your life and acknowledge them for their part in the accomplishments achieved.

  1. Each day look for that one shining moment – One of the last scenes each year of the NCAA tournament is the video montage that CBS puts together celebrating the shining moments of the nearly month long magical spectacle we call March Madness. This video captures the highs and lows of all ends of the emotional spectrum that runs through the tournament as the words, “One Shining Moment” are repeated throughout the montage.  We see the buzzer beating shots and the great plays of the tournament.  We feel with its participants both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.  But in the end, we are left saluting not just the National Champion team, but every team that played in this magical tournament – every team that had their shining moments.

I want to challenge you to find that shining moment in every day of your life.  Don’t just acknowledge and find joy in your championships, but find happiness and contentment in each day of your journey.  Just as the CBS video crew captures those magic moments from each game in the tournament, each day of our lives has those shining moments for us to capture.  We just have to look for them, find them, acknowledge them, and celebrate them.  Every day will have at least one shining moment.  Celebrate it.  It will make you a happier and more content person.

May the NCAA tournament and March Madness always remind you of the good things in life.

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Why I No Longer Want To Be Called a Christian

No ChristianI recently made a decision that I am sure is going to be controversial.   For those who will be offended by this decision, I am truly sorry.  However, I urge you to read this post in its entirety so that you can better understand why I made this decision.  After 44 years of calling myself a Christian, I have decided that I no longer want to be associated with what the term Christian entails.  No, I am not renouncing my faith in Christ.  That faith and love for God is as strong and present as ever.  In fact, it is partly for that reason why I no longer want to be called a Christian.

I know I can hear many of you mumbling right now in confusion as to what I am saying.  That is understandable as over the past few weeks, I have battled within my own heart whether or not this decision is strictly a reaction to the fact that I have once again seen Christians, under the pretext that they are acting in accordance with their church belief, do things in a way that is unChristlike or is Christ Himself leading me towards this decision.

As I struggled through that decision, I decided to do what is always the best thing to do.  I went to the Bible itself.   When I started examining Christ’s teachings and the writings of the Apostles, I began to realize something very disturbing.  Not only did Paul never use the word Christian in any of his writings, not only did Jesus never refer to His followers as Christians, but to my surprise, the word Christian is only used three times in the Bible.  But more surprising than the number of times it appears, is the realization that this term was used as a derogatory term by those outside the faith.  In other words, those who were opposed to Christ, called the followers of Christ Christians.  It was meant as a put down.

Okay, I know some of you are probably thinking, what’s the big deal?  This is just semantics.  But I want to propose to you that in today’s western world, it goes way deeper than semantics.  Christians today are NOTHING like those followers of Christ in the first century.  How do I know?  Quite simply, if you were to ask the people in your office, neighborhood, or those you run into at the grocery store, a high percentage of them would call themselves Christians.   And if you were to ask each one of them what a Christian is, you would probably get at least a dozen different answers.  The term Christian is not clearly defined in our world, therefore a high majority of people in the western world consider themselves Christians.  Yet, since the Bible never gives a definition for the word Christian, we have no argument to support the way we want to define Christianity.  In other words, people define it anyway they want and they act in accordance with their own thoughts as to what a Christian is supposed to be like and supposed to do.

Oh, but my reasoning for no longer wanting to be called a Christian goes much deeper than the fact that in the first century, that term was used by the pagans in a derogatory way.   One look at history will give you more than enough evidence to show that Christians are not the greatest of people.  All you have to do is look at things like the Crusades or all the times Christians have burned people at the stake because they didn’t believe the way they did.   Somehow, I just can’t see Christ condoning that.

But honestly, I don’t have to look at history to convince myself to renounce the term Christian.  All I have to do is look at people in our western world that claim to be Christians.  I’m not even talking about those who bomb abortion clinics or those who are part of the Westboro Baptist Church and all their antics.  I am talking about the average church goer that sits in the seats each Sunday morning in the churches that we attend.   Oh they love to talk the talk and tell people how much they care, but yet they turn on people in a heartbeat and in the name of the church and in the guise of Christianity, they cast judgment on people.

I understand that I am about to stir up a hornets’ nest because I am going to hit some people right between the eyes.  But quite frankly I am tired of Christians acting so unlike Christ when it comes to not only dealing with the lost world, but also how they deal with other Christians.    Christians are the most judgmental people around.  They judge the world based on the standards they believe the Bible teaches.  And they may be right in that the Bible does teach that.  For instance (get ready here), I do believe the Bible teaches that homosexuality is a sin.  However, so many Christians become absolutely homophobic and in a very real sense make it very clear that they do not want to associate with such a sinner.  Is that what Jesus would have done?  Not the Jesus I know from reading the New Testament.  That Jesus went to the homes of sinners.  That Jesus loved the sinners.  These Christians hide behind the phrase, “Hate the sin, but love the sinner,” and they think that covers them.  But do they truly show love?  No, the message that they so clearly demonstrate is that they hate the sinner as much or more than they hate the sin.  Their very words and actions show they do not separate the sin from the sinners.  They are so far from the way Christ lived that it is appalling.

Where did Christians get the idea that the lost world, the ones who are without Christ, must live according to the standards that they who call themselves Christians have?  Even when those standards might be good and Godly standards, we cannot expect those who do not have the power of the Holy Spirit inside them to live like those who do.  Let’s face it.  They are sinners.  They are supposed to sin.  They can’t help it.  That’s who they are and what they do.  The only power they have to not live a sinful life is when God takes control of their lives.  So Christians, you do more harm than good by trying to hold the world to God’s standards.  The world simply cannot hold itself to God’s standards.  So why do Christians judge them when they do not live according to the standards that they cannot possibly live up to?

But my beef with Christians goes even deeper than how so many view and treat those who are not part of their belief system.  My biggest complaint about Christians is how they treat their own people.  I am appalled at how often Christians blast other Christian leaders for something they said from the pulpit (sometimes it is even taken out of context).  I have seen and heard Christians call other Christian leaders heretics and blasphemers because they said something that did not entirely fit into their neat little doctrinal package.  I’m not saying that these things the leaders had said were always good or even benign.  They may have truly been totally off base.  However, to publically execute them with your nasty words is uncalled for and is a terrible example to the rest of the world.  Yet, so many Christians do this out of the guise that they are standing for truth.

But what is truth?  What is the truth about what Jesus expects from those who claim His name?  As I mentioned earlier, Jesus NEVER referred to people as Christians.  He called them His disciples.  The term disciple means nothing more than being a follower of Christ.  Now before you go and once again accuse me of splitting hairs and just making this a matter of semantics, let’s look at how Jesus says people will know who His true disciples are.  In John 13:35, Jesus Himself says that our love for one another will prove to the world that we are His disciples.  It’s not what we know, how often we go to church, whether we tithe faithfully, or if we speak in tongues or anything else.  Love is the key that demonstrates that we are His disciples.  That’s it.  Love.  Undying, life-changing, undeniable, unconditional, self-sacrificing, love.  Anything less, according to Jesus, then we are not a follower of His.   We may call ourselves a Christian – whatever that means – but we are not following Christ.   Followers of Christ consistently demonstrates love to the world, the Christians, and other followers of Christ.

Yet love is all too often absent from those who call themselves Christians.  Oh they sometimes put on an air of love in order to either impress someone or make themselves feel good, but the true love that Jesus demonstrated when He walked the earth, that love that says “I am going to step into the circle with those who are hurting or down and out, and I am going to encourage them, offer a helping hand, and help hold them up” is absent from most Christians and as a result most churches.  Instead, Christians are notorious for shooting their own wounded.   They don’t love.  They hurt.  It is the way of Christianity.  It has been through all of history and it is still the way of the Christian church today.  It is not the way of a follower of Christ.

For me, I have been let down and hurt by Christians one too many times.  So many of them are just a more civilized version of those who were part of the crusades or even the Salem witch trials.   Instead of demonstrating true love and reaching out to those who are lonely and hurting, they ignore them and hope they go away.  At times, they even push them away.   After all, that is what Christians have historically done.  Today’s Christian is just like Christians of past eras.  They wound more than they heal.

So I no longer consider myself a Christian because that is a term that really has no meaning.  People define it however they want to.   And most those who call themselves Christians do not live a life that truly follows Christ example.   Instead, I want to be a disciple.  I want to be called a Follower of Christ.  I want to learn from His example and live the way He lived.  I want others to see His love in me, and by that love, they will know that I am a follower of His.   Let the Christians continue to be whatever they want to be.  Let them continue to be judgmental hypocrites who care more about their doctrines and beliefs than they care about showing God’s love.  I no longer want to be one of them.  I want to offer hope and life, not condemnation and pain.

Yes, I will fail at being a follower of Christ.  I will fail miserably.  I will not always live the life of love and there will be times that people will think I am a Christian and not a follower of Christ.  But my desire and my goal is follow Christ’s example and not live by the ways of Christianity.  I do not want to be judgmental and aloof to the needs of others.  I don’t want to go to church and occupy a seat on Sunday and tell others I care about them and then don’t think about them the rest of the week.   I don’t want to ignore the hurting people in my life without offering hope and encouragement.

And I pray that I am not alone in this exodus from Christianity.  I pray that many will stop living, acting, and speaking like a Christian and will become a true follower of Christ.   I pray that churches will begin to spring up that will emphasize following Christ by exhibiting love to both their world and to those who are part of their fellowship.   That is the only way that we can make a true difference in our society.  That is the only way the world will know that we are followers of Christ.  It’s time to change.  It is time to stop being a Christian and acting like a Christian.  Instead it is time to live like Christ lived, do the things that He did, and love the way that He loved.  It’s time to start a revolution and revolt against Christianity in favor of becoming people who follow Christ.

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In Memory of Leonard Nimoy – Spiritual Life Lessons We Learned From Spock

SpockI am not ashamed to admit that Star Trek has always been my favorite television show.  My earliest memories of television was watching Star Trek and a few years later when it went into syndication, I became the biggest fan a ten year old boy could be – collecting models, toys, buying every Star Trek novel available, and even dressing up like Spock for Halloween.  Spock was my favorite character in my favorite TV show and even as I grew older, my fandom and my appreciation for the character would never wane.

So when the news of Leonard Nimoy’s death hit the newswires on February 27, 2015, my heart sank.  As illogical as it might be to shed tears and mourn the loss of someone I had never met, it could not be helped.   Nimoy’s death felt like the end of an era for me.  He and the character of Spock that he had made so famous was a link to not only my childhood, but to many other decades of my life and the inspiration and wisdom he gave me for almost 50 years of playing and reprising his most famous role cannot be measured.

As I sat and mourned the loss, I was reminded of the words spoken by Dr. McCoy after the character of Spock died in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (before being brought back to life in the next movie).  “He really isn’t dead as long as we remember him.”

As hard as it is to face the fact that Nimoy will never reprise the role of Spock again and the dream of seeing Shatner and Nimoy one last time together as the beloved duo of Kirk and Spock will now never happen, I am choosing to remember the logic and the life lessons that Nimoy, through Spock, taught us for almost 50 years.   Today I am posting some of those gems that he gave us and as I look at each of these Spock quotes, I realize that there are indeed life lessons we should all take to heart.

  1. Change is the essential process of all existence.” Going through life is all about adapting and changing. Every day, every situation, every stage of life is different and if we are not growing and changing, then we are losing ground. We cannot expect to handle today’s situations in life just like we did yesterdays. And tomorrow will bring a new set of circumstances that will require us to change and to grow. Although God never changes, we do and we must. If we are not changing, if we are not growing, then we are in essence ceasing to exist as an effective person in our world.
  1. “Insufficient facts always invite danger.” How often do we jump to conclusions or make assumptions about someone or situations? We assume we know their motivation or reasons behind certain statements or actions and we react accordingly to those assumptions. Or perhaps with a limited or even wrong set of facts, we make decisions that come back to haunt us. Spock’s words of wisdom warns us not to assume something about someone or something when you do not have ALL the facts, or perhaps when your emotions are clouding the facts. That will ALWAYS invite danger.

 

  1. “Computers make excellent and efficient servants, but I have no wish to serve under them.” When Spock spoke these words in the mid 1960’s, no one had a clue that things like social media and texting would be such a big part of people’s lives almost 5 decades later.  But now, in 2015, many people are so addicted to their smartphones, tablets, or home computers that they have in a sense become a slave to them.  We spend more time on social media than we do interacting personally with other people.  If we are ever without our phone, we feel totally hopeless and lost.  Many times our technology has kept us from doing other things and those important things in life begin to slip away.   May we all heed the words of logic from Spock and make our technology our tools and servants, not our masters.

 

 

  1. “Without followers, evil cannot spread.” With the rise of gruesome beheadings by ISIS as well as other hate crimes happening right here in our country, it is easy to despair about the evil in our world.  However, it is important to note that evil cannot have any power if there are no followers.  Unfortunately, the different evil factions are gaining followers all the time.  Evil is spreading in this world because we allowing people to follow it.  We allow compromises here and there, we overlook small things, and in the name of freedom and liberty we allow people to follow their selfish desires and little by little the compromises become greater and greater and eventually evil is spreading through the followers that we watched compromise their way to evil.

 

  1. “Logic is the beginning of wisdom…not the end.” At first glance, this is one of those famous Spock quotes that I do not agree with. The Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord, not logic, is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of God is understanding. Another passage equates wisdom with knowledge when it says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.   Spock lived by the code of logic and he thought those who did not follow logic were foolish. So in a sense, Spock was right after all. If the opposite of foolish thinking is logical thinking, then it would only make sense that seeking wisdom is the right thing to do. It is the logical thing to do. Therefore, if the fear of the Lord produces wisdom, then it is only logical to learn to fear the Lord. Making the logical decision to fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but logic itself is not the end. It is only the beginning.

 

  1. “You may find that having is not so nearly pleasing a thing as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”   What profound wisdom Spock offered to Ston with this quote. How many people have wanted something so bad and they went out and got it, no matter what the cost, only to find out that once they got it, the happiness was fleeting and did not last. The Bible tells us to set our affections on the things of God, not the things the world has to offer us because those are the only things that will truly bring happiness. If we set our hearts on those things that are not of God, then Spock is absolutely right in saying that gaining those things is not as pleasing as we thought it might be.

 

  1. “In critical moments, men sometimes see exactly what they wish to see.” As humans, it is natural to see only those things our minds and hearts are really looking for. If someone has hurt you, then often times you can only see the negative side of that person because your natural human heart doesn’t want to see the positive things. On the other hand, if you truly love someone, then you can overlook their faults and see only what your love tells you to see. Neither is a perfect sight. Both see only what they want to see. It is not logical, but it is true. However, which way serves for the better good.   In the critical moments, is it better to see the positives in people, in situations, and in life, or the negative?

 

  1. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few….or the one.” What would this world be like if we all lived with this Spock motto? What would our families be like if each one of us looked more to fill the needs of the other people in our lives than we do our own?   Jesus taught throughout the Gospels that we are to serve other people and only in that serving will we find true joy.   Jesus, Himself, served as the greatest example as He did not look after His own needs, but instead voluntarily suffered a gruesome death so that many would have eternal life. If you want to affect your world and even your family, then the best place to start is by following Spock’s motto and Christ’s example. The needs of your family and your world outweigh the needs of you, the one.

 

  1. “I have been, and always shall be, your friend.” Part of Star Trek’s appeal has always been the friendship between Kirk and Spock. From the outside, it might have seemed a friendship that could not endure, but as we watched their friendship grown through the decades, it could not be denied that they were the best of friends and brought out the best in each other. Kirk’s passion impulse was always balanced by Spock’s calm and logic. Their friendship endured throughout time and became legendary. They are an example for us all to aspire, that no matter the circumstances, true friendship must endure. Circumstances and even hurt feelings must never stand in the way of true friendship.

 

  1. “Live long and prosper.” Along with the split hand salute that is taken from a Jewish blessing, this is perhaps Spock’s most famous quote and it rings with such truth and blessing. Who doesn’t want to live a long, prosperous life? Yet so many people live a life of stress and struggles as we seek to merely make ends meet in our lives. However, this famous Vulcan salute gives us the secret of a prosperous life. The hand gesture that goes with the greeting comes from the Hebrew letter that in English translates in the Sh It is the first letter in the Hebrew word for God, Shaddai, the word for God’s glory, Shekinah, and the word for peace, Shalom. When the Jewish rabbi gives this hand gesture while pronouncing a blessing over the people in the synagogue, he is invoking a blessing, “may God and His Glory give your peace.” The peace that God and His Glory brings to our lives when we fully walk in His ways is the only way to live long and prosper.

Leonard Nimoy, from the bottom of our hearts, we thank you for helping take us for nearly 50 years where no man has gone before and for teaching us such great truths to live by. You may be gone from this earth, but your logic and wisdom will live as long as there is Star Trek on this earth.

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When God Touches Our Lives – A Christmas Message

jm_200_NT2.pd-P17.tiffWe all know the Christmas story and most of us are familiar with the events that led up to that wonderful, blessed, and holy night.  We know how the angel Gabriel appeared to a young girl named Mary and informed her that she would be the earthly vessel that God would use to bring His Son into a lost and dying world.

We are told in Luke chapter 1 that this confused Mary.  How could she become a mother when she was still a virgin?

Some of you may have a similar story where you knew God was directing you to something beyond what humanly made sense.  As a result of following God, you became a first hand witness to God’s amazing love, grace, and power

However for many of us, we have only witnessed that life of faith and obedience from afar.   We have, to this point, remained comfortable in our Christian life, not ever doing something drastic that did not make logical sense.  Sure we exhibit a measure of faith from time to time and we occasionally are witness to God’s supernatural provision.   But how often do we step out in faith and trust God for the impossible?

That was part of a discussion we recently had in the small group that I’m a part of. And that left me wondering how do we know when God is asking us to step out of our comfort zone and believe Him for greater things?  On the one hand, it is easy to say that God always wants us out of our comfort zone and relying on Him.   Not only is that very spiritual sounding, but it’s very true.  However, I think we all agree that this is not the same for every person.   For some, it might be selling everything and moving to a third world country. For others, it might be leaving a job they have been comfortable in to pursue something else.  It may be starting your own business, always a risky endeavor. Or perhaps for you, it is beginning a new ministry. Whatever it is, my question has always been how do you know if it is God calling you to step out in faith or if it is merely an emotional ideal or something we think we are supposed to do as our next step in our spiritual maturity.

I’ve always marveled at God’s Word, the Bible.  It is almost uncanny how that each time I go through some questioning in my life, the answers are found in whatever part of the Bible I am studying at the time.  Or on this case, being only a few days before Christmas, in the story that everyone is hearing at this time of year.

As I once again read Luke 1, I tried to imagine what Mary must have been feeling. Here she was a young woman with her whole life in front of her.  I’m sure she had her plans all laid out. She was going to marry Joseph in a great traditional Jewish wedding feast and they would settle into their life and live unobtrusively in the house that maybe Joseph himself had built.   They would have kids and friends and live a life of peace and relative comfort.

But all that changed the night Gabriel came to visit.   “You will conceive and give birth to a son.  But not just any son.  He will be God on Earth.  Mary, not only is your life going to be turned upside down, but the whole destiny of the world is about to be rocked.”

When God steps in and wants to alter our destiny, it is for reasons that are far bigger than just ourselves.  Too often we get caught up in an introspective view of God’s will and we miss the bigger picture of what God is doing.  I hate to be the one to break the bad news to you. But quite simply, when God does ask you to do something big and drastic, stepping out of your comfort zone, it’s not primarily for your happiness, security, and prosperity.   In fact it might not even lead to any of those.

It surely didn’t do that for Mary.  Do you think in her time and her culture that Mary’s pregnancy before she was married was an easy, happy, secure, and prosperous time?    Not a chance.  She was shamed, scorned, and ridiculed.  Yet she endured it all with joy in her heart because she did not focus on herself, but the greater good that was being given to the world.

What about us?  How do we know when God wants to use us for the greater good?  Mary had the constant reminder in the ever growing baby bump that God was at work.   But we don’t have that constant reassurance in the form of a baby bump that God is working.  How do we know that we didn’t fabricate the idea to step out on faith in any particular area.  We don’t have that same constant reminder that Mary had.

Or do we? Whereas Mary had God the Son living inside her as a constant reminder that God was doing something special through her, those of us who are followers of Christ have God, the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of us as a constant comfort and reminder that God is working inside us.

However, as we examine Mary’s encounter with Gabriel, I believe we learn some deeper truths that help answer the questions as to how we know when God is asking us to step out on faith and move way beyond our comfort zone.

“How can this happen?” Mary asked Gabriel. “I am a virgin.”

We often ask God that same question. We feel that He is asking us to do something out of the ordinary, to step out of our comfort zone of life, and step out on faith. Sometimes that step we feel God is asking us to take just doesn’t make sense. “God how can this happen? How can I do what you are asking me to do? How can my family survive when we are giving up a guaranteed income? How can I step into this ministry when I don’t have the background or the training for it? How? How? How?”

In Luke 1:35, Gabriel responded to Mary’s question with the same answer that centuries later God is giving to us. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”

When God calls you to step out of your everyday life and do something uncommon that humanly speaking doesn’t make sense, that call is always followed by the Holy Spirit touching your life in a way that cannot be denied.   We learn from Mary that when God touches our lives, He changes our plans, our passion, and our purpose.

Mary’s plans for her life changed drastically when God touched her life. Now she was pregnant and in many ways became the outcast of her society for getting pregnant before she was married. Her plans for a happy, comfortable, normal life changed the instant God touched her.

Many of us struggle with stepping out of our comfort zone to do something radical for God because it goes against the plans we have made for our lives.   That’s a natural reaction and a natural reason to question whether what we think God is saying is actually what we are supposed to do. There is nothing wrong with being sure about something before you change your lifelong plans. However, once we know this is what God is directing, then we must accept the fact that God is changing our plans. However, just as Mary’s plans were changed so that the Son of God would come to Earth to save the world, God has a greater plan to accomplish by changing our plans.

When God touches our lives, He changes our passion. When Mary heard everything that Gabriel had told her, she responded by saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” In that instant her passion had changed. Not only did she now know what God wanted from her, but she now wanted it too.   When we get to the point in our lives that we are willing to take that step and get out of our comfort zone, it will not be something we do begrudgingly because God will have changed our passion.  We will now want it too.  Those things that excited us before, those things that we took comfort in, and those things that we held on to for security, will fade away in the midst of a new passion.

Some of you have experienced what I am talking about.   You have taken that step of faith and though there may still be at times some apprehension (don’t think for a minute that Mary did not have her moments of apprehension and feelings of inadequacy), you have felt that assurance that you were doing the right thing and you had an almost unexplained passion and excitement for what God was going to do. I know my family is going through those feelings right now in an area we believe God has called us to step out in faith. For those of you who know me well, you also know that this is a complete change in what I have believed in (not talking about a doctrinal thing). Yet, I feel a new passion and assurance that this step of faith is exactly what God wants us to do. As a result, I am excited to see how God is going to move and provide.

Finally, we learn from Mary, that when God touches our lives, He changes our purpose. No longer was she only going to be Mary, the wife of Joseph the carpenter.  She was now going to be Mary, the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. Her whole purpose in life took a drastic change and her destiny would never be the same.

What is your purpose in life? Is it just to exist from day to day, not really making a difference in the world? God doesn’t call everyone to be a preacher or a missionary, but I do believe He calls everyone to make a difference in some positive way in their world.   I know many of you are making that difference. But I also know for some of us that God is directing us to get out of our comfort zone, take a step of faith, and let God change, redirect, or focus our purpose in life.

What is God asking you to do? He asked Mary to be the instrument He used to bring His Son into the world. As a result, her plans, her passion, and her purpose were completely changed and the destiny of the world fell into God’s plans.   If God is asking you to step out of your comfort zone and take a step of faith, then you don’t have to worry whether or not He is directing your or not. He will touch your life in a special way and your plans, your passion, and your purpose WILL also change.   Are you ready to fall into line with God’s direction?

In closing let me leave you with the same words that Gabriel left with Mary. Luke 1:37 says, “For the Word of God will never fail.”   Dare to trust God and take Him at His Word. He will not fail you.

Have a Merry Christmas and in these final days of the year may God surround you with His love, fill you with His grace, and capture your heart.

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Finding Your Soul Rest – A Look at Jeremiah 6:16

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Finding Your Soul Rest

Can you believe it is that time of year where the days of summer will soon transition into a new school year?   Soon the roads that so many travel each morning to work will be filled with school busses, parents driving their kids to school, and the oh so dreaded high school student drivers.  Even parents who had grown accustomed to a summer routine will find themselves suddenly overwhelmed at the word, taxi driver is added to their job description.  Practices, games, clubs, organizations, church activities, parent conferences, etc. are added to their already busy schedule.  And somewhere in there, we are supposed to find time to spend in communing with God and helping people.

Sadly, in the coming months, many Christians will sacrifice the things God has called them to do on the altar of their busy schedules.  They will first let some of the little things slide and no one will blame them because they too feel the strain and stress of a saturated schedule.  They will forfeit their time with God just this one morning on the guise that a few moments of more sleep will benefit them just this one day.  They can always catch up with their God time later in the day or perhaps the next.

For many, the god of weekend football or soccer games demands an offering of the occasional absence from the Sunday worship service.  This is soon followed by the shrine of their own sanity requiring them to skip their small group gatherings to try to just stay afloat in the tossing sea of turmoil.

Before long, that one morning missed with God, that one Sunday of skipped church, and that one small group meeting not attended, opens the door a few weeks later for another.  Then another.  And before long, missing that integral glue that binds our hearts to the ways of God becomes the norm.

Unfortunately, this is a pattern repeated in Christians more often than it is not.  Between work, family, and other commitments, life has become just too busy.  Yet throughout Scriptures, we are repeatedly told to rest in the Lord.  But quite simply, the demands on our lives are so full that we do not have the time to rest in the Lord, much less minister to others.

I’ll be honest, this was a quandary I was in.  The past month or so, my church has been doing a series on resting in God.  However, it was a concept that I simply could not grasp.  Oh, theologically I believed in it.  I knew it was important to rest in the Lord, but what I never could understand was what that really means.  I know it could not simply mean sitting back and basking in God’s glory and how wonderful and deep His love for me is.  If that is all we did as Christians, then who would evangelize the world, feed the hungry, reach out to the hurting, teach the children, guide the youth, disciple the men, and mentor the women.  In other words, if everyone rested in the Lord, then how would ministry ever take place?  In fact, if resting in the Lord means not doing anything for His kingdom, then why not go straight to Heaven now!   There is no better place than Heaven to rest in the Lord.  Therefore, I simply could not match the concept of people and ministry with the idea of rest.

However, this past Sunday night as I sat discussing with my small group a verse that had been read earlier in the day during the worship service, things began to crystalize a bit more in my mind.  As we read and discussed Jeremiah 6:16, I began to see that our soul finding rest in God is not really inactivity, but is best described as a progression of things we do.

 

This is what the Lord says:
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
    Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.”

                                    Jeremiah 6:16 (NLT)

 

In our small group discussion, we focused on the verbs in this verse.  As you probably remember from school, the most common definition of a verb was to say that it was an action word.  And action usually means doing something.  As I read this verse, it immediately began to resonate with me because I saw the soul’s rest is not simply a choice we make to rest, but it is the natural result of taking action.

The first action we are told to take is to Stop.  Any time we hear that command, we automatically know that there is a reason that such a statement was made.  Those who are followers of Christ know that when God tells us to stop, it is probably for our own good because we are about to step into something we shouldn’t.  I started this blog post by describing the busy schedule so many of keep and how especially in the next few months we are going to be tempted to temporarily (at least we tell ourselves it is only a temporary thing) step away from something we know God wants us to do.

I do not, nor will I ever, claim to be a prophet.  However, it does not take a prophetic word to say that on the eve of the busyness that will soon engulf us, God wants us to take a deep breath and STOP.  We are, just like the people of Judah we read about in Jeremiah 6:16, at a crossroads.  We will have decisions to make.  On the one hand, God is calling us in the middle of our busy schedule to be the light to our world, to reach out to those who are hurting, and to encourage those whom God has put in our spiritual circle of influence.  On the other hand, the demands of life scream at us to go above and beyond the call of duty for our careers, to push and push to better ourselves and our families, and then just before we hit exhaustion, to step away from God’s provisions (time with God, commitment to church, and the fellowship of a small group, to name a few) to take care of our own needs.

These are some of the crossroads we will be facing and Jeremiah 6:16 tells us that as we approach one of these crossroads we are to stop.

And then we are to Look.   Just as it when we were children when we learned to look both ways before we crossed the street, when we are at one of these crossroads in our lives, when the pressures of life are tugging at our hearts to compromise what deep down we know to be right, we need to take time to look.  Look both directions.  However, notice that this passage does not say when you come to a fork in the road.  It says when you come to a crossroad.  If it were merely a fork in the road, then you would have two choices – left or right.   Presumably, one way would be the right way and one would be the wrong way.

I suggest that in the case of a crossroad, there are at least three possible directions to take – right, left, or straight.  This is an important distinction to make from a fork in the road because when we are at crossroads in our lives, there are often more than two choices.  There is, of course, the wrong choice, the one that will lead us into pain, heartache, and perhaps destruction.  Most of us are good about avoiding that obvious turn.  When we see what is down that path, we are smart enough to know that there are no good results.  The good things is that we have no intention of doing those things we know are wrong.  We are not going to cheat on our spouse, stop going to church, drop our accountability with our small group, or throw the idea of prayer out the window.  Turning down that path is not even a consideration for us.

However, we sometimes think about turning down the second path.  This is the path of small compromise.  We aren’t going to sin.  We aren’t going to cheat on our spouse.  We are only going to flirt with someone who is not our spouse.  We aren’t going to stop going to church.  We are just going to miss occasional Sundays when we are too tired to go.  We aren’t going to drop out of our home group.  We are just not going to go when it is not convenient.  We aren’t going to stop reading the Bible.  We are simply going to read it when a better time arises.  It is especially important to look down this path, past the initial scenery and search for all the possible outcomes if you choose this path.  As you look down the path, ask yourself one simple question – are there truly any long term benefits of choosing this path?

We might think this path of compromise will lead our soul to rest.  We will get more sleep, we will take things off of our plate to free up more time, and we may even convince ourselves that this path will help our lives spiritually.  However, nowhere in Scripture does it even hint that compromise of any kind will have positive results.  In fact, there are stories after stories of Bible characters who prove the opposite is true.

Finally, there is the path that leads to our rest.  This is the path of righteousness that leads to peace, joy, and love.  However, the challenging part of this path is that at first glance, it might not look as pleasing as the second path.  It may not seem as fun.  Often times, when we stand at the crossroads, we cannot see the greatness that lies down this path.  At the moment, we might not be able to focus on the benefits that will come when we choose to do act in according to God’s ways.

That is where the all-important next step comes in.  We are told to ask for the old and godly ways.  The natural mind of man cannot always see down the right path, but God promises in James 1:5 that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it and He will generously give it to us.  As we stand at our daily crossroads, not sure which way to go, God tells us to ask Him for wisdom.  Ask for Him to show you the old ways, the ways that have been written not only in the Word of God, but also in our very spirits.  These ways are not hidden nor are they a secret, for they are always in view of those who ask for them.

For many  of us, the wisdom of the old ways, those ways of God recorded in Scripture are not really in question.  When we are at the crossroads, looking down every possible path, we usually know which path to choose.  However, so often we still fall because we decide to walk just a few steps down the road of compromise, never intending to journey too far before turning back to walk the right road.   Just one more step down that path leads to another and then another and before long, we are far away from the path we should have chosen.  Perhaps we are even too far down the path of compromise to find our way back to the crossroads.  We then find ourselves in a mess and we ask why and how we got there.   What could we have done to avoid going down the path so far?  Why is there no rest for our souls?

Jeremiah 6:16 gives us those answers.  We fell short in following the principles outlined in that verse.  Yes, we stopped, we looked, and perhaps we even asked, but we did not immediately follow through with the next progression on the road to soul rest.  Instead of flirting with the wrong path, we should have taken the steps to walk in the old ways.  That is so often the mistake Christian young people make when they take their first few steps into independence away from their parents and the church they grew up in.  They intend to walk in the old ways, but their first few weeks of college are not marked by following Christ.  Instead of immediately getting involved in a church,  they desire to see and experience the fullness of college life.  So they take those first few steps of compromise instead of immediately walking in God’s ways.

I encourage each of you, no matter where you are on your journey of faith, that the very instant you know the right path to take in any circumstances, begin to walk in that path.  If you choose to wait to walk in it, then the short amount of time you planned to wait will turn into a length of time that you never intended.

This verse goes on to tell us that once we take those first steps to walk in the right path, we then need to travel in it.  There is a difference between walking and traveling.  Walking is something you might casually do.  However, when you travel, you commit to the journey.  You aren’t going to turn around and go try another path.  You have committed in this particular area of your life to follow God’s plan and His ways.

And finally, we see the exciting part.  We find rest.  There is an important distinction I want to point out in this last phrase.  Remember, we have been looking at the verbs in this verse.   When I first read this verse, I misinterpreted it.  I did see the progression that we have talked about, but the way I first saw it, I read it with the following verbs:   Stop, Look, Ask, Walk, Travel, and then you will rest.   WRONG!   In our small group discussion last Sunday, my wife pointed out that the rest was not the end result of the progression.  The verse is actually telling us that as we travel on the right path, we will FIND rest.    Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.  The soul rest does not come at the end of the journey down God’s path.   Our soul finds rest because we are traveling down God’s path, doing the things He wants us to do.  Rest does not mean getting away from doing the things God has called us to do.  Soul Rest actually takes place when we are actively doing the things of God.

 

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What Does It Mean To Wait On The Lord?

flying eagle

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings as Eagles. They shall run and not grow weary. They shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:31

This was one of the verses  read in our church service this past week. It is a very popular verse that most Christians can quote and many even claim as their “life verse.”   And why not! It is both a comforting verse during times of weakness or depression and it is powerful verse when we are about to undertake something great. Who wouldn’t want to bask in the idea that if we just wait on God, then we will soar like the eagles soar. We will work hard for God without ever growing worry or even tired.   Instead of forging ahead under our own strength and our own timing, we simply have to wait on God to give the word and then we go.

This week in my small group, we briefly discussed this verse and what it means to “wait upon the Lord.” Most agre edthat waiting on God has to do with resting in His presence and not allowing the cares of the world to bother us.   For the record, I do believe it has a lot to do with that. With that said, I did bring up an interpretation of Isaish 40:31 that I once heard in  sermon that said that waiting on God did not mean sitting back, relaxing, and waiting on Him to do something. The word wait had more to do with what a waiter does at a restaurant. They wait on people. They serve them.   When I heard that sermon, I remember thinking that there were some great spiritual applications to that interpretation of the verse. When we wait on God, when we serve Him, that is when we are strengthened. However, even though the spiritual applications for that interpretation were wonderful, I remembered thinking then that before I bought into that interpretation of the verse, I would have to research into the Hebrew word that many English translations write as wait. But I never did the research.

However, after the brief discussion in my small group over Isaiah 40:31, I couldn’t shake it out of my mind. Funny thing is, earlier in the small group discussion, I mentioned that my biggest challenge of resting is not so much physical resting, but mental resting. I sometimes simply cannot turn off my mind to let it rest. Following the small group discussion, my mind would not rest until I sought God, both in prayer and studying the passage in order to see what it was that God was actually saying in this verse.

The first thing I did was look into numerous translations of the verse. Many said basically the same thing, using the words wait on the Lord. Others said things like, Those whose hope is in the Lord or Those who trust is in the Lord. To me, each of those words have slightly different connotations in the English language.   Yes, they are similar in some degree and all can work together, but they are still different. Let’s look at the dictionary definition of the words, wait, hope, and trust

Waitto remain inactive or in a state of repose, as until something expected happens; to be available or in readiness; to postpone or delay something or to be postponed or delayed; to look forward to eagerly

Hopethe feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best; a person or thing in which expectations are centered; to look forward to with desire and reasonable confidence

Trusta person on whom or thing on which one relies; confident expectation of something; to believe.

When closely examining the definition of each of these English words, I can see how, using any one of these definitions,  some very nice and practical sermons can be preached.  However, even though they all made somewhat sense to me, I still knew I had to dig a little bit deeper because something just wasn’t sitting right deep inside me. There was something within the context of this passage that left me unsatisfied as to what Isaiah really meant by using the word wait (or whatever other word our Bible translations might have used).

The first thing I looked at was the overall message of this passage. What was its central theme? What one main thought was God, through Isaiah, trying to convey. Once I read it again in the context of the verses surrounding this verse,  looking for the main idea or theme, the meaning of this passage began to come together.

This passage is focusing on strength. It talks about renewing our strength. It implies that eagles wings have strength. It mentions the strength needed to run without getting tired and to walk without becoming faint. It is the kind of strength we all need to effectively live our Christian life.

I think probably everyone reading this passage agrees with this theme. However, the question arises as to how we are to renew that strength. How are we to mount up with wings like an eagle? What do we need to do to run through our lives and not grow weary or to walk in God’s ways without growing faint? Most Christians don’t just automatically live in that kind of strength so we must have to do something in order to gain that strength.

Those who know this verse will quickly give the easy answer. They that WAIT upon the Lord will renew their strength.   But again, I was not satisfied with the English word wait. I knew it could not just mean to sit back and relax and wait for God to do something. That just didn’t seem to agree with the rest of the Scriptures. It is then that I decided to do what I should have done years ago when the concept of wait was first brought to my attention. I went to the original Hebrew word that many of our Bibles translated as wait.

The Hebrew word qavah is used in this passage and it has both a literal and figurative meaning. The literal definition of the word qavah is “to bind together like a cord.” This is not the same word that is used when tying something together with a cord. It literally is a picture of making a rope where you weave and bind different strands together to make a strong rope. A single strand, or string, does not have much strength. However, when several strands are woven together, it becomes a rope with a lot of strength. No one string bears the burden because that would cause the string to snap. Instead, all strings bind tightly together to give the rope strength.

The literal definition of the word qavah implies that there is strength in the number of strands that we bind ourselves to. It is very easy then to see that if we take the literal definition of qavah that if we bind ourselves with God and other spiritual strands that He has placed in our lives (the Word, the Church, etc.) that our strength will be renewed.

Now let’s look at the figurative definition of qavah. When used in a figurative sense, it means “to wait, hope, or expect. That is more in the line of what most people normally think of when they read Isaiah 40:31. To renew our strength, we should wait and hope expectantly on God. In the original Hebrew, it figuratively implies a certain amount of anticipation. It is the anticipation of something exciting that you have been looking forward to.

It is true that most Bible translators have chosen to translate qavah in its figurative and not its literal sense. Perhaps because they can convey this idea by using one simple word like wait. Had they chosen to use the literal definition, to bind together like a cord, it would have been much more difficult to convey the meaning. I cannot possibly pretend to be a better Bible translator than those scholars that translated the original Hebrew into some of our more modern translations, but in this case I have to ask whether or not they chose the best word in this case.

Remember what the main idea of this passage was. To renew our strength. To be able to mount up on wings as eagles. To run and not grow weary and to walk and not faint. All of those are active words. Where the concept of waiting is passive. However, if we use the literal definition of qavah, it is very active. What does waiting have to do with strength? On the other hand, what does binding together like a cord have to do with strength? Which one implies growing in  strength?

To help further illustrate why I believe it makes more sense to go with the literal definition of qavah, let’s continue to look at this passage to see what it says following the word qavah.

They will mount up with wings as eagles.   This is one of those examples where the figurative translation of qavah holds up. When we see an eagle soaring through the skies, it often seems so effortless as he rarely even flaps his wings, but just soars with his open wings through the sky. The reason the eagle does not have to flap his wings that often is that instead of flapping hard to fly, he waited for the thermal winds to blow by and carry him effortlessly across the sky. Those who cling to the figurative definition of qavah will point out that if we don’t try to flap our spiritual wings trying to take flight, but instead wait for God to bring His thermal winds by us, then we too can soar spiritually as if on spiritual wings of eagles. There are great spiritual lessons that we can learn from this concept. However, is it truly what this passage was talking about?

If we adhere more to the literal interpretation of qavah then there are spiritual lessons we can learn there as well. If we are weak and in need of strength, then we should bind ourselves together with God and those things He has put in our lives (the Bible, the Church, prayer, fellowship with others, etc.) and then the spiritual flight we take will not be characterized by the hard work of wing flapping, but instead will be more akin to effortless soaring. Why? Because there is a strength that comes from this kind of binding together with God and the things of God.

They shall run and not grow weary. Whereas soaring in the skies might be likened to where we are in our relationship with God, in that we can see things from God’s perspective from high on top of the world, I like to think of running as those big life altering things that God puts in our paths. It could be a ministry He puts before you or it could be a certain area of your life that He has called you into (work, ministry, family, etc.)   I have tried hard to see how by simply waiting, we will gain the strength to run without tiring. As a basketball coach, if I had my teams just sit around and wait for the game without any training, then they would not last more than a couple of minutes before their bodies and therefore their play would grow tired and weary. God, through Isaiah, chose the analogy of running for a reason and everyone knows that if you are going to run and not get tired, you need to work ahead of time to get in shape. Sitting back and waiting never does any good.   However, as a coach, I know that if you work to get in shape then you can run your race without growing tired. If an athlete binds together all the essential elements needed (working out, eating right, proper equipment, proper rest, etc.) then he or she can run without growing weary or tired. This makes much more sense to me than simply sitting by and waiting expectantly on something to happen to so that I can run.

They shall walk and not faint. Whereas it may be said that flying and running are things we do that is not part of our daily life, but reserved for those times when God is going to do something special in or through us, walking is something most of us do every single day. It is the day to day walk, or even sometimes a grind, of the Christian life. It is those spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading, and fellowship with others (the binding together as a cord) that we can walk through the day to day living without growing tired of the daily grind.   It is through that binding together that we can continue to minister to others, to pour out our lives into those around us, without growing faint. The more we pour the Holy Spirit into the world around us, the more He fills us up. We cannot minister to others in our daily lives by simply waiting for it to happen. While on earth, Jesus went around to people looking for people to minister to. He wants us to do the same. Therefore, I believe that if we are going to have the strength to walk through the daily grind of life ministering to people in our paths, then we need to bind ourselves with God and the tools and resources that God gives us.  I know for me, each time I bind myself together within the fellowship, Bible study, prayer, and encouragemnt of my small group that I leave their strengthened for the week at hand.

With all that said, in my opinion, a more accurate, yet more wordy translation of what the original Hebrew verse was trying to convey would be more like They that have their lives bound together and intertwined with God and His resources that He provides, much like the strands of a rope intertwine and bind together to form strength, will exchange their weakness of a single strand for the strength of the rope as a whole. With that binding, they will be able to soar like the eagle when bound to God on those spiritual thermals. They will train in such a way that when God gives them a job to do that takes endurance, they will be able to run through it without growing tired. Even in the day to day grind of their lives, when they are bound together with God and the resources He provides, they will be able to walk through life without fainting.

I am not negating that we have to take time to rest nor am I implying that there are not times that we need to simply sit back and wait for God to do something. However, those are not the normal things we should be doing as a Christian.  And I do not believe that is the message of Isaiah 40:31.  As a follower of Christ, we should be daily be strengthening ourselves by doing the works that God has called us to do and by taking advantages of the spiritual strengthening resources He provides for us. If we use the figurative definition of qavah, it implies that if we want to gain strength, we need to simply wait. The logical conclusion then would be that if we want to continue to gain strength, we should continue to wait. I don’t know about you, but I believe that God wants to use us more than He wants to see us simply waiting.

Bind yourself together like a cord with God and His resources. That is how you get stronger. That is how you spiritually soar like an eagle. That is how you will run through those assignments God puts before you without growing weary. That is how you walk through the daily life without faining.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Life Lessons Learned From My Two Months In North Carolina

    I have spent at least parts of the last nine weeks in the great state of North Carolina. The calm beauty of this state (along with some other personal reasons) prompted me to post on Facebook, the Top 10 Reasons Why I Would Move to North Carolina. However, as I once again sit and bask in the beauty of the Smokey Mountains in the Asheville area, I realize that there are life lessons that I have learned from my nine weeks in North Carolina.

 

TO BECOME GREAT, YOU SHOULD SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GREATNESS

IMG_3806 IMG_3781 IMG_3779Often termed as the greatest college basketball conference in the country, the ACC has traditionally boasted some of the truly great college basketball programs. Very early in my basketball coaching career, I fell in love with ACC basketball and watched every ACC game that ESPN broadcasted. I wanted to be a great basketball coach so I watched and studied the teams and coaches of the ACC. Although I met only a handful of those legendary ACC coaches over the years, I feel like I sat at the feet and learned from some of the best basketball coaches in history. Thank you, Dean Smith (did I really say that being a big Duke fan?), Mike Krzyskewski, the late Jim Valvano, Bobby Cremmins (even though he didn’t coach in North Carolina), Dave Odem, etc. Because of what I learned from watching and studying these great coaches, I averaged 20 wins per season over my 21 years of coaching basketball (461-162 record).

 

Whatever your chosen career path is, or whatever you desire to be great in, you should find people who are great in that area and learn from them. The state of North Carolina has boasted in some of the greatest college basketball coaches of all time.

 

 

THERE IS A PEACE THAT CALMS OUR ANXIETY

IMG_4091 IMG_3866 IMG_4085 IMG_4087The state of North Carolina boasts some great mountain lakes. On several occasions, I took a drive into the mountains to stop at some of those lakes to sit and just relax. Despite anxieties concerning my future, the weariness of living out of a suitcase in hotel rooms for 3-5 nights every week of the year, missing my family, missing the challenge and excitement of coaching basketball, missing the fellowship of my Church small group, etc., the peace of the mountain lakes could not help but calm any anxiety I felt.

Although the mountain lakes may not always be there for you during your times of anxiety, there is a peace that God can give that will calm you. The peace will not come during the rush of life, but will only come when you take time to be still, like the water of the mountain lakes, before God.

 

  

 

THE GLORY OF GOD’S AWESOME CREATION CAN PUT LIFE’S TRIALS IN THEIR PROPER PERSPECTIVE

IMG_4126 IMG_4156 IMG_4161 IMG_4164 IMG_0950 IMG_0998On both the drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway and the top of Mount Mitchell (the highest peak east of the Mississippi river), I was once again awestruck by the vastness and glory of God’s creation. While staring out over several of the scenic overlooks on the Blue Ridge Parkway and then culminating it with a 360 degree panoramic view from the top of Mount Mitchell, I realized once again how small I am compared to even just a fraction of the totality of God’s creation. And if I am that small, then in the grand scheme of things, so are my troubles. Yet despite it all, God still cares for me as a person. As I stood atop Mount Mitchell and turned slowly in a circle seeing the rest of the world below me, I was struck with the thought that even through the beauty of God’s creation, I was on top of the world. I am loved by God and I (and other people) am His crowning creation.

 

You too are God’s crowning creation and He wants nothing more than for you to not only realize it, but to learn to live your life as God’s child who is spiritually on top of the world.

 

 

 

GOD’S LOVE SHOULD NEVER BE HIDDEN FROM OUR HEARTS

 IMG_1004 IMG_4114 IMG_0780One of the first things that grabbed my attention in North Carolina was the tree-lined highways and roads. Whether it was the interstates, the state roads, or even downtown Charlotte, trees lined nearly every road. As I made my pilgrimages to different places across North Carolina, I could not help but think about what it could have looked like (what so many other states look like). The roads could have been lined with buildings and businesses that in some ways glorify the accomplishments of men. But not in North Carolina. These roads are lined with the beauty of God’s creation.

The next time you are tempted to succumb to the busy schedule and the manmade pressures you might face, take a few moments to remember the tree-lined roads of North Carolina and the lessons that they show us that God’s love and creation should always be visible in our eyes and hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

GOD CAN TAKE ORDINARY, SIMPLE PEOPLE AND DO INCREDIBLE THINGS THROUGH THEM

IMG_3814 IMG_3819 IMG_3826 IMG_3833 IMG_3834 IMG_3836 IMG_3828North Carolina is home to the greatest Evangelist of the 20th (and even into the 21st) century.   As I walked through the Billy Graham Memorial Library, I knew I was walking not just through history, but I was walking through His Story. I was walking through the story of how God took a simple farmer and turned him into the greatest preacher in America (and into the world).  

In a nation that disrespects God and so often His people, Billy Graham lived and preached with such integrity and power that even those people who are not followers of Christ respected this man.  

 

Less than a decade ago, within the very shadows of the place Billy Graham called home, God raised another preacher from humble beginnings in Moncks Corner, South Carolina (population less than 8,000 people) to start Elevation Church in Charlotte, NC. Elevation is one of the nation’s fastest growing and biggest churches. I have been listening to Pastor Steven Furtick’s podcasts for four years now and had the great privilege of attending Elevation Church one weekend while in Charlotte. I can see why God has blessed this church and its ministries.

God is in the business of using people to further and deepen His Kingdom. Sometimes He takes people with simple beginnings like Billy Graham or Steven Furtick and does incredible nation-wide things through them. Sometimes He takes people like you and me to accomplish something more local, but not any less important.   There are no excuses why God can’t work through you. It only takes the same heart that Billy Graham and Steven Furtick has – a heart that is committed to following God’s direction in their lives.

 

 

OUR LIFE SHOULD BE A MIXTURE AND BALANCE OF STRENGTH AND SERENITY

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A few times during my time in North Carolina, I drove then hiked to see waterfalls. Some were famous enough waterfalls that they have been featured in movies like The Hunger Games and The Last of the Mohicans. However, the fame of the waterfalls is not what impressed me the most. I realized as I stood near some beautiful waterfalls that God was giving me a picture of what our Christian life should look like. Watching the waterfalls both trickle and pour down cliffs, I saw that these waterfalls were a combination of power and peace. Isn’t that what Christ living inside of us gives us? We have His strength to not only deal with all that life throws at us, but we are given His serenity when we learn to rest in Him.  

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If you are a follower of Christ, I urge you to let the power and peace of the North Carolina waterfalls remind you that your life should reflect both the strength and serenity of what God offers you.

 

 

 

 

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