Category Archives: Devotional
“Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:24
A common refrain in sports and in leadership is “playing not to lose.” This describes a team that is hoping to run out the clock in a cautious, unstrategic manner. You can often recognize the timidity and the lack of belief in the ability to win. I must admit, that I have fallen prey to this so many times in my leadership. Instead of aggressive, wholehearted action; passivity, avoidance, doubt, fear sets in and victory is hard to imagine. Here are some other comparisons.
Running Not to Lose vs. Running to Win
Which list describes your current leadership?
The big question that determines whether I’m running to win, is often, “DO I BELIEVE I CAN WIN?” As believers, this takes us back, not to what we believe about ourselves, but what do we believe about God and His promises? That’s what Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:23-25, was focused on. His focus was not on himself, but on the life-changing gospel (vs. 23), and the eternal reward promised by God to those who run to win (vs. 25).
- What areas do I need to pick up the pace in?
- What am I avoiding?
- Where do I appear fearful?
- What does my distraction say about my current mission focus and drive?
- What have I given up on?
One of the healthy habits I’m enjoying right now is running. I’m working on a half-marathon training place with the Active 13.1 App. Hoping to be in shape for the Jazz Half Marathon in New Orleans on October 26th! We’ll see… Lol!
I’ve come across some great verses in the Bible on running this year that I’ve tried to memorize and meditate on over the last few months. These verses have great meaning for every aspect of our lives, along with when you’re on the trail. The next few weeks I’ll share some thoughts on these verses for life and running.
1. Run to Win – 1 Corinthians 9:24 – Don’t you know that the runners in a stadium all race, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way to win the prize.
2. Run with Power – Isaiah 40:31 – those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint.
3. Run the Path – Psalm 119:32 – I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.
4. Run with Perseverance – Hebrews 12:1 – let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us.
The Gospel is the news about God sending Jesus, who lived a perfect life, and took the sins of the world on himself and died in place of humanity, so that we could have a relationship with God, eternal life, and the power of God over sin and for mission. Believers are responsible for spreading this news. How should we think about the Gospel? The Apostle Paul gives us a good challenge in this regard in Romans 1:14-16:
I am obligated both to Greeks and barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…
Four Attitudes Believers Should Have About the Gospel:
1. I am Obligated (v. 14) – The NLT says, “I have a great sense of obligation to people.” This is just an attitude that says, I own my responsibility to share the Gospel with others. Do you feel a sense of ownership and obligation about witnessing?
2. I am Eager (v. 15) – I am looking for opportunities to share the Gospel and eager for those around me to know about Jesus Christ. Do you live with a sense of urgency and excitement about those around you knowing about the person and work of Jesus Christ?
3. I am Not Ashamed (v. 16) – This means, I am not shrinking back or feeling overly burdened about this responsibility. It speaks to the everyday, habitual sense about sharing the gospel. I’m confident about this mission to share with others.
4. The Gospel is the Power of God (v. 16) – The Power of the Gospel is not in my ability to share or in my persuasiveness. God’s power is promised in the telling of this old, old story. I’m not responsible for results, but for faithfulness in sharing.
The Gospel is POWERFUL, and should never be kept PRIVATE.
Every leader deals with criticism. It often comes at the wrong time, in the wrong way, from the wrong person, for the wrong reason (see Part 1). David gives us a Biblical pattern for handling criticism in the ancient story of his feud with his son Absalom. A man named Shimei took the opportunity of David’s misfortune to heap abuse upon him in a public way. What David did, I pray that I can do as well, WHEN, not if, criticism comes my way.
When Criticism comes, exercise SELF CONTROL (2 Samuel 16:9-10).
When Shimei criticized David, his friend Abishai was ready with a solution, “Let me go over and remove his head!” 2 Samuel 16:9. David dismissed this rash recommendation and demonstrated self-control instead. Abishai’s solution may have been within his power and maybe even his right, but it would have been sinful before God and would have added more guilt and emotional baggage to his heavy burden. That’s always what rash reactions that lack self-control will produce. Self-control always trumps retaliation and hostility. Proverbs 16:32 says, “Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.”
When Criticism comes, think deeply about the SOURCE and SUBSTANCE (2 Samuel 16:10).
David did not automatically demonize Shimei, but considered that God might be using him in some way. He ask in a sense, “Was God trying to tell me something through this hostile Benjamite?” In listening to critics, we must take time and in wisdom consider any truth in the message so that we can learn and grow and adjust in our leadership. Doing this toward a harsh critic will demonstrate our patience and desire for growth to everyone around us.
When Criticism comes, do not get DISTRACTED from your purpose (2 Samuel 16:11).
David’s primary concern was not Shimei, but Absalom. In verse 11, he reminds his men of the real danger, “My son… is trying to take my life…!” David’s main objective was to get himself and his company to safety. He did not allow this criticism to distract him in this moment.
Criticism has the power to knock us off course. The best defense system against criticisms distracting power is a sure sense of God’s calling and confidence of your place in His mission.
When Criticism comes, trust God to bring good out of the situation (2 Samuel 16:12).
David demonstrated that his trust was in God to hear and respond by bringing good out of the hostility of Shimei and Absalom. He did not assume it to be so, but he hoped in God’s goodness. This hope gave him the strength and desire to ignore the criticism and carry on with his mission.
Whether it be a hostile critic, the darkness of a sick loved one, the death of a family member, or an unfulfilled dream; we can know that God is always there and that he will at some point, in this life or the next, bring good out of the cursing.
Jesus himself exemplified this kind of self-control and trust in God as he faced a hostile crowd that hurled more than just words at him. 1 Peter 2:23 – “when he was insulted, he did not insult in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten but entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.”
Criticism is part of leadership. Our response can make it a foe that creates greater conflict, distracts us, keeps us discouraged; or a friend that makes us stronger, more dependent on God, and an example of Christ-likeness to the world.
For most leaders, including me, that moment when a complaint or criticism arises is like a cloud moving in and potential storm rising. Many church leaders have post-traumatic stress that paralyze us whenever complaints and criticism arise. While complaining is condemned in scripture (1 Corinthians 10:10; Philippians 2:14-15; 1 Peter 4:9) and many complaints are selfish and from power seeking, disgruntled, hurting people; leaders must learn to see the opportunity in every complaint. That’s what the early church did in Acts 6. When “there arose a complaint,” they mobilized people to meet the legitimate need. The result was “the word of God spread”! Conflict is inevitable in relationships, on teams, and in churches. Don’t miss the opportunity!
- Mobilize gifted people to meet the legitimate needs that complaints may reveal.
- Sharpen the mission of sharing with your community through re-prioritizing ministry resources and gifts.
- Make room for new people that God will add as more people are mobilized for ministry and more needs are met.
- Correct, rebuke, teach, and train if complaints reveal prideful, competitive, divisive spirits in the church. 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 2:15
- Say goodbye gracefully to disgruntled, negative influences that refuse to work for unity and solutions and may hold back the mission of the church. Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10. It’s not about who you keep, but who you reach.
- Be thick skinned. Listen to criticism. Learn from it. Don’t get distracted from the mission of spreading the message of Jesus. Proverbs 15:31-32
- Don’t try to do everything or feel like you must answer everyone’s complaints or try to make everyone happy. Gospel first – Acts 6:2. A clear conscience before God is our first responsibility – Acts 24:16.
It is an understatement to say that prayer was an important part of the life of Jesus. It is also an understatement to say, if it was important to him, how much more should it be to us. During our churches 40 Days of Prayer journey this year, I’ve spent some time exploring the prayers of Jesus. A simple rhythm emerged that’s worth emulating.
1. Jesus prayed ALONE.
“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” Luke 5:16
For the believer, private prayer is essential to power and essential to demonstrating to God our faith in him. If you don’t really believe in God’s promises to hear and answer prayer, you’ll never go to your private room or prayer closet, shut the door and with no one looking, seek God for power or for people (Matthew 6:6). Jesus spent considerable time alone with God. So should we.
What is your plan to pray ALONE? Where is your PLACE of private prayer?
2. Jesus prayed WITH OTHERS.
“he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray.” Luke 9:28
Jesus had a small group of disciples that he did life with 24/7. He also had an inner circle of his closest friends that he gathered for special seasons of prayer and connection with God. Jesus promised special power to those who pray in agreement with others (Matthew 18:19-20), and he practiced this, by praying with others regularly throughout his ministry.
What is your plan to pray WITH OTHERS? Do you have a small group of friends that you pray with? Do you have prayer partners who pray for you regularly? Are you a faithful, praying friend to others in your life?
3. Jesus prayed FOR OTHERS.
“people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them” Matthew 19:13
Jesus talked to God about men along with talking to men about God. In Matthew 19, we see Jesus praying for children brought to him. Jesus prayed for his followers, including us future believers in John 17. The Bible even says that he intercedes for us still today (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). Paul, commends intercession, or praying for others, as a top priority for believers, urging prayer for everyone, including those in authority (1 Timothy 4:1-2).
What is your plan to pray FOR OTHERS? What people do you pray for by name everyday? How are you making intercession a part of your life of prayer?
4. Jesus prayed STRENUOUSLY.
“Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Luke 6:12
We see Jesus, taking prayer to another level throughout his life and ministry by spending nights in prayer to the Father. He began his ministry with 40 days of fasting and prayer. We see a rhythm in the life of Christ of him exerting himself with greater intensity in prayer.
When was the last time, you took your prayer life seriously and strenuously for a season? Could you see yourself doing an annual fast? Could you see yourself doing an annual retreat where you focused on God and God’s desire for an area of your life or a person or persons in your life?
A simple rhythm of prayer: Pray Alone – Pray With Others – Pray For Others – Pray Strenuously.
Next Steps / To Do’s:
- Schedule time alone with God at least 3 times this week. Find a place of connection with God in your home or in nature.
- Join a group at a local church or start a group in your home or at your work, that is committed to praying for each other.
- Make a list of people to pray for everyday. Your family, your church, your coworkers, your neighbors. Check out the Prayer Card app to help with organizing your prayer list.
- Look at your annual calendar and plan an overnight prayer retreat or a season of fasting and prayer this year. More about fasting HERE.
The brain is an amazing organ. It’s ability to catalog information for the future, to block out traumatic events, to recognize things and places, and so much more is an incredible aspect of our wondrous and remarkable creation (Psalm 139:13-14). I believe that we utilize an incredibly small portion of what the brain is capable of. Taking the easy way out through amusement or observing other peoples smarts is the rule of the day. God calls us to engage our faith fully with our minds. We’re called to read (Revelations 1:3), study (2 Timothy 2:15), meditate on (Psalm 1:1-2), memorize (Psalm 119:9-11), and apply the word of God to our lives (James 1:22). We’re promised the brain hacks of wisdom, insight, knowledge, discernment (Proverbs 2:1-10) as gifts of God to aid our lives and our learnings.
So how are you engaging your mind through spiritual disciplines and habits?
In 2018, I re-established the habit of scripture memory. I had picked up the habit during my collegiate years through the influence of the Navigators and use of their Topical Memory System. Since 2002-2003 this habit was sporadic. In 2018, after going through one of life’s rough patches and longing for the promises of God to be nearer to my heart and mind, I downloaded a few Bible Memory Apps to try out. I landed on the Scripture Typer App, now called the Bible Memory App and after 7 months, I have mastered 430 verses. The Bible Memory App provides a great system to start and maintain the regular habit of memorizing and reviewing scripture. The key to memory for most people is repitition and review. With the Bible Memory App, you progress through verses by reviewing and as you review verses correctly, through typing the first letter of each word in a verse, your review schedule for each verse lengthens. So now, with 430 verses mastered, I’m still only reviewing 25-30 verses each day, spending 10-30 minutes each day in scripture memory.
Where did I find the time? I’ve pretty much replaced 75% of the time I spent on Social Media and other quite meaningless web surfing with this habit. I feel much better about myself. My faith is strengthening. Scripture memory improves your preaching and teaching, if you do that regularly, which I do. Besides the spiritual benefits, Scripture memory is also a habit and memory exercise that if maintained can keep the brain sharp as you age, potentially warding off dementia and cognitive decline.
Let me encourage you to try this Biblical injunction out and develop it into a habit. You will not regret it. If you use the Bible Memory App, here’s how I would get started:
- Download the App, open and account, find the Verse Library and start with the Group of Verses called “Verses for Children.” About 20 verses that are short, familiar, foundational.
- After that, move to the Group “Top 100 Verses.” Another great group of verses that are short, familiar, foundational.
- After that, pick another verse library category that speaks to where you are in life. Or, you can search for a group that you would like to connect with. I started with the Topical Memory System Group, because those verses were familiar to me. Right now, I have a group that is trying to memorize every YouVersion.com “Verse of the Day.” Find the group HERE.
- Put together a group with your Small Group, family, accountability partner, or for your church.
There are other apps and tools out there. Which one have you found helpful?
You can do this. Yes, you’ve got the time. You need this habit. Now, it’s not something we HAVE TO DO, as believers. It is something WE GET TO DO. Hiding God’s word in your heart is a privilege, given to us by God.
Tomorrow – Why and How to Memorize Scripture?
The Bible is full of resolutions. Our reading of the Bible should be to see the gaps between ourselves and God’s will and close that gap with resolve. The difference between worldly resolution and Biblical resolution is that as believers we have the promise of God’s presence with us to empower and encourage us as we resolve to walk with him. So let’s be resolute in 2019. Here are four Biblical Resolutions in way of reminder and challenge.
1. Devote yourselves to Prayer… Colossians 4:2
Prayer works every time it is tried. God promises to hear and to answer the praying believer, who prays in faith (Matthew 7:7; James 1:5-8; 1 John 5:14-15). Resolve to be a person of prayer in 2019.
- Set your alarm for 10:02am as a reminder to pray for your church and for more laborers for God’s mission (see Luke 10:2).
- Get your church’s directory and pray for one page per day.
- Sign up for Daily Prayer List of the International Mission Board
- Sign up for BlessEveryHome.com and pray for your neighbors everyday
2. Every man mature in Christ – Colossians 1:28-29
The resolve of the apostle Paul was to move EVERY PERSON in his sphere of influence closer to Christ. What a resolution!? Our influence as believers is currently limited by our vision and our lips. Resolve to see every person in relation to eternity and communicate God’s Gospel truth in practical ways in 2019.
- Pick up or make invites to your church to hand out around town.
- Ask God for divine opportunities and commit to share the gospel on a daily or weekly basis.
- Make a list of lost friends, relatives, coworkers, and neighbors to pray for everyday.
- Pick up a book or study on sharing the faith and read to get equipped. Let me suggest: Turning Everyday Conversations into Gospel Conversations by Jimmy Scroggins, Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out by Alvin Reid, or Tell Someone by Greg Laurie.
3. Exercise is of some value – 1 Timothy 4:8
In most of us, a new year brings a desire to make changes. Gym memberships increase by about 12% every January. While we do not all need to be Iron Men, we should recognize the secondary value (next to godliness) of maintaining and/or improving our physical condition as a steward of God and faithful witness until our last breath. Resolve to improve and/or maintain your physical condition for stewardship and witness in 2019.
- Walk. This is a great way to combine #1, #2, and #3. Walk your neighborhood and pray for each home and look for opportunities to build new relationships.
- Try a 21 Day Fast as a way to reset your prayer life and dietary life.
- Join a gym and/or fitness class as a way to get in better condition and build new relationships in the community.
4. We will tell the next generation – Psalm 78:4
The next generation is to be a priority for disciples of Christ (Deuteronomy 6:6-8; Psalm 78:1-4). Parents and Grandparents have a built in reminder of their duty and priority. But we mustn’t stop there. With Christianity in decline, we need all hands on deck to make sure every child hears of God’s love in Christ for them. Resolve to pass on your faith to someone younger than you in 2019.
- If you’re a parent, commit to a family meal time each week where you share a devotional and pray for and with one another.
- Sign up to volunteer in the children’s ministry of a local church.
- Look for opportunities to volunteer at a local school or mentoring program.
- Ask God to show you a child at your church or in your neighborhood that needs an encouraging word.
What are some other Biblical Resolutions that we can resolve to pursue in 2019?
One of the most significant and unsung verses in the Christmas Story and maybe in the New Testament is Luke 1:11.
An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense.Luke 1:11 Christian Standard Bible
This is the moment that God broke through after 400 years of silence, after allowing the rampaging and devastation and defeat of His chosen people, and after allowing Judaism to become a ritualistic shell of itself. God broke through. God spoke. God set in course the events that would bring salvation to all the world in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
The before and after of this verse goes like this: An aging Priest named Zechariah got the opportunity of a lifetime to offer incense in the Temple’s sanctuary. He and his wife Elizabeth, who was never able to have children, and now was well along in years, made arrangements to fulfill this obligation. As he offered incense, God reached down and spoke. Unexpected events, unexpected people involved, unexpected announcement that Elizabeth would have a baby. That baby would become the way-preparer for the Messiah, John the Baptist.
This is the moment where God initiated the keeping of His Promises and Securing the Hope of all who believe. This is the moment that those caught up in this story saw their Hope Restored. What does Restored Hope look like? For Zechariah and Elizabeth and that group of ordinaries that surrounded them on this day, it looked like this:
The Pathway to Hope Again:
1. Recognition that God’s Word is still true. The prophecy of the coming Messiah and the Way-Preparer IS TRUE! And in the coming days, 100’s of other prophecies would be fulfilled in the coming of Christ. For Zechariah, this was no longer just stale religious ritual, but a dynamic voice, capable of restoring hope and bringing change.
2. Recognition that God can still use even me. The sun was seemingly setting on Zechariah’s life and ministry, but God broke through and gave he and Elizabeth a place of prominence in the Gospel story. God is never finished. He gets the last word on our significance.
3. Recognition that God can still accomplish the impossible. Elizabeth’s barren womb and old age, would be no obstacle to God’s will and God’s promise being kept. Neither will any obstacle that we face in life and leadership. Nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37) will be a core belief of the hope-filled believers.
Maybe this Christmas, you find yourself with lost hope or deferred hope (Proverbs 29:13). Ask God to breakthrough again with these three truths. You can Hope Again. His Word is True. He’s not finished with you. He’s still doing the impossible. Hope Again. Believe Again.
Father, restore our hope through demonstrating the truth of Your Word. Show us that we are your instruments until the day we die. Open our eyes to see the possibilities of your power and your promise.
Join Bridge Church, Sunday’s at 10am at Hollywood Theater in Covington to discover more great truths from the story of Christmas.