The Blessing of Mourning
In the Beatitudes, the list of attitudes that Christ instructs us to exemplify, mourning is second on the list (Matt 5:4). Often, mourning is perceived as negative or somber. However, when we keep in mind the complete work that Christ has done, mourning has a proper place in our lives and develops valuable character qualities in us. Mourning does have some sorrow connected to it, but David tells us that sorrow only lasts for a short time and it is followed by great joy (Ps. 30:5). Today, mourning might describe your current perspective. The good news is that we have a comforter, the Holy Spirit, who comforts us when we are honest about our situation and provides forgiveness and healing (John 14:26, Prov. 28:13).
Asking God for forgiveness takes great courage, but when we take that step, we receive an overwhelming and unforgettable sense of freedom. If there is anything you need to ask God’s forgiveness for today, I encourage you to take the following three steps in faith.
First, admit you failed. So much positive growth comes out of failure. If we never fail, it’s likely that we will never learn certain valuable life lessons. It’s what we do after we fail that is important! Take a moment and simply ask God to forgive your failure, without excuses. Second, hold yourself accountable for your behavior. Changing habitual patterns is very difficult without accountability. Personally, I find great freedom in being held accountable. Many people are involved in the details of my life: they know my schedule, where I am going, how I spend my time and money, where I have been, and who I am with. My life is out in the open and I welcome that. Genuinely repentant people set up ways to avoid their previous behavior and bring others into their circle who will make sure they stay the course. Third, do the hard work of changing. Research tells us that people significantly change every five years. I know that I have grown because of intentional decisions I have made along the way. One of the things I love so much about college life is that people change through the education process in the most positive way. We have to give people the grace to change and pursue change in our own lives as well.
Today, we honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds of despair, and when our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a creative force in this universe, working to pull down the gigantic mountains of evil, a power that is able to make a way out of no way and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows”. Perhaps you are in a place of despair and mourning. Be encouraged that Jesus can turn your dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.
Jesus, thank you for blessing those who mourn. Help our mourning turn to joy as we let go of our past, repent of our failings, and fully trust you with our future. Amen.
Here we are at the start of a new decade. It is filled with the possibility of new opportunities, new dreams, fulfilling new potential, new friends, and a whole lot more. I don’t know about you, but I am personally glad to have 2019 behind me and to welcome in this new decade.
In this new year, many of us are looking for more happiness. According to Jesus, happiness does not come from the things that society says it does. Our culture suggests that status, beauty, wealth, and possessions are keys to happiness. You might be glad to see 2019 go because it didn’t bring you the happiness you desired. Unfortunately, 2020 might be just as difficult if you are looking for different results from the same things. Happiness does not come from what you have or what you do.
The Greek word “makarios”, from Matthew 5:3-11, means to be blessed, fortunate, or happy; the privileged recipient of God’s favor. In this passage, Jesus tells us that true happiness, or makarios, comes to those who are poor in spirit. Of course, He is not talking about physical poverty, but rather spiritual poverty. Jesus is saying that those who are blessed, happy, or fortunate are those who acknowledge that without God, they are spiritually impoverished.
Looking back over the past year, I can tell you that it didn’t contain what I anticipated. If I am honest, it was full of “why” questions. But as each challenge arose, I gave it to God, and saw many unexpected miracles as a result. Trusting God this way felt like I was building a spiritual bank account that overflowed with faith. In 2020, I am anticipating continued and consistent trust in God in every aspect of my life.
One of my favorite scriptures is John 15:4-5. In this passage, Jesus tells us two essential truths about our spiritual devotion. In verse four, Jesus says, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you”. In a transactional world where we often exchange things without any relationship, Jesus is saying that relationship comes before transaction with Him. As we invest relationally in our walk with Jesus, a transaction does occur as Christ pours Himself into your life. Most of the time, the return is different than we expect, but our trust in our relationship gives us a sense of peace in the process. In verse five, John elaborates on the results of relationship with Jesus. “If you remain in me, and I in you, you WILL bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.” The only way a person can be productive, spiritually fulfilled, and find true happiness, is by staying in right relationship with God.
I don’t know what your goals are for the new year or what you are hoping to accomplish, but my prayer for you is that you might flourish in your relationship with Christ, that you would draw close to God and He to you, and that along the way, you would be more aware of how God is guiding you and blessing you.
Lord, I pray for a revived spirit in my life and in the lives of my friends, as together we embrace this new year and decade. Help us to fully understand that without an invested relationship with God, we are spiritually impoverished. The only way for us to enjoy life the way you intended is for us to remain in a relationship with you. Thank you for initiating that relationship with us, and for helping us to respond. Amen.
A Generous Life
It’s hard to believe, but here we are at the beginning of the last month of the year and at the end of another great semester. December is known for many things: family, time off, decorations, the end of a year, and generosity, to name a few. I recently heard a few stories about generosity. Former Seahawks football player Richard Sherman paid off $20,000 in lunch debt for children and families in Tacoma-area schools. Another Seahawks player, Bobby Wagner, spent an hour in a grocery store paying for everyone’s groceries. These stories caught my attention, so I did some reflecting on generosity. Research tells us that generous people are more likely to live healthier, longer, and happier lives. If you see a person who is genuinely happy, chances are that person has a spirit of generosity. Sadly, the opposite can be true as well. A person who has an unhappy personality may be so focused on their own difficult situations that they can’t find in themselves the ability to do anything good for others.
The truth of the generosity-happiness connection hit my spirit. Some of us might say we have nothing to give, but generosity is about giving in more ways than just money. Time is one of the most valuable commodities a person has. Give some devoted time to someone this season and listen to their stories. Words can be another valuable gift. Take a moment and send a card, a text, or even better, make a phone call to someone you have not talked to in a while. And of course, a gift is a great way to express yourself. Consider giving a gift in the offering at church, or to a needy family, friend, or coworker. I must admit, as I pondered this thought of generosity, I did something I often tell people not to do – I spontaneously bought a Christmas gift for a friend that was not in my budget! Even worse, I didn’t tell my wife, Brenda, that I was going to do it – again, not usually a good idea. Thankfully, Brenda is very forgiving and understanding, and I can’t wait until Christmas to see my friend’s face when I give him his present. Doing this has made my holiday season so much more fun!
King Solomon is known as the wisest man who ever lived. His most significant request of God was for the wisdom to lead well. In Ecclesiastes 2:26, Solomon wrote, “The person who pleases God will receive wisdom, knowledge, and happiness”. Generosity is at the heart of God’s nature. We know this because of how generously He has given to us, the gift of Jesus Christ we celebrate this Christmas season. Jesus is our hope, our joy, our friend, and our Savior. The most appropriate thing we can do to please God in response to His gift is to generously share His message and His story. Not only will it please God, but it will bring happiness beyond measure to your own heart and life.
Lord, thank you for your generosity in giving your son Jesus to me. Living a life modeled after your Son has changed my life forever. Help me always to live generously, giving myself in the same way that Christ gave Himself for me. Amen.
The Value of Love
In a recent meeting with our university board members and leaders, I was reminded of a compelling story shared by Provost Heugel as he reflected on our faculty’s tenacious devotion to their calling. The story was about Ernestine Rice, an elegant and brilliant English professor at NU for many years. As a student preparing for ministry, I remember classes taught by her and her husband, Dr. Frank Rice. Ernestine and Frank were deeply committed to their calling. They were passionate about training the next generation of young leaders, from which I directly benefited. Earnest loved students and she loved teaching. In her later years at NU, she received an unfortunate diagnosis of lung cancer. She loved her students so much that between lectures she would go to her office and with the aid of surgical tubing in her lungs, she would drain the fluid so she could return to her class and continue teaching her students. Ernestine did not miss one class, up to the point that she passed away within three days of the last class she taught. Ernestine loved students and literally laid her life down for their benefit.
In 1 Corinthians, the “love chapter” paints a powerful picture of love. Paul writes, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails” (1 Cor. 13:4-8). This is a common scripture to read at weddings. However, it is important to know that this passage is placed in the middle of Paul’s instructions about spiritual gifts. Paul taught us that God placed in the church apostles, prophets, teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, etc. (1 Cor. 12:28).
Much of what we do is a direct reflection of what God has called us to – our callings as apostles, prophets, teachers, and might I add, business leaders, nurses, psychologists, students, athletes, parents, and the list goes on. But without love, our effort is simply a “clanging cymbal” (1 Cor. 13:1). It is love that adds value to our effort and makes our effort valuable.
Recently I read a quote from George Washington Carver which deeply impacted my approach to what I do and how I respond to people. “Be kind to others. How far you go in life depends upon your being tender with the young, compassionate with aged, sympathetic with the striving, tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these.” It is likely that at some point in life you will need the love you have given returned to you.
One of the great characteristics about our current generation of young leaders is their desire to redemptively embrace all people. Research tells us that today’s students have an innate desire to defend those who cannot defend themselves. The most positive outcome of this character quality is that compassion, sympathy, and love will be what the church is known for far into the future.
If Ernestine Rice was teaching today, I think she would be thrilled with the amount of young leaders who understand how to lead with love as they embrace what God is calling them to do.
Lord, help me to love - love my calling, love my neighbor, love my parents, love my roommates, love my workmate, love my teammate, love my professors, love my students, love my brother/sister, love those who disagree, and those who agree. Help me lead with love. Amen.
Many of us are balancing school, work, family, friends, and busy schedules. I find myself wondering if we can really find peace in the midst of these various obligations. I believe this is a struggle for many people in our community. Finding peace is an extremely emotional endeavor, and if we don’t develop emotional health during challenging seasons, we may lose our sense of purpose, calling, and vision.
Some of you are aware of the personal challenges facing my family. For the past six months, my son-in-law, Jared McKinney, has been in the fight of his life. At the age of 29, in the midst of planning to plant a church in Billings, Montana, his life was interrupted by a rare form of leukemia. If you know him or have followed his story, you know that Jared’s faith remains strong and his resolve relentless. He is a true inspiration to many!
In his book "Leadership Pain: The Classroom for Growth", author Sam Chand says, “When you interpret your pain as bigger – more important, more threatening, more comprehensive – than your vision, you’ll redefine your vision down to the threshold of your pain.” In Jared’s life, I have seen him struggle, but I have never heard a word of complaint. Why? Because he knows his present suffering will eventually produce something greater through his life. Managing our pain level is difficult. The more our influence and responsibility grows, so does our potential for experiencing pain. We must learn to find peace in the middle of the pain.
The fight for a peaceful spirit can be waged in the midst of physical pain and loss, but is also a battle we fight in our minds when others disappoint, hurt, or provoke us. We are warned against reacting in anger in such circumstances by the writer of Ecclesiastes, who says, “Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Eccles. 7:9). I have witnessed leaders “lose it” over the simplest issues, causing irreparable damage. It is easy to act foolishly when anger rises up in our spirits. I believe there are a few healthy activities we can engage in to guard our spirits and maintain God’s peace.
First, build healthy spiritual habits. I absolutely believe God wants to talk to us through His Spirit. But we must make the time to calm our own spirits and listen. For me, I have an appointment on my calendar every morning to make sure that I plan for time with the Lord and that nothing else gets on my schedule before then.
Second, identify healthy distractions. I believe we need healthy distractions to keep us from dwelling on the demands of life. Hobbies, time with friends, and perhaps a Sabbath day can realign our spirits and bring us peace.
Third, pursue and cultivate a relationship with a leadership coach. Everyone needs someone to speak truth into their life and help them see the bigger picture. Having a person we can be honest with about life often releases the pressure we feel in times of struggle. One suggestion about finding a mentor or coach is that we don’t always have to ask someone to be our mentor, as that may be too great of a commitment. Instead, we can simply find the time to be around the person(s) that we would like to learn from and be prepared with a few good questions. That way, the relationship is both edifying and feels more like a good friendship for both parties.
Lord, the pressure in life is real and sometimes overwhelming. We need Your peace that passes understanding to guard our hearts and minds. Give wisdom to those who need to see the bigger picture of their circumstances. Help us embrace our struggles in order to become strong, relentless, and full of Christ-like character. Amen.
Among the many character qualities we need to master, I believe self-discipline is among the most difficult. Recently, I asked several people how they are doing. They gave common responses, such as, “I haven’t started my paper that is due soon” or, “I should have read that book by now”. As we near the end of the semester, midterms and assignments are a frequent topic of conversation. It seems that often, people want the product of discipline without paying the price. We want to be in shape, but we want to eat what we want and we don’t want to go to the gym. We want to know God, but we don’t want to spend time in prayer or reading the Word.
The writer of Hebrews says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11). What is the vision you have for your life by the end of this semester? What is the vision you have for your career in five to ten years? That harvest will not be reality unless you are willing to invest time and energy into that reality.
Honestly, self-discipline is not easy for anyone, including myself. I have found that I must create an environment that is beneficial and forward-thinking if I am to produce the right outcomes. If I anticipate working out in the morning, I have to put my gym clothes on first thing when I get up, so that I don’t back away from my goal. If I anticipate writing, I need to go to a place where I am not easily distracted. Our environment has a significant impact on creating good habits of self-discipline.
A 1971 study found that over 15% of U.S. soldiers stationed in Vietnam were heroin addicts, but within a year of returning home, only 5% were still addicted. Nine out of ten soldiers kicked their addiction overnight simply by being in a different environment than the one in which they initially established the habit. If they were addicted to heroin before going to Vietnam, their chances of relapse were significantly higher. 90% of heroin users become re-addicted after rehab because they return to their environment. A person can try as hard as they want to be self-disciplined, but if they continue to put themselves in an environment that does not encourage better behavior, they will not change. Along the same lines, if a person stays friends with people who set a poor examples of self-discipline, that too will hinder positive change.
There are a few truths I have found helpful. First, the hardest person to lead is yourself. If you can’t conquer you, you will always struggle with the vision, plan, and direction that God has called you to pursue. Second, talent will only grow with focused discipline. I have known so many wonderful people who have great intentions, but who have not realized their full talent because their intentions were not married to discipline. Third, pick one area to work on, rather than trying to improve everything at once. The saying goes, “You can’t see the forest for the trees”, meaning that a person can’t see the big picture because they are so focused on one small area. But in this case, it is better to just focus on one tree at a time. Start small, and after a season of conquering one tree, you will soon see a beautiful forest of great habits developed in your life.
Lord, the area of self-discipline is one that we struggle with so much. Procrastination sets in, leading us to listen to our non-productive inner voice. Midterms are upon us, along with a cold fall season. It is easy to be overwhelmed and discouraged. I pray for strength and a tenacious spirit to arise among your people. Amen.
I am still reflecting on a recent event we had for our men on campus entitled Fellaship. If you haven’t heard of it, it is a bi-semesterly men’s gathering where we discuss relevant topics and pray for one another. The Northwest University women have a similar event called ChicChat. At this past FellaShip, Pastor Vinnie Ramos from New Life Renton brought an engaging word for our men on the topic of humility. Among the many character qualities one must develop, I believe humility must be at the top of the list.
In his book Humility: True Greatness, author C.J. Mahaney says that humility is “honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness”. When we fully and honestly examine our hearts and motives from the perspective of God’s holiness and our sinfulness, we begin to realize how small we are and how necessary the character quality of humility really is. When we do not display humility, we elevate ourselves to God’s level, whether we realize it or not.
When humility is absent in a person, pride tends dominate. The disciple Peter wrote about pride and instructed Christ-followers to “clothe yourselves in humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6). Pride is the human process of trying to gain favor from God and people, but humility is God’s process of giving favor to the lowly.
Humility is a character quality that I have to work on every day. I am not anywhere near where I need to be or would like to be. Often, the need for recognition or the addiction to self-aggrandizement takes over. This issue is so important to me that I wear a ring that is a constant reminder of what humility is and its importance in my life. There is a symbol of a horse on the face of the ring, which reminds me to remain in control of my actions at all time. My working definition of humility is “strength under control”. If I don’t control my actions, I can destroy myself and hurt others in the process.
Humility is a constant struggle for most people. Our culture reinforces the notion that we must build our resume, promote ourselves, and constantly update our social status. I have learned that in order to gain humility, I have to work hard at it. An important step towards humility is to listen more than we talk. I have found that people who talk a lot tend to be perceived as arrogant. It is so much more fun to learn what others think by asking good questions. Second, I have found that admitting my faults helps me fight pride. People who quickly admit they were wrong and own their shortcomings are more respected than those who give off an image of perfection. Third, develop the skill of being a life-long learner. Admit early that you don’t have all the answers and that there are other people who have walked this journey ahead of you. Humble yourself and learn from their story.
Lord, I am so thankful for your son Jesus, who modeled the perfect example of humility for us. In a culture that is self-promoting, we need your help. Holy Spirit, reveals truths about ourselves, and bring godly examples into our lives who will talk to us and helps us with our areas of pride. Amen.
Like most of us, I have had significant moments in my life where I can look back and remember learning key life lessons. Sometimes they came in what I call a “test”, which sometimes I passed and sometimes, well, let’s just say I didn’t pass with flying colors.
For a season of my life, I had the privilege of working in the National Headquarters for the Assembly of God church. My direct supervisor was a man with years of experience, named Charles Crabtree. I will never forget sitting in his office one day as we discussed a difficult personnel issue. He looked at me and said, “Character is one of the most difficult leadership qualities to guard; once people let it go, they almost never get it back”. Character influences every aspect of a person’s life to the degree that what you see in public is also what God sees in private.
Integrity is among the highest character qualities a person must maintain in order to positively influence the lives of others. Those who lack integrity tend to be unstable and double-minded, changing their mind, opinion, or behavior under the smallest amount of pressure.
One can certainly identify key areas in King David’s life where he lacked character, but through his struggles, it is recorded that David led with integrity of heart and with skillful hands (Psalm 78:72). At the end of my life, I hope this will also be said of me. What about you?
In order to realign my public and my private life, I often ask myself a few questions:
1. In what areas of my life do my words and actions not match?
2. Is there something I am currently being tempted with that could jeopardize my future influence potential?
3. Is there an area of my life where I come across as defensive? Why?
4. Who is the person that knows the most about me? Have I hidden anything from them that might undermine my integrity?
It has been said that our lives are the best sermon anyone will ever hear. Andrew Carnegie said, “As I grow older, I pay less attention to what men say. I just watch what they do”. When facing the temptation to compromise in some way, perhaps to fulfill a physical or emotional need in your life, take a moment and process the implications first. What person or persons might be most negatively impacted by this choice? Is the choice worth the price that will be paid, either in the short-term or for a lifetime?
Lord, thank you for allowing us to be in a community that is certainly not perfect, but learning to follow Your principles. Forgive us where we fall short and reveal to us our shortcomings, even if You need to use others in the process. May we be people of integrity. Amen.
A few days ago, I had the distinct privilege of attending the dedication of the new Northwest University Oregon building located in Salem, Oregon. The building was formerly the Northwest Ministry Network office for the Assemblies of God. As a result of generous and visionary leadership, the building has been repurposed to educate Christian leaders in the state of Oregon.
The dedication experience was inspiring, led by Dr. Debbie Lamm Bray and her team of staff members. Many volunteered their time to complete the renovation on a small budget but with passionate vision. I have long appreciated Dr. Lamm Bray’s leadership, and her opening comments only increased my appreciation as she appropriately gave credit to her faithful staff and students above herself, as any good leader would.
We often view a faithful person as one who shows up when they are supposed to. When a person is on time for work, class, and scheduled appointments, they are faithful. However, faithfulness is much more than just showing up. Faithfulness is also wise stewardship of the resources, talent, money, time, or people with whom one has been entrusted.
Jesus gives us a clear perspective of faithfulness in the Parable of the Bag of Gold. He said: “Again, [the kingdom of heaven] will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey…After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more’” (Matt 25:14-15,19-20).
Faithfulness is the responsible management of what one has been given. The master gave the three servants great responsibility, and two of the servants proved their faithfulness. When they had proven their faithfulness, the master said to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt 25:21). Faithful management often opens the door to future opportunities.
Faithfulness is a quality we can work on in every stage of our lives. Perhaps you are a student, and you don’t think you have much to be faithful with. Think about your finances: are you working to help pay your school bill? Do you manage your money well or spend it unnecessarily? How are you with turning in papers or assignments on time? Do you have a faithful, loyal attitude towards leadership or your supervisor? Faithfulness is a character quality one does well to embrace early in life and continue to master in every season.
Lord, thank you for entrusting every one of us with gifts. For those who feel they have nothing to steward, make them aware of their many blessings. Holy Spirit, help us be creative as we manage our resources for the cause of Christ. Amen.