I Want to Quit!

stressed-out-person[1]Most of us have probably said those words more than once in our lives. It may be that we wanted to quit our marriage, a job, a ministry we’ve been leading or serving in, or a relationship that’s difficult. How do we know when to quit and when to hang in there and persevere?

I’ve said those words numerous times. When I worked as a perfusionist running the heart lung machine in open heart surgery, I wanted to quit almost every week. I was tired of the stress, the long hours, the difficulty of the job, and sometimes the difficult relationships in the operating room. But God had me hang in there for 18 years, and then He directed me to quit that profession and move into the next chapter of my life.

As I look back at that season, I see how God used those challenging times to prepare me for what I’m doing now. Working in surgery helped me learn how to deal with harsh words, strong personalities, and long hours that go far beyond eight-hour days. Those years also taught me the value of teamwork. If we didn’t work as a team, the results for the patient would have been disastrous. I had to stay focused and commit wholeheartedly to what I was doing. Great lessons for life!

I’m glad I didn’t quit until God clearly led me to move on. I would have missed those years of preparation for the next chapter of my life. But how do we know when to quit and when to keep on in the midst of struggle, pain, and difficulty?

What does God’s Word say about it? Are there any clear-cut principles to guide us? God’s Word clearly directs us in some things, but in other situations, it’s not spelled out for us.

In my situation in surgery, there wasn’t anything specific in Scripture to guide me, so I had to wait on God to show me if and when He wanted me to quit. I found myself asking the question, “God, are you using these tough circumstances to direct me to get out of this situation, or are you wanting to use these difficult circumstances to build my character?”

Perhaps you’re wanting to quit something today and you’re asking the same question. I can’t give you a formula that will guide you as to when to quit and when to stay, but Proverbs 3:5-6 gives us great wisdom:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.”

If we seek His guidance and stay attentive to Him, He will lead us. If He wants us to stay in a hard situation, He will give us the strength to endure. If and when He’s ready for us to quit, He will make it clear as we are attentive to Him.

I’d love to hear your insight on this. How do you know when it’s time to quit or time to stay?

A Life Well Lived

Mom exercising

Mom would have celebrated her 99th birthday this past Tuesday, but the Lord took her home two months shy of that birthday. I have a feeling she had the best birthday party ever this year. Mom’s life was a life well lived and she made a positive impact in the lives of those who knew her. Thinking about my mom’s life made me do some reflection in my own life this week.

Am I encouraging others – or discouraging them?

Am I pointing others to Jesus – or to myself?

Am I promoting unity – or dissension?

Am I an optimist – or always focusing on the negatives?

Do I refresh others – or drain them?

Do I initiate gossip – or refrain from it?

Do I listen to God – or to the world?

Am I living my life for the Lord – or for me?

Mom would have answered yes to the first part of each of these questions. I firmly believe that when God welcomed my mom HOME on December 19, 2014, He whispered to her, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.”

I found an email this week from one of the pastors of her church in our home town, Plain Dealing. He wrote these words about mom’s life:

I have enjoyed getting to know your mother. She has a legacy of faithful service to our Lord. I had heard about your mother since the first week I was here. Her years of service in missions education is one reason our church has a heart for the lost all over the world. It’s also because of people like her that folks like you and me have a faith today. Her faith is still strong even as she is writing the closing chapter of her earthly life.

She made the most of her almost 99 years on this earth but always kept her focus on her eternal home. Mom, thank you for the legacy you left behind. Happy 99th Birthday!

 

Dealing With Discouragement

manpraying2

Discouragement can drag us down and hinder us in our walk with God, or it can draw us into a deeper dependence on Him.

In the last post, we looked at sources of discouragement. But once we identify the source, how do we deal with it? Moses gave us a great example of how to deal with discouragement in Exodus 5-6. He was dealing with difficult people, difficult circumstances, and difficult words. It would have been easy to become discouraged, but he did four things that kept him from going down that path.

1. He turned to God. (Exodus 5:22-23)

Moses could have lashed out at the people who were hurting him with their words, but he didn’t. He went straight to God and poured out his heart to Him. He asked God the same question we ask when we find ourselves discouraged – why, God?

2. He remembered who God is. (Exodus 6:1-8)

He remembered who God is and what He had promised. He is the covenant-keeping God, faithful, loving, and sovereign. He will do what He says He will do.

3. He relied on God’s promises. (Exodus 6:4-8)

God gave Moses seven promises, all beginning with “I will.” God will be faithful to His promises, but the journey may look different than what we had expected. When we find ourselves in the midst of discouragement, we need to claim His promises and trust His faithfulness even when we don’t feel one ounce of emotion that those promises are true.

4. He recognized God’s sufficiency. (Exodus 6:9- 7:13).

Moses went back to one of his excuses in the desert – “I am unskilled in speech.” In other words, I’m inadequate. But it’s in those times when we feel inadequate that God can show us His sufficiency.

Our tendency in the midst of discouragement is to quit, to give up. But God wants us to walk by faith and keep going, trusting in His sufficiency and sovereignty.

This excerpt from The Red Sea Rules has been a great encouragement to me when I find myself discouraged with a situation.

Andrew Murray once faced a terrible crisis. Gathering himself into his study, he sat a long while quietly, prayerfully, thoughtfully. Presently his mind flew to his Lord Jesus. Picking up his pen, he wrote this in his journal:

“First, He brought me here, it is by His will that I am in this strait place; in that fact I will rest. Next, He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace to behave as His child. Then, He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow. Last, in His good time He can bring me out again – how and when He knows. Let me say I am here, by God’s appointment, in His keeping, under His training, for His time.”

God knows what’s going on in our lives and He will use it for our good and His glory. Don’t let discouragement weigh you down.

Feeling Discouraged?

sad-catWhen was the last time you were discouraged? You may even be discouraged today as you’re reading this. Discouragement is part of life and we all deal with it from time to time. But if we don’t handle it in an appropriate way, it will hold us back in our walk with God.

So how should we handle discouragement? Begin by identifying the source.

 

Maybe the source of your discouragement is a difficult person in your life.

I’ve been discouraged by difficult people. These are some characteristics of difficult people who have discouraged me over the years: negative, critical, pessimistic, blunt and insensitive, resistant to change, set in their ways, demanding, draining, unteachable, controlling, bossy… you get the idea. You could probably add some characteristics from your own life experiences.

But we also need to ask the question, “Am I a difficult person in someone’s life?”

Another source of discouragement is difficult circumstances.

I get discouraged when things don’t go the way I wanted them to. Or when I compare my circumstances to someone else’s or when life seems to be treating others better. When life gets hard and I’m worn out physically and emotionally, discouragement creeps in.

Perhaps you’re in the middle of difficult circumstances today – an illness or disease, a hard financial situation, a job situation, problems in your marriage or with your children, or a feeling of failure. Difficult circumstances can discourage us.

A third source of discouragement is difficult words.

Words can hurt and sting, leaving scars. I have heard my share of difficult words – words of rejection, disapproval, gossip, criticism – and they have left me in tears many times.

You’ve probably been discouraged by someone’s words spoken to you in anger or haste that pierced deeply. But on the flip side, have your words discouraged someone?

This excerpt from Streams in the Desert (Vol. 1) dated October 16 is a good reminder for me when I find myself discouraged.

There are weights which are not sins in themselves, but which become distractions and stumbling blocks in our Christian progress. One of the worst of these is despondency. The heavy heart is indeed a weight that will surely drag us down in our holiness and usefulness. . . The devil has two master tricks. One is to get us discouraged; then for a time at least we can be of no service to others, and so are defeated. The other is to make us doubt…

Are you discouraged today? Identify the source.

In the next post, we’ll look at the solution. How should we deal with discouragement once we’ve identified the source?

Saying No to God

MP900178845[1]Have you ever told God no? You knew He was prompting you to step out in faith and do something, but you responded with a big, emphatic NO! What held you back from following His leading?

When God laid out His plan for Moses in the desert and told Moses to go back to Pharaoh and lead His people out of bondage in Egypt (Exodus 3-4), Moses’ first response wasn’t, Yes, Lord! Instead, he told God no. These were his reasons why he couldn’t (his excuses):

I’m inadequate. I’m a nobody. I’m not famous or a strong leader or particularly gifted.

I don’t know enough. What if I can’t answer their questions?

What if they reject me? I don’t want to fail.

I’m not gifted in this area. It’s a weakness in my life.

I just really don’t want to do it. Send someone else.

Feeling a sense of inadequacy is not bad in itself. It becomes a hindrance when we let that feeling of inadequacy hold us back from following God’s leading. But feeling inadequate can be a strength when we admit we can’t do things in our own strength and we are desperately dependent on Him. Then we can see Him work through us in our inadequacy. His strength is magnified in our weakness.

God had an answer for all of Moses’ reasons for saying no (excuses).

I’m not adequate.
God’s response: I will be with you.

I don’t know enough.
God’s response: I AM enough.

I’ll be rejected.
God’s response: I will empower you.

I’m weak in this area.
God’s response: I will make you effective.

Send someone else.
God’s response: No. But I will give you a helper.

The Holy Spirit is our Helper. We are never alone in following God’s leading.

When I first came to interview at First Evan, I went back to Dallas and told God, No. It wasn’t a fit for me. I didn’t want to leave my comfort zone and friends in Dallas and move to a new city. I didn’t want to fail and disappoint Him (and First Evan) if I couldn’t do the job. What if they don’t like me?

But God quickly answered all my excuses and made it clear that He wanted me to say yes. I’m so glad I did. Like Moses, I would have missed out on God’s blessings had I stayed where I was.

Perhaps God is leading you to do something today, and you’ve told Him no. What reasons are you giving Him for not being able to say yes? How would God respond to your reasons?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Are You Embracing Your Season of Life?

AutumnDo you have a favorite season of the year?

My favorite seasons are fall and spring because I love the change of temperature that comes with each one, as well as the changing of leaves in the fall and the blooming of trees in the spring.

But even though I most enjoy fall and spring, I still appreciate the other seasons of the year and the uniqueness of each one. I love the beauty of the snowfall in the winter and the length of the sunlight in the summer. I see the value in each season of the year and can appreciate each one.

It’s the same way with seasons of life. We go through different seasons of life, and we enjoy some seasons more than others. But we can come to appreciate all seasons of life as we understand how God works in every season.

I’ve been studying the life of Moses, and in Exodus 1 and 2, I noticed six seasons of life.

The Delightful Seasons (Exodus 1:1-7)

The delightful seasons are those times when things are going great and we see God’s blessing on our lives.

God uses these delightful seasons to remind us of His lovingkindnessOur response should be: give thanks. Enjoy His blessings and remember that He is the source of those blessings.

The Difficult Seasons (Exodus 1:8-14)

winterThe difficult seasons of life are just that – difficult. It may be because of illness, loss, financial struggles, a family situation, a difficult relationship. As hard as this season is, God is still at work.

God uses the difficult seasons to remind us of His sufficiency. Our response should be: draw from His strength, not our own.We realize we are not adequate to handle this on our own, and He reminds us that He is sufficient for anything we face.

The Dangerous Seasons (Exodus 1:15-2:10)

We are definitely in a season where the world is more dangerous – terrorist attacks, ISIS, persecution of Christians, even walking down our own streets.

God uses the dangerous seasons to remind us of His sovereignty. Our response should be: rest in His sovereignty. No matter how bad it gets, He is still ultimately in control and will use all of this for good in some way.

The Disobedient Seasons (Exodus 2:11-14)

The seasons of disobedience may only last for a moment, if we deal with the sin immediately. Or the season may last for days, weeks, months, or years if we don’t confess and repent. I went through a season of disobedience for two and a half years at LSU. But I have had shorter seasons of disobedience since then. We sin daily, but the key is dealing with it immediately. Those seasons last for as long as we refuse to confess and repent.

God uses the disobedient seasons to remind us of His mercy and forgiveness. Our response should be: confess and repent.

The Desert Seasons (Exodus 2:15-22)

desertThe desert seasons are those dry times in our lives, when we feel empty, discouraged, and distant from God, wondering if He has forgotten us or if He is even listening to our prayers. Sometimes these seasons are a result of sin. Sometimes they follow failure. But other times, we don’t know why we’re in a desert season. The desert seasons aren’t wasted time, but time of preparation for the next chapter of our lives.

God uses the desert seasons to remind us of His faithfulness. Even though it seems that God is silent and has forgotten us, and we don’t feel God’s hand at work, He is faithfully working in ways we can’t see. Our response should be: walk by faith, not by sight.

The Desperate Seasons (Exodus 2:23-25)

The desperate seasons are those times when we feel we have no hope. We are at our lowest low, the end of our rope.

God uses these desperate seasons to remind us of His Presence. We are never alone. He has not forgotten us. He hears us. He sees us. He is very much aware of everything going on in our lives. He is present with us, even though we may not feel it. Our response should be: Cry out to Him. He is our hope when we feel we have no hope.

Embrace every season of life, because God is at work in each one. 

  • In the delightful seasons – He refreshes us.
  • In the difficult seasons – He strengthens us.
  • In the dangerous seasons – He controls what happens.
  • In the disobedient seasons – He convicts us.
  • In the desert seasons – He prepares us.
  • In the desperate seasons – He sustains us.

What season of life are you in today? Embrace it!

(To listen to the complete audio message, click here.)

Reflecting on Another Year

happy-new-year-2015Happy New Year!

There’s value in reflection, learning from the past and making adjustments for the future from the lessons learned. And yes, I’d love to know what God has in store for me this coming year, but it’s probably better that He just shows me one step at a time. If I knew ahead of time, I’d probably worry and fret about it.

He knows what’s best for us, and He chooses to show us step by step, corner by corner. All He asks of us is to trust Him and walk by faith, following Him around each corner as He leads.

I always take some time at the end of the year to reflect on the past year and answer a few questions:

  • What am I most thankful for?
  • What has been hard, and how did I handle it? What did I learn from it?
  • How have I grown in my relationship with God this past year?
  • What’s one thing I’d love to see God do this coming year?

As we celebrate the beginning of another year, I’d love to hear what you are most thankful for this past year. An answer to prayer, spiritual growth, new relationships, new job, an unexpected blessing from Him.

One thing I’m thankful for is that my mom is now face to face with Jesus and she was able to celebrate Christmas and bring in the New Year in a way she’s never before experienced.

Happy New Year to all!

countblessings

A Different Kind of Christmas This Year

Mom's Legacy of Three Generations

Mom’s Legacy of Three Generations

This has been a different kind of Christmas for me and my family this year. My 98-year-old mom stepped into the arms of her Savior shortly before 8:00 Friday morning, December 19. My brother Jim and I were by her side when she took her last breath on this earth. Mom got to spend Christmas with Jesus this year. I’m thankful that she is now pain-free and able to experience things I can only imagine.

I miss her, but I rejoice that she is HOME where she longed to be. Mom left a legacy of three generations, and we were able to spend Christmas together this year.

 

 

This poem by Wanda Bencke and song by Mark Schultz were part of her memorial service. Both helped us walk through this season of grief with a heavenly perspective. We can rejoice in the midst of sorrow because of Jesus Christ and the future that awaits us because of His death on the cross.

Listen to the song we closed mom’s memorial service with:

A Different Kind of Christmas by Mark Schultz

 

I’m Spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this Year

I see the countless Christmas trees,

Around the world below.

With tiny lights, like heaven’s stars,

Reflecting on the snow.

The sight is so spectacular,

Please wipe away that tear.

For I’m spending Christmas,

With Jesus Christ this year.

I hear the many Christmas songs,

That people hold so dear.

But the sounds of music can’t compare,

With the Christmas choir up here.

For I have no words to tell you,

The joy their voices bring.

For it is beyond description,

To hear the angels sing.

I can’t tell you of the splendor,

Or the peace here in this place.

Can you just imagine Christmas,

With our Savior, face to face?

I’ll ask Him to light your spirit,

As I tell Him of your love.

So then pray one for another,

As you lift your eyes above.

Please let your hearts be joyful,

And let your spirit sing.

For I’m spending Christmas in Heaven,

And I’m walking with the King.

When Christmas Can Be Tough

merry_christmasIt’s almost Christmas. As the song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” As I’m sitting by the bed of my 98-year old mom who is no longer eating or drinking, you may be wondering how this Christmas could be the most wonderful time of the year for me and my family.

It’s difficult losing a loved one anytime, but especially at Christmas when families tend to gather together and form traditions that last through the years. But Christmas is still the most wonderful time of the year even as I watch someone I love slip away from life on this earth.

Why? Because at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior. God came to this earth as a baby born in a stable, for one purpose – to die for our sins and give us eternal life, a life beyond anything we could ask or imagine. Our death ushers us into the presence of our Savior for eternity.

I can still rejoice this Christmas because I know that the birth of Jesus over 2000 years ago gives us hope as we face death on this earth. I know where my mom will spend eternity – all because a baby was born in Bethlehem. She put her faith in Him as her Savior, and when she takes her last breath on this earth, she will step into His presence. Without Jesus, we’d have no hope after death.

So, even in the midst of this difficult time, I can say that Christmas is still the most wonderful time of the year, because of what it means. Christ came into this world – for us. Because of His coming, His death, and His resurrection, we can look forward to life after death. No more pain. No more sin. No more tears.

It’s not about the food, the presents, the decorations, even the music – we celebrate Christmas because of Christ.

I’m praying mom will get to celebrate Christmas this year in heaven with her Savior and her loved ones who have gone before her.

Regardless of our circumstances, may we find peace and joy this Christmas because of the One whose birth we celebrate. It is the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas!

Practical Discipleship

Practical discipleship2Is discipleship taking someone through a curriculum or is it just hanging out with them informally? I think both can be true. Some of the people I have discipled have asked me to specifically go through something structured with them. Others have just wanted to spend time with me and talk about things as we’re together. Sometimes I do both with them, alternating between something structured and spending time just talking or doing something fun together.

For new believers, it’s important to take them through something structured in order to ground them in their faith and show them where to go in God’s Word when they struggle with things. For growing believers, I often let the conversation direct me as to how to best spend time with them and help them grow and develop. (You can check out some of the specific things I go through with them on my Free Resources page.

Be intentional with those you disciple and be practical with how you spend time with them. Here are four components that are important for practical discipleship to take place.

Talking

This is an obvious one. How can you disciple someone if you don’t talk? I will often ask them questions to get a feel for how they are doing and how I can encourage them. How can I be praying for you this week? I’ve been praying about ________.  How’s it going? Any new developments? I’d love to share with you what God is teaching me this week in my times in His Word. How is your time with the Lord this week? What is He teaching you?

Listening

Everyone wants to be heard. When someone listens to us, we feel loved and valued. It’s encouraging to others when we give them our undistracted attention and make eye contact. It’s important that we don’t interrupt and take over the conversation until they’ve finished or are ready for our input. Sometimes, I will jot down notes while they’re talking to remind me of things to ask them later for clarification.

Being

Be a role model to those you are discipling. Walk the talk! If you want them to love others, you need to be loving others. The same with integrity, vulnerability, humility, acceptance. Am I living my life in such a way that I would want others to follow my lifestyle and responses?

Doing

Do things together. Someone once told me, “Don’t do things alone that you can do with someone else.” For instance, exercise together, have a meal together, run errands together, go shopping together, ride to an event or meeting together. Time together naturally deepens relationships and allows natural conversations to take place.

Discipleship looks different with each person I disciple, but there is one constant – the goal. I want to spur them on to be more like Christ and grow deeper in their walk with Him.  I want to help them be all that God designed them to be.

Discipleship doesn’t have to be a rigid “program” but can be practical and intentional as we walk through life together.

What are your thoughts about discipleship? What does it look like for you?