Five Things Successful People Really Struggle With

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It’s not easy being good at what you do.

I remember being invited to speak for 1,000 pastors. I said yes, and prepared my message. As I sat in front getting ready to speak, a fear like I’ve never experienced before gripped me. Voices in my head said things like:

What were you thinking saying yes?

You will not do very well!

The best thing you can do right now is get up and go. Run, Roger, RUN!

I had to calm myself down and pray. I spoke and God blessed, but I wondered if I was the only one who struggled with it. Now I know I wasn’t.

I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside, befriend and mentor some outstanding pastors. Most of them have at least three of the five characteristics I list below. This list probably also applies to other successful people as well.

Here’s the five:

  1. Often think they are crazy.

One of the greatest traits of a leader is the capacity to detect atrophy. Outstanding leaders have a sense something is not right, but see others just carrying on and believe something is wrong with THEM, not everyone else! They are able to see what’s wrong easier than others.

  1. Often have bouts with doubt and discouragement.

Pastor’s lives are often characterized by intense, stressful, busy times followed by periods of quiet nothingness. That can often lead to doubt and discouragement when the expectations (whomever they came from) were not met. It usually happens after a mountain top experience.

  1. Often have powerful opposition.

Success breeds opposition. Successful leaders wish they could just leave well enough alone, promote the status quo, stop with all the boat rocking and just mark their time until they leave. They can’t. That produces enemies. The fierce emails, long and difficult conversations, people leaving all are associated with success. That’s the side we don’t see when we look at the completed process.

  1. Often struggle in a personal area that no one knows.

The list is endless. Anxiety and difficulty sleeping (my hand is raised). Finances. Victims of past abuse in one of its forms. Addiction. Difficult marriage. Lack of sexual intimacy with spouse. Many times that happened in the past. Often it’s happening now.

  1. Extremely talented.

Amazingly they are able to function at a high level, but they do. They read, learn, and improve. They turn around churches and business. They make it work.

The next time you see a great leader and think “hey that guy/girl has it easy” think again. Pray for them. Give them grace. Its not easy being good at what you do.

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How Can I Know God?

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I often get the question “How can I truly know God?” The answer is found all over scripture, but this morning I ran into a verse that really spoke to this question beautifully. The verse is Hosea 6:3 which says:

“Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”

Three basic points stand out in this passage:

1) We are called to know God and God would never call us to do something impossible. The call itself is evidence that he can be known.

2) We need to press on to know him. Elsewhere God says, “You will find me when you seek me and search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). Knowing God doesn’t just happen. We need to press on and pursue it the same way we pursue our earthly desires. If you are not willing to press on to know God and to continue the search no matter how hard, you will never know him. Will it take 1 day? 30? 60?A lifetime? Who knows? Press on.

3) And lastly the verse says that “He will respond”. When we seek to know God we must do so with the expectation and faith that he will respond. If you have already convinced yourself that he wont respond then you will miss his response when it happens. This is why Paul said, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb 11:6). So when you seek God, seek him with expectation because He will respond “as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring”. And if that isn’t enough evidence that he will respond, in verse 6 of this same chapter in Hosea God says, “I want to show you love…. I want you to know me.”

Could it be any clearer? He wants to know you and be known by you. He doesn’t hide. He doesn’t play mind games with us or tease us with an unreachable ideal. David Asscherick got it right when he said, “People are at different levels of finding [God] because people are at different levels of seeking [him]” (see video below). So today I invite you, regardless of what stage of seeking you are in, to press on to know him, and press on with expectation.


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Why You Need to Know More Than God’s Voice

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“It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.” ~Sally Kempton

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“You’ll never get over your past.”

[/blockquote]I remember waking up one Thursday morning and feeling like the air around me was a thick, heavy, fog. It felt dark, despite the sunshine; I felt fatigued, despite a long night’s sleep. Before I could even rise completely out of the bed, it’s as if someone threw a cloak of unhappiness on me that shrouded me from head to toe. My thoughts were centered on only negativity.

“You’ll never get over your past.”

“You’ll never be good enough.”

“Your prayers haven’t changed a thing.”

“You talk of God’s promises, but look at how you’re still struggling, still hoping for restoration.”

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“You’ll never be good enough.”

[/blockquote]The accusation and condemnation couldn’t come fast enough. Admittedly, I listened to that voice for far too long, and as I listened, I sunk even further into a pit of despair. But then I remembered my Father’s voice. I recalled how He speaks to me, how He takes great delight in me, quiets me with His love, and rejoices over me with singing (Zephaniah 3:17). As I reflected on God’s voice, I instantly knew this was not Him! It is so important that we know God’s voice, but it’s also important that we don’t entertain the enemy’s voice for even a moment. I’ll repeat this: it’s not enough to know God’s voice, we also have to be unacquainted with the enemy’s voice. Adam and Eve knew God’s voice, but they entertained the enemy.

A friend once shared that God’s voice is sweet, but the enemy’s voice can also be sweet. Satan can also speak in soft tones; he tries to duplicate what God offers. As my pastor said, Satan tried to sell Adam and Eve something they already had — to be like God, but they were already like God — they were made in His image! 2 Corinthians 11:14 says Satan disguises himself as an angel of light — deception is in his very nature. In John 10:4-5, Jesus says His sheep follow Him because they know His voice, but He also says they don’t follow a stranger because they don’t know the strangers’ voice. It’s important to know God’s voice, yes, but it’s also important to not know the enemy’s voice, to not entertain his lies for even a moment.

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“Your prayers haven’t changed a thing.”

[/blockquote]I sat at the edge of my bed and began to worship God and rebuke every negative thought that reared its head. I opened my mouth and recited, “I will bless the lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear thereof and be glad.” As I opened my bible to Psalm 34 and continued along to verse 3: “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together,” I immediately recognized this verse as a call to corporate worship. I messaged a few friends who worshiped God with me, and by the time we obeyed, verse 4 was manifested in my life: “I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.”

Become familiar with God’s voice, yes, but also learn to bounce the voices you hear off of the Word of God. Speak God’s Word over your life, and see if what you’re hearing lines up with what He’s saying so you can spend less time entertaining the enemy’s intel and more time drowning it out with God’s voice expressed in His Word. Heartcheck: Whose voice are you listening to? Does it speak according to His Word (Isaiah 8:20)?

“May His still, small voice become the loudest voice you hear.”

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KKK–In my Blood, Not my Heart

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I walked into the bedroom as my mom was cleaning out my grandmother’s dresser and spotted a strange white bathrobe lying on the bed. “What’s this?” I asked, grabbing the unfamiliar garment and impulsively pulling it over my shoulders and slipping my arms in the sleeves.

My mom’s eyes widened a little as she turned around and saw me wearing it. “Do you know what that is?” She had an odd look on her face. “That’s your great-grandfather’s KKK robe.”

A chill went through me as I stared at her in disbelief. She was serious! I looked down at the robe, then touched it gingerly.

An unfamiliar insignia was sewn on the breast of the robe. A stiff cone-shaped piece of the same cloth lay nearby on the bed, with odd flaps extending from the back. As the astonishment wore off, I picked it up and turned it around slowly, recognizing the hat shape from a Little House on the Prairie KKK program I had seen years before.

It’s hard to describe the sensation of looking at a symbol of cold bigotry and knowing it belongs in your family. Anger? Shame? Grief? What exactly is a person supposed to feel when they see hard evidence that someone whose blood runs in their veins embraced something so evil? It’s almost like finding out that your ancestor was a serial killer.

And yet, I felt a numb curiosity—an urge to connect with this man I never knew, to plug into his mind and comprehend the mystery of what drove him to think in unfathomable ways. On impulse, I went into the bathroom to look in the mirror. There was a long, strange cape sewn on the back of the neck of the robe, with two small holes cut in it. Eye-holes? Apparently the cape was supposed to go over my head. I hesitated, then unfastened the neck and pulled the cloth over my head, positioning my eyes so they could see through the holes. My neck is longer than his was, I thought absently, a little grateful to know there was at least one tangible physical difference between us. I tucked the cape into the neck under my chin, then buttoned the neck again and fitted the cone-shaped hat over my head with the flaps going down the back behind my neck.

On impulse, I turned out the light and then lifted my eyes to look in the mirror.

I gasped and shuddered in involuntary shock at the image looking back from the glass. There was no trace of me in the mirror anymore. Instead, an ancient Klansman glowered back at me.

This was my heritage—a legacy of cowardice, of hiding behind a cloak, of threatening others from a vantage point of of supposed security and conscious supremacy. The flesh inside the robe now was related to the flesh that used to flaunt this garment with pride. There’s not that much difference between him and me—only years. Years and mindsets.

I recall my grandmother speaking reluctantly, softly, once or twice about her childhood memories of going to the KKK picnics. They were not unlike any typical Sunday School picnic, with her gleefully scampering around playing with other children for hours. But in the evening, she remembered soberly watching a burning cross silhouetted against the black sky.

But as she grew up, Grandma rejected the philosophy that her father had embraced so passionately, refusing even to bury him in his KKK robe as he had requested. She came to believe that every person was of equal value in God’s sight, without regard to race, ethnic background or religion. Thankfully, she passed on that heritage to me.

Had I been raised as she was, perhaps I would have shown less courage than Grandma. I’ll never know. However, I am thankful that I can stand on her shoulders, and that my children can stand on mine. I married a man who not only believes as passionately as I do in racial reconciliation, but even did his doctorate on the topic, and fought tirelessly to bring the races together in South Africa and Zimbabwe, long before I met him. Together we work, in our own small circle, to spread the gospel truth that every human being—no matter their size, shape or color—is priceless in the eyes of God.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle with the same urges that drove my great-grandfather, though. On the contrary, they are written into my DNA as a sinner. How often have I felt like I am somehow higher than someone else? Do weight problems, intellectual limitations, fashion choices or any of a million other factors tempt me to look down on others because they are not like me? I can even easily congratulate myself on the fact that I’m not a racist like he was—thus giving in to the same self-exalting impulse.

Sinners love bigotry. It is the core of sin—the carnal craving to exalt self above others. Everything in us rebels against trusting what God says—that we are created in His image and redeemed by His blood, and this is the measure of how valued and loved we are. For some reason, we turn away from the one Fountain that would quench our insecurity. Incomprehensibly, we don’t want to believe that we are priceless—just like everyone else.

 So instead of quietly rooting secure identity in quality time with God every day, we huddle in mini-tribes with others like ourselves, scoffing at the lesser beings and congratulating ourselves on whatever makes us like each another and unlike those lesser people. We trample one another, vainly clambering on the rotting ladder of human rank and respect. We exalt leaders who build their very campaigns on disparaging people groups with whom we do not personally identify. We even want to make God over in our image, a neatly ordered Deity whose community is dependent on everyone keeping Their place in the holy hierarchy, instead of seeking the lowest place even with One Another. We ignore the very law of God that governs the universe—love. Love—the character of a God who came down to earth and, from the manger to the cross, voluntarily took the lowest place, in order to lift us up. We forget so easily that, because of Jesus, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

This week, I have been distressed to see stark evidences online that racism is alive and well in my neighborhood. Perhaps there is no more shameful way to demonstrate our disgraceful sense of superiority than to cloak ourselves in anonymity and scorn others without risking exposure or opposition. Instead of a white cloth with eyeholes, modern cowards may hide behind the anonymity of a veil of the Internet, confident they can spew disrespect without risking a loss of respect to themselves.

There will come a day that the scraps of cloth with eye-holes will be stripped away. Someday those who considered themselves above others—because of body shape, skin color, facial features, intellectual abilities, or any of a million other human measures of worth—will be rebuked by the One Who declared all equally priceless in the light of Creation and redemption.

The blistering contempt of other fallible humans is nothing to fear compared to the dreadful words that some will hear on the Judgment Day. “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who work iniquity.”

May we all repent of our bigotry before that day.

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387961_10151189420875204_236355998_nNicole Parker was once a zealot intent on changing the world, but is now an astonishingly domesticated homeschooling mom living in quite possibly the tamest town on earth–Collegedale, Tennessee. While engaged in her mundane tasks of chopping veggies and sweeping floors, she enjoys lofty theological ponderings, a pursuit also enjoyed by her husband Alan, a professor at Southern Adventist University. This penchant has led her to inch her way through a master’s degree in biblical counseling, and now has her devouring a master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Andrews University. However, she has zero intention, and even less desire, to become a pastor. Check out her website at www.heartthirst.com

How To Keep Your Faith and Sanity While Following the Elections

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The American political season is in full swing with the 2016 Presidential campaign underway.

This has been an especially unusual election cycle, given that one of our own was running this year in Dr. Ben Carson. His recent exit from the race left some Adventists breathing a sigh of relief, while others in dismay. As the field narrows, and November 8 moves closer with each passing day, what are Adventist Christians to do?

Here are three general principles to keep your faith and sanity while following this election:

1. Avoid unreservedly endorsing a particular candidate or party.

According to the latest findings from the Pew Research Center, 35% of Adventists identify or lean towards Republican party ideals, 45% lean towards the Democratic side, and 19% consider themselves independent.The political preferences of U.S. political groups

Something inside me cringes when I hear statements like “Republicans are destroying our nation” or “Liberals are taking our country to hell in a hand basket.” Adventists should not be unapologetically Democrat or Republican.

The danger with unreservedly endorsing a candidate or any party as a Christian is believing that the solutions to this world’s problems will be solved by the election of human beings of a particular party into political office. While Fox News and MSNBC might disagree with this idea, the Bible and Ellen White back it up quite well. King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2 (well-known to Adventists) tells us that what comes next in the timeline of Bible prophecy is the Kingdom of Christ, not a Republican or Democratic utopia.

Ellen White also spoke about the danger of partisanship when she said:

“There is fraud on both sides” she wrote in a “special testimony” sent from Australia to the General Conference session of 1897…Thus, she urged those for whom the Lord Jesus is “the Captain” to “file under his banner” and avoid “linking up with either party.” Adventists, she wrote two years later, have their “citizenship…in heaven…they are to stand as subjects of Christ’s kingdom, bearing the banner which is inscribed, ‘The commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus.’”  Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, pg. 1038

2. If you absolutely must, speak to issues of justice and injustice.

Because all political parties are made up of broken people, we need to remember that, as believers, Christ doesn’t pick sides with anyone. Interestingly enough, in her day, “Ellen White became a fervent advocate of ‘movement politics’ – discriminating involvement in the political process on behalf of benevolent reform in contrast to partisan politics centering on advancing the power of a political party.”  -EGW Encyclopedia pg. 1037

Are there moral issues that need addressing in our day? Of course. Yet, it is a sad reality that the political arena pits, for example, pro-life causes against each other. While they each have their flaws, Democrats are stereotypically seen as the party that “kills babies” and Republicans are seen as the party that “hates minorities and immigrant rights.”

One writer wondered, “Why this tension between two groups fighting for human dignity? I think much of it is owed to our increasingly tribal and fractured culture.” Still, there are moral issues of justice and injustice to be faced and the Bible speaks firmly against the suppression of human rights.

One interesting anecdotal detail is that the early Adventist church made matters of justice and injustice a top priority. In conversation with Bill Knott, editor of the Adventist Review, he mentioned that early in its history, writers in the Review and Herald on occasion called out politicians directly, even by name. The reason for this was that Adventism saw itself as a counter-cultural movement, not encumbered by political partisanship (or endangering its non-profit 501(c)(3) status, but that’s another matter altogether).

Speaking up on matters of social justice include voicing concerns when politicians disparage entire people groups like the handicapped, immigrants, religious groups, and women. So, although I could have easily made an equally lengthy article against any of the candidates, I spoke openly against Donald Trump because, like Ellen White, I believe that we must push for “a government that protects, restores, relieves, but never savers of oppression.” Jesus said that we can’t read anyone’s heart, but we can get a good idea of where it lies by noticing the pattern of someone’s words and actions.

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth what is evil; for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart.” -Luke 6:45

Still, there is a danger in both staying completely silent and being overbearing when it comes to politics. No one, especially pastors, should spend an inordinate amount of time studying, discussing, or posting about politics when there are other matters to attend. Ellen White went so far as to say:

“The tithe should not be sued to pay anyone for speechifying on political questions,” and any “teacher, minister, or leader in our ranks who is stirred with a desire to ventilate his opinions on political questions” must either “be converted” or give up working for the church, along with any credentials. -EGW Encyclopedia pg. 1039

3. Regardless of the outcome, follow and point people to Jesus.

In what is sure to descend into further madness leading to Election Day, Christ followers must stay above the fray. We must not believe the party narrative where the solution to the problems in this country is for “political correctness to go away” like Trump would advocate. The Bible explicitly counsels against this kind of unrestrained speech:

“He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Proverbs 17:27

On the other side, we must also not believe that the church must exclusively work through the expansion of government social programs in order to impact the world. After all, the early church took more of a radical approach to personal possessions than even the Bernie Sanders campaign:

“And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.” Acts 4:32

People may have different interpretations about whether the above lifestyle is doable in a secular society, but the fact remains that it at least was possible in the early Christian community. To speak practically on one issue here as a Millennial pastor, while Bernie Sanders has a strong following of support from this generation, I have to ask myself if Millennials are more enamored with the idea of a church engaging in social justice than actually joining one to do it? This is a term that’s been labeled “slacktivism.”  Regardless of who wins, Christians who voted for a particular party or candidate will still have issues to work through.

The issues that divide people today will still exist after the election. We must remember that, at the end of the day, we are going to have to work and interact with people who believe differently than we do, religiously, philosophically, existentially, and yes, politically.

So, in this election cycle, yes, make your vote count; don’t stay home on November 8, 2016. Yet, don’t put all of your eggs in one basket; you may be disappointed when you realize your vote doesn’t usher in the Millennium. Focus on issues, don’t vote based on emotion or popular opinion, and remember that regardless of who is sworn in next, the Rock is still barreling towards the feet of Nebuchadnezzar’s statue.

Until then, in matters of political and civil discourse, let’s remember the to follow the advice of Jesus’ own brother James:

“So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” James 1:9

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Masturbation—What’s Wrong With It?

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One article in our annual February student-produced issue of OUTLOOK magazine focused on the controversial subject of masturbation. Since God created us as sexual beings, all of us must be good stewards of our sexuality, which is quite a challenge in today’s “sexular” society.

A typical young male reportedly views 50 pornographic video clips a week, and females increasingly are consumers as well. Meanwhile, most pastors and teachers seem reluctant to talk about porn and the accompanying masturbation. But as the church is essentially silent on this matter of common morality, the world is not shy about educating our young people, through sex education in schools and popular entertainment in movies and music.

How unfortunate. Anything that has potential to trouble a conscience needs to be talked about—appropriately yet with clarity—from a biblical perspective. Granted that this is a sensitive topic. If you find masturbation too disturbing to discuss, you might wish to excuse yourself from reading further. Meanwhile, I’ll proceed for the sake of those whose consciences are guilt-ridden, confused or otherwise tormented on this matter. Prayerfully then, I offer the following observations in hopes that some may find them helpful.

From a medical perspective, I’m not qualified to make assessments; but I think it’s fair to conclude that traditional scare tactics regarding masturbation lack credibility. Half a century since the 1960s inaugurated the sexual revolution, we don’t see huge numbers of pornography addicts going blind, needing kidney dialysis or signing up for liver transplants. So let’s be sensible and honest in making the case against masturbation.

I will focus my observations on the moral and theological perspective. Let’s begin with the grace of God, which is our only hope of salvation. The Bible says “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). Thus, inflicting guilt upon a sexually struggling teen—or an adult, for that matter—is inappropriate. A believer’s standing with God is not dependent upon the amount of success or failure in measuring up to His moral ideal.

That said, let’s accept that there is a character ideal to which God calls us–conforming us to the likeness of Christ. Scripture admonishes us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). Jesus famously warned against staring at a woman [or a man, for that matter] with lust in the heart (Matt. 5:28). Obviously God’s will—His ideal—calls us to pursue purity in thought as well as deed. But we must not confuse the possibilities of victory over sin with the basis of our salvation, which is always and only God’s grace through Christ for repenting sinners. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins—and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So, even as we “press toward the mark of God’s high calling in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 3:14), He comforts the conscience by assuring us that He knows when “the spirit indeed is willing though the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). God is more compassionate than we can imagine, and struggling believers are recipients of divine grace, not wrath. Jesus in His ministry among us was ever tender toward struggling sinners, even as He condemned their hypocritical accusers.

Based on that biblical/theological foundation, I offer for your consideration the following moral applications regarding masturbation.

To begin with, masturbation tends to depersonalize and therefore degrade sexuality by focusing on pixelated images versus sexual expression as the ultimate relational and bonding experience in marital union, as God intends it to be.

Accordingly, masturbation fosters selfishness, corrupting one’s ability to actually “make love” in the practice of sex within marriage. It is difficult, if not impossible, to flip a switch on one’s wedding night from a “satisfy me” attitude of sexuality to a “sharing with you” mindset. Pursuing one’s own “needs” (i.e. desires, demands) is a sure portend of endless marital conflict. Additionally, sexual selfishness belies God’s creation of us in His loving image when we express our own act of procreation in marriage.

Masturbation also tends to desensitize one’s ability to view people as one’s sisters and brothers, no matter what they look like; instead, they may be evaluated on their external appearance. This puts on a pedestal those who are superficially attractive and disrespects those who are homely or even average-looking, even if they are loving and faithful in character. The outcome is a popular culture in which girls in particular tend to suffer huge self-worth issues if they don’t look picture perfect in a swimsuit. (Even attractive females, from schoolgirls to mature women, often lament that they don’t match the standard set by photos of airbrushed models.)

OK, then. If pornography and masturbation are unhealthy emotionally and spiritually, how does one deal with the hormonal cravings that begin raging even before teenage years? Does God actually want teenagers and young adults to live in sexual celibacy, with unfulfillable cravings before marriage? What value could there be in self-deprivation?

I propose there is value in suffering sexual non-fulfillment as an exercise in self-discipline—which every young man and woman must learn early in life. (This may come as a surprise to those who have imagined that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness rather than to live for the glory of God and the service of humanity.) Without self-discipline, marriage partners may never survive the temptations that reassert themselves all too soon after the honeymoon. Self-restraint learned as a teen serves one well through the next six decades of life, particularly during the infamous mid-life crisis.

So there is purpose behind God’s call for us to be holy in thought, word and deed—but there is also forgiveness when we have given ourselves to God yet find ourselves falling short of His glorious ideal. None of us is perfect (Rom. 3:23). So we may be thankful that with God’s command to sexual purity comes His compassion and grace, which abound even beyond our sinfulness (Rom. 5:20). Much more could be said about immorality and how to overcome it, even as God counts us perfect in Jesus.

Meanwhile, even if we may disagree about a moral component regarding masturbation, we certainly can concur that it is better to be compassionate and reasonable than to frighten guilt-ridden souls when they fail in their sincere struggles (e.g., about re-crucifying Jesus or making angels weep). However well intentioned, such graceless warnings are not only legalistic but constitute spiritual abuse.

To summarize: If we hope to have any kind of credibility or usefulness in the sensitive yet vital ministry of promoting morality, we need to receive for ourselves and express toward others the same balance of grace and truth that characterized Christ’s own life and teaching.

That’s my take on this important yet controversial subject. I hope and pray in Jesus’ name that something here has been helpful.

Note: This article has been republished with permission from outlookmag.org.

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mw_feb2011Martin Weber, DMin, served as pastor, editor, author, evangelist and police chaplain across North America and taught pastors on five continents with the General Conference Ministerial Association. He is currently the Seventh-day Adventist product manager for Faithlife/Logos Research Systems in Bellingham, Washington. Visit his website in defense of fundamental Adventist beliefs: www.SDA4me.com

When You Should Be Quiet in Church

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I wept as this well-meaning lady walked away

[/blockquote]”You need to be quiet during prayer,” chided the women’s ministry leader seated next to me. As I swallowed hard and met her eyes with a look of surprise, she continued, “…because people end up hearing you instead of [the pastor].” We proceeded to chat back and forth for another few minutes, her about being quiet in church, me about the unlikelihood of stifling the praise God’s worthy of because professed Christians are uncomfortable, her genuinely amazed at the concept of being so filled on the inside that it overflows to the outside, me genuinely frustrated at the concept of being told to be quiet in church.

 

Despite having a pretty loud voice when kicking back with friends, I used to be a rather quiet churchgoer, never really understanding why others would shout aloud and certainly never shouting aloud myself. However, my elevated “outside voice,” masked my internal voice and the internal joy that was silenced for over a decade of my life by sexual abuse. Over a decade more was spent in silent shame about some of the worst experiences and worst decisions of my life. More than 20 years…gone…stolen by silence.

 

Silent in public worship.

Silent in private.

Silently hating God.

Silently broken.

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God speaks into our silence and sets us free to worship Him

[/blockquote]I silently bumped around through life, silently bumping in and out of church each week, silently coming in broken, silently leaving bound. But one sweet day, in the midst of my silence, the God of the universe spoke loudly and unbound me from the shame that once prevented me from praising Him. The God I had once only heard of, once only read of, and once only seen others worship freely allowed me to see Him for myself and filled my mouth with worship.

 

I wept as this well-meaning lady walked away from me in church. I just tend to believe that church should be safe enough for us to exchange our silenced sorrows for shouts of joy as we worship our Deliverer. I initially figured she’d better understand if she only knew the hell from which I’ve been redeemed. Maybe then she’d join the next person she saw worshiping instead of quieting the praise God is oh so worthy of. But then I wiped my tears, remembering we all have been ransomed; we all have a story of redemption. And more important than her knowing others’ stories is her knowing her own and that we all have a similar story – that the wages of sin is death, yet we’re alive, and for that, we ought to join each other in blessing our faithful God. The important part of each of our stories revolves around the story of a God who speaks into our silence and sets us free to worship Him (Psalm 119:134; Luke 1:74; Isaiah 43:21). We need no other reason to worship a God who was worthy before speaking a single word.

 

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when God stuns me into silence

[/blockquote]So, what should you do when others are very visibly or audibly expressing their praise to God? Well, if you’re not joining in, if you’re not echoing that He is holy (Isaiah 6:3), maybe that is when you should be quiet in church. If you’re not giving glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne and lives forever, that is when you should be quiet in church (Revelation 4:8). If you’re only opening your mouth to dictate how others should worship God, that is when you should be quiet in church. As for me, I’m committed to blessing the Lord at all times – when He stuns me into silence and when His praises pour forth from my lips (Psalm 34:1).
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Resources:

Kimberly Bulgin’s FREE ebook: Wild Worship

Bob Kauflin’s Worship Matters: Leading Others to Encounter the Greatness of God

Myles Munroe’s Rediscovering Kingdom Worship

Marnie C. Ferree’s No Stones: Women Redeemed from Sexual Shame

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After the Super Bowl: 6 Ways to Live Life at $10 Million Per Minute

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Well, Peyton Manning finally got his ring as over 111.9 million people put their best plans aside and tuned in to the Super Bowl a couple of weeks ago.  It’s the largest television event of our American year.  So large in fact that advertisers paid seemingly nonsensical amounts to have their message broadcast to that Super Bowl crowd.  How much exactly did these “prime” slots cost?  This year: up to $5 million dollars – for 30 seconds!  That’s up from the $4.5 million last year and up 75% since 2005 (according to Fortune magazine).  In fact, I know people who watched the Super Bowl just for these ads – they’re supposed to be that good!  And hey, if I was an advertiser paying $5 million for those few seconds, I’d certain as anything make sure they were good too.

And now the Super Bowl is done, over, and old news.  Yet in the aftermath, a question still nags my mind: how would I live if one minute of  my life was worth $10 million?  The more I look around our world today, the more I realize that we are living in a much greater, much more epic prime time than the Super Bowl. We live at the most critical time in earth’s history – with an entire universe as an audience. So what does this mean?  How would we live if we valued our life as much as the advertisers value a slot during the Super Bowl?  How do I get in the game and play like it’s Super Bowl time? I’m sure there are hundreds of answers to these questions.  But below are six that I can personally recommend.

1. Train. You’re not going to play well if you don’t train well – I’m reasonably certain any NFL player will agree with that. And any advertiser will tell you they didn’t throw together their $5 million ad the night before! So what are you doing to become better trained to live for God?  What are you doing to prepare? Maybe it’s time for your personal devotions to come up a notch. Try committing to it for one month. Maybe it’s finally time to do those Bible studies you’ve been wanting to finish so that you know how to answer your friend the next time he asks you what happens when we die or how to get to know Jesus personally.  I’ve even had the privilege of working with several amazing evangelism training schools that offer both shorter intensives and longer training programs especially focused on how to grow in your faith and share it with others! The opportunities are there. But big step or small step, training happens now.

2. Use what you have. I used to complain that I had “half talents.”  There were a number of things I could do a little bit of, but there wasn’t much I felt I could do well.  There were always people who could do better!  So I did little.  But then I heard David Asscherick preach a sermon called “Stir What You Got.”  And the basic premise was, “If I don’t use what I have now, how can I expect God to give me more?”  I know many who don’t want to share the gospel because they feel they don’t know enough about the Bible.  But I’ve found witnessing to be kind of like learning a language – you can study it in the textbooks for years on end, but if you don’t go out and start trying to speak it, rough as it may be, you’ll never really learn the language.  To him who uses what he has, more will be given (see Matthew 25:14-29).

3, Don’t wait. Later…. There’s always later… But we all know later never comes.  Like the room you’re going to clean “later,” the home improvement project you’re going to get to “later”…  We know all too well how that one goes. If you’re waiting to do something for God until after you finish school, you’re waiting far too long.  If you’re waiting till you have a different job, the kids are older, or whatever else, you’ll always be waiting.  Yes, there are times that we have differing capacities due to our circumstances.  But I guarantee you there’s something you can do now.  Find it.  Do it. Don’t wait.

4. Get rid of the leeches. There are things that, while maybe not inherently “wrong,” will prevent you from playing the game well. When I was growing up for instance, I was addicted to television.  I say “addicted” because I killed tons of time with it (watching stuff that many times was not beneficial to my connection with God), and I couldn’t seem to limit it and reign it in. Watching one half-hour show somehow became four hours every time… But in college I came to a point where God was working in my life and I wanted to grow with Him.  So I decided to give up TV.  And it wasn’t because I heard a sermon on the evils of drama or the entertainment industry – in fact I’d heard those and not been moved.  I gave it up because something else was more important to me now. I wanted my growth with God more.  I wanted my time more. Prime time TV was eating up my life’s prime time.  And it needed to go.  Now for you it may be something totally different!  I’m not here to bash TV.  But I challenge you, ask God what might be holding you back from going all-out with Him.  Ask Him to show you the leeches – whether they’re overtly sinful and you know it, or seemingly benign yet distracting.  Then ask Him for both the desire and strength to make a change.  You may just find a beautiful freedom you’ve never before experienced (Hebrews 12:1).

5. Build a team. I would never have stepped out to do ministry for the Lord had it not been for some godly friends and mentors that encouraged me. These were the people that said, “Michelle, I think you can do more than this.”  They believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.  And now, as a teacher, I consider it one of my greatest opportunities to give the gift of belief to others.  I’ve heard that we all need three groups of people in our lives: people who minister to us, people we minister with, and people we minister to. We need community.  We need not only to help people, we also need people who help us – who are in it with us. If you are privileged enough to have some of these people in your life, start investing in them and strengthening that community.  If you don’t, pray for it.  The Lord knows what you need, and He can provide – sometimes in unexpected ways.

6. Consider doing something crazy. Here’s where I go a little 1 Corinthians 7:25 where Paul essentially says, “I have no commandment from the Lord, but in my opinion…”  So here’s my opinion: I personally believe that many of us stop short of what God’s calling us to.  Maybe we see the traditional path for life and stop there: Go to school, get a job, make money, have a family, try to help people and support my local church.  Don’t get me wrong, these things are wonderful and good!  But some of you may be called to giving your life to service in unconventional ways.  When God was working in my life during college and I began doing the little that I could for Him, He started expanding my burden to do more.  Suddenly I wasn’t content with the traditional career path I’d been pursuing.  For the first time I began to contemplate different missionary and ministry possibilities that both scared me and scared my family!  I remember being told, “Well, follow God, but make sure to think about your future!”  And there was wisdom in that statement.  But also danger.  I sometimes see young people, on fire and desiring to do something for God, putting it off or never doing it because of well meaning friends and family who told them they should really finish college first, get a job first, go to graduate school first…  And sometimes this may be good advice – don’t just disregard reason and sound counsel.  But I will testify one thing from personal experience: Time that you take for God is never wasted.  And in His time, He will take care of your future. For me, my decision to risk for God led to a very different career path than the accountant I was trained to be.  I make less money than most of my peers.  I have less stuff than they do.  Yet I don’t regret it in the least.  I’ve traveled, I’ve grown, I’ve gotten to become a better leader, I’ve had some of the hardest yet most fulfilling experiences, and it’s changed who I am and how I see the world in ways I would never trade.

Your path will be different than mine.  You may have family and financial obligations that don’t allow such radical abandon at this point in time!  But some of you are called to much more than a traditional path during this “prime time” era.  I believe there are future missionaries, evangelists, entrepreneurs and industry leaders who will be reading this.  Doing something radical for God doesn’t mean you necessarily need drop everything and become a pastor. It doesn’t mean you won’t work in the secular world (there’s a huge mission field there). It doesn’t mean you won’t get an education (for those wondering what happened to mine, the Lord provided ways to finish both a bachelor’s and master’s degree along the way – without debt). But it may mean you put your future on the line and ask God what living in “prime time” might mean for you.  It might mean considering doing something a little “crazy” as He leads the way. It could look different than the world’s definition of “success.” It could change your life for a season (like maximizing your young and single years), or it may change your life permanently.  Again, this is Michelle speaking.  But I challenge you to pray about it.  And however it applies to you, take it for what it’s worth 😉

In Romans 13:11 Paul challenges us to live “knowing the time.” I don’t know how long this prime time will last.  Our political, finical, and social world is changing rapidly (don’t start me on politics right now…).  All you have to do is look around to realize things can’t stay as “business as usual” for too much longer. But whether we have one year or 90, I hope you live your life like it’s worth $10 dollars per minute.  Don’t wait for the next Super Bowl.  Prime time is now.

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3 Things I Learnt From Fasting For 72 Hours

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If you are reading this, it means that I’m dead, or am in the process of dying.

I can’t take it anymore..

Need………food…..

But let’s not kid ourselves. I love food WAY too much to part with it.

So I decided, instead, to participate in a cellphone/social media fast for 72 hours facilitated by the New Life Fellowship on the campus of Andrews University.

Here are three things I learnt from this experience:

The beauty of awareness

I found myself being intentionally aware throughout the day. Moments which may have been lost while being distracted by my phone were instead noticed and cherished.

My mom has a favorite mantra for us: “Be in the situation!” I’m glad that it finally got to my head, even if it was only for 72 hours!

I realized how many moments I had previously dismissed or passed over because of my preoccupation with a text or a tweet.

The fast also sensitized me to a special sense of awareness of the Spirit of God. The lack of ‘noise’ allowed me to tune in to the voice of God concerning my ministries, my relationship with others, and my connection with Him.

The fast was a much needed “comma” in the run-on sentence of my life where I could pause for reflection and assessment.

The bliss of prayer

Prayer had become so routine and mechanical for me. I would talk to God in the morning and send him “prexts” (“prayer texts”) throughout the day in my mind when I needed him to come through.
Since the fast, however, I had more time to talk to God just for the sake of talking to Him. Tough times of temptation instinctively would lead me to talk to Him, often out loud.

The fast led me to realize that prayer doesn’t have to be a calling bell for a cosmic butler, but can indeed be a conversation with a caring father.

The bane of dependence

I chose the phone/social media fast precisely because it would hurt. And hurt it.
I felt it more during the final moments of the fast, when I would want to tweet something, update my Facebook status, or text my fiancé.

When I wasn’t able to do any of this, I did feel vulnerable and, or, lost at times. I soon discerned that this was simply one example of many things I was already dependent upon; the fast helped me assess the accouterments which I had acquired and the tenacity with which I was holding on to them.

I would encourage a fast for any serious Christian who wants to take a closer look at themselves, and go farther in their relationship with their Savior.

Here’s a 5-step process that worked for me:

Step 1: Identify things in your life that you simply cannot live without.

Step 2: Prayerfully choose one of them.

Step 3: Delineate a reasonable period of time for your fast from that thing.

Step 4: Do it.

Step 5: Journal what you have learned about yourself, about others, and about God.

Who’s going to do it? If you want to challenge yourself, leave a comment below with what you are choosing to fast from!

This post was originally posted in the author’s blog www.crossculturechristian.com

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Making Sure God Won’t Disappoint You

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“To be honest, I really like being your friend and I think you’re great, but I don’t really expect much from you. I’m sorry….”

The statement could have offended me, but actually it didn’t.  Because to tell the truth, I didn’t expect much either.  I too have been disappointed a lot of times.  Call it the results of having to say goodbye too many times, difficult past experiences, or whatever, but as a result, I also find myself expecting little out of my friendships.

“Expectation is the root of all heartache,” said William Shakespeare.  And it makes so much sense.  Don’t expect much = don’t get disappointed much.  Right?  But it’s not really true. Whether we try to manage our expectations or not, something inside us still hopes, and something inside us is still disappointed.  Even if we say, “I knew this would happen,” it still hurts.  No, just managing expectations can’t solve things.  But it seems protective.  So we do it easily.

And then there’s God.  What do I expect from God? Even though I may intellectually know that God is supposed to be the only one who will never let me down, that may not be how I’ve always felt.  And I think it comes through in how I pray even: “God, if it’s not too much to ask…  I mean, if it’s in Your will…  Because I know sometimes we have to go through trials, but…  Maybe, if it’s okay, would you do _________?”  It’s almost like we’re trying to loosen God’s obligation.  Because, well, what if it doesn’t happen?  It can seem to lead to two options:

  1. a) I feel bad because I must have messed up on what/how I was asking in some way, or
  2. b) God just didn’t come through for me. He failed me.

And if option “b” is the case, then what would that do to my faith system?  Who CAN I trust?  So in order to avoid the possibility that God won’t be trustworthy, we kind of “give Him the easy way out.”  We don’t expect too much.  We’re really doing both of us a favor.

But we’re not.  We’re not actually doing anyone a favor.  In James 4:3 we are told that, “you do not have because you do not ask.”  In fact, when people were afraid to ask, it seemed to make Jesus sad and possibly even angry!  Take Mark 1:40 for instance.  A man with leprosy comes to Jesus stating, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.”  In response, verse 41 in the NKJV says Jesus was “moved with compassion.”  Or to put it more strongly, the NIV says He was “indignant.”  I’m sure He was indignant at the results of our sinful world that this poor man was experiencing, but it also seems to imply that Jesus may have been indignant at the fact that a suffering person would think that He might not be WILLING to help him!  Is this what their picture of God had come to?  The Son of God came into the world and they expected so little?

Similarly, in Mark 9, we find that this lack of expectation is again the cause of Jesus’ frustration.  A family with a demon possessed son brought him to Jesus saying, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (vs. 22).  “’If you can?’” said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’” (vs. 23, NIV).  I can just hear the sad questioning in His voice – “If I can?? You don’t think I can do this?”  This is the same crowd that made Jesus exclaim, “You unbelieving generation…. How long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (vs. 19).

Either we believe that God might be unwilling or fear that He is unable.  So we expect little.

And I wonder if it’s any different today.  Either we believe that God might be unwilling or fear that He is unable.  So we expect little.  We’ve been let down by so many people in life that we expect to be let down by God as well.  And maybe we’ve even felt let down by God.  I definitely can’t say that there aren’t things I can’t understand, prayers that seem unanswered, or things that happen in this battle between good and evil that aren’t as God would have them. Yet we’re told that we have a God that loves to give good gifts to his children (Matt. 7:11), we’re told that He will supply all our needs (Phil. 4:19), we’re told that we will not lack any good thing (Ps. 34:10).  And this from the God who promises to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

So have we even given God a chance to exceed our expectations?  Have we been willing to step out and risk it?  To hold Him to His word?  To put Him on the line to see whether He’ll disappoint or not?  Because if we test Him and find that God does indeed meet our expectations, it might just free us to expect more out of others too – knowing that even IF they let us down, we will still be okay.  We are secure.

“I’ve been disappointed enough times so I have lower expectations.  You don’t owe it to me to be a good friend or even a good person.”

No my friend, I don’t owe it to you.  But neither does God owe it to me.  And I’m starting to learn that I can count on that.  I’m starting to learn how to give what I’ve been given.  And in the process I’m starting to learn to expect more.

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