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The spirit of this age wants you to be angry

So that you’ll miss the joy that is your strength

The spirit of this age wants you to know that you’re a victim

So that you will be defined by the most painful moments of your life

The spirit of this age wants you to make your voice heard

So that the still small voice of God is drowned out

The spirt of this age wants you to fight for control

So that you will exhaust yourself chasing the unattainable

The spirit of this age wants you to be offended

So that you’ll withhold the grace that can change lives

The spirit of this age wants your hope invested in the wisdom of men

So that you can be crushingly disappointed again and again

The spirit of this age wants you to go to extremes

So that you’ll miss the straight pathway, which prepares the way of the Lord

The spirit of this age want you focused on what is seen

So that you’ll forfeit the provision that’s been made in the unseen realm

The spirit of this age has a narrative to fill your mouth

So that you will forsake speaking words of life

The spirit of this age wants you to be religious

So that you can feel righteous in your indignation

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I didn’t begin writing until I was almost 40 years old, which was about the time I began to discern the Lord’s voice more clearly.  As such, my motivation to continue has been centered on sharing what I believe He is saying at any particular time.  Within a few years I began to get regular downloads on subjects like relative truth, humanism, cultural revolution, and moral relativism.  Though I felt sure these insights were from the Lord, they seemed strange and rather worldly.  At the time, I didn’t see or hear anyone else talking about such things, and I wondered if I wasn’t just being pulled off track.  These topics seemed more rooted in sociology than spirituality, and generally garnered little or no response within my sphere.  Even so, the downloads continued to come.

Over time, I began to understand that God was giving me discernment of the emerging transformation.  To the naked eye, America didn’t look or sound much different, but beneath the surface there were monumental shifts taking place.  Our collective view of truth was being radically altered, and for the most part, we didn’t even notice.  Even those who did recognize the change didn’t necessarily understand the long term implications of it.  After all, humanism’s promotion of concepts like the intrinsic value of a human being, community, and social justice, seem to be very compatible with a standard Judeo-Christian value system. Indeed, many mainstream denominations appear to be predisposed to a sort of religious-humanist perspective, where tepid religious tradition is tolerated like a neutered dog, who sleeps in the breezeway, but never actually comes in the house.

With all the supernatural elements stripped away, God becomes more mythological than real (like Mother Nature); Jesus becomes little more than a revered historical figure (like Gandhi or Mother Theresa), and the Holy Spirit remains a ghost in the relentlessly pragmatic religious machine.  Effectively, such religion becomes two-dimensional and paper thin, but it is kept around to retain the sense and appearance of being good and moral.  The upside to such an arrangement is that it doesn’t interfere with a burgeoning friendship with the world.

With the benefit of almost two decades of hindsight, I can see that the repercussions of this shift have been far more profound than I first understood.  This change in course was not circumstantial or incidental, it was birthed in the spiritual realm, and the spirit behind the philosophical construct of humanism is not a passive or mild entity, it is an Anti-Christ spirit.  In its purist form, humanism is secular, with no allowance for anything supernatural, spiritual or transcendent.  It seeks to exalt man to the position of creator, ruler, and judge; which is as appealing to our human nature as it was to the first man (in the garden).  But these are all roles the Lord has reserved for Himself.

Compassionate, and well-meaning believers can easily be pulled into the idea that humanism’s emphasis on human rights might simply be viewed as an extension of God’s love and concern for people, but that is problematic.  Within this doctrine there can be no accommodation for the eternal, and no assent to a higher power.  It seeks to explain our origin as anything other than coming from a Creator, to promote the idea that we evolve as opposed to being transformed, and to replace the power of the Holy Spirit, with the power of the human spirit.  As John Lennon mused in his masterful ballad, “Imagine” we must rid ourselves of notions like heaven, hell and religion, so that we can all live together as one.  Indeed, humanism has so much faith in the virtue of mankind, that it presumes that left to its own devices, and separated from its ancient religious ideas, it will quite naturally arrive at a utopian society.  Of course, this is diametrically opposed to scripture’s assertions that apart from God, we can do “nothing”. 

While some might argue the Christian heritage of the United States, there is no doubt about where our society stands in this current age.  It is a culture steeped in humanist thinking, where the emerging generations are taught that evolution and technology have exempted them from the lessons of history, and where young children are taught that they can determine their own gender.  Like ancient Greece, we’ve become a nation filled with false gods, and altars to worship them at.

Perhaps no scripture makes the contradiction more plain than proverbs declaration that there is a way that seems right to a man, but it ultimately leads to death, while humanism purports that there is a way that seems right to a man, and it ultimately leads to paradise.

After a disheartening season of watching brothers and sisters on the right exalt a man as though he were a priest, a prophet or a king, and make it seem as though God desperately needed him (instead of the other way around), we now see brothers and sisters on the left being taken captive by a hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.  Indeed, many who are called by His name are likely to perish from this lack of understanding, and many is the teacher leading His little ones astray. 

There is no man-made system that can produce or orchestrate real unity, true peace, authentic justice or genuine freedom.  If we continue to look to the world for such things, we will continue to be disappointed.  We need to quit fighting amongst ourselves, and begin to engage in the battle against the spirit of this age, which is devouring the world around us.

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The word, “triggered” has become a popular part of today’s vernacular, and is generally applied to anything that might cause one to become upset. But for the purposes of this discourse, I will use it in a very specific context, which is when in the midst of an experience that is happening in real time (i.e. right now) we make an emotional/intellectual/spiritual connection to an experience that has happened in the past. In such moments, the magnitude of our response can quickly escalate well beyond what seems reasonable for the current circumstance.

 

One of the clearest examples I can give of being “triggered” is something I witnessed while I was in the Navy. During those years, guys routinely messed with each other and rough-housed. One day, a big guy (John) snuck up on a smaller guy (Jim), and grabbed him from behind. Jim let out a blood curdling scream, and rammed John into a piece of machinery, causing him to let go. When John released him, Jim turned and furiously began to pummel John with his fists. Eventually, it took five guys to restrain Jim and keep him from killing John.

 

At the time, Jim’s reaction didn’t make any sense to us. But we later learned that his step-father had molested him for years, and that what he was experiencing at that moment wasn’t his friend playing a practical joke on him, he was reliving the terror of a little boy being raped by his step-father.

 

Though it is an extreme example, it drives home the seriousness of this phenomena. Our responses often seem inappropriate because we’re emotionally/spiritually connected to some other moment.

 

For those who consider themselves to be spiritual, and believe that there are actual forces of darkness at work against our souls, you can be sure that making these connections is a valuable tool of the enemy. By linking the two moments, the illusion that Jim was about to be ravaged eclipsed the reality that he wasn’t in any real danger. The enemy of our soul loves it when he can get us to react to an unreality, and if we choose to hold on to those emotions, it opens the door for that painful moment to turn into an altered perception of reality going forward.

 

An example of this would be a woman whose first husband was unfaithful to her. Years later, after marrying a more honest and loyal man, she still experiences feelings of hurt and anxiety whenever she sees him talking to another woman. On an intellectual level she can say that her second husband is nothing like the first. But emotionally, she continues to reconnect her past hurts with her present fears. The voice of the enemy tells her that all men will eventually cheat, and on some level, she believes it. Every time she hears of a man being unfaithful, the enemy reinforces the stronghold, “See, that’s just how men are”. Without healing, she might actually be the one to drive her second marriage to destruction.

 

The enemy’s ultimate prize is our identity, and as we accept that the hurts of the past are who we are as opposed to what happened to us, he gains a valuable stronghold that he can revisit again and again. When this happens, it doesn’t take a traumatic event to trigger strong emotions. It simply takes a mirror.

Our Creator stands at the ready to show us who we really are, but that type of healing requires a willingness to surrender our old identities.

 

Once in this “triggered” state, several common patterns emerge. Accompanying the magnified sense of current and past events is the tendency to vigorously defend the legitimacy of this heightened emotional state, to lash out at anyone who attempts to provide a more balanced perspective, to speak in definitives (e.g. they always do this, they never do that, nothing works, no one ever has…), and to project the characteristics/actions of an individual (or a few individuals) onto the entire group (e.g. men do this, women think that, that generation believes…).

 

Remaining in this condition for any appreciable amount of time can be like putting on a pair of sunglasses, as it begins to color every other thing we look at. If we feel disrespected, we begin to perceive disrespect in everything that goes on around us, even from people who don’t know us, and in situations that don’t involve us. All it takes is a spark in the right spot, and soon the whole forest can be ablaze.

 

We live in a culture that is filled with stimuli which are meant to provoke a reaction. Every day we are bombarded with images and words that are intended to incite some type of a response. If we don’t recognize the danger, and guard our hearts, we too will be tossed about on the waves of emotional / spiritual turmoil.

 

The enemy loves to exploit these moments, as heavy and lasting damage to relationships is often the outcome. Like Jim in the previous story, we can feel as though our very existence is threatened, and therefore act / speak in a way that is completely out of our normal character. Unfortunately, when the moment is over, and the emotions subside, the damage often remains. In the end, both Jim and John felt like they’d been attacked, and their friendship never recovered.

 

Being a gifted and genuine believer does not exempt a person from falling into this trap. Elijah had been ministering in the miraculous power of God for some time before Jezebel’s threat sent him running for the hills (1 Kings 19). Fresh off a spectacular showdown with the prophets of Baal, and even after the Lord literally shook the earth with His power, Elijah was convinced that he was the “only one” left, and wanted to die. The veil of his fear blinded him to the reality of seven thousand other believers who had not bowed to the god of the age.

 

The scriptures warn us not to focus on what is seen, because it is perishing (i.e. temporary). It exhorts us to take every thought captive, making it subject to Christ, and to fix our hearts on things above (i.e. eternal). It is vital that we discern the spirit which lurks behind the things that trigger our emotions and provoke us to wrath. We must learn to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. If not, we risk becoming enslaved by a hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.

 

The enemy of our souls has a story he’d like to share today.  It’s a tale of frustration, failure, and pain.  It’s a narrative filled with “if only’s” (e.g. if only this would happen, if only that hadn’t happened) which will always leave us one step away from wherever we want to be.  The Creator of our souls also has a story He’d like to share today.  It’s a plan of provision, strength and hope.  It’s a narrative filled with “even if’s” (e.g. even if that happened, even if this never happens), which will free us from the constraints of our circumstance.  Ultimately, the reality of our day will boil down to whose report we believe.

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There is an old saying that goes something like, “I wish I knew back then what I know now”. And as I look back to my own graduation, here are some of those things I wish I had understood.

 

  1. Life is not a ride, it’s a journey.  A ride is simply being carried along to wherever the vehicle happens to be going, while a journey has an ultimate destination, which requires some navigation and effort to complete.  Unless we purpose in our heart to be someone, or to do something, we are likely to live life like a pinball; propelled by gravity and bouncing from one obstacle to another.  Anything worthwhile in life will require some investment on our part. Those who are unwilling to make such an investment will generally be pushed along by the winds of circumstance to some uncertain end.
  2. Not everyone who agrees with you is for you, and not everyone who disagrees with you is against you.  In this era of political correctness openly disagreeing with someone is often viewed as being “intolerant” of their beliefs (i.e. a hater). But there are times when caring for a person dictates that we confront and contradict them.  Conversely, there are those who are perfectly willing to allow you to drive headlong into disaster, as long as it serves their own selfish agenda.
  3. Misery not only loves company, it wants to settle down and have children too.  I’ve noticed that miserable people not only seek out other miserable people to bond with, but that they’ll often unconsciously sabotage anything that has the potential to pull them from their misery.  There are few emotions that are as debilitating and self-sustaining as self-pity. Generally, the only way to remain free of such feelings is through a dogged determination not to live that way.  As long as we are willing to blame other people, and circumstances, for our condition, we will remain powerless to change it.
  4. What other people believe about you isn’t as important as what you believe about yourself.  Only the things which we genuinely believe have the ability to impact how we live.  Therefore, the only words (positive or negative) that have the power to move us are those which we accept as truth.  If a man concludes that he is a failure, no amount of praise or encouragement can bring him to victory; and if a man concludes that he is an over-comer, no amount of criticism can hold him back.  While we are generally powerless to keep others from speaking about us, we possess the ultimate responsibility for what we are willing to accept as truth.
  5. Planting apple seeds won’t get you an orange tree.  Just as dependable as the law of gravity is the concept that we will reap (i.e. harvest) what we sow (i.e. plant).  Though this phrase is immediately recognizable to most people, there are few who actually live as though it were true.  Our human nature will often cause us to be unforgiving with other people, while expecting generosity in return; to be deceptive about our motivations, while expecting others to deal with us honestly; and to be selfish about our desires, while expecting others to be considerate of us.  We must always remain conscious of the fact that the cup we use to dispense blessing is the cup that we will eventually drink our blessings from.
  6. For everything there is a season and it’s important not to despise the season that you’re in.  If you live long enough you notice that there is a sort of pattern that life follows and that things come and go in seasons.  While we have a natural tendency to like some seasons better than others, I’ve found that every season comes with both challenges and blessings.  If we focus on the challenges of the season we’re in, we’ll often miss the blessings, and spend our time pining away for the season to change.  Conversely, if we focus on the blessings of each season, it makes the challenges easier to endure, and brings a sense of variety to the journey.
  7. It’s doubtful that anyone is really “out to get you”.  Generally, a person has to be of significant consequence before someone is willing to invest the time and energy it takes to conspire against them.  I would suggest that we are more often damaged because people aren’t considerate of our position than we are because people have made a conscious effort to hurt us.  Though this knowledge doesn’t necessarily dampen the pain, it should aid in our endeavor to forgive.
  8. When you keep your own score, you always feel as though you’re losing.  The problem with keeping score is that we naturally tend to under-appreciate our blessings, and to have an exaggerated sense of our hardships.  Because of that, people who keep score in life generally feel as though they’re never quite being given their due.  Ultimately, it’s better to just give our best in any given situation and to let someone else maintain the scorecard.
  9. The path of least resistance is rarely a road worth taking.  Often what causes something to be valuable is that it cannot be easily attained.  It follows then that the most valuable things in life normally require some perseverance to apprehend.  While everyone may sincerely want these kinds of things for their life (e.g. a healthy body, a strong marriage, a successful career…), few are willing to endure the process it takes to secure them.  Unfortunately, we live in a culture that increasingly values convenience above quality, and in which many of our children have grown up with an expectation of the instant gratification of their desires. Many a parent has worked hard to ensure that their kids get a great education, so that these children won’t have to struggle like they did.  But this ignores the fact that it is in the midst of the struggle that we tend to develop our character and work ethic; and that without this development we are generally ill equipped to handle adversity.  I’ve found that you can teach someone with character and work ethic just about anything, but without those qualities, an education becomes of little value.  I’ve also come to believe that giving my children everything that I didn’t have when I grew up will likely handicap them for life.
  10. There are few jobs easier than being a critic and few that are more taxing than being a builder.  I’m ashamed to admit that there have been times in my life when I’ve been like the guy who sits in the back of the classroom, ridiculing the person who’s teaching the class. Playing the role of critic, while someone sincerely tries to have a positive influence on the people around them.  While I might try to rationalize that their efforts were less than perfect, or maybe even in vain, life has taught me how little that criticism helps anyone.  It takes a tremendous amount of effort and patience to bring unity where there has only been division, or to stir a group to battle, when they’ve only known defeat, or to restore a sense of hope to a place of desolation…  The builder must make a concerted effort to create, while the critic can bring destruction with little effort.  As a witness to, and a participant in, both of these processes, I’ve committed myself to spending the rest of my days being engaged in the building up and not the tearing down.
  11. It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.  Experience teaches us that the road to victory is generally paved with some amount of defeat; and that how we respond to those defeats will generally determine whether or not we ever come to the place of victory.   While victory tends to be the goal of every player, I’ve found that what we remember is how they played the game.  It is not necessarily the player with the highest winning percentage that captures our imagination, it is the player who played unselfishly, or with integrity, or who overcame the biggest odds…  Even for those who taste great victory, it is always in a moment that quickly passes into a lifetime of other moments.  At the moment we pass from this life, it won’t be that moment of glory that matters most; it will be how we lived all the other moments that ultimately defines us.
  12. It’s hard to be Clint Eastwood if you’re really Mr. Rogers.  As I was growing up my conception of what a man was came largely from my father, who was a big fan of men like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.   Throughout my adolescence there were other icons (e.g. John Travolta – Saturday Night Fever, Sly Stallone – Rambo, Don Johnson – Miami Vice…) who seemed to collectively shape the culture’s conception of manhood, and who I unconsciously graded myself against.  Since I was nothing like these men I assumed that I just wasn’t much of a man, and in subtle ways I let their image affect how I walked, talked, dressed… But as I got older I began to notice that there weren’t many things less attractive than someone trying to be something that they’re not (e.g. a middle aged woman dressed like teenager; a suburban white kid acting as though he grew up in the ghetto; a man with a bad toupee, acting as though it is his natural hair…).  I eventually came to peace with the understanding that regardless of the fact that I bear little or no resemblance to the trendy cultural images of manhood, the best thing I could do was to be myself.  That catharsis has  allowed me to do things like wear the clothes that I feel comfortable in; to act silly in public, just to make my kids laugh; to say “I love you too honey” when I hang up the phone in front of someone; to cry at sad movies…, all without feeling self-conscious.  I highly recommend it.
  13. Love grows over time. We live in a society that seems affixed on the idea of trading in and up, on an almost constant basis (e.g. cellphones, computers, cars, houses…); and that basic philosophy carries into our relationships as well. Most of our cultural allusions toward love seem centered on initial attraction and the titillation of something new; but that is ultimately the shallow end of the relationship pool. It isn’t until you’ve experienced a love that lasts for years that you come to understand the depth and profound fulfillment that accompanies it. This same aesthetic applies to friendships as well (i.e. I wouldn’t trade a few old friends for 500 “friends” on Facebook).
  14. No person or thing can “make you happy”.  People can support us, love us, inspire us, and even enhance the quality of our life. But unless we determine within ourselves to find the joy, the beauty and the hope within our given circumstance, we will never be “happy”. The idea that it is someone else’s role to bring happiness into our life places tremendous pressure on our relationships, often causing them to fail (e.g. they just don’t make me happy anymore…).  Similarly, material things do not have the ability to bring satisfaction to our souls.  I’ve noticed that people, who can be grateful for what they have today, will generally be that way regardless of what they have. And that people, who crave something more, will normally continue to crave regardless of what they get.
  15. The best things in life cannot be held in our hands or necessarily even be seen.  A young person’s dreams are often rooted in tangible gains, like a mate, income, a career, a family, a home…  But as a person attains those kinds of things, values seem to shift from the tangible to the transcendent.  At the end of a long life, it is things like friendship, faith, love and hope that are ultimately treasured.
  16. No regrets. I’ve often heard people speak of having “no regrets”, both when looking back on their lives, or in the context of their hopes for the future.  I’ve even heard some say things like, “if I could live my life over again, I wouldn’t change a thing”.  And while those sorts of bold proclamations may sound good as T-shirt slogans or on sports drink ads, they don’t actually play out well in real life.  The truth is that we all make mistakes, and if we have any conscience at all, that is bound to stir up some feelings of regret.  Though unpleasant, it is often those feelings that provide the incentive to grow and change.  A wise man doesn’t pretend that he’s never done things that he wishes he hadn’t; he simply owns up to his failures, learns from those mistakes, changes his mind/direction and leaves those regrets on the side of the road (where they belong).
  17. A failure to communicate. In today’s culture there is a lot of value placed on the idea of creating dialogue, but in reality, that rarely happens. Dialogue is talking to each other, presumably with the intent of reaching some new level of understanding, while rhetoric is talking at each other, generally used to establish the superiority of one’s position over another.  One has the potential to move us forward together, while the other can become the basis for civil war. Understanding the difference could be crucial to the future.
  18. True strength. The strength that actually matters in this life cannot be forged in the gym. Though we should endeavor to maintain some level of reasonable health, we are rarely called to bring substantial physical power into a situation. On the other hand, we are challenged intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, on an almost daily basis. Thus, qualities like the ability to think clearly when chaos reigns around us, or to put others needs above our own, or to continue to love when our heart has been crushed, or to hold onto our values in the face of rampant compromise, or to have faith in the midst of the storm… prove to be of far greater worth. Yet, as a society we seem to be much more focused on our physical state, while these other aspects of our being remain weak and under-developed. One day, our bodies will be buried in the dirt, and it will be what we did with the rest of us that ultimately determines how we are remembered.
  19. Out of control. One of the most frustrating aspects of human nature is that we so often try to control things that we have no authority over, while neglecting the one thing we can control (i.e. ourselves). This is why every twelve step recovery program includes the Serenity Prayer, where one seeks the strength to change the things that can be changed, the patience to live with the things that cannot be changed, and the wisdom to recognize the difference between the two.
  20. Look out for that curve dead ahead. Growing up can often be a disappointing process. When you’re 10, you imagine that becoming a “teenager” will change everything. But a few days after your 13th birthday, you realize that things are pretty much the same. Then you start dreaming about turning 16, and getting your license, which is cool; but again, you quickly recognize that it doesn’t make as much difference as you thought. Even 18 is that way. Yeah, you’re legally an adult now, yet you still have to turn in your homework and get up for school the next day. But finishing High School is different. Though you may not sense it immediately, the rules change dramatically. Up to this point, there was a system specifically designed to carry you along. There was a whole panel of adults (e.g. parents, grandparents, pastors, youth group leaders, teachers, coaches, counselors…) assigned to provide guidance, boundaries, bedtimes, wake-ups, rides, resources, and incentives to stay on the right track. There were organized activities intended specifically for you, like sports teams, school plays, dances, and 4H club. And there was an education system built to pretty much ensure your success. As long as you cooperated (i.e. showed up with a decent attitude) with these processes, you were almost guaranteed to make it through. But now, that all changes. Adulthood is very much a give and take proposition. Generally, you get out of it what you put into it. Even staying in school changes. Colleges and Universities are businesses. You pay to take their classes. If you don’t show up, the teacher isn’t going to come looking for you. If you don’t turn in your work, they will not scold you, or even ask about it. If you fail the class, they will happily allow you to pay them to take the course over again next semester. The workplace, and relationships, and almost every other facet of life works similarly. If you want to have a great marriage, a successful career, or even to live in an exceptional community, you need to invest yourself (i.e. time, energy, passion…) in it. Simply showing up, empty handed, will no longer get it done. Ultimately, life was never meant to be a spectator sport – so I’d highly recommend that you dive in.    

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As this Corona Virus crisis began to ramp up a few of weeks ago, I tried to block it out. I’m not one who looks to interpret what God may be thinking by observing natural events; I’m more prone to see natural events through the lens of whatever He seems to be saying at the moment. But as events began to pile up, I started to get pulled into the conversation. I read credible Infectious Disease experts who said that this virus wasn’t much more hazardous than the seasonal Influenza virus, which also kills those with compromised immune systems, while other medical experts were speaking as though it was the return of the black plague. Like everything else in our culture, this virus soon became a political volleyball, which was being pounded back and forth across the net. As the preventive measures began costing people their jobs, and I saw people begin to suffer, I felt the frustration brewing in me, and stealing my peace. I found myself formulating an argument in my head, and it seemed to be pressing on my lips to get out. But before it was able to escape, the Lord broke in.

 

“What do you know?”

 

It wasn’t in a sarcastic or mocking tone. He was asking a simple and sincere question about what “facts” I had. There seemed to be credible voices on both sides of the argument, and everyone seemed to be speaking as though they knew exactly what was happening, and moreover, what was going to happen. But the Lord was challenging me, as a man who felt as though he had something to say, as to what I really knew. And in an instant, I knew that my words were of no value, and that my voice would just be more fodder in the trough. As I began to fully appreciate the degree to which I’d been sucked in, the Lord spoke again.

 

“What do you know?”

 

Though the words were the same, I sensed a different question. He wasn’t asking me what I knew about the Corona Virus, He was reminding me of the way He’s taught me to deal with the world. He’s given me “eyes to see” and “ears to hear”, so that I can live by every word that proceeds from His mouth. He was challenging me on what He’d said to me about this virus and/or pandemic, and as I pondered that, I realized that He’d not mentioned it one time. Again, a wave of regret washed over me, as I remembered that the “genuine Spirit of Prophecy is not only saying what God is saying, but it’s not saying what He’s not saying”. Indeed, if God wasn’t speaking about these things to me, what exactly did I have to say to anyone else. In the midst of my repentance, the Lord spoke again.

 

“What do you know?”

 

Again, same words, different question. This time He was striking at the depth of my soul. What is it that I “know” in my heart? “I know you Lord”, was all I could think to say. And with that, I sensed His loving hand on my shoulder, and I understood that this was all I would ever need to know.

 

Like everyone else, we are being impacted by what’s happening in our world. And now, more than ever, I find myself running back to the one thing that I know.

 

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Several years ago, an internationally known TV ministry sent one of its associate pastors to prepare our church for a visit from their senior pastor.  Everything about this man seemed to be an exact duplication of the senior pastor, his voice, his hair, his mode of dress, his mannerisms, expressions that he used…  He began his presentation by exclaiming what a great church we were and with a spiel about how he didn’t know what we were paying our pastors, but it was not enough, he didn’t know what kind of car they drove, but it ought to be a BMW…  Ironically, when the senior pastor arrived a week later, he began his presentation with a word for word rendering of that same spiel.

 

While it is not particularly surprising or even a problem that these two men would share certain characteristics, such a complete replication of someone else’s image edges dangerously close to a cult of personality. And in the midst of this, I felt like the Lord began to speak to me about the difference between “raising sons” and “producing clones”.

 

As a father of four children (two boys & two girls), I can attest that each of my children share some measure of similarity to me.  Though some of that is undoubtedly due to DNA, there is also the profound influence that comes from sharing life experiences together on a daily basis.  For example, how they see their mother and I relate undoubtedly helps to shape their ideas about relationship and marriage; just as our beliefs and attitudes about things like God, politics, patriotism, education… helps to form their conception of those things. A testament to the profound effect of this is that one of my daughters is not my biological child and yet I can see myself in her almost as clearly as I can in the other children.

 

But just as easily as I can identify the similarities, I can also see that all of them possess many other traits that we don’t share, and to be sure they are four completely unique beings.  They each have different gifts, fears, learning patterns, strengths, inspirations… I believe that this is a testament to the fact that while God may have used some raw material from their mother and me within the creation process, He created them to be far more than just an amalgam of the two of us.  He created them to go further than we’ll go, and to do more than we’ll ever accomplish. To be sure, we as parents must be diligent in helping them to forge a good foundation, but it is ultimately the “Master Architect” who designs what is to be built upon it.

 

There is a very natural temptation to want to duplicate the things that we view as being successful, but as the old saying goes, if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.  It is often what has been successful that causes us to become protective of what we’ve already attained and reluctant to venture into new territory.  Some leaders fall prey to the idea of leaving a lasting legacy, which on the surface can almost seem virtuous, but which in practice can often cause what was once a dynamic organization to become little more than a lifeless monument.

 

In truth a legacy is not something that we ourselves can create, it is simply the byproduct of how others perceive us.  As much as I hope to leave a legacy of faith for my children, the danger in them asking themselves how I might handle a given situation is that they may never bother to ask God what He would have them do.  As we seek to “empower” the leaders of the next generation, we must ensure that they understand exactly where that power comes from.  We’ll know that we’ve genuinely “empowered” them when we allow them to draw different conclusions than we have, and when they are allowed to pursue visions that didn’t come from or through us.

 

As I considered the scriptural representation of these issues I thought of Moses and Joshua.  To be sure, Moses was an amazing leader, with an unparalleled record of achievements and yet it was God who ordained that Joshua would be the one to lead His people into the Promised Land.  There is nothing in scripture that seems to indicate that Joshua did anything to imitate Moses and I’m sure that it isn’t a coincidence that Joshua’s introduction to leadership began with a very definitive proclamation from heaven, “Moses is dead”.  That pronouncement seemed to signal the end of one very painful era and the beginning of another, more fruitful one.  While some might suggest that Joshua could never have done what Moses did; I would suggest that it is equally true that Moses could not have fulfilled Joshua’s mission either. In ways that may have only been known to God, Joshua was just the right man, at just the right time.

 

Those who count themselves as fathers need to be mindful that their children’s destiny is to be transformed into the image of Christ. If we are being effective in the discipleship process, they will look more like Him than us. He created each of His children to be a unique representation of who He is, and not one to be a replica of a person who happened to come before them.

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The members of an orchestra don’t come together by taking their cues from each other, they do so by fixing their eyes on a singular person and responding to the promptings of that Conductor. And so it is with the Body of Christ. We will not achieve genuine unity through increased dialogue or simple cooperation. It will only happen when we collectively succumb to the guidance of the One, who is the Author and Finisher of our faith.

 

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Make no mistake, there is a world of difference between the pursuit of happiness and the pursuit of God. One is rooted in the temporal, while the other is rooted in the eternal.  One is about gaining your life, while the other is about losing it.  One is centered on edifying self, while the other is centered on dying to self.  One is endlessly elusive, while the other comes with the promise that if you seek, you will find.

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Exposing the counterfeit is of little value unless we go on to manifest the genuine.

 

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There is no doubt that life is a long journey, made up of a countless number of moments. Most of them, good or bad, eventually dissolve into a mist of vague memories.  But there are others which distinguish themselves in such a way as to become watersheds, where the very flow of our lives can be altered.  These instances ultimately come to define our journey, and often times can significantly impact the way we see ourselves and/or the way we are perceived by others.  Such an occasion is commonly known as a “defining moment”.  Just as significant as the moment itself, is how we interpret it in real time, and the lens through which we choose to view it in retrospect.

 

An example of interpretation can be found in an experience I had in elementary school. As the youngest of three boys, I struggled mightily in school, while my older brothers were both model students.  My beleaguered parents were constantly being called in for Parent-Teacher conferences, which isn’t something they had to deal with previously.  So when I managed to go for an entire 9 week period with no significant issues, and brought home a solid report card (A’s and B’s), they decided to reward me with a new Harlem Globetrotters lunchbox.  All they were trying to do was acknowledge my progress and encourage me.  Unfortunately, I was keenly aware that both my brothers had straight A’s on their report cards, and that they were getting nothing for their efforts.  Thus, I interpreted my parent’s gift as an implicit acknowledgment that I was their stupid child, which completely diffused the virtue of their intent.  Instead of encouraging me, the lunchbox became a symbol of my inadequacies.

 

This faulty reading of my parents gesture was rooted in both my habit of comparing myself to my older siblings, and the conclusion I had already drawn about myself, which was that I was in fact stupid. Because that was the lens through which I viewed the situation, it clearly colored my perception of reality.  Though my parents never openly compared me to my brothers or belittled my intelligence, I felt woefully inadequate whenever I was around them, and thus I came to that judgment on my own.

 

There is no doubt that what we believe about ourselves is far more consequential than what others believe about us, and once we draw such a conclusion, it becomes nearly impossible for anyone else to change our mind. For me, it took becoming an adult, moving away from my family, and learning to stand on my own merits, before I could gain a new perspective.

 

While we are not in control of many of the things which befall us in life, we do bear some responsibility for how we choose to respond, and we do have a choice about which moments will ultimately define us. Remaining focused on the most painful moments of our lives, pursuing people who reject us, while ignoring those who value us, seeing ourselves through the lens of our greatest weaknesses and failures, holding on to bitterness and unforgiveness for those who’ve hurt us… are all recipes for misery.  People will define us by whatever measure they choose to use, but they do not have the power to control how we define ourselves.  When we blame everyone else for our present condition, we have unwittingly forfeited the power to change it.

 

No one gets through this life without some amount of adversity, pain, and struggle. We can see ourselves as a victim, or a survivor, or maybe even an overcomer.  I believe that we have far more control over this than most of us understand.  If we don’t like the moments that have defined us thus far, it is up to us to change our course.  I have a sister-in-law who was once an addict, a convict, and judged by the courts to be an unfit parent.  She made the decision to change her life, and though it took some time, she is now a sober, loving wife and mother, raising her family.  Not long ago she was seen as being beyond help, but today, she is an inspiration.  She is living proof that if you don’t like your story thus far, you can rewrite the ending.

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