Sunday, August 16, 2009



Are you a control freak? Really, are you? There is a basic tendency for all of us to want to be in control. At the heart of this tendency is the deadliest of the seven deadlies-pride! Pride is believing that you can actually control things in your life. It's when you push your Creator-God aside and take over the universe for awhile.

There's an old Jewish proverb that says: "Pride is the mask of one's own faults." It's when you know deep down that you are not able to control anything, so instead of admitting it, you put on your pride mask. The thing about this is that most people handle life in this way and therefore are playing the game along with you and protect themselves by not taking off that mask. However, pride has a way of showing itself with the destruction that is caused. This fits one of the most popular of proverbs about pride: "Pride goes before destruction; a haughty spirit before a fall." Your pride will be discovered by its damaging results. When this happens, you will be given another chance to be honest about yourself and abandon your attitude of pride. But even though the opportunity to come clean about yourself presents itself, it's very hard not to live in the state of denial in order to continue playing the game.

When I see the ugly head of pride showing up in my life and in the life of others, I just want to say: GET OVER YOURSELF! That's really what is happening. There is too much of yourself that preoccupies all of your thoughts and choices. When your life becomes "all about you", you are wrapping your life up in a very small package-insignificant and inadequate.

Jesus teaches the answer for this pride problem. He says: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23) He uses the word "deny", but He is actually saying: GET OVER YOURSELF so there is room for Me in your life!

Denying yourself or getting over yourself is really what humility is all about. Humility is having a right evaluation of yourself before God. It's believing what God says about you is true and believing what God says about Himself is true.

The most interesting thing about humility is that the more you grow spiritually the more humble you will become. As you grow in your walk with Jesus you will see your life more clearly and will have a better handle on having a right evaluation about who you are before God. Paul, in his letters to the followers of Jesus actually seems to be growing backwards. As the years pass he goes lower; he grows downward! And as his self-esteem sinks, he sees God more clearly as the awesome One who owns and empowers him. He is able to understand what Jesus meant when He said: "Without Me you can do nothing." Check it out:

FIRST-Paul says in his early years: "I am the least of the apostles." (1 Corinthians 15:9) He sees himself as about 13 on the list of the ones Jesus chose to lead out in following Him. Thirteenth! Now that's pretty high up in the ranks of the followers of Jesus.

SECOND-As Paul moves into his middle years he says: "I am the very least of all the saints." (Ephesians 3:8) He now sees himself a little less on the totem pole of Jesus' followers. He is now no longer thirteenth, but he is the least of all of the saints!

THIRD-Then, later in Paul's ministry, his view of himself is even worse! He says: "I am the chief of sinners." (1 Timothy 1:15) Whoa! He has gone from thirteenth place to the least of all the saints and now he sees himself as the worst sinner of all! What a reversal! That is the great thing about humility. The more humble you are the more grace you embrace to become more spiritually mature. It is a faith-walk with your Creator-God!

Now, one of the most popular criticisms of a faith-walk of humbling yourself before God is that your faith is a crutch. "Oh, your faith in God is just a crutch!" Have you ever heard that? It's one of the most common attacks thrust against believers. I have come to realize that the accusation is absolutely right! Faith IS a crutch! But there is nothing wrong with that at all. It's a natural thing-even understandable! Let me offer two reasons for my thinking:

First, a crutch is good when you need it! If your ankle is broken or badly sprained, a crutch is absolutely necessary. You can't get around very well without one. When you see someone using crutches, you don't criticize them or belittle them for using them. Since they are hurting and have been damaged, it's natural, even wise, to use the crutches! The same is true about your life. When you are in need, hurt and damaged, it's natural to search for a set of crutches!

Second, a crutch allows you to become healed! Those who are in need of crutches and use them will find healing and relief over time. If you need crutches and don't use them, you just prolong your pain and prevent your healing!

If you have a pulse, then you have a real need for a set of spiritual crutches. In fact, humans don't work well when unplugged from a personal relationship with the Creator. Humility is based upon this personal relationship with your Creator-as I said earlier-a right evaluation of yourself before God. There is a wickedness and a wonder about who you are. You have within you a wickedness that is able to do most anything, any place at any time. When you see your need for God, you fall into line before your Creator and you are the created one. But you're not as bad as you could be! There is also a wonder about you! You have been created in the image of your Creator. When you have a right evaluation of yourself-wickedness and wonder, you take on a true humility.

This humility, then, is to spill over into your relationships, so that you treat everyone else as a fellow-created being. Without humility, pride and self-centeredness reign in your life! Pride is such a prevalent and prominent problem of the human condition-so much so that only a personal relationship with your Creator has the capability of diminishing this deadly, spiritual cancer. This is the reason for the following Biblical principle: HUMBLE YOURSELF & GOD WILL EXALT YOU! EXALT YOURSELF & GOD WILL HUMBLE YOU!

You can only secure your spiritual crutches by faith-faith in your Creator! So your faith is a crutch. You desperately need it! Maybe the image of crutches isn't strong enough. There have been many times when I have felt that my need for God is so great that it would be better to call it an IRON LUNG!

Hey, don't you think it's time to GET OVER YOURSELF? Think it over!



Most of my adult life I have been practicing therapy-counseling people caught in every problem imaginable. When I first began speaking, it was on the university campus. I was the main speaker for many weekend retreats over a period of 6 or 7 years. The routine was always the same. I usually spoke 5 times during that retreat. On Friday night I always gave the same introductory message that set up the weekend for the other four messages I was slotted to present. Before delivering this message I asked the students and staff to take a 3x5 card and write out the three most important problems they wanted solved this weekend. They wrote them on the card, folded it and turned them in. I then read through the cards that night and prepared the next four messages to meet the needs they had expressed on the cards.

This introductory evening set up a constant stream of students and staff coming up to me to find counsel for whatever issues they were struggling with. Many retreats I was able to get only 4-5 hours sleep each night, because the need seemed so great. I realized through this early experience how people were desperately in need of help. What they were craving was to be able to talk with someone who was safe and who cared.

What I learned was that my counsel primarily consisted of listening to their problems and bringing a different perspective to the predicament. I was basically helping them discover more options to deal with what they thought was an impossible situation.

To be healthy, psychologically and spiritually, it's so important to have options. Those who are unhealthy find themselves running out of options. And, those who choose the route of suicide have run out of options altogether-ending it all seems like the only logical thing to do. Depression lingers in your life, when you feel you are out of hope and out of options-no light at the end of the tunnel!

When you're out of options, you will find yourself scrambling for security and inner satisfaction. When you run out of options, there is one option that is always available and that's what I want to share with you. Just thinking through a few people who ran out of options in biblical history, there are some interesting insights available to us.

In the Old Testament, Daniel certainly found himself out of options, when he was thrown into the lion's den. Jonah was a man faced with two distinct options-obey God's call to fulfill a mission or to disobey-to run alongside God or to run away from God. Well, as you know he made the wrong choice and ran away from God. Then he found himself in the belly of a great fish, marinating in its digestive juices. Now, that was a situation where Jonah was clearly out of options. Both Daniel and Jonah had one option open to them-turn to God. Daniel was persuaded to do this by the lions and Jonah was dramatically motivated into running back to God after running away by his experience in the fish.

In the New Testament, I think of the nobleman who came to Jesus to seek healing for his son. John records the story of the royal official, the nobleman, who had run out of options and believed Jesus possessed the only way for his son to live. Matthew and Mark share the story of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years, living in a ceremonially unclean state for all that time. She had run out of options and fought the crowd, where she was not allowed to be due to her uncleanness, and was determined to get to Jesus, believing He was her only option to be healed.

The story of Jesus apprehending Paul with the bright light on his way to Damascus is an interesting scene. In this case, it isn't that Paul had run out of options. He thought he was on God's mission, persecuting the followers of Jesus. But Jesus in a spectacular encounter put Paul in a position that he had no other option than to respond in humility.

Here's the principle: When you're out of options, there is always one last option available to you. It's not a belief system. It's not the counsel of a good therapist. It's not some secret you need to know. It's a person-Jesus. Jesus is always available as your last option and would like to be your first option. I've noticed over the years that most people come to Jesus by the process of elimination-nothing else works!

When you're out of options, remember to turn to Jesus. He is the way, the truth and the life available to you.

There's one more thing here. When you're out of options, it's too easy for you to be overcome with worry, hopelessness and depression. Remember this: WHEN YOU'RE DOWN TO NOTHING, IT MEANS THAT GOD IS UP TO SOMETHING. SEEK HIM WITH ALL YOU'VE GOT! WHEN YOU'RE OUT OF OPTIONS, MAKE JESUS YOUR NEXT BEST OPTION!



According to James in his early writings there are three ways to handle your troubles. The first way is to refocus by rejoicing in the product God is working in you. God is using your trouble to purify you and make you stronger-refocusing on the end result rather than the problem itself is what's required here.

The second way to handle your troubles again involves refocusing. This time it is to refocus away from your problems and request the wisdom of God necessary to get you through this difficult time.

James says (James 1:5-8): If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God. There it is! He has just made it clear that if you encounter various trials and troubles with an attitude of joy, knowing that the testing of your faith will produce perseverance. And if you do this and allow your faith to be tested and purified by your troubles, then you will be lacking in nothing. However, if there is a lacking in your life, it will be a lack of wisdom. When you encounter various trials and troubles, the most common thing you lack at that time is the wisdom to know how to respond and what to do. You need the wisdom to know how to handle your trouble! So, go to the author of wisdom. Go straight to God and ask Him for wisdom. You are requesting His perspective on your problems from His vantage point, so that you are not limited to your own point of view, which is limited.

Next James says that God will answer your request by giving you the wisdom you are asking for. He says: If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. Note God will give you the wisdom you need to handle your troubles and He will give it to you in a generous way. He will give you even more than you need to process the problems you are facing. And, He will give this wisdom to all who ask for it. This is one of the few times I've ever seen where God lets it be known specifically how He will answer your request. In the case of a wisdom request, you will get it.

James then offers an interesting condition: But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. Those who doubt should not think they will receive anything from the Lord; they are double-minded and unstable in all they do.

The condition is that you must believe and not doubt, when you ask for this wisdom from God. When you ask, count on it; God will liberally give His wisdom to you! But if you doubt that He will do this for you, you can count on NOT receiving His wisdom. The result will then be that you will find yourself operating in a storm of instability and uncertainty. So, you can ask for wisdom and count on it, then you will receive it and by receiving it, you will have God's wisdom and actually have God on your side as you make your way through your troubles. Or, you can ask for wisdom and doubt you will receive it, then you will be left to make your way through your troubles all by yourself. In other words, if you ask for wisdom while doubting you'll get it, then you don't have a prayer to get through your trials and troubles.

There is an underlying promise for this principle. This one I call the promise of great escapes. It says: No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (I Corinthians 10:13)

This is an encouraging promise for us. There is no trial or trouble that you can encounter that has only happened to you. You know how it is when you are in the midst of a pile of trouble. Your most common thought is that you are the only one who has ever had to deal with such problems. This promise begins with making it clear that you are not alone in your problem. Others have already or are now going through the same thing.

Then it says that God will be faithful in not allowing any problem to overwhelm you to the point that you will be overcome by it. God will not allow you to face anything that you cannot get through. God will provide the way for you to escape it.

Now, note how you escape this trouble. God provides a way to escape it in such a way that you will be able to endure it-to go through it. This is not a supernatural bailout! He promises to get you through it! This is usually not what we pray for. We usually want to get out of the problem altogether. But God's promise is to give you a way of escape in order to get through it. The image here is like facing a mountain range. That mountain range is the problem or trial you are facing. God provides a mountain pass to get through it. This is why you are to ask for God's wisdom, so that you will be able to discover the mountain pass to get through it, no matter how tough or impossible it seems.

This second way James offers for us to handle our troubles is vital. Ask for God's wisdom to get through whatever you are facing and He will give you what you need. For years I've expressed this principle in a very simple way that has been helpful to so many. Take it for yourself. THE BEST WAY OUT IS THROUGH and God is committed to getting you through it. Just ask Him!



Faith works, when life doesn't! This week as we continue dealing with the stressed out world in which we're living, I want to walk through three ways to handle your troubles. Remember, it's not what happens to you, but how you handle what happens that counts. There are three ways to reframe your situation by refocusing on the right things.

We spend a lot of time studying and considering the teachings of Jesus. I just feel like you can't go wrong with this kind of emphasis. In addition to the five Gospels-Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Acts-the earliest of the writings can prove to be most valuable and helpful in embracing the teachings and principles of Jesus as a lifestyle. James is one of these writings.

James begins his book talking about trials and how to handle them. He says: Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

This is the first way to handle your troubles. Note that James starts with "consider it pure joy". when you face your trials. Talk about counter-intuitive! Consider it a joyful thing to experience all kinds of trials and problems? The reason? You must understand that these trials are a testing of your faith. He doesn't mean by this a test in order to trick you or to trip you up. It's a testing that is a refining of your faith-purifying and improving your faith. In other words, these trials have come into your life in order to make you stronger.

Now note that there is a goal for this testing of your faith. It is to produce in you perseverance. Perseverance is a strengthening of your faith-a certain resolve or a solid determination to hang on or hang in there. This kind of faith is strong enough to endure and handle anything that comes your way.

James goes on to say: Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. This is the ultimate payoff! Your faith is strengthened by your troubles to the point that you are becoming more and more mature and complete, lacking in nothing!

You see, there are two responses to problems. You can focus on your problem or you can focus on the positive result that will be produced by your problems. If you focus on the problems, you will surely fall into deeper trouble. When you brood over your problems, you'll hatch despair. Instead of focusing on the trouble that has just dropped into your life, refocus on the product-what you are going to learn and get out of it.

There is an important insight here that could go unnoticed. He says consider it a joyful thing to encounter various trials. In order to refocus on the product rather than the problem, REFOCUS ON REJOICING over the problem and not spend your time and energy moaning and groaning over what has just happened to you. You don't get anywhere having a pity party and inviting others over or singing your latest "Woe is me" song. Refocus your mind and heart on what God is going to do to strengthen your faith during this trial to get ready for whatever comes next for you and for others around you.

There is a great promise that underlies this thinking. It's what I call the promise of great endings! It is: And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) All things-no matter what things-God causes to work together with something else for good. This is not saying that whatever happens is good, but God will cause all things to work together with something else for your good and His glory.

Note the requirement here is "to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose." I would restate this as "to all those who are interested in following God with their heart-who want to follow God's purpose for their lives." You can count on it. The God of gods-the Creator of the universe-is concerned enough to process all that happens to you in such a way that it works together with something else for your good.

Don't focus on your problems or your troubles. Wallowing around in your trials will only make things worse and make you bitter. In fact, you will discover that most of the things you fear never are as bad as you had imagined and most of the bad things that have come into your life can be processed in a healthy way. It's as if you have been mountain climbing over molehills all along. So, refocus on what God is doing in the midst of your trouble and even get excited about it. There is a great gift coming your way.

I continually remind myself that the Bible never says, "It has come to stay." Instead it says, "It has come to pass." So, whatever it is that you view as the biggest trouble in your life, THIS, TOO WILL PASS!