Fine-tuning My Focus

I really didn’t want to be there. It was required, but it shouldn’t have been, not for me. Every one of us parents had a kid in driver education, so we had to learn how to help them learn. I didn’t see a single face that seemed any happier to be there than I was. This would be a waste of time. Some of the parents looked at each other and laughed or rolled their eyes when the instructor said something obvious. Seriously, why were we here? Then, about thirty minutes into the class, the instructor said something simple, yet profound: “You will drive toward whatever you’re looking at.” His context was why drivers shouldn’t look at oncoming headlights, but I knew it had all kinds of life applications. I had to confess my ignorance and arrogance right there. I’d always thought the only reason for avoiding looking at headlights was that they would temporarily blind you. But this newly learned principle would apply to daytime driving, as well as at night. 

Focus is a powerful thing. It causes potential distractions in the peripheral to fade into powerlessness. It ultimately eliminates all its competition.  If we’re easily distracted, it’s often because we lack focus. If we seem to accomplish things, but not the most important ones, we probably have the wrong focus.

The Apostle Paul demonstrated how to eliminate distractions and accomplish what’s most important.

No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:13-14) – NLT

Paul had spent the two previous paragraphs writing about his past. He had some pretty impressive items on his resume, but he saw them as worthless compared to what Christ had accomplished for him. He didn’t want to glory in anything he might’ve been before. He wanted glory to be all God’s, whose it rightfully is anyway. Impressive items weren’t the only ones he acknowledged in his past; he also considered himself chief among sinners, presumably because he had persecuted Christians before becoming one himself. But, regardless of what was in his past, he was placing all its contents in a single category: forgotten. He made the decision to wipe away the past – the impressive and the shameful – and to fine-tune his focus. He would focus on the prize that awaited him, the crown of righteousness. 

I’ve been sensing the Holy Spirit pointing me toward that focus lately. My past has been a distraction for me, and there are things in the present that have hijacked my attention at times. But I will combine the wisdom of the Apostle Paul with the aforementioned obscure but astute drivers ed instructor and stop peering through the rear view, focusing my attention ahead to the prize that awaits me: the day when I stand before God and receive the crown that Jesus won for me.

Won’t you join me in fine-tuning your focus?

Lying Down

In the movie Pursuit of Happyness, Chris Gardener, played by Will Smith, narrates his own life story. At various points along the storyline, he says, “This part of my life is called Running/Internship/Happyness.”

If I’m narrating my story and naming various parts of it, I have a part I call Lying Down. It isn’t a season to itself, rather, it’s several short periods, each lasting several months, weeks, days, or even minutes, interspersed along the timeline of my journey . These are times when I was forced to be still and quiet so the Lord could speak to me or change my perspective. 

The most memorable was when a case of vertigo came upon me suddenly. I lay on the couch and couldn’t turn my head, or even my eyes, to the right or to the left. So I lay flat on my back looking straight ahead at the board directly in front of me in our wood paneled wall. If I looked at an adjacent board on either side of it, I would become sickly nauseous. As I lay there looking at that board, the Lord reminded me of the previous night. I had decided to fast for twenty-four hours, but hadn’t yet committed to when I would begin my fast. I was at one of my sons’ basketball games. During the game, we made plans to go out to eat with some other parents after the game. Before we left the gym, I went to the men’s room. As I stood in front of the mirror, I had made my decision to go ahead and begin the fast. I looked myself dead in the eye and said out loud, “I’m not going to eat dinner tonight.” But when we got to the restaurant and everybody was ordering, I changed my mind, ordered, and ate. God also reminded me of how lax I had also been in other areas of my life. I had allowed my eyes to wander beyond the bounds of purity and had procrastinated in initiating ministry projects I knew He was leading me to implement. I was not taking God seriously enough.

Another Lying Down moment was when my wife and I were on an anniversary trip in St. Thomas, VI. We went to dinner and I ordered a tasty mixed drink. Then, I ordered a second one. After dinner I went upstairs to the restroom. As I stood at the sink washing my hands, I became lightheaded and broke out in a cold sweat. Fortunately, there was a nice leather couch just outside the restrooms area. As I lay there on that couch sweating out toxins, the Lord began to speak to me: “In 1995, you told Me you were never going to drink again.  I didn’t make the requirement; you made it for yourself. Soon, you decided you would drink only on your anniversary, and only champaign on those occasions. A few years later, on an anniversary trip, you decided you would have a Dos Equis, because the commercials were so cool. But you found that it was just beer. Tonight, you drank liquor.” As I lay there, this scripture came to mind:  If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.(Numbers 30:2)

In 2002, my primary ministry having for years been music (singer, songwriter, choir director and worship leader), I began doing more and more preaching. Still, most people who knew me referred to me as a singer, rather than a preacher. One day I said to God, “Lord I want to be known as a preacher, not a singer.” In a matter of weeks, nodules formed on my vocal cords, and I could neither sing nor speak. The Lord healed me a few months later, and these words came to my mind: “Don’t despise the gifts of the Lord.” I also realized the basis of my prayer had been way off. My focus was on what people thought of me as, when it should’ve been on whether I was doing and being what God wanted. 

I don’t believe God punishes His children – those who believe in His Son. Whatever punishment we deserve, Jesus endured for us on the cross. But I do believe God corrects us. He wants us to experience the very best possible life, and we cannot do that by getting off the track that He designs and wants for us, and to which He calls us. He loves us enough to correct us, so we can become what He gloriously desires for us to be. I tried to do the same for my children, but I wasn’t nearly as wise or as loving as He is. I’m glad I have a Father perfect in both love and wisdom, and I’m thankful for His hand of correction in my life!

I thank the Lord for the part of life I call Lying Down!

Hebrews 12:5-11 says:

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” 

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

6 Nuggets of Advice from the Story of Gideon

Gideon’s story is a great read for someone whose resume doesn’t show great accomplishment or prowess of some kind. That’s why I, personally, love Gideon’s story. My resume isn’t impressive, but my God is. While I’m inadequate in and of myself, I believe God can and will use me somehow to do things of great significance. I bet some of you believe the same about yourself. I want to share six pieces of advice I see inferred in the record of how God used a seemingly below average person for epic accomplishment. The account of Gideon spans chapters 6, 7, and 8 of the book of Judges. For the sake of space, I won’t include that entire passage. It would be worthwhile to read those chapters now. I’ll include here just the verses pertinent to each piece of advice.

First, a little background. The Israelites have been under Midianite oppression for seven years. 

Why? Because the Israelites, once again, despite God’s multiple warnings to serve only Him and not the gods of the people groups in the land, turned away from worshiping Jehovah God, who had delivered them out of Egyptian bondage and into the land He had promised their forefathers. 

What did Midianite oppression look like? The Midianites, as well as a few allied people groups, stole the Israelites’ crops as soon as they became ripe for harvest, leaving almost nothing for the Israelites to eat or feed their livestock. It was as if they had the Israelites under siege. Only, they didn’t surround them, as if they would a walled city. Rather, they infiltrated their land. We find Gideon hiding some wheat he’s gotten his hands onto, threshing it in a winepress, when the Lord comes to him.

  1. Relinquish your old identity and embrace the identity God offers you.

From Judges 6:

12 And the Angel of the Lord appeared to [Gideon], and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!”…14 “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites”…15 “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” 

The contrast is stark. God calls Gideon “mighty man of valor”, but Gideon rejects the identity that  the God of infinite wisdom offers him and argues that he is, essentially, the smallest of the small, weakest of the weak. By the time the story ends, Gideon understands that he is who God said he is. But God is looking for people who will believe what He says by faith – before He demonstrates that it’s true.

A few weeks ago, I was having a crisis of identity. Still recovering from a stroke, I awoke one morning and said, “Lord, I wish I could just skip this whole day to the point of lying right here ready to go to sleep again.I don’t want to go through the things I have scheduled today with my physical limitations. I’d like to just skip the entire day” Then, I realized that thought seemed a whole lot like depression. Never having faced real depression before, I became deeply disappointed in myself. I decided it would be wise to tell my wife where I had been mentally that morning, so I did. Then, because I was embarrassed by it, I became even more disappointed in myself. How could I be so weak? I thought I was a lot tougher than that! It wasn’t long, just a few minutes, before a friend, Tex, rang my doorbell. He said I had been on his mind and he just had to come see me. I told him I had been struggling that day with being disappointed in myself. He said, “Gabriel, I’m going to call you what God called Gideon. Do you remember what He said?” I did, and I quoted that verse. “That’s right, Tex replied, “ You’re a mighty man of valor. Regardless of what you think about yourself, with God, you are mighty.”

My wife and I have been watching season one of the Alone series. Ten guys are dropped off on a Canadian island near Alaska. Whoever lasts the longest gets $500,000. So far, three guys have left the island, none for physical reasons, like hunger, cold or injury. The first two left for fear of animals, understandable, with bears, wolves and cougars around their tents at night. The third guy left because he was disappointed in himself for losing his fire steel. One of the successfully remaining guys on the island said he has to forgive himself every day for the mistakes he made that day . But he’s doing it and he’s surviving. I wonder how many challenges we won’t survive if we don’t see ourselves forgiven, a huge part of our identity in Christ.

  1. When God calls you to something great, it will start with adjustments in your worship life.

Judges 6:25-27 Now it came to pass the same night that the Lord said to him, “Take your father’s young bull, the second bull of seven years old, and tear down the altar of Baal that your father has, and cut down the wooden image that is beside it; 26 and build an altar to the Lord your God on top of this rock in the proper arrangement, and take the second bull and offer a burnt sacrifice with the wood of the image which you shall cut down.” 27 So Gideon took ten men from among his servants and did as the Lord had said to him. But because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city too much to do it by day, he did it by night. 

God was about to use Gideon to deliver His people from the Midianites. But first things first. Before the deliverance, before the miracle, before Gideon’s military victory, he needed to remove Baal and restore the altar of Jehovah. It just doesn’t make sense to expect God to give us victory when we haven’t established Him as our God.

  1. Don’t be surprised by a third party identity; be prepared to reject it and cling to the identity God has given you.

Judges 6:23 Therefore on that day [a townsman] called [Gideon] Jerubbaal, saying, “Let Baal plead against him, because he has torn down his altar.” 

Gideon’s neighbors literally changed his name to Jerubbaal (meaning, essentially, he no longer stands with Baal). Gideon saw himself as small and weak. While that wasn’t the same way God saw him, neither was this identity assigned him by his kinsmen. They saw him simply as someone who no longer stood for Baal. That was part of who he was, but only part. He was also someone who stood victoriously with Jehovah.

When we come to Christ, some people will see us merely as someone who left an old lifestyle. While we do leave some things behind, that isn’t what defines us. We now embrace the identity we have in Christ.

  1. Don’t require God to make you great before your battle; instead, depend on His greatness.

Judges 7:2-5 And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands, lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ 3 Now therefore, proclaim in the hearing of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and afraid, let him turn and depart at once from Mount Gilead.'” And twenty-two thousand of the people returned, and ten thousand remained. 4 But the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many; bring them down to the water, and I will test them for you there. Then it will be, that of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ the same shall go with you; and of whomever I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ the same shall not go.” 5 So he brought the people down to the water.

God took the thirty-two thousand troops and whittled them down to three hundred. He wanted the victory to be an undeniable miracle, not just a victory. I hope we can remember that God can give us victories any way He desires; we just need to allow Him to bring it His way and for His purposes. That may sometimes involve actions on our part that seem counterintuitive to victory but are exactly what God is leading.

  1. Seek the encouragement you need for your battle in the Lord, Himself.

Judges 7:9-15 It happened on the same night that the Lord said to him, “Arise, go down against the camp, for I have delivered it into your hand. 10 But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant, 11 and you shall hear what they say; and afterward your hands shall be strengthened to go down against the camp.” Then he went down with Purah his servant to the outpost of the armed men who were in the camp. 12 Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude. 13 And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.” 14 Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.” 15 And so it was, when Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, that he worshiped. 

The Lord knows when we need encouragement, and He knows how to give it to us. He will encourage us in a different way, and a more effective way, than anyone else can. 

  1. Break the cycles of futility in your life by continuing to walk with God and resisting the temptation to return to your old patterns.

Judges 8:27 Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house. 

Despite Gideon’s incredible experience with God, he returned to idolatry, making a golden idol for himself and his Israelite brothers and sisters to worship. It’s puzzling to read the cycles of unfaithfulness in the Biblical narrative. But if we were to read the narrative of our own lives with God, I believe what would impress us most is God’s patience with us in our inconsistent walk with Him.

Thank you, Lord, for advice from the story of Gideon.  Please help me take it.

Two or Three Witnesses

 When the Lord established the law through Moses for the nation of Israel, He included this:

By the mouths of two or three witnesses [a] matter shall be established” – Deuteronomy 19:15

This rule requiring two or three witnesses to establish whether a claim was true is similar to the requirement in our, and other judicial, legal systems. It prevents a party from successfully making a claim against another without supporting evidence. That’s a good thing. I only wish we, as individuals – each of us acting as judge in establishing matters in our own heart for ourselves – would be so prudent in drawing our conclusions. We often decide what we’re going to believe after exposure to the first claim somebody makes, especially if we want that claim to be true. But here’s how ridiculous it is to make decisions so prematurely:

Imagine you’ve been falsely accused of hurting someone, so you lawyer up and go to court to defend yourself against the accusation. The judge announces that he will hear your case and invites your accuser to state the charges they’re bringing against you. Your accuser’s attorney stands up and makes his opening statement. After that attorney finishes his statement, the judge thanks him, announces recess for deliberation, bangs the gavel and exits the courtroom posthaste. Baffled, you ask your attorney why the judge didn’t give your counsel a chance to speak. Is the judge really going to decide the case after hearing only one side? Your attorney is as puzzled as you are. The judge soon re-enters the room and returns to the bench. He hammers the gavel and calls the court to order. Then he announces that he finds you, the accused, guilty of the charge and hands down your sentence.

As preposterous as that scenario is, it happens everyday as people run across information. Thus, false news is having a field day. My favorite president, who, himself, had a pretty good understanding of both the law and how gullible people can be, gives us some timely advice:

That’s funny. But what isn’t funny is that many people have concluded that Jesus Christ isn’t worth considering to have risen from the grave. The cultural currents testify against Jesus being who the Bible says He is, so it’s as easy to assume Him to be a fraud as it is to believe a person’s guilty by reading about accusations against them on your news feeds. Here’s what Jesus said to His twelve closest disciples not long before He surrendered to Jewish and Roman officials for crucifixion:

John 15:26-27

“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.  27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.

Jesus was, essentially, calling His disciples to the witness stand in the trial we each would hold in our heart to decide what we’ll do with Jesus. Jesus also said the Holy Spirit would testify. The New Testament is the testimony of the disciples, each book having been written by either an apostle or a person writing for an apostle. So when we read the Bible (the New Testament shedding light on the Old Testament), we are getting the testimony of the apostles. That’s the first witness. And the second is the Holy Spirit. As we seek the truth of God in His Word, the Holy Spirit bears witness of it in our hearts. The Spirit of God speaks to our most inner self, and He speaks in a way that we unmistakably understand the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden for us in God’s Word. I love the way the Spirit of God opens my eyes to see and understand something God is saying specifically to me for that moment.  The Holy Spirit lets me know without a doubt who Jesus is. He corroborates the testimony of the apostles. As each of us holds court in the chamber of our heart, we have two corroborating witnesses to help us know the truth. But remember, God gave Moses the requirement of two or three witnesses. The third witness may or may not be needed from case to case. I believe the third witness, as people seek to know the truth about Jesus, is a person (or people) who came to know Him after He walked on the earth. So the original apostles, the Holy Spirit, and contemporary disciples – that’s the three witnesses as people judge who Jesus is and how to respond to Him.

My prayer is that Jesus is being established in the hearts of more and more people by these two or three witnesses.

“Gospel” in Context

Many words in the Bible are misunderstood. Gospel is one of those words. A Google search of the word, brings up music in that style, Kirk Franklin heading the list of artists – Can I get a witness up in here? Most people would say it’s a religious term. And it is. But it wasn’t in its original use. Probably, most people familiar with the Bible and Christianity know that it means good news. But probably, most of them don’t know the specific kind of good news for which it was used during and before New Testament times. This English word gospel comes from a Greek word that transliterates to our word evangelism. It represented the good news, which wasn’t always good, or even true, that came along with the establishment of a new government, kingdom or regime over a people. 

The Roman Empire established their dominance over Israel in 63 B.C. So by the time Jesus began His earthly ministry around 26 A.D., Rome had been in power over Israel for more than sixty years. That generation of Jews had been living under the “good news” of Rome for all that time when Jesus introduced them to a different good news – His good news. Jesus’ gospel contrasted greatly from Rome’s or any other kingdom’s. If Rome sent a herald to Jerusalem after General Pompey’s successful siege of the city in 63 B.C., he probably announced something to this effect: 

Ceasar is in power here and you are now subjects of the Roman Empire. This is good news for you if you are wealthy, for you can purchase positions of power. This is also good news to you if you are ambitious, for you can collect taxes for Ceasar and become rich. If you are part of the Herod dynasty, this is good news for you, for you will reign over Judea under the authority of Ceasar.

We can see how different Jesus’ gospel was when He announced it to Jewish people in this way:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:3 NKJV)

Strong’s defines the poor in this verse as beggar. So Jesus was speaking of beggars for spiritual things. The thing about beggars is that they’re aware of their need and they’re willing to ask for help. Here’s a verbal characature of what a spiritual beggar could look like in our culture: You’re driving in your car and you roll up to a red light at an intersection. You see a man who looks like he’s probably homeless holding a homemade cardboard sign. You assume the sign says something like: 

Homeless Veteran. 

Need Money for Food

God bless. 

But you look at the sign and the words are: 

Terrible sinner

Need forgiveness

Want to be reconciled with God

That’s the person who thrives in the Kingdom of Heaven, not the rich (those who think they’re self sufficient and don’t need God), or the ambitious (those who pursue earthly wealth and have no desire for the eternal blessings that God gives), or the powerful (those who see themselves as better than others)

Jesus’ gospel is good news for those of us who know we need God’s forgiveness, believe that Jesus rose from the grave after paying our sin debt on a Roman cross, and surrender our lives to become members of His eternal family and kingdom.

 There’s a Christian song from the nineties that goes “I believe the good Lord helps those who cry for help.” Very true. That’s the gospel.

And the Best Father Award Goes to…

Who’s the best father in the Bible? As I thought through the Biblical narrative this past Father’s Day weekend, I couldn’t think of a sterling example, other than the Heavenly Father, Himself. There isn’t all that much recorded, good or bad, about the fatherly practices of the Biblical paternal personalities. What is there, it seems, is mostly negative. Indeed, that’s one of the self-validating qualities of the Bible. If the human authors of the Bible weren’t writing the truth, wouldn’t they have cast themselves in a more impressive light? Jacob played favorites among his thirteen children, as did his father, Isaac, among his two. Lot offered up his two daughters to the evil men of Sodom to have their wicked way with them, protector not his strongest fatherly role. Saul once said to his son, Jonathan, “you stupid son of a whore”, not the best way to encourage your child. David had a son, Adonijah, whom he never disciplined, not even to ask, “Why are you doing that?” In the era of the divided kingdom, neither nation, Israel nor Judah, recorded a Godly king who actively prepared his son to succeed him as a Godly king. In the New Testament, Joseph, the earthly stepfather of Jesus, showed some strong qualities, like protecting his family when King Herod ordered all babies around Jesus’ age killed. But to find the winner of the Best Father Award, I had to look at someone who wasn’t a real person, at all. He’s a fictional character in one of Jesus’ best known parables. He does symbolize the Heavenly Father in the story, so he’s obviously a positive figure.

May I have the envelope?…Drum roll please….

And the winner is…

…the father of the prodigal son. His example is recorded in Luke 15:

Luke 15:11-31

To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. 12 The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. 

13 “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. 14 About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. 15 He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. 16 The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. 

17 “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, 19 and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”‘ 

20 “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. 21 His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ 

22 “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. 23 And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, 24 for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. 

25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, 26 and he asked one of the servants what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ 

28 “The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, 29 but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. 30 Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ 

31 “His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. (Luke 15:11-31, NLT)

Here are the qualities I see in this father:

  1. He was generous to his sons. When his younger son made the very bold request to receive his inheritance early, the dad accommodated his request. We could question the wisdom of the dad’s decision, but his gift to his son shows that generosity trumped distrust for his son, and answering his son’s request took priority over conservation of wealth. God hasn’t required perfect wisdom from me before giving me resources. He’s placed gifts into my hands knowing I would mismanage them. Surely, there are times when we say no to our children’s requests, but sometimes, like our Father, we’ll place resources into incapable hands as an opportunity to teach our kids to be wise stewards of their resources. And the way we’ll always make the right decision is to seek and follow God’s counsel. He won’t lead us into stinginess; there’ll be a really good reason when we say no, but the Holy Spirit will always steer us right. It’s also significant that the older son never lost anything through the whole ordeal.
  2. He was patient with his sons. How the dad stayed home during a famine in a nearby region where his son was likely to be, I don’t know. As an earthly dad, it shows his trust in God to take care of his son. As a symbol of Father God, it shows his patience to wait for his child to return to him in his hour of need. It’s been a difficult thing for me to release my kids to God’s care, instead of mine, when I knew they were making some foolish decisions. God once spoke to me concerning one of my kids whose life I wanted to involve myself and fix for them. He said, “The reason you feel like you need to fix this is because you don’t trust Me to do it.” From that moment I understood that God had a role that I couldn’t fill and I had the very small yet vital role of praying, trusting, and clearly showing love to my child.
  3. He remained mindful of his estranged son. He was obviously keeping a watchful eye out for his son’s much anticipated return. How else would he have seen him when he was still a long way off from home? A good father will never forget or neglect his children. He has a place in his heart that cannot become empty, no matter what. Those most pained parents who’ve lost a child know that’s true.
  4. He celebrated his son. There was plenty of need for correction and retraining. But the hour of his son’s return wasn’t the time for it. This was the time to celebrate that he still had his son, that he was alive, and he was home. It’s so easy to allow negative things to compromise celebration. Something I’ve learned is that when it’s time to celebrate, celebrate. There’s a time to deal with corrective matters, but it’s not during celebration. I learned that from Nehemiah, when he made the people stop weeping when they realized they had not been keeping God’s law. Essentially, he told them they would deal with their guilt later, but now was the time for joy and they couldn’t forfeit that because the joy of the Lord was their strength. As parents, we need to not muddy the waters for our kids. There are times when we want to affirm their very life, existence, and place in our family, and that’s not the time to talk about the bad report card or the speeding ticket.
  5. He was a peacemaker. Every decent father wants his kids to love each other and live in harmony with one another. Jesus expressed that as a top priority for us as children in the family of Christ, And we all want that for our own kids. The father in Luke 15 fielded his older son’s complaint by affirming that son’s rightful place as his heir while helping him see the value of having his younger brother alive and home.

Congratulations to our winner, the Father of the Prodigal Son! You’ve left us an awesome example of how to parent a prodigal child, how to parent a non-prodigal child, and how to parent both at the same time. Of course, you are a fictitional figure created by the Son of God and patterned after the Heavenly Father, so all the credit really goes to them. Of course, you won’t mind that. Given your known qualities, you’re doubtless a humble man, and you want credit to go where it’s due. Nevertheless, congrats to you. And thanks to God! And another congrats to all us fathers (and moms) who learn and apply your lessons!

3 Tips for Christians Navigating the Sea of Preachers Galore


I recently watched American Gospel on Netflix. It’s a documentary that compares the gospel of the Bible to the gospel going out from many pulpits in America today. I enjoyed watching, and I agree with a vast majority of its perspectives. I certainly recommend it to anyone who wants a better understanding of what the Bible teaches in comparison to what many well known preachers preach, and I especially recommend it to those newer to the faith who haven’t established a strong foundation of Biblical literacy. The thought that kept coming to my mind as I watched it, was, “Wow! People really need to know the true Gospel themselves.” That’s the only way we’ll be safe from those who would lead us astray. So I want to offer three tips to help navigate the waters that are teeming with preachers with varying degrees of error that our enemy can use to pull us off course:

Tip #1 – Don’t over-delegate your discipleship. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Philippi Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not in my presence only,but now much more  in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12) The main point of this instruction was that they should take responsibility for their own discipleship, and not require someone looking over their shoulders. I believe the most important word in this verse is own. They needed to own their relationship with God and pursue their growth in, and service to, Him. Paul didn’t want that responsibility. It was theirs. He couldn’t assume it. Paul certainly had a role in their lives in Christ. He introduced many of them to Him during his visit there, a fascinating story found in Acts chapter 16. He mentioned in the Philippians 2:12 verse their obedience. They had obeyed Paul’s instruction, and he admonished them to continue in that obedience. But Paul was being used by God to establish timeless doctrine, and his letter to them would be of such authority that it would be included in the New Testament canon. Every Christian should know that no person since the age of the apostle Paul and the twelve apostles present in Acts chapter 2 has the authority to instruct believers in such a way. Ephesians 4:11 makes it clear that God gives some people to serve in the roles of apostles (Paul and the other Twelve of Acts 2), evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers. Their calling and responsibility is to equip the saints, which means every believer. But those equippers are held to a very high standard and should carry out their ministries according to Scripture.

Tip #2 – Gain a complete understanding of the Biblical Gospel.  At least a dozen times, I’ve heard teachers use the analogy of the counterfeit checkers. The way the checkers are trained is by studying real money for so long that they know exactly what real money looks like. Then, when they see a counterfeit bill, the difference jumps out at them. That’s the way we’ll detect non-Biblical doctrine – by studying God’s Word so thoroughly that a teacher of false doctrine stands out as such. We don’t have to wait for someone to expose the counterfeit because God’s Word, that we’ve hidden in our heart, has exposed them. Being able to detect erroneous teachers isn’t the main reason we study God’s Word, but it’s a good reason. The main reason we study is to get to know God better and to know what He wants for us. By the way, it’s also a great idea to get the counsel and perspectives of other Christian leaders and peers. And most important is the counsel of the Holy Spirit, which He’ll give to us if we ask Him in prayer.

Tip #3 – Discern a Preachers’ Doctrine. I recently had a student at a Christian university ask what I thought about Joel Osteen. One of the student’s professors had warned his students about Osteen and the student’s dad disagreed with the professor. Incidentally, the Netflix documentary put a pretty big target on Osteen’s back, as well. I don’t have as big of a problem with Joel Osteen. He isn’t where I would go to gain a complete understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which includes repentance from sin and full surrender to God’s plan for me – rather than trying to fit God into my plan – as well as His forgiveness and unmerited favor. But when I was recently battling discouragement during a long, slow recovery after suffering a major stroke, I searched out a few Osteen sermons on YouTube and they were just the encouragement I needed. I’m not saying I swallow everything Joel says, but neither do I always agree perfectly with the way many mainstream preachers word things. The key is that I’ve been a student of, and communicator of, God’s Word for many years. I’ve studied academically and devotionally, and that has given me a solid foundation of understanding with which to discern when I run across  some bad doctrine. The point is that we should work to understand God’s Word and be in step with the Holy Spirit so that we can discern truth and non-truth ourselves without having to rely completely on someone else to catch troublesome doctrine for us. Paul also invited his Corinthian church members, Imitate me as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1) This is the man who wrote one-third of the books in the New Testament encouraging believers to imitate his life, but only to the extent that he imitated Jesus’ life. How were they to discern when Paul’s model might part ways with the model Jesus exhibited? They must know the Way themselves. Let us know the Way ourselves, as is laid out in God’s Word. And let us imitate only as the Christ of Scripture is modeled for us.

Dear Class of 2020

Dear Class of 2020,

First, congratulations! High school wasn’t easy. Neither were the years of pre-high school, for that matter. We all tend to look at those coming along behind us with very little sympathy. “We went through those challenges, we tell ourselves, “and we made it through, so what’s the big deal? They’ll survive.” Of course, ours were tougher, and so were we, because we had neither shoes nor buses, it was always snowing, and ours was a time when everywhere we walked was uphill. The true story is that those school years were tough. They were tough for me, and they were tough for you. The hard thing about those times was that we were constantly told what to do. Our parents, teachers, school administrators, lunchroom supervisors, librarians, coaches, and upperclassmen took every opportunity to keep us in line. Oh, we’ll still have rules in the post-high school world, and there’ll be plenty of people with the authority  and responsibility to enforce those rules – bosses, professors, law enforcement officers. But we have a little more wiggle room. We still face consequences for bad decisions, but we aren’t quite so micromanaged as  we were in school. Don’t get me wrong. We needed the tight leash during our school years. It kept us on track for development and maturity, and, let’s be honest, in some cases, it kept us alive. But it was tough – the tight leash. Congratulations for graduating from that!

I graduated from Lakewood High School forty years ago on June 6th. Class of ’80 – whoo-yeah! While your senior year and graduation experience is unique, your class and mine do have a couple of things in common. I entered the first grade in 1968. Segregation of schools according to race had been ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court fourteen years before then. But our school system didn’t desegregate until the 1969-70 school year. My first grade class  of about seventy students consisted of only two African American students, and the rest white. My understanding is that attending a school comprised predominantly of a race different from a student’s own was still voluntary that year. My second grade class was about 55% white and 45% African American. Schools in my area were fully integrated that year. I was oblivious to it at the time.  It wasn’t until  I was an adult studying civil rights history that I remembered the difference between those first and second grade classes. 

Obviously, race was a huge issue in my day. The Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 made discrimination illegal, but there was still a lot of racial tension in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I’m sorry to say, Class of 2020, that we never have resolved those racial tension issues. I wish I could say we had, but you know better. The reason we haven’t resolved it is because we never, as a national people, resolved in our hearts to resolve it in our nation. So, my challenge to you is to do that. Do what we should’ve done but didn’t do. Resolve in your hearts to resolve the race problem in our land. Forty years from now, if you write a letter to the Class of 2060, I hope you can say you  resolved the racial tension issue, so they won’t have to.

Class of 2020, I have one more challenge for you. It’s even more important than the race related one, and it’s around another issue I wish I had done differently. The most important question we will ever answer is: what is your relationship with God like? I discovered the love and power of Jesus Christ in 1983, and I surrendered my life to Him. I wish I had done it sooner, and that I had been more completely committed to Him every day of my walk with Him. I ask you, Class of 2020, to ask God to show you who Jesus really is and what that has to do with you. Then, read the Bible (the book of John is the best place to start.) and let Him reveal Himself to you as you read. Once you come to understand who He is, surrender your life to Him. You’ll be entering an everlasting relationship with Him that will include life, peace, and joy. That’s my challenge to you, and this is my letter to you. Congratulations and may God bless you more than you can imagine!

With Love,

Gabriel Tew

Kneeling Wars

May 25

When I picture in my mind what Hell will be like, I see people writhing in pain that won’t go away. They twist and squirm, cry and cry out, but there’s no comfort to be found, just unending struggle. The demons, for whom Hell was created, are both suffering and inflicting the suffering. When I saw the video of George Floyd, his neck being pressed into the pavement of a Minneapolis street, as he kept turning his head trying to find some relief from the strangulation of the kneeling police officer’s knee pressing down onto George’s neck, slowly and painfully strangling him to death, I saw a man going through Hell. A massive demon, his prickly spine under his slimy skin, was perched upon the shoulders of Officer Chauvin. The demon covered the officer’s ears with his massive wings to shut out the voices that were pleading for George’s life. The demon briefly uncovered Chauvin’s ears, and another spirit whispered to him with an eerily gruff voice, “Don’t listen to them! You’re the authority here!” Then the perched demon covered the policeman’s ears again. High above the ground was a cloud of dark spirits swirling like a cyclone, blocking the light of the sun, and covering the whole sky, casting a dark shadow over the entire city. Every few seconds, a different spirit would swoop down to whisper words of hatred, pride and murder, as the one assigned to Chauvin availed Chauvin’s ears for a new hellish message from a cohort. With each demonic message, “he deserves it!“…”show him no mercy!”…”Kneel harder”…”If he dies, he dies!”…Chauvin’s resolve hardened, as did his knee in George’s neck. Finally, George experienced the thing Hell loves most: death.

May 31

Dispatched from the very throne room of God, powerful angels of light streaked downward, leaving a trail of fire behind them. Their orders were to minister life to the city of their destination: Miami, FL. U.S.  They descended to one hundred feet above the earth and formed a fiery, brilliant cloud that illuminated all of Miami. Down below, crowds had gathered on the streets to protest. Dispatched from the city’s highest authority, police officers stood, ready to maintain order. The mighty Michael called seven of the most effective angels: humility, contrition, encouragement, service, friendship, empathy “To the officers! Speak the love of the King!” The seven chosen spirits of light dropped majestically onto seven of the officers of the Miami PD. They landed softly and spoke clearly into their ears, “Humble yourself”…“Feel their pain.”…“Tell them you’re sorry.”…”Comfort them.”… “They’re not your enemy.” The angels spoke not as forceful commands, but as suggestions. And the Miami police officers took their every suggestion. The officers knelt and apologized from their hearts. Michael had also assigned hundreds of angels to communicate to the protesters. Their message? Forgive. And forgive they did. Officers and protesters embraced each other, held each other, showed kindness to one another, and cried together. Michael and the other angels maintained their lofty position to fight off any of the angels of darkness that might come to confuse, but they never came. They knew, from experience with Michael and the Heavenly host, that they were outmatched. The sky shone brighter in Miami that day than anywhere else in the world. And Heaven drank from the cups of the victories it seeks most: Love and Life.

Hell gained a kneeling war victory in Minneapolis last week and Heaven won one in Miami. But the kneeling wars are not over, and I’m enlisting in the service of the Heavenly King. Kneeling, I ask you, God, to help our nation heal, send spirits of love and life and give them voices louder than the ones of their hellish foes. Satan, I have something to say to you! Still kneeling in honor of God, my victorious King, I speak to you in the name of Jesus, the one sent to free us from your hateful clutches, the one who gave His life to completely disarm you and render you defeated. You have no place in our lives or in our nation! I command you with the authority given to me by Almighty God through my friendship with His Son, Jesus, to be silent! You are a false-accusing, destructive deceiver, and your lies are not welcome in the ears of the people of this land! So be silent! And I, still kneeling now, have something to say to my African-American fellow citizens. I’m sorry for the way our country has treated you. Your ancestors were enslaved under a banner of freedom for all people. I’m sorry! I’m sorry that, after slavery was outlawed in our land, several states passed laws to limit your freedom to earn, learn, travel, dine, socialize, own and vote in the way your white neighbors could. I’m sorry your parents and grandparents were held down in a disadvantaged position, unable to give their children many of the opportunities my white friends and I enjoyed. I’m sorry you were stripped of your dignity in front of your families, and I commend so many of my African-American friends for the way you have carried yourselves in the face of discrimination. I’m sorry for the voices of hate hurled against you like a dagger into your heart. I’m sorry for the crimes committed against you, especially the ones that went unpunished and even unacknowledged. I’m sorry for the police brutality and discrimination you’ve endured from our legal system. I’m sorry for the faint voice  you’ve heard that says you’re inferior. You, most certainly, are not! That’s the voice of Satan, regardless of what person’s lips have spoken it, and he is the father of lies. You’re as valuable, as intelligent, as favored by God as any race has ever been! In fact, because of your troubles and trials, you are beneficiaries of a special love and favor from God! He has plans for you! Your tomorrow is Life in God. 

Finally, I’d like to say something to my friends who would criticize me for this post: Don’t bother. Instead, please join me in kneeling for victory.

Acknowledgement: Thanks and credit to Frank E. Peretti, author of This Present Darkness, Piercing the Darkness, Tilly, and The Cooper Kids Adventure Series and more. While I didn’t quote any of his material here, I definitely borrowed his style of describing activity in the spirit realm. I just happened to be re-reading This Present Darkness last week, and its influence on this week’s blog is unmistakable.

The Last Dance

Sunday night, a week ago, finished up The Last Dance series on ESPN, a documentary covering the 1997-98 season of the NBA’s Chicago Bulls. That was the last of the six championship seasons for Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Management decided before the season that it would be coach Phil Jackson’s final season and that they would dismantle and rebuild after that season. So, in an effort to unify and motivate his players for one final run at an NBA title, Phil dubbed the season The Last Dance, which was an ingenious way  of creating a very effective us-against-them mindset, even if – or, especially if – the them was the Bulls front office.

The series was really good. No real surprises for me, though. I’m five months older than Michael Jordan, a third generation Tarheel basketball fan, and an NBA fan since I was eight years old. I’ve followed Michael closely from the first time he wore a Dean Smith uniform and saw every game of his pro career that I could possibly watch, even in the nineties, when we had anywhere from one to three at a time in diapers, my wife and me working  full-time, and both of us super-involved in church ministry. So I knew very well Michael’s fierce-competitor, do-whatever-to-win approach to the game, along with his superhuman athleticism and unstoppable skill set. And make no mistake, while other prominent figures – like Phil, Scottie, Kraus and Rodman – were duly featured, The Last Dance spotlight shone warmly where it belonged – on Michael. I count it a privilege to have witnessed MJ play through his entire career, and I’ve honestly thanked God for scheduling my time on earth to correlate with Michael’s. Aside from the beauty of his airness’ artistry of scoring so acrobatically against multiple defenders and the poetry he wrote with his game-winning heroics, he was a perfect model of talent meets determination meets work ethic for anyone from any walk of life.  Someone said in the series You could argue that Michael Jordan was better at his job than anyone has ever been at their job. I agree, with the single exception of Jesus Christ, who is the exception to an undeterminable number of otherwise strong best-ever arguments.

Speaking of Jesus, please read what He said, as recorded in the book of Luke (I added the emphasis on what is the main point of His lesson):

“There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods.  2 So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ 

3 “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.  4 I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ 

5 “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’  6 And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’  7 Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’  8 So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light

This is the most difficult to understand of all Jesus’ thirty parables. But it helps to realize that He used a negative model for a positive application. The negative is that the steward used his shrewdness to steal from his master once he learned it was, for his stewardship, the last dance. The positive application is that we should be so shrewd in making life-after-stewardship-preparations for ourselves (life on earth being our stewardship era, and the preparations being giving ourselves completely to serving God and people). After all, life being a vapor, our gig could be up at any time. We could be in our very own last dance.

Jesus’ point is that we can learn lessons from people who are successful in worldly pursuits, and we can apply those lessons to our pursuits in His Kingdom.

Dishonest Steward’s Model: He stole from his master and gave what he’d stolen to his master’s debtors, so they would be kind to him after he lost his position as steward.

Our Takeaway: Be generous with the resources available to us in this life; by doing so, we are making an investment in eternity and our return on investment will be exponentially favorable.

Not Our Takeaway: Obviously, Jesus isn’t encouraging us to ever be dishonest in our dealings. Nor is He suggesting that we ever steal from anyone.

And here are some lessons we can take from Michael Jordan, the greatest of all time (GOAT) in basketball history.

GOAT’s Model: MJ used anything he could find to boost his motivation to dominate his opponents. For example, Karl Malone, of the Utah Jazz was league MVP one year, and Jordan took offense to that, wanting to prove in the championship series against Utah that year that Jordan was the better player who would lead his team to the championship over Malone’s team.

Our Takeaway: Any time our enemy (ungodliness) enjoys some success, we can use that as added motivation to serve and glorify God with great intensity and determination.

Not Our Takeaway: We never want to use another person’s success as motivation to better them. That’s covetousness. As followers of Christ, we can’t find motivation in just anything. Our top priority is to guard our hearts. A pure heart is more important to us than accomplishments superior to another person’s.

GOAT’s Model: It’s well documented that Michael raised his teammates’ level of play by challenging them in team practices, to the point of bullying them.

Our Takeaway: We should look for opportunities to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ in their faith. We all need each other’s help. We’re all members of the Body of Christ and we should proactively help the body by helping a member.

Not Our Takeaway: A domineering approach to motivating someone is not Christlike. Concerning how to become a great leader, Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant.” There we go… servant leadership is the style God wants for us.

GOAT’s Model: Michael was single-minded in his pursuit of winning championships and wanted to win at all costs.

Our Takeaway: How awesome it would be if we were so single-minded about bringing glory to God and about helping people come to know Him as their Savior, Lord and King.

Not Our Takeaway: While we are called to deny ourselves and take up our cross to follow Christ, we need to decide that offending others by being unkind to them isn’t a cost we’re willing to pay.

What would my life (and my and others’ eternities) look like if I were as single-minded and all-in concerning the objectives God has called me to as Michael was concerning his objectives? Again, thank You, God, for providing for me such a model as Michael Jordan. Please help me to apply those lessons to my life in Your Kingdom!