Discovering True Friends

Last week I shared that a mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! I believe a keyword in this statement is realizes. Once we realize that we are in a trough, what will help us turn our mourning into praise? In a word: meditation. 

Notice Asaph’s words at the beginning of Psalm 77. Twice he says he “cried out” to God. This literally means that he called aloud, not caring who heard him. It wasn’t a whimper, but Asaph said he was “distressed.” As soon as he realized the distressed state he was in, notice the words of meditation in the next four verses: 

  • remembered (2x) 
  • mused (2x) 
  • thought 
  • inquired 

Asaph also began to ask himself questions, all of which have the obvious answer “NO”:

  • Will the Lord reject me forever? NO! 
  • Will He never show His favor again? NO!
  • Has His unfailing love vanished forever? NO!
  • Has His promise failed for all time? NO! 
  • Has God forgotten to be merciful? NO! 
  • Has He in anger withheld His compassion? NO! 

Again, Asaph meditates (notice the words thought, remember, meditate, and consider once again in the next three verses). His conclusion leads him not to self-pity, but to praising God.

Asaph taught us that when we get our eyes off ourselves we can see what God is doing in us, around us, and through us. 

One lesson I learned in a very dark night time of my life: Who my true friends are. When all my “fans” stopped cheering and started jeering, I ended up in a very dark place. But as soon as I realized the valley I was in and began to meditate on God’s presence even in this dark place, I began to see what was happening around me. One of the things I saw were two men who stood up for me against all the foes attacking me. They stepped in when all my “fans” stepped away. 

The apostle Paul had the same realization in the dark night of his Roman prison cell. He stated, “at my first defense no one came to my support.” But he also saw those who stood by his side: Luke, Timothy, and Mark.

Dark times can quickly lead us to self-pity UNLESS we will realize we are in a dark place and begin to meditate on all that God says in His Word about His faithfulness. Once we get our eyes off ourselves and onto Him, we will begin to see the lessons God is teaching and the amazing things He is accomplishing. 

I can be thankful IN the night because the dark nights have shown me my true friends. 

If you’ve missed any of the messages in this series, you can find them all by clicking here. 

Praising God In The Troughs

Some people mistakenly think that the maturity of a Christian is a steady climb, and anything short of that is not God-honoring. They feel the graph has to always be moving up and to the right. In reality—if we zoom in—we will see lots of peaks and troughs that are in the climb. 

For instance, we read the worship leader of Psalm 42 saying, “By day the Lord directs His love, at night His song is with me—a prayer to the God of my life,” and we think, “Yeah, that’s what I expect from a saintly psalmist!” 

But let’s get the context. In the opening verses, this same worship leader talks about his profound thirst, his tears, and the taunts of his enemies. Twice in this psalm, he laments, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” 

Many people have gone through what has been called “the dark night of the soul.” I doubt anyone has ever given thanks because of those dark times, but they have learned to give thanks during those dark times.

Consider David’s beautiful words in Psalm 23. He points out that the Good Shepherd leads us into green pastures AND into dark valleys, beside quiet waters AND into the presence of enemies. 

But notice this: the Shepherd of our soul provides what we need in both daytime AND nighttime. He pours out blessings in the presence of our enemies, and as my grandfather wrote in the margin of his Bible next to verse 4, “Where there is shadow there must be light.” 

Consider the example of Paul who wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (4:4). He wrote this to the church that was birthed by Paul’s miraculous deliverance from prison, while Paul and Silas were doing just that: Praying and singing hymns to God! 

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis gives us insight into how the demons view the temptation of Christians. Uncle Screwtape wrote to his nephew, “It may surprise you to learn that in God’s efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favorites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. … It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that the human is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best.” 

A mark of a maturing saint is one who when he realizes he is in a trough begins to praise God in anticipation of the blessings which are coming! 

Don’t feel like you need to praise God FOR your troughs, but you can and should praise Him BECAUSE of His presence even in your driest, darkest trough. God is doing something in this trough time that He could accomplish in no other way. As David said, our Good Shepherd leads us in both sunlit and dark paths “for His name’s sake”—He will be glorified and you will be rewarded! 

Be sure to follow along on this series Thankful In The Night.

Poetry Saturday—When Sorrow Walked With Me

I walked a mile with Pleasure—
She chattered all the way
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow
And ne’er a word said she,
But, oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me. —Robert Browning Hamilton

When Trials Come

Notice that the title of this post says “when” not “if.” Maybe this will be a newsflash for some of you (but I highly doubt it): Christians will face trials.

Even the apostle James says, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy” (James 1:2). Wait, trials are “an opportunity for great joy”? How can that be?!

→ Trials teach us lessons that we can learn in no other way! ←

How much more mature, and wise, and empathetic would we become if instead of trying to get out of the trials that come our way, we would instead see what we could get out of that trial!

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love. (Romans 5:3-5)

“When trials come we can try to get out of them, or we can learn to get something out of them.”

—Craig T. Owens

So the next time a trial comes your way, ask the Holy Spirit to show you what lessons you can learn by going through the trial.

5 Lessons From An Amazing Mother

There is a Pentecostal Christian woman that we first meet in the Book of Acts, and then we see her name scattered throughout Paul’s letters. She may be the most prominent woman among all of the Apostle Paul’s companions and probably is responsible for spreading the Gospel more and farther than any other woman recorded in the Bible. 

Scripture doesn’t tell us if she had children of her own but she is certainly the spiritual mother of more Christians than we will ever be able to count!

Prisca is her birth name. She is a Jew, and most likely a freeborn Roman (just as Paul was). She is from the prominent Acilius family, so combined with Prisca her name is called Priscilla. She married Aquila and they both worked as leather makers (also known as tentmakers). 

Let’s take a look at Priscilla’s travel itinerary—

Pricilla left Rome because of Emperor Claudius’ decree in 49 AD and traveled to Corinth, where she met Paul (Acts 18:1-3, 11, 18-19). 

After spending almost 2 years with Paul in Corinth, they traveled to Ephesus with Paul, where she met and mentored Apollos (Acts 18:24-26). Apollos became a trusted friend to Paul; in fact, Paul calls him a synergos (where we get our English word for synergy). In other words, Paul thought his ministry was more effective because of his partnership with Apollos, but that is all thanks to Priscilla’s involvement! 

Priscilla returned to Rome sometime after Claudius’ death in 54 AD. She probably returned home to prepare the way for Paul’s visit there (Romans 1:10-11; 15:23-24; 16:3). 

And at some point she returned to Ephesus, probably to help Timothy as he pastored the church there (2 Timothy 4:19). 

Here are 5 lessons we can learn from Priscilla’s life—

  1. Be baptized in the Holy Spirit. This is what she taught to others, so it is undoubtedly how she lived as well. 
  1. Use the gifting God has given you. Except for one place, Priscilla is always listed first ahead of her husband. This is unprecedented anywhere else in the New Testament. That tells us that despite what the Greco-roman culture tried to enforce, Priscilla was the predominant teacher/preacher in her family.
  1. Work hard. Priscilla had to be fairly well-to-do to be able to travel to at least three major cities and to host churches in her home, and yet we see her working with her hands to provide for her family and for the church. 
  1. Be bold. Jesus said the baptism in the Holy Spirit would give us boldness, and Priscilla demonstrated that powerfully (Romans 16:4). 
  1. Be synergistic. Paul also called Priscilla a synergos. Paul used this word sparingly for people who had put everything on the line for the sake of the Gospel. He used synergos for people like Apollos, Timothy, Titus, and Luke. Priscilla is the only woman who gets this invaluable term.  

We don’t know if Priscilla was a biological mom, but she was definitely a spiritual mom. She was empowered by the Holy Spirit, and probably is responsible for spreading the Gospel more than any other woman recorded in the Bible. You can follow in her footsteps! 

If you missed any of the messages in this series, you can access the full list of messages by clicking here. 

Poetry Saturday—Unanswered Prayers

Like some schoolmaster kind in being stern,
Who hears the children crying o’er their slates
And calling, “Help me, master!” yet helps not,
Since in his silence and refusal lies
Their self-development, so God abides
Unheeding many prayers. He is not deaf
To any cry sent up from earnest hearts;
He hears and strengthens when He must deny.
He sees as weeping o’er life’s hard sums;
But should He give the key and dry our tears,
What would it profit us when school were done
And not one lesson mastered?

     What a world
Were this if all our prayers were answered. Not
In famed Pandora’s box were such vast ills
As lie in human hearts. Should our desires,
Voiced one by one in prayer, ascend to God
And come back as events shaped to our wish,
What chaos would result!

     In my fierce youth
I sighed out breath enough to move a fleet,
Voicing wild prayers to heaven for fancied boons
Which were denied; and that denial bends
My knees to prayer of gratitude each day
Of my maturer years. Yet from those prayers
I rose always regirded for the strife
And conscious of new strength. Pray on, sad heart,
That which thou pleadest may not be given,
But in the lofty altitude where souls
Who supplicate God’s grace are lifted, there
Thou shalt find help to bear thy daily lot
Which is not elsewhere found. —Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty (book review)

Ty Cobb was baseball’s first superstar and its first inductee into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Yet when most people think of him, they think of a racist jerk. Was he? Charles Leerhsen unpacks Ty Cobb’s life in an outstanding biography entitled Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty.

Leerhsen himself initially believed all the negative reports about Cobb. He wrote:

“When I started researching this book I believed, like a lot of people, that Ty Cobb was a maniac, meaning a racist and a mean, spikes-sharpening son of a bitch. This was not a professional opinion based on knowledge; it was an assumption based on stories I’d been hearing all my life. People said it in bars; Ken Burns said it in his baseball documentary, so it must be true—that sort of thing. That I’d come to this conclusion without investigating the matter myself made the myth more, not less, powerful for me. … The experience [of researching and writing this book] taught me a lesson about how assumptions can shape our thinking, and hence our lives. Just because you’ve heard something a thousand times doesn’t mean it’s true.”

As Leerhsen began meticulously going through the real-time daily accounts of Cobb’s life, when he began reviewing original source material, all his preconceived ideas about Ty Cobb began to melt away. Leerhsen discovered that an opportunistic journalist named Al Stump almost wholly made up the derogatory claims about Cobb from unnamed sources. And as the cliche goes, the bad stuff is easier to believe than the good stuff, so the lies about Cobb stuck.

Ty Cobb was a phenomenal baseball star. He set 90 Major League records in his career, and he still holds the records for:

  • Combined runs scored and runs batted in (4065)
  • Highest career batting average (.366)
  • Most batting titles (11)
  • Most steals of home (54)
  • Stealing second, third, and home in succession (5) … once he did that on consecutive pitches!
  • The youngest player to compile 4000 hits and score 2000 runs

Not only does Leerhsen rebut all of the lies about Cobb, but he uncovers the life of a man who almost singlehandedly made Major League Baseball the national pastime that it became.

There’s also a great lesson to be learned here—never judge someone by what “they” say, but get the facts for yourself!

All baseball fans—and especially Detroit Tigers fans like me—will thoroughly enjoy this book.

The Maxwell Leadership Bible (book review)

Hands-down the best book for any aspiring, developing, or seasoned leader is the Bible! John Maxwell is a mentor of leaders that I have come to greatly appreciate over the years of my leadership development. So having John Maxwell’s commentary accompany my daily Bible reading time has been a  huge blessing! You can find this complete leadership development package in The Maxwell Leadership Bible.

The Bible is filled with leadership principles given by God Himself. John Maxwell is helping me compile various principles throughout the entirety of the Bible into cohesive units of study.

The Bible also presents us with various people who followed or violated God’s leadership principles. We are able to see the struggles that come to those who either ignore God’s directives or don’t consistently follow through on them. And we’re able to see the legacy of success that follows those who make it a priority to consistently walk in God’s precepts. Once again, Maxwell is brilliant at identifying these leadership lessons.

Normally I post reviews after I have read an entire book, but given the fact that my Bible reading time is in-depth and time-consuming, I wanted to post a review now to encourage Christian leaders to take advantage of this wonderful resource. If you want to use the Bible to grow your leadership capacities, the commentaries and insights provided by John Maxwell will be a huge blessing to you.

P.S. I am reading The Maxwell Leadership Bible on the Kindle version. I find it very convenient to tap on the footnotes, character studies, and leadership lessons that John Maxwell has prepared, and then quickly tap back to the biblical passage right where I left off.

Know Who You Are (book review)

Tim Tebow continues to astound me! Few people have used their celebrity status to promote other people like he has. In his latest book—Know Who You Are—he turns his sights on something near and dear to his heart: homeschool students and parents.

A key component of any student’s education is learning to articulate their thoughts in writing. At the beginning of his book Tim shares about some research on this topic:

“An esteemed professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin studied the impact of journaling. Through a handful of studies, this expert found that expressive writing in a personal and meaningful way positively impacts health, well-being, and self-development. It can put us in a better mood. It can help us process tough situations. It can challenge us to make good changes. It can pave the way for a more impactful future.”

Know Who You Are helps students journal their thoughts by giving them some positive things to ponder. Tim shares his personal stories, many of which involve mistakes he’s made or things which have caused him to second-guess himself, and then talks about the life lessons he learned from those experiences. He then gives students an opportunity to apply those same lessons to their own life. Each week’s lesson wraps up with a couple of writing prompts for the student’s journaling exercises.

This book is designed to take a student through their entire school year, but will help students to think better about themselves and their circumstances for a lifetime. Know who you are—Live like it matters is an excellent resource!

I am a Waterbrook book reviewer.

P.S. If you would like to check out other Tim Tebow books, my review for Through My Eyes is here, and my review for Shaken is here.

Intentional Living (book review)

Intentional LivingI believe I have read every book John Maxwell has written, and I found Intentional Living to be different from every other book so far.

The teaching points were still there, but they felt different. The quotes from other wise men and women were still there, but not as many of them. This book was different, because it was personal.

I love to read biographies and autobiographies of successful men and women, and then try to dig out the leadership lessons from their lives. But Dr. Maxwell did this for me in Intentional Living. He told his life story in a very personal way (it felt a lot like a memoir or autobiography), but then he also wrote about the leadership lessons from his life. Thankfully, he didn’t stop there, but then went on to challenge us with ways to apply those leadership lessons to our own lives.

John Maxwell calls us to live an intentional life—

“Living intentionally will motivate you to start asking questions and begin prioritizing whatever is important to you. … Can I make a difference? Whom should I help? How can I help them? How can I add value to them? … An unintentional life accepts everything and does nothing. An intentional life embraces only the things that will add to the mission of significance.”

If you feel that your life lacks intentionality, this book will help you make the changes necessary. If you feel that your life is intentional now, this book will help you laser-focus on the most significant things you can do to take your impact of significance to a whole new level.

I am a Center Street book reviewer.

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