At a June 13, 2008, event honoring John Wooden and famed sportscaster Vin Scully and raising money for pediatric cancer research at UCLA and other local institutions, Coach Wooden had an opportunity to demonstrate his famed socks-and-shoes lessons.

Wooden began the first day of practice each year with his most important basketball lesson. Players gathering for that first day  were full of anticipation. They wondered how their coach would set the tone for the long season to come. They didn’t have to wait long. Socks

At the event one of Wooden’s most famous players, Bill Walton, introduced the coach and recalled his first days at UCLA as a basketball player. Walton related the shock that he and other new players felt when the first thing Wooden did was set them down and teach them how to put on their shoes and socks. Doing this properly, Walton said, was the initial lesson for “everything we would need to know for the rest of our lives.”

Following Walton’s introduction, Coach Wooden came out on stage holding a box with athletic shoes and socks, bringing with him 12-year-old Robert, who was introduced as having tackled cancer at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. There was much good-natured laughter as Wooden gave Robert the socks-and-shoes instructions.

“You know, basketball is a game that’s played on a hardwood floor,” Wooden said. “And to be good, you have to…change your direction, change your pace. That’s hard on your feet. Your feet are very important.”

The team veterans knew this lesson was coming at the first practice, but  first year players were no doubt perplexed by the initial lesson imparted by their Hall of Fame coach: He taught them how to put on a pair of socks. He did not teach this lesson only once, but before every game and practice. Why?

Wooden had discovered many players didn’t properly smooth out wrinkles in the socks around their heels and little toes. If left uncorrected, these wrinkles could cause blisters that could hamper their performance at crucial times during games. Many players thought the practice odd and laughed about it then. Wooden knows some of them still laugh about it today. But the coach would not compromise on this basic fundamental principle: “I stuck to it. I believed in that, and I insisted on it.”

In our desire to grow as Christians, we can easily forget about the fundamentals of our faith. If we do, we run the risk of developing painful spiritual blisters that can hurt us as we run our race.

 

This week I attended a pastors’ conference that encouraged me greatly. Greg Gilbert, who serves as the senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, led the conference. The Lord used Greg to speak into my heart from the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. He noted that this story was not as much about Joseph as it was about God. When I told Gayla about it, she said, “The story of Joseph has always been one of my favorites because of what God did in Joseph’s life.”

I’d like to share the lessons I learned from Joseph. The main idea of the narrative is that whatever your circumstances remember that God has a purpose for it all even if it is not what you want or expect. With my recent experience of having stepped down as pastor of my church, I can assure you that these words resonated with me with particular power. Greg offered five points of application from Joseph’s life.

First, whatever circumstances you find yourself in, remember that you work for the Lord. Joseph worked for several different people — his father, Potiphar, the chief jailer, Pharaoh. But he really worked for God no matter who his earthly boss may have been. Problems can come in our ministry when we make an idol of our ministry. It’s easy to fall into a trap of believing everything revolves around us. You can begin to believe that you deserve certain things. Problems can also come when you become idle in the heart. You must keep the spiritual fire alive by washing yourself in the Word. You cannot continue to work effectively for the Lord without His strengthening.

Second, remember that God is sovereign over every detail of your life. Joseph knew that God allowed all the things to happen to him. The dreams of Genesis 37 reveal the end of the story, but they aren’t there to kill the plot. God was “calling His shot” (kind of like Babe Ruth calling his famous home run). Joseph delivered the clinching line, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).  You need to learn to rest in God’s sovereignty. There’s nothing that happens without God’s ordination and permission. God rules without exception. (Boy, did I needed that!)

Third, because God is sovereign you need to work hard to develop a patient quiet trust in God. Joseph had a remarkable confidence in God. He doesn’t know what is going to happen, but continued to be confident. Consider his resolve even after being thrown into the pit by his brothers. Consider his resolve even after two plus years in the prison. What a great model! It would have been so easy to give up on God. You need to remember that God’s providence is longer than your life.

Fourth, whatever your circumstances, learn to be joyful and serve well where you are placed. Wherever Joseph served, he served his master well. There was no indication that he complained — even when he was falsely accused or forgotten in the prison. When I left my last church, I determined that the Lord was not finished with me and that I would still serve Him. God has faithfully provided opportunities for me to preach or teach.

Fifth, leave the results to God. To be sure, some of the preaching opportunities have been humbling, but I have rejoiced in knowing that He knows where I am and that He has appointed these opportunities for me. I also remain confident that He has a more permanent assignment for me in the future. Therefore, I will work faithfully for Him through this present period in my ministry. Taking Joseph as my example, I will not attempt to wrangle circumstances for my advantage.

As Greg concluded his talk, he took time to observe how irrelevant Joseph is for the rest of the Bible. Although Moses focused on his story from Genesis 37-50, Joseph barely gets mentioned for the rest of the Bible. He was so important in Genesis — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph — the patriarchs. But in Matthew, the record says, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah. What a shocker! But this only underscores that God does what He wants — not what we want or expect. God is sovereign; therefore, we would do well to leave the results to God.

Here’s what I think God wants us to get: He is so unpredictable because He wants us to cling to Him.

 

After a long night and day of marching, General Robert E. Lee and the exhausted Army of Northern Virginia made camp just east of Appomattox Courthouse on April 8, 1865. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had sent him a letter on the night of April 7, following confrontations between their troops at Cumberland Church and Farmville, suggesting Lee surrender. Lee refused. Grant replied, again suggesting surrender to end the bloodshed. Lee responded, saying in part, “I do not think that emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army,” though he offered to meet Grant at 10 the next morning between picket lines to discuss a peaceful outcome.

In planning for the next day, Lee informed his men that he would ignore the surrender request and attempt to fend off General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry while at least part of the Army of Northern Virginia moved on toward Lynchburg — assuming the main Union force was just calvary. However, Major General George G. Meade’s VI and II Corps pursued the greatly outnumbered Confederate troops.

Having watched the battle through field glasses, Lee said, “There is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” Having dressed that morning in his finest dress uniform, Lee rode to the spot where he thought he and Grant would meet between the picket lines for peace talks only to receive a message of Grant’s refusal to meet.

Lee quickly wrote a reply, indicating that he was now ready to surrender. Still hearing the sounds of fighting, Lee sent a letter to Meade requesting an immediate truce along the lines. Meade replied that he was not in communication with Grant but would send the message on and also suggest Lee send another letter to Grant via Sheridan. Lee also had Confederate Major General John B. Gordon place flags of truce along the line. As the messages moved through the lines and word of the surrender spread, the fighting stopped.

Grant received Lee’s letter of surrender just before noon. In his reply, Grant asked Lee to select a meeting place. In searching for a suitable place, Lee and his men encountered Wilmer McLean, who offered his own home for the meeting. Grant arrived in Appomattox about 1:30 in the afternoon and proceeded to the McLean house. His appearance in his field uniform, muddy after his long ride, contrasted sharply with Lee’s clean dress uniform. They chatted for a while before discussing and writing up the terms of the surrender.

The terms were surprising. It wasn’t judgment — nor prison — nor retribution. The terms were to stop fighting and to start living. Give up your weapons, go home, and plant your fields. The soldiers who had not eaten in days were given meal rations. Their horses and mules returned to plowing fields. The war was over but for many people, life had just begun.

A kind word can turn away wrath. Good things happen when we can weep with those who weep. Acting like Jesus sometimes means seeing past someone’s behavior and into their need.

If you’ve been hurt, the best next step for you is to forgive that person. Holding onto the hurt will only make the hurt worse.

On November 5, 2014, a woman named, Gigi Jordan was declared guilty of killing her 8-year old son who had autism. Her defense attorney said her act could only be described as a mercy killing.

How could this be? Gigi Jordan said her ex-husband had threatened her life; therefore, she did not want Jude, her 8-year old son to fall into the hands of his biological father. This woman, a multi-millionaire, declared that she loved her son so much that she could not bear the thought of him living without her, Therefore, she poisoned her son and killed him.

For her crime, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles Simpson issued a stiff sentence — 18 years in prison. Simpson commented, “You would think in 2015, the defendant would say something like, ‘What a terrible thing I did. How could I kill my own son?'”

This kind of twisted thinking in our culture today, demeans the purpose of each person who lives.  It places one person over another, as one having a purpose and a destiny, while another does not. This is what happens when a culture for the almost 45 years has aborted more than 60 million babies, an entire generation. sanctity-of-life

I declare in Jesus’ name today that every baby and every child and every teenager and every adult has a purpose for their lives. Whether they are healthy or whether they face struggles like Down’s Syndrome or autism or whatever other birth defect, every life has a purpose under God. God has a purpose for every life.

Because I live in Louisiana, I will offer some statistics from that perspective. Even so, I am sure that similar statistics could be offered for the other forty-nine states. As is the case in the United States as a whole, suicide rates are on the rise in Louisiana. According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Louisiana, and was responsible for 679 deaths in 2016.  This figure puts the suicide rate in Louisiana above the national average. To put this data into perspective, this rate means that, on average, one person dies every 13 hours from suicide in Louisiana.  Sadly, it appears that loss of life from suicide is a particular risk for young people, with suicide representing the third leading cause of death for Louisianans ages 15-34. To be sure, we have a mental health crisis.

Listen to me today, whether a person has mental health challenges (according to research one out of four Americans has some sort of challenge) or people are completely healthy in every way, I declare in Jesus’ name, God has a purpose for their life. Human life is not in the hands of men, but in the hands of God.

We do not have the right to take innocent life. Whether this takes place in a fit of rage or under the approval of the courts through upholding abortion procedures, no one has the ultimate right to live and act in a way contrary to the dictates of God’s revealed truth.

 

 

In an interview with Cindy Pearlman published in The Chicago Sun Times (October 13, 2014), actor Bill Murray claimed that a work of art once saved his life. He was in Chicago for his first experience as an actor. He thought that his first performance had gone so badly that he just walked out afterward and onto the street. He kept walking for a couple of hours. Then he realized that he walked in the wrong direction and not in just the wrong direction from where he lived, but in the desire to stay alive.

He headed for Lake Michigan as he contemplated taking his own life. Murray continued:

“I thought: ‘If I’m going to die, I might as well go over toward the lake and float a bit.’ So, I walked toward the lake and reached Michigan Avenue and started walking north. Somehow I ended up in front of the Art Institute and walked inside. the-song-of-the-lark-1884.jpg!LargeThere was a painting of a woman working in a field with a sunrise behind her. I always loved that painting. I saw it that night and said, ‘Look, there’s a girl without a whole lot of prospects, but the sun’s coming up and she’s got another chance at it.'”

The painting, “Song of a Lark” by Jules Breton, helped mend Murray’s heart. After gazing at the painting, Murray decided to live and said, “I’m a person, too, and will get another chance every single day.”

When Peter addressed “the exiles dispersed abroad” throughout five Roman provinces (see 1 Peter 1:1), he wrote to encourage them as they faced uncertainty due to persecution. Having been forced to leave their homes, their jobs, their friends, their way of life, these believers needed exactly what Peter offered — encouragement to remain faithful and strong in the Lord.

That encouragement remains intact for believers today! God has given each believer a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This new birth comes with an inheritance that is untouched by death, unstained by evil, and unimpaired by time. Furthermore what God has given to the believer is being guarded by God’s power. Not only that, but the fullness of our eternal salvation is ready now to be revealed when He returns (see 1 Peter 3-5).

You have every reason to live for today because God has your today and forever covered.

 

Anyone who knows me well also knows that I was not the best science student. In fact, because of my limited grasp on textbook science, I managed to earn an undergraduate degree with only one science course! However, this has not kept me from appreciating the connections from science when I study God’s Word.

I’m hoping to continue preaching as many Sundays as possible while I am in this “in between” ministries phase. So each week I prepare as if I will be preaching. It keeps me sharp and focused on my calling as a pastor-teacher. The Lord has led me to prepare to preach from 1 Peter, and I discovered a great connection between science and the audience Peter addressed.

Dr. James Clark, is a professor of Geology at Wheaton College in Chicago. He recounted a visit to the Soviet Union a few years after Communism dissolved. Though not a preacher, Dr. Clark was asked to preach at a small Russian Baptist church that lived through a long season of persecution. Some in the congregation had been in prison because of their testimony in Christ. Others had husbands or relatives that had suffered or had even been killed for their faith.

In order to connect with his audience, Dr. Clark decided to use a geological illustration — one dealing with metamorphic rocks. Clark said: 

“Clay is actually composed of many microscopic clay mineral crystals, which not even a light microscope can see. But under pressure the clay minerals are not crushed or made smaller. Rather, they grow larger. The minerals change into new larger biotype grains forming slate, found on many homes. With even more pressure, the minerals become even larger. And some are transformed into garnets, which are semi-precious gems.”slate

Dr. Clark explained to the congregation that this geological process illustrates how pressure and suffering can be used to refine, purify, and mold a person into a more beautiful soul. He said that he will never forget what he saw when he looked at the congregation. It seemed like the whole congregation was sparkling. The old women’s eyes were gleaming bright with tears recalling past suffering.

stauroliteDr. Clark continued, “What makes a gem so attractive? It’s the reflection. These dear women and men were reflecting God’s glory through the suffering they had endured. But there’s more: With even more pressure applied, a new mineral forms called staurolite. The name is from two Greek words meaning “stone cross.” The twin variety forms deep under high mountains in the shape of a cross. A reminder of Christ’s ultimate suffering for us all.”

Peter wrote his epistle for two clear reasons. First, Peter wanted to challenge and strengthen believers to stand against the onslaught of persecution being leveled against them. Peter also wanted to reinforce the truth that believers have an eternal home and that we are merely passing through this time on the earth. Peter’s audience was hurting and suffering from ridicule and persecution. They had been forced to leave everything behind: homes, property, estates, businesses, jobs, money, church, friends, and fellow believers. Now scattered to five Roman provinces, Peter urged them to continue as an underground church.

Imagine the fear, uncertainty, and insecurity. They lived each day looking over their shoulders. Their stress-filled lives included restlessness, sleeplessness, anxiety, uncertainty, and insecurity. Their hearts pounded at the slightest shadow or noise.

These believers needed strong encouragement. Peter’s words would have helped them immensely to know that God had not forgotten them but was bringing about a strengthening of their faith in Christ. 

After returning home from a long tour, Bono, the lead singer for U2, returned to Dublin and attended a Christmas Eve service. At some point in that service, Bono grasped the truth at the heart of the Christmas story: in Jesus, God became a human being. With tears streaming down his face, Bono realized,Bono_board_photo-360x360

“The idea that God, if there is a force of Love and Logic in the universe, that it would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That it would seek to explain itself by becoming a child born in poverty…and straw, a child, I just thought, ‘Wow!’ Just the poetry…I saw the genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this…Love needs to find a form, intimacy needs to be whispered…Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.” *

The prophecy of the promised Messiah of Luke’s first chapter finds its fulfillment in the second chapter. Three key words — providence, promise, and praise — offer markers for us in Luke 2:1-20.

In the providence of God’s design, God chose for His Son to become flesh during the reign of Caesar Augustus. Luke wanted his readers to note the census, since he mentioned it four times. The census happened at just the right time and in the right way. Providence is God’s guidance and care in your life. He is continually involved in your life, just as He was involved in the exactness of the details of the birth of Messiah. We should note that Messiah came according to God’s timing. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5). We should also note that He was born exactly where God had said the Messiah would be born — Bethlehem. And when it came time for the baby to be born, He came God’s way and was wrapped in swaddling clothes and was laid in the “feeding trough” of an animal. God’s way was for His Son’s humble life on earth to begin in this way.

God is at work in your life and has every moment planned for you. You can trust that His ways are always better than your ways.

An angel made an unbelievable appearance to some shepherds. In the eyes of many, an angel would never appear to a shepherd. Shepherds would seldom be found praising and worshiping God. I find it ironic that those who kept flocks of sheep (keep in mind that some of these sheep may have been destined for the altar as sacrifices for worship) would have been considered unclean and therefore unworthy to worship God.

The angel delivered to the shepherds God’s promise. “Don’t be afraid! I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for ALL people.” Jesus came for all people. Jesus came to be our Savior. He will deliver you from your sin. He is the anointed One — the Messiah. He is the Lord, the supreme authority over all.

A large number of angels — too many to count — gathered in the nighttime sky to declare with Gabriel praise to God. And when the angels departed, the shepherds discussed what they had just heard and determined that they had to go at once to Bethlehem. They wanted to see for themselves what the angels had declared to them. They found Jesus, just as the angel said they would, lying in a feeding trough with Mary and Joseph nearby.

As they left to return to their flocks, they shared the report the angel had told them about the baby. They essentially took the place of the angels as they humbly returned to their duties. Telling others about the Savior is a solemn obligation as well as a great privilege, and we who are believers must be faithful.

* Quoted in Matt Woodley, The Gospel of Matthew: God With Us (InterVarsity Press, 2011), p. 28-29