This Week’s Sermon- Taking A Full Swing


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

TAKING A FULL SWING
Joshua 1:9

by Eric Elder
http://www.theranch.org

 

If you’re like me, you might tend to second guess yourself at times, wondering if you’re doing the right thing or if you’ve heard right from God.  I think each of us go through seasons of doubt about the decisions we’ve made, especially when life around us starts to look like it’s about to fall apart.

What do you do when you reach those critical moments and you have to decide if you’re going to keep moving forward, or if you need to regroup and retreat and perhaps go in a different direction entirely?

When I reach that point, it’s helpful for me to look at the words that God spoke to Joshua as he was about to enter into the Promised Land.  God said:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

There are 3 aspects of these words that I find especially helpful.  The first is to remind myself why I made the decision I did in the first place.

In Joshua’s case, God reminded him that He, God, was the one who had called Joshua to enter into the Promised Land.  “Have I not commanded you?”  God had actually called Joshua and his people to enter the Promised Land 40 years earlier, but they didn’t do it.  When they reached the border the first time, they were afraid to go in, so they turned around and headed back into the desert for another 40 years.

Now, 40 years later, Joshua had reached the same crossroad again, and God reminded him: “Have I not commanded you?”  Joshua, of course, would have remembered what God had said to him in the past, and the price that he and all the others had to pay for not doing what God had called them to do.  They may have still been afraid to move forward, and the price of doing so might still be costly, but the price of turning back again would cost even more.

For me, it’s helpful to refresh my memory of why I decided to do what I did in the first place.  If, after reviewing that initial decision, it still seems sound and reasonable, then I look at the second part of God’s words to Joshua: “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged…”

This part is helpful because we don’t usually know what really lies ahead, and venturing into the unknown often strikes fear in our hearts.  The very fact that God had to tell Joshua to be strong and courageous indicates to me that there were very real fears that could have overtaken his heart, and that there was probably a good reason they needed to be strong and courageous.  What they were about to face would require strength and courage; it would require internal fortitude and resolve.

God wouldn’t have needed to tell Joshua, “Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged” if, in fact, there was nothing to be terrified or discouraged about.  The truth was, what they were about to face was terrifying and it could have discouraged them, just as it did 40 years earlier.  Then why did God tell them this?  If there were really and truly terrifying dangers ahead, why would God tell them not to be afraid or discouraged?  Because of what he tells them next in the third part of this significant verse:  “for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

I try to imagine walking through a mine field ahead of me.  If I had to do it on my own, I know I couldn’t do it.  I wouldn’t be able to see or even to guess where the mines might be.  But if God was with me, walking with me every step of the way, and I held on tight to Him, I have no doubt that He would be able to walk me through that field of mines just fine.  I would just need to make sure I was staying as close to Him as possible, and stepping only where He stepped.

When I look at these three things–why I made the decision I made in the first place, why I might need to be strong and courageous, and how God will be with me every step of the way–it helps me to make my next move.  Many times that means I need to keep moving forward and finish what I started, no matter how difficult the circumstances might become as I do so.

I reached this point a few weeks ago with our “2nd Annual Ranch Retreat.”  I put a stake in the ground 3 months ago by naming it our “2nd Annual” retreat, after having done our first the year before.  But was I really ready to commit to doing this on an annual basis?  And was I really ready to announce to the world that I should call it an annual event?  I felt a little bit like George Lucas must have felt when he put the subtitle on his first Star Wars movie and called it “Episode IV.”  The very name itself implied that there were someday going to be Episodes I, II and III, even though it would be another 20 years before he filmed the first of these “prequels.”

But I felt strongly enough about the retreat that I went ahead and named it the “2nd Annual Ranch Retreat” 3 months before it took place.  But after we were 2 months into advertising and promoting it and we still didn’t have even one person signed up, I started to wonder if I had made the wrong decision.  Even with just 2 weeks to go before the event took place, we had only a handful of people registered.  I had to decide if we were going to cancel the whole event all together, ending our run of “annual” retreats before we even got to the 2nd one!

I don’t mind being wrong, but I don’t like to back out of something just because I’m afraid of how it might turn out–especially if God has called me to do it and He wants to accomplish something through it.  So I called my friends who were putting it together with me and we talked it through again.  We could have easily cancelled at that point, but I had to remind myself why we were doing it in the first place, and if God had really called us to do it.

About that time I was also reading a book with my son by Ted Dekker and he was talking about the process he went through in creating the book and getting it published.  He pitched the idea to several publishers, all of whom turned it down.  Years went by and he pitched it again and again, only to be turned down again and again.  Publishers told him that nobody read this kind of story.

After years of having no success, Ted finally found someone, Allen Arnold, who believed in his idea enough to take a risk and publish his story.  They found out that not only were people interested in reading this kind of story, but soon 50,000 soon joined in on the discussion of the book and its ideas at teddekker.com.  The book, and the series it spawned, had struck a chord in the hearts of thousands who wanted to talk about everything that it had stirred up within them, including my own kids.  Ted wrote this in the afterward of the book we were reading:

“I once told Allen that I was born to write these chronicles.  Admittedly, their writing is only a small part of my life.  But if I was born to write them, then in a small, small way, you may have been born to read them.  We, like the stories themselves, find ourselves interconnected in this wonderful thing called the story of life.  You are part of my history, and I am part of yours.  And this, my friend, is what it means to come full circle” (Ted Dekker, Red, pg 385).

I decided to finish what I had started, and give it the best possible chance of success as I could.  As I stood in front of the group last weekend at our “2nd Annual Ranch Retreat,” I couldn’t help but think of Ted’s words and the challenges he faced in order to do what he felt he should do.  40 people had gathered with me here in Illinois from all across the country, from places like California, Colorado, Michigan, Kansas, Indiana and Georgia.  We sang and praised God, we opened His Word, and we opened our hearts and lives to Him and to each other.

As I looked around the room on the final night, I read Ted Dekker’s quote to those who had gathered, saying that if God had called me to do this, then perhaps, in a some small, small way, they were meant to be there, too.

And as you read these words today, if I was called to write them, then perhaps in some small, small way, you were meant to read them, too.

The decisions you make are important, and it’s important to make the best decisions that we can up front.  Sometimes we need to regroup along the way or retreat and go in a different direction entirely, admitting that we’re fallible and that there are times when it’s best to cut our losses before they take us down completely.  But many times we simply need to remind ourselves of why we decided to do what we’re doing in the first place, then going forward with full strength and courage to see it through to the end.

I was reading through a physics book with another son a few weeks ago as part of his schooling.  We were studying momentum and read that the difference between good and bad baseball players is “follow through.”  According to the laws of physics, there are two things that determine how far a ball will travel when its hit by a bat.  The first is how hard the bat strikes the ball.  But a second factor is also significant, and that’s how long the bat and the ball stay in contact with each other.  The longer the connection, the stronger the momentum.  That’s why batters need to take a “full” swing, following through with the swing that was started and not stopping the moment the bat hits the ball.

Sometimes we stop mid-swing when we hit an obstacle, stunned and wondering if we should have even stepped up to the plate.  But if we’ve stepped up to the plate with God, and if we can remember why we’re doing what we’re doing in the first place, then we can take a full swing and knock the ball out of the park.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Let’s pray…

Father, thank You for giving each of us a purpose here on earth and the gifts and resources to carry out those purposes.  Help us to make wise decision not only at the start of a project, but all the way through it.  Give us Your wisdom as we take each step, showing us where to walk, where not to walk, and how to keep moving forward despite the obstacles in front of us.  Remind us of what You’ve called us to do and give us the strength and courage to do it.  Help us to take a full swing, so we can fulfill our purposes, and perhaps in some small, small way, help others fulfill theirs, too.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. You can still watch all 3 sessions right now from the Ranch Retreat online at www.theranch.org/retreat



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This Week’s Sermon- The Retreat


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

This Weekend’s Retreat

We wish to share this weekend’s retreat with you, to serve as our Sunday sermon, and pray that you will find comfort and peace, joy and thanksgiving in what has been shared here!  You may access the two-day gathering by visiting:
www.theranch.org/retreat


This Week’s Sermon- Depression and Hope


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

DEPRESSION AND HOPE
Psalm 77

by Eric Elder
theranch.org

Note from Eric:  I was asked to speak this week on the topic of depression for our Care Groups at our church, and I thought you’d like to hear the message too.  We all face troubles and times when hope seems to elude us.  Yet with God there’s always hope, and He can lead us to the help we need.

Click here to listen to my message: “Depression and Hope” (11-1/2 minutes), or read the transcript that follows.  

(For those who are interested, I’ve also uploaded Part 2 of this message to our website, with a personal story of how God helped me through a time of trouble this past week.  Click here to listen to Part 2, which is not included in the transcript below.)

Transcript:

I’m going to talk tonight about depression, so I thought I’d start with a cartoon if that’s OK.  They go together, right?

This is a picture of a man in his car and he says:  “Son, look at the back of the car and tell me if my turn signal is working.”  The son sees the blinking light and says, “Yes, No, Yes, No, Yes.”

car-toon

I sometimes feel that way when people ask me how I’m doing.  “Up, Down, Up, Down, Up.”  It really depends when you ask me and how things are going because of the things that have happened in the last couple years of my life.  I think that’s a common thing for a lot of us, and yet as Christians, sometimes we think we should be “happy clappy” all the time, and if we’re not then something must be desperately wrong with us.

Depression has been called the common cold of emotional disorders.  It really is something that happens.  We have seasons where things get us down, where life is hard, where sometimes we experience incredible highs and then we plummet right after it.  It’s just something that happens as part of life, as part of living, and it happened to Bible characters throughout history.

You can look through the Bible and look at someone like Moses.  Here’s a quote from him:

“I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now–if I have found favor in your eyes–and do not let me face my own ruin” (Numbers 11:14-15, NKJV).

Here Moses has been called by God and he’s doing what God called him to do.  But he gets to the point where he says, in effect:  “The burden’s just too much for me to take.  I can’t do it; just take me now.”

Here’s King David after he had sinned with Bathsheba.  In Psalm 38 he says:

“I am troubled, I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long. … I groan because of the turmoil of my heart” (Psalm 38:6, 8b, NKJV).

Here’s Elijah.  He had just performed an incredible wonder for God.  He had challenged 450 prophets of Baal to a duel to see whose God was going to come and burn a sacrifice that they had both put on an altar.  It was just 1 of Elijah against 450 of these other guys who were worshipping Baal.  Elijah won and all the other prophets were killed and slaughtered after that because God descended fire onto Elijah’s altar and did exactly what Elijah called on Him to do.

Yet Elijah ran from that scene.  He ran and ran and ran until he was worn out.  It says in the Bible:

“He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, LORD,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’  Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep” (1 Kings 19:4b-5a, NIV).

I could just keep going through the Bible:  Jeremiah and Jonah and even Jesus.  On the cross, I don’t know if you would call this depression, but it was certainly anguish.  When you’re being nailed to a cross and you’re hanging there dying and you’ve done nothing wrong and you cry out to God, as it says in Matthew that He did:

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).

So if you ever feel in anguish as a Christian, or you ever feel like the burden is too much for you, or you feel like you just want God to take your life, or you just don’t think that you can take it anymore, you’re in really good company.

I’m not saying it’s good to be there.  I don’t think we should be there all the time.  But God provides help to all of us as we need it.  And so there’s a Psalm I want to read to you tonight, Psalm 77.  It’s written by a man named Asaph.  He was the choir director during King David’s time.  He wrote a Psalm that’s sort of a classic Psalm on depression if you’d ever like to read it on your own.  I’m going to read portions of it to you here.

Asaph was in a miserable state.  It says, in Psalm 77, starting in verse 1:

“I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered you, O God, and I groaned; I mused, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart mused and my spirit inquired: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?” (Psalm 77:1-9).

That’s a pretty desperate cry to God.  It’s nice that God records these things in the Bible.  He doesn’t gloss over this in people’s lives.  If that’s all I told you about the Bible you might say, “Man, that’s a whole bunch of depressed people. I don’t know if I want to read that Book!”

But God doesn’t leave people there.

For Moses, God sent an answer.  He sent his father-in-law to give him a solution to how to deal with all the people, to divide them up into groups and to put leaders over them.

For King David, God provided an answer and showed him how to confess his sins out loud and to relieve all that guilt.  You should see and read all the rest of of the Psalms that David wrote as he poured out that confession to God and God flooded him with love and forgiveness and peace.

He gave an answer to Elijah.  God sent an angel to him and as he was sleeping there, the angel prepared some food for him.  Elijah got up and ate, then the angel had him go back to sleep, then he got up and ate again.  Just a little nourishment and he was on his way and up and going again.

I think if you read through these different stories, even about Jesus it says He was crying in anguish, but 3 days later He was raised gloriously and sat at the right hand of God, the Father.  In all these situations, there wasn’t a “one size fits all” answer for how to get out of it, because they didn’t get into it in the same way.  Sometimes it was sin, sometimes it was having a great victory in God, sometimes it was doing exactly what God wanted them to do.  So the solutions are sort of different for everyone.  But I want to encourage you that there is hope.

Chip Ingram, in his book that we’ve been studying this fall, Finding God When You Need Him Most, in this chapter called “When You’re Troubled and Depressed,” writes this:

“You see, God is a shepherd who cares for each person individually.  Even though you might not be able to sort out all the contributing factors to your depression, God can still lead you out of it.  He will lead you to the help you need.  It may involve medicine, counseling, spiritual direction, relational aid, or all of the above.  But God wants to meet you in the midst of your troubles and depression and lead you out” (Chip Ingram, Finding God When You Need Him Most, pg. 108).

You can get to the point where you say, “Man, I don’t know if God’s going to show up this time.  I know He’s been faithful, but you know, I’m just getting worn out.”  Yet God does show up and He leads us to a solution that we need.  For a lot of you, this Care Groups tonight (or this message today), is part of that solution and God can provide the Bible verse that you need, or the person that you need, or the counseling that you need, or maybe a direction to the medical help that you need.  God loves to provide what you need and He loves to give you hope.  He loves to give you what you need.

I just want to encourage you in that, and my final encouragement to you today is to do what Asaph did in Psalm 77, if you read further.  In verse 10, he changes his course.  Instead of complaining to God he says:

“Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High.’ I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.  I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds” (Psalm 77:10-12).

And then he goes on and he recounts how God led the Israelites through the desert out of Egypt and into the Promised Land and how he brought them through the sea where there was no way out and God provided a way.  Doing this changed the whole course of Psalm 77.  And by the end, Asaph is praising God again, after starting the Psalm with such despair.

It’s different for all of us, but his turning point was just saying, “God, I’m going to remember what You’ve done in the past.”  I’ll close with this list of just a few of many things that Chip Ingram suggests, things that he does for himself, and maybe there are one or two things that you could do, when you find yourself in a depressed moment or season.  You might think these are too simple, yet you’d be surprised.

  • Get out your photo albums or slide projector and look at wedding pictures, remember good moments with shots of kids, reminisce with favorite vacation pictures, look at birthday pictures.
  • Watch old videos you haven’t watched in years.
  • Read your journal.
  • Write down all your blessings.
  • Relive the day you came to Christ.
  • List the top 10 answers to prayer in your life.
  • List 5 people who love you.

If there’s one of those you want to do, even this week, just list the top 10 answers to prayers in your life, relive the day you came to Christ, list 5 people who love you, read your journal, going back and remembering how God has worked in your life and saying, “God, You’ve been there for me in the past, and You’ve promised You’ll be there for me in the future.  I’m going to trust You.  Even though I don’t see a way out, I trust You that You’ll provide it, in Jesus’ name.”

Let’s pray…

Father, thank You that You can show us that it’s even normal to have days of trouble and days of depression, days when we can’t work things out on our own, days when it seems hopeless.  Lord, thank You also for showing us that there’s a way out when we experience those days or months or years.  Thank You that You love us so much that You do provide a way out, Lord.  I pray You’d lead each of us to whatever solution You would have for us, God, whether it’s inviting people that we need to invite, whether it’s giving a call to someone, whether it’s taking someone out for dinner, whether it’s reading the Bible, a favorite passage, looking back at our journal, listing the things You’ve done in our lives, whether it’s seeking medical help or professional help or someone in church or just a listening ear.  God, whatever answer, whatever solution, I pray You’d lead us to it.  Thank You that You are a God of hope.  I pray that You would give each one of us hope.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. For those who are interested, I’ve also uploaded a 2nd part of the message to our website, with a personal story of how God helped me through a time of trouble this past week.  Click here to listen to Part 2, which is not included in the transcript above.



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

The Ranch Retreat is coming THIS WEEKEND!  Even if you can’t join us in person, we hope to broadcast the main sessions live and later on our website.  Technology permitting, you’ll be able to watch for free from any computer or mobile device.  Please visit the link below for more details or to watch the retreat as we stream it live or later, starting Friday, October 10th.  Click here to learn more or to watch The Ranch Retreat!

This Week’s Sermon- No One Would Know

Note from Eric:  If you haven’t signed up for our Ranch Retreat yet, the registration deadline is TOMORROW, SEPTEMBER 29th.  Kent Sanders, today’s guest writer, will be there!  We’d love to have you join us!  Click here to sign up.


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

NO ONE WOULD KNOW
Part 8 of our series on “Transitions”
Here are the links to Parts 123456, and 7.

by Kent Sanders
www.kentsanders.net

 

“No one would know if we skipped church today.”

Those were the first words that crossed my mind when I woke up. It was a Sunday morning in February, 2004. My wife Melanie and I had just concluded a 7-year ministry in Streator, Illinois. I was a full-time worship leader, and she had been the children’s ministry director for several years before taking a position at a local preschool.

For a few months before that, I had been in contact with St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, Missouri. It was my alma mater, and they were interested in me coming as the Professor of Worship. It was the perfect opportunity to move closer to family and have a position of greater influence. I wouldn’t only be leading worship; I would get to train future worship leaders.

After accepting the position and resigning from the church, we moved to St. Louis to start our new lives. On our first Sunday in our new home, I woke up realizing that for the first time in over seven years, coordinating or leading a worship service was not my responsibility.

In many ways, it felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I could go to church and be a “regular” person. But I was also scared because I had let go of a position where I was so comfortable. It was the first time since graduating from college that I was not a paid church staff member.

It was a transition that would shape me in many ways. I have had several part-time ministries since I left Streator, but it’s been ten years since I’ve worked full-time at a church. As I reflect on that transition and what I’ve learned about being a church member, I can boil it down to five key lessons that have helped strengthen my faith. I’ll also offer some questions for reflection after each lesson.

1. You must choose to get involved.

In ministry leadership circles, you often hear about the need to get people involved. At St. Louis Christian College, we even have a degree program in Discipleship & Involvement. One of the major concerns of the New Testament writers was that Christians have good relationships with one another. After all, we’re the body of Christ! And having good relationships means you must get involved.

Church leaders need to offer a variety of ways for people to get connected at church. But ultimately, church members must choose to get involved. That means you and I have to make a conscious choice to maintain relationships and be consistent in our church attendance. Is church attendance the only thing that matters? Of course not. But it’s hard to have deep relationships with people you never see.

Statistics tell us that the average church member attends services twice a month. What if I applied that same ratio to my marriage? If I decided I was only going to see my wife twice a week, things would go downhill pretty quickly. No one would maintain that you could maintain a vibrant, healthy marriage if you put time and effort into building that relationship.

Yet many times in the church, we will encounter people who aren’t happy with their church for various reasons. When you begin to dig a little, you will often find that they are not highly involved church members who are there to contribute.

When I stepped out of my role as a pastor, I had to reevaluate why I was involved at church. Up to that point, it was part of my job. But when that was no longer the case, I had the opportunity to get back to the basics of my faith and find a renewed commitment to the local church.

Question: Have you made a conscious choice to be a participating member of your local church? If so, what continues to motivate you? If not, what’s keeping you from being more involved?

2. You must distinguish between Ministry and ministry.

Yes, you read that correctly. There is a difference between “Ministry” (capitalized) and  “ministry” (lowercase). Let me explain.

In the Bible, the word “ministry” literally means “service.” Specifically, it refers to service that’s done for others in the name of Christ. But your view of ministry can be very different depending on your vocation.

As a pastor, I tended to focus on the vocational side of ministry. I viewed my church staff position as a Ministry because I had dedicated my life to Christian service. It’s not that I didn’t believe people in other vocations weren’t doing ministry. It’s just that when you graduate with a ministry degree from a Christian college, it’s easy to view your church role as something sacred and special among vocations.

But what happens when you no longer have that position, that role of being in Ministry? This is the situation I faced when I became a church member instead of a paid pastor. I was no longer in a leadership role and had to rediscover what it meant to be “in ministry.”

When I began to look at vocational ministry as an outsider, I saw things in a new light. I discovered that being “in ministry” didn’t mean you received a paycheck from a church or had a special title. Being “in ministry” meant that you approached all of your work, no matter what type, as a service to Christ and to the world. It doesn’t mean that pastors are any less important; it means that we’re all of equal importance.

To be quite frank, I had serious workaholic tendencies in my twenties, when I worked at a church. My identity was completely wrapped up in my church position. This wasn’t because I was overworked or had unfair expectations; it was because I didn’t really understand who I was. I saw myself first and foremost as a Minister—a church staff member.

When I stepped away from that position, I had an identity crisis for about two years. I was so wrapped up in my church position that I often missed the bigger picture of what ministry is all about.

Pastors are important! They are of course doing ministry through their service to the church. But you have a ministry as well, in your work, in your family, and wherever you find yourself. You may not be leading or preaching, but if you’re a Christian, you are most definitely called to serve others in the name of Christ.

Question: Do you view your work as a ministry? How can you serve Christ and the world through your vocation?

3. You must develop a hunger for God.

As a pastor, it was my job to know and teach the Bible. I wasn’t preaching every Sunday, but I was definitely teaching the Word through worship songs, at rehearsals, through my writing, and other avenues. In a sense, it’s a pastor’s job to be “spiritual” because your life is focused on the church’s program.

But once I was out of that role, there was less external structure to ensure that I was interacting with God’s Word and involved at church. I was surprised to discover that it was much harder than I thought to maintain the discipline of “feeding myself” spiritually.

I have tried all kinds of things over the years to help me be disciplined with my Bible reading. (Bible reading is not the only element to your faith, of course, but it’s a key habit for growing in your faith, so I’ll focus on it here.) I’ve tried Bible reading plans. I’ve tried Bible apps on my phone. I’ve tried devotional books. I’ve tried study Bibles with all the notes, maps, bells and whistles you could want. I’ve tried Bibles that included only the text (no chapter and verse numbers). If they sell it in a Christian bookstore, I’ve probably tried it.

What I’ve learned is that tools can be very helpful, but they can’t make you hungry for God. I came to a place in my life where I didn’t want to continue trying to do life on my own. I was too proud to admit that I wasn’t smart enough or enough to figure things out by myself. I had to first be broken in order to be made whole.

If you are experiencing some kind of pain or loss in life, don’t let it drive you away from God. Let it drive you to him, to a place where you have utter dependency on his healing, wisdom and grace.

Question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how hungry are you for God’s work in your life? If you don’t feel much of a drive towards God these days, what might be the cause?

4. You must learn to follow, not just lead.

As a worship leader, I was used to being on stage nearly every Sunday, leading the congregation. It was exhausting, but also exhilarating. It’s a great feeling to know that the songs you’ve chosen, the volunteers in your ministry, and the organization you’ve put into church services have all come together to create something that changes lives.

But what happens when you’re not in charge anymore?

This is exactly the dilemma I found myself in when we became involved in our new church. I wasn’t a worship leader anymore; I was a volunteer in another person’s ministry. The worship leader and I were great friends, but as a musician in his ministry I sometimes thought, “Gee, that’s not the way I would do that,” or “That’s not the way you should arrange that song.”

It took a long time for me to get comfortable in the role of a follower when I had been a leader for so long. But over time I found a new role: not as a church staff person in charge of a ministry area, but as a volunteer who was a supporter and encourager to the church staff.

I had something few other people in the church had: I was a volunteer who knew what ministry was like. I knew it can be exhausting and emotionally draining. I accepted the fact that I wasn’t always on stage, but could play an important behind-the-scenes role at our church.

We talk a lot about leadership in the Christian community, but you seldom hear about “followership.” You must learn to follow before you can lead.

Question: Do you make it easier for your pastor to lead you, by being a good follower who is supportive and encouraging?

5. You must learn to live a balanced life.

One of the most surprising things I experienced after transitioning out of paid ministry was that I didn’t have to be involved in everything at church. As a staff member, my life basically revolved around the church calendar: hospital calls, staff meetings, planning sessions, worship rehearsals, Sunday services, and many other events. In many ways I assumed that all our church volunteers shared the same sentiment that church events take priority over nearly everything else.

But as a volunteer, I had the freedom to choose how much, and in what ways, to be involved. I quickly discovered that my life no longer revolved around the church schedule. I learned to say “no” to some things because I now had a different job and a growing family. I became more discerning about how I would spend my time.

This was a major shift in my thinking from when I worked at the church. I don’t want to give the impression that my former church asked too much of its staff; that wasn’t the case. In fact, the senior minister set a stellar example of going home at a reasonable hour and spending time with his family. But I was a workaholic who loved his job and thought about it night and day. I just assumed everyone else did the same.

Thankfully, I have changed a lot over the years, and have a much more sane view of ministry these days!

It can be difficult to say “no” sometimes and set boundaries, but you can only be involved in so many things. Find what you are passionate about and give your efforts to that area of ministry. Having a balanced life means that you are healthier and more productive, and your church enjoys the blessing of having a fully committed, energized you!

Question: Have you set healthy boundaries in your life regarding church involvement? If not, what can you do to help ensure that your life doesn’t become out of balance?

A word to pastors: Although this article was written for church members, I hope that you resonate with it as well. Whether you’ve been leading God’s people for a few years or a few decades, it’s important to take these lessons to heart. They apply equally to pastors as they do to church leaders . . . perhaps even more so since it’s so easy to allow church work to consume your life.

Life is full of transitions, but they can be so much better when we walk through them together.  As the Bible says:

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).

If you’re like me and sometimes think, “No one would know if I skipped church today,” I hope you’ll learn from what I’ve learned:

  1. Choose to get involved, because getting involved will build good relationships that are helpful both to you and to those with whom you interact;
  2. Distinguish between Ministry and ministry, serving others in the name of Christ regardless of where God has placed you;
  3. Develop a hunger for God, both by stoking the fire of your faith by reading his word, and by realizing your utter dependence on him;
  4. Learn to follow, not just lead, by encouraging those who lead you so they can lead even more effectively; and
  5. Learn to live a balanced life, setting boundaries and saying “no” to some things so you can say “yes” to others with your full energy and commitment.

Kent Sanders writes on art and creativity at kentsanders.net. He is also Professor of Worship at St. Louis Christian College in Florissant, MO. You can connect with him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

When you join the free email newsletter list at kentsanders.net, you get 6 free gifts, including the series “10 Keys to Creativity” and the eBooks “How to Make Time for Your Art” and “The Ultimate Resource Guide for Artpreneurs.”



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

Kent Sanders will be joining us from St. Louis for our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat on October 10-12.  We’d love to have you join us! Registration ends TOMORROW, SEPTEMBER 29th.
Click here to sign up!

This Week’s Sermon- Who Do You Think You Are?


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
Psalm 139

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

Note from Eric:  I spoke this week at our church’s Care Groups and thought you’d enjoy the message.  You can listen to it at the link below, or read the transcript that follows.  I’d especially encourage you to watch the movie I recommend in the message called “Sing Over Me,” which you can watch online for free this week only at www.singovermemovie.com.  I can’t recommend it highly enough!  Click the link below to listen to today’s message or read the transcript that follows.

Click here to listen to “Who Do You Think You Are?” by Eric Elder (11 minutes)

TRANSCRIPT:

Good evening.  My name’s Eric Elder and tonight we’re going to ask the question, “Who do you think you are?”  I’d also like to highlight two movies for you this week.  One you can watch online, right now, for free for just one more week, and the other is a movie from 1995 about a high school music teacher.  Both of these will help answer the question, “Who do you think you are?” because our perceptions of ourselves don’t always match with reality.

Sometimes people ask, “Who do you think you are?” when talking about someone who thinks they’re better than everyone else.  But for a lot of us–most of us really–the question is important because we really think too little of ourselves.  We have rough days.  We have bad weeks.  We have failures in our life.  We have disappointments.  We aren’t at the place where we thought we’d be.  Things didn’t work out quite the way we had planned, and we can sometimes get frustrated and we can get hurt and get confused and just say, “How did I end up here?”

So I want to remind you today what God thinks of you.  Because what really matters most is what He thinks of you.  He’s the one that created you, so He knows you inside and out, backwards and forwards.  I’d like to speak some words over you tonight from Psalm 139.  I’ll read to you most of the passage from Psalm 139.

For some of you, you may have heard these words a lot.  I want to help you hear them in a fresh way.  For some of you, you may have never heard these words before, about what God thinks about you.  This is a Psalm of David, who became king, and he was writing to God just how amazing it was that God even considered him or thought of him at all.  This is how God thinks of us all.  Psalm 139, starting in verse 1, says:

“O LORD, you have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O LORD” (Psalm 139:1-4). 

I was over in Peoria yesterday with a guy who has sepsis.  He’s recovering, but it’s going to be a really hard road for him.  He’s got a breathing tube down his throat and his organs are all failing and they weren’t sure if he was going to make it just a week ago.  I was reading this Psalm to him, and he’s not able to get words out.  He can only point, and at least this week is starting to be able to write on a board.  I thought of that phrase, “Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord.”  How amazing?  When you can’t even get a word out, God already knows it.  He knows what you’re thinking.  Even if you don’t get a word out, God still knows it, and that’s a great comfort.  Continuing in verse 5:

“You hem me in–behind and before; You have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence? If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast” (Psalm 139: 5-10).

I love that.  Some people might not like that, that God will never leave them alone.  But the great truth is, He loves you so much that He will never leave you alone.  He’s not coming after you with condemnation.  He pursues you with love, and He will never leave you alone, even if you settle on the far side of the sea.  His hand will guide you.  His right hand will hold you fast.

Continuing in verse 11:

“If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to You; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to You. For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with You” (Psalm 139:11-18).

I just love that, too, how God is with you.  He walks with you.  He knows you.  He’s ordained all the days of your life before one of them came to be.

Sometimes you feel like a nobody going nowhere.  But the truth is, in God’s eyes, you are a somebody going somewhere.

The first movie I want to tell you about is called “Sing Over Me.”  It’s about the life of Dennis Jernigan.  Dennis is a singer, songwriter and worship leader, among many other things.  He’s also a personal friend of mine.  He’s written songs that are sung in churches all over the world, songs like “You Are My All In All” and “We Will Worship the Lamb of Glory.”  But he didn’t always have chart-topping songs on his resume.  In fact, when he applied to music school in college, he was rejected when the head of the music department said, “We have only a few positions in this department, and we reserve them for people we see potential in.  We simply do not see any such potential in you.”

Yet Dennis loved to play the piano and to sing and worship and write songs.  He could have given up on life.  In fact, he tried to.  He tried to take his own life, turning on the gas stove in his room and laying down on the floor to die.  But then a drastic thought occurred to him:  was he really ready to face death and whatever may or may not be waiting for him afterward?  Frightened, he quickly got up and turned off the gas before he was overcome by the fumes.

Soon after, he was at a Christian concert, and when the invitation was given to surrender his life fully to God’s plan for his life, and to reject Satan’s plan of death and destruction, he committed his life to Christ.  Overwhelmed that night by God’s love for him, Dennis walked away from years of sexually destructive behavior and self-condemnation, and began a new walk of life, eventually marrying his college sweetheart, having a family of nine kids and writing hundreds of worship songs affecting millions.

Dennis says that the most significant step in his story was realizing his true identity–what God had planned and purposed in his life–and who he was in God’s eyes.  His life verse has become one from Zephaniah 3:17.  It says that “the Lord rejoices over you with singing.”  Dennis was so struck by that, that God loves him so much, that God would even sing over him.  And God sings over each one of you.  That’s just a crazy thought, not just that you sing to God, but that God rejoices over you and sings over you!  That could help you sleep at night, knowing that God is singing over you!

So this movie that they’ve made about Dennis’s life is called, “Sing Over Me,” and you can watch it at www.singovermemovie.com.  It’s free online for just one more week.  I encourage you to watch it!

The second movie that I want to talk about tonight is one called, “Mr. Holland’s Opus.”  Maybe you’ve heard about this. Chip Ingram talks about it in this book that we’re studying this fall in Care Groups called “Finding God When You Need Him Most.”  Mr. Holland, who’s played by Richard Dreyfus, wanted to write a magnificent symphony.  This was his goal in life.  Then he got involved in teaching high school music.  That was all in the meantime, and he did that for years and years and years, and he never got around to writing his symphony.

At one point the school lost their funding and they had to cut his position.  Mr. Holland lost his job.  He felt like his life had been wasted, for he had never fulfilled his dreams.  But to his surprise, as he was feeling his lowest, his former students gathered to honor him with a tribute.  They all came together in a room to surprise him, and one of them had become the governor of the state.  She got up to speak, and here’s what she says:

“Mr. Holland had a profound influence on my life, on a lot of lives I know.  And yet I get the feeling that he considers a great part of his own life misspent.  Rumor had it he was always working on this symphony of his.  And this was going to make him famous, rich, probably both.  But Mr. Holland isn’t rich and he isn’t famous, at least not outside of our little town.  It might be easy for him to think himself a failure.  And he would be wrong; because I think he’s achieved a success far beyond riches and fame.”  Then she said to him, “Look around you.  There is not a life in this room that you have not touched.  And each one of us is a better person because of you.  We are your symphony, Mr. Holland.  We are the melodies and the notes of your opus, and we are the music of your life.”

Chip Ingram adds:

Not many of us will have such a tribute.  But we can learn something from Mr. Holland’s experience.  Like him, most of us draw conclusions about ourselves in the dim light of the daily grind.  We assume that we don’t matter, don’t make a significant difference; but God says that is not true.  Whenever you are inclined to underestimate your value, I urge you to resist that urge.  Open the Bible to Psalm 139 and confront your feelings with what God says about you” (Chip Ingram, “Finding God When You Need Him Most,” p. 85).

Who do you think you are?  If you ever wonder, read–and reread–Psalm 139 and remember what God thinks about you.  Believe it or not, as Zephaniah says, God really does “rejoice over you with singing.”

Let’s pray…

Father, thank You for this day.  Thank You for Your healing and redeeming us and chasing after us.  God, I pray that each of us would hear from You in a special way, a unique way; that You would even sing over us, God, in a way that we could hear.  Just like Zephaniah 3:17 says, God, that You rejoice over us with singing.  Lord, let it be so in our lives.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

P.S. I do encourage you to watch Dennis Jernigan’s story.  The movie is called “Sing Over Me.” It’s brand new and it’s free for this week, through the end of September.  Here’s the link to watch:
http://www.singovermemovie.com

And here the link to Dennis’ book on Amazon.  It’s also called “Sing Over Me,” and goes into even more detail:
http://amzn.to/1v0Zyzw



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

This is the LAST WEEK TO SIGN UP FOR THE RANCH RETREAT!  Please let us know as soon as possible if you plan to come (or by Monday, September 29th at the latest).  We’re so looking forward to it… and hope you’ll join us!
Click here to learn more or to register.

This Week’s Sermon- Getting Away and Getting with God


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

GETTING AWAY AND GETTING WITH GOD
Mark 6:30-31

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

Note from Eric:  We’re just 4 weeks away from our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!  I hope you’ll join us here in person, but if you can’t, I hope you’ll watch our broadcast live that weekend or later on the website.  I’ve recorded a special invitation this week to tell you more about the retreat that I hope you’ll watch below.  I’ve also written a message to encourage you to take some time to get away and get with God to hear what He might have to say to you, whether you’re able to come to our retreat or you take one yourself wherever you live.  God has so much He wants to share with you, and it’s so much easier to hear Him speak when you intentionally take some time to get away and be with Him.  Here’s my video invitation to our retreat, followed by a message on getting away and getting with God.

Eric's Video Invitation to the 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat
Click here to watch Eric’s video invitation:
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Have you ever been so busy you don’t even have time to eat?  If so, you’re not alone.  Even Jesus and His disciples found themselves inundated by the needs around them.

Thankfully, Jesus has a solution.  Listen to what He said to His disciples after a super-busy time of super-charged ministry:

“The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, He said to them, ‘Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’” (Mark 6:30-31).

You might think that by simply working harder or working longer you’ll be able to get more done.  But the truth is, we all need times of rest and renewal so we can get charged up again to do all that God has called us to do.  If Jesus needed to get away for times of rest and renewal, as He often did, how much more do we need to get away, too?

One of my favorite memories as a kid was going on our annual church retreat with our family and friends to “Woods Camp,” a nearby retreat center.  Even though it was only 20 minutes away from home, going out into the woods for the weekend was somehow magical.  We explored the woods, ate pancakes together in the lodge, sang songs of worship and listened to encouraging messages.

At night, we’d cook marshmallows over a bonfire, make s’mores and play a game called 4-square with a rubber ball and 4-squares of chalk drawn on the cement on the front porch of the lodge.  I especially remember singing a 3-part round of “Love, love, love, love, Christians this is your call” in the chapel in the woods on Sunday mornings.

As an adult, I found a new love for retreats.  I discovered they were not just for fun and games, but a way I could hear from God more clearly.  When I moved to Texas to take a job after college, I went to a retreat in Grapevine, Texas, with a group of young adults.  It was there that I first opened up to a small group of people and told them that I really wasn’t sure what I believed about Jesus.  Even though I had been in church all my life, I still didn’t know for sure if Jesus was real, and if He was, what difference it would make in my life.  One of the guys in that small group invited me to come study the Bible with him and a few others guys each week so I could learn more and find out for myself.  By the time the retreat came around the next year, I was a brand-new Christian, having heard God speak personally to me.  I put my faith in Jesus that year and have been loving Him and following Him ever since.

What makes getting away and getting with God so special?  I think it has to do with simply “turning aside” to see what God is up to, as Moses did when he turned aside to look at a bush that was burning–but didn’t burn up–in the desert.  God used the bush to get Moses’ attention, and when God saw that Moses turned aside to look, God spoke to him.  The Bible says:

“Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.’ When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am’” (Exodus 3:2a-4).

That simple act of turning aside changed the course of the rest of Moses’ life.

You might think that this message is simply leading up to a shameless plug for the fall retreat we’re hosting here in Illinois next month, and I guess in part you’d be right!  But believe me, I’m not promoting this retreat for my own sake, but for yours.  I simply know the power of getting away and getting with God, and my desire is to help you experience that power in your life, too.

I also know that you may not be able to come to Illinois and join us in person, but thanks to the Internet, you don’t have to!  We’re planning to broadcast the retreat on the Internet so you can watch it wherever you, both live on the weekend of the retreat and stored on our website to watch later.  Whether you join us in person, or join us online, I hope you’ll take some time to “turn aside” and see what God is up to.  Our prayer is that the weekend will increase your faith in Jesus and help you walk out your faith with more strength and confidence than ever before.

If you are coming in person, we need to hear from you as soon as possible, as the deadline for registering is just 2 weeks away, Monday, September 29th.  You can use the link below to learn more and to register.  And even though you’ll see a price listed for the retreat, we don’t want cost to keep anyone from coming who wants to come.  Just send us a note by replying to this message, and we’’ll send you some information for how you can register at low cost or no cost at all.  We simply ask that if you do register, you do come, as we’ll have a place reserved for you and meals for the weekend, (plus a gift bag my 11-year-old daughter is putting together for you, and we don’t want you to miss any of it!)

For those of you who can’t come but want to watch online, we’ll be sending you more instructions for how to do that as we get closer to the retreat.  You can always check for updates at http://www.theranch.org.

To learn more about the retreat or to register, please visit this link!

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-2nd-annual-ranch-retreat-tickets-11784019319

As a final note, I’d like to encourage you that you don’t have to wait for a retreat to get away and get alone with God.  You can get away by taking a walk, or going to church or finding a friend with whom you can talk or pray or read a chapter of the Bible together (if you don’t know what else to read, try reading John chapter 14 as a great place to start).

When John Wesley’s mother, Susanna, needed to get alone and get with God, she would simply sit in a chair, pull her apron over her head, and that was enough to let her numerous children know that she was spending some quiet time with God!  Whatever it takes, I encourage you to get alone and get with God, too.  As Jesus said:

“Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31b).

Have a blessed week, and hope to hear from you soon about the retrea!

Eric Elder



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

Why not get away and see what God has to say?  Click here to learn more or to register.

This Week’s Sermon- Expectancy


This Day's Thought from The Ranch

EXPECTANCY
Psalm 73

by Eric Elder
www.theranch.org

 

Note from Eric:  I shared a message this week at our church that I thought you might like to hear on the topic of “Expectancy,” being expectant that God will show up, especially when you feel like He might be farthest away.  You can listen to the 20 minute message at the link below, or read the transcript that follows.  Also, if you’re thinking about coming to our Ranch Retreat next month, will you send me a quick note?  I have some special instructions for you, plus a way to attend at no cost or a lower cost if that will help you.  Just reply to this email.  Thanks!

Click here to listen to Eric’s message: “Expectancy”

TRANSCRIPT

ERIC:  Thanks, Will.  Great worship.  A nice transition from busy days or whatever you’ve been doing today, just to come into the presence of God.

My name is Eric Elder, and I’ve been part of Care Groups for a few years, helping leading care groups and being in care groups.  I know what it’s like to come on Thursday nights and sometimes it’s really a hard thing to get here, and other times it’s what you’re looking forward to and can’t wait to get to all week.  Regardless, I’m just glad you’re here.  I’m glad you made it.

I want to talk to you tonight about “Expectancy,” just really expecting that God will show up and speak to you tonight, that He will really give you what you need, that He’ll help answer the questions that are on your heart.  I think a lot of what Care Groups is about is giving you that hope, hope that God will continue to walk with you through whatever you’re going through.

I’m not here to compare my struggles with your struggles and I don’t want to get into that kind of battle, but I can say that I’ve had enough, enough to know that sometimes you lose hope and you just wonder, “Is God going to really be here for me today, and tomorrow and next week?”  And I want to tell you He is, and He will be.

I want to look with you at Psalm 73 tonight and look at this man named Asaph who got really ticked at God; and how God met him.  If you have your Bible you can read along.  Psalm 73, starting in verse 1:

“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.  But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.  They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.  Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.  From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.  They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression.  Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.  Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.  They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?”  This is what the wicked are like– always carefree, they increase in wealth.  Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.  All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.  If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children.  When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me…” (Psalm 73:1-16).

I’m going to stop there.  I’ve had a chance to look through this and to get a feeling for what Asaph was feeling and he was pretty ticked.  He was saying, “Look at all the people who aren’t following God and how they seem to be prospering.  They seem to be doing fine.  They’re getting promotions.  They’re getting everything.  They’re increasing in wealth and all kinds of things and here I’ve tried to keep myself pure.  I’ve tried to do what’s right, and all these terrible things are happening to me.”

In verse 2 he sort of gives away how he’s feeling.  He said: “As for me, my feet had almost slipped.  I had nearly lost my foothold, for I envied the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

He said he almost lost it.  He almost lost his grip on life, his grip on God, because he didn’t think that things were working out fair for him.

As Jason’s introduced to you last week, we’re going to be going through this fall this book on Psalms.  It’s by Chip Ingram, it’s called, “Finding God When You Need Him Most.”  So on Thursday nights we’re going to be talking to you about it before you go to your smaller care groups.  Tonight, the Psalm that Chip Ingram talks about is Psalm 73, and how God met him and spoke to him through this Psalm.  This is part of the expectancy that I’d love to instill in you tonight, too.

Chip was at a point where he was about ready to give up on God.  He had been a new Christian, a fairly new believer, when he was in high school.  He had been dating a girl for two years.  He thought this was the woman he was going to marry.  He had done everything right.  He had met with her parents.  He had stayed physically pure.  He had done everything he could in those two years.

But as he saw the relationship developing, he saw that his “future wife” was wanting to stay at home and live across the street from her parents and never move away.  He on the other hand, knew that he was being called to be a missionary, to move far away, to do all kinds of traveling around the world.  He just kept feeling like God was not matching them up, that it just wasn’t right.  So he did the hardest thing in his life and he finally broke up with her, not because there was any incompatibility in their relationship, but because he saw they were going in different directions.

He said it was so hard for him, so difficult, and the next year of his life was terrible.  He talks about how hard that was, but he thought, maybe it would be like Abraham and Isaac:  he was going to sacrifice her, give her up, and then he’ll get her back.  God would see how pure and honorable he had been and he’ll get her back.  So I’ll just read you this passage from the book, as he was thinking this.  He said:

Surely God will reward my faithfulness, I reasoned.  Instead, God did the unthinkable.

It was late and I was tired.  I played basketball on my college team, and a humiliating home game had just ended.  I was emotionally down, physically fatigued, and spiritually frustrated as I trudged up two flights of stairs from the locker room to the exit.  With my hair still wet and my jacket over my shoulder, I looked up to see a sight I hadn’t seen in months.  Standing at the top of the stairs was my former girlfriend.  She was waiting in our spot, next to the railing where she always used to meet me after home games.  I could hardly believe my eyes!  Instantly I thought, “God has answered my prayers!  She is standing there waiting for me, just like the good old days.”  As the adrenaline and joy surged through me, I started making plans.  We’d go get a bite to eat, and she’d tell me how God had changed her mind about our future.

As the distance between us shortened and my eyes met hers, I sensed something was different.  There was no warm smile, no step toward me, no arm around my waist–only an uncomfortable, “Hi, Chip.”  Before I could fully grasp what was happening, another player on our team bounced up the stairs, brushed past me, and grabbed her hand.  The cold air rushed through the open doors and rolled over my wet hair and numb mind.  I watched in stony silence as she put her arm in his, and they walked across campus into the night.  Then it hit me: She wasn’t waiting for me.  She was waiting for someone else.  As the glass doors slowly closed behind them, I felt frozen in time.

A wave of anger swelled up from within the depths of my soul.  The emotions shot through me, like pinballs bouncing indiscriminately off every object in sight.  But they soon found their target.  How could God let this happen to me after the great sacrifice I’d made for him?  And of all the players on the team, how could God let her get hooked up with him?  I knew what this guy was like.  I knew his intentions with girls because of how he bragged about all his former conquests.   And God had just let him walk out the door with the girl I loved?

I was livid.  Worst of all, I felt betrayed.  As I stood motionless in that doorway, I had a mental conversation with God:  “Let’s go over this one more time, God.  Because of my commitment to you, I broke up with the beautiful girl I love, the girl I want to marry; and that snake is with her right now!  You took her away from me and let her go off with him?  Our relationship was the best thing you ever gave me, but I can’t have it?  Instead, he gets to be with her?  And where is her mind?  What is she doing?  I don’t get it!”

He goes on and on, fuming, livid, feeling like a beast.  He was about ready to give up on God and everything that has to do with God.  But he had been reading his Bible, reading through the book of Psalms, and he said, essentially, God, I’m going to give you three or four chapters to speak to me and if I don’t hear from you, I’m done.  I’m done with You.

So he picked up the Bible where he left off, about Psalm 70, and he read a chapter.  Nothing happened.  He read another chapter.  Nothing.  He read another chapter, and his mind was wandering into all kinds of other things.  And then he got to Psalm 73.  He said it was like a script of what he was going through right at that moment.  The Bible said: “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.  But as for me, my feet almost slipped.  I nearly lost my foothold.  I envied the arrogant… I envied these people with their bodies so strong… with pride as their necklace.”  And he went on.

Even in the middle of the Psalm, Asaph said:

“I was senseless and ignorant, I was a brute beast before You.” (Psalm 73:21-22).

Chip says those were the very words he was using to describe himself as he was walking across campus:  “I’m like a beast.”  He didn’t know what was wrong with him.  Then he continued reading the Psalm.  And here’s what Asaph learned, in the middle of the Psalm.  In verse 16 he said:

“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.  Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.  How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!  As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.  When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds” (Psalm 73:16-28).

He said that turned him around.  He felt like God was speaking directly to him.  And he said it was going to impact a lot of people.  He had a Bible study of six guys that he was leading; he had led several of them to Christ.  And he had tried to think what would happen to them when I walk away from God?  They might all walk away too.  He tried to think of all the different influences this was going to have.

But God did show up and He did speak to him.

I’ve had this happen to me so many times, and especially in the book of Psalms.  I’ve heard other people say this, that the Psalms run such a range of emotions.  When you’re most excited, that’s what some of the Psalms are.  They’re songs, so there are songs of excitement, there are songs of anger, there are songs of frustration, there are songs of victory.  There’s so much in there.  If you’ll just start flipping through the Psalms, and I encourage you to do that this week, if you’d at a point where you’re not sure what to do, just start reading through the Psalms.  Flip through a few:  4, 5, 6, 7, I don’t know how many, but there will be a point where you’ll say, “Wow, I can really identify with this.”  Whether it’s David going through the struggles of dealing with the sin in his own life, things he’s done to himself.  Or someone else who’s been beat or hurt by others and mistreated in the wrong way.  Or someone else who is just ecstatic because something great has just happened to them.

If you’ll just read through the Psalms, you’ll be amazed that you’ll find something that you can latch onto.

And typically the Psalms end on a high note.  Even as angry as people are when they come and pour forth their stuff to God, by the end of the Psalm, on most occasions, people come back and say, “OK God, I’ve had it out with You, I’ve vented, and now, come and speak to me and help me through the next day.”

This particular passage spoke to me, even a few years ago.  That very first sentence spoke to me about how God speaks to us in our moment of need.

I was asked to preach a sermon at a church where I was living up in Gridley, Illinois.  I was down in St. Louis at the time.  I was driving back that same morning and was going to pick up my wife and my kids and run them over to the church where I was going to speak.

It had been sort of a chaotic time.  I had flown to Israel.  I had been praying for a lady in Houston who was dying of cancer.  I had been doing a lot of things and ended up in St. Louis, then I had to get back to this church to preach by 9 o’clock that morning.

So I was up early and I got in the car and I had no idea what I was going to say at the church.  But God just kept saying, “Don’t worry about it.  I will give you the words to speak.”  But that’s not the way I am!  I usually write it out word for word.  It was like a very scripted thing for me because I just felt more confident that way and I think God honors that as well.

But there was another church in Gridley where they actually don’t prepare the messages.  They’re lay people and they get up and do the messages; they’re not paid staff.  And they get up, they open the Bible, and whatever page it lands on, they read the scripture and they preach from that.  And I just thought, “All right, I will try that this morning.”  There are other godly people in the world who do that, and I’m going to do that.

So I walked into my house about five minutes before it’s time to be at the church.  My wife was not exactly happy with me, but this was what we were doing.  I drove across town and she said, “What are you going to talk about?” and I said, “You know, I really don’t know.  I’m going to open my Bible and see what it says.”

So I stood up there.  I had never done this before.  I opened the Bible and it landed on Psalm 73.  Now I told you I had just been to Israel; I had just been praying for this woman who was dying of cancer.  I actually happened to pray for her on Valentine’s Day and it turned out to be a lot of heart issues, so I was praying for her heart, and prayed that God would heal her heart on Valentine’s Day.

And I opened up to Psalm 73 and the first line said:  “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.”  And I had just been thinking the whole time about my trip to Israel.  I had been thinking about this woman’s heart.  And there were “Israel” and “heart.”  I just said, “All right, I’ll talk about Israel and I’ll talk about this woman’s heart.”  I spoke for about 25 minutes and God said, “That’s it.  Stop.”  I hadn’t even finished all the stories.  But I said, “All right, that’s what You want me to do.”  And I sat down.  It was one of the most powerful messages that I had ever given, with people’s responses and what they had to say about that.

It was incredible, how God can speak to you, in the moment, when you need Him.

I just want to give you that hope and expectancy, that God really can meet you.

One last story before I go, even this week.  Some of you that know me from before, my wife passed away of cancer two years ago this November.  I’ve got six kids and I still homeschool the three younger ones.  My wife homeschooled all of them and so I’ve taken over that duty.  She wanted me to do that as long as I could.

So I’ve gotten out all the books the last couple of weeks.  She had them all nice in boxes for all their grades, so we’ve got books from past years, but you always have to buy workbooks and other things to fill in what’s missing.  And yet they update the books all the time, so the old workbooks don’t go with the new curriculum, and it’s always a little bit of a hassle.

So I had the books and we’ve been going through with the kids this week starting school and my eighth grade curriculum, the whole thing, I was missing workbooks for all of the lessons.  I was starting to add them to my shopping cart on the website where you buy the books.  But they were the wrong edition so they weren’t going to match with all my solution keys and test keys and teacher’s keys.  It’s like $600 to buy the whole thing for a year and I really wasn’t looking forward to spending that.  But I’ve got this child and I’ve got another one that’s in sixth grade that’s going to be in eighth grade soon.

So last night I was adding all these books to the cart and saying, “God, help me.  Lana, help me. I don’t know what to do.”

This morning, I got an email.  I had even searched on the Internet to see if I could find this “Fourth Edition, A Beka, Grammar and Composition II,” and I couldn’t find it.  But this morning and email came through the Bloomington homeschool list and a lady said she was selling all of her A Beka Eighth Grade curriculum.  The kids hardly went through any of it.  She thought it was going to work but it didn’t work out for them.  So I called her up and asked, “Now what edition is it?”  She said, “I’m not sure.  It’s an older one.”  And I said, “As long as they all match, I don’t care!  The teacher keys and the answers and everything, as long as they match!”

So I stopped by her house tonight on the way over here.  Not only did she had the curriculum, but she had twins, and so she had two workbooks of everything, so it will be enough for my kids.  It’s the Fourth Edition, just what I was needing this week.  And she had two workbooks, so I’ll have one for this child and another for in two years for my other child, with the same edition.

It’s just things like that, you could just say, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing that that worked.”

Or you could say, “Oh, God!  You’re more incredible than I could imagine.  I need You so bad.  I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this year.  I don’t know how I can do it without my wife.  But God, You know what I need.  And You know that this woman lived in Bloomington.  And You did it on this day, this morning, Thursday morning, after I had been adding hundreds of dollars worth of stuff to my shopping cart that I didn’t want to spend.  And I just say, God, thank You.”

It’s not about money, it’s not about saying, when things work out, you say, “Praise God!”  It’s about being expectant and saying, “God, I can’t go forward without You.”  It’s like Chip Ingram saying, “God, I’m going to give you three more chapters, then I’m done.”  (I’m not sure that’s the right approach all the time, just keep going, it may take six or seven!  Don’t give up after three!)

But God is there.  He works.  He’s alive.  He’s active.

Let’s pray:

“Lord, thank You.  Thank You for people like Asaph who lived how many thousand years ago and he was frustrated.  He was ticked.  He was hurt.  And yet You met him.  Thank You for people like Chip Ingram, who didn’t give up on God in college and now touches thousand of people all over the world.  Thank You God for speaking to me a few years ago when I was giving a sermon and didn’t know what to preach on.  Thank You God for speaking to me this morning and even tonight, just the double blessing that there are two workbooks of every lesson.  God, I thank You how you care for us.  I pray You’d give hope, give inspiration to the people in this room and the people listening later, that You’re real and that You love us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.”



The 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!

We’re just one month away from our 2nd Annual Ranch Retreat!  If you plan to come, sign up now!  It all starts on Columbus Day weekend, October 10-12.  Also, if you’re still thinking about coming but haven’t let us know, will you send me a quick note? I have some special instructions for you, plus a way to attend at no cost or a lower cost if that will help you. Just reply to this email. Thanks!  Click here to learn more or to register.