One Verse That Says It All

In 1954, This Week Magazine — with 11 million readers — asked a handful of high profile pastors and theologians a compelling question:

“If, as a result of some cataclysm, it were possible to retain just one passage from the Bible — what would your choice be?”

Reinhold Niebuhr, one of the most respected and influential theologians of the 20th century, chose the following…

And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

In explanation, he said that this verse “…combines the high point of the Christian ethic, which is forgiving love, with a reference to the whole basic of the ethic, which is the historical revelation in Christ.”

The highest achievement for the believer, you could say, is to forgive others … because forgiveness is the foundation of Christ’s completed work on Calvary:

In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:7-8)

God lavished his mercy on us so that we might lavish mercy on others. Let’s not, then, take lightly this command to freely share with others what God has freely given to us.

The Show Me Prayer

On February 1966 Navy Captain Gerald Coffee was flying a reconnaissance mission over North Vietnam when he was shot down by enemy anti-aircraft fire.

He was soon captured and placed in a military prison in downtown Hanoi, where he would spend the next 7 years of his life: tortured, beaten, and confined to a filthy cell — so tiny that he could neither fully stand up or fully lie down.

How did he endure such inhumane treatment for such an extended time?

In a 2014 interview with PBS, he said…

“Early on my prayers changed from ‘Why me’ to ‘Show me.’

“I quit saying, ‘Why me, God?’ and I started saying: ‘Show me, God…

“‘How can I use this positively? Help me to use it to go home as a better, stronger, smarter man in every possible way that I can, to go home as a better naval officer, to go home as a better American, a better citizen, a better Christian.

“‘God, help me to use this time productively so that it won’t be some kind of a void or a vacuum in my life.’”

Next, he said…

“And after that change in my prayers, every single day took on a new meaning.”

There’s no question that our trials pale in comparison to Captain Coffee’s. And yet, ‘Why Me?’ remains a mantra for many.

Why Me? leads only to a greater sense of despair.

Show Me, on the other hand, moves us in a new direction, where we experience God’s presence and God’s power like never before.

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Giving Your All Two Bits at a Time

Today’s post is an adapted, paraphrased version of an illustration Fred Craddock often used to explain what it means to give your life fully to Christ.

We think giving our all to God is like dropping a one thousand-dollar bill in the offering plate, as if to say: “Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.”

The reality is more like the Lord sending us to the bank and having us exchange the $1000 bill for 4000 quarters.

And then we go through life giving away 25 cents here and 50 cents there, in his service.

Like when we help a neighbor in need. Or minister to someone who is lonely. Or offer a word of encouragement. Or prepare a meal for a friend. Or serve on a committee at church.

Giving your all to God isn’t as flashy as one might think. It’s done in all these little acts of love, 25 cents at at time.

It would be comparatively easy to go out in a flash of glory. Much more difficult is to live the Christian life little-by-little over the long haul, two-bits at a time.

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)

The Upside of Owning Up

Bum Phillips, former head coach of the Saints and the Oilers, once said, “You’re not a failure until you start blaming someone else.”

This has been the bane of the human race since the beginning: Eve blamed the serpent for her disobedience. In turn, Adam blamed Eve … and he didn’t stop there: He also suggested that God was partly to blame, since bringing Eve on board was his idea in the first place.

Like Solomon said…

A man’s own folly ruins his life, yet his heart rages against the Lord. (Proverbs 19:3)

As long as we’re saying, “Yeah, maybe I did it, but it’s not my fault,” we exclude ourselves from any possibility of a comeback, any possibility of recovery.

We are, in fact, setting ourselves up for it to happen all over again.

Overcoming any kind of failure begins when we’re ready to say, “Today I take ownership of my life: what I think, what I say, what I do. I can’t control everything that happens, but I can control what I do next.”

Placing blame is easy; owning up never is. But it’s the only path to victory.

Lessons Learned the Easier Way

Today’s memo is an adapted version of a fable by Aesop.

he Lion, the Fox, and the Donkey went hunting together one afternoon, catching a large quantity of game. As they prepared to go their separate ways, the Lion asked the Donkey to divide the spoils.

The Donkey sorted everything into three piles, taking extra care to give everyone an equal share.

When the Lion looked at the three evenly distributed stacks, he decided he didn’t like what he saw. So he pounced on the Donkey, killing him in an instant, and tossed him on top of his pile.

Then he turned to Fox and said, “Divide the spoils.”

The Fox quickly put everything in one huge pile. Then he cautiously took for himself the carcass of a single small crow, and slowly backed away.

“Very good,” said the Lion. “But I must ask, where did you learn how to divide things so evenly?”

The Fox said, “It’s something I picked up from the Donkey.”

* * * * *

It’s one thing to learn from experience, from your own mistakes. It’s quite another to be able learn from the mistakes of others. The first is somewhat uncommon; the second is extremely rare.

Many of the stories of the Old Testament serve this purpose: They offer a chance to learn life’s most important lessons, without having to personally endure the inevitable hard knocks that come with experience.

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction…(1 Corinthians 10:11)

May we learn to learn from the example of others.

Problems & Solutions = Problems & Solutions

In the mid-19th century, fire trucks were typically pulled by horses. At the fire house, the horses were kept downstairs, while the firemen slept and ate upstairs.

• This led to a problem: When the horses could smell food being prepared, they wanted some. So they would frequently climb the stairs to see for themselves what’s on the stove.

• This led to a solution: Fire stations began to install spiral staircases, too narrow for a horse to navigate. This kept the horses safely on the lower level.

• This led to a problem: A dozen firemen trying to race down a spiral staircase at 3:00 in the morning was neither safe nor quick.

• This led to a solution: Chicago-based fire fighter Captain David Kenyon is credited with the invention of the fire pole: Safer, faster, more efficient.

Following Chicago’s lead, the Boston Fire Department soon installed a fire pole. It wasn’t long before other departments throughout the land heard about this innovation, and began using them, too. You could say the idea spread like … I don’t know … what would be a good analogy here?

Here’s my point.

Problems rarely come with a one-step-and-this-settles-it-forever solution. The best solution to one problem will often present corresponding challenges in another area.

So what do you do? Abandon a good “first-step” idea?

No, you continue to adapt. You continue to confront the follow-up challenges that come along.

That’s part of being a leader: solving one problem after another. It’s not always the most enjoyable line-item in our job description, but it’s often the most necessary.

The end result for fire stations across the nation is that the fire pole is a much faster method of getting to the lower level — faster than even a traditional set of steps. And when you’re on your way to a fire, every second counts.

Facing problems day-in and day-out can be tedious, it’s true. However, solving them one-by-one makes everything better for everyone.

And more than likely, that’s much of what your job entails.

Our biggest and boldest prayers.

Our Biggest and Boldest Prayers

I remember hearing someone say in a sermon (actually, it might have been a testimony), “If I had realized all along that my prayers would be answered, I would have prayed better prayers.”

He was being facetious, a little. But there is also some truth to what he said.

We have a tendency to pray safe prayers, small prayers, never presuming to ask for too much. And we’re careful to include the qualifier, “If it be thy will,” just in case nothing happens.

Of course, praying within the boundaries of God’s will is a fundamental element of prayer; we know this. [1 John 5:14]

Our problem, however, is that we often pray for less than God’s will, with something less than an attitude of faith.

We pray for a cabin in the corner of Glory Land, while God is offering us a mansion of our very own.

We ask for the ability to accept defeat, so to speak, while God has promised us victory.

We’re asking for the courage to cope when he is ready to give us the power to overcome.

God has promised us great things. We often respond by asking for small things.

What if we were to zero in on one or two requests that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt are surely part of God’s perfect will for our lives — and what if made these areas a target of our biggest and boldest prayers of faith? Things such as: Holiness. Victory. Joy. Courage. Motivation. Patience. Purpose. Power. Self-Control. And so on.

These are the birth-right of every believer. If they’re lacking in any of our lives, there is arguably only one reason:

You do not have because you do not ask. (James 4:2)

So let’s be sure to ask.

This is our challenge: Pray within the boundaries of God’s perfect will — and keep in mind those are huge boundaries.

And then pray big and bold prayers.

And pray like you know your prayers will be answered.

Making First Things First

Dr. Gerald Bell is the co-author of the best-selling The Carolina Way with legendary basketball coach Dean Smith. He’s also the founder of the Bell Leadership Institute.

Several years ago, Dr. Bell surveyed 4000 retired business executives, with an average age of seventy, asking one key question: If you could live your over again, what would you do differently?

The number one answer:

“I should have taken charge of my life and set my goals earlier.”

The other top answers included:

– Taken better care of my health.
– Managed money better.
– Spent more time with family.
– Spent more time on personal development.

Few of us are at the beginning of our career; some of us have already rounded third. But it’s not too late to make your life about the things that matter most.

Anyone who’s willing can take charge of their life today, even if there’s not much as time left on the clock as one would like.

Anyone who’s willing can take charge of their health today, even if it’s more of an uphill climb than it once was.

Anyone who’s willing can begin making themselves available to their closest friends and family today, even if the relationship has faced hurdles in the past.

And so on.

For those still in the early stages of their career, these five values are certainly good guidelines to follow.

For those who are in the later stages of the journey, they’re still good to go by.

It’s never too late to make first things first.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

The One Digging the Well

An ancient Eastern proverb says, “Those who drink the water must remember who dug the well.”

In every area, our lives are made lighter through the efforts of others.

Take a look around. Everything you see is a call for gratitude: The house you live in, the clothes you wear, your table, your chair, your bed. Someone dug the well, so to speak, to make these available.

There were also those who taught you in school, and Sunday School. Who told you about Jesus, who volunteered for VBS and, later, youth camps and retreats. Who prayed for you, who encouraged you along the way … they were digging the well, and they deserve your gratitude.

Our job, then, is to remember to remember those who put the well in its place, to say thank you in person when we can, and to say thank you to God for bringing this person our way.

And our job goes just a little bit further.

We need to be digging wells of our own, in service to others. It’s a simple step to ask ourselves throughout the day: Who, besides me, will benefit from what I am doing right now?

During his second and third missionary journeys, the apostle Paul “dug a well” in Ephesus: planting a church, leading people to Christ, training leaders.

And yet, it is he who expressed gratitude to them…

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers… (Ephesians 1:16)

Our work involves digging wells that will last for eternity. Let’s tend to the task in a spirit of gratitude — thankful for those we serve, and thankful for those who have played a role in guiding us along the way.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!

Not the Final Chapter

In February 2013 NFL wide receiver Cris Carter was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame — an honor well deserved. He had a great career.

However, it didn’t look like he was headed in that direction after his first few seasons in Philadelphia.

Carter was a gifted athlete, but his early career suffered because of off-the-field issues, mainly related to drug abuse.

After being cut by the Eagles, he was picked up by the Vikings. It was around this time that Cris got serious about following Christ.

In Minnesota, he made the most of his second chance. He began the process of turning things around personally and professionally.

And what a turn-around it was: He went on to play in eight consecutive Pro-Bowls, and broke several receiving records, becoming one of only a handful of receivers with more than one thousand career receptions.

In an interview a few days before his Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Cris had this to say:

“I wish I had done everything right. I have regrets. And when you’ve got a dark chapter in your life, people will try to make that the final chapter in your life. But it doesn’t have to be.

“For me, when it got the darkest, I said ‘this is not going to be the end of my book.’ I was able to start making decisions and start doing the right things, and one thing happened after another…”

YOUR SECOND CHANCE

Some days it may appear that you’re at the end of your book, as if the way things are today is the way things will always be.

Don’t believe it. There are chapters in your life yet to be written.

Even today you can begin making decisions to change the outcome of your story.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)


Taken from Steve’s book It’s All in the Dailies.
Cris Carter HOF photograph by Eric Daniel Drost.

The Price We Pay for the Right Words to Say

Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good.

His life has much difficulty and sadness and remains far behind yours. Were it otherwise he would never have been able to find those words.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke
Letters to a Young Poet


This quote from the 19th century Bohemian poet makes me think, first, of the life Christ lived for us.

He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. We sometimes forget.

He did not consider equality with God as something to cling to, but instead he humbled himself, taking on the nature of a servant, becoming obedient, even to the point of death.

He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities. He suffered for our sins, that by his stripes we may be healed.

And it is this attitude of humble, sacrificial service that Paul calls us to imitate.

I also think of how Rilke’s words apply to those in ministry, especially the preaching / teaching ministry.

It is through the struggles we face and the challenges we endure that God is able to give us the necessary words that can offer strength and hope to others.

We’re often tempted to ask, “Why is it necessary that I endure this hardship?”

Let’s consider the answer might be: “Because the people you’re called to serve will someday need to learn, from you, how to overcome this same kind of challenge.”

An Ancient Example of Forgiveness

The first time the word forgive appears in the Bible is in the final chapter of Genesis, when Joseph receives a message from his late father, saying…

“I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.” (Genesis 50:17)

His brothers had been worried about it. They wondered…

“What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” (Gen 50:15)

It had been more than 30 years, but they knew that didn’t matter. Joseph could have held on to the hurt all this time; he could have waited until this moment to exact his revenge.

Instead, Joseph did the unexpected.

When their message came to him, Joseph wept. (Genesis 50:17)

I don’t know why Joseph wept. Was he just now letting go of the hurt? Was he just now finishing the process of forgiveness that he had begun years before?

Who knows? Forgiving others sometimes takes time.

But he refused to let the past ruin the future. He said to his brothers…

“Don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:21)

Joseph spent his final years in peace, surrounded by his family, his brothers and their children.

And his perspective on the past?

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

The hurts of decades past may still sting like they happened yesterday. It may be tempting to hang on to them just a little bit longer …

…but if you’re willing to let go of yesterday’s pain, you can experience the peace of God’s presence today.

And tomorrow, too.