Monthly Archives: November 2014

Sticking with the Plan

These are good days to be an Arkansas football fan. After enduring a seventeen game conference losing streak, the past two weeks have been very enjoyable. In my down time in the evenings, I often read about my beloved Razorbacks on various websites, and there has been plenty of blame given to why the team has struggled to win. Through all the difficulty, Coach Brett Bielema has continued to speak of “the plan” that he has to build a successful football program that will win yearly.

The “armchair quarterbacks” have questioned every part of the plan. Rather than play what most called “hard-nosed football,” they think he should run a different offense. They think that the coaching staff needs to change their strategies and start recruiting completely different kinds of athletes. These “experts” would have you to believe that Arkansas will never win another football game. Then, progress was seen in the plan.

As Coach Bielema had a second year to develop his plan, the team became more competitive and had some very close games, leading up to the victories the last two weeks. All because the coach, staff, and players stuck with the plan and believed in what they were doing.

Most of us have difficulty sticking with the plan. Just think how many Januarys you have started a diet and plan to have a new body by the end of the year, only to give up the plan when the results do not come as you expect. Or what about the time you and your spouse agreed to live by a budget in order to be good stewards and develop an emergency fund, only to forget about that plan when your favorite sporting-goods store had a sale. Then there was the bad performance review at work that gave you the opportunity to make adjustments before being fired, and you began to work hard and increase your performance, only to forget the plan when someone questioned a decision you made.

I have seen many pastors begin to lead a church according to the vision that God gave them, only to reverse course when they faced some opposition. I have also watched many church leaders start out in full support of their new pastor and his vision but refuse to stick with the plan when it affected a preference they held in the church.

Spiritually, the Holy Spirit convicts us of a sin we need to confess and repent, and we plan to be obedient; then, we learn the difficulty to dying to the flesh and we give up on the plan. This probably happens most Mondays after we hear a powerful message on Sunday. Or maybe it is the opposite and the Holy Spirit leads you to start something, rather than stop something, in your life. You plan to be obedient, then later are convicted that you never started because you forgot the plan.

You will always find people who will support you giving up on the plan. Many may even encourage you to do so, just as many have challenged Brett Bielema to do. If it is a spiritual matter, I can assure you that Satan will give you every resource you need to walk away from the plan.

If you find yourself struggling today with the plan God has given you in an area of your life, stick with the plan. Remain obedient. If you have stopped following the plan, go back to where you quit and start there. The rewards are greater than winning a ballgame, for they are eternal. “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

Doing the Hard Thing

In the election a couple of weeks ago, Asa Hutchinson was elected governor of my home state of Arkansas. I remember when he ran for the US House of Representatives and won, then knew that he was later held positions in the Drug Enforcement Agency and in Homeland Security. What I most remember was he served as a prosecutor during Bill Clinton’s impeachment trail. I remember political strategists saying that Hutchinson was committing career suicide for standing up against Arkansas’ beloved son. I thought that to be true after he lost a previous state-wide election for governor in 2006, but his victory this month serves as a lesson to us.

I have never met Asa Hutchinson, but I figure that he knew he would face political backlash in his home state if he took a stand against the President during the impeachment trial. Even if he never said anything but just was willing to hold the position, he knew there would be ramifications. However, Asa Hutchinson was called on to do a job, had the background to fulfill the responsibilities, and made the decision to do the hard thing- which is seldom popular.

All believers face the decision to do the hard thing every time we choose to live according to God’s Word in a world that is becoming more opposed to God. There may be ramifications, but we must choose to do what is hard.

In my passion for families, I think of the husband that sees issues that need addressed in his family. He knows that the children are not going to like it, and neither may his wife. But as he considers the possibilities, he chooses to do the hard thing. It may cause more problems immediately, and it may get real quiet around his house as he receives the silent treatment, but when he sees the needed outcome, doing the hard thing paid off.

Or what about the parents of a teenagers that begins to go down a road that the parents know first-hand will lead to disaster? Will the parents sit back and watch, or will they do the hard thing and risk upsetting their teen? One option is hard and not easy to do- but it is necessary.

As a pastor, I think back to the time I had to approach a deacon and his wife after the wife wrote multiple letters to people in the church about things that did not amount to anything. Her actions were beginning to impact the unity of the church, and I did not want to have the conversation. After I got them out of bed one Saturday morning and shared what was going on, there was usually a cold shoulder waiting on me, but I saw the unity and work of the church strengthen. Doing the hard thing paid off.

Life is constantly giving us opportunities to do the hard thing. Whether at work, home, church, or any other place of influence, decisions must be made. Some are easy to make, while others are hard. We must be prepared to do the hard thing, knowing that there are rewards on the other side of the decision.

Purity

This past Sunday, we had a purity commitment service for our students that had completed a six-week Bible study on moral purity. I preached on purity, as it is a commitment all believers need to make, regardless of age. You can watch the service here.

As I prepared for the sermon, I thought back to the previous two churches that I served and the students that made a similar commitment. I knew that a few from each church had made this commitment and were serious about keeping it, so I reached out to them on Facebook and asked what they would say to a teenager today about the commitment. These half-dozen young adults blew me away at their wisdom and increased the respect I have for them. I was not able to use all of their words in my sermon, but I wanted to share some observations here.

First, a public commitment does not guarantee purity. There were many students (now young adults) that I did not contact who participated in a purity commitment service but I knew did not keep the commitment. Pregnancy out of wedlock and cohabitating made that obvious to me. Then, some of those I contacted shared with me that they had not kept the commitment. They entered into a high school love romance and could not see themselves with anyone else, so they had sex. The end result? The relationship ended.

This first observation reminded me of the need to continually pray for our students and this commitment. It is not easy and opportunities to compromise will abound. I also believe that this commitment needs to be continually in front of our students, rather than a one-time emotional high.

Second, those that failed to keep their commitment did not date people with the same conviction. I am convinced that the students who make the commitment to purity have the full intention of keeping it — at that moment. When the newness wears off and they enter into a relationship, the commitment is rarely discussed. Next thing you know, the commitment is broken. As I mentioned Sunday, I believe that Daniel and his three friends were able to keep their commitment because they had each other to rely on for support and accountability.

One young adult gave this advice: “Date someone who feels the same way you do, and talk about it from the beginning. If you’re both quiet about it, then you both probably want to do it, so you’ll probably do it eventually. Then you’ll feel guilty for awhile, then you’ll do it again.” Another spoke of meeting “a man who was even more committed to sexual purity than I was, so I always felt safe and protected before we got married. We have very definite rules about what was acceptable and what was not. We did not spend the night together, we didn’t lay down in a bed together. We didn’t do anything that would make it easy for us to “bend the rules” of our purity commitment.”

Third, there was regret from those that did not keep the commitment. When the commitment was broken, there was no thought of the future, just the present.

Consider these wise words I received last week from one who did not keep the commitment: “…the effects are long-term. A couple of years later, I met my wife. We dated for awhile and embarked on the lifelong journey of learning more and more about one another. She asked me about my past, and I told her. She was crushed. A few days later, she dumped me. After hours of conversation and contemplation, she gave me another chance. Fastforward a few years and we’re happily married with two kids. I know now, though, that what I gave away when I was younger, I cannot now take back and give to my wife. We avoid that subject now, but I think about it often, and I’m sure she does too. I can never give my wife ALL of me, because I gave it away to someone else. It’s a heavy burden to carry, and it will never go away. Don’t get me wrong, we have a very happy marriage, and we don’t dwell on each others’ mistakes. But, sometimes (like now, as I write this), the realization I discussed above creeps into my mind, and I regret it. It’s an important decision, and it will stay with you for your entire life.”

Another young adult said, “Even though ‘Sue’ is the only woman I ever want to be with, I still wish I would have waited.” Another one said, “This is something I regret now because he was not the one I am going to spend my life with.”

Fourth, there is a great reward for remaining pure. Yes, there are spiritual rewards, but there are others in regard to the relationship with your spouse. One recently-married young adult who kept the commitment said, “We had an amazing wedding night with so much emotional and spiritual connection, it was almost palpable in the room. And now we are getting to live the ‘newlywed’ life. If we had been having sex all along, there would be nothing sacred or special or different about our marriage, except a piece of paper. We owe more than that to God, to ourselves, and to our future spouse. When you’re young, it is so easy to live in the moment and never give a thought to the future and especially a future spouse. But, it is so important to think about how your decisions will affect your life in the long run. I can’t imagine having to sit down with the person I wanted to marry and have to tell him about the time I had sex with another man, and how I selfishly gave away the gift that was meant for him to someone else.”

What surprised me most was there was no comments about parental influence. I expected it to be a large part- until I think about the personal nature of the commitment. The commitment to purity is one that each must make themselves, hanging on to the assurance, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).