Author: NealCordle

Leadership 15: I will serve them on their journey

A Leadership Cue Card: I will serve them on their journey

Compelled by love, I will empty myself of self and live for the benefit of others. I want to see who they can become in Christ, trust them to realize that potential and serve them on their journey.

As we bring this week of devotions to a close, look back on what we have studied this week. Our goal was to develop a brief, “index-card ready” statement of beliefs about leadership. I would like you to re-consider that statement one final time today through a different lens: What if the leaders you followed adopted this philosophy of leadership? How would you respond to their leadership?

Who has influenced you to become the person you are today? Who continues to challenge you to greatness in your discipleship and service to others? Who coaches you to success and corrects you when you fail? As we re-consider our leadership cue card, think about how those who influence you most model the characteristics we have examined together. As you do that, think about your relationship with those leaders. How much of their influence flows out of the model of the concepts on our leadership cue card?

Compelled by love…

What motivates those who influence you to serve you? Do you perceive they are “in it to win it for themselves” or are you joined together in the battle? Have the leaders over you been controlled, directed and focused on a desire for the welfare of others over their own needs? How do you respond to their leadership?

I will empty myself of self…

How would you describe the ego of those leading you: are they edging God out or exalting God only? Would you describe them as selfish or selfless? Is their battle to “empty myself of self” over or is it an ongoing struggle? How do you respond to their leadership?

And live for the benefit of others.

How have the leaders around you shared the benefits gained with you and others? Do they serve with an expectation of reward? How do you respond to their leadership?

I want to see who they can become in Christ…
How have those with the greatest influence over you challenged you to grow and develop your skills, talents and character? In what ways does their interaction with you reflect a pastor’s heart and care for you? How do they affirm that you are of great value to God and the Kingdom? How do you respond to their leadership?

Trust them to realize that potential…

To what degree to those who lead you micromanage you? In what ways do you recognize that they trust you to do the right thing? When you fail, how do they respond? How do you respond to their leadership?

And serve them on their journey.

Would you consider those who have and are influencing you as serving you? Why? How accurately does the term “servant leader” apply to those who have the greatest influence over you? How do you respond to their leadership?

Do you see a common theme in your answers? I am going to go out on a limb that those who have the greatest influence in your life have demonstrated that they have a genuine concern for your benefit. They may not have expressed their leadership exactly as we have described, but I believe there is evidence that love, humility, altruism, optimism, trust and service are among the values that drive them.

So, how have you responded to their leadership in your life? Do you see where their values have become yours, or, at a minimum shaped your thinking on leadership? How has their humble servant leadership made them great?

Jesus taught the disciples and those gathered around him

The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:11-12 (HCSB)

It has been my hope this week that you would see that servant leadership is significant, of great value, possible and sorely needed in our world today. In your home, your workplace, your school and in your closest relationships, I pray you will take this leadership cue card and lead those around you with love, humility, altruism, optimism, trust and service.

For reflection: Please take time to consider the many questions listed above. Ask God to show you how you might be a more influential person to your friends and family.

For memorization: “The greatest among you will be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11-12 (HCSB)

Leadership 14: Trust them to realize that potential

A Leadership Cue Card: Trust them to realize that potential

They stood on a Galilean mountainside. Eleven disciples and Jesus. Mark tells us that in the last few days, Jesus had rebuked their unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe those who saw Him after the resurrection (Mark 16:15). Matthew tells us when they saw Him on the mountain, they worshiped, but some doubted (Matt 28:17). Luke says they were eager to know if this was the time He would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6)

None of the writers tell us directly what Jesus thought at that moment. If it were me, I would probably be shaking my head and asking myself, “What was I thinking? Father, are you sure? These ragamuffin, doubting, betraying, still rough around the edges men? Can I trust them?”

Then He spoke. We know what He said. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16 (HCSB) He was taken into heaven before them.

He trusted them. Jesus trusted the disciples with His continued mission to redeem all of creation.

It was not misplaced.

Where are we in our leadership cue card?

Compelled by love, I will empty myself of self and live for the benefit of others. I want to see who they can become in Christ and trust them to realize that potential…

It is a matter of trust.

James Kouzes and Barry Pozner in the book The Leadership Challenge, say trust is “the central issue in human relationships.” Leaders who build trusting relationships are willing to consider alternative viewpoints and to make use of other people’s expertise and abilities. On the other hand, managers in a distrustful environment often take on a self-protective posture, are directive and hold tight the reins of power.

Leaders who trust followers to live up to their potential begin with a simple premise that people basically want to do the right thing. When people do not live up to those expectations, it is often because they do not have capacity, the competency, or it is a character issue.

When people do not have capacity in their schedule, they do not necessarily do the wrong thing as much as they do nothing. The servant leader’s response is to help them create capacity or manage their schedule for them. The former is more helpful than the latter. When a follower lacks the competency, the leader can offer training or can take the work back. Again, the former is more helpful than the latter. If the follower refuses to do the right thing because of a character issue, the remedy is a hard, but necessary conversation.

Unfortunately, the less than helpful approach many leaders take is to micromanage their followers when they fail to do the right thing. Micromanagers resist delegating, immerse themselves in oversight, take back delegated work before it is finished or if they find a mistake and discourage others from making decisions without consultation. This approach does not build trust; rather it destroys it and leads to animosity, anxiety and frustration.

If leaders begin with the premise that followers basically want to do the right thing, they can diagnose the root issue – most often capacity, competency or character – and help followers live up to their potential by creating room to grow in their capacity, training to improve competency or coaching them to strengthen their moral character.

Nehemiah trusted the exiles in Jerusalem to live up to their potential. Nehemiah chapters 3 and 4 give an account of the actual rebuilding of the wall. Nehemiah could not be everywhere and he could not do all the work. So he developed a plan, delegated the work (according to the capacity and competency of the people) and trusted its implementation.

In Nehemiah chapter 7, he tells us

When the wall had been rebuilt and I had the doors installed, the gatekeepers, singers, and Levites were appointed. Then I put my brother Hanani in charge of Jerusalem, along with Hananiah, commander of the fortress, because he was a faithful man who feared God more than most. Nehemiah 7:1-2 (HCSB)

Nehemiah left these in charge and returned to Babylon. When he returned, however, Nehemiah learned that some the people he had left in charge had failed. As a result, he instituted reforms that helped restore trust. In some cases, he had to replace people with others. What was the guideline he used to select these replacements?

I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, with Hanan son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah to assist them, because they were considered trustworthy. They were responsible for the distribution to their colleagues. Nehemiah 13:13 (HCSB)

Sometimes followers do not live up to expectations. They may be overworked or undertrained. In some cases, they must be removed from their position. A wise servant leader responds not by micromanaging but by serving.

For reflection: Do you expect the best out of people? Are you a micromanager? Are you worthy of trust?

For memorization: … they were considered trustworthy. They were responsible…    Nehemiah 13:13

Leadership 13: I want to see who they become in Christ

A Leadership Cue Card: I want to see who they can become in Christ

Compelled by love, I will empty myself of self and live for the benefit of others. I want to see who they can become in Christ…

This next phrase just might be one of the most challenging of our entire leadership cue card. First, it is a true test of how well you are able to reject selfishness and put others first. Second, it may truly challenge your view of what is often put forward as the number one task of leadership: casting vision.

Who are the followers behind you? Do you really know them? How about the names of their spouses? Their children? What is the number one challenge facing them personally outside of work? How about their relationship with Christ? Do they have one? Is it growing or stagnant?
Have you ever considered that you might have a great responsibility to pastor or shepherd those under your influence? Is it possible that God has placed you in a position to intercede, bless, protect, care for and serve those around you that they might come to know God in a personal way? If you really want to see who they can become in Christ – to live up to their potential not in a secular, but spiritual way – you may have to lead them to the place where they respond in faith to God’s call on their lives. Are you ready to embrace that responsibility?

Once you begin to truly recognize that the people around you are created by God in His image (Gen 1:27), with a purpose in life (Ps 139, 2 Cor 4:11, Gal 2:20), and gifted and talented to fulfill that purpose (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12, Eph 4), you can begin to appreciate the incredible, untapped potential of people around you. When they see themselves as God sees them, they can begin to embrace their unique identity before Him and live wholeheartedly to honor Him. Moreover, you are in a position to help them do so, if you will make a conscious effort to put them first!

Paul’s letter to the believers in the Colossian church is filled with reminders and admonitions for them to live their lives in the church and in the community. Consider these nuggets, just from chapter 3:

  • you are “holy and loved,” so be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient (12)
  • accept and forgive, just as you have been forgiven (13)
  • be loving, unified and thankful (14-15)

And, two of my favorite verses, “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (17); and, “Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.” (23)

I do not think Paul was limiting these verses to our “church” life, rather, he was urging us to apply them to all areas of our lives. In fact, imagine how your workplace, family or school might be changed if these values governed the behavior of those you influence.

One final test of your ability to reject selfishness and put others first will come when you recognize that there are others around you who are better at some things than you are. In fact, someone may even be more gifted to lead, influence or serve in the role that you currently occupy. How you embrace their abilities and promote them will be a test of your leadership, and those you lead are watching. Embrace the model of John the Baptist before Christ to “decrease so that he might increase (John 3:30) and you’ll be well served.

The idea that those we influence are just as much a part of God’s plan affects one other key aspect of leadership. Many advocate that the chief role of a leader is to develop and cast vision in the organization. By vision, we mean a narrative that describes an ideal future toward which we are striving. If you consider those whom you lead, their identity in Christ, the talents and resources they bring to bear to your organization as integral parts of your team, is it reasonable to expect, beyond that, to demand, that they be a part of developing and casting vision? A humble, other-oriented, servant leader will draw his team into that discussion and hear from their unique perspectives as the vision, strategies and plans are developed. Again, imagine the untapped potential that could be released if leaders truly devoted themselves to seeing how followers might realize their full potential as they live out Christ’s example in their community.

When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, he kept his mission low key. He did invite a “few men” with him to inspect the walls (Neh 2:12). We do not know who or how he invited them, but it is not hard for me to imagine Nehemiah listening to them as they surveyed the city. When he finally told the city leaders his idea to rebuild the walls, “they said, “Let’s start rebuilding,” and they were encouraged to [do] this good work.” Nehemiah 2:18 (HCSB) Who did the encouragement? Well, it started with Nehemiah desiring them to be who God willed them to be, and he unleashed a great potential in a great people (Neh 3).

For Reflection: Think once more of those you lead. Do you really want to see who they can become in Christ? If they don’t know Him, they won’t even know where to begin.

For Memorization: Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord and not for men.      Col 3:23 HCSB

Leadership 12 – I will empty myself of self

A Leadership Cue Card: I will empty myself of self

Quick! What is the first word that pops into your head in response to this question: “What is the opposite of love?” It would not surprise me that you might have come up with the word hate. Certainly, those two words are often put together as the opposite of one another. However, think about that just a little bit.

We began yesterday to develop a “leadership cue card” as a simple statement of belief about leadership. Today, we continue to unpack our first statement “Compelled by love, I will empty myself of self and live for the benefit of others,” focusing on that middle phrase of emptying myself of self.

Think of a time when someone came into your sphere of influence and you did not really love him or her. You did not act for their benefit or in their best interest without regard for how you might benefit. Perhaps it was a homeless person at a stoplight or someone in your office that just “rubs you the wrong way.” Got an example? Good. So what was your attitude toward them if it wasn’t love? Was it really hate? Or something else? Like ambivalence. Or impatience. Or indifference. Or simply ignoring them. The root of these actions is not necessarily hate but more like selfishness. Perhaps, the opposite of love is not hate so much as it is selfish.

Our leadership challenge then is to learn to empty self of self: to make one’s self-interest subordinate to the need of others.

This is a difficult task in the making of a leader, especially when one considers that so much of leadership is oriented to the benefits given the leader – perks, status, benefits, etc. But, as we look at biblical examples of leadership, we see repeatedly that leadership is best exercised in service to others. That means putting aside selfishness and becoming “other oriented.”

Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges, in their book, The Servant Leader speak to the “Leadership Ego.” In contrast to the psychological term, they offer two definitions of ego: 1. Edging God Out; or, 2. Exalting God Only. The first definition is often realized when leaders become prideful or fearful. Prideful leaders promote themselves over others. Fearful leaders hide behind position, withhold information, intimidate others or become “control freaks”.

On the other hand, leaders who Exalt God Only embrace an attitude of humility and confidence that God is working through them for His glory. In other words, the latter kind of leader has learned to set aside personal pride and insecurity and the self-centeredness that it demonstrates and, in its place, put the work and intention of God for another at the center of attention.

Philippians 2:3-8 is a classic biblical example of what we are discussing here:

Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not [only] for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death- even to death on a cross. (HCSB)

Re-read that last paragraph. Christ, our example, God incarnate, chose not to enter our world as conquering king (yet) but as a servant-slave. Humble. Obedient. Other-focused. Exalting God Only. Is there a better model of leadership than Christ? And, is there a person more opposite of selfish than He? He is love. He was compelled by love, devoid of self-centeredness, and lived for the benefit of those who were still His enemies. Us.

Finally, we can look again at Nehemiah as an example of this self-less, other-focused style of leadership. In chapter 5, we read two stories: one of Nehemiah’s reform to stop oppressive practices to the poor and a second of Nehemiah’s refusal to take on the traditional benefits of his position. Eugene Peterson paraphrased the latter in this way:

From the time King Artaxerxes appointed me as their governor in the land of Judah-from the twentieth to the thirty-second year of his reign, twelve years-neither I nor my brothers used the governor’s food allowance. Governors who had preceded me had oppressed the people by taxing them forty shekels of silver (about a pound) a day for food and wine while their underlings bullied the people unmercifully. But out of fear of God I did none of that. I had work to do; I worked on this wall. All my men were on the job to do the work. We didn’t have time to line our own pockets. I fed one hundred and fifty Jews and officials at my table in addition to those who showed up from the surrounding nations. One ox, six choice sheep, and some chickens were prepared for me daily, and every ten days a large supply of wine was delivered. Even so, I didn’t use the food allowance provided for the governor-the people had it hard enough as it was. Nehemiah 5:14-18 (Message)

Emptying oneself of self is not demeaning or degrading. In fact, it is quite the opposite. It is allowing the God of all creation to live through your humility and obedience to demonstrate His grace and mercy to others. Jesus did that, and God exalted Him. You do that, and God will never let you down.

Compelled by love, I will empty myself of self and live for the benefit of others

For Reflection: As a leader, are you more likely to Edge God Out or Exalt God Only? Find a copy of The Servant Leader by Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges. It’s beautiful little book you can read in an hour but will take a lifetime to master.

For Memorization: Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Philippians 2:3 (HCSB)

Leadership 11: A Leadership Cue Card

A Leadership Cue Card: Compelled by Love

Leadership. A lot of trees have been sacrificed to publish books on the subject. The term yields over 250,000 results on Amazon; over 3,000 results for “becoming a leader.” At its most basic, leadership is influence and leaders become spiritual leaders as God dislocates their hearts and places them in a particular time, place and circumstance to influence others for His glory. If it takes over 250k books and resources to explore the topic, is it possible to reduce the concept and practice of leadership to an “index card ready” statement of basic beliefs about leadership – a leadership cue card – that can guide us in our efforts to lead?

Obviously, I think the answer is “yes” and over the next five days, we will do just that: develop a leadership cue card.

Compelled by love, I will empty myself of self and live for the benefit of others.
I want to see who they can become in Christ, trust them to realize that potential and serve them on their journey.

Today, let’s look at that first sentence together.

In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul writes of his desire to persuade people to come to a knowledge of God. In verses 14-15, he summarizes the reason for his labor – his motivation for leadership: For Christ’s love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If One died for all, then all died. And He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 (HCSB)

The word translated compelled means to be “to hold together or compress.” Imagine a father taking his son’s head into his hands, placing his hands on each side of his son’s head, pressing in the ears and looking his son square in the eye. The son’s attention is now focused on the father, right? And the father can exert tremendous control over the son by keeping the pressure on and directing the son’s attention. As much as the son might want to escape, he is constrained by the grip of his father.

So, what is it that compelled or constrained Paul’s ministry to Asia Minor? It was love. Agape love. Love that acts for the good of others without any expectation of reward in return. Love demonstrated most completely when Christ died for the sins of the world.

To truly love another, you focus attention on them, without expecting anything in return. That doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy their gratitude if given, but it means you act even if they don’t express it to you. Love puts the work and intention of God for another at the center of attention. That’s what Christ did for us. He acted for our benefit, knowing that many would reject Him, because it was God’s desire to redeem us.

Where do we see this in Nehemiah’s example? Read Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter 1:5-10. Does this read like a man compelled by selfishness or love for God and for his fellow countrymen? What about the classic mission and vision statement in chapter 2:17. So I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in. Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned down. Come, let’s rebuild Jerusalem’s wall, so that we will no longer be a disgrace.” (HCSB) Nehemiah could have stayed in the king’s courts. But the news of Jerusalem’s ruin so moved his heart that Nehemiah’s concern for others compelled him to action. He was constrained, he was compelled to live for the benefit of others: first, as an instrument to demonstrate God’s glory to the nations around Israel; and, second, to the exiles who were living defenseless and disgraced.

So, the idea today is that a leader is compelled or constrained by love – unselfish concern for the welfare and benefit of others. Love places its hands on each side of our head and points us in the direction of service. It will not let us go. Compelled by love… I will live for the benefit of others.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the idea of emptying one’s self of self. In the meantime, what is focusing your attention? Is it love? Or something else?

FOR MEMORIZATION: For Christ’s love compels us, since we have reached this conclusion: If One died for all, then all died.    2 Corinthians 5:14

FOR REFLECTION: Create your own leadership cue card: Compelled by love, I will empty myself of self and live for the benefit of others. I want to see who they can become in Christ, trust them to realize that potential and serve them on their journey. Place it in a place of prominence and review it several times a day this week.

On the Bus to Silute

I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken.” Psalm 62:1-2 (HCSB)

It was late in the afternoon and the sun was beginning to make it’s journey down toward the horizon as the bus left the outskirts of Vilnius, Lithuania. I was just beginning the 5 hour, 200 mile journey across the breadth of the country to the western city of Silute.

Earlier in the afternoon, I had finished a two day consultation with IMB personnel in Vilnius. The next stop was with a team in Silute who had “re”-planted a church in a building that had originally been used as a church before the Soviet Era. During those years, the state had confiscated the building, used it as a warehouse and later carved it up into small apartments. Now, with the freedom that had come to Lithuania in the late 1990’s the building again housed a small congregation and I was on my way to encourage them in their faithfulness.

My host had taken me to the main transportation terminal, purchased my ticket and prepared to load me on the bus. “See that man?” he asked. “He’s your driver. After about two and one-half hours, the bus will stop. He will get off for a break. You are safe to get off as well. But, when he gets back on the bus, you need to be on the bus, because he’s leaving.” I memorized his appearance and the clothes he was wearing.

My next question was “How will I know I have arrived in Silute?” My host laughed. “It’s the end of the line. He’ll turn the motor off. Oh, and it will be about 11 o’clock tonight if you’re on time, so it will be dark.”

“And, then what happens?” I asked. “Your host in Silute will meet you at the station. You’ll recognize him.”

That conversation played over and over again in my mind as we rolled out of town. I looked around the bus and realized I was, without a doubt, the only American on the bus. Most likely, I was the only English speaker. My wife and children were in Prague and had no real idea where I was at that moment.

I found myself chuckling out loud and almost without thinking began to pray: “God, ain’t nobody on your green earth but You that knows where I am right now… And, I just need to say, I’m OK with that.” And, with that said, I put my head back on the seat and went to sleep.

This is the last of 31 daily devotions on prayer written by our ministry staff team. Tomorrow, a new journey will begin. But, before we go, what has God taught you through prayer? Have you moved beyond the repetitious and routine? Are you persisting even if it seems He’s not answering? Maybe, you’re more aware of needs in your family or circle of friends. Perhaps, He has called you to pray for big things – beyond what you can imagine. For missions. For His Glory! If any of these are true of you, we are greatly encouraged.

Regardless of where you are today, I’d like to leave you with this thought: “You are not alone. You have never been loved any more than you are right now. And nothing will change that.” No matter where you go, no matter who surrounds you, God knows where you are. And you can rest, knowing that He cares deeply for you.

Pray a prayer of praise with the psalmist and affirm, I am at rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:1-2 (HCSB)

Bless Your Heart

For many of the last few years of her life, my grandmother lived with her children. A couple of times each year, we hosted her in our home for three to four months at a time as her health and mental abilities gradually declined. As a highschooler and later college student, I reflect back on the experience now and realize how much I took those opportunities for granted.
She played the piano. Her hymnal and her Bible traveled with her from house to house as she moved. I remember hearing her struggle with tempo and accuracy, but each song was recognizable. Her hymnal, dog-eared and filled with hand-written annotations, is in my office.
Grandmother rocked… in a rocking chair in the living room beside the “pi’tur winder” where she read her Bible, sang to herself and watched the world go by. The wild- and plant-life outside fascinated her.
And, of course, she prayed. For her children, her grandchildren, her pastor and her friends. For hours. Sometimes, I thought she was asleep, but her lips were moving.
She did not like my mustache. Several times, she would try to buy it from me. “I’ll give you a dollar if you’ll shave that thing,” she said. My response was most always the same: “Grandmother, it wouldn’t look good on you.”
She also thought I was “too busy.” As I would walk out the door, having asked where I was off to, she would smile, shake her head and say, “well, bless your heart.” Teasingly, I would pause and reply, “don’t stop with just my heart.”
I know now, that in some awkward, teenage way, I was asking her to fit me with what Paul described as the “full armor of God” so that I would be covered and prepared for the battle to be faced each day.
We are still at war. Each and every day, we need to prepare for the spiritual battles we face. Begin each day with a song, the Word, a prayer and then dress for battle with truth, righteousness, the gospel, faith and salvation.
Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens.
This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore,with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace.
In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word.
Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.

Ephesians 6:10-18 (HCSB)

Bless your heart – and soul, mind and strength as you grow closer to Him today.

The Wonder of Answered Prayer

It was a Wednesday evening and we were driving home from church. Tracey was 4 years old and in the back seat. Our dialog went something like this:

Tracey: Dad, can we get a baby?
Me: Why do you think we need a baby?
Tracey: I would like a little brother or sister to play with.
Me: Well, it would be a while before you have a playmate. You know that when babies are born, they don’t do a lot except eat, sleep and… fill their diapers.

Tracey, giggled a bit in the back seat and after a few moments of quiet reflection, asked, “Dad, can we get a dog?” And with that, the conversation between us on this subject pretty much ended.

Not too many weeks later, Joan and I invited Tracey to join us on the couch in our family room. She sat between us and patiently listened as we explained that Joan was expecting our second child. Suddenly, she leaped off the couch, joyfully laughed, gleefully clapped and and excitedly danced around the room. Just as suddenly, she stopped in place and her face became serious. Then, as if the “connect the dots” picture became clear in her mind, her eyes grew wide and she softly exclaimed, “God answered my prayer.”

Yes, He did, Tracey, yes, He did.

I wonder how Isaac and Rebekah felt when God answered their prayer (Genesis 25:21)? Or Hannah (1 Sam 1:1-20)? Elijah (1 Kings 18:36-40)? Peter (Acts 9:36-42)? Paul (Acts 28:7-10)? Were their eyes wide with wonder and amazement? I wonder if they ever considered an answered prayer a routine event?

How about you? When was the last time you realized that God had heard AND answered your prayer? When was the last time your joy gave way to quiet contemplation over the goodness and wonder of the God of all creation taking a personal interest in you and answering when you called? Has it been too long?

Pause and pray: God, may I never lose the childlike wonder and amazement when you step into our lives and answer our prayers. May I always recognize Your work and worship You with joy and abandon. Amen.

God will take care of you

I was sitting in a worship service the Sunday after I retired in 1991 from the Florida Baptist Convention after 27 years of service; and before that, 13 years in the pastorate. The thought kept running through my mind:” What will I do now, what’s next for my life?” We began singing “God Will Take Care of You.” Right!?  “Be not dismayed what e’er betide, God will take care of you.”

I sang, I prayed, I trusted. And you know what, God has taken care of me and my family! As I sought the Lord’s leadership in prayer, He opened up many doors of opportunity: teaching ESL classes, going on mission trips to Jamaica, serving as interim Director of Missions in a nearby association, directing the Jacksonville Extension Center for Theological Education, working with Senior Adults at Southside Baptist Church, and the last 11 years serving as Senior Adult Minister here at Fruit Cove.

During these years I’ve been much in prayer for my family. They have been a wonderful support. I’ve seen our children and their families grow in the Lord; the grandchildren grow up, great grandchildren being born and wonderful times at family get togethers.
Then, there were those challenging days I prayed, and others prayed, when my wife, Carolyn, was diagnosed with Alzheimers and struggled with this disease over a period of several years. Three years ago she had a couple of strokes and died a few weeks later.
It’s so easy to ask ‘why?’ or ‘what if?’ or say ’if only’, but when you pray “Lord not my will, but Your will be done”, you may not understand, but you must go on praying and trusting in God’s leadership in the difficult times as well as the good times. I realized God loves me and He is still in control. For as the song continues: “No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you.” And He does!
Charles Ragland

Operation Christmas Child Box Distribution

occ_logoIt’s time for Operation Christmas Child!

On Sunday, October 18 and 25, we’ll be distributing boxes from the Welcome Center patio after all morning services. Last year was a banner year as we collected 815 boxes from FCBC members to send all over the world.

Each year, many ask “What do we put in a shoe box?” Here are a couple of places to get info that might help:

  • The Operation Christmas Child site has some helpful information, especially for girls and boys at various ages.
  • Another great source is a blog post entitled “Unsolicited Advice About Shoeboxes.” This is written by folks who serve in areas where boxes have been delivered and their insight in “Not So Good Gifts” is very helpful.

Remember to pickup your box and return it completed during the collection week of November 16-23.

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