09 Jun

Pivot

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Back when I worked as an assistant in the singles ministry at The Church on the Way in California, we hosted a retreat at Arrowhead Springs. A combination of rustic and luxurious, the conference center was a beautiful setting for what promised to be a pleasant weekend.

One of my duties was to serve as MC for the service before lunch. Our main speaker began with an uplifting message but got bogged down in a discourse on persecution and suffering. I’m sure he meant well, but you could tell that his words didn’t jibe with the expectations of the audience.

When the preacher concluded, he turned the mic over to me so I could make some announcements. Right after a message about suffering, I had to stand there and tell people that following lunch, we’d host a square dance!

Suffering and square dancing, what a combination!

What do you say in a tough spot like that? If I canceled the event, I’d get in trouble with the ministry leadership. If I corrected the speaker, I’d embarrass him. A no win situation!

So I did the only thing I could do. Pausing to gather my thoughts and stabilize my spirit, I pivoted.

The word “pivot” doesn’t occur much in the Bible. In fact, I can find only six references in four verses.

“And two doors of cypress wood; the two leaves of the one door turned on pivots, and the two leaves of the other door turned on pivots.” – 1 Kings 6:34 (NASB)

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.” – Isaiah 6:4 (NRSV)

“When they moved, they went in any of the four directions, without pivoting as they moved.” – Ezekiel 1:17 (HCSB)

“When they moved, they would go in any of the four directions, without pivoting as they moved. But wherever the head faced, they would go in that direction, without pivoting as they went.” – Ezekiel 10:11 (HCSB)

The first two verses refer to door hinges in the temple; the second two describe the movement of angelic beings observed by the prophet Ezekiel.

Both meanings deal with changing direction.

I began by reinforcing what our speaker had said about suffering. It was an inescapable dimension of discipleship. But I added that the God who calls us to follow Jesus in spite of rejection and pain also provides blessings for our enjoyment. I explained that we’d scheduled a square dance that afternoon, and invited anyone who was interested to join us.

To grasp this principle of pivoting, take sports as an example.

If you watch the NBA, you’ll see basketball players pivot. I used to love seeing Hakeem Olajuwon, the former center of the Houston Rockets, play because his footwork was magical. He could fake people almost out of their shoes!

According to Larry Alton, “a pivot is nothing more than keeping one foot in contact with the ground and using your other foot to move around in order to find a new angle or gain an advantage over your defender.”

You’re stuck, but you have enough freedom to maneuver yourself to shoot or pass the ball.

Alton adds that “in a pivot, you aren’t totally abandoning your current situation. Instead, you’re looking for new options that may arise out of your current state.”

That’s what I attempted at the retreat. Rather than fight the situation, I accepted it but I looked for a way to move in a new direction. By the grace of God, I was ready for two reasons.

Preparation

Basketball players practice. They shoot free throws, rehearse set plays, and plan how they’re going to handle various situations. They isolate aspects of a typical game and run through them in advance so they don’t lose their heads in actual competition.

As a follower of Christ, you’re aware of the many of the joys and trials that await you. Through disciplines such as prayer and Bible reading, you prepare your soul to handle whatever life may bring you.

But you can prepare indirectly, too. Olajuwon grew up in Nigeria playing soccer. He wasn’t thinking about basketball as a child, but soccer trained his footwork which served him well when he switched sports. (It’s helped out other NBA players, as this article points out.)

God uses your experiences to form your character for His purposes. You may not know what you’re going to encounter in the days ahead, but you don’t have to worry about it. The best way to prepare for tomorrow is to walk with Jesus today.

Years before my retreat experience, I’d researched material on the persecuted church. I’d read Tortured for Christ, the autobiography of Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian pastor who was persecuted by the Nazis and the Communists for 14 years. (You can get a free copy of the book here.) I’d also worked through Tortured for the Faith by Bulgarian pastor Haralan Popov. He endured Communist oppression for 13 years. (The Kindle version of his book is only 99¢.)

So when I took the mic, I’d already accumulated years of reflection on the subject of suffering. As a result, I had something to fall back on. I pivoted by acknowledging the seriousness of the topic without descending into sullenness. People could count the cost and also enjoy the day.

How do you prepare for surprises? You can anticipate the future, but you can also savor where you’re at with the Lord right now. Playing soccer today might help you win at basketball tomorrow!

Empathy

The other factor was that I put myself in the position of the audience. That wasn’t too hard; they were single adult Christians and so was I!

What were the guests seeking, imagining, and hoping for? Why did they sign up for the retreat and what did they want to get out of it? What did God want for them and how could I express that?

I didn’t have to ponder these questions as I stood on the stage. Since I identified with the singles, I knew where they were coming from. Compassion creates communication.

Do you care about people? Can you put yourself in their shoes? Loving others like Jesus loved you enables you to serve them like Christ served you.

Empathize with others.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” – Romans 12:15 (NASB).

When you pivot, you recognize the limitations of your position, but you don’t stop there. With your eyes open and your body in motion, you scout out new avenues and undetected resources. And with the Lord’s help, you advance toward victory.

Pivot.

It works in basketball and it works in the spiritual life.

02 Jun

How Much Reading?

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Last week we looked at the curious fact that although the resurrection of Jesus Christ represents God’s greatest work in human history, it impresses few people. They don’t believe it.

By itself, the resurrection won’t convince people to turn from their sins and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. They need the testimony of Scripture if they’re to understand what Christ did for them and how the resurrection fits within the plan of God for their salvation.

So if you doubt the risen Savior, read the Bible! If you want to beef up your faith, read His Word. If you aim to bolster your confidence in God’s miracle-working power, spend time in the Scriptures.

How often should you read the Bible and how much should you read? And how do you begin?

You can adopt a plan. There are many good ones to choose from.

  • Read through the Bible in a year. You’ll read around four chapters a day.

 

  • Follow the lectionary and read through most of the Bible in three years. The lectionary is a plan that some denominations use to organize their worship services. You’ll skip some chapters (like genealogies) and repeat other sections (like the Gospels and the Psalms). But you’ll cover the bulk of the Scriptures in three years. And since the selections from the Old Testament, Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles are related thematically, it won’t be difficult to grasp what what you’re reading.

You can try the opposite approach. Instead of striving to read ever larger chunks of God’s Word, read less.

  • Adopt the lectio divina, a Latin phrase meaning “divine reading.” This refers to a four-step method to the Scriptures: reading, thinking or meditating, praying, and contemplating. The pace is unhurried; the goal is to draw close to God, not to hit a reading target.

 

  • Work through a translation of the Bible in a foreign language, even in the original Hebrew and Greek! It’ll force you to slow down so you’re not skimming through the verses and you can get more out of them.

Consider listening to the Bible, too. Many of the versions and translations in the YouVersion app have an audio feature, so take advantage of that option.

But how much is enough and how often should you read the Bible?

Take in God’s Word every day. Treat it like spiritual food; you need it to grow.

“When Your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear Your name, Lord God Almighty.” – Jeremiah 15:16 (NIV)

“Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” – 1 Peter 2:2

When you read the Bible regularly, you’ll discover its purpose.

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” – John 5:39-40 (NASB)

Jesus is the heart of the Bible; the Word points to Him.

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” – Luke 24:27 (NASB)

“Now He said to them, ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’” – Luke 24:44 (NASB)

Not only is the Bible all about Jesus; Christ Himself is the Word.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . 14And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:1, 14 (NASB)

How much of the Bible should you read? Enough to recognize Jesus, to get close to Him, and to see Him within the pages of Scripture. Whatever Bible reading plan you adopt, make Christ your aim.