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When Opportunity Doesn’t Come Knocking


I’ve been arguing with myself a lot lately.  
Maybe you’ve had a dual like this too? It goes something like this.

Play By Play

Ready? Allez!

You so enjoy the ministry stuff you do. Counseling and teaching and online- it’s so fulfilling. Just think what could be done with better PR and another degree!  Greater opportunities for the message you love to share. 

Then Me-Two interrupts Me- usually long before that’s all out- and lunges.

If God wanted that for you, someone down here would have made it perfectly clear. When was the last time a Leadership Development Head tapped you on the shoulder? And when was the last time you got asked to speak?  Leave well enough alone. 

But I don’t. Not yet anyway.

I’ll go for it- God can always close the door, says Me.

Don’t get too big for your britches, thrusts Me-Two.

But good desires can be from God, gingerly sidesteps Me.

Mid-life crisis, jabs Me-Two.

Nah- This  degree has been on my mind since I was 23, parries Me.

But God’s using you without those extra letters behind your name, says Me-Two.

Yes, but God ordains means- including training and degrees, strikes Me.

Me-Two lunges, now, sharp and true, Be content with what you have.

I am grateful, says Me, disengaging sheepishly.

That’s about it, how the match plays out.

Get Out Of God’s Way

Enter Pastor Crawford Loritts and his right-on-point, 90-second broadcast, I just so happened to catch.

Loritts has spoken a ton and led a whole lot. But he says he’s never asked for a speaking engagement or sought a leadership position. “While that sort of self-promotion may be appropriate for others,” Loritts said, “it’s not for me. God won’t let me do that. Maybe to keep my pride in check.”

He cited Galatians 1:22-24 to show how God prepared the way for Paul, without Paul doing a bit of his own PR.  And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They kept hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.  

“They kept hearing.” The Judea Christians were hearing good words about Paul- praise of Paul-  without a bit of self-promotion from Paul. God went before Paul. He prepared the way for his messenger Paul. God set the stage and Paul obeyed the call and climbed on.

Then Loritts shared this principle: When God wants the Word to be spread, He’ll get it done. PR can be a tool in God’s hands, but we need to get out of the way and make sure what we do honors and glorifies Him. 

Me-Two was right. But it wasn’t the end.

Put in a Good Word

Because the very next day, I tuned inagain.

This time, in a message called, “Help Others Be Used By God,” Pastor Loritts explained how God raised up leaders who put in good words for him. Loritts credits his ministry opportunities to the goodness of those who came along and said, I like Crawford. Give him a chance.

Pastor Loritts described a time when this happened for Paul. And when James, Cephas, and John who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship that we should go to the heathen and they to those of the circumcision.  

The right hand of fellowship, explains Loritts, was an endorsement. It was leaders saying, We stand shoulder to shoulder with you. We’re gonna speak up for you and what you’re all about. Then with God’s big grace, and the leaders’ good words, Paul began a ministry that shaped the history of the world.

God uses encouragers to propel us and open doors. Their handshakes and ‘Atta boy’s” and “You go girl’s” push us on. God has marked every one of His children for usefulness, Loritts said. So let’s help them to be used.  

We all stand on the shoulders of others. Who of us can’t name a teacher (Mr. Baughn, English Lit), coach (Koceja, Track and Field), co-worker or friend (Traci, “Maybe start a blog.”) who encouraged a gifting or put in a good word? Their praise then pushed us to enter that race or hone that skill or take that class.

So don’t save your praise. When the opportunities we await don’t come knocking, we can still use what influence we do have to put in a good word where we can. 

Let’s help them be used. 

Do Unto Others: Encourage

Me and Me-Two still fight sometimes, about knocking on doors and doing more.

I could wish I had leaders opening doors for me the way Crawford Loritts had for him. I could. 

But I will do what I tell my boys to do, when they wish they’d been treated differently: Do to others as you would have them do to you. And this one’s not holy writ, but Be the change you want to see, also fits.  

The old-time pastor Matthew Henry had it right, There may be a just occasion for us to vindicate ourselves, but it does not become us to applaud ourselves. Proprio laus sordet in ore—Self-praise defiles the mouth. Or, Praise in one’s own mouth stinks. 

Self-promotion might get IN God’s way. But using your mouth to encourage others IS God’s way.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.

Proverbs 27:2

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Praise Due

The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life…

Proverbs 10:11a

Why were we created? Answer: We were made to praise. Sam Crabtree says, It’s why we have tongues and lips. We are a speaking species, and speech is for the purpose of lauding the laud-worthy. 
Just because some would make gods of their stomachs doesn’t mean we don’t feed folks. And just because some would be enslaved by man’s praise, doesn’t mean we don’t affirm.

My last blog post left some lingering questions, like: Don’t we feed off praise? Don’t we need to be affirmed? Shouldn’t we praise people? One reader bared her soul and asked, What if you come from a place where words didn’t nourish, and praise was rare, can you be starved for praise?

The last post was written to us who crave man’s praise. It stemmed from Jesus’ warning to the Pharisees- a warning to all who would seek man’s praise even over God’s: How can you believe when you love glory from man and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God

The Case For (People) Praise 

But this post is for praise-givers. For us. All of us. Because we’re all called to praise-God first, then people. Yes-I did say, We’re called to praise people. Please don’t whip out the blasphemy flag yet.

Not praising the good is bad. Tight lips in sight of others’ good is a double failure. We fail to honor God and to bless others. Our mouths were given by God to refresh and feed and heal. When we hold back our praise we starve our brothers and sisters. This should not be. The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life. Righteous lips feed many. 

It is incumbent on Christians to praise the good we see in others. Sam Crabtree, author of Practicing Affirmation: God-Centered Praise Of Those Who Are Not God makes the case. He even applies Matthew 25:41 to our people praise. “As you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.” If you did not affirm them, you did not affirm Christ.

Sam Crabtree explains how to praise rightly, how to praise in a God-centered way. We praise people, 

[F]or being godly, for being Christlike, by commending them for God’s glory, applauding them for doing something good in the strength God supplies (1 Peter 4:11). This is how we complete the loop when Jesus teaches us that people should let their lights so shine that others see their good works . . . and what? Glorify their Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16). 

Crabtree goes so far as to say that when we fail to pause and observe and verbalize the good we see in the lives around us, we fail to give God the glory he deserves. Them’s strong words. 

3 Right Reasons To Praise

1. We praise people because God is honored when we honor what he honors. Praising people, by calling out where God is at work in them, glorifies God. All that is commendable in people is commendable because it is an expression of Christ. And we’re to exalt Him and called to praise His wondrous works. That is why we were made his people, to declare his praises (1 Peter 2:9).

2. We praise people because we want to encourage others in doing good. What is praised gets repeated. Which might be why the kid who is starved for praise at home and school goes to the gang for applause. When we praise the good we see in others, as echoes and reflections of Jesus Christ himself, people are affirmed. They feel loved and fed. And odds are they’ll seek to repeat that good.

3. We praise people because praising the good in others brings us joy and renews us. We become sensitized to see the good, and our minds are renewed. What’s more, we lift the morale and build relationships. All our relationships- at work and at home, in friendship and marriage- benefit when we shout out what’s good. Our mouths become fountains and out joy flows.

Plus A Perk: You gain a hearing. People who practice praising build a platform from which to be heard if criticism must needs come. But if you’re a Ms. Nitpick or Mr. Fault-finder your hard words, no matter how well-intended, will likely fall flat to the ground. Calvin wrote, We readily believe those whom we know to be desirous of our welfare…Our goodwill…is made manifest by commending them when they reflect Christ. Praise earns trust.

How To Do Praise Right

Praising people the best way, is commending the qualities of Jesus in them. It is not complimenting built-in features-her Shirley Temple curls or his Ironman muscles-and it’s not praising what’s outside either- his new Trek, her new Coach. And we know it’s not fuzzy platitudes. Nice job! and Great work! don’t cut it. 
It’s none of these. It’s not shout-outs for what came natural or praise for what money can buy. And definitely not showering vague compliments. 
Christian affirmation is both precise and tied to Christ. Praising the praiseworthy means noticing the qualities of Jesus alive in those around you. We can think of this kind of praising people as a sort of horizontal version of worshiping God-noticing and naming his divine attributes, his righteousness and holiness and power and love. 

We are on the look-out for the good, true, beautiful things in people and when we spot them, we name them. We don’t let these God-sightings pass. We say, That is good! Keep that up. Like that Anna Cumins’ poem, Don’t save your loving speeches for your friends till they are dead; do not write them on their tombstones, speak them rather now instead. 
But to praise the praiseworthy, we must know what is praiseworthy. If we want spot a rose-breasted grosbeak, we’ve got to know what a rose-breasted grosbeak looks like. To spot the good, we’ve got to know God who is the source of all good. Knowing God and his Word tunes our hearts to sing his praise when we see goodness echoed in his creatures.

But beware of this wily wrong reason to praise.

Be Wary Of Flattery

Flattery is excessive or insincere praise given for the praiser’s own gain. Flattery is selfish. And it can hurt the receiver. Proverbs 26:28 says, “A flattering mouth works ruin.” How can praise a genuinely good thing in another without working their ruin? And how can we be sure we’re offering God-honoring praise and not flattering?

Here’s a straight answer from an Ask Pastor John podcast,

The issue is whether it is calculated to achieve some purpose that is not rooted in the authentic, spontaneous delight that we take in the virtue we are praising. It is the opposite of calculation. It is spontaneous. C.S. Lewis, in one of my favorite quotes, says, “We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not only expresses, but completes the enjoyment. It is its appointed consummation.” 

We should not shrink from affirming people. The second we’re struck by the commendable we should commend it. Because, affirming people that way is affirming God at work in them, and God wants to be praised for his work. 

On the Look-Out for Praise Due

Not only does he want to be praised, God himself models people praise. He names Noah as righteous (Genesis 7:1). He calls Solomon “very great” and “majestic” (1 Chronicles 29:25). Jesus commends the woman of great faith (Matthew 15:28), marvels at the faith of the centurion (Luke 7:9), affirms Nathaniel for his honesty (John 1:47), to name a few. 

We should praise people, too. But in a God-centered way. woman who fears the Lord is to be praisedThis way is grounded in the fact that if people do anything commendable, it was God who brought it about. God is at work both to will and to act according to his good purpose. He’s at work in people around you. So be on the look-out.

  • When you see a friend’s attention to detail, commend it. Say, Wow! You were so thoughtful as you planned this lesson. Our God loves order, and you planned this so well. 
  • When you spot Sarah whose growing self-control said no, shout it out. Say, Way to go! I saw you pass up those treats for the joy ahead. The Spirit’s at work in you.
  • When you see Pete persisting with the Jr. Highs at youth group, praise him. Say, You must have the patience of Job to let those 13 year olds pelt you with popcorn. God at work in you. Bravo!
  • When you see your son kneel and help a kid who tripped and skinned his knee, affirm him. Say, Sam, I am so proud of how you are cared for Dan. That was like Jesus. He cares for you.
  • When a niece tells the truth when it’s hard, shout it out. Say, Lucy, you acted like Jesus just now. You told the truth. Jesus was full of grace and truth. That was impressive. 
This is not flattery. It’s not trading compliments and earning Brownie points. We see something good and rejoice and give praise. In doing so, we honor God and we encourage ongoing good in others and we are transformed. And the mouth of the righteous becomes a fountain of life. 

What’s At Stake

I’ll let master affirmer, Sam Crabtree take us home. Affirmation, he says, is the purpose of the universe-specifically affirmation of God.   

If the praise with which we commend people is God-centered, it doesn’t subtract from the praise owed to God, but adds to it. In fact, the earnest desire to see God receive the praise he deserves will serve to increase the desire to praise people when they reflect his character. 

What if we don’t affirm people when they reflect the work of God in them? God gets robbed of praise he deserves, and they fail to gain the encouragement that would be so motivating to them. Further, morale is drained, and we become presumptuous bad-tempered cranks who take God’s work for granted.

A lot is at stake in our praise. Let’s not rob God. And let’s not starve his body around us. All truth is God’s truth, and so is all goodness and beauty- so let’s call those out. Since all that is truly praiseworthy is in Christ, when we praise those qualities in people, we praise the God from whom all blessings flow

Yes, yes and yes, readers- praise on. We are light-shining, image-bearers designed to reflect God’s glory and when we praise people rightly it honors God. Then from our mouths refreshing, life-giving fountains flow.

Lord God, help me honor you and bless others by affirming the work you are doing in them. 
Help me commend what is commendable in those around me so that you, Heavenly Father, get more glory. 
Help me give praise when it is due and so exalt you. 
Amen. 

The lips of the righteous feed many…
Proverbs 10:21a

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Overflow

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Romans 15:13

The first jolting text came Sunday at noon. A dear young cousin had fallen in church and couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. She was flighted for life. Details trickled in all afternoon. Brain surgery soon. A possible stroke? By bedtime, Stable now. Still, please pray for Hope

Inside Out

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.  Luke 6:45

What’s inside our cup comes out when we spill. If my mug’s full of coffee it’s coffee that splashes, not tea. If my cup full of water is shaken, then water, not milk’s what you’ll see. When the cup spills, its contents are exposed. 

I know spills. Coffee stains spot our living room carpet. Drowsy at dawn, I stepped on a right-side up Lego and stumbled and spilled. Last Monday four hours of work didn’t save and I spilled. The suddenness of the provocation, said Lewis, doesn’t create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. 


Whenever a heart is full, full to the brim of a thing- of pride and self, or hope and faith-it will show. Because when a full thing is shaken it will overflow. For better or worse, when we’re shaken up and jostled about, insides spill. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss explains this so well, how being full of one thing matters most.

We think, I’m not an angry person, until we get jostled, right? Then out come attitudes, and these words that come spewing out. We think, Ooh! Maybe I am an angry person. I didn’t realize it! When we get shaken, we find out what we’re full of, and what we’re filled with is what flows out in those crisis moments. 

It’s the Holy Spirit, and the fullness of the Spirit, that enabled Stephen to suffer for Christnot just to serve, not just to speak, but also to suffer. When Stephen was threatened, he didn’t retaliate. In Acts 7:54-55 we see: When they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Do You Bleed Bibline? 

Prick him anywhere-his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting it, for his very soul is full of the word of God.  -C.H. Spurgeon 


But it can’t pour out if it wasn’t put in. Even for Stephen, such fullness was a gift given with discipline. He did-we must-still get dressed each day. We must put off our old self and put on Christ’s new. We speak in Psalms, hymns and songs and giving thanks to God are filled. 

So what comes out of your when you’re pricked or shaken and spill? Do words sill out that show we trust God is still good? Do we grateful words like Thomas Watson’s flow? Do we spill faithful words like Job’s? If we have not what we desire, yet we have more than we deserve. The Lord gives and the Lord takes and blessed be the name of the Lord.

It’s absolutely unnatural to be filled like that. Such gracious words don’t bubble out from a muddy fountain. We can’t just drill up this kind of faith, these words of hope, when we get shaken and spill. 

No, the kind of full happens daily, as we work out while He works in. We bop the sinful self every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, for our whole lives long, Lewis said. We count yourself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. We know we’ve been crucified with Christ and no longer live and that Christ, our hope of glory, is alive inside.  

Then, filled like that with His fullness, hope will overflow.

Hope Overflows

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and hope in believing that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:4

With this quake, this awful shake, we glimpsed our dear cousin’s heart. A few days after the jolt, her older sister sent this note:

The last couple of days have been a bit of a blur to us. Thank you for those of you who have been praying for my sister. Hope had a stroke and is hospitalized in Madison.  

We are grateful that she is able to converse with us, albeit slowly at times. She is very weak…

Thank you for your prayer covering for the family. As Hope has whispered to us many times over the last three days, “God is good.”

Hope’s whisper shouts. Her sacrifice of praise puts it all in perspective: Life is hard and God is goodHope’s whisper stirs my selfish soul, and reminds me of these truths we know: 

That we will be shaken and jostled,
That we all will be spilled;
That precious words of praise tip out,
When with the God of hope we’re filled. 

*   *   *   *   * 


But this I recall to mind and therefore I have hope. 
The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. His mercies never fail.

They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness. 
‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I have hope in him.’

Lamentations 3:21-24


10/17/15-As I write, I know Hope’s is grateful for your prayers for her doctors and her recovery and for comfort and strength for her husband, children and family. 


*Spoken of John Bunyan in Mr. Spurgeon as a Literary Man,” in The Autobiography of Charles H. Spurgeon, Compiled from His Letters, Diaries, and Records by His Wife and Private Secretary, vol. 4, 1878-1892, p. 268.
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Small Things

For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice. 

Zechariah 4:10a

Hi, Mom. This is Sam, our introvert ten year-old announced. You told me to call at two o’clock. It’s two o’clock.

It may seem a small thing, Sam’s call. But it’s big, because Sam isn’t much for talking on the phone. Besides that aversion, he was digging deep in Minecraft when the appointed check-in time came. In days past, he forgot. He lacked self-control. This time, Sam called. It was big small step.

Sorry for whining, Mom, our eight year-old reluctant writer confessed. I just don’t want to write it all again, but I will. 

That after self-cues to take three big breaths. And so Mr. Emotion took a small step toward perseverance. Instead of the usual moan-and-groan act we see when he’s asked to redo, Gabe took correction. Without a whine or tear, he rewrote the note. A small thing, and big. 


Small things are there for the seeing, if we look. Resisting an ice cream urge at nine at night is small. And big. Refraining from, I told you so, when you did tell him so is small. And big. 

Saying I’m sorry and Thank you and I forgive you are all small statements. But they have potential to cause huge growth, both in the speaker and the listener. The lips of the righteous nourish many.  

Eyes To See Small Things


It was 520 B.C. The Jewish exiles had come home to Jerusalem. Decades after their temple had been destroyed, the rebuild restarted. The foundation was laid. But the sight of the stacked stones struck onlookers as small and scant, at least compared to the former glory of Solomon’s temple. 

So friends of Israel wept while her foes jeered. Many doubted the project would ever be finished. It was a day of small things. 

Enter the prophet Zechariah and the angel who spoke God’s word. To the Prince Zerubbabel and the mournful or scornful around him, Zechariah (4:6, 9-10) offered big encouragement: 

Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts…The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands shall complete it. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For who has despised the day of small things shall rejoice and shall see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel

Just you wait, Zechariah assures. It’ll get done. Zerubbabel will soon drop the plumb line down those straight temple walls. And when he does, you will rejoice. This little foundation, this groundbreaking, isn’t the sum total of the work God is doing. It’s the mustard-seed-small start of something big. 

The temple of the LORD will be rebuilt, because the Spirit of Almighty God is at work. 

Learning Zerubbabel’s Lesson


In some ways we’ve learned Zerubbabel’s lesson. We celebrate small beginnings of big buildings. We dig with silver shovels and cut ribbons and mark the new house starts with smily photo ops. 

We mark physical growth in all sorts of festive ways, too. Staggered lines and dates on the doorframe, walking, talking milestones in baby books, very big birthday bashes for very little people. We do these things-we celebrate and commemorate- because we know that big things start small. 


But what about the spiritual starts? Do we celebrate days of spiritual small things? Do we rejoice when the son shows growth in self-control? When he shuts off the iPad without being told and reins in complaint all on his own? Or the day the daughter uses words to build up and not bully her little brother? 

How about the day your friend chooses gratitude over grumbling, or timeliness over tardiness? Or when- after a quick fit of anger- a spouse turns and asks forgiveness? Do you rejoice? Do you praise the small actions borne of godly wisdom and fear of the Lord? A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30), and A man shall be commended for his wisdom (Proverbs 12:8). 

So maybe we should celebrate Spirit-led small things more.  Because, writes C.S. Lewis, 

Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature into a hellish creature. 

Sow an action, reap a habit. Nail is driven out by nail; habit is overcome by habit. Sow to the flesh, reap corruption, sow to the Spirit-the mighty working Spirit that builds God’s temples-reap eternal life (Galatians 6:8)Little seeds grow into big weeds or fruitful trees. 

So, who will despise the day of small things?

Worth Doing Badly

It’s not ours to judge how great the growth. We don’t even know the starting point. But it is ours to see-and celebrate- progress in the faith (1 Timothy 4:15, Philippians 1:25). It’s not the size of the thing we see that really matters. The world knows, Every journey begins with a single step. 

More and more I mouth this motto-as I scratch out a short note rather than a long letter or stop in for a 20-minute visit rather than stay for the day- A little bit is better than none at all.

When we say, I don’t have enough- we despise the day of small things. Not enough time to listen, enough money to make a dent, enough wisdom to teach, enough wit to put in a word for Christ, we despise the day of small things. If you find yourself here, take heart.

Because, Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. 
 G. K. Chesterton didn’t intend the line to be an excuse for laziness or low effort (though possibly for poor results). Instead, to a culture plagued both by not gonna bother if it can’t be perfect, and drive for good results with minimal effort-or someone else’s effort- Chesterton says, in effect: Be an amateur. 

Do the thing for love and not for money. Do it imperfectly, but do it still. If the things is worth doing, do it, even it’s not perfect. Don’t wait for weekend at a waterpark, head to the beach for an hour. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Heed the Spirit and do the small thing.


Or do you despise the day of small things? The day when sons wash windows and multiply streaks and husband humbly bears wrong-size, wrong-color peace offering? Do you begrudge the hour because it’s not a day? 

Seek More Grace

Maybe you do see and celebrate the small things around you. But, what about in you? Do you despise the day of small things by not seeking more small things from yourself? I worked harder then them all, wrote Paul to the Corinthians, yet not I but the grace of God that was with me. 

In 1871, Charles Spurgeon preached a sermon on Zechariah 4:10, titled Encouragement for the Depressed. In it, he pushes us who do see and do rejoice in small things to do so yet more. Don’t settle. Don’t despise the day of small things by standing still, satisfied. Seek more grace. 

On the one hand, do not despond because you have the day of small things..but prove your value of the little by earnestly seeking after more grace. Do not despise the grace that God has given you, but bless God for it: and do this in the presence of his people. If you hold your tongue about your grace, and never let anyone know, surely it must be because you do not think it is worth saying anything about. Tell your brethren, tell your sisters, and they of the Lord’s household, that the Lord hath done gracious things for you; and then it will be seen that you do not despise his grace.

So I say-to the praise of His glorious grace-last week I was on time to the ladies’ group and went to bed without my Bear Tracks and didn’t say Told you so, when I did

Small things, all. But I rejoice. And want more grace.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you 
will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 
Philippians 1:6