Thursday, December 18, 2014

In today's church, this part of Christmas is missing ...

Mitchell Dillon, senior pastor of Soncoast Community Church in Boca Raton, Florida, once reminisced on Christmases past ...

"When you grow up poor, Christmas can be more about getting what you need than getting what you want. I remember how disappointed I was as a young boy the year I tore into a present only to find a package of underwear! Another year it was socks. As badly as I needed underwear and socks, that's not what I wanted to find under the Christmas tree. For most of us Christmas is about getting the things we want, not the things we need."

When God was doing all the giving on that very first Christmas, He, like a good Father, gave us what we needed rather than what we wanted.

Dillon expounded on his reminiscing ...

"The true meaning of Christmas eludes most people today because they fail to realize that they are spiritually impoverished. After all, who puts a Savior on a short list of Christmas wishes? But that's what God offered the world on that first Christmas, not because it was on our wish list, but because that's what we most desperately needed."

God's gift to us on that first Christmas may have been His giving to us what we needed rather than what we wanted, but it was also the most lavish display of a gift given in love the world had seen up to that point in human history ...

"For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son ..." John 3:16a.

The love that saturated that gift would blossom into a Savior who, like His Father, would give an astounding gift of His own life for ours. When we deserved only the justice of God, we received the benefit of love.

During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, Lord protector of England, sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell. However, the bell did not sound. The soldier's fiance had climbed into the belfry and clung to the great clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell's heart was touched and he said, "Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!"

Curfew didn't ring on Christmas, either.

When we deserved nothing but God's judgment, we received instead the boundless gift of God's love ...

"But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children," Galatians 4:4-5.

As I look at the church today, it's that lavish, unconditional, undeserved love that is often missing from God's family comprised of His adopted children. But it's not supposed to be that way ...

"If we love our brothers and sisters who are believers, it proves that we have passed from death to life. But a person who has no love is still dead," 1 John 3:14.

When we see today's church stand by and watch brothers and sisters suffer and lack basic needs and take no real action, when we expect the government and other agencies to care for the orphan and the widow and the homeless among us, when we see today's church argue and fight, when we see more culture and politics in our preaching and beliefs than we see of God's truth, when we see today's church watch people go to hell from a refusal to share the love of God by sharing the Gospel with those who are lost, it's obvious that the core part of Christmas --- God's love --- is the central part of what is missing in many churches today.

At Christmas, God lavished the world with His love, and His love is something we, as His adopted children, are supposed to continue to give away every day of our lives. Instead, many congregations today are utterly bereft of any real demonstrations of the love of Christ.

This Christmas, if you want to give to people something they desperately need, even though it might not be on their Christmas wish list, give them the love of Christ!

Christmas is a powerful reminder of the great love God gave to this world through the gift of His Son. May that inspire us as His children to give the same way, by lavishing this world with the love of Christ through us.

What are you giving this Christmas?


Of all the books I've reviewed, which do I recommend the most?

To date, I have posted 81 book reviews here on my blog, "Extraordinary Living."

Of those books, which do I most recommend?

Well, the top three are ...

Hang on just a minute. Let me clarify that these top three pertain only to the reviews I've posted here. It doesn't necessarily mean they're my favorite books of any, or that I don't recommend books not included among my published reviews. Also, there are other books I've posted reviews on that would be close rivals to these three.

But with that said, these three books are a trio that I've recommended more than the other books I've reviewed. Here we go!

1. "Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream" by David Platt. This best-seller became a best-seller for a reason: it is a strong challenge to those professing to be Christians to start living like authentic followers of Christ. That's why it remains my most recommended reviewed book, because their is a persistent need to challenge the shallow, empty Christianity so many wallow in. This is a good book to get now so that it can challenge you at the start of a new year. You can find my original review of the book here

2. "I Am A Follower" by Leonard Sweet is a strong rival for my most recommended reviewed book, and continues to be the first book I recommend to leaders who want a recommendation for something to read on the topic of leadership. Sweet understands, unlike so many in church leadership today, that our leadership relies on (and will never surpass) the quality of our followership. If we want to learn about leading in the church, we need to begin with our followership. This is a great book for both leaders and followers alike, and you can find my original review here

3. "Plastic Donuts" is accurately summed up in it's sub-title of "Giving That Delights the Heart of the Father." This is a little mini-hardback that is refreshingly insightful on the topic of giving. So much so, I recommend churches provide a copy to every member and include it in new member packets. "Plastic Donuts" quickly gets to the heart of the kind of giving that delights God, and that's something we all need to learn and practice. You can find my original review of this book here

Let my close by directing you to a book I recently reviewed that I anticipate will become a highly recommended book from me, and that is "A Dragon Slayer's Life" by John Hendee. This book packs a punch of a self-help message by sharing a powerful allegory that has inspired change in the lives of many people already, and might do the same for you. You can find my original review of this new book here

All of these books would make good reading gifts, and "Plastic Donuts" is probably small enough to fit in a Christmas stocking. But let me encourage you to give yourself the gift of reading these four books. As you do, I think you'll discover why I recommend them so often.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Giving from an overflow v. sharing ...

You hear a great deal of talk about "overflow" from many pulpits today. The fact is, if the church --- or this world --- relied on good, godly things to be done only from an "overflow" of abundance, little would be ever be accomplished, and few people would be helped.

So many of the the great works done in the world are not from people writing checks and making donations based on the extra --- the "overflow" --- they have, but a great deal of the things making a difference in this world happen from people (especially Christian people) giving from what they have, period.

It's not extra. Their giving comes from what they have.

Here's the false concept behind many of those preachers who are always talking about "overflow": If we only give out of our overflow, we remove faith. If we only give out of our overflow, there's no need to include God. But it's a very different situation when you give from what you have; when you take from what is earmarked for you and yours, and give from that, you must trust God to meet your needs as you give from your base resources.

For example, this evening I had a kind, elderly, and homeless Navy veteran ask me for help getting him a sandwich and a cup of coffee on a rainy evening. I don't have the means to feed both of us, but I've already eaten today. So I was happy to help this gentlemen. Doing so requires that I trust God for my own provision, because I just shared what is needed for me with someone else.

The reason why so many people don't give, or give so little, is because they base their giving on being able to do so from an overflow. They wouldn't begin to consider giving from a part of their base resources, and that's because they don't trust God to provide for what they've given away.

Where is the faith in that? How is that trusting God to meet your need when He provides opportunities to help others? You don't see in scripture Jesus speaking highly of the financially comfortable giving within their "overflow," which means giving in such a way as to make sure they stay comfortable. What He praises are those who trust God in their giving, even if it means giving generously from sparse resources.

In fact, we see a very different mindset about "giving" in the early church. Theirs wasn't an attitude of, "Let me see what I've got, measure my resources, see what the leftover is after expenses, investments, entertainment, and indulgences, and then give from that 'overflow'." Their attitude was one of sharing what they had. This "sharing" mentality meant that there weren't any needs left among them ...

"All the believers were united in heart and mind. And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had. The apostles testified powerfully to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and God's great blessing was upon them all. There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need," Acts 4:32-35.

Imagine what might happen in the church today if we focused on sharing the Gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and had an attitude of sharing what we had because we believed it wasn't just our own. Do you think we, like the early church, might also experience "... God's great blessing" upon us all?

Is there room for God in your giving? Or do you give only from extra, to insure that you, personally, aren't touched with any possibility of lack? How could your faith potentially be radically transformed by trusting God in your giving by beginning to think in terms of sharing?


Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas introduces us to God ...

I was excited! I was full of anticipation! But I was also a little apprehensive.

It was summertime in Arizona, I would be starting third grade in the fall, and during this break in the school year I was about to experience an unusual visit.

A visit from my grandparents.

I had never met my mother's parents. Well, I may have as a newborn, so I didn't know them. My mother was telling us about them to prepare us for their visit, and I heard that my grandpa was quite the guy.

Boy was he!

We "clicked" immediately, as he was always telling me corny jokes and making me laugh. He was a kind man and I liked him.

That one visit was all the interaction I had with him, but I learned a lot about him. He was a simple man from Arkansas who usually wore denim overalls, a cheap straw hat, and carried an inexpensive Timex pocket watch on a chain that had a large safety pin on the end that he used to attach the watch to his clothing.

My grandpa and I connected enough in that short time together that when he died, my grandma passed his pocket watch on to me.

That trip he made across the country introduced me to a great man. His coming into my life allowed me to get to know him beyond the stories my mom would sometimes tell. That single visit provided the opportunity for me to have a personal relationship with my grandpa.

Christmas introduces us to God.

The trip Jesus made from heaven to earth introduced us to someone who was more than a great man, but God in the flesh, "God with us." That single visit provided the opportunity for us to have a personal relationship with our Creator and get to know Him more intimately and understand what He is like ...

"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son," John 1:14.

Christmas offers the opportunity for a deeper relationship with God, one that will provide for our getting to know Him intimately. If you don't know God, this Christmas season is the perfect time to get to know Him personally.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

The cost of not caring about other people's problems ...

It's easy to think that someone else's problems don't have anything to do with you. In more ways than one, that's usually not true. The following story highlights this truth ...

A mouse looked through the crack in the wall to see the farmer and his wife open a package.

"What food might this contain?" the mouse wondered.

He was devastated to discover it was a mouse-trap. Retreating to the farmyard, the mouse proclaimed the warning: "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The chicken clucked and scratched, raised her head and said, "Mr. Mouse, I can tell this is a grave concern to you, but it is of no consequence to me. I cannot be bothered by it."

The mouse turned to the pig and told him, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The pig sympathized, but said, "I am very sorry, Mr. Mouse, but there is nothing I can do about it but pray. Be assured you are in my prayers."

The mouse turned to the cow and said, "There is a mousetrap in the house! There is a mousetrap in the house!"

The cow said, "Wow, Mr. Mouse, I am sorry for you, but it’s no skin off my nose."

So the mouse returned to the house, head down and dejected, to face the farmer’s mousetrap alone. That very night a sound was heard throughout the house ... like the sound of a mousetrap catching its prey.

The farmer’s wife rushed to see what was caught. In the darkness, she did not see it was a venomous snake whose tail the trap had caught. The snake was furious and bit the farmer’s wife. The farmer rushed her to the hospital and she returned home with a severe fever.

Everyone knows that you treat a fever with a fresh chicken soup. So the farmer took his hatchet to the farmyard for the soup’s main ingredient. But his wife’s sickness continued, so friends and relatives came to sit with her around the clock. To feed them, the farmer butchered the pig.

The farmer’s wife did not get well and she died. So many people came to the funeral, the farmer had the cow slaughtered to provide enough meat for all of them.

The mouse looked upon it all from his crack in the wall with great sadness and said, "I warned them about the mouse trap but they did not take my warning into account...

Scriptures implores us, "Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too," Philippians 2:4.

When someone tells you about the "mouse-trap" in their life, how do you respond?


How to make a bad situation much worse ...

A young boy lived in the country. So sparse was the country living of this boy's family that they had to use an outhouse. It was hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and always --- always --- smelly.

The young boy really hated that outhouse! This outhouse was located near a creek, so the boy got the wild idea that he would push the outhouse into the water. After a spring rain, the creek swelled, so the boy pushed in the outhouse.

Later that night the boy's dad told him he and the boy needed to take a trip out to the woodshed. The boy knew this meant punishment. He asked his father why, to which his dad replied, "Because someone pushed the outhouse into the creek and I think that someone was you. Was it?"

The boy admitted it was. Then he added, "Remember when George Washington's father asked him if he had chopped down the cherry tree? He didn't get into trouble because he told the truth."

"That is correct," responded the dad, "but his father was not in the cherry tree when he cut it down."

There are ALWAYS consequences for your choices and actions. A sure way to make a bad situation even worse than it is, is to try to avoid your consequences.

Over the many years as a clinical therapist, I have often seen people who have done significant damage to their lives from their own choices. The actions they decided to take hurt themselves and others, and when the consequences for their choices were coming around, they desperately wanted to avoid them.

These people who tried to escape their consequences only made their situations much worse for them. Instead of facing, and literally walking into their consequences, they tried to avoid them. Doing so means they were avoiding the needed choices and actions --- like honest confession, repentance, reconciliation, and restitution --- that would be necessary to work through their problems and move into a hopeful future.

People try to run from the outcome of their choices and actions because those consequences can be devastating, sometimes for the moment, sometimes for years to come, and sometimes some of the consequences will stay with them for life. Consequences may result in real and significant losses, especially loss of relationships, but those are costs that must be worked through as part of the consequences for your choices. You cannot heal and move forward without facing your consequences head-on, walking into them, and working through them into the future that is possible for you.

Even one of the Bible's great men, King David, attempted to run from the consequences of his sin of adultery and murder surrounding his obsession with Bathsheba. Scripture recounts how miserable David was because he tried to avoid his consequences, and it was only after the prophet Nathan called out David for his sin, and David finally confessed and faced his consequences --- which would include the death of his son he had with Bathsheba --- could David be restored and move forward.

Don't do more harm to yourself by attempting to run from your consequences. Stop. Confess and repent. Walk into your consequences and work on reconciliation and restitution. This is the only way to get through what you've done.


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Christmas raises the question, "Who's in control here?"

Charles Kuralt was a television journalist who became well-known as host of the "On the Road" segments that were part of the "CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite." Kuralt would travel the country looking for interesting tales from everyday life. He once wrote about this story:

"A woman wrote me a letter from Ohio. She said her parakeet could say, 'And that's the way it is!' (mimicking the daily closing words of famed CBS news anchorman Walter Cronkite). We went there right away, of course. As soon as she opened the door, the parakeet said, 'And that's the way it is!' While we set up the lights and camera there in the living room, the parakeet watched us from inside his cage and said, 'And that's the way it is!' We pointed the lens at the cage and started rolling. The parakeet looked at the camera and said:


"The parakeet's owner said, 'And that's the way it is!' to give him a cue.

"The parakeet said, 'Aaaaawk!'

"'And that's the way it is!' she said patiently.

"He said, 'Aaaaawk!'

"After an hour or two of this we packed up, promising to return some other time. We said goodbye to the disappointed woman who wanted to see her parakeet on Walter Cronkite's news program. We closed the front door and started down the walk to the driveway, carrying our camera and lights. Behind us in the living room, we heard the parakeet say:

"'And that's the way it is!'"

This story highlights the fact that we cannot always control our circumstances. We can control a lot about our lives, but not everything. Yet, who's in control is something that plagues us because we either insist on being in control ourselves, or we're concerned about the affects in our lives when someone else is in control.

That was just one significant issue raised by the birth of Jesus. The people living in Jerusalem had settled into accepting that Caesar was in control, and because of that, King Herod was in control of the local region under the auspices of Rome. Suddenly breaking that comfortable position were some dignitaries from the east arriving in the city asking about a newborn king ...

"Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 'Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him'," Matthew 2:1-2.

This news from the magi shattered the peace in Jerusalem ...

"King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem," Matthew 2:3.

The birth of a new king of the Jews would certainly directly impact Herod, who had the job at the time. But it would also impact all those ruled over, and so we read that not only was King Herod disturbed by such a proposition, but "... as was everyone else in Jerusalem."

The new question the birth of Christ had created was, "Who's in control here?"

Was it Caesar? Was it Herod? Was there some new threat to either of those thrones?

Yes, but not in the way people were thinking at the time.

The question of "Who's in charge here?" so disturbed King Herod that he "... sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men's report of the star's first appearance," (Mt. 2:16).

The question of "Who's in charge here?" would eventually disturbed the religious leaders in Jerusalem so much that they would insist on Jesus being put to death.

The birth of Christ does, indeed, raise the question, "Who's in control here?" It would be through the Child born in Bethlehem that every human being would have to settle the question of who's in charge. Jesus would live, die a sacrificial death, and be raised from the dead to ransom us from sin and death. The sovereign rule of God would destroy once and for all the stranglehold of sin in our lives and set us free to serve the King of kings, Jesus Christ.

Christmas raises the question, "Who's in charge here?" What's your answer? Has the baby born in Bethlehem long ago, who has become King of kings and Lord of lords, also become the sovereign ruler of your life? Or do you find losing control a disturbing idea?