Thursday, September 11, 2014

We shall never forget ... or shall we?

"We shall never forget."

That was the simple post from someone on Facebook today. With today being 9/11, everyone knew what he meant.

We shall never forget those innocent people who lost their lives on 9/11. We shall never forget the image of those burning, falling towers, and heroes who ran into those buildings, charging up stairs in an attempt to save others.

There are just some things you will never forget.

But there are other things we do forget, but shouldn't.

Things like the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross.

"I would never forget that!" we like to think.

But we do.

So much so that Jesus, knowing how we would forget the single greatest sacrifice ever made for anyone --- the sacrifice of His own life on the cross --- that He instituted a ritual devised just so that we would remember what He did for us.

"For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.' In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant between God and his people --- an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it," 1 Corinthians 11:23-25.

May we never forget!


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

See that door? God might be waiting for you to open it yourself ...

When working with people either as a pastor or a counselor, I often learn about their prayer lives and what they pray about. One thing stands out in the lives of many people: we routinely pray for God to do things that we should be doing ourselves.

Based on our prayers, we frequently want God to make our decisions and achieve accomplishments for us, like making us fit without good nutrition and exercise, fix our relationships without our changing how we treat people, and a plethora of other things that should be our personal responsibility to accomplish rather than God doing it for us.

This passing of the buck to God is classically captured in the wildly popular platitude about God opening some doors and closing others. We routinely fail to act until God either "opens a door" or "closes" another. We've turned God into being our personal door man! Instead of making a decision that is prayerfully considered and guided by the Holy Spirit and insight from the Word of God, we want God to create a door and open it --- or close it --- so that the responsibility falls on Him instead of us. We want God to use His limitless power to "magically" make things happen, rather than our having to learn, grow, work, and endure by using the talents and abilities God has given us to do things for ourselves.

But the responsibility for the decisions and actions in our lives belong to us.

Sometimes, God does "open a door," and sometimes God will "close" one. But God isn't going to open and close doors all the time. More often than not, God blesses us with a capable mind, wisdom, insight from His Word, and the Holy Spirit who teaches us truth. If we aren't willing to take on the responsibility of our decisions and actions with those remarkable resources, then often we'll be left with the consequences of failing to act.

It's at those times we blame God for failing to open or close a "door" for us.

There is a "Peanuts"cartoon of Peppermint Patty turning to Charlie Brown and saying, "Guess what, Chuck. On the first day of school I got sent to the principal's office. It was your fault, Chuck."

Exasperated, Charlie Brown responds, "My fault? How could it be my fault? Why do you say everything is my fault?"

Peppermint Patty answered, "You're my friend, aren't you, Chuck? You should have been a better influence on me."

We often treat God as if we were Peppermint Patty and He were Charlie Brown, even though there could be no better influence in our lives than our Creator Himself!

If you want better relationships, do it what it takes to have better relationships. If you want better fitness or better health, do what it takes to be fit and healthy. Live life in Christ, and in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, but don't expect God to live life for you. You have to think, you have to make decisions, you have to act, and you have to take responsibility for all those things. God is willing to direct you, and walk with you, but don't treat Him like He's your door man.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

You can't achieve the extraordinary this way ...

Has God given you a great dream? That certain something that would be your greatest life's work?

Most of us have something great --- at least, great to ourselves --- that we want to accomplish in our lifetimes. Regarding that dream, you can likely count on this: you usually cannot achieve the extraordinary living ordinarily.

Wouldn't it be great to build a multi-billion dollar international conglomerate just working 9 to 5, weekends off, and a few weeks of vacation every year?

Wouldn't it be fantastic to become a world-reknowned surgeon with just a year or two of required college courses and a brief internship?

Wouldn't it be great to be recognized as an outstanding teacher without having to pour yourself into the lives of your students, many of whom aren't interested in learning and don't think very highly of you?

Wouldn't it be an incredible miracle to lead scores of people to Jesus Christ without having to lose any family time, or without having to be open to ridicule, or without having to really study and learn the Word of God?

Wouldn't it be so convenient if we could do what we really enjoy doing, the way we like to do it, and make really good money at it, and then, after we've created the life we want in the fullest way possible, to then turn our talents toward the benefit of God's kingdom and see instant results?

Yeah, it's obvious all of the above aren't just dreams, they're "pipe dreams," but they do represent how many people actually think. We may have great God-given dreams, but we want to achieve them from a comfortable position. And if we can't do it comfortably, it often will not be done.

Well, you usually cannot achieve the extraordinary living ordinarily.

Look at the stories of the lives of the great men and women in the Bible. You'll often read how they were first prepared and equipped for an extended period of time before being used by God in a great way. And you'll certainly read of how most of them paid dearly for being available to God for the extraordinary uses He had for them.

When James Garfield was principal of Hiram College in Ohio (he would later become President of the United States), a father asked him if the course of study could be simplified so that his son might be able to finish by a shorter route.

"Certainly," Garfield replied. "But it all depends on what you want to make of your boy. When God wants to make an oak tree, He takes a hundred years. When He wants to make a squash, He requires only two months."

Are you happy being a squash? Then live ordinarily. But if you dream of being a mighty oak, you'll have to endure paying the cost of growing into something so majestic.


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Would you know the truth if you heard it?

There's never been a time when truth wasn't critically important.

From Eve deciding whether to believe the claims of the serpent, to knowing how to live your own life today, knowing truth is of paramount importance for us human beings.

Do you know the truth when you see/hear it?

Many don't.

There's a story about a young Chinese boy who wanted to learn about jade, so he went to study with a talented old teacher. This elderly gentleman put a piece of the stone into the youth's hand and told him to hold on to it with a tight grip. Then the teacher began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun, and almost everything underneath it. After an hour, the teacher took back the stone and sent the boy home.

This same procedure was repeated for weeks, resulting in the boy becoming frustrated. When would he be taught about jade? But he was too polite to interrupt his venerable teacher. Then one day, when the old man put a stone into the boy's hand, the boy cried out instantly, "That's not jade!"

Would you know if someone was speaking truth or something false? We need to know, and John wrote about our need to discern the truth ...

"Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world," 1 John 4:1.

Like the boy being trained to know the real jade stone from the false, we need to train ourselves to know that which is from God ...

"Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong," Hebrews 5:14.

In order to have truth, you must be pointed to Christ Himself ...

"Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me," John 14:6

Better than the young boy with a wise teacher, Christians have the perfect Teacher to help us discover and understand truth ...

"When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future," John 16:13.

It is this truth that transforms our lives, as we see in this prayer of Jesus ...

"Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth," John 17:17-19.

Have you surrendered your life to Christ so that you can be made holy by the truth? Have you been trained to know the truth, "... to recognize the difference between right and wrong"? How do you discern what is true and what isn't?


Saturday, August 30, 2014

What's in your mirror?

The image above has been plastered all over social media sites because we all can relate to it.

We all have dreams we want to turn into realities, and when we step in front of a mirror, we see the potential God has planted into us. We know He has been growing us to become the lion in the reflection.

But for the moment, if we were to be honest and see what the mirror truly reflects, many of us are still cats.

George Bernard Shaw understood this "mirror issue." Shortly before he died, a reporter asked him, "Mr. Shaw, if you could live your life over and be anybody you've known, or any person from history, who would you be?"

Shaw thoughtfully replied, " I would choose to be the man George Bernard Shaw could have been, but never was."

So when are you going to become the lion in the mirror? How much of your God-given potential are you going to leave untapped? When are you going to take the steps to fully become the man or woman God intends you to be?


Friday, August 29, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: A mediocre Bible for college students ...

I love the fact that the Bible remains the best-selling book of all time.

I've also not been shy to state my disdain regarding how publishers treat the Bible as another product in the way they try to churn out a myriad of offerings for different "types" of Bibles to bolster their profits. There's the "recovery" Bible, men's study Bible, women's study Bible, teen study Bible, new believer Bible, and so on, all offered in different colors, covers, and designs. But when I saw that Zondervan had published the "College Bible: Devotional Version" (NIV version), I was curious and hopeful.

I was hopeful because I think it's those college years, when young adults take their first significant step away from home and not only into greater independence, but usually into an environment very hostile to their faith, that is one of the most impacting years of life. I was hopeful that, if a publisher really did want to publish a Bible version focused on meeting the needs of a particular audience, that this would be a great Bible college students could find great value in.

I was disappointed.

At least, regarding the emphasis on the college student.

The good thing is, this is a Bible, and if college students make that central to their lives, then they will have what they need to guide them through this time in their lives.

But as far as being a good resource beyond being a Bible, this new Bible misses the mark. Here is what Zondervan promotes as being the key features in this Bible:
  • 222 school-year devotions with daily insights on, and applications to, relevant topics.
  • Devotions use a unique storytelling approach to connect God's Word with your real-life questions, struggles, and decisions as a student.
  • A practical reading plan that helps you stay connected to God during the nine months of school each year.
  • Quick-start guide shows how to get the most out of reading the Bible.
  • Subject index for looking up topics of interest.
  • Complete text of the clear, accessible NIV Bible.
None of these features are unique, you'll find them in just about any study Bible on the market today. So, for this new Bible to have any additional relevance to college students, the devotions would need to be of high quality and really offer some significant value to college students in their new life experience.

That's where this Bible fails.

The devotions are very short, and of mediocre content; there is nothing about them particularly impactful to a young adult away from home for the first time. Given this fact, there's nothing that makes this Bible the preferred Bible version for a college student. In fact, other study Bibles have more resources than this Bible offers, and might be of greater value to a college student as far as study Bibles go.

I actually liked the concept of equipping college students with a great study Bible that could really provide them with study resources that speak to this time in their lives, but this Bible just didn't rise to the challenge.

That's okay.

As long as college students are willing to make the Bible, itself, their primary book of study as they move forward into their future, they'll have what they most need.


I received this book free from HarperCollins Christian Publishing as part of their BookLook book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Does God really want to use you in His kingdom?

A few days ago I overheard one Christian telling a few others that sometimes God might want to use us to do something for Him regarding His kingdom.

Yes, I bit my tongue instead of butting in.


There's a very non-biblical mindset among many Christians that God created us, gave us life, and then let us loose to be our own sovereign beings, molding life according to our own desires, and every now and then He might ask us to do something for Him, as if we were a "neighbor god" he was seeking assistance from.

Wow, could we get the truth more wrong?!

Sin entered --- and wrecked --- this world when one of the first human beings bit into the temptation of wanting to be like God. But there's only one God, one sovereign Creator, and that's not you or me. Since that disastrous decision in a garden long ago, we've all made the same deadly choice, and God is the only one who could fix it.

He did.

Get this ...

"For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them ..." 2 Corinthians 5:19a.

God was so amazingly gracious in how He fixed our mess that He adopted us as His very own and, as His children, has made us His personal ambassadors to represent Him in this broken world. God doesn't just "sometimes" want to use us in His kingdom work, look at what God's design for us really is ...

"... and he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ's ambassadors; GOD IS MAKING HIS APPEAL THROUGH US ..." 2 Corinthians 5:19b-20a.

Hmmm, reading that, I think God's plan is a little more than sometimes using us in His kingdom work. Rather, His appeal for reconciliation to a sinful, lost world ... get this ... is being made by God through us!

At least, it's supposed to be.

Are you an ambassador for God through whom He is making His appeal for reconciliation? If not, what do you think your role is His kingdom is supposed to be?