Tuesday, April 15, 2014

If your face was a welcome mat ...

Any competent chef will tell you that we first "eat" with our eyes. If what is served doesn't look tasty, we won't want to taste it; but if something looks delicious, we may literally salivate with a desire to try the dish.

The same goes for people wanting to get a "taste" of us. Some people project an appearance of being approachable, while others give off an appearance that you really would not want to interact with them, or doing so would not be welcomed.

The concept is called being "approachable," and a great understanding of what it means to be seen as approachable comes from a story that involves one of our founding fathers.

During his days as president, Thomas Jefferson and a group of companions were traveling across the country on horseback. They came to a river that had flooded due to a recent downpour. As a result, the swollen river had washed away a bridge. Each rider was forced to forge the river on horseback, which caused a traveler who wasn't a part of their group to step aside and watch. After several had plunged in and made it to the other side, the stranger asked President Jefferson if he would ferry him across the river.

The president agreed without hesitation.

The man climbed up on the horse behind Jefferson, and shortly thereafter the two of them made it safely to the other side of the river. As the stranger slid off the saddle onto dry ground, one in the group asked him, "Tell me, why did you select the president to ask this favor of?"

The man was shocked, stating he had no idea it was the president who had helped him.

"All I know," he said, "Is that on some of your faces was written the answer 'No,' and on some of them was the answer 'Yes.' His was a 'Yes' face."

What kind of face do you have? Is it set to your own thoughts and interests, expressing a "Don't bother me!" message? Or do you have a "yes" face that encourages others to step into your life?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fighting someone else's battles ...

There are two wildly over-used phrases tossed around for describing small groups in churches: "doing life together" and "living in community."

Often when we use those phrases, we aren't telling the truth about what really happens in our small groups.

If the truth be told, most small groups are a Bible study that sometimes includes lively discussion but often doesn't get to the heart of applying scripture to our lives in any significant or life-changing way, along with some food, a little prayer, and leaving each other alone until the same time next week when we re-assemble to repeat the same process.

The reality doesn't come close to matching the description.

"Doing life together" is far more than talking about last week's baseball game over a quaint potluck meal before this week's Bible discussion. It's walking into someone's life to the degree that you help them take up their burdens and fight with them in their battles.

But our small groups often look more like this story told by Aesop ...

Two soldiers traveling together were attacked by a robber. One soldier quickly fled away; the other stood his ground and defended himself.

Once the robber was slain, the timid companion runs up and draws his sword, and then throwing back his cloak, says, "Let me at him, and he shall learn whom he has attacked!"

At this, he who had fought the robber answered, "I only wish that you had helped me just now, even if it had been only with those words, for I should have been the more encouraged, believing them to be true; but now put up your sword in its sheath and hold your equally useless tongue, till you can deceive others who do not know you. I, indeed, who have experienced with what speed you ran away, know right well that no dependence can be placed on your valor."

Others can't fight your battles for you, but they can fight them with you, and that help can sway the outcome ...

"Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken," Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

"Doing life together" means stepping into someone else's fight and getting bloodied with them.

Just ask Jesus.

"But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed," Isaiah 53:5.

Easter reminds us of the degree to which Jesus stepped into our lives and took up our battle. He fought for us to the extent of giving His life as a sacrifice for us.

Now it's time to live together like Jesus, entering into each others' lives by taking up one another's battles, fighting the good fight of faith back-to-back and truly "living in community" and battle life together.

Whose back do you have? Who can depend on you in life's battles?


Saturday, April 12, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Encouraging stories of God doing the miraculous ...

Have you ever read the Bible and found yourself amazed at the great things God has done or in awe of the miracles Jesus performed?

I think most of us have. And many of us have also thought that such great things only happened "back in the day" when great heroes of the faith lived lives that would later be recorded in the Bible for us to read about today.

But God hasn't stopped doing the miraculous!

To help us see how God is still very active in the lives of people today --- even in a miraculous way --- Don Jacobson and K-LOVE created the book, "It's A God Thing" (published by W Publishing, an imprint of Thomas Nelson).

This paperback book is a collection of forty-six short stories that tell of miracles people have experienced in contemporary times, or experiences that could not be explained in any way other than being "a God thing."

This is an encouraging book, as it provides testimony by people in our time of the great things God is still doing, giving personal witness to God's love and care for us and his continued direct involvement in our lives today. It's not a theological book, just one full of stories that will leave you praising God for not just the great things He has done, but for the great things He continues to do.


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.”

Friday, April 11, 2014

Disappointments can be fixed ...

This tweet on Twitter yesterday caught my attention:

"Studying the art of keeping in my feelings, as to not get let down. Again."

Those words drip with the pain of disappointment. My heart went out to this person, I'd been in his shoes before.

All of us have known disappointment from people, some who we love dearly and others we're barely acquainted with. But whatever the relationship, when they let us down we felt the sting of disappointment.

Considering the fact there's not a perfect human being on this planet, it's important for us to remember that given the opportunity to know someone long enough, at some point they will do something that could be disappointing. They're imperfect! And so are we; we've had our moments of disappointing others.

Fortunately, disappointments can be fixed.

You've likely seen some of the incredible images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. From the far reaches of space, we're able to get a view of some of God's breathtaking creations with the photos taken by this telescope. But do you remember in the beginning of the Hubble project, this telepscope wasn't the amazing machine it is today?

After lots of excitement, the telescope was launched several years ago and the first images we received back were blurry. It was discovered there was a flaw in the mirror.

It was a terrible disappointment!

The problem with the mirror was later corrected, but at the time there was a joke making the rounds that said the only thing NASA learned from the Hubble Telescope was to never name a project something that rhymed with "trouble." It was a huge embarrassment then, but not anymore. Today, our capacity to see the beauty of God's creation in a unique and awe-inspiring way is broadened by the images retrieved from this telescope, which is a great success.

Human disappointments can be fixed as well.

Paul and Barnabas had a falling out and went their separate ways over a disagreement regarding the disappointing behavior of Mark when they had given him an opportunity to travel with them ...

"After some time Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let's go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.' Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated. Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus," Acts 15:36-40.

Paul had been so disappointed with Mark's desertion that he wasn't willing to work with him again ... at least, not at that time. But things changed. That which led to disappointing behavior in Mark --- the guy who wrote the Gospel according to Mark --- was later corrected.

"Only Luke is with me. Bring Mark with you when you come, for he will be helpful to me in my ministry," 2 Timothy 4:11.

We will all experience disappointment from others, but that can be fixed, and they can become helpful to us. We will all disappoint others, but that can be fixed, and we can become a blessing to others.

Has someone disappointed you? Are you allowing them the opportunity to fix their error and have a second chance? Have you disappointed someone? What are you doing to correct your error so you can be beneficial to others?


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Life's great "must" ...

A gray-haired lady, long a member of her community and church, shook hands with the minister one morning after the church service.

"That was a wonderful sermon!" she told him. "Everything you said applied to someone I know!"

Isn't that how we often respond to God's Word? We see a lot of benefit in it for others, but not something to take serious personally.

But God has a different expectation for our response to Him and His Word ...

"Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life ..." 1 Peter 3:15a.

God isn't satisfied with being a mere influence in your life, He wants your entire life! And He sets as a "must" our making Jesus Christ the Lord of our lives, and our worshiping Him as such.

Do you worship Jesus as Lord of your life?


Monday, April 7, 2014

When the hype is greater than the reality ...

So great is the notoriety of the Stradivarius violin that even people who have never played a violin are familiar with the reputation of this fine instrument.

The problem is, that reputation may not live up to reality.

In a current article by CBC News, "... 10 award-winning violin soloists [were asked] to test six old Italian violins including five made by Stradivari and six new violins to find one to play instead of their own violin during a hypothetical concert tour ... New violins outscored the antique violins six to one when the researchers tallied the Top 4 from each violinist and took into account which instruments were rejected outright as unsuitable" (you can read the complete story here http://bit.ly/1kDzvt0).

The danger of a lot of hype is not living up to the reputation.

We often create that kind of dangerous hype about our church services. God will always live up to the reputation He has created for Himself in the Bible, but we often miss the mark when it comes to delivering what we say people can expect this Sunday "at church" ...

"Don't miss the message this Sunday, it will blow you away!"


Are people blown away by your preaching on most Sundays?

Do throngs of people leave your services after a life-changing experience just by showing up and hearing you preach?

Are their interactions with your congregation routinely so amazing that the hype you broadcast each week matches the real experience of the visitor? Or even the regular member?

When your hype exceeds the reality, you're asking people to start their interaction with you by not being able to trust you. Unless you deliver what you promise.

So why not scale back the hype to the truth, and trust the Holy Spirit to do what He will with that?


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Maybe that friendship should have lasted for more than a season ...

You've read the platitudes and seen the posts about friendships ...

... how some are just for a season ...

... how people pass through our lives ...

... how, if someone was supposed to still be in your life, they would be ...

... but so many of these platitudes are wrong.

The primary reason why so many friendships are short-lived is because we fail to nurture them.

Nurturing a friendship doesn't mean a ridiculous investment of time, but it does mean investing both quality and quantity of time into the lives of others.

A lot of it can be simple ...

... a text message saying you're thinking about them ...

... a cup of coffee together ...

... including someone over for dinner ...

... making some time to do something fun together ...

... a phone call while you unwind at the end of the day ...

... a mix of little and big things that allow you to love someone else.

If you're too busy to nurture your friendships, you're too busy and your priorities are misaligned.  When we're so busy to allow friendships to slip away, we're exchanging the few priceless things of life --- like friendship --- for something of lesser significance.

If a friendship is going to fade, never let it be because of neglect.

"Never abandon a friend --- either yours or your father's. When disaster strikes, you won't have to ask your brother for assistance. It's better to go to a neighbor than to a brother who lives far away," Proverbs 27:10.

Do you have a friend you need to call this afternoon? Do you have a friend you can include on your stop at Starbucks this week? Do you have a friend you can invite for dinner some time this week? Today is a good time to connect with a friend who would love hearing from you again.