Monday, November 30, 2009

Are you a buzzard? ...

I spotted a couple of buzzards a few nights ago.

"Front counter buzzards," to be precise.

Having been back in Arizona just a month now, I'm working out at a new gym. As I finished my workout and exited, I noticed a couple guys hanging out at the front counter talking to the guy working at the gym that night.

I had noticed the same couple of guys at the front counter a few nights in a row. They come in and spend a lot of time (the duration of my workout) talking to the front desk guy. They really aren't at the gym for a workout. They will eventually meander onto the gym floor and and play with the equipment, but getting in a real workout isn't their objective.

For "front counter buzzards," just showing up at the gym makes them feel better about themselves because it exercises their "desire" to be fit, plus the social interaction is enjoyable for them. They aren't actually getting fit, but that's not the point for them. In fact, front counter buzzards often are long-term members who see their waistlines grow and fitness actually decline during their membership.

But they're having fun!

Front counter buzzards remind me of "foyer buzzards" at church.

You know, those church members who show up and spend their time talking with friends in the foyer of the church. That's their purpose for showing up.

"Foyer buzzards" really aren't interested in worshiping, studying, giving, , serving, or otherwise engaging. They're at church --- religiously --- for the social interaction.

I certainly don't knock the fellowship aspect of "going to church." Fellowship is a rich part of the Christian experience. But it is just one aspect of being a follower of Christ. "Foyer buzzards" pick fellowship to death, and then go home, content they've gone to church. They don't serve, they're "clock watchers" during the sermon, and they're generally disengaged in a Bible study (except for the fellowship time).

God calls us to do much more, to be much more. He wants us fully engaged in the life of the church. Worshiping, supporting, serving, sharing. In fact, Paul put it this way when writing to the Galatians, "2 Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important" (Galatians 1:2-3).

Being a part of the church is to extend ourselves beyond the "warm, fuzzy" part of fellowship to helping each other shoulder the burdens we bear in life. It's not just "being at church," but "being there" for one another in life.

Are you engaged? Or are you a buzzard?


Saturday, November 28, 2009

How do you play this game? ...

Does anyone really understand the sport of cricket?

I was in Melbourne, Australia when the renovation of the cricket stadium was opening and a massive crowd was expected. I had never been to (or even watched) a cricket game and so I thought it would be a great thing to do while in Australia.

To prepare myself, I spoke with a few people at the hotel I was staying at about the game. I asked them if they could explain the sport to me so I could understand it when I went to watch the competition at the stadium.

They could not.

Literally, they looked at each other, fumbled with their words, and finally suggested I ask people at the stadium to explain the game to me.

So I made my way to the stadium and, once seated, asked some people sitting around me if they would explain the sport to me.

They could not.

A few managed to describe a few aspects about the game, but they finally gave up and suggested I simply watch the competition and learn by observation.

So I did.

The competition started at about 9 a.m. By around noon, I was "getting it" a little. But the play continued throughout the afternoon. By 4 p.m. I decided I had enough of cricket (the competition actually continued on until about 6 p.m.!). I had taken in a new Aussie experience, enjoyed my time with the crowd, remained somewhat perplexed by the sport, and still had not found anyone who could really explain the game to me.

Not a single person.

That may sound odd, until you compare it to how few Christians can tell you what they believe and why.

1 Peter 3:15 says, "Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it."

Just like my experience wanting to understand the sport of cricket, there will be people who will want to understand your faith. Are you prepared to give an answer? Or would you find yourself, like my Aussie friends, fumbling for words and give up even trying?

Let me encourage you to prepare yourself with answers to your faith. Think through what you believe and why you believe it, and then simplify that into a cohesive and concise message you can communicate to others. If this preparation seems daunting to you, ask for help from leaders in your church. I am confident you will find help in your church to prepare you to be able to communicate your faith to others.

Being prepared to communicate your faith will make you more confident to do so, and might even motivate you to look for opportunities to share.

And the good news? Explaining your faith may well be easier than explaining the sport of cricket!


Friday, November 27, 2009

"Daddy, can I have a dollar?" ...

In my family, there were eight ... yes, eight ... children. That meant we were poor! That also meant we never received an allowance from our parents.

That didn't mean we didn't receive money for things we needed or sometimes for wants. But with eight children, the cost of caring for them is high enough, much less doling out spending money.

An allowance from a parent is an interesting thing. When a child receives an allowance, they are very aware of where their provision comes from. But watch that same child as they grow. When they get into their teen years and begin to take on jobs to earn their "own" money, they use those resources as part of a growing independence from their providing parents. As they mature, the more resources they gain, the more they become independent of their parents, and look to themselves for their own provision (these days, that's theoretically speaking!).

I think this behavior is reflected somewhat in our spiritual lives.

God is the ultimate provider of all things for us. James 1:17 says, "Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow."

Everything that is good and of real value in our lives comes to us from God. But so often, we look to ourselves for provision ... until we find ourselves in real need.

But imagine for a moment what life would be like if God cared for us via a weekly allowance. Imagine if, once each week, you had to physically appear before God, at which time He would give you a weekly allowance for the following four things: wisdom, love, talent, and money. With that allowance, you were to make good decisions on how to use what was given to you to get through the week, until you again came before God for your next allowance payout.

If we had to do that, do you think we would be more mindful of where our blessings really originate from? Do you think perhaps we would be better stewards of what God blesses us with? Would you make better decisions? Would you spend each dollar differently? Would you love more lavishly?

God gives you today what you need today. He's a loving parent who will always be there to make sure you have what you need when you need it. Use what is given to you wisely, and be grateful for your allowance.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Now that's something to be thankful for ...

With Thanksgiving Day being just a few days away, there are numerous blogs flowing with what people are thankful for. I hadn't planned on writing a holiday blog, but a tweet I received on Twitter a couple days ago seems to sum up the holiday for me. It simply read:

"There wouldn't be no me without God in my life."

I love the thought behind that message ... to have your life so intertwined with God that you simply wouldn't be you without Him!

What could we be more thankful for than a life like that?


Sunday, November 22, 2009

A great way to help those who need it the most ...

What if there was a way Christians could help some of the world's most needy people, and do so without spending an extra penny? No one asking you to dig deeper into your pocket and give more than you are?

There is a way.

Trade As One is an organization partnering with churches to help people in need throughout the world. The idea is simple: when you make a purchase you're already planning to make, do so with Trade As One and those dollars will go to artisans, craftsmen, and others who make the products you already plan on buying. Those dollars will be paid to people who are in the most dire need.

Thus, your regular spending can help lift families out of the deepest poverty.

Check out the video below and the Trade As One website at If you're a church leader, consider the possibility of sharing this concept with your congregation and partnering with Trade As One to make an impact on the lives of people throughout the world.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Have you flossed today? ...

It's hard enough to get kids ... or adults! ... to brush their teeth. But floss?!

Brushing your teeth is necessary for good dental health. But not good enough. Even after brushing your teeth you can still have plaque on teeth as well as food particles embedded between your teeth. A build-up of plaque and foreign particles can result in tooth decay and gum disease. To help avoid such problems, we should floss after meals as a means of removing any foreign particles that don't belong on or between the teeth.

Flossing your teeth enhances good dental health.

And mental flossing enhances your spiritual health.

Joe Slaughter posted a comment a few days ago that included the phrase "mental floss," but the comment didn't extrapolate on the phrase. But my thinking did!

The average person has up to 70,000 thoughts per day. On top of that, we are bombarded with thousands of external messages daily. And on top of that, we're flooded with the thoughts of others each day as well. With all that "data" floating around in our mind, there are some things that get "stuck" in the crevices and folds of our minds that aren't good for our mental ... or spiritual ... health.

To keep our minds free from thoughts that are not good for us, we need a mental floss!

How do we keep our minds cleansed so our thoughts are set on what is healthy? Or, what can we use each day as "mental floss?"

It starts with the Holy Spirit, who convicts us of sinful thoughts and who also guides us to truth. It continues with the Word of God which directs us in how to live life according to the will of God. It's refreshed with prayer as we take our thoughts to God and work them out. And finally, in Philippians 4:8 we are directed to focus our thoughts on certain things: "8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise" and Paul further adds to this in Colossians 3:1-3, "1 Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God."

By applying these things daily as our "mental floss," we protect ourselves from thoughts that are harmful to us and maintain better spiritual health.

Have you flossed today?


Losing influence by your own words ...

"Off the hook!"
"Crushed it!
"... MUST not miss ..."
"... nothing like it ..."

Those are just a few of the words or phrases that have become rather common among church leaders. In fact, the language leaders use is increasingly riddled with such hyperbole.

And it's this type of hyperbole that can lessen the power of their words, and thus the level of their influence.

When a leader so consistently laces his speech with words that really are overly charged, it becomes difficult to trust what the leader says. For example, every church service isn't "crazy."; every Bible study isn't "epic"; and every worship service isn't "off the hook." Well, maybe they are to you, but they aren't always considered that way by the people you lead.

Sometimes, a sermon is simply good; a Bible study is simply enlightening; and a worship service is simply moving for those you lead. Yet, when you constantly use hyperbole to motivate your people, and their experience is consistently less than what you describe, people begin to question what you say because your words seem unreliable. Your words lose power, and you lose influence.

Jesus was the greatest leader and teacher ever, yet His words were very simple and completely reliable. Let me encourage you to consider more closely the words you choose. It's understandable that you're excited about the opportunities for your people to grow, but try to use words that motivate honestly. It will make you more trustable to those who listen, and thereby build your influence.


Monday, November 16, 2009

The difference between average leaders and great leaders ...

There are average leaders, and there are great leaders.

Unfortunately, there are many more average leaders than there are great leaders.

What makes a leader "great" instead of "average"?

There are several characteristics that contribute to making the difference, but of all of the great leaders I've had the chance to work with, learn from, or observe, there are five key characteristics that seem common among them:

1. Great leaders are ORIGINATORS.
Great leaders don't know the meaning of "cookie cutter." Great leaders approach their work from a very clear vision, and vision doesn't come in cookie cutter format. While great leaders usually are keen about what others are doing, they understand they are in a different place with different people and different resources called to do their unique work. So they focus on what is possible with God and create original work.

Lately I've noticed what almost seems to be a trend among "average" pastors regarding sermon preparation. I've noticed when they begin a new sermon series they run out and buy the hottest book on their subject that is written by a "great" leader, and then regurgitate the contents of the book to their congregations. It's one thing to study for learning, another to copy.

Average leaders replicate what great leaders are originating.

2. Great leaders are INNOVATORS.
Great leaders don't simply think outside the box, they think without a box! Because they work from vision, their leadership thinking routinely flows to that which doesn't exist yet. They think in terms of "What should be done?" (value-driven, without limits) instead of "What could be done?" (limited from a starting point of what has been done) and thus create their own starting point instead of limiting themselves from where they can begin and where they can go. Doing so often means they have to change how people think, change expectations, and change existing methodolgies. They don't think twice about innovating their way to their goals.

3. Great leaders are THINKERS.
The average leader makes the excuse they are too busy with all their responsibilities to take time simply for thinking. That means most of their thinking is done "on the run," and their leadership suffers for it. Great leaders understand the necessity of applying clear and thorough thought to their work and make time for it in spite of their pressing responsibilities.

4. Great leaders are DEEP.
Great leaders understand the truth in the time-worn saying, "You can only draw out of a well what's in it." In that case, one would think that with all the books on leadership, tons of leadership conferences, and a host of other resources available, that we would have more "great" leaders. The difference is that great leaders don't simply study what others have studied and "mastered," but have so studied, and dug, and worked at their learning that they have developed more masterful knowledge and skills. They don't rely on the learning of others alone but apply themselves to acquiring knowledge to the point of understanding and wisdom. Thus, they have a "depth" to draw from.

5. Great leaders are DISCIPLINED.
Discipline is easier for the introvert. But I have observed that discipline is even characteristic of more extroverted leaders. The extroverts often dive into their work with a focus, but need to take breaks to interact with others. But then they rein themselves in and take themselves back to their work. They apply discipline to keep them focused on, and in, their work.

There are other characteristics that make a leader "great" but these are a few that seem to be common. How do you fare regarding these characteristics? What can you do to grow in each of these five areas to help you become a better leader?


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Christians are dying for their faith ...

You may not have heard that today is the international day of prayer for the persecuted church.

Americans still enjoy a great deal of religious liberty, so it is somewhat difficult for us to imagine that there are many ... many ... Christians throughout the world who are are suffering physical abuse, and even giving their lives, because of their faith.

Here are some facts:
  • Since the time of Christ until now, it is estimated that 43 million Christians have been killed because of their faith.
  • More Christians have died for their faith in the 20th century than at any other time.
  • In 2005, more than 171,000 Christians died for their faith.
Take just a few moments to watch this video about what some Christians are facing around the world:

Christians need to stand in fellowship with each other through prayer, encouragement, and practical assistance.

Please take some time to pray for Christians who are being persecuted because of their faith. Although it may be hard to believe today, you may need the same support in the future! 2 Timothy 3:12 says, "Yes, and everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" and John 15:18-20a says, "18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. 20 Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you ..."


Friday, November 6, 2009

The greatest coaching you can get ...

The church is about as "fad" oriented as the culture we live in.

Probably the hottest "fad" going today is coaching ... or being coached. Some church leaders have multiple coaches for varying facets of their ministry or their life.

Besides being a pastor and a Christian clinical counselor, I've also provided services as a Life/Executive Coach. In general, I'm all for coaching. There's nothing wrong with getting the input and support of someone with skills and experience that can enhance your own.

But I'm a little concerned about the coaching fad being so pervasive that I sometimes wonder if we overlook the greatest "Coach" any of us could possibly have: the Holy Spirit.

Here's a serious question for those involved in being coached, and for those in a coaching network, or for anyone considering being coached: which do you seek first and most, the counsel of another human being, or the counsel of the Holy Spirit?

John 16:13-14 says, "13 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. 14 He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me."
There is no one ... absolutely no one ... who can instruct us in the Word of God and about the Lord Jesus Christ as rightly as the Holy Spirit! Only the Holy Spirit can perfectly instruct us in the truth. And yet, I rarely hear church leaders, or Christians in general, talk about the significance of the Holy Spirit's guidance in their lives. That doesn't mean it isn't there, but is their relationship with the Holy Spirit their primary coaching relationship? We're quick to buy the hottest book, go to the trendiest conference, watch the streaming video or listen to the audio recording. But how quickly are we to turn to interaction with the Holy Spirit?

If your relationship with the Holy Spirit isn't your most important and significant coaching relationship, let me encourage you to build it to be so. Take the time to dig deep into scripture to become more intimately aware of who the Holy Spirit is, and His unique work as part of the Godhead (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit). Seek the Holy Spirit as part of your prayer life, and look to the Holy Spirit to provide you with insight into scripture. Cultivating a close, personal relationship with the Holy Spirit can be the single greatest "coaching" experience you can have in this life.

To those who serve as coaches, I would suggest a positive prerequisite for bringing someone into a coaching program would be that they first have a solid relationship with the Holy Spirit (or, assisting them to create such a relationship with the Holy Spirit being the first step of coaching). Having this as a prerequisite helps to ensure those seeking coaching are first looking to the leading of the Holy Spirit before seeking the leading of a human being.

Romans 8:2-6 says, "
2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. 5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace."


Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The four levels of discernment ...

I've never met anyone who wanted to make bad decisions on purpose. Most people tend to make decisions based on what they think is right, whether or not their basis for thinking is sound or not. But if their basis for thinking is not sound, their decisions will be flawed at best, if not outright wrong.

So how can we interpret this world, and our experience in it, rightly so that we make sound decisions?

There are four levels of discernment we can experience:

LOGIC - Logic is the lowest level of thinking we can exercise and, unfortunately, it's all too common. Logic is simply basing our thinking from a pool of information. However, the information may be accurate or inaccurate. Because logic may contain untruths, it is unreliable for sound decision-making.

KNOWLEDGE - Knowledge is superior to logic because it is a collection of facts or truths. When we have the reality of truth from which to assess our world, we then have the basis for making sound decisions.

UNDERSTANDING - Understanding is superior to knowledge because it is a discernment of the knowledge one has. When we gain insight to the facts and truth we have before us, we make better decisions.

WISDOM - Wisdom is being able to discern what is true and what is right by the best application of our understanding and knowledge.

The Bible encourages us to pursue knowledge, understanding and wisdom and has plenty to say about these levels of discernment (I encourage you to do a Bible study on each of those levels of discernment). For example, Proverbs 3:13-22 says:

13 Joyful is the person who finds wisdom, the one who gains understanding. 14 For wisdom is more profitable than silver, and her wages are better than gold. 15 Wisdom is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. 16 She offers you long life in her right hand, and riches and honor in her left. 17 She will guide you down delightful paths; all her ways are satisfying. 18 Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly. 19 By wisdom the Lord founded the earth; by understanding he created the heavens. 20 By his knowledge the deep fountains of the earth burst forth, and the dew settles beneath the night sky. 21 My child, don’t lose sight of common sense and discernment. Hang on to them, 22 for they will refresh your soul. They are like jewels on a necklace.

How are you currently making decisions? Quickly based on a loose set of information in front of you? Or do you search for facts so you can perceive truth about a matter? Do you consider those facts well in order to gain understanding? How do you work at applying your understanding to the best possible outcome?

Our best decision-making happens when we gain and apply wisdom to a matter, "For wisdom is far more valuable than rubies. Nothing you desire can compare with it" (Proverbs 8:11).

Where are you at regarding the levels of discernment? How can you seek and pursue wisdom from God so that you can make the very best decisions possible?


Monday, November 2, 2009

Life. Via. The Spirit ...

Starbucks has done it again.

Last month the coffee giant launched a new product that has received rave reviews ... and demands! ... from its loyal customers.

The newest thing from Starbucks is Via, a small packet of instant coffee the company claims tastes as good as brewed coffee. Throughout October, local Starbucks stores lured customers into trying the new product by conducting taste tests in its stores. Customers would taste Via and a brewed coffee, not knowing which was which. Many couldn't tell the difference, leading to ... chaching$! lots of sales! So much so there has been a demand for decaffeinated Via, which will be coming out soon in response to customers asking for it.

The marketing behind Via paints the picture of never being in a situation where you are without coffee. In a classroom, a boardroom, at home, in the car or on a plane. Just throw some packets of Via in a purse or brief case, or stick them in your pockets, and you're a minute away from coffee whenever you "need" it.

Great marketing for those who really rely on their coffee!

Via is a way to be filled with coffee!

In New Testament times, there was a problem with some Christians wanting to be filled with another beverage ... wine. Leading to drunkenness. Not a good thing for a Christian. So here's how the apostle Paul responds to the situation when writing to the Ephesians (5:18), "Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit."

Throughout the ages, human beings have looked outside themselves for a source of energy and motivation. Some sought wine, others coffee, and others a host of other options.

But why not the Holy Spirit?

When we are buried with Christ and raised to walk in a new life, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. In reality, God moves in! What greater source of energy or motivation could there be than to be "powered by God"?

Relax, I'm not saying give up your coffee.

I am suggesting you take up a greater, deeper, more intimate relationship with God the Holy Spirit who now resides in you. The single greatest source for succeeding in living life pleasing to God and fulfilling to yourself is immediately available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for your entire life.

No pockets required.

The next time you sit down with a cup of coffee, tap into the Spirit ...


Sunday, November 1, 2009

What are we doing? ...

This will make you think. Watch this with open ears, then look to God's Word.


Throw away the cookie-cutter ...

When I had the need to get the car I now drive, one of the reasons for selecting this car was that it's not a "cookie-cutter" car.

So many of the cars today, regardless of make, look alike. They are factory produced with little differentiation. Just another car, maybe a different color.

For a few years this decade, Ford made a retro Thunderbird with a design throwback to the 50's. Needless to say, it doesn't look like most cars on the streets today. It's unique. It has a character to it all it's own.

It's funny, I've had a couple people comment that it looks somewhat like a Mercedes. It doesn't really look like a Mercedes, but those making the comment were trying to compare it to other cookie-cutter cars and place it in a common category for a point of reference.

Often in life, we wind up flowing with the crowd. There's little differentiation between us and others. We dress alike, do the same things, because we want to be accepted. We want to be a part of the crowd ... that looks alike.

God created us as social creatures, it's a natural desire to want to connect with others. But God also made every single one of us unique. Psalm 119:13-14 say:

"13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it."

While extending yourself to others and creating relationships, don't let fear keep you from being your unique self. God did not use a cookie-cutter in creating humanity!

If you happen to dress like everyone else because you like that, terrific. But don't be afraid to add your own flair ... or completely redesign the closet! Don't be afraid to add a splash of color, or if vanilla is your preference run with that. Express yourself fully, within God's standards, and you'll find yourself discovering the individual God made you to be.