Thursday, April 30, 2009
No, it's not a god that you put in your pocket, only to retrieve when you need some supernatural help (although isn't that sometimes how we treat the one true God?!).
It's one of the best selling applications for iPhone. A product of Bolt Creative, the app is described as follows:
"What kind of god would you be? Benevolent or vengeful? Play Pocket God and discover the answer within yourself. On a remote island, you are the all-powerful god that rules over the primitive islanders. You can bring new life, and then take it away just as quickly. Exercise your powers on the islanders. Lift them in the air, alter gravity, hit them with lightning...you're the island god! All god powers are demonstrated in Pocket God's help menu."
Wouldn't that be awesome? To be your own god? To throw
lightning bolts at people you don't like and bless those you do?
No, it wouldn't. The problem with the world we live in is that from the very beginning of time and the first human beings, we have desired to be "like" God ... not in a reflective way, but to be His equal! In Genesis 3, we read that one of the lures of the serpent was to plant the idea of being like God in an equal sense. But the creation is not equal to the Creator! Instead of being like Him as His children, we have failed, or as Romans 3:23 says, "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard."
Isaiah 45:18 says,
and he created the heavens and earth
and put everything in place.
He made the world to be lived in,
not to be a place of empty chaos.
'I am the Lord,' he says,
'and there is no other'."
And 1 Corinthians 8:6 says,"But we know that there is only one God, the Father, who created everything, and we live for him. And there is only one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom God made everything and through whom we have been given life."
Instead of desiring to rule our own lives, we need to humble ourselves before the one, true, living God and embrace His gracious gift of allowing us to become "like" Him, as Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 3:18. "So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image."
How arrogant to ever think we could rule our own lives! But how wonderful to know that we have been adopted by our Creator to be His own children and that He is changing us to be like Him.
That's better than "playing god" any day!
However, we've also seen a shift from mature Christians teaching in small groups to "group facilitators," where someone doesn't necessarily teach, but "facilitates" discussion among the group. This can be interesting in a group of more mature Christians. And I do think the facilitation process can have its benefits, but I think there are some inherent weaknesses we see fairly consistently in home groups that tend to result in ineffective Bible study groups.
The first issue is that many groups have become "feelings" based rather than effective in building a person's knowledge in scripture and developing disciples. What I mean by that is, have you noticed that often the pattern you see in Bible studies today is that a Bible passage is read, or a question is posed about a passage, and then those participating in the study are asked, "What do you feel about what we just read?" Such questioning has turned study groups more into "feelings" groups, with everyone sharing their "feelings" regardless of how biblically inaccurate those feelings may be. The leader or facilitator then often finds themselves in a predicament of having to steer people back to sound biblical teaching.
When we study scripture, the issue is NOT how we feel about what we read! While that at times may have some importance, God did not give us the Bible to render our opinions about. We have scripture to have a revelation of God to us, so that we can understand Him, learn of Him, and serve Him.
Our "feelings" do not matter a single iota if they go against the Word of God ... what matters is what God says!
Instead of asking what we "feel," leaders or facilitators would better serve group participants by asking questions like, "What's your understanding of what God is saying to us in that passage?" and "How can we apply to our lives what God is saying to us in the passage we just read?"
"Feelings"-oriented groups lead to the next issue, which is that while they may even be rather theological in nature, they often tend to be theoretical. They may study a passage upside down, sideways, and every which way you can, glean everything you possibly can theoretically, feel good about the experience and then go home ... completely leaving out personal application. I am all for deep, sound study of scripture. Personally, I'm a proponent of seeing people mature to scholarly study of God's Word, but not everyone is a scholar. But all of us are called to apply God's Word to our lives. We have to get beyond just the theological discussions and theoretical possibilities, to practical application.
Which is the next point: the study of God's Word needs to have direct application in our lives to have its effect. Whether it is changing our thinking, cleaning up our words, dealing with desires, or directly impacting our actions, the Word of God is a key tool to mold and shape us into the image of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. While study can be scholarly, it should always bring us to response ... how do we respond to the Word of God? How do we take what we have studied and actualize it as a real part of our own lives?
Another reason why some groups are anemic regarding the outcome of their studies is because they lack prayer. The Holy Spirit of God has the job of illuminating scripture to us, of helping us to understand God's Word. So we should seek the guiding of the Holy Spirit to guide us each time we delve into the scriptures. 1 Corinthians 2:9-11 says, "9 That is what the Scriptures mean when they say, 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” 10 But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12 And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us."
Finally, let me bring up one more point why too many small group Bible studies are ineffective: they miss focused, directed purpose.
As I said previously, I enjoy the fellowship that small group settings provide. But small groups have a greater purpose than fellowship. They are the key opportunity to build mature disciples. It's not about fellowship alone, or making friends. It's not about "feelings." It's not about theological exercises or theoretical rhetoric. It's about learning what God has to say to us, learning how to apply God's Word to our lives directly and personally, and then supporting one another in doing just that ... the living out, as God's local family in this place, His Word that is actualized in our own lives.
If all we're doing each week is gathering together and enjoying each other's company and having great biblical discussion, but not gaining biblical understanding, and then directly applying it to our lives so that we are growing into the mature Christians God wants us to be, then we are missing the primary purpose of our gathering together. Sadly, in too many groups, we continue to return, week after week, and year after year, very much the same person who first showed up.
Too many small groups have become too much like the "water cooler" groups at work ... you hear about the same thing in the small groups as you would on a break around the water cooler at work. Too often when we come together as God's children, we talk about problems and what's wrong, or politics, or every other thing. And we spend very little time sharing with each other about the exciting opportunity we had last week to share about Jesus Christ with a co-worker ... "... and could you please join me in praying for John, and that God would continue to provide me with opportunity to be a witness to him ..." We don't discuss our personal ministries, and what is going on in God's shaping of our lives nearly as much as we do the weather, politics, and our children.
However, when you look at dynamic churches that are making dramatic impacts for the kingdom of God, you will see dynamic small groups that study, apply, pray, grow, and serve together. Oh ... and occasionally they will talk about their feelings! But that is far from what is on their minds and hearts.
What's going on in your small group? Are you seeing people maturing in Christ, growing in the Word of God and actualizing it into their lives? Are you seeing people stepping out in service?
Look closely at the early church as described in the book of Acts. Do you really think they spent much time talking about half of the things so common among our small groups today? How were these early home groups different from the one you're a part of? See any things about them that perhaps your group would be wise to adopt?
Let's look closely at our small groups. If they are not producing maturing disciples of Jesus Christ, then it's likely there's something that needs to change in that group. Let's re-fcous on our purpose and let's see people grow up in Jesus Christ and impact the world around them for His sake.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
"2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing" James 1:2-4.
Shake it off and step up!
How true that is!
But how we too often like to pretend it isn't. Too often we like to think we can draw from fouled sources and still have something good for us.
Can't do it.
Too often we like to think we can play around the fringes, and still come up with something pure.
Can't do it.
We do this in all aspects of life. We think we don't have to apply ourselves in our professions, and still get the promotions and perks. We think we don't have to study but should still pass. We think we can be selfish in a relationship, yet still be trusted and have intimacy. And we think we can have elements of sin in our lives, and still have God's blessing.
Can't do it, can't do it, can't do it, cannot do it!
Jesus puts it this way in Luke 6:43-45, "43 “A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. 44 A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thornbushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes. 45 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart."
What's in the well comes up in the bucket.
What source are you drawing from?
Without a doubt, you will have challenges --- even outright troubles --- in your lifetime. But here's the GREAT news: Jesus has overcome the world! And through Him you, also, may be an overcomer.
But overcoming takes persistence. Never giving up. A doggedness.
Below is a funny take on persistence. I'm not a Monty Python fan, but I always thought this scene was hilarious ... talk about persistence!
Have a laugh, but learn the lesson ... never give up!
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
A 13-year-old boy and a 25-year-old man.
A 13-year-old found dead at a shooting scene?
What is going on in the lives of these people ... two people early in their lives ... now dead.
Did anyone --- ever --- share the good news of Jesus Christ with them? Did they ever hear that there was a way to have life, real life, and have it abundantly through Jesus Christ? I have no idea, no information was given about the personal backgrounds of the two found shot to death. But how does a 13-year-old wind up shot dead with anyone else?
This world is broken. It is awash in sin. Oh how the world needs a Savior!
The news can sometimes be a great reminder about the truth we find in God's Word. Further, it can be a great source of things to pray for, and a real motivator for ministry.
As the church, we need to shine through the brokenness of this world so that 13-year-olds and 25-year-olds see a better alternative in life than becoming entangled in situations that result in the elimination of their lives. We need to be passionate about being used by God to save as many as possible.
Let's fill our church buildings with people from our communities who once were lost but now are found. Who once had lost hope, but now have eternal life through Jesus Christ. Who once were in despair, but now know purpose for living.
This world will be broken and ugly until Jesus Christ returns. But WE can share the message of reconciliation with the God who fixes all things, heals all wounds, transforms lives and is our very source of hope and life.
Let's use the news to motivate us even further to proclaim the Good News and make an impact for the cause of Christ!
Monday, April 27, 2009
SCENE TWO - Jane thought the idea of the meeting was a waste of time, an intrusion into productivity, and wouldn't achieve what she thought the boss really should do. But when he asked her to take on coordinating scheduling the meeting with all parties, she agreed. However, Jane purposely waited until the last minute to notify everyone about the meeting, resulting in some participants not being able to attend due to other commitments, and those who showed for the meeting were unprepared. The outcome was that the meeting was a waste of time and unproductive and had to be rescheduled. It also resulted in a boss who wasn't pleased with Jane.
Both of the above scenarios are an example of passive-aggressive behavior, a form of behavior we often experience --- and sometimes practice --- in a variety of settings.
What is interesting to note is that passive-aggressive behavior is not always negative. It is sometimes a form of behavior that allows for inclusion without having to yield fully to the desires of one person. Leaders routinely use this behavior, allowing them to include the input of a variety of people before ultimately having to pare down information and make decisions.
However, passive-aggressive behavior can often be negative in nature, specifically when it is more true to its name: passive aggression.
Passive aggression is more common among persons who consistently have negative attitudes and are persistent with their negative views. Such persons will subtly ("passively") be aggressive in turning their negative views into reality for others. A person is acting in a passive-aggressive way when they:
- hide their hostility by seeming to be nice to someone others dislike, and are unable to be honest with the person,
- say they agree with something but don't follow through because they really don't agree,
- act opposite to what others are expecting,
- quietly manipulate to get their own way after voicing a completely different opinion, just to keep the peace,
- seek revenge by agreeing and looking "good'' but never following through with their promises,
- tell people what they want to hear, even if they don't believe in what they are saying.
- try to please people by agreeing to their plan of action, yet actually doing the opposite,
- act one way, which is true to their inner feelings, yet say another,
- are out of touch with their inner feelings; the only way to know how they feel about something is to observe their behavior, don't trust their words,
- hate something or someone but are afraid of letting their true feelings show,
- feel pressured to act or believe in a certain way when they really don't want to,
- avoid conflict at all cost by giving in to others, then procrastinate and never do what they agreed to do,
- are angry but afraid to show their anger, so they quietly take revenge by doing the opposite.
First, we need to have God transform our thinking. Look closely at Ephesians 4:17-24, "With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy."
God does not want us to be either passive or aggressive but rather, to be Christlike! That takes a change in our thinking so that what we say clearly matches what we do, and both are in pursuit of righteousness. It changes our hearts about things, and clears up our communication so that we may be clear with each other, as Jesus put it in Matthew 5:37, "Just say a simple, ‘Yes, I will,’ or ‘No, I won’t.’ Anything beyond this is from the evil one."
Instead of being deceptive with each other where our thoughts do not match our words, and our words do not match our deeds, God wants to change us so that we think like Christ. Philippians 2:5 says, "You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had" and 1 Corinthians 2:16 says, "For, 'Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach him?' But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ."
Indeed, the Bible persistently admonishes us to be renewed in our minds through Jesus Christ (Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 4:16, Ephesians 4:23, Colossians 3:10, etc.). That is the only way we can overcome aggressively pressing upon others our own desires and instead pursue a singular standard: the righteousness of Christ.
Sure enough, it was an afternoon scarred with a very ugly moment.
I was in seventh grade and was just learning to drive by practicing in an ancient Jeep we had while living on a massive ranch in Northern Arizona. So my skills with a clutch in a vehicle were those of a novice. My father was doing some work under the truck, and he wanted me to start the truck and barely engage the clutch. I wasn't afraid of running him over, my problem was achieving that balance of engagement instead of missing it and killing the engine ... which I did. More than once. Finally, my dad came out from under the truck, yelling and cursing at me. And then came those words that I still remember crisply to this day:
"You're so stupid you stink!"
Venomous words of anger from a father directed to his son.
I won't take up the space to describe to you the effects of those words on me ... let's just say they didn't make me feel warm all over, or closer to my dad.
But the simple fact is the supposed source of the anger didn't match with the overall response. For a seventh grade boy to kill the engine of a truck trying to precisely engage a clutch isn't something to be surprised by. But a ferocious rage unleashed on your own child because of such a thing is a response greatly disproportionate to the situation.
Thus, how true are the words found in James 1:20, "Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires" (NLT).
People in our American culture today are accustomed to anger. "Road rage" is common in our cities with heavily congested freeways. Our boss gets angry at us, we get angry at our spouse, our spouse gets angry at us, parents get angry at children, and teens seem to be perpetually angry at their parents! (just kidding!). Teachers get angry at students, neighbors get angry at neighbors, and Christians get angry at the person in the pew next to them.
Sometimes we even get angry at God.
And ... get this: sometimes God gets angry at us!
But look closely again at those words from James: "Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires."
But wait, sometimes we have a reason to be angry. Sometimes there is real injustice in this world and that injustice can be reason for "righteous indignation" ... anger for a righteous reason.
Yep, that can happen.
BUT, it's often not the source of much of the anger we deal with.
Let's look at two key root causes for anger:
1) UNMET EXPECTATIONS - We want what we want when we want it. That's how we are. And if we don't get what we want when we want it, we're prone to respond angrily. We may respond in ways other than anger, but if we're coming from a selfish stance, we don't like it when something gets in the way of our getting our way. So we respond in anger. That anger, from a source of selfishness, does "... not produce the righteousness God desires."
2) FEELING OUT OF CONTROL - We're human beings with finite abilities, we cannot control everything. And so, when things do not go the way we want them to and we cannot immediately control things, we often respond angrily. We don't like it when others or circumstances direct us rather us directing them. So when pushed in such a way, we lash out in anger ... an anger that does "... not produce the righteousness God desires."
There are two key reasons why anger moves us away from achieving that righteousness God would desire in our behavior:
1) ANGER CAN PROPEL US BEYOND APPROPRIATE BOUNDARIES - The irrationality that can accompany misdirected anger can momentarily result in pushing us beyond boundaries we normally wouldn't cross ... the husband who "in the heat of the moment" hits his wife, or the parents who react in anger and abuses a child ... and on it goes, even to the point where crimes are committed and sometimes lives taken. Simply put, boundaries begin to fail us if our anger is from the wrong source and undirected. Proverbs 14:17 says, "Short-tempered people do foolish things, and schemers are hated."
2) ANGER CAN MOVE US AWAY FROM THE CHARACTER OF GOD - God gets angry, but He never sins. We often get angry, and often the result of that anger is sin. Two very different experiences. Anger is a human emotion that can be for good or bad. The key to it is, again, found in scripture as we read in Ephesians 4:26, "And 'don’t sin by letting anger control you.' Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry." Simply put, it's okay to be angry at times, but do not sin. Anger that leads to sin moves us away from the righteousness God wants to build into our lives. Anger that maintains the character of God can achieve some good things by motivating us to act and fueling us to stand appropriately against injustices.
James gives us some good advice about how to behave ourselves in the verse prior to his statement about anger, in James 1:19, "Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry" and Proverbs 14:29 gives additional insight, "People with understanding control their anger; a hot temper shows great foolishness." Proverbs 15:1 says, "A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare" and verse 18 in the same chapter says, "A hot-tempered person starts fights; a cool-tempered person stops them."
Scripture has much to say about anger ... how it can be a righteous response, or a foolish act ... more than can be dealt with adequately in this space. But at the heart of ANY emotion, including the emotion of anger, is the core of our very own character. If we are in right standing with God, yielding to the power of His Spirit in us, seeking His will, searching His word, and committing ourselves to prayer, it's far more likely that the righteousness of God working in us will help direct our emotions. But when we are sloppy with our relationship with Jesus Christ ... when we stifle the Holy Spirit, rarely open our Bibles, are really more self motivated than not, then chances are we will be lacking in self-control and an anger that does not achieve the righteousness God desires may well be a result. But what we've seen in the scriptures above is about not letting anger control us but, rather, letting God be the source that empowers us with self-control ... "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline" (2 Timothy 1:7).
May the Spirit of God reign in your life!
One thing I remember well about Dean is that he had a saying which was at the heart of why the NCEA model worked so well. Dean would say, "Go with the go-ers."
You see, lots of people like to talk about doing things, especially about doing things for God. But not a lot of people actually act. There's a saying that 80 percent of the work in the church is done by 20 percent of the people ... and I wouldn't be surprised if that was true.
If you wait around for the talkers to act, you may be waiting a long time. In fact, you may never act, you might just keep talking.
To make a difference ... for the cause of Christ, in a relationship, in business, in what's going on in your life ... you have to go with the go-ers. At some point and time, you have to get up and move with those who are ready and willing to make things happen. That might mean you're leaving some people behind, or at least sitting where you left them. But if you let the talkers hold you back, you will accomplish just that: you will be held back.
Do you want to grow your church? Maybe you need to get up and get together with those who are passionate about doing so. Start praying together. Start inviting people. Encourage one another. Strategize together. Pray some more. Work together. Pray some more. But go with the go-ers.
Want to move your business forward? Do the same ... go with the go-ers.
Want to pursue some personal dreams? Go with the go-ers ... hang around with those who will encourage and enable you.
Moving forward, maturing, growing, developing ... making an impact ... may mean you have to change both habits and relationships, but the alternative is to remain sitting on your hands just talking about doing something.
Here's a better idea: go with the go-ers!
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Well a while back I really needed tech support. My internet security software was causing fits on my laptop, so much so it was beyond me. I finally surrendered and did what I dreaded ... made that toll free call to tech support based all the way around the world in India.
The person who assisted me used the name of an American president. In fact, all of the technical agents with that company used names of American presidents. The idea being that we Americans would be more comfortable interacting with someone in India (who's accent was so strong it created a major communication problem) named after an American leader. Well, not quite. But after more than an hour of battling the language barrier, my agent finally accessed control of my computer, clicked here and there, and then told me that should resolve my problem, all I had to do was reboot.
Viola! my problem was resolved!
Being the non-techie that I am, I still find it amazing that someone sitting at a computer on another continent, who barely (and I do mean barely) speaks the same language, could access my computer and in a matter of minutes fix my technical difficulty. Amazing what you can do with technology ... that someone on the other side of the globe can resolve my problem.
In dealing with life, we don't have to wrestle with problems until they are beyond us. And we don't have to reach across the world to get help. Proverbs 18:24 says, "A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother" (NLT). If you think technology is amazing, how about that description of how closely Jesus Christ sticks with us! He is closer than a brother ... He makes Himself intimately involved in our lives and is the sure resolution to any challenge we may face. I mentioned Psalm 37:23 in my last post, but look at it again, "The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives" (NIV). Just like a brother, Jesus Christ is concerned about everything we face in life. Nothing is too small to bring to Him, and He's immediately available.
Closer than a brother.
Bring every detail of your life to Christ and share it with Him. Perhaps everything won't be fixed in a matter of moments, but you can trust that the real, lasting, whole answers you need will be found with Him. He longs for you to share and to rely on Him. He understands anything you could possibly face in life and has a resolution to your problem.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
This illustration is well known but it's just too good not to share here:
In U.S. Navel Institute Proceedings, the magazine of the Naval Institute, Frank Koch illustrates the importance of obeying the Laws of the Lighthouse. Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.
Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, "Light, bearing on the starboard bow."
"Is it steady or moving astern?" the captain called out.
The lookout replied, "Steady, Captain," which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
The captain then called to the signalman, "Signal that ship: 'We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.'"
Back came the signal, "Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees."
The captain said, "Send: "I'm a captain, change course twenty degrees.'"
"I'm a seaman second-class," came the reply. "You had better change course twenty degrees."
By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, "Send: 'I'm a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.'"
Back came the flashing light, "I'm a lighthouse."
We changed course.
I love that illustration because it captures how we so often are ... bound and determined to go our own way in life. Proverbs 14:12 puts it this way, "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death."
Sometimes God has to step out rather largely to get us to turn from those things in life that would utterly wreck us. And He can be quite bold in his efforts. Take, for example, the incredible story found in Numbers 22 (I will leave it up to you to read that Bible chapter). But God tries to turn Balaam from doing the wrong thing. In this case, he sends a persistent angel, and not only stirs up the stubbornness of Balaam's donkey but gives the pitiful animal the ability to talk to Balaam in order to get the man to correct his path. Imagine having a donkey talk to you!
Just how much does it take for God to turn you in the way He wants you to go?
Does He have to put the piercing light of a sturdy lighthouse before you? Does He have to send an angel to block your way, or open the mouth of your pets?
Really, what does it take?
It should take nothing more than the Word of God. Psalm 119:105 says, "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."
Are you on course with God? Or is there some subtle ... or not so subtle ... course corrections you need to make now, before your journey could wind up ending in disaster?
Look closely at Proverbs 16:9, "We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps" and Psalm 37:23, "The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives." Not only does God delight in the whole of our lives, but look closely at Jeremiah 29:11, "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope."
God sometimes steps in our way to turn us ... in a direction that will provide a real future and genuine hope for our lives.
Fortunately, we're not left to navigate this life alone. Instead, soak in these words from Proverbs 3:5-6, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will show you which path to take."
Friday, April 24, 2009
"Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me" (John 14:1, NLT).
Having hard times making ends meet? Do you have more month than income?
"Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me."
Having relationship troubles? Feeling distant from your spouse? Communication stilted between you and a loved one?
"Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me."
Feeling alone? Confused? Undirected?
"Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me."
Whatever is going on in your life, remember those profound words of Jesus: "Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me."
Such is the passion of Christ.
What are you passionate about?
What is it that actually stirs and moves you to incredible measures? Anything?
What would it take to get you off the couch, out from behind the desk, away from the TV, and passionately serving and loving Jesus Christ?
"I'm too busy with work responsibilities."
"You don't understand, I have children to take care of."
"I don't have the money."
"I don't have the skills."
"I don't know how."
... and on it goes ...
What would it take to make you sold out, totally, absolutely, fully, passionately in love with and in service to Jesus Christ?
How about the cross. Would that do it?
Look at it.
Look really closely.
If that won't motivate you, nothing will.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
What would be written?
Would it be a joyful tell of a life fully lived, that brought glory to God?
Would it be a tragedy? A tale of sorrow, full of pain and life, finally, lost?
Whoever would become the author of that fine journal would have a lot of choice about what would eventually fill the pages.
By making us creatures of free will, God gives us choices in what happens in our lives. It's true that we sometimes ... perhaps even often ... face circumstances beyond our control, but even then we choose how we respond to such times. We have a great deal of choice about what will be the story of our lives.
The greatest choice is an ancient one, like the choice posed by Moses to the people of Israel so long ago and recorded in Deuteronomy 30:19, "Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!"
Is your own journal one of capturing the story of someone who has chosen life through the Lord Jesus Christ? Have you chosen to allow Jesus Christ to set you free from the shackles of sin, and breathe fresh life into you? Have you opted to allow God to make you into a new creature, no longer defeated by sin and death, but empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit who leads you in the things of God?
The only other choice is death.
Living life as a Christian isn't a game or a gamble. The final outcome is guaranteed by God. But to participate, each person has to go "all in," we have to give back to God the entirety of the lives He has given us. Jesus stated this "all in" commitment this way in Matthew 22:37-38, "Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment" and Paul put it in these terms in Philippians 3:8-11, "Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!"
So how about you: when it comes to your Christian walk, are you hedging your bets, or have you gone "all in"?
While you will find a few screenfuls of applications on my iPhone, I have yet to pay a penny for downloading an app. I have done well at raiding the offerings for free applications ... it's better than Craigslist!
However, what I have noticed about several of the apps offered for free is that you're offered only a partial or "lite" version of the app. If you really want the whole "premium" program, you have to purchase it ... it will cost you.
That's a lot like life. You can get a little out of life for free, but not much. Often, what really is of value to you will have a cost in some way.
The same with the Christian life. While salvation from sin, and reconciliation with God is something given to us freely through Jesus Christ, living out the life as a child of God will cost you. You can't have the "premium" version for free! Jesus once put it this way, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me'" (Matthew 16:24, NLT).
When it comes to living out the Christian life, you can't simply download the blessings and bypass the service or the sacrifice. Indeed, Jesus says if any of us really want to follow him, we're going to have to get over ourselves and shoulder our own crosses. There isn't any "Christian Lite" app out there, although many try to patch together a version of one.
So how's your Christian walk ... is it premium package, or Christian Lite?
That's right, the "average person" has a very shallow breathing pattern, which means oxygenation of our bodies is limited, often not at the standard it should be. The more stressed we become, the more our shallow breathing pattern becomes more like a pant, which can then result in what is often referred to as a "panic attack" and can even cause symptoms such as dizziness and even fainting.
To help people overcome stress, deal with panic attacks, improve athletic performance, etc., a form of biofeedback is often used to help people learn about, and improve, their own breathing patterns.
The process is simple and educational. You're seated in an over-stuffed chair resembling a recliner and are made to feel comfortable. A variety of wires are attached to your body and in front of you is a computer monitor showing the readings of those wires, which is a computerized output of your own breathing pattern. Now that you can see it, you can learn how to modulate your breathing pattern from a shallow pattern or pant to a deeper, slower pattern that more effectively and efficiently oxygenates the body. The result is that you feel and function better and more relaxed. This process has been very effective in helping persons with stress disorders, as well as greatly enhancing the performance of competitive athletes.
Simply put, when you're feeling harried, hurried, and stressed ... breathe!
The idea is that with each client you have, you want to develop your professional relationships at least three wide and three deep with every client you have. At the time, I was working with a company that provided services on an outsource basis. So, in the event that someone within a company you were providing services to got mad at you and wanted to cancel the contract, we had developed positive relationships wide and deep enough that others within that company would rally to support us and allow for a misdeed on our part instead of canceling the contract. Putting that concept into practice saved us from losing business on more than one occasion! There were times where perhaps an onsite manager had let something slip; that slip frustrated an Administrator who was ready to give us our walking papers because of the offending manager. But because the District Manager and myself or my partner had developed such a positive rapport with the Administrator, we were given the opportunity to rectify what the manager had slipped up on and keep the business. So we not only built relationships wide and deep, built at least three layers of leadership in our company built 3x3 relationships with each client. The result was great retention and expanded business among existing clientele.
This idea can be applied in various ways and settings. Building broad and deep relationships in your own organization can help you be more productive. Building relationships three wide and three deep with vendors can get you preferred customer status. And personally, enlarging your circle of friends can be a blessing and bring different kinds of opportunities.
Jesus counseled us that it is wise to make peace with adversaries before they can really cause you problems! Matthew 5"25 says, "When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison." It's best to avoid situations from going even that far by building those professional relationships wide and deep among clients so that you can maintain peace when human error on the part of one of your employees could cost you (literally!) dearly with a customer.
How deep and wide are your professional relationships?
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Indeed, not everyone is intended to be a leader.
Being a a great follower is an important responsibility, and one of the best lessons on Godly "followership" can be found in Joshua 6 regarding the story of the battle of Jericho.
Moses had led the griping, grumbling people of Israel for 40 years through the wilderness to the edge of the Promised Land, and then died. Replacing him as leader of the people was his handy apprentice, Joshua, who we will later see is quite a capable leader himself.
But the task at hand ... taking the walled city of Jericho ... seemed to be impossible. The city was heavily fortified, and just breaching the outer fortifications to enter the city appeared to be beyond human ability. However, the people of Israel wouldn't have to rely on human capacity! God tells Joshua at the start of this story that He had given the city, it's king, and all it's strong warriors to him already! And then He lays out for Joshua how he and the people of Israel should acquire this victory that God had already ordained for them.
Now imagine being in the audience as Joshua announces this plan ... "Ok folks, here's what we're going to do ... seven priests will walk in front of the ark, each with a horn, and they will lead a march around the city. We'll do that for seven days ..." ok, people are already getting concerned about this plan, then Joshua adds, "But on the seventh day, we'll march around the city seven times, then the priests will blow their horns, everyone will shout, and the walls will fall down!"
Uh, not likely Joshua!
You see, Jericho didn't have just any simple wall around it. Look below at the detail about the fortifications of Jericho as provided by answersingenesis.org:
"The mound, or ‘tell’ of Jericho was surrounded by a great earthen rampart, or embankment, with a stone retaining wall at its base. The retaining wall was some four to five meters (12–15 feet) high. On top of that was a mudbrick wall two meters (six feet) thick and about six to eight meters (20–26 feet) high. At the crest of the embankment was a similar mudbrick wall whose base was roughly 14 meters (46 feet) above the ground level outside the retaining wall (see diagram). This is what loomed high above the Israelites as they marched around the city each day for seven days. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for the Israelites to penetrate the impregnable bastion of Jericho.
Within the upper wall was an area of approximately six acres, while the total area of the upper city and fortification system was 50% larger, or about nine acres. Based on the archaeologist’s rule of thumb of 200 persons per acre, the population of the upper city would have been about 1,200. However, from excavations carried out by a German team in the first decade of this century, we know that people were also living on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls. In addition, those Canaanites living in surrounding villages would have fled to Jericho for safety. Thus, we can assume that there were several thousand people inside the walls when the Israelites came against the city."
Looking at the city's defenses, and then listening to Joshua's plan for victory probably didn't result in a lot of confidence! Except you have to remember it wasn't Joshua's plan at all ... it was God's plan, given to Joshua to be carried out by the people.
Knowing how the people were, Joshua, in his wisdom as a leader, gave a rather interesting and unique instruction that hits at the heart of follwership. Look at Joshua 6:9-10, "Some of the armed men marched in front of the priests with the horns and some behind the Ark, with the priests continually blowing the horns. 'Do not shout; do not even talk,' Joshua commanded. “Not a single word from any of you until I tell you to shout. Then shout!”
Basically, what Joshua says is, "Shut up!" He tells the people not to utter a word until he gives the command to shout. Have you ever wondered why Joshua told the people to keep their mouths shut?
Could it be that after many years of seeing how these people muttered against his former boss, Moses, and even against God, that Joshua thought if they didn't keep quiet, they would likely start complaining about this plan as well ...
"How do you like this new guy?! He says the walls will just fall down!"
"Yeah, Joshua has been out in the sun too long!"
"Don't forget to bring your horns, we have to blow them right before the walls fall down!"
And so would go the skepticism ... and so would spread the cancer of doubting God and lacking faith.
So, Joshua simply tells them, "Shut up!"
For the people of God to get to where He wants them to be, God gives direction to leaders. Those leaders share that direction with the body at large, and all of us carry out God's plan together. The fastest way to fail God is to begin doubting Him and the leadership He has established; to question the direction provided by God, to think there are better ways, and to lessen the ability of a leader by mutterings against the plans God has provided.
If you're a follower, you have a very important responsibility: be quiet! Listen to the plan God provides and then carry it out. If you don't like it, take it up with God directly, but do not mutter against His plan or His leaders. To do so can tear down the faith of other followers by sowing seeds of skepticism and doubt you have no right to plant. If you have questions, ask them directly of God and the leadership He has installed, but do not undermine the work of God with whispering, questioning, and a spewing of your lack of faith on others.
Just be quiet!
Remember that the church is not, never has been, and was not designed to be a democracy (hard to fathom if you're an American!). The idea of every member having an equal vote or equal voice in the early church would have been unheard of. From the earliest of days, God has led His people through godly men who would provide leadership to His people. Being a cooperative follower moves forward the work, way, and will of God ... a much better experience than wandering and dying off in a desert over 40 years for lack of followership!
Trust God. Encourage, pray for, and support the leaders He raises up to lead you, and then follow. If you have questions, bring them to God and ask them of your leaders. If you can't get past them, then just be quiet and keep following God!
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
One day, God said to the man, "Push against this stone."
Heeding the instruction from God, the man laid his shoulder into the stone. Well, not just any stone. It was actually a massive boulder several times the size of the man. Nonetheless, if God wanted the man to push against the stone, he would push with all his might!
The man pushed against the stone all day and never budged it! Each day, the man applied himself to the task of pushing against the stone, but never moved the boulder a single inch. Days passed into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years with the same result ... the man pushed, and the stone never budged.
Finally, in complete and utter frustration the man cried out to God. "Lord, I have been pushing against the stone all these years and never once have I gotten this silly rock to move a single inch! I am so frustrated that I cannot continue. I quit!"
God responded to the man, "Why are you so frustrated, thinking you have accomplished nothing? All I told you to do was to push against the stone. I never asked you to move it."
Sometimes we greatly complicate what God asks of us, and that brings real frustration to our lives. Often God asks of us just a simple faith with simple action. He's not asking us to solve the problems of the world, He'll take care of that. Sometimes, all He is saying is "Push."
He says other simple things like "trust Me," "follow Me," "obey Me," and "love Me." He keeps it simple because, really, we are kind of simple compared to Him!
So let's not complicate what God has to say.
Let's "just push."
Mary doesn't follow the nutritional guidance provided to her, at least not adequately.
Mary also doesn't quite follow all of the guidance provided to her about the cardio exercise she needs to do to meet her stated fitness goals.
Mary also doesn't apply herself very well to her muscular conditioning workouts, and it appears her trainer may have given up on correcting her form because he largely stands by and lets her "do her thing."
But she shows up at the gym and works out three times each week ... and has done so for a few years now.
Without any physical change. No noticeable improvement.
That's because Mary doesn't go to the gym to get in shape. She's still deconditioned, borderline obese, and continues to struggle with fatigue from an underdeveloped cardiovascular system. But it makes her feel good to go to the gym. At least she can say she does what she is supposed to do to be fit ... partially anyway, but that fact can be left out when talking to friends. And besides, there are a lot of other gym members just like Mary ... those who workout for years, without physical improvement. It's become more of a social setting where long-time members go to interact while pushing around some weights.
Mary is like many who fill the seats in any given church sanctuary. We go, we do ... but do we grow, and then do?
Matthew 7:21-23 says, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’"
Being a child of God is not about just showing up on Sunday. It's about "working out our salvation" every day, building the muscles of our faith and seeing real progress as our faith develops and we change. Paul mentioned this change in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image."
Paul further emphasized this issue of growth in Ephesians 4:11-15, "Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church."
God doesn't want us showing up at church week after week, month after month, year after year the same as we started! We should be growing up in Christ, becoming more and more like Him.
How are you doing with your "spiritual workouts"? How's the development coming?
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Really, I was looking forward to celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yesterday I spent some time in the Word, but even more in prayer and additional time journaling, just contemplating the amazing love, grace and power of the God we serve who completely obliterated death that first Easter long ago. How awesome was that?!
So anyway, I'm on my way home from church, looking forward to "Easter dinner" with family and just enjoying the afterglow of Easter service, when I switched on the car radio and hit the button storing the memory for the local Christian station. I thought I would prolong my Easter worship with some Christian radio broadcasting. It's Easter morning, so I anticipated something "Easter-ish" ... maybe a sermon, or some awesome worship songs ... something highlighting the incredible event of Christ's resurrection.
But guess what the topic was on Christian radio on Easter Sunday morning ... politics!
Sadly, that is happening more and more these days. We want to tune into something that further feeds our faith, and we get "Christian broadcasting" railing about current events and current leaders. Instead of something that feeds the soul, it's someone frothing at the mouth about world leaders.
Here's the problem with that: no human being, no government, no nation or election is the hope of humankind for this world we live in. The hope of the world is Jesus Christ alone!
I've followed politics since I was a teenager. I'm politically interested, informed, and active. But politics is not the Savior, Jesus is. Sadly, the trend in this country is to spend more time talking about the latest election or leader and less time talking about the real answer to life's issues: a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me ask you, do you talk about Jesus Christ as much as you talk about the current events of our day? Do you bring up Jesus as often as you mention your opinion about our current President?
Leaders, governments, and even nations will rise and fall, but the reign of our Lord Jesus Christ lasts forever! God calls us to something more than issues of our day, and He wants us to redirect our attention to that which matters eternally. The Apostle Paul wrote this to the Corinthians, "... though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won't last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don't look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever" (2 Corinthians 4:16b-18).
Of course we should be responsible citizens. But if you really want to impact this world, share the good news of Jesus Christ with someone. Help someone find the means to change from the inside out by introducing them to Jesus Christ and you will truly help bring about a transformation.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Dr. George Sweeting tells of an incident in the early 1920s when Communist leader Nikolai Bukharin was sent from Moscow to Kiev to address an anti-God rally. For an hour he abused and ridiculed the Christian faith until it seemed as if the whole structure of belief was in ruins. Then questions were invited.
An Orthodox church priest rose and asked to speak. He turned, faced the people, and gave the Easter greeting, “He is risen!” Instantly the assembly rose to its feet and the reply came back loud and clear, “He is risen indeed!”
But is He? Has Jesus Christ risen from the tomb of your sin-dead life as Lord and Savior? Does He rule your life ... your passions, your thoughts, your desires? Is He Master, and are you servant?
If not, Jesus might as well still be sealed up in the tomb, for the great benefit of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is realized in our own lives only if we yield our lives to His! God wants us to "move the stone" and let the Son of God rise up within us and bring to us, the dead in sin, new life for which Jesus had laid down His own.
Rejoice at these words recorded in Romans 6:3-5, "Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined Him in His death? For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. Since we have been united with Him in His death, we will also be raised to life as He was" (NLT).
If Christ doesn't REIGN in your life, then move the stone! Let the risen Savior lift you from brokenness to wholeness. If Jesus isn't LORD of your life, then "move the stone"! Surrender your will and your ways to the living Son of God, who lives and reigns on high. If you're tired of being dead in sin, then move the stone! Let the Savior who sacrificed all on your behalf give you a brand new life, make you a new creature, and set you free forever!
Sound good? Then move the stone ...
Sound shocking? After all, don't Christians talk about gaining "balance" as much as anyone else? Probably so.
But the idea of trying to develop a "balanced life" not only is a bad one, but can be an unhealthy one. I have seen people develop dangerous levels of stress over their pursuit to achieve some semblance of balance.
But here's the problem: you cannot "balance" life.
Your faith cannot be equally balanced with your spouse, which cannot be equally balanced with children, which cannot be equally balanced with employment ... and on it goes.
Here's some exciting news ... God calls us to live a wonderfully imbalanced life!
That's right! Not only is living a "balanced life" impractical, it's something God really does not want us to do.
Take a look at Matthew 10:37, "If you love your father or mother more than you love Me, you are not worthy of being Mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being Mine." The message Jesus has for us here is unambiguous: He not only wants first place or dominance in our lives, He wants us to love Him passionately more than anyone or anything. In other words, He has no interest in being a part of a balance, He wants us radically imbalanced in His favor!
Pop psychology today teaches we have to reach balances between spouse, children, church, and work, etc. But God says uh-uh. First, we have to be out of balance for Him. We have to love Him beyond what we even feel for our own parents or children.
That's a radical imbalance!
But second only to God should be our spouse (if married). Does that mean, then, that our spouse should get more time from us than our employment? No. Because we love our spouse and children, we give more time to our employer so that we can provide for our spouse and children. So work will get more time than the most important people in our lives!
And so goes the reality of life. It really is not about achieving "balances" because they can't be built. What God wants us to do is to build and live out values ... having the right values, and the right order for those values, will bring us the peace we long for but cannot achieve in trying to build "balance."
When we love God beyond all, and then cherish our spouse; then together love and make sacrifices for children, and all together give ourselves to the work of building God's kingdom, and so on, we put into place a life of Godly values that brings peace to our lives. It's thoroughly imbalanced because what often matters more doesn't get the biggest block of time, but it does get the greater level of devotion.
So stop sweating gaining balance. Instead, by God's Word, live a wonderfully imbalanced life!
Unfortunately, the business section of bookstores are filled with a host of books usually designed more to feed the ego of the writer than to build the skills, abilities, or insights of business leaders. However, there are some books out there that are especially beneficial for business leaders who want to grow. So, here are a few titles of some outstanding books that business leaders would benefit from:
"Raving Fans! by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles ... probably the best on the market to really get you thinking about customer service.
"Good to Great" and "Built to Last," both written by Jim Collins. Outstanding work looking at what does it take to move a company from "good" to "great," and how to build an organization to last.
Patrick Lencioni has made a dramatic impact on material for business leaders. All of his books are worth purchasing, making time to read, and sharing with co-workers. Those titles include: "The Three Signs of a Miserable Job," "The Five Dysfunctions of a Team," "Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars," "Death by Meeting," "The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive," "The Five Temptations of a CEO," and "The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family."
A surprising add to the "worth reading" list would be the lesser known but successful book "Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done" byLarry Bossidy, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck.
The book "Winning" by Jack Welch is definitely worth a read. Jack was considered to be the best manager in America during his highly successful tenure with GE. This book includes practical insights from a guy who knows what he's talking about when it comes to successfully managing a business.
Finally, but most importantly, let's start all over again with the most vital title: the Bible. A business person who doesn't first conform his or her ethics, desires and practices to the will and teaching of God is another worldly person doing his or her own thing. Start with Scripture, grow in Christ, and then sharpen your skills.