Wednesday, October 28, 2009

It's a dog's life ...

I love dogs. Especially Golden Retrievers.

I don't have a dog as a pet right now, but I have had a few over the years. My first was a Golden Retriever named Sam who loved to play "hide and go seek" with me. I've had Black Labs, Australian Shepherds, even a Chow.

I'm visiting with my sister, and she has a Basset Hound named Sassy. As I spend time here, I find I routinely "interrupt" myself to pet or play with the dog. Sassy loves attention and I enjoy giving it to her.

It struck me a while ago as I set aside what I was doing to play with the dog that, in once sense, we probably treat dogs better than most of the humans we routinely interact with. How often do we simply interrupt ourselves to give our attention and affection to another person? And repeatedly so? How often in a day do we praise others? Do something for them they enjoy? Affirm and encourage them? Express our enjoyment of them?

As often as we do our dog?'

I hope so. If not, we might want to sober up about how we really interact with the people in our lives.


How to worship ...

Thanks for Amanda Murphy for posting this on Facebook ...

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

High-tech friends ...

You remember that conversation.

You know, the one you didn't want to have.

You were sitting with a friend who brought up something you didn't want to talk about. It wasn't a bad something. It might have been it simply bored you and that's why you didn't want to talk about it.

But your friend wanted to talk about it, so you did. You found yourself sitting there listening "on purpose" because it was a friend and they wanted to converse.

If only you could control the situation, you wouldn't be having this conversation!

Well, thanks to technology, more people are controlling conversations and tuning out what they don't want to talk about.

With the increasing popularity of texting, blogs, email, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media we're interacting less in person and more via technology.

On the one hand, we're expanding our contacts to include people around the globe, persons we would likely never interact with if it were not for technology. Businesses are growing, friendships are forming, and even the Gospel is being proclaimed by the use of technology in human communication.

On the other hand, the increased use of such outlets may be contributing to making us a little more shallow.

You see, when you are sitting with a friend, the time together isn't "all about you." To really be a friend when with a friend, we have to exercise a level of mutual submission. Maybe I really would prefer not to sit through the story you want to tell me, but if it's important to you, then it's important to me because you are my friend. So I sit and listenly as attentively as I can.

However, when I'm not sitting with you, but instead I'm "conversing" with you via text messages or perhaps on Twitter, then I will communicate to you what I want and I don't have to read what I don't want ... or I'll get to it when I want. When I'm not with you, the level of mutual submission needed for interaction is reduced, so I'll likely focus on what interests me and not you. I'll tweet, post, blog, and email what I want you to hear, and comments received are secondary. The focus becomes in putting out the message I have.

Technology can be a great tool. But it has it's limits. It cannot replace all the subtleties of sitting across, face-to-face with another person and having to be an authentic, in-the-flesh friend. And nothing can replace the caring touch of another human being.

Personally, I'm a proponent of technology for all the things we can accomplish with it. Just be careful that one of the results of it's use isn't making you a little more shallow.


"Leave no trace" ...

Wilderness areas open for public use usually have a policy known as "leave no trace." The idea is that the wilderness is open for public use, such as hiking, but users are to "leave no trace" they were there. The only thing remaining after use should be the wilderness in all its pristine beauty.

I think that's the goal for Christians in their transformation as Christ followers: to leave no trace of the old, sinful person, and instead display the beauty of the holiness of Christ as we are transformed into His likeness.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, "This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!"

Once we have surrendered our lives to Christ, He changes us! The person who was ruled by sin has died, has been buried with Jesus Christ, and has been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life ... a new person! Scripture says we have been "clothed with Christ" (Galatians 3:27). Such a transformation should display a whole new person, covering the old, sin-laden person we used to be.

Although we still wrestle with the old sinful nature, we should increasingly be like Christ, and leaving less and less trace of our former selves ... "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" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

How's your reflection these days?


Monday, October 26, 2009

For self-rightoues moments, OR inspiration ...

Tonight I sat down and watched "End of the Spear" for a second time.

Once again I was greatly humbled, deeply moved, thoroughly touched.

The movie is about the true story of a missionary adventure I wish every Christian would watch. It's the perfect antidote for those self-righteous moments, or when in need of real inspiration.

Here's the movie trailer, but if you haven't seen it, let me encourage you to get in your car, drive to the nearest video rental store, and rent the movie. Caution: be prepared for the Holy Spirit to stir you!


Make yourself comfortable? ...

This morning I had some time between appointments, so to save from unnecessary travel I dropped into a Starbucks for some coffee and the chance to get a few things done.

As I sat journaling at a table, a lady walked over to one of the more comfortable stuffed chairs, where she proceeded to raise the sun shade, rearrange her chair and the chair next to it, and move a table to a different location, all before settling in to read her paper. She never bothered to think of other patrons when raising the sun shade and allowing the sun to shine in brightly on everyone, or to inquire of the Starbucks personnel if she could rearrange the furniture. She simply did what she wanted to do to make herself comfortable in that environment.

How often do we behave that way in the multiple environments we find ourselves in ... our homes, our places of employment, our schools, our churches, and our relationships? How often do we make sure everything is structured for our contentedness without so much a thought given to others?

Better yet, how often do we first see to the needs or comforts of others before we pursue our own? Or, at least, how often do we view the needs and comforts of others at least as important as our own? And how often do we first consider what God wants of and for us, rather than what we want?

Nothing could be further from being like Christ than putting ourselves first. Take a look at Philippians 2:3-6 ...

"3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross."

Verse five poses the challenge for us: "You MUST have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had."

Do you?

If not, what are you going to do about it?


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Now more than ever ...

Thank God for great models!

Central Christian Church of the East Valley (in Arizona) was the first real model to me of a church being a real New Testament church. When I was an older teen, God led me to this church, which at that time had, at the most, 500-600 members. Dr. LeRoy Lawson was the pastor, and he became the greatest example of a pastor and Christian man to impact my life. And it was at Central that I stopped running from God's call on my life and finally made the decision to pursue full-time ministry.

So this church has impacted me personally, but it has impacted tens of thousands of others as well. It has planted other churches in the Valley and in other states, and it maintains a great mission ministry, giving more than a million dollars annually just to missions. I remember when Dr. Lawson talked about being able to do that as a dream. I've had the privilege of seeing some of those dreams become a reality.

I was present when the pledges were announced to buy the 33 acres that the Mesa campus is on, and a couple years ago I attended the first service at their second campus on a 150-acre site in Gilbert. Now there are plans for a couple more satellite sites. It's exciting to see what is happening at Central.

What's more exciting is that today, Central celebrated it's 50th anniversary. What is unique about that is most churches that even survive that long are, or have, peaked by that time and are starting to die, if they aren't dying already. But for Central, now with 14,000 members, it seems like they're just getting started!

I find it hugely motivating to see a church like this. Central is not a "rich" church. Until the building of the Gilbert campus, the largest single financial gift the church had ever received was $50,000.00. What this group of believers have accomplished has come from truly believing that the church primarily exists for those who are not yet part of it ... a belief deeply seeded into the 'DNA" of this congregation.

No wonder, then, that Central is reaching people for Christ throughout the world.

When I want to see scripture translated into reality, it's great to have churches like this to look to ... an authentic community of believers who are living out the Great Commission and the Great Commandment.

Central's anniversary theme was "Now more than ever," understanding that we need more churches like Central ... now, more than ever! We need more communities of faith that are committed to reaching those who are not yet part of the church; congregations that are willing to do whatever the work, and pay whatever the cost, to impact the world for Jesus Christ.

That starts one person at a time.

It starts with people like YOU making that commitment to Christ, and then living it out.

Go for it!


Monday, October 19, 2009

Coffee shop talk ...

This past week I was doing some work on my laptop in a coffee shop in Northern California. I was seated in a quiet corner in a comfortable chair with an attached table when two men came over to the same area and made themselves comfortable.

One guy seemed to be quite friendly and was a "talker." He didn't have anything to eat or drink. The other man ate a sandwich and had some coffee. The arrangement of chairs had these two men, who knew each other and had come to the cafe together, seated side by side. During their time at the coffee shop, the "talker" maintained a friendly conversation with the other man. He even asked questions, and seemed to be focused on the interests and needs of his friend. The other man occasionally commented on the content of the conversation, but he never once made eye contact with his friend. Instead, he looked forward, viewing everyone else in the cafe, and never made a visual acknowledgement of his friend.

My heart went out to the "talker." It seemed he was doing his best to express his interest in the other man's needs without ever gaining the full attention of his friend. The other man seemed to be far more interested in what was going on around him other than the conversation his friend was trying to have with him, yet he would engage in the conversation intermittently. It seemed as though he participated enough to keep his friend around, perhaps for his own interest in case he might need him, but he never once looked at his friend. The entire time together he kept his eyes everywhere other than on his friend.

Perhaps a week or so earlier, while again working on my laptop in a different coffee shop, I sat across from two older gentlemen who had a casual, comfortable, extended conversation together. They sat at a table facing each other, and throughout their time together, they maintained casual eye contact, showing they were engaged with what the other had to say.

Viewing these two different conversations reminded me of how we sometimes interact with God. All too often, we treat God like the first man did with his "talker friend." God is working hard to engage us in a dialogue of life and interaction with Him, but we're too busy viewing everything else going on around us and never really place our full attention on Him. But we keep Him around for the times when we might need Him.

Yet, God desires of us a relationship more like that of the second pairing of men. God desires to "sit across from us" and fully interact with us. He gives us His full and undivided attention, and desires that we engage fully with Him.

How do you interact with God? Do you walk with Him throughout your day regardless of what you're doing? Or do you let Him "tag along" and you occasionally chime in to keep Him pacified?


Sunday, October 11, 2009

What a stupid question! ...

If you have ever been to a seminar, workshop, or conference of some kind where the speaker takes questions after speaking, you'll usually hear the presenter say, "Don't hesitate to ask any questions you have because there's no stupid question."

I've had the opportunity to speak at such venues and I have to say that every now and then there actually is a stupid question asked.

Yes, there is such a thing as a stupid question, and you know one when you hear it.

We even find in scripture what appears to be a stupid question, but the surprising thing is that Jesus is the one doing the asking!

In John 5:1-9a, we have the story of a a man who had been ill for 38 years. We're not told what the illness was, but it had resulted in an inability to walk. The setting is the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem where, according to tradition, every now and then an angel would come and stir the water in the pool. The first person in the water after the stirring would be healed of any disease they had. Because of that, every day you would find all manner of sick people hanging out by the pool in hopes the angel would come stir the water and they would be the first in.

One day Jesus is visiting the pool of Bethesda and sees this man lying there. Scripture says Jesus knew the man had been sick a long time. We don't know how long the man had been coming to the pool, but apparently he was seeking a source of healing. In his day, "modern" medicine would be unable to help him. He would need a miracle to ever walk again, so he's there at the pool of Bethesda seeking one. It's in this setting that Jesus walks up and asks him, "Would you like to get well?

What a stupid question!

After being ill for 38 years, unable to walk, and hanging around a pool hoping for a miracle, the one thing in life you would want would be to get well ... right?

Not necessarily.

You see, Jesus' question wasn't so stupid after all. Notice He didn't ask the man if he wanted to be able to walk again, he asked the man if he wanted to get well ... or, if he wanted to be made whole.

The first three words of response from the man is, "I can't sir ..."

More often than not, when we say "I can't" we mean "I won't." The man goes on to give the excuse that he doesn't have anyone to put him into the pool when the water starts to bubble (presumably after being stirred by an angel). If your only desire was to walk again, and you had seen someone else be healed by getting into the pool before you, wouldn't you get fairly aggressive about ensuring the next time the water bubbles you would be the first in? I think you'd get pretty creative, if not aggressive!

The issue wasn't the man getting into the pool, it was this: we become conditioned to our condition. It was more likely the man grew to enjoy the "perks" to his problems. Every day, his contemporaries would have to rise early and head out to fields and shops and work hard to earn a living for themselves and their families. But because of his problem, his family probably took care of him.

Imagine his day. Because of his "problem," his family would feed him a good breakfast, pack him a lunch, and then take him down to the pool of Bethesda. They would place him in the shade of the porticoes on a mat, fluff his pillow and make sure he was comfortable. They would make sure he had his sack lunch and the Jerusalem Post so he could do the daily crossword puzzle. He would visit with his poolside friends, maybe do some reading, and catch an afternoon nap before family would come to take him home. Once back home, because of his "problem" he would get the couch and would "relax from his day" while others made dinner.

There were, indeed, "perks" to his "problem."

After nearly four decades of this, it could well be the man didn't want the responsibility of wholeness. THAT is why Jesus asked a very wise question: "Would you LIKE to get well?"

Some people really don't. Some have become so conditioned to their condition that they do not want the responsibility of wholeness. They have become content with their brokenness. Change would demand greater things of them, and comparatively, things aren't so bad as they are.

Being whole --- the complete person God created us to be --- depends on the answer to the question, "Would you like to get well?"

Each of us have been broken from sin. It has crippled us from being the people God wants us to be, and who we are capable of being through Christ. Jesus wants to fix that. He's willing to heal IF you want to be made whole.

Do you?


Saturday, October 10, 2009

And then we go to church ...

One of the fast food chains used to have an advertising slogan of, "... have it your way ..."



We tailor everything for ourselves.

Imagine the family at the dinner table. There's burgers and condiments on the table. Some of the burgers are rare, some medium rare, some medium, and the good ones are well done (that's right!).


Because we don't all like our burgers cooked the same way. And we don't put exactly the same condiments on our burgers.

Go through the home and you'll see that each personal space ... usually the bedrooms ... are decorated differently to express our individual interests and likes.

Go shopping, buy a suit, and you have it tailored to best fit you.

Go shopping for a car ... you got it, you'll look for what you like and what meets your needs.

Put up a personal web page, and you design it in a way that expresses who you are.

Go to work and you decorate your cubicle or office with things that interest you.

It seems like no matter where we are, or where we go, we like to tailor the environment to what we like, what interests us, and to what makes us comfortable.

Then we go to church ... and, unfortunately, do the same thing.

That's the problem with the church: we tinker with it. We add to God's design for it by putting in what we like, what interests us, and especially, what makes us comfortable.

We even call it "our" church, or "Pastor Smith's church," or the community church. But the church is none of those. It's the church of Jesus Christ ... it's HIS church and He hasn't invited us to tinker with it.

He doesn't want us adding to His intention for the church, or His instruction to it. He welcomes us in the church, designs us to be a part of the church, and gives us a clear mission for the church. When we stick with these things, the church impacts the world for Jesus Christ.

When we tinker with the church, we bring in human foibles that weaken, distract, and detour the church.

Feel free to bring your designer self to the church, but once there, stick to your God-given role and remember whose house you're in.


Getting a clear signal ...

For the past few days I've been using my laptop on a different wi-fi network. The signal seems to fluctuate from strong, to low, to no signal.

While trying to access an application, the fluctuation of the signal would often result in my getting a "Connection Failure" message. Because of that, the work I had started would be interrupted, slowed down, or shut down.

That experience reminded me that is how real life is. When we are not daily, consistently connected to our source of power, Jesus Christ, we simply cannot function properly. We wind up stalling out, and our own efforts fail us.

John 15:5 says, Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing."

A 10 minute devotional reading isn't an adequate daily experience with the Lord. We need to walk with Him throughout our day through prayer, meditation on His Word, and by application of His Word in all we do. Psalm 119:9-16 puts it this way:

"9 How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word. 10 I have tried hard to find you— don’t let me wander from your commands. 11 I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. 12 I praise you, O Lord; teach me your decrees. 13 I have recited aloud all the regulations you have given us. 14 I have rejoiced in your laws as much as in riches. 15 I will study your commandments and reflect on your ways. 16 I will delight in your decrees and not forget your word."

We have to purposely seek God in all we do. Short of that we'll find ourselves struggling in life due to "connection failure."


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How annoying ...

Tick -tick.



That sound used to drive me crazy!

As a kid, a major pet peeve of mine was how my dad would consistently leave on the car's turn signal after making a turn and drive for miles with the ticking sound of the signal reverberating through the car (well, it seemed like it was to me!).

Thinking back about it, I guess older cars didn't always automatically turn off a turn signal once a turn was completed. That certainly seemed to be the case when my dad was driving!




I could only take it so long before I would say, "Dad, the turn signal is still on." He would then turn it off, but if I told him too many times on a drive, he would become angry with me.

But how could he not hear that loud ticking sound of the turn signal? Everyone else in the car heard it. How could he not know how annoying that was?

I later came to understand that my dad suffered a hearing loss when injured while fighting in World War II. He was taken from his home in Arkansas and recruited into the Navy to serve his country in a time of need. As a kid in the back of the big Chrysler station wagon, I wasn't thinking about the noble service my father, like so many other ordinary men and women, had valiantly given to their country and the world. Instead, I was thinking about how annoying that ticking sound was to me.

I didn't think for a moment about the horror of war my father had gone through. I didn't think about what it must be like to suffer a loss of hearing. I just knew I didn't like the turn signal staying on longer than necessary.

As a grown man, I see a lot of people acting toward others like I acted toward my dad as a kid. I reacted to what annoyed me without consideration of the other person. After all, if I find it annoying, what's there to consider, right?


But isn't that all too often how we treat many of those around us? We respond immediately to the annoyances or discomforts we experience from others without giving any thought as to why they may behave the way they do. There could be more to their behavior than is understood on the surface.

Philippians 2:3-4 says this, "3 Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. 4 Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too."

The next time you find yourself annoyed with someone else, take at least a moment to check your own motives and look a little more deeply at the interests of others.