Saturday, October 30, 2010

A spiritual body guard ...

How did thieves manage to steal a $50 million Van Gogh painting from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in Cairo, Egypt last August?

The security alarms weren't working!

The 12-inch square painting of yellow and red flowers had been cut from its frame in the museum. Egypt's top prosecutor said all the alarms at the museum and 36 of the 43 security cameras had been broken for some time, thus leaving a great masterpiece vulnerable to easy theft.

It would seem the simplest of common sense that such a valuable treasure should be well protected. Beyond art, or any earthly treasure, scripture says we are God's masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10) and that He does not leave our care in lax hands. Psalm 97:10 gives us these words of security and comfort:

"You who love the Lord, hate evil! He protects the lives of his godly people and rescues them from the power of the wicked."

In John 10:10, we read these words of Jesus, "The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."

Unlike the thieves in the museum, the chief of thieves --- Satan --- cannot escape the watchfulness of God who guards the lives of His children. God protects His masterpiece, and in His hands we have true security.

Have you accepted the safety offered you from God? Do you place your security in God, or do you leave yourself vulnerable to thieves who attempt to lure you and steal away your heart?


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When the godless are more godly?

When Christians could have made a real difference in my friends' life, they failed him miserably.

One of my close friends who I have known for a couple decades faced the challenge of prostate cancer a while back. I was out-of-state and didn't have the opportunity to be there directly for him.

What was difficult about the situation is that he is no longer walking with God. He used to. He had raised his children as a Christian father should, even insisted in having them in Christian school. He had risen to being a Deacon in the church, and was very active in serving others. For a while, he thought he might be called to ministry, and took some classes at a Bible college. He was active in helping me plant a church, and was a thoroughly reliable friend.

Since then, he has gone through a divorce and now is living with a woman, and has changed in other ways. He likes to think that although God may not be happy with him, he's still "safe."

Then came the scare with cancer.

As he battled through his treatment, not a single Christian friend showed up to support him through his struggle. He got a few calls and cards, but not one Christian friend found their way to his home or the hospital to help him through a very difficult time.

But many of his new non-Christian friends did. They showed up in droves and supported him through his entire treatment. His non-Christian friends did everything his Christian friends should have but didn't. So why should he change his ways and return to those who really did not care?

As I talked to my friend about this, it seemed obvious the one thing he had longed for was his Christian friends to be there for him. Although he knows he isn't living right, he still knows what is and isn't right, and I think he was hoping his Christian friends would love him through his struggle regardless of the poor choices he was making. I believe he may have been influenced to repent had his Christian friends demonstrated true Christlikeness.

But they didn't.

Sadly, this difficult struggle during my friend's life was a time when it seemed as though the ungodly were more godly than those calling themselves followers of Christ. But to actually be a follower of Christ, you must actually follow Christ! You have to walk in His steps and do what Christ would do.

1 Peter 2:21 says, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps."

To be a genuine follower of Christ is to live out the example He provided for us. Just as He suffered for us, we may have to suffer for Him and for others. It will cost you to get out of your home, travel to the hospital and spend time at the bedside of a sick friend. It will cost you to bring meals to a sick friend's home. It will cost you to actually, truly care and love and serve and help.

But it will make an immeasurable impact in the lives of others, and will fulfill you more than anything this world could ever offer.

Are you following Christ's example? Are you walking in His steps? What changes will you make today to put you into His footsteps to be an authentic follower?


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Saying it doesn't make it so ...

Today may not be the greatest day of your life ... and that's okay!

I had a fellow following me on Twitter, and every day he would post a tweet saying that today was going to be the greatest day of his life. His statement came from a school of thought often promoted by positive thinking "gurus" that we should make every day better than the next.

But not every day is going to be better than the next.

I challenged my Twitter friend about his statement. When he again posted that today was going to be the greatest day of his life, I asked if it was going to be better than the day he realized he was in love with the woman he married. I asked if it was going to be better than the day he married the love of his life. I asked if it was going to be better than the day he accepted Christ as his Savior. I asked if the day was going to be better than the day his first child was born ... and I challenged his statement in a few more ways.

His response? He unfollowed me on Twitter!

My intent wasn't to make they guy mad, but to challenge the honesty of the statement. I think he had been taught to quote his comment about each day without ever really thinking about it. God has some great plans and some fantastic blessings in store for us in this life, but each day isn't going to be our greatest. Some days are normal, or routine, or even mundane. Not every day is stacked with such "awesomeness" that it is the greatest day of our lives.

Life wasn't intended to be a race to make every day greater than the previous day. Sometimes, life is to be lived in the shadow of better times. Sometimes, today is rich because of drawing on our memories of great times we have already experienced, and enjoying those as we journey forward to future great times. Taking time to savor the great times we have already experienced helps bring richness and fullness to our lives during those times we're in the valley.

So if today isn't the greatest day of your life, that's okay. Appreciate the great ones you've had, continue to move forward to new great experiences, and make the most of what God has in mind for you today.


Monday, October 18, 2010

One thing to rely on ...

iTunes did it again.

I turned on the wi-fi on my iPhone to update my apps and up popped a notice saying iTunes terms and conditions had changed and I had to review (and agree to!) the new terms before my apps could be updated.

This was just one of several times that iTunes changed the terms and conditions for receiving their service.

I used to get similar notices from my bank ... that certain terms had changed regarding the services it provides.

I've received notification about changes in terms and conditions from a variety of businesses and organizations over the years. Usually the changes were minor, although some did have an impact to the cost of doing business, and occasionally the changes were significant enough to discontinue the business relationship.

But of all the relationships I've experienced in my life, there is one that has never had a change in its terms and conditions: my relationship with Jesus Christ.

I've never received a heavenly notice that Jesus was opting to make changes in the covenant He has offered us. There's never been a statement sent that God was revamping operations and certain promises were revoked. Instead, we read in Hebrews 13:8 this simple yet profound statement: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever."

You can stake your eternal life on Jesus Christ. His terms and conditions are permanent and unchanging. You can risk everything on the covenant He offers. It's the one relationship you can have perfect peace about.

Do you?


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

" ... and the dog ate my homework ..."

It's not likely any of us will ever hear an excuse so incredible as the one Joseph was given.

This good man was engaged to Mary, who now reported to be pregnant. To make matters worse, she claimed the Holy Spirit was the father!

Never before had there been a virgin birth, so what Mary had to say must have seemed like pouring salt into a wound by confounding the situation with what just had to be an outrageous lie!

You can imagine how betrayed and heartbroken Joseph must have felt. And you can imagine how Joseph must have been tempted to respond harshly to such nonsense. But that's where we see the incredible character --- and lesson --- from the man who would play the role of earthly "father" to Jesus. Look closely at his response as recorded in Matthew 1:18-19, "18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly."

An angel would soon appear to Joseph in a dream and confirm what Mary had claimed was actually true. But at this point, what Mary said appeared to be an impossibility to cover an ugly sin. His response? He chose not to "dis-grace" her. At the one time where some indignant response would seem to be quite appropriate, Joseph chose to respond to an apparent sin with a gracious decency.

We often tend to think the sleights of others toward us provide us with justification to bring disgrace upon others by acting in ways that are ungracious. After all, how does responding in grace toward sinful behavior make sense?

Joseph understood that what may be the sin of others does not justify a lack of grace on our part. In fact, it's precisely at those moments where grace is most needed! Colossians 3:13 says, "Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others."

Simply put, it's not our place to "dis-grace."

How do you respond to those who wrong you? How gracious are you toward those who offend you? How can you choose to respond graciously?


Saturday, October 9, 2010

Toe-ing the line ...

I remember the story, but not who told it.

It was about a father who took his strong-willed daughter to a Lakers basketball game. They climbed the stairs to their seats far up from the game floor and, as soon as they found their seats, the little girl went running down the stairs.

The father went chasing after her, thinking this action would likely be repeated. So, when he caught up with his daughter, he told her she could stroll along the stairs, but had to stay away from the floor where the game was being played. He explained this as they settled into their seats, and he asked if she understood. The little girl nodded, then immediately bolted from her seat, bounded down the stairs all the way to the floor of the arena where she walked to the line of the floor, flopped her foot just over the line, and looked back up at her father with a mischievous grin!

We're a lot like that little girl when it comes to our interaction with our heavenly Father. Our challenges to God or our disobedience may not be as brazen as the people of Israel making a golden calf while Moses was away talking with God. Instead, it's often extending a toe just over the line.

The problem is, a little excess leads to a lot of sin.

Another story I know of personally was a time when I turned my car onto a street and was almost side-swiped by an elder of the church who was speeding his way to church. He had a habit of just pushing it a little on the accelerator. He also pushed it a little at the dinner table, which kept his waistline a little enlarged. And his success in business kept his spending habits a little inflated. Overall, he had a habit of pushing multiple areas of his life "just a little." He lived life with one toe just over the line.

Many of us live that way, testing God by seeing just how close to the line we can be and still be "safe" with Him. We look for a place where we can get away with the excess we desire, and that search moves us away from God rather than closer to Him.

Jesus addressed the issue of this kind of thinking in Matthew 5 when He revealed that bold action isn't required to commit sin, but rather the wrong desires will achieve the same result. We read these words of Jesus in Matthew 5:27-28, "27 You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.' 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart."

It doesn't take the act of adultery to sin, it takes dipping the toe of our thoughts into areas that are inappropriate, resulting in inner desires that are as wrong as the actions themselves. The closer we stand to the line, the further away we are from God, and the more likely we'll cross over just far enough to enter into sin.

Where are you standing in your relationship with God: by His side, or by the line? Do you long to dangle a toe over the line, or desire to please your heavenly Father?


Thursday, October 7, 2010

You can't get the maximum from the minimum ...

Many people try to rise to leadership and do great things from a minimalist philosophy. But great lives and great leaders don't come from doing the least required.

Simply doing what is required in almost any setting is not a mark of leadership, or a great accomplishment, but rather what is to be expected. Whether it's in relationships, employment, service, charity, or any other endeavor, to make an impact or to lead requires surpassing the minimal expectations to setting the example.

There's nothing wrong with competency, which is to consistently achieve what is expected and to accomplish what is appropriate. Competency is honorable. But basic competency will achieve, at best, the average. To go beyond that requires more than a minimalist philosophy.

To love greatly requires more than acquaintanceship. To succeed greatly in a career requires more than sticking to a job description. And to serve greatly requires an intent on meeting whole needs. To achieve great things or great heights means greater commitment, greater diligence, and greater costs for a greater payoff.

Millions of people hope every week their $1 investment in the lottery will bring them tens of millions in return. Yet almost every one of them learn that you cannot maximize any aspect of life from a minimal contribution. Whatever you want to accomplish well, whoever you really want to become, whatever you really want to do, requires an investment of yourself greater than the average in order to achieve more than the average.

Great leaders don't become great leaders by parroting what other great leaders teach. They become great leaders by studying diligently and doing the work to develop a mastery in their field. Average leaders do the minimum and ride the coattails of other leaders who are blazing new trails. Highly creative, innovative achievers have a strong set of skills as the platform from which they work.

Jesus touched on this idea as recorded in Luke 6:38, "Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back."

A minimal approach to life will bring you a minimal return. A whole investment in life will bring you the rewards of investment.

Are you putting out the minimum with hopes for the maximum? Or are you making whole investments to achieve greater results?


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

A lesson from Twitter's organizational genius ...

With the announcement this week of the naming of a new CEO, Twitter is displaying organizational genius worth examining.

Every organization experiences "pivot points," times when an organization is uniquely poised for growth or change if the right resources and strategies are implemented. For Twitter, that has meant having the right leader in place to guide the organization for specific periods of development. The Business Insider has an insightful article here that highlights how Twitter has made sure it has had the right man at the helm for specific phases of its development.

What Twitter seems to understand is that one single individual isn't always the right talent to lead specific focuses of development. For Twitter, that has meant changing CEOs as the developmental focus of the organization changes. For other organizations, it may not require a formal change of leadership, but rather assigning responsibilities more broadly throughout an organization.

Many --- if not most --- organizations of any kind limit their developmental capacity by locking themselves into specific people who maintain rigid areas of responsibility. The problem with that is the person in any given role may not be the best talent fit over an extended period of time. Organizations that allow for responsibility sharing, responsibility swapping, or even responsibility change allow for the best talent to be in the right positions to best direct an organization's "pivot points."

Most organizations don't accomplish this because executive management are more concerned about the security of their own positions than they are about ensuring the best talent is in the right place to maximize growth. Organizations that have leaders more committed to their own positions rather than the best interest of the organization will lead only to the limits of the leader's weakness rather than supplying the talent to expand potential.

If you really want to take your organization as far as is possible, set aside egos and ensure the best possible talent is in position to lead the developmental focus of your organization.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Sailing through life ...

One thing I love to do is go sailing.

I'm not a trained sailor, but there's something about being on the water that captivates me. I've had the chance to sail on San Francisco bay as well as the ocean waters along Hawaii, Fiji, and Jamaica, and I've enjoyed a cruise along the Mexican Riviera.

In all the times I've gone sailing, not once did I board a boat and then the skipper leave our journey to chance and let the winds take us wherever they would blow. The journey was directed by the skipper by the many choices he made in the handling of his boat.

While it may seem obvious that a skipper needs to guide his boat, how much more obvious is it that we need to provide direction to our lives. Yet many of us actually leave much of the journey of our lives to "wherever the wind blows."

Here's a simple reality: Without a thoughtful, prayerful, and purposeful strategy for your life, you're left to be driven by circumstance.

Not every strategy takes us where we want to go, but without one that is thought out, prayed through, and rooted in our purpose for living, the journey and destination of our lives will be at the mercy of wherever our circumstances take us. Like a boat without the direction of a skipper, a life without a strategy usually eventually winds up as wreckage on the rocks.

Have you chartered a specific course for your life? Is your life on course with your strategy, or have you allowed the winds of circumstances to blow you off course?


Friday, October 1, 2010

Without the heart, it's just an act ...

What's the difference between the upper middle class family who occasionally cleans out their pantry of aging canned goods which they donate to help feed the homeless, and the family struggling to barely stay out of the poverty level who opens their home to a homeless person for hot meals, a shower, and a safe place to rest?

One is a kindness, the other a lovingkindness.

That example isn't to pick on "classes," but rather to highlight the difference between "kindness" and "lovingkindness."

You've likely seen the bumper sticker encouraging readers to commit "random acts of kindness." Kindness can be just that, a random act done as a detached task or even from a sense of duty. While others may positively benefit from the kindness offered, the person carrying out the act of kindness is leaving out the most important part of their gift: their heart.

Lovingkindness is the opposite, it's an act of kindness that first starts as a loving concern for others that finally expresses itself through action. The Bible is replete in referring to God's lovingkindness toward us. God doesn't simply perform an occasional act of kindness toward us; rather, out of His love for us He responds with great lovingkindness for us. We read this reference in Daniel 9:4, "I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, 'Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments ...'" (NASB).

Because of His genuine love and constant concern for us, kindness flows from God so that it is more than a random act, more than a task, more than a duty, but lovingkindness expressed from the very heart of God through action that simply doesn't stop. Psalm 100:5 says, "For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations" (NASB).

What is the source of your kindness: an action to be carried out, or a loving concern that must express itself through action? Is your kindness made up of random acts, or a constant flow from a loving heart?