Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The five second rule ...

You're starving (not literally, of course, just the American version which means you're simply hungry).

You're in the kitchen making a sandwich. You can hardly contain yourself as you lather on the condiments, pile on the toppings, and finally slap on the top piece of bread.

As you wrestle to wrap your hands around the breadth of the bulging sandwich, lifting it to your salivating mouth, the unthinkable happens ... you drop the sandwich on the kitchen floor!

In utter astonishment, you stare at the sandwich now scattered on the floor.

What to do?

You quickly invoke the "five second rule," scoop up the sandwich, do a quick fix, and take a huge bite as you contentedly move along.

You're satisfied because the five second rule saved the day! You know, the "rule" that says if you drop food, it's still clean if it's not on the ground or floor for more than five seconds.

The five seconds rule is just a mental game to get around the truth that we still want to eat the food, regardless of knowing where its been. But instead of admitting to ourselves that we would eat food dirtied from the ground, we invoke a falsehood (the five seconds rule) to soothe our minds from the reality of our choices.

We counselors call such behavior cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is that uncomfortable feeling of holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory goes that we human beings have a tendency to seek consistency among our cognitions (beliefs, opinions, etc.). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance. In the case of a discrepancy between attitudes and behaviors, it is most likely the attitude will change to accommodate the behavior.

Cognitive dissonance sprang onto the scene of human behavior all the way back in the Garden of Eden, when the first man and woman brought sin into the world. They both knew the clear and specific instructions God had given them, yet they both chose to disobey His instructions. When God visited them in the Garden after their Fall, they made excuses for their behavior being in conflict with what they knew to be the truth.

In other words, negative cognitive dissonance resulted in their making excuses to God for their sin.

Our behaviors haven't varied a lot from that time in the Garden. Like the first man and woman, we continue to struggle with cognitive dissonance in our own lives. But from before that Fall of humanity in the Garden, God had a plan for how we could be made whole from the results of sin in our lives. God worked out His plan through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and through Him we can be changed. Look at what the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:21-23:

"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."

We overcome the struggle with cognitive dissonance by allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our thoughts and attitudes, which then results in behaviors that are Christlike, "... truly righteous and holy." The Holy Spirit enables and empowers us as transformed children of God to harmonize our thoughts and behaviors rather than feed unhealthy and ungodly conflicts created and fed from our minds.

That doesn't necessarily mean the next time you drop the sandwich that you won't pick it up and eat it anyway. But it should mean you won't lie to yourself about the fact that you're eating food off the floor!

Have you allowed the Holy Spirit to transform your thoughts and attitudes? Or do you justify your way of living through the inconsistencies of cognitive dissonance?


Monday, November 29, 2010

Here's a great story that needs to be spread ...

I just finished reading a great book I hope you get, read, and share with others.

Even though I write reviews of books published by Thomas Nelson, this book wasn't one provided to me to review (although it is a Thomas Nelson publication).

I had heard of Austin Gutwein and the incredible Hoops of Hope ministry he founded through my connections at Central Christian Church of the East Valley in Arizona. At the age of nine, God gave Austin a vision for how he could do something bigger than himself. This boy stepped out in faith, and, by God working through him, he has accomplished some incredible things for the HIV/AIDS orphans and victims in Zambia.

"Take Your Best Shot" is Austin (with the help of Todd Hillard) telling his story of how the Hoops of Hope ministry began, and what God has done through it. But the book is more than just telling this story. It's also a great challenge to the readers to also do something bigger than themselves, and an ample dose of inspiration to do just that.

Not only is this book a great read for any adult, but older children and, especially teens, really need to hear this story and this challenge.

At the top of the book cover is a quote by famous Christian writer and pastor Max Lucado, which says simply, "This story deserves a wide hearing." I couldn't agree more!

While a book isn't the most exciting Christmas gift for many, this would make a terrific gift to give to teens, young adults, and any adult. The story and the challenge could result in an indescribable gift to the reader. Also, check out the ministry website at www.hoopsofhope.org.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Tuning in and being thankful ...

Television changed recently.

No longer can you get free television by having a cheap antenna mounted to the roof of your house. Now you have to have a means of receiving digital television.

When I was a kid, "rabbit ears" were central to getting good television reception. But rabbit ears could be tricky. You often had to move the "ears" to just the right spot atop your television set, and play with telescoping the rabbit ears up and down (as well as horizontally and vertically) before you found a clear picture. Some people even resorted to wrapping aluminum foil around the rabbit ears in an effort to enhance reception.

It sounds silly, but you really didn't get a clear picture without those rabbit ears.

I think thanksgiving is like those rabbit ears. It really isn't until we look closely at the love and sacrifice given by Jesus Christ for us, and respond with a natural outpouring of thanksgiving, that we really see our Savior clearly.

When we look honestly at the mercy, grace, love, salvation, and the personal relationship lavished upon us by Jesus Christ, we cannot contain ourselves. We're moved to the deepest depths of gratitude. And the giving of thanks flows from us as a natural part of worship.

That's because when you have a clear picture of what Jesus Christ has done for you, you simply cannot not be thankful.

Psalm 100:4-5 encourages us to:

"4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.

5 For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation."

When we see His goodness, experience His love and faithfulness, it's like finding that sweet spot with the rabbit ears ... things become clear, and we become thankful!

May God bless your Thanksgiving Day with crystal clear reception!


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"Beyond Opinion" is a must-read on apologetics

If you want a significant resource to help you better share and defend your Christian faith, "Beyond Opinion" is the book you need to add to your bookshelf.

When I first started reading the book, I didn't think that would be my final conclusion. But the book, compiled by distinguished Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias (who did some of the writing and was joined by noted members of his international ministry), is loaded with skill-building knowledge for the Christian who wants to win people rather than arguments.

Initially, I thought it rather arrogant of Zacharias to write in the introduction, "This may not be a 'read-through' book that can be absorbed in a single sitting. But I suggest to you it is a 'must-read' book for our times ..." but I soon discovered Zacharias was right on both counts (even if he did "say so" himself!).

Getting into the book is slow going. I found the early chapters to be so laden with foundational information it seemed as if the writer was cutting corners to contain the chapters. That made for a choppy read, almost as if the work was the result of a poor edit job.

However --- and fortunately for that "however" --- the remainder of the book smoothed out into a readable flow chalk full of great insights about sharing and defending the Christian faith. These insights do not make for light reading. The material Zacharias and his co-writers present is the real, heavy-duty content of apologetics ranging from how to help the non-believer who has genuine questions about Christianity, to defending against the "enemies" who try their best to destroy our faith.

It is precisely because "Beyond Opinion" (published by Thomas Nelson) is not just another light-weight book on apologetics that I highly recommend it. The writers pull out all the "big words" and intellectual terms in the material they present, yet manage to provide readers of various backgrounds knowledge and insights understandable for anyone ranging from the new Christian to the experienced church leader.

If you're serious about sharing your Christian faith, this is a serious resource that can better help you do that.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, November 22, 2010

Is this your idol?

Sometimes when I read about the ancient Israelites in the Old Testament, I want to bang my head against the wall!

How is it that God's chosen people could continue in these cycles of sin? After all the phenomenal things God had done for them, along with His great promises, they continue to turn from God to idols.

What really seems stunning is the story in Numbers 13 when God leads His people to the Promised Land. Moses sent 12 spies into this new land to check things out. The scouting report confirmed that "... it is indeed a bountiful country—a land flowing with milk and honey..." (Numbers 13:27b). Yet 10 of the spies added their fear to the report by saying, "But the people living there are powerful, and their towns are large and fortified. We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak!" (Numbers 13:28) and "We can’t go up against them! They are stronger than we are!' 32 So they spread this bad report about the land among the Israelites: 'The land we traveled through and explored will devour anyone who goes to live there. All the people we saw were huge. 33 We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought, too!'" (Numbers13:31b-33).

When the Israelites thought their security was at risk, they failed to trust God.

We often do the same thing. We say we're following Christ, until it becomes too risky. Our desire for security keeps us from taking risks required in following Christ or living life fully. It keeps us from tithing so we can trust in money as a source of security. We even enter into negative relationships as we look to others as a source of security.

The result is that security has become our idol, something we elevate higher than our faith in, and reliance on, God.

In our vain pursuit for security apart from God, we miss the simple fact that only He can truly keep us "secure." Look at what the Bible says about the security we find in God:

"In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O Lord, will keep me safe" (Psalm 4:8).

"The Lord is my light and my salvation— so why should I be afraid? The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger, so why should I tremble?" (Psalm 27:1).

"But all who listen to me will live in peace, untroubled by fear of harm" (Proverbs 1:33).

And 2 Timothy 1:7 says, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."

In fact, there is a theme throughout scripture that those who trust in the Lord have nothing to fear, regardless of the circumstances they may face in life. Security is not found in the content of our circumstances, but in the reality of our faith in God.

Is security your idol, or a result of your trust in God?


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hurry up and wait ...

I'm "in the mood" to write, but there's a problem: as I review my long list of topics for blog posts, I realize writing about any of the subjects listed requires more time in study and research than I have available at the moment.

Yet, my "mood" to write tempts me to take up one of the subjects anyway.

But I think I'll pass.

Sometimes, the best choice is to wait until we can do our best at what we're considering doing. Too often we simply indulge our urges with the outcome being a mediocre result. We settle for less in order to splurge on our urges.

We do this in profound things, such as our relationships, our careers, and even in our service to God. And we do this in simple things, from food choices to selecting activities. We take the cheap result of indulging the moment rather than waiting until we're prepared to produce the best.

Indulgence always brings a cheap result. A little more discipline can lead to greater impact and the potential for excellence.


Monday, November 15, 2010

It's a "rough" road ...

For a while before turning a teenager, I had the chance to live on a huge ranch in Northern Arizona.

The Diamond Bar was a historic "old Arizona" ranch spreading across 896,000 acres. The ranch house was about 37 miles beyond the tiny town of Dolan Springs, where you would find a dirt road taking you the 7.5 miles to the house.

Directly in front of the house was a massive garden with some fruit tress, and beyond that stood "Crown Mountain" (actually named Spirit Mountain). At least, that's the name I gave to the small mountain that looked as if a crown had been placed around it's top.

Getting to the top of the mountain was quite a trek that took in some beautiful country. The only way to get there was by traveling a rough road that was more a well-worn set of tracks than a dirt road. The tracks would alternate between dirt and rock, and wound it's way through the rugged country. On the way, the road eventually ran alongside a barbed wire fence separating the ranch from the Hualapai Indian Reservation. At that point, you could look far off to the right and see a few ridges of the Grand Canyon.

As you continued the slow trek over the rocks and bumps, twists and turns of the road, you would often see cattle grazing openly, and occasionally spot wild horses that ran freely on the ranch. It wouldn't be surprising to spot a fox on the journey, and you would almost always see several deer as you neared the top of the mountain.

When you finally reached the top, you arrived at the edge of the "crown" to take in an awe-inspiring view of Lake Mead, with the little town of Meadview just a speck on the land. Getting to this beautiful vantage point was slow going on a rough road through a beautiful land.

The journey to the top of Crown Mountain reminds me of how Jesus described the journey to life in Matthew 7:13-14, "13 “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. 14 But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it."

Jesus describes the gateway to life as being narrow, and the road being difficult. We often wrongly interpret that as meaning the journey to life in Christ is harsh and negative. However, I think it's more like that journey to the top of Crown Mountain: a rough road through a beautiful land. While you may have to travel slowly and carefully because of the terrain, there's much beauty to be taken in and enjoyed along the journey.

In fact, the challenge of the terrain that slows you down helps you to be more focused on your surroundings. The slow going allows you to enjoy the experience rather than hustle along just to get to a destination.

The road to life is that way. Sometimes there are bumps and rocks and sharp turns, but the slow going provides for a journey that offers panoramic views of grace, mercy, love, and the many other facets of life in Christ.

It's a very different path than the broad, smooth highway that provides a quick, uninterrupted trip to hell. But passing through the narrow gate and traveling on the more difficult road provides a vastly superior journey and destination.

Which road are you traveling? Are you enjoying the ride?


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chasing God ...

Have you ever seen a dog chase a car?

It's a funny thing to watch. The dog runs madly in pursuit of the vehicle, barking viciously as if giving warning to the auto as to what it will do if it catches it.

Although I've seen several dogs chase cars, I've never seen one catch a car.

Have you ever wondered what the dog would do if it actually caught the car it chased?

Would it nip at the tires? Chip a tooth on a bumper? Or, more likely, turn tail and run because it actually had to face the car?!

A lot of human beings say they are "chasing" --- or searching for --- God. But what if you actually caught Him?

What if God just stopped and let you walk up to Him? What if God actually allowed you to interact with Him? What if God Himself provided a means for you to know and commune with Him?

What would you do?

The Good News of Jesus Christ is that God longs for relationship with us. Not only is He not running away from us (and therefore doesn't have to be chased), but He has come to us! He allows for personal interaction with Him, and He has provided the means for us to know Him personally and intimately.

All those who are earnestly searching for God can find Him. James 4:8a says, "Come close to God, and God will come close to you ..." So now what will you do?


Thursday, November 11, 2010

How to clear the air ...

Los Angeles will never be known for having the cleanest, clearest air of most metropolitan areas, but it is much cleaner and clearer than it used to be.

Some years ago I had a flight into Los Angeles. Prior to arriving in the city, I enjoyed looking out the airplane window at the beauty of the skies and just taking in the majesty of God's creation. Then came the descent into Los Angeles.

The scene changed dramatically!

From the crisp beauty of the blue skies, we gradually entered into air so dirty it was hard to see much of the city with sharp clarity. There was nothing beautiful or enticing about the new scenery into which the airplane was descending. I felt my mood change from one of worship when taking in the beauty of God's handiwork, to a concern about having to breathe what was outside the window I was looking out of.

The ugly brown haze hanging over the city like a heavy, wet blanket did not make arriving at my destination very enticing. While my work and relationships waited for me amid the dinge of the concrete sprawl, I longed to be back up among the wonder of beauty where everything seemed so peaceful.

Life is often like that flight.

Sometimes we find ourselves landing in environments that have been messed up by humanity, places that have been polluted and abused by people pursuing their own agendas at the expense of those around them. Yet just beyond the discouraging scenes of wastefulness remains the beauty of God's work. It still surrounds us, even when we can't see it. Yet knowing it is there feeds our hope of something better just beyond the horizon, and just ahead sometime in our future.

The Apostle Paul encourages us to keep our thoughts on the more beautiful things. Look at what he wrote in Philippians 4:8-9, "8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you."

Whatever situation or environment we find ourselves in, we can experience the purity and beauty of God's work, no matter the scenery around us. if our thoughts are fixed on Him.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Don't expect God to warehouse His provisions ...

What's a core source for the frustration many feel toward God?

"Cart-before-the-horse" thinking.

I was reminded of this when responding to a message sent to me on Facebook from a friend. I was happy to hear she was drawing closer to accomplishing something she had been dreaming about, thinking about, praying about, planning for, and taking action toward for a long time. Now that the dream was nearing becoming reality, "nerves" were setting in. Here's a part of my response:

"... it's a common thing what you're feeling. It's one thing to run everything through our wishes, wants, dreams and thoughts, as though they were real. It's quite another when they actually become real and have to be lived! So take heart that you now have hopes turning into reality, and take confidence that God's provision comes in the living out of a thing more than the thinking through of it."

We often approach the dreams God gives us by wanting the entire picture and provision provided up front. When that doesn't happen, we allow doubts and fears to wear away at the dream, often resulting in a great loss of time, or loss of action, or losing the dream altogether.

But more often than not, God doesn't start our dreams with an advance installment of the needed provisions! He starts by giving us the dream, which then needs to be thought through (reasonably understood), prayed through, planned for, and finally executed. Yet, we often fail to do these things until God supplies the provision!

It's cart-before-the-horse thinking.

If it is God who gives us a dream, He will then also supply us with the means to accomplish it. But the supply of the means usually comes when needed. That reality challenges us to step out in faith and act first, trusting God that what is needed will be provided for when needed. We would rather have God put "supply" in a warehouse first, so we know it's there. But God does something better: He assures us that He will meet the needs of the dreams He gives, and His assurance is greater than a warehouse full of provision!

Are you acting on your dreams, or waiting for provision? Are you stepping out in faith, trusting God and His timing? What can you do to make sure you have the "horse before the cart"?


Thursday, November 4, 2010

You don't grow without self-control ...

Have you ever wondered why late night television seems to be riddled with infomercials for exercise equipment and the latest, greatest, trendiest exercise videos?

It seems odd that during the time when most people are sleeping or suffering from insomnia, all the infomercials for improving your fitness are broadcast. A few nights ago I noticed a new commercial, one advertising food delivery directly to your home to help guarantee you will lose weight. It seems the concept behind the idea is that people exercise so little personal discipline that if you're really going to lose weight, you need to have specific meals delivered to your home to control content and portion size.

While the concept may seem appealing to some, the bottom line in weight loss and weight management is you'll never lose or manage your weight until you apply self-control over what and how much you eat.

All too often we approach other areas of our lives with the same concept as that commercial ... we splurge and indulge rather than exercise personal discipline, which keeps our lives somewhat (or seriously) out of control. If we're serious about making changes, making improvements, or truly growing as a person, we must come to the place where we purposely and consistently exercise self-control in our lives.

Jesus not only taught that personal discipline was important, He was rather radical about it. Look at the examples He offered as recorded in Matthew 5:29-30, "29 So if your eye—even your good eye—causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand—causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." What's the point? Sometimes you need to exercise radical discipline to make sure you do what really needs to be done.

The idea of personal discipline isn't something that we finally apply when things are falling apart. Instead, the Apostle Paul identifies self-discipline as a basic characteristic of the true follower of Christ. Look at what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 1:7, "
For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."

Is self-discipline a consistent characteristic of your life? How can you exercise self-discipline more consistently to have a fuller life in Christ?


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Keeping strangers as strangers ...

One reason why the church is lacking in making an impact on lives is because it has internalized the "genie in the bottle" complex.

What I mean by that is, first we act quite impersonally with God. We often don't want a personal relationship with God, we want a "genie in a bottle" on whom we can call to fix tough problems in our lives and miraculously blink what we want into existence. It's a very impersonal way of approaching God.

But we have gone beyond that and internalized that attitude. Now, it's fairly common to see "good deeds" or "acts of kindness" by both churches or individual Christians being offered very impersonally ... or more specifically, without relationship. We may do something to help someone, or show up to offer some service to others, but then bail once the deed is done, leaving no trace of real relationship (or loving interaction) behind.

God has not called us to be deed-doers, He's called us to love the lost to Him and serve one another! The church cannot be the body of Christ without extending the love of Christ, and that requires genuine interaction with others. When Jesus healed the leper, He reached out and touched him, and when He healed the blind man, He reached out and touched his eyes ... He went beyond accomplishing the deed to connecting with the person.

We've long been used to showing up to "church" on Sunday mornings and being friendly with people we have nothing to do with except on Sunday mornings, yet think we're actually "friends." That behavior is nothing more than weekly acquaintances.

Now, in an attempt to encourage people to serve others in their local communities, many churches are taking a Sunday each month and going out into the community to do good deeds on a Sunday morning instead of having the regular worship service. While the focus on, and encouragement of, service is a positive thing, what is often happening is a "good deed" is being done and then the servers move on to the next task to be completed the following month. No relationships are nurtured in process of serving.

That is not "Christian service."

All that Jesus Christ did for us flowed from a genuine love and was relationship-oriented. He's not a holy handyman who appears to make repairs. He works in our lives because He loves us and desires an intimate relationship with us. That is the example of how we need to minister to others in His name. We need to serve like Jesus served.

What that means for us as Christians is we need to make time for people. We have to get past all of the excuses, and even the good reasons, we have for being so busy and create time to build relationships that flow from our love for Christ and others. Unless we do, our deeds ring hollow.

Do you have love-based relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ? When you serve others, do you make the time to connect with the person, or are you just accomplishing a deed? How can you better extend yourself in relationship to others?