Wednesday, April 28, 2010
On a few occasions, I've found myself in a hurry when purchasing a notebook, only to get home to discover the notebook I bought was unlined.
The problem with that, for me, is that no matter how hard I concentrate on writing my sentences in a straight line, invariably the lines begin to stray and my paragraphs become a wandering mess.
I need something --- a simple line --- to keep me going straight.
The same is true for my life, but in that case I need God's Word. Psalm 119:105 is the well-known verse that says, "Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path."
No matter how hard we may try to live righteously, we lose our way without the proper guide of God's Word for us. The Bible is like that line in a notebook that keeps us from straying all over the page.
What serves as the simple line in the journal of your life?
A gas station in the San Francisco bay area has discovered a very effective way of gouging their customers: a gas station within a gas station!
Recently I needed to get some fuel for the car, so I pulled into a station near the Benicia area. This was a large station with several fuel pumps and a full-service convenience store on the property that also had a Carl's Jr. fast food restaurant attached. As I drove onto the property, I noticed to the side and set back from the main business area what looked like a smaller fueling area. It only had a half dozen older pumps set close together. It was cramped, out of the way, and not convenient to all the services offered in the main business area. With just a brief look, I assumed it was a separate fueling station for commercial customers. Some gas stations have a separate area not open to the general public but available only for corporate accounts, and I assumed that's what this second fueling area was.
However, I'm not fond of assuming. So when I recently stopped in the same gas station, I first asked about the "hidden" fueling area. As it turns out, it was simply additional fuel pumps open to the public but offering a much lower rate than at the main fueling area. The regular fueling area charged $3.33 per gallon, while the smaller, "hidden" pumps charged only $3.09 per gallon!
Want to guess where I fueled up?
It was only when I pulled over to the more remote fuel pumps that I first noticed a small sign displaying the lower fuel costs for this area. Most customers pay little attention to this cheaper fueling station because it's set back, unattractive, more remote than the multiple islands of newer, faster pumps, and just not convenient to the services offered. I would imagine most customers don't realize this cheaper area is available to them. So, the majority of customers go to the broader, more attractive, more convenient area where they pay 24 cents per gallon more for their fuel!
This experience is much like our experience traveling life as Jesus described it in Matthew 7:13-14, "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."
Satan has rolled out the red carpet and made it very convenient and attractive for us to make our way to hell. It's not hard. It's fairly comfortable, and it can even be fun for a while. The problem is the ultimate destination!
However, being a part of God's kingdom takes effort on our part. It's not easy to find or enter. The road there isn't designed for our comfort. But the ultimate destination is worth every effort and difficulty getting there!
Which road are you on?
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
The following video features Derek Sivers in a "less than 6 minutes" TED presentation. His talk includes some great thoughts not only about leadership, but the vastly under-valued concept of "followership."
Monday, April 26, 2010
After an hour of stomping his feet, throwing things in a fury, yelling and screaming, the Apostle Paul finally broke down weeping. It was loud, mournful, deep wailing. His heart was broken, his hopes smashed.
How could God do this?
Preaching the Gospel to the lost in Asia was his great desire, yet the Holy Spirit wouldn't let him go. As bad as that was, he dreamed a new dream of preaching to the people of Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit prevented him from going there as well. Two shattered dreams! How could God not allow him to carry out his dream? It wasn't right!
Actually, that's NOT how it happened. Acts 16:6-10 tells us the real story: "6 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time. 7 Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. 8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas. 9 That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us!' 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there."
Sometimes we believe we understand what God wants us to do, or believe God approves of the dreams we have, only to discover that He is pointing us in another direction. What do you do when God bursts your bubble and won't bless your plans?
Here are a few suggestions for those times when God is pointing you in a new direction:
1. REMEMBER GOD'S OMNISCIENCE - Only God knows everything. He can see and understand everything we can't. We may think we have a great dream, a great plan, a great idea, but God can see all the holes in it. He alone can see what is best for everyone. When God redirects you, it can be reassuring to remember that He knows what He's doing.
2. TRUST HE HAS A BETTER PLAN - God redirects us when He has a better plan for us than the one we're dreaming of. Proverbs 14: 12 says, "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death." Some of our plans may not be so catastrophic, yet they don't end well. Jeremiah 29:11 describes God's plan for us, "'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 thinks and acts in our best interests perfectly, so He adjusts our plans to fit a better plan, "We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps," (Proverbs 16:9).
3. REFOCUS AND PUSH ON - Paul didn't throw a tantrum when the Holy Spirit foiled his initial efforts. He didn't insist on having his own way, and he didn't give up on the greater mission God had called him to. Instead, he refocused on God's leading and pushed on with a new plan. By following God's lead, Paul stands as the most impactful person of the New Testament other than Jesus Christ.
Not every dream will, or should, become a reality. Sometimes God will burst your bubble. What will you do then?
Sunday, April 25, 2010
There was some excitement last week when NASA released new 3-D photos of the sun, showing us the radiant orb in ways we haven't seen before.
The photos were taken from NASA's Solar TErrestrial RElations Observatory (STEREO) satellites. The new view will greatly aid scientists' ability to understand solar physics and thereby improve space weather forecasting.
While the 3-D pictures were interesting, they weren't as exciting as other releases from NASA. Many people found themselves captivated watching on their televisions as an unmanned rover trapsed the landscape of Mars. The world watched multiple moon landings and men walking the lunar surface. And photos such as the discovery of new rings around Saturn or some tiny little planet on the outreaches of the solar system have always garnered great interest.
The new pictures of the sun drew less interest because, well let's face it, it's just the sun! There won't be any signs of life to be found there. No vegetation, and definitely no water. No means of supporting human life. The other photos and TV broadcasts draw people because human beings look for places where they can thrive, not fry.
Is that your church? Is your church a place that fosters an environment where people can thrive? Or is it a dry, spiritually desolate place?
What about your home? Is your home a place where each member of the family can thrive at being fully the individual God has created them to be? Or is it a place where hopes, dreams, and relationships wither and die?
What about you? Can others thrive in your company? Do you feed the life that God has given others, or are you an oven to those around you?
And what about your own mind and heart? Are you searching for a place where you can thrive? John 10:10 gives us the single greatest source of thriving, and that is in relationship with Jesus Christ, "The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life."
What do the pictures of your life today reflect: thriving, or frying?
Thursday, April 22, 2010
One of the greatest areas of focus in the church is the development of small groups. Great emphasis is placed on getting church members into being a part of a small group meeting at a time and place other than a "corporate" worship service.
In fact, churches throughout the country are composed of Christians who meet regularly in small groups. Many churches have replaced Sunday School with small groups meeting in homes, and those Sunday school classes that do still meet are, in themselves, "small groups." In spite of the fact that American churches are riddled with these small groups, the church is still in decline.
There's nothing magical about small groups!
Simply getting a group of people to meet together regularly doesn't, by itself, transform the church, result in revival, instantly produce mature Christians, or meet the needs of those meeting together. What does make small groups vital parts of the church that impact congregations and communities is the motive of the group participants.
When Christians come together to share life as the body of Christ on earth, as the early Christians we read about in the Book of Acts did, then we see the powerful results of transformed lives and met needs. But that often is not the motive for many small groups.
Lots of groups meet to study the Bible. They greet each other warmly, open with a prayer, have a lively intellectual discussion about a passage of scripture, close with prayer, exchange additional pleasantries, and then go home until their next meeting the following week. They don't "share life."
Other groups have a greater focus on prayer. Still others spend their time discussing what it means to be a "man" or "woman," others focus on leadership topics, and some are more socially oriented. But they don't really share life together.
The missing motive?
Jesus said this in John 13:34-35, "34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
When the children of God come together to share (or unleash) the love of God, the result will be the power of God and the blessing of God displayed in and through the the lives of the lovers of God!
Small groups that impact the lives of participants, the church, communities and the world, are those groups whose primary motive is to share the love of God with each other. Other motives, such as study, prayer, leadership development, team building, etc., are best achieved when this primary motive is in place.
What is the primary motive of the small groups in your local church? How are your groups sharing the love of God within and without the group? How can you be sure the right motive is driving your small groups?
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
There's a "holy contradiction" that rages within me.
On one hand, I passionately love the Church. The Church is the bride of Christ, and it is for the Church that Christ will return. The Church is the body of Christ on earth, it is the very family of God.
On the other hand, their is rampant sin and failure in the Church, and that must be called out, challenged, and changed.
The starting point is with church leadership.
Again, I have a contradiction. As a pastor myself, I know first-hand the great challenges men of genuine faith face as leaders in the Church. Everything is expected of them while they are both under-supported and under- appreciated. At the same time, many of the problems the church faces today originates from leadership.
Here's one: Jesus didn't say "Go into all the world via technology and develop a powerful personal brand establishing yourself as a great leader." He said "GO MAKE DISCIPLES!" Unfortunately, there are far too many leaders who care more about, and TALK MORE ABOUT, establishing themselves as a great leader than they do actually discipling people in their congregation.
NOT "mentoring" someone to be a leader.
NOT being "mentored" in your own leadership role.
NOT networking with other church leaders.
But working with the truck drivers and soccer moms, grocery clerks and postal workers, car salesmen and school teachers in your own congregations and communities simply to help them become disciples of Jesus Christ.
If your role as a leader is more important to you than discipling someone, your view of leadership is not a biblical one.
Making disciples is priority ONE for any church leader. At least it's supposed to be, but obviously isn't given the fact we have church after church after church full of biblically illiterate people who are not truly DISCIPLES of Jesus Christ.
This situation will not change until leaders change what is most important to them: the discipleship of their flock and community, or their "personal brand."
Granted, church leaders can't do all the discipling, but it has to start with them. Church leaders can use technology in great ways to further their efforts and leadership, but it's not a substitute for the direct, biblical work they are called to do.
When a pastor knows more about how to design a website than how to make a disciple, you know something is terribly wrong in the church.
Church leaders, if your church isn't full of biblically literate DISCIPLES, why is that? And specifically what are you going to do about it?
Sunday, April 18, 2010
When we go before God on behalf of someone else and pray for what we want for the other person from a position of judgment, we short circuit the benefit of prayer. Effective prayer is seeking from God only that which is in the best interest of the other person(s) and God's will for them. Prayer is not a time for the pray-er to serve as judge and seek their own desires in the lives of others.
Put another way, motives matter in prayer. Look closely at James 4:2b-4, "... Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. 3 And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure."
Before seeking God on behalf of someone else, the first thing the pray-er should do is check their own motives. If you can't petition God from a non-judgemental position, then you first need to work out that problem with God's help before you bring requests on behalf of others.
Friday, April 16, 2010
The title of the movie "Hope Floats" came to mind recently when I read about an experiment done with a bunch of rats.
In his book "Where Is God?" Dr. John Townsend tells of an experiment using two groups of rats who were placed in water. The first group were left entirely on their own without any help and, thus, succumbed to despair and then drowning fairly quickly. In the second group, occasionally an observer would reach in and rescue one of the rats from the water. Seeing this, the rats in the second group strived longer and harder to stay afloat with the hope of being plucked from the water in the same way they had seen others rescued.
Such is the power of a testimony or example of a life that has been touched by God. When others see what God has done in, through, or for you, it can encourage them to try a little longer and a little harder, with the hope that God can work in their lives as well.
1 Timothy 4:10 says, "This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God, who is the Savior of all people and particularly of all believers" and Matthew 5:14-16 says, "14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."
As Christians, our hope is in God. We know how He can transform lives and is the very source of our hope for both today and the future. Experiencing this hope allows us an opportunity to be a beacon of hope to others, pointing them to the One who can meet every need and do more than they could possibly imagine.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
It's seems like it's difficult to spend five minutes in conversation with a church leader without the topic of mentoring coming up.
Mentoring is one of the hot topics among church leaders, and there is a need for it and value in it. However, a lot of mentoring happening in the church today is human-based mentoring rather than biblically-based mentoring.
What I mean by that is this: often a mentoring appointment will involve a church leader discussing with his or her mentor what their goals are, how they plan to achieve those goals, reviewing where they're at with their goals, seeking new ideas to achieve their goals, seeking insights about their goals, assessing progress on goals, etc. There may or may not be a time of praying together. Then off they go until their next appointment.
What often is missing is the biblical platform from which ideas and actions should be originated. For example, let's say an experienced pastor is serving as a mentor to a younger youth pastor. At the beginning of their mentoring relationship needs to be a discussion about what the youth pastor understands his biblical role to be, and what he is biblically basing his ministry on. While that seems to be a given, it often isn't. It has become commonplace for entire mentoring relationships to come and go without ever first establishing a biblical foundation from which to build on.
Without that, you have human mentoring taking place --- two human beings discussing their own ideas originated from their own, independent thinking. Then that is applied to ministry, and what usually follows after that is looking up Bible verses that support their thinking. That's backwards! Before strategies are built, a biblically-based mission and method should first be established, then the mentoring relationship should be guided by that biblical structure.
Could it be that a huge part of the weakness in the church is due to church leaders leaning on their own human understanding rather than grounding themselves in God's Word?
Look at what Proverbs 3:5-6 says:
"5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. 6 Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take."
How does this passage influence the structure of your own mentoring relationships? If it doesn't, how should it?
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Technological and scientific advances are happening at a much greater speed than when any of us were kids. What was a fantasy when we were growing up is the commonality for today's kids. Children today do not know a world without laptop computers, the internet, cell phones, and a variety of things that didn't exist when most of us were growing up.
The key behind the advances in technology --- or a variety of sciences --- is research and development. Companies spend billions every year simply working on ideas, looking for possibilities, and then finding successful ways of turning those possibilities into functional realities. Without this significant focus, investment, and commitment in research and development, how we live would be radically different.
The same goes for our spiritual life. Our relationship with Jesus Christ is directly impacted by both the "research" and "development" we do. How we live is directly impacted by what --- or whether --- we are learning from God's Word, and how we develop in the practical application of it. The idea is that we not remain that "old man" we started as, but that we be radically changed into someone much better, the advanced "2.0" version of the "new man."
Paul described this commitment to "spiritual research and development" in Ephesians 4:11-13, "11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 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."
The idea here is that next year's model of who we are should be different than today's version of us because of our commitment to researching God's Word, and developing that into our lives, with a final product being "... that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ."
Do you have the same kind of commitment to research and development of your spiritual life that a business has to making a better light bulb? Are you constantly learning and growing in God's Word? Are you committed to your spiritual development so that you can be a mature child of God, living up to the "complete standard of Christ"? Or do you need to get back in the lab for more serious R&D?
Monday, April 12, 2010
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Friday, April 9, 2010
Today one of my friends on Twitter posted the following tweet:
"I find that ducks’ opinion of me is greatly influenced by whether or not I have bread."
If you've ever seen ducks at a park, they come running toward human beings in hope they've brought some bread crumbs. They can be very approachable and engaging if you have something to feed them. BUT, if you don't, they quickly wander off, preferring instead to swim in the pond or otherwise do their own thing. They lose interest if there isn't any bread.
I loved the tweet because it immediately made me think of how some Christians respond to Christ. We run to God when He has blessings for us, but we quickly lose interest when He isn't bringing some goodies.
Yet, what do we bring to God? Why is it that we so often expect God to show up with a bundle of blessings for us? After all, who owes who?
We expect God to provide relationships that last and enrich, work that fulfills and prospers us, problem-free children, a constantly full pantry, a middle-class bank account, perfect traffic flow during rush hour, and health that gives long life and a pleasant death in our sleep when we're the oldest citizen in our town.
But again, what do we bring God?
Thursday, April 8, 2010
I'm watching danger!
Actually I'm watching cars hurtling down a freeway in the San Francisco bay area. Driving can be a dangerous thing, especially considering the number of people who are sending text messages, applying make-up, or eating while trying to steer their vehicle at 70 miles an hour. It's safer to fly!
Air transportation is actually quite safe when compared to traveling by car. But there was a time a few decades ago when flying wasn't quite as safe, and safety wasn't taken quite as seriously. In fact, in the early years of the airline transportation industry, airline companies had quietly established a practice that if one of their planes crashed, a team of employees closest to the scene were immediately dispatched to the crash site with a specific objective: paint over the company logo on the airplane before any press arrived. The airline companies didn't want the evening news broadcasting a crash scene with their logo visible to all watching. Newspaper headlines with a photo of a crashed plane and the company's emblem emblazoned across the front page wasn't good for business.
But airplanes do occasionally crash. Automobile drivers often have wrecks. And human beings often fail.
Unfortunately, too often when we fail, we respond more like the airline companies of yesterday. Jeremiah writes about this problem in Jeremiah 8:4-7:
4 “Jeremiah, say to the people, ‘This is what the Lord says:
“‘When people fall down, don’t they get up again?
When they discover they’re on the wrong road, don’t they turn back?
5 Then why do these people stay on their self-destructive path?
Why do the people of Jerusalem refuse to turn back?
They cling tightly to their lies
and will not turn around.
6 I listen to their conversations
and don’t hear a word of truth.
Is anyone sorry for doing wrong?
Does anyone say, “What a terrible thing I have done”?
No! All are running down the path of sin
as swiftly as a horse galloping into battle!
7 Even the stork that flies across the sky
knows the time of her migration,
as do the turtledove, the swallow, and the crane.a]">[a]
They all return at the proper time each year.
But not my people!
They do not know the Lord’s laws."
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Yesterday morning my attention was suddenly captured by what had to be the largest humming bird I have ever seen.
Seeing the creature wasn't a surprise, but what was surprising was that I actually noticed the bird.
I'm not a "bird person." For some reason, I've just never taken an interest in birds. I know some people who are "birders" and can spend an entire day bird watching. On occasion, when I really focus on the little creatures, I can find them fascinating. But I've never really been inclined to spend any time looking for, or at them.
Realizing this made me think of how we take notice of the people around us. We give our attention to certain persons we value --- family, friends, associates --- but most of the other people around us simply flutter in the background, not gaining our attention or interest. Kind of like humming birds we never see.
What's interesting is how differently God sees both birds and people than we do.
Take, for example, the sparrow, considered one of the most "basic" or simple of birds. Look at how God sees them: "What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it" (Matthew 10:29).
Wow! Not even a sparrow escapes the attention of God! He cares for even the simplest of birds! But look closely at the next two verses in that same passage, and see how God looks at His human creation: "30 And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows" (Matthew 10:30-31).
To number the "hairs on a head" (of which the average person has about 100,000) is to take intense interest. God has shown how intensely He cares for us by giving His Son as a sacrifice for us. But He doesn't limit His care to humanity, it extends even to the littlest sparrow.
How are you at noticing the people who flutter in the background of your life? People like the guy who bags your groceries, the person who takes your toll at a toll booth, the cashier at the 7-11? Are these "extras" in life that you really never notice, or do you take time to find them as valuable as anyone else?
When I took time yesterday to watch that large humming bird, I realized I was seeing a thing of fascinating beauty. How much more so when we see the people all around us, created in God's image, all of whom God sacrificed for.
Monday, April 5, 2010
Currently I'm going through a time of transition that is probably the most challenging and difficult time I've ever experienced in my life. And I've had some challenges!
In spite of the difficulty, the one area of my life that remains strong is my personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Throughout the challenges, I'm fully aware of God's constant love and care for me. Because of this, I've had several people ask me how I can be so calm in the middle of such a huge "storm" of life.
Circumstances have changed, God hasn't.
Regardless of the difficulties seemingly constantly hurled my way, God remains constant. He is always there, always caring, always walking through every challenge with me. His faithfulness motivates steadfastness from me. And my relationship with Christ is an eternal one, not a circumstantial one.
Many of the people I've worked with as both a minister and counselor struggle with having a circumstantial relationship with God. They love and appreciate Him when things are comfortable. When things get tough, they stress out and their faith turns to doubt. When ease becomes challenge, their faith turns to fear. When abundance becomes need, they blame God for letting them get into that situation.
The key these people are missing is this vital piece of information: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).
When relationships, jobs, health, finances, or any aspect of life becomes difficult, even painful, it is circumstances that have changed, not God! God remains the same. He remains faithful to us. His love remains constant. His commitment to us is the same. So doubting, blaming, becoming angry with, or even turning from God just because circumstances have changed is beyond silly, it's actually selfish. God hasn't promised a life of ease, He's promised a life of love ... that He would love and lead us through every step in this life.
Remembering that Jesus Christ never changes enables you to just smile and laugh with God when something new goes wrong or becomes hard. Why? Because you know no matter what the new difficulty is, God will be there with His perfect love, all-encompassing care, perfect knowledge and unmatchable power to see you through yet another trial.
Changing circumstances can be hard, painful, even dreadful. That, friends, is a part of life lived in a broken world. But changing circumstances don't have to have any negative affect on your relationship with Jesus Christ. If anything, they should enhance it as you demonstrate steadfastness while God demonstrates His faithfulness.
Is your relationship with Jesus Christ a circumstantial one, or a steadfast one?