Saturday, July 31, 2010

Effective leaders ride shotgun ...

It had already been a crazy but productive day, yet I still had an important presentation to make before the night was over. The day had been so full I found myself not quite finished prepping a few of the materials I would need for tonight's meeting. Fortunately, one of my team members was with me and he asked if there was anything he could do to help.

"Yes," I answered, as I tossed him the keys to my car. "Drive!"

I hopped into the passenger seat in the front of the car and, using the drive time to the meeting location, had enough time to complete my prep and even a couple minutes to relax before arriving and starting a busy evening.

By turning the wheel over to someone else, I was able to get done what I needed to (which would also help my team), and also allowed someone to do something they were good at (a great assistant providing assistance).

My long day turned out to be successful not because of all the things I accomplished, but because of the many things several people accomplished. That's because effective leaders know to purposely look for opportunities to "ride shotgun."

In order to build, motivate, lead and support a successful team, effective leaders don't spend their time basking in the spotlight. That will only result in being highly unproductive and unsuccessful. Great teams coalesce around a shared vision, but that vision becomes reality only by the best use of the talents of each team member.

To achieve the objectives of your organization, there are times when others need to shine by bringing their talent, skills, and experience front and center. Great leaders know when to put the spotlight on others and assist them in bringing their A game.

It's natural that leaders want to be out front leading the way. But sometimes, we help our teams progress more by stepping aside and letting others drive for a while. By doing so, we:
  • Provide an outlet for the contribution of others to be spotlighted and received in a broader context.
  • Provide a key opportunity for other leaders to contribute in ways in which we are not gifted, talented, or experienced in.
  • Provide an opportunity for other leaders to gain additional leadership experience.
  • By giving the wheel to others, they feel a greater responsibility and commitment to the team and its goals when they take the lead. They share in steering the team on its journey.
  • When others are leading, leaders are working. Occasionally taking the passenger seat provides a leader an opportunity to focus on the basic "nuts and bolts" work they need to give attention to.
  • Purposely looking for opportunities to ride shotgun helps keep a leader humble. It provides a reminder there is a lot of talent on the team and everything doesn't rely on the work of one person.
  • Stepping aside so others can drive is an additional way of recognizing their importance to the team.
  • Sometimes, you simply need a break. By letting others take the wheel, you can catch your breath and rest up so you can lead energetically as the journey progresses.
Because I like cars and enjoy driving, I've never really liked being a passenger. But there are times when its been to the benefit of myself and others for me to ride shotgun. On occasion, I've actually enjoyed and even preferred it! But when it comes to leadership, I've discovered it's a great joy to create opportunity to ride along with those I lead.


Friday, July 30, 2010

Crashes, glitches and faith ...

My laptop computer is going through extended death throes. In fact, it actually died once and is now running off of a miraculous resurrection!

But this past week was a rough tech week. On one day alone, my laptop crashed 15 times! On other days, I lost a tremendous amount of time between the poor functioning of the computer and the glitchiness of programs. At times, I had to wonder if battling all the glitches was worth what I was trying to accomplish, yet I rely on a computer and internet access as primary tools for much of what I do.

I couldn't help but see the correlation between the technical glitches I experienced and how "glitchy" Christians often tend to be. On Sunday mornings, they look good, act good, and smell good, but any time after worship service you never know what you might experience from them. Glitches strike! They don't always look so good, act so good, or even smell so good. Many become wholly unreliable.

James addresses this rift of consistency in James 1:5-8, "5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do."

If God wanted to use you as a primary tool for His work in this world, like a person uses a computer and the internet as primary tools, would you be a stable and efficient source to achieve His will, or would you be a frustratingly "glitchy" tool that works sometimes, but routinely crashes?


It's your call ...

It seemed as if all the blood drained from the face of one of my older sisters, immediately turning her complexion a paste white. Her mouth fell open as her right hand flew upward and clutched at her heart while her left hand pushed the phone from her ear. For a few seconds she couldn't breathe or speak.

"Tammy, Scotty ... Mom died today," was all my sister was able to finally muster as she stood there in complete astonishment. My other sister and I took the words as if someone hit us with a brick.

It was a telephone call that would change my life profoundly.

I've had some significant phone calls since then but perhaps none as personally impacting as that one when, as a young teenager, I learned about the sudden and unexpected death of my mother.

We tend to expect life to flow and make changes a little easier than that. But the truth is, we live just a telephone call away from radical change. With just a phone call, we can find ourselves facing losses and pain that a moment before seemed unimaginable. With just a phone call, we could face opportunity greater than we had ever hoped for. With just a phone call, we could lose all opportunity on which we were placing our hopes.

We do not know what the next phone call will be, yet we live without any consideration that all we have is this moment. Not only is there no guarantee for tomorrow, there's no promise we'll see the end of this day.

James speaks to this issue in James 4:13-16, "13 Look here, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.' 14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. 15 What you ought to say is, 'If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.' 16 Otherwise you are boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil."

It is wise to make reasonable plans for future possibilities, yet instead of doing that we often get ahead of ourselves. Instead of being prudent about potential, we run away with our own dreams and desires, turning them into expectations that we structure our lives around. That often leads us to the next point James makes in the very next verse of chapter four:

"Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it" (James 4:17).

The possibility of a tragic call is greatly reduced when we live fully in the moment, doing what we know God would have us do now, with appropriate planning and action toward what is our best understanding of what God may bring to us as a future. But when we spend our days with our heads and hearts in an unpromised future, missing out on what we should be doing today, we can anticipate greater troubles in our lives.

Life will bring challenges, complete with phone calls we don't want but have no control over. But we don't have to compound our difficulties by living in daydreams rather than living out life.

Are you ready for the next call that could come your way? Or are you missing what God has for you now as you chase desires for a tomorrow that may never come?


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How does your list compare?

I bet you could add to the following list:
  • Parents.
  • Spouse.
  • Family members.
  • Friends.
  • Teachers.
  • Minister.
  • Physician.
  • Personal Trainer.
  • Counselor.
  • Boss.
  • Co-workers.
  • Mentor.
  • Coaches.
  • Financial advisor.
  • Accountant.
  • Small group members ...
... and so goes the list. What kind of list is it? It's the variety of people who are put into our lives to help, bless, and guide us that we almost routinely don't listen to.

The average person will have numerous people come into, or pass through, their lives, many of whom could benefit and bless them greatly if only they would let them. Yet, many start their relationships by pushing against what others try to bring to them.

This pushing against others starts early in life. When the parent wants to help the small child with tasks they can't yet do for themselves, the child becomes angry and yells, "Let me do it!" (it isn't just a desire to do it for himself, the child wants it done his way). And many keep yelling that throughout their lives.

They yell it at the teachers who try to help them learn, the coach who tries to build their skills, the physician who tries to guide them to health, the Personal Trainer who tries to instruct them to fitness, the friend who tries to steer them to safety, the pastor who tries to point them to God, the boss who tries to lead them to success, the spouse who tries to encourage them to love, and so many others who can help them take a step forward in their lives.

Even when we initiate the interaction with others, such as when a person calls a friend to tell them about something going on in their lives, often the initial response is to push against the very friend they called (at least initially).

Unless people finally come to see this instinct to initially push away at others, they will miss much of the positive contribution people can bring to their lives. Even more, they will miss many of the blessings God has for them that He brings to them through the interaction with others.

Maybe you've heard a variation of the story about the fellow stuck on an island as the river rose. A rescue team threw him a rope and he refused to grab it because “God saves." The river rose and the rescue team sent a boat to him and he refused to get in because “God saves." The river rose and he climbed a flag pole and a helicopter came by to pick him up, yet he refused to get in because “God saves." The man finally drowned and when he stood before God, he was angry. “Why didn’t you save me?” he screamed out. God looked at him and said, “I sent you a rope, a boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?”

What more do you want?

"You don't understand," many say, "I've been hurt and disappointed when I've let others into my life."

Ah, therein lies the problem: the fear of being hurt, disappointed, misled or used by others because we all have been. This also started early in life, and even the people we are the closest to have hurt or disappointed us at some time, in some way. So we've conditioned ourselves to initially push away until we think we can trust.

What's a better response? Instead of reacting with fear by pushing away until we think it's safe to embrace others, we can start simply by listening, then evaluating, and then responding. This removes the "push" in our relationships and helps us to miss out less on the blessing others can be to us.

Are there people in your life who could be a blessing and a help to you if only you would stop pushing away? How responsive are you to God Himself? Are you embracing the grace, forgiveness, and direction of the Lord, or holding Him at arms length with others?


Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Four-wheeled Bible thumper?

It looks so holy, seeing that big study Bible in the car. But appearances are often deceiving.

I'm referring to those Christians who put their Bible in the car so they won't forget to take it with them to church services on Sunday. The problem with that for some? They "forget" to take the Bible out of the car after church so they can use it during the week.

There the Bible sits, baking in the heat of the car throughout the week. Unused. Unread. But available to be carried into the church building on Sundays, where it's opened briefly once a week.

People who walk by the car are impressed that someone takes their Bible with them. Some drivers-by feel a little guilty when they see someone else traveling with their Bible.

But again, appearances can be deceptive.

The sad thing for "Bible-in-the-car" Christians is their autos get closer to God's Word on a daily basis than do the drivers!

Isn't it time to make the Word of God something more than a dash ornament?

Having a Bible nearby but unused is like sitting next to an oasis while you thirst to death! To really travel through life guided by God's Word, you have to be in it every day. Isn't it time to either buy a Bible to put in the car, or take the one in the car out of the vehicle and actually study it, learn it, and live by it?

What are you doing with your Bible: decorating with it, or learning and living it?


Saturday, July 24, 2010

It's a big world ...

"People watching" is one of my favorite things to do.

Often I can learn some profound things about humanity just by observing people ... and people watching can be highly entertaining as well!

Recently I was watching a father with his young son. The father patiently watched and assisted his son as he played and explored, but he allowed his son to do things for himself as much as possible. At one point, they took a break to have a snack and the boy wanted some water from a pitcher they had brought, so the father stepped forward and helped his son. The boy looked up at his father with a questioning expression on his face. Seeing his son's gaze, the father said to the boy, "You're too little to do this alone, so I'll help you."

It's funny how those words hit me, as I thought that's very much how God interacts with us. He's a loving, relational, observant Father who allows us a lot of room to do things on our own. But sometimes --- if not often --- we're just "too little" for the things we need to do and the things we have to face. Often, we need the help of our heavenly Father.

Psalm 103:13-14 states, "13 The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. 14 For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust."


Friday, July 23, 2010

A tip for actually achieving change ...

Change does not happen by accident.

It's not something that falls on you from the sky or someone else can accomplish for you. You can't buy it, and God won't force it on you.

Real change not only requires choice, but a true choice that comes complete with the willingness to do what it takes to achieve the desired change. That often means --- cough, choke, gasp --- actually having to consistently apply discipline and self-control to achieve the results you're striving for.

If you're willing to do that, then let me give you one tip that can be helpful in achieving change: schedule it.

That's right, schedule the change you want to make in your life.
In the pursuit of change, your calendar can be a best friend, so long as you actually use it with diligence.

If becoming fit is a change goal, schedule workouts and other activities in your calender that can help you accomplish your objective, then follow your schedule. If spiritual growth is a key change goal, schedule in your calendar those things that contribute to spiritual growth: specific time for personal Bible study, for prayer, for being involved with a small group, for serving in your church and community ... schedule it!

If you want to deepen relationships, make time in your schedule for people. If you want to sharpen professional skills, plan time for reading, attending conferences, and other skill-building activities.

If you're really serious about change, scheduling the action that it takes to actually accomplish change is a diligent step toward achieving change so long as you follow your schedule.

Let's take this one step further: using your calendar, you can actually create a "life template" for yourself. This entails starting by defining all the essential things you want to accomplish every day, then putting those on your calendar for every day actions. For example, you may want "spiritual time" on a daily basis, which could include time for personal Bible study, prayer, worship and praise, and service. Likewise, you will want time with family and friends, and professional (work) time. I hope you want some time for exercise every day! Whatever are the key elements of your life that you want to experience on a daily basis, put them in your calendar every day.

You can do the same for change you want to achieve on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis. What's something you want to change in your life this month or this quarter? What's a big item that you want to change within the next year? Put these things into action steps on your calendar.

By scheduling the change you want to bring about in your life on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis, you have created a "life template" that includes all the things you want to change and have as your new reality ... so long as you follow your schedule!

A common response to this tip is someone saying, "I don't like being so regimented, I can't do that." Yes you can. The idea is not to build regimentation into your life, it's about being serious enough about change to commit yourself and your time to take the action necessary to truly achieve change.

Again, change does not happen by accident, it takes making the choice, then taking the action. We often fail to take the action because we do not plan for and make time for it ... so schedule it!


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Now here's the question for you ...

To help churches assess the impact they are making on their communities, many church leaders are asking the question, "If this local church was suddenly removed from this community, would the community notice?"

It's a great question for churches to ask. After all, reaching and serving the community for Christ is why the church is there.

But let's refine the question a little. A church isn't a building or a faceless, lifeless organization. It's a fellowship of individual persons who come together to comprise God's family where they are at. So, to sharpen the first question, each follower of Christ should ask:

"If I were removed from this local church, would my absence make any difference?"

In one sense, yes. Each Christian is a vital part of the body of Christ. No one can be "you" in the body. But, what are you bringing to the body? What are you contributing to the local church that would make your absence felt and missed? Are you connected in the fellowship of the local body and do you contribute to it?


Monday, July 19, 2010

Untapped accounts ...

Imagine trying to live life with a hefty bank account without ever tapping into it.

Now that would be difficult!

How would you buy groceries, pay the rent or mortgage, put clothes on your back, take the kids to the doctor and see them through school without being able to withdraw resources from your account? You couldn't, and you would suffer mightily for it.

That's similar to what the church is experiencing today. God has blessed Christians in great ways, yet many refuse to tap into the resources He has provided for them to use in service to Him.

Here are three key ways Christians today are not using God's blessings to reach the lost:

1. Untapped Talent - The church is brimming with men and women who have great talents that could benefit the mission of the church, yet we struggle to get anyone to be willing to hand out bulletins at the door. I know many gifted and talented people who say things like, "I'm waiting for the kids to grow up" or "I'm waiting for things to calm down at work" or "I'm waiting for my schedule to open up" before they will fully use their talents for the kingdom of God. In the process of waiting, the church --- and the world --- suffers.

Luke 8:16 says, "No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house." Just as a lamp isn't blessed with light to be hidden away, Christians aren't blessed by God with talent only to be used in all areas other than the church. God's design is for each of us to draw fully on our talent account to build the kingdom of God.

2. Untapped Capacity - Luke 12:16-20 says, "
16 Then he told them a story: A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’"

Many Christians are like the farmer: they have full barns, but instead of putting to use that capacity for building the kingdom of God, they're busy building greater capacity! They're waiting on getting "enough" before they draw from their capacity account. The problem is arriving at a place when we think we finally have enough.

3. Untapped Intentions - As we're fine tuning our talents and building our capacity, we develop ideas as to how we will, some day, use these things for God. We have good intentions.

In Luke 9:57-62 we read this: "57 As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' 58 But Jesus replied, 'Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.' 59 He said to another person, 'Come, follow me.' The man agreed, but he said, 'Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.' 60 But Jesus told him, 'Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.' 61 Another said, 'Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.' 62 But Jesus told him, 'Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God'.”

The problem is, serving God becomes just one of many good intentions. Too often, in our busy-ness of doing good things, we fail to tap into the good intention of building the kingdom.

The church has what it needs to build God's kingdom, but those resources are stored in you and me. The question is, when will we open the taps?

Are you fully applying your talents in the building of God's kingdom? Are you putting to use your capacity for reaching the lost and building up the church? Are you harboring, or living out, good intentions?


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Are you a squealer or a blanket?

Parents beware: your children will squeal on you!

On several occasions during my ministry, especially when working in Christian education ministries, I've had young children suddenly share with a class or group something their parents had said or done. It was usually a younger child sharing something they thought was funny or unusual without fully understanding what they were saying might be quite embarassing --- or incriminating! --- for the parent.

On the other hand, I have also seen numerous teens and adults attempt to share something about someone with the intent of embarassing or hurting the other person. It was more with this mindset that we see one of Noah's sons squealing on him. The story is told in Genesis 9:20-27:

"20 After the flood, Noah began to cultivate the ground, and he planted a vineyard. 21 One day he drank some wine he had made, and he became drunk and lay naked inside his tent. 22 Ham, the father of Canaan, saw that his father was naked and went outside and told his brothers. 23Then Shem and Japheth took a robe, held it over their shoulders, and backed into the tent to cover their father. As they did this, they looked the other way so they would not see him naked."

"24 When Noah woke up from his stupor, he learned what Ham, his youngest son, had done. 25 Then he cursed Canaan, the son of Ham: 'May Canaan be cursed! May he be the lowest of servants to his relatives.”

"26 Then Noah said, 'May the Lord, the God of Shem, be blessed, and may Canaan be his servant! 27 May God expand the territory of Japheth! May Japheth share the prosperity of Shem, and may Canaan be his servant'.”

When Ham saw the behavior of his father, he had a choice to make regarding what to do with this knowledge: because of love for his father, he could keep the information private and, like his brothers did, cover his father's nakedness so no one else would be able to see Noah in such a drunken stupor, or he could shine a light on Noah's plight by telling others.

Ham decided to tell. Even though he told only his two brothers, doing so exposed his father's poor behavior to others who would not have known had Ham kept quiet. By telling his brothers, Ham expanded Noah's shame.

Some Bible scholars believe Ham, or possibly his son Canaan, may have been guilty of sinful behavior with Noah while in his drunken state. Whether or not that is the case, Ham didn't find it a problem to shine a light on his father's behavior.

We often find ourselves in a situation where we become aware of the sins of others. What do we do with that knowledge?

1 Peter 4:8 says, "Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins." The word used for "cover" in this verse means to literally conceal so that it is not visible. It does not mean that we tolerate sin, but rather that we do not broadcast the sins of others.

Many today are like Ham, when they see the sins of others they spotlight what they have seen, often under the guise of seeking advice about what to do with the information. Yet, when it is their own sin, they prefer others to be more like Shem and Japheth, who walked backwards with a robe to avoid seeing their father in his nakedness, and to provide a covering for him.

How do you handle the sins of others? Do you expand their shame by sharing it with others? Or do you respond with a blanket of love?


Friday, July 16, 2010

When strength fails ...

People who work as emergency responders and in other fields dealing with crises sometimes have a better understanding that "normal" isn't life without trouble, but that trouble is a routine part of life.

In fact, Job 5:7 says, "People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire."

That's why we have police officers, fire fighters, EMT's, hospitals, armies, counselors, coaches, and a host of others who spend much of their time dealing with the troubles people face. Yet, for some reason, we tend to think that life should be an uninterrupted experience of bliss, and we struggle for response when things go bad.

We see that struggle reflected in the life of Heman the Ezrahite as recorded in Psalm 88.

Heman was a blessed man. 1 Chronicles 25:4-5 says "... God had honored him with fourteen sons and three daughters." In Old Testament times, a large family was a key means of building wealth. In addition to this, Heman was a musician who played the cymbal, and was appointed by King David as one of the worship leaders for Israel, "... Asaph, Jeduthun, and Heman reported directly to the king" (1 Chronicles 25:6b). We see that Heman was one of the worship leaders who celebrated the arrival of the ark in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:17-19).

Heman was a family man who was a prominent spiritual and political figure, blessed by God. Yet something went terribly wrong in Heman's life. From the height of helping lead God's people in worship, we see a life filled with pain as Heman cries out to God in the words of Psalm 88:

1 O Lord, God of my salvation,
I cry out to you by day.
I come to you at night.
2 Now hear my prayer;
listen to my cry.
3 For my life is full of troubles,
and death draws near.
4 I am as good as dead,
like a strong man with no strength left.
5 They have left me among the dead,
and I lie like a corpse in a grave.
I am forgotten,
cut off from your care.
6 You have thrown me into the lowest pit,
into the darkest depths.
7 Your anger weighs me down;
with wave after wave you have engulfed me.

8 You have driven my friends away
by making me repulsive to them.
I am in a trap with no way of escape.
9 My eyes are blinded by my tears.
Each day I beg for your help, O Lord;
I lift my hands to you for mercy.
10 Are your wonderful deeds of any use to the dead?
Do the dead rise up and praise you?

11 Can those in the grave declare your unfailing love?
Can they proclaim your faithfulness in the place of destruction?
12 Can the darkness speak of your wonderful deeds?
Can anyone in the land of forgetfulness talk about your righteousness?
13 O Lord, I cry out to you.
I will keep on pleading day by day.
14 O Lord, why do you reject me?
Why do you turn your face from me?

15 I have been sick and close to death since my youth.
I stand helpless and desperate before your terrors.
16 Your fierce anger has overwhelmed me.
Your terrors have paralyzed me.
17 They swirl around me like floodwaters all day long.
They have engulfed me completely.
18 You have taken away my companions and loved ones.
Darkness is my closest friend.

We don't know what went wrong for Heman, but it was a substantial change of life for him to write "... darkness is my closest friend." Verses 10-12 show that Heman longs to return to service, he simply wants to again be able to proclaim the glory of the Lord. Instead, we read his penetrating words in verse 4b, "... like a strong man with no strength left."

Those words remind me of a client I once had when I was doing personal training at a gym. I was approached one morning by a man who was a mountain of muscles. He explained he thought the results of his training regimen had plateaued, so he was looking for a Personal Trainer who could challenge him physically. I took up the challenge, and by midway through our session together, this strong man was covered in sweat, panting heavily, and needing to take a break. He was "a strong man with no strength left."

That's how Heman felt. The troubles in his life that he had wrestled with left him weak, feeling as if all his strength had been drained. But notice, Heman didn't give up. Instead,
"My eyes are blinded by my tears. Each day I beg for your help, O Lord; I lift my hands to you for mercy" (verse 9) and "O Lord, I cry out to you. I will keep on pleading day by day" (verse 13).

What this worship leader helps us understand is that, when things go wrong, when times are bleak and our strength is gone, we can still lift our hands to the Lord and cry out to Him. We don't have to pretend that everything is "good" or "alright," but we can take our pain, hurt, fear and weakness to Him as our unending source of strength.

In fact, Jesus Himself urged those who are burdened to go to Him: "28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light'" (Matthew 11:28-30).

Have you ever felt like a strong man with no strength left? How do you handle those times of weakness in your life? What can you do to tap into our unending source of strength found only in God?


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

What are you doing with your stuff?

The bent to keep our "stuff" for ourselves while wanting to indulge in the "stuff" of others starts young.

Do you remember as a child hanging out with another kid ... they wanted to play with your toys, which you absolutely did not want to share. BUT, you wanted to play with their toys, which they didn't want to share. Even at that young age, we want our "stuff" for ourselves, and some of the stuff of others also!

We are so attached to keeping our stuff for ourselves that the self-storage business has grown into a $20 billion industry. That's right, people pay billions upon billions of dollars annually to rent a place where they can keep their stuff for themselves, even though they aren't using it! As we "grow up," we often don't grow more generous, we still want our stuff for ourselves, along with some of the stuff of others.

That's an attitude very opposite of what Jesus taught us to have as recorded in Matthew 6:19-21: "19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be."

What are you doing with your "stuff"? How are you storing up a treasure in heaven? How does what you're doing with your stuff demonstrate the desires of your heart?


Saturday, July 10, 2010

The discipline of a slug ...

There is nothing attractive about a snail, and they don't make fun pets, but that didn't stop me from playing with them when I was a kid.

Well, I really didn't "play" with them, it was more like pestering them. As a kid, I was fascinated with how determined these slugs were. I would occasionally see a snail (which is a slug) making its way very, very slowly to a safer destination, and I would "re-route" it. The soft, slimy bodies of slugs are prone to desiccation, so in warmer temperatures they are forced to retreat to moist environments and damp hiding places when the weather is dry. No matter how many times I pointed the slug in a different direction, it slowly turned around and, once again, headed for a safe place.

I actually learned something from those gross little creatures, and that is: if you apply the discipline of a slug, you can overcome sin.

In Titus 2:11-12, we're instructed to turn from sin: "11 For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people. 12 And we are instructed to turn from godless living and sinful pleasures. We should live in this evil world with wisdom, righteousness, and devotion to God ..."

The Christian life is kind of like that slug trying to make its way to a safe place for its survival, there's a lot of things that may try to re-route or pester us from going where we're headed. But regardless of what gets in our way, or how many times someone or something tries to re-route us, we need to apply the simple-minded discipline and determination of a slug by persistently pursuing the course to safety.

If a tiny slug can overcome all kinds of obstacles by applying the discipline to constantly keep correcting its course, how much more can we accomplish as children of God? Paul wrote to Timothy, "But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness" (1 Timothy 6:11).

Paul's message to Timothy wasn't simply to run from evil, but also to pursue --- like with the stubborn discipline of a slug --- a righteous, godly life.

Overcoming sin requires the exercise of self-discipline, but we have a much greater power than our own efforts to help ensure we really can overcome any obstacle that comes our way. Paul describes this in Galatians 5:16-25:

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses."

"19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God."

"22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!"

"24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives."

The Holy Spirit leads, enables, and empowers us to be able to overcome any obstacle to righteous living. We simply have to have the "discipline of a slug" to constantly correct our course to that of the Holy Spirit's leading.

How do you handle obstacles to righteous living? What role does discipline play in your life in making sure you're following the direction of the Holy Spirit rather than being re-routed? How persistent are you in checking, and correcting, your course to that of the Spirit's leading?


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Taming your inner wild child ...

Have you ever had someone visit your home who brought their children with them, only for them to sit idly by while their kids terrorized your home?

That wouldn't be acceptable for a friend of mine.

He and his wife love kids and invite their friends to bring their children with them when they come to visit. However, upon arrival, my friend and his wife present their visitors with a welcome note they give to all visitors with children. It explains their children are welcome in their home, BUT their are "house rules" which all children must abide by. They are allowed to play in the living room, family room, or a specific bedroom that has several toys and games and room for kids to play. They can play in the back yard only if a parent is outside with them to supervise. And no running or throwing things in their home. Parents are asked to ensure the house rules are observed by their children, and beyond that, they're all welcome and hope they enjoy themselves fully while there.

I love that idea!

The reason why is because it graciously welcomes people into their home, but explains upfront that the home has standards that are expected from everyone.

The same goes for the kingdom of God. For some reason, many tend to think in God's kingdom they can be like the parent who allows their children to act like a bull in a china shop when visiting someone else's home, except this time they are the wild child! They very quickly discover that while God gives us free will, He does not give us free reign. We're born again into His kingdom, His family, and we're in His "household." We continue to think for ourselves, but God still sets the standard. There are behaviors that are not appropriate for us in His family, and He makes that clear from the outset.

For example, look closely at what Paul writes in Ephesians 4:20-32:

"20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy."

"25 So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26 And 'don’t sin by letting anger control you.' Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil."

"28 If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29 Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them."

"30 And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption."

"31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you."

That's just one example of God communicating to His children that our behavior needs to conform to the standard of His household. There are many other passages that help us understand His expectations for us, but they're easily summed up with Paul's exhortation in Ephesians 4:1, which simply but clearly states: "Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God."

As you live out your life as God's child in His kingdom, are you like the child who conforms to the will of the parent's standard, or more like the wild child who no one wants a visit from?


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Even better than a great idea ...

What's a primary difference between visionary leaders who consistently achieve great results, and good leaders with great ideas?

Conceptual thinking.

You can have a room full of leaders who brainstorm a list of great ideas, but generating the greatest of ideas that never become reality is to achieve nothing. Further, a single idea may accomplish a simple feat, but great concepts lead to great change that achieve profound results.

Notice that Jesus wasn't a "great idea" guy. His teaching wasn't about this great idea and that great idea. He taught in whole concepts that led to significant change and transforming results.

For example, in His Commission to the church, Jesus didn't simply suggest it would be a good idea to have Bible studies. Instead, He taught us to go make disciples ... that they should be baptized and taught to observe everything He has commanded us. His teaching was a whole concept, rather than a simplistic idea that would have dramatically less results. Bible studies are great and necessary, but they aren't the entirety of what it takes to make a disciple. Yet, what renders the greater result: a person in a Bible study, or a person in a discipleship process?

The same goes for relationships. We may expect too much from a simple idea, a simple step taken in a relationship, because it's not a whole approach to desired results. For example, you may go on "date night" with your spouse once a week, expecting that act to keep the romance alive in your relationship. Yet, if that's all you do to keep the romance alive, you'll probably be disappointed. Romance takes more than a date night, and should be approached as a whole concept rather than one good idea.

A good leader might be the guy who comes up with some good ideas, and achieves turning them into reality, but the outcomes are limited. Great leaders stretch beyond ideas to entire concepts, with more profound results being achieved.

Are you leading your organization to limited success by pursuing good ideas? Or are you going from one level to the next, and beyond, by working whole concepts to more dramatic conclusions?


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Hold the lettuce ...

You're at home, sprawled on the couch watching television, and you're hungry when "that" commercial comes on.

You know, the commercial of the guy biting into the latest, biggest, tastiest hamburger at your favorite fast food joint. You can see barbeque sauce fly and cheese drip when the actor bites into the burger that obviously takes two hands to handle.

That's it, you grab your car keys, wallet, and cell phone and out the front door you go. You just gotta have that burger!

Minutes later you walk into the fast food restaurant and there it is, the big picture of the new hamburger in all its culinary delight. The picture highlights the two thick, all-beef patties, the fresh onion piled high, covered with two large slices of tomato and slices of pickle, all drowning in cheese and barbeque sauce. You find it hard to place your order from the drool induced as you continue to stare at what will soon be the delight of your stomach.

Thirty seconds later you're handed a bag. Wow, that was fast, you think as you slide into a booth while reaching in for the burger. You unwrap it faster than a present on Christmas morning, and you're immediately disappointed.

Another "lettuce sandwich."

Instead of a delicious new burger piled high with condiments, you get a huge chunk of iceburg lettuce with a couple meat patties that have been microwaved to slightly larger than the size of a couple quarters, with a single pickle, a dried tomato, and the stain of barbeque sauce on one of the buns.

It's mostly a lettuce sandwich. Iceburg lettuce, which has almost no nutritional value.

You've been fooled again.

In the past, the new burger was a lettuce sandwich. The new chicken sandwich was a lettuce sandwich. The new taco, burrito, and healthy "wrap" were all lettuce sandwiches. What you actually got was never like the commercials or photos of food offerings, the product you got for the money you spent was very different: a lot of useless lettuce with little other product.

Skimping on the more expensive items like meat and fresh vegetables helps restaurant owners reduce their costs, which increases their profits. The problem is, it enrages the customers who are drawn into the restaurants by advertisements of delicious foods, only to be served up a whole lot of cheap lettuce on a bun.

That's the same feeling many people have walking into a worship service on Sunday morning. They've received the direct mail from the church claiming this place is different. The preacher has tweeted and posted on Facebook all week long about how amazing the service will be. The website for the church says you won't be disappointed visiting here.

As you enter, the person assigned to stand at the door is the only person who says hello to you. You go through an ordinary service with ordinary musical talent, and hear an ordinary sermon that doesn't teach you anything more than what you could have gotten from reading the scripture text for the sermon on your own at home. No one says anything to you on your way out of the church, except for the same guy who's now holding the door open for you as you make your exit.

Your Sunday experience at church? Another lettuce sandwich.

There are a lot of hungry people out there who are longing for a real, significant experience with God and His family. There are many who are drooling for real "meat" of God's Word, loaded with fellowship, love, encouragement, care, and friendship. People who want what we say the church is all about, rather than the cheap replica they have too often received instead.

What are you serving up to the community? Are you delighting them with the Word and love of God? Or are you serving up lettuce sandwiches?


Monday, July 5, 2010

The future ain't what it used to be ...

In the movie "Back To The Future, Part 2" the character "Doc" sent the DeLorean (a flying car that served as a time machine) 25 years into the future ... July 5, 2010. That's right, that's today!

Yet a simple look around and you see we haven't quite yet achieved the futuristic ideas portrayed in the movie. We still don't have flying DeLoreans or, even more fun, hoverboards to get around on.

The "future" to people throughout the history of humanity has been a mixed bag. Sometimes, it has brought great things, great changes, and great improvement to many lives. Yet, the future has often been disappointing to many as well. The future has often fallen a little (if not a lot) short of what we have hoped for.

That's because we don't control the "future." We can, and do, contribute to it with our actions or lack there of, but there are other people and things that play into the molding of the future. So what tomorrow, a decade, or a millenium from now will actually be like, we can only guess.

However, there is a part of the future --- eternity --- that we have some real facts about. God's Word helps us get a grip on what our eternal future can really be like: a choice between perfection in everlasting communion with our Maker, or an eternal torture being separated from God. Our Creator has provided us with some specific facts about what everlasting life beyond this life can be like, and allows us to decide what future we will pursue for ourselves.

We work so hard to make tomorrow or next week be what we want it to be, but give so little attention to our eternity. We can only influence a small part of tomorrow's possibilities, but we can specifically lock in what our eternal existence will be like. What kind of consideration have you given to your eternal future? The Apostle Paul helps us understand that it should be a priority to us when he writes, "Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. 2 Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. 3 For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory" (Colossians 3:1-4).

Heaven is the eternal reward for all those who have embraced the grace of God and have surrendered their entire lives to Him. Hell is reserved for all those who do not. Have you settled the issue of your eternal future?