Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who's waiting on who?

By the way so many people complain about God being either silent or slow, you would think the Creator must be indifferent, deaf, or dead.

Fortunately, He's none of those things.

This frustration felt toward God comes more from a false concept of Christianity than it does from any act of neglect on God's part. Believers are constantly fed a line of teaching that infers being a follower of Christ is all about Him doing everything, and us waiting on Him to act.

Yet, a simple survey of scripture paints a very different picture.

The Bible teaches that following Christ requires a vigorous interaction with the Lord on our part. Throughout scripture, we see significant aspects of our faith predicated not only on action taken by God, but by ourselves as well.

Living the Christian life is not for the sedentary!

We see this when action is tied to a very big word in scripture: "if."

Check out these Bible passages and see how, from the beginning of scripture, they call us to be active with God:
  • "You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master," Genesis 4:7.
  • If you listen to these regulations and faithfully obey them, the Lord your God will keep his covenant of unfailing love with you, as he promised with an oath to your ancestors," Deuteronomy 7:12.
  • 14 If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. 15 But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins," Matthew 6:14-15.
  • “I also tell you this: If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you," Matthew 18:19.
  • "You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it," Matthew 21:22.
  • "Jesus said to the people who believed in him, 'You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings'," John 8:31.
  • If you love me, obey my commandments," John 14:15.
  • "You are my friends if you do what I command," John 15:14.
  • "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved," Romans 10:9.
  • "It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place," 1 Corinthians 15:2.
Could it be that God is neither silent, nor slow, but waiting ... on you?


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "Doing Virtuous Business" wanders away from theology into philosophy

"Doing Virtuous Business" is a book written by Theodore Roosevelt Malloch (published by Thomas Nelson) that does an admirable job of defending the virtues of a capitalist economy and society, but fails as a Christian apologetic for conducting business from the resource of spiritual capital.

Malloch works at defining what he calls "spiritual entrepreneurship" and the value of building "spiritual capital" and conducting business from a plethora of essential virtues (both "hard" and "soft") he describes in detail.

The premise of the book is stated simply by the author: "For years, I've paid close attention to something that fascinates me --- the ability of people with religious faith and spiritual commitment to make great successes of their businesses. Success comes to them, I believe, because faith changes business for the better, just as it changes lives." He also writes, "Without faith or hope, humankind simply exploits the natural world and leaves it weakened, threatened, and very much at risk."

Good thoughts, and ones he strives to substantiate. The problem is that Malloch's contention that he's making a Christian argument for doing virtuous business falls apart quickly when he states: "I write as a committed Christian, but what I say does not reflect a narrow or specifically sectarian Christian theology. Throughout the book I draw examples of virtue and spiritual enterprise from other faiths, and I heartily believe that spiritual enterprise is often conducted from Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and other perspectives, and that every religion and spiritual tradition offers blueprints for building spiritual capital in its own distinctive way," and in his last chapter before the conclusion he writes, "This book has admittedly been written from a Christian perspective, although in recognition that the gift of faith has been granted in other forms and through other channels."

With those and other such statements, I must disagree with Malloch on a biblical basis: the book wasn't written from a solely "Christian perspective." Malloch's work is a philosophy of business that is informed from his spiritual beliefs, but his view that "the gift of faith" comes through "... other forms and through other channels..." is not a Christian view. Jesus Christ gave us great clarity about Christianity with these simple words of His: "Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me'," John 14:6

From his view that any religion can be a source of spiritual capital, Malloch provides examples of how business leaders have succeeded in doing virtuous business from a variety of religions. As a means of introducing the story of Rumi Verjee, a Muslim businessman, Malloch begins by writing, "Nor are the spiritual virtues a monopoly of the Christian faith." He then tells Verjee's story and adds, "In everything thereafter, he felt himself guided by a higher power, to whom he prayed and in whom he trusted. Thanks to his faith, Verjee never lost hope that he would be able to reverse the disasters that had befallen him and his family."

It seems Malloch believes a Muslim praying to Allah is the same as a Christian praying to the one, true God. How, then, can Malloch claim he has presented an argument for doing virtuous business from a Christian perspective? Malloch muddles the word "spiritual" by leaving the reader to constantly question whether he means real Christian "spirituality" or the "spirituality" of the world that does not lead to Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation.

In the case of "Doing Virtuous Business," Malloch is a capable defender of capitalism, but not of Christianity. My concern for young Christians considering this book is the potential to be misled by concepts of "spirituality" that are not biblical. Otherwise, you may enjoy Malloch's capacity to de-bunk politically liberal arguments against capitalism.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their 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.”

Here's where many fail their faith ...

One of the single greatest factors to failing to live out one's faith is the inevitable moment of paying the cost for what you really believe.

While it is true that salvation through Jesus Christ is a free gift, living as a child of God will cost you dearly. One description of the cost of discipleship is provided by Jesus in His own words:

"34 Then, calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it'," Mark 8:34-35.

Facing the cost of your faith will reveal the real courage of your convictions. One of the best examples of this is how facing the cost of faith resulted in John the Baptist momentarily tottering with his conviction.

John the Baptist's conviction about Jesus was initally strong and plainly stated in John 1:29-34:

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. 33 I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God."

In John 3:22-36, we see John the Baptist exalting Christ, and minimizing himself. His faith was solid!

But the cost of his faith caused a twitch in John's conviction, at least briefly. John's preaching had rubbed King Herod and his family the wrong way, resulting in his being imprisoned. Facing the likelihood of losing his head for his faith, John the Baptist takes a step in an effort to be sure of what he believed:

"2 John the Baptist, who was in prison, heard about all the things the Messiah was doing. So he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, 3 'Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?'” Matthew 11:2-3.

When the cost of his faith was going to be his life, John the Baptist wavered for a moment. But only a moment. He would stick to his convictions and lose his head (literally!) for what he believed.

Believing all the right things about Jesus Christ might pack people into church pews, but being faced with paying the cost for actualizing their faith keeps most of those people sitting on their hands rather than serving in the streets.

It can be easy to intellectually "believe" in Jesus Christ. But to turn that into a reality fully realized in one's life comes with very real costs. It's at those moments when we come face-to-face with the cost of what we believe that we either solidify our faith, or surrender it in fear.

What is your response to the cost you face of living out a real faith?


Friday, June 24, 2011

Personal development is NOT discipleship!

"Hold in your mind the thing you most desire" is a tweet a "personal coach" just floated out onto the Twittersphere.

It's a common message in the world. It's even a common message in the church. In fact, a lot of preachers teach the same thing. The problem is, it's opposite of the most basic Christian teachings.

At some point, already long past, many preachers switched from teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and sound biblical doctrine to teaching the pursuit of dreams, of achieving personal goals, of chasing greatness, and justifying in their minds that generally teaching "personal development" was the same thing as biblical discipleship.

It's not.

Too many men who stand in pulpits today ... or, more accurately, sit on stools in front of congregations ... are primary contributors to the "it's all about me" attitude. That's because their teaching focus is more consistently about teaching people to dream a dream, and then pursue it at any cost. It might even be about crafting a "personal ministry" that is more about personal branding with a spiritual twist than it is about taking up one's own cross and following Jesus.

Seriously, when you look at the actual contents of the Bible, and compare it to the actual contents of many sermons today, you all too often find a massive discrepancy.

Where is the real focus on the fact that "it's all about Christ"?! And that God's greatest desire is to change us into being like Christ? That God wants us to think like Christ, follow Christ, live like Christ, love like Christ, and represent Christ here?

When was the last time you had some serious Bible teaching such as "1 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 5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you ..." (Colossians 3:1-5a).

To be Christian is to put to death self (Col. 3:5a). To bury the old nature (Eph. 4:20-22). To be united with Christ in baptism (Gal; 3:27). To rise to an entirely new life, created in Christ to carry out the good work He has for us (Col. 2:12, Eph. 2:10).

That needs to be preached. That needs to taught. That needs to be modeled. And that not only needs to be lived, but needs to be the content of our lives!


Thursday, June 23, 2011

A new take on discipleship ...

If you had the chance to take on a Pro Bowl football player and show your stuff, would you? Or better yet, could you?

Or if you had 10 minutes on the court with a basketball great, what would happen?

If you were at bat against a professional pitcher, could you get a hit?

Or if you found yourself on the opposite side of a court facing a tennis great, could you return the serve?

That's somewhat the concept of the Spike TV show "Pros v. Joes" where ordinary "weekend" (non-professional) athletes take on seasoned, professional athletes in their areas of excellence.

A lot of guys talk about how they would like a chance to go one-on-one with this athlete or that super star, but having the courage to actually do so is different. For a lot of the "ordinary Joes" on the show, the guys they pit themselves against are the professional athletes who inspired them to work hard to develop the athletic ability they have attained, to the point they think they could take on a pro.

Imagine if we took that same attitude and transplanted it into the church. In that case, it would be challenging the "ordinary disciple" to take on a mature Christian, an elder, or a vocational minister in areas such as Bible knowledge, skill at sharing the Gospel, or following Christ's example.

Actually, such a challenge was made by one of the greatest leaders the church has ever known. Look closely at these bold words of the Apostle Paul as recorded in 1 Corinthians 11:1:

"And you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ."

Here was a "spiritual pro" challenging "ordinary Joes" to take on his example. Paul challenged these Christians to see if they could be like him. To play as hard as he plays. To see if they could live up to his example of pursuing Christ's example.

Imagine if mature Christians today made the same kind of challenge to young Christians. Imagine the impact to the church --- and the world! --- if those young Christians rose to the challenge!

There's another term for this "pros v. Joes" concept within the church. We usually call it "DISCIPLESHIP." We're just not as aggressive or interested or passionate about it as we usually are our sports.

But we should be, and even more so!

"Pros," how can you serve as an example to younger Christians and be a positive, dynamic challenge for growth to them? "Joes," who do you know is a "spiritual pro" that you can seek out as someone to challenge you to grow up in Christ?


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In vivid color ...

Take 30 seconds to watch the humorous commercial below ...

This ad highlights the new Samsung phone having colors so real it's almost unreal! So real the woman goes into hysterics seeing a photo of a spider, which one of the guys smashes with his shoe. Colors so real they thought the spider was real!

As Christians, we are supposed to be images of Christ in a lost and broken world:

"For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters," Romans 8:29.

"And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes," Galatians 3:27.

"You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had," Philippians 2:5.

"For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps," 1 Peter 2:21.

When people see you, do they see Christ in you in such a real way they can see your Savior?


Do you want to be trendy or helpful?

With supporting causes being so trendy in our culture, we're constantly being barraged with all sorts of requests ...

Want to buy some Girl Scout cookies?

Would you support my 5k run for the cure?

Would you sponsor some miles for my ride?

Would you post this vital info on Facebook for an hour?

Would you retweet this so everyone knows about it?

Can I post this notice in your workplace?

Please keep this email going ...

... and what is happening is, increasingly, a whole lot of noise.

The result is that we have a lot of people who are more informed about various issues ... and a lot of people who think passing around information about causes from person to person is a real way of making a difference. We've reduced taking on one or two issues as serious personal commitments to thinking that posting something to a social media site is a significant way to achieve something for a cause.

Sometimes, getting information out does make a significant difference. But in our social media culture, often it's just one more "post" of information that's lightly scanned before being forgotten.

We've reduced our giving from feeling the sting of digging deeply for a need we've committed ourselves to, to giving a little to a lot of needs. The 20 causes we give $10 to doesn't hurt as much as standing behind a couple primary commitments.

It is possible to have so much information about so many needs that you can water down your "support" so much that it becomes almost insignificant. That's not to say that the $5 you give toward finding a cure for cancer doesn't matter ... it does! But when you used to give $500 but can't anymore since you're also supporting 10 other causes, you reduce the impact of your support.

Sometimes, every little bit adds up; and sometimes, a whole lot of a little bit only adds up to a little.

It's one thing to feed the trend of touting causes, it's quite another to really make a difference in a significant way. If you really want to help a person, organization, or church, then identify how you can make the greatest impact and commit yourself to making the deepest difference you possibly can.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Spreading the pain ...

Anyone who has ever gone through surgery knows we have a tendency to overcompensate when we're injured.

When I had my knee operated on as a teenager, I learned all kinds of skills with crutches! I could get around the large high school I went to as fast as anyone on two feet. And I learned how to use the crutches as an extension of my arms to accomplish about anything I needed. I also experienced some pain in my "good" knee because I overcompensated with my healthy leg for the hurt one.

The same happened when I tore my rotator cuff. The elbow, shoulder and even my wrist on my non-injured side went through some pain because of the extra burden I placed on them to compensate for my injured shoulder.

What I learned in both instances was, if I was ever going to get healthy, I had to overcompensate less and work on directly fixing the weaknesses. It hurt --- a lot! --- to rehab my knee and shoulder. It was easier to overcompensate with my healthy limbs rather than suffering the pain of strengthening my injured ones. But it was necessary to incrementally face the pain of rehabilitating my knee and shoulder in order to become whole again.

We carry this tendency to overcompensate into most aspects of our lives. Instead of dealing with hurt relationships, we compensate by ignoring glaring weaknesses and give attention to what still works. Instead of addressing issues in our marriages, our workplace, our churches, or ourselves, we ignore the weaknesses to avoid the pain of becoming whole.

Do you see the obvious problem with that? We remain broken.

But we can only overcompensate for so long before other aspects experience pain from carrying burdens they're not supposed to. We can actually create additional injury to ourselves by not doing the painful work of healing.

Is there some aspect of brokenness in your life that you're overcompensating for? What would it take for you to mend your injuries and become whole again? When will you start?


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Nice try!

Take thirty seconds and watch the creative commercial below ...

I love that commercial!

Beyond the humor of a 17-year-old trying to sneak the family car out for a spin is a good example of a great dad.

What makes a great dad? One who loves his children so much he makes sure he knows them well. Because he knows them, he knows their weaknesses, so the dad builds creative ways to protect his children from making bad decisions.

My dad wasn't that kind of father. But our Heavenly Father is. He loves us with a matchless love, and He knows us better than we know ourselves. From His love for us, and perfect knowledge of us, He protects and guides us like a loving dad.

"See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! ..." 1 John 3:1a.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Superheroes and super humans ...



Captain America.

The Green Hornet.


And as of yesterday, Green Lantern.

That's a list of some of the superhero movies that have come to movie theaters just in 2011.

Millions of people flock to movie megaplexes, often donning 3D glasses, to see the stories of their favorite fantasy heroes.

We're drawn to these stories because the characters can do so much more than we can. They can fly, disappear, lift entire buildings, or stretch like rubber. Bullets bounce off them and they can beat up any bad guy. They can hear beyond our capacity, see with x-ray vision, or run faster than a train. And they drive really cool cars!

But even these superheroes have something in common with us ordinary people: they all can die. They have limits.

The attraction to the stories of superheroes is the idea of being able to go beyond human limits. And we humans have plenty of limits!

Physically, our limits are found at the edge of our flesh. Contained by our skin is only so much energy, so much strength, so much agility. There's a limit, and we feel those limits routinely.

Intellectually, there's only so much we can learn and absorb, and never enough time to learn it all.

Emotionally, we're bombarded with so many interactions and demands it's easy for anyone to sometimes feel overwhelmed.

Socially, we all have regrets.

Spiritually, we're all moral failures in need of a fix.

Not even our favorite superhero could do everything. Even the greatest Marvel character has their own kryptonite.

And we human beings have our limits.

That's not a bad thing!

In fact, God intentionally made us to be creatures with limits. He did not design us to be all-powerful, all-seeing, all-knowing, physically invincible beings. We were crafted with a certain amount of capacity. God did not make us as mini gods! What we think of as "impossibilities" are often nothing more than the boundaries God has placed on the capacity He gave us.

Although none of us may currently be able to leap a building with a single bound, there are a few things we can do to enhance the capacity God has given us:

1. We can improve our lives by learning to live up to the potential we DO have. Before we bemoan our limits, we need to first live up to the ones we do have. We usually don't. We complain about being physically tired, but most of us fall significantly short of caring for the bodies God equipped us with in a way that would maximize our strength, health, and vitality. We're more consistent at doing things that contribute directly to the detriment of our physical fitness and overall health than we are in maximizing our physical ability. No wonder we tire easily, become exhausted, and struggle with our health!

Just as we often fall far short of what our physical capacity really is if we did what was necessary to develop to our physical potential, we also fail to develop intellectually, emotionally, socially, and spiritually. Most of us are operating in this life far under the capacity God has provided us because of our own unwillingness to do what it takes to grow to our fullest potential. Our lives would improve dramatically if only we would do what it takes to grow all aspects of our lives so fully that they actually reached their limits!

2. We have the means of refreshing and recharging. As human beings, we have it so much better than cheap batteries that exhaust their power and can't even be recharged. We have amazing bodies that can be refreshed, rested, fueled, and strengthened. We can do the same with our minds, our emotions, and even our relationships. And when we think we have stretched ourselves to our very last limit and can't go any further, we have a super human resource to refresh us:

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.

3. We can share ... "Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ," Galatians 6:2. When you've taken your burdens as far as you can with the ability you have, you can extend that by tapping into the strength added to you by your brothers and sisters in Christ. Your burden is shifted so that it is shared. And when you have strength to share, you come alongside a brother or sister in Christ and help them carry some of their burdens. Life becomes lighter, and limits are stretched, by our sharing our capacity with each other through the love of Christ.

4. When we reach the end of our capacity and that's not enough, THEN we do the impossible! Sometimes we come to a place where we actually stand at the edge of our limits. We've done what we're humanly capable of doing, and it's not enough. What then? We watch as God reshapes the boundaries of "possible" through the exercise of faith:

... Jesus told them. "I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible." Matthew 17:20b.

For nothing is impossible with God," Luke 1:37.

"For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength," Philippians 4:13.

When it becomes necessary or useful (according to His will) to exceed normal human boundaries, God can enable us to do so! In such times, our limits dissolve into His limitlessness and the impossible happens with ease.

A lot of us want to jump straight to number 4. Forget developing our capacity to its fullest. Forget keeping ourselves refreshed and recharged. Forget sharing. Let God do it, He can do anything!

That's not how God has designed things to work. Not doing what we're capable of would unnecessarily keep us in constant distress. God made us better than that!

None of us may be superheroes in the classic sense, but we don't need to be. We just need to grow to our fullest potential, care for ourselves properly, share, and exercise our faith. By doing so, we discover just how "super" life can be.


Friday, June 17, 2011

What's killing the tree?

People who discover they have a dead tree on their property don't usually get up one morning and suddenly find a dying tree in their yards.

Usually, the tree has been dying for a long time. It started as an internal process, and finally signs of the tree's demise becomes visible externally.

That's similar to what is happening within the American church.

It's no secret the church in America has been in decline for a long time. But more signs of that are showing externally.

One of the signs growing in prevalence is how some "rising stars" within the church, and popular Christian writers (some who are writers but not church leaders) are making subtle (and some not so subtle) changes in wording that radically shifts the purpose of the church.

These newer voices get attention because they're eloquent at identifying the things within the church that really are wrong and need changing. Many of us have been striving to bring about positive change in the church for a long time. By highlighting the ills of the church, these leaders capture attention. Unfortunately, they then misdirect their audiences with biblically inaccurate remedies.

Here are a few that dramatically contribute to the ongoing decay of the church:
  • Restoration over Transformation. Lots of sermons and multiple books focus on teaching that God wants to restore the earth to pre-Fall conditions. These preachers and writers place the emphasis on restoration, which would highlight other related topics such as social justice and a new emphasis on creating beauty. They subtly lift restoration to a primary position, and transformation to a secondary position, a dangerous shift that diverts the mission of the church. God's primary purpose with His creation is transformation, changing us from who we are into the likeness of His Son; and the mission of His church is transformational, the making of disciples (life transformation). What those who focus on restoration seem to be missing is that you cannot have restoration without transformation; God achieves His desire for restoration through the transformation of lives. That change brings about restoration. However, striving for restoration to the neglect of transformation can mean not achieving the restoration desired. In Galatians 6:14-16, the Apostle Paul states it is our transformation that matters most: "14 As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. 15 It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. 16 May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God." The Apostle Peter writes passionately with a forward view that emphasizes transformation over restoration in 2 Peter 3:11-13, "11 Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live, 12 looking forward to the day of God and hurrying it along. On that day, he will set the heavens on fire, and the elements will melt away in the flames. 13 But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness."
  • Culture Makers or Disciple Makers? Those who place such a focus on restoration are making increasingly bold statements that shaping culture needs to be the focus of the individual Christian and the church as a body. That's completely opposite of Christ's direct teaching as well as additional teaching in the New Testament. Jesus personally gave the church its mission, which is to make disciples. That is why the church exists. What those who want to embrace culture rather than engage culture seem to be missing is this: you cannot change, shape or make culture without changing people. The way to change people is for their lives to be transformed through a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The greatest impact the church can make on culture is by making disciples of Jesus Christ (which is exactly what the mission is that Jesus gave to the church)!
  • Social Justice or Righteousness? The world has beat up on the church for a long time for not caring about the poor, abused, homeless, abandoned, hungry, sick, and others who are in very real need. The world was right. The church hasn't done it's best to live up to teaching such as James 1:27, "Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you" (although even at its worst, the church still usually does far more than those outside the church have regarding such need). Culturally, it has become popular to support social justice causes. These causes usually have good purposes, such as fighting the increasing problem of sex trafficking throughout the world. The problem with trying to address such vast "social ills" through "causes" is that it becomes something a person can simply contribute to in a simple way ... write a check, sign a petition, run in a 5k. God's design is that we rise up to meet needs, address injustice, and minister to others from a source of righteousness rather than from policy, politics, or cause. When we are right with God, and therefore think as He thinks (Philippians 2:5), we see and value others as He does, and respond accordingly. Just as God is a just God, that justice flows out of a righteous character that expands beyond simple justice to the richness of mercy and grace. By growing in the righteousness of Christ, we have a internal motivation for justice, mercy, and grace that compels us far more than any cause could.
These are just a few of the ways too many voices are tweaking what is taught as biblical truth or New Testament example. But the subtlety of description can lead to radical misdirection that results in the rotting of the church from the inside out.

What's the fix?

Biblical accuracy and biblical literacy. We must be radically committed to preach and teach biblical truth and to build the biblical literacy of those who make up the church.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

Breaking out of the ivory tower ...

When the hit show "Undercover Boss" first previewed, I commented about it in a previous blog. In recently reviewing the show, I saw that my first impressions remain true about many business leaders: they lead from an ivory tower.

The most consistent issue among the different executives on the show is there is a huge disconnect between their company leadership and the employees in the field (the people actually conducting business with customers).

Episode after episode tells the story of leaders who are discovering what it really takes to perform the work of their business for the very first time (often after they have been in their position of leadership for years). Even worse, it tells the story of leaders who are meeting their most important employees --- "frontline" employees --- for the very first time.

Most of the episodes show CEOs, COOs, and other key leaders who are deeply impacted by the real life stories of the people they are supposedly "leading." These leaders learn for the first time how great and deep their company's "human capital" really is. They finally realize the greatness of the organization doesn't originate from the ivory tower, but from the work these blue collar workers are accomplishing every day.

There is a similar "ivory tower" disconnect within many churches, especially among medium-sized and large churches. "Ministry" often becomes considered the work of pastoral teams and their "production teams" who love to exercise their creativity and brainstorm what ministry is for their local church body. Then they convey this message to the congregation, which is expected to actually execute the work of ministry as crafted by the leaders.

The problem is, these church leaders often have as great a disconnect with the people they're supposed to be leading as do the CEOs on "Undercover Boss" when they lead from the church office rather than from relationship with the people.

Church leaders need to make building real, intimate, informative relationships with the people they lead to be so important it comes only after their relationships to Christ and their own families. Leaders need to be in the homes of the people they lead, not only hearing the real stories of their people, but seeing it and being a part of it.

Without a real understanding of the lives of the people they lead, how can church leaders accurately plan how to execute ministry from their local church body? It becomes a theoretical exercise where a team of leaders saddle congregations with their own dreams without an understanding of what their people really are capable of, how they have been gifted by God, and what truly could be accomplished by the lives of people they know intimately.

I observed a pastor of a large church in a Western state who had the habit of meeting with people at a local cafe every morning. Often, these people were other staff members or key leaders in the church. But this pastor thought he was learning a lot about people by getting out of the office and having this one-on-one time. I think the effort was a start, but there's far more you learn sitting across a dinner table from a family in their own kitchen or dining room. When you sit in the home of a family, with their kids crawling all over you, their dog sniffing at you, their broken-down car in the driveway, and you see their hopes, fears, and realities for yourself, their stories become a real part of your life.

It will change your leadership!

That's because you've broken out of the ivory tower and have become a family member to those you lead. In the church, regardless of what your title may be, you're also a brother or sister in Christ's family. You really are family! And when you understand your family through personal relationship, you will lead them better.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Closing the Gap ...

During the month of June, my friend Chris has invited guest bloggers to write about the book of Proverbs, with each person taking on a chapter or some portion of a chapter. Chris asked me to write about Proverbs 15. You can find my post at . I invite you to check out his blog, and my post there.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The danger of distraction ...

My sisters are a part of a conspiracy: they tend to say I was more spoiled than I really was.

You see, I'm the youngest of eight children. Numbers one through seven are all older sisters! That's right, there was no brother around, and still I survived!

One of my sisters is only 10 months older than me. Because of the closeness of our ages, we did more things together and were close as we grew up.

Every now and then, when my more ornery sense of humor kicked in, I would very slowly reach out and barely touch the arm of my youngest sister with the tip of my finger. For some reason, this drove her crazy! She would instantly recoil and, with her most scolding face and a hissing voice, would say, "Don't - you - touch- me!" with a stilted expression that emphasized each word as if it were a sentence itself.

I thought it was hilarious how distracting this tiny little touch was to her.

Of course, with that kind of reaction, I would respond by doing it again!

After a few times, she usually sought reinforcements by calling out to our mom. That would end the interaction, and I would go on my way.

That scene was one of childish fun between siblings. But it reminds me of how Satan, as our enemy, often bothers us. He's famous for doing the simplest little thing in an effort to distract us; just a little touch that interrupts us and evokes a snarl from us. He laughs as he prods and pokes and gets us to react to his empty nonsense.

A distraction can lead to destruction.

Just a couple seconds of distraction while driving can result in a fatal accident. And being distracted from the things of God to react to the poking of the enemy can also be calamitous if we are led away to focus on his nonsense.

Peter warns us about the enemy when he writes, "8 Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. 9 Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are" (1 Peter 5:8-9).

As Christians, it's important to remember we have an enemy who is as committed to our destruction as God is to our salvation. But John reminds us that Christ keeps us safe from the evil one, and we need to make sure we keep God at the center of our hearts:

"18 We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning, for God’s Son holds them securely, and the evil one cannot touch them. 19 We know that we are children of God and that the world around us is under the control of the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and he has given us understanding so that we can know the true God. And now we live in fellowship with the true God because we live in fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the only true God, and he is eternal life. 21 Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts" (1 John 5:18-21).

Are you allowing the enemy to distract you? What are you doing to stay away from anything that would distract you from having God at the center of your heart?


Monday, June 13, 2011

Are you practicing this religion without knowing it?

There's a "religion" going around that has saturated the minds of millions of people as it presents its messages with many faces.

Maybe you've heard the phrase "name it and claim it" that some people preach.

Others teach we should just focus on what we really want and "the universe" will bring it to us (law of attraction).

Or maybe you've heard business, "thought," and religious leaders talk about how your life is entirely about the decisions you make.

Over time, you may have come to practice this religion without even being aware of it.

It's the religion of "Choiceology," the worship of the human choice.

We're taught that what we have, what we can have, who we are, and the future quality of our lives hinges completely on the choices we make. In this "religion," the making of choices is lifted up as the "be all, end all" of life.

Even the Bible highlights the significance of the choices we make as creatures who have a free will. We are even free to reject the very One who created us, gave us life, and sustains our lives.

But that's where the similarity ends.

The Bible also teaches us that this world is not ours. Neither is the universe it resides in. This is our Father's world, and everything that exists does so according to His will and within the framework of His design. The choices we freely make are subservient to the design, function, and order of His will and His ways in His world and His creation.

This is brilliantly highlighted in the entire chapter of Job 38 (vs. 1-41) as God responds to Job. In a dramatic series of questions that God puts to Job, we see just how small we --- and our choices --- are when compared to His infinitely superior ability and knowledge:

1 Then the Lord answered Job from the whirlwind:

2 “Who is this that questions my wisdom
with such ignorant words?
3 Brace yourself like a man,
because I have some questions for you,
and you must answer them.

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell me, if you know so much.
5 Who determined its dimensions
and stretched out the surveying line?
6 What supports its foundations,
and who laid its cornerstone
7 as the morning stars sang together
and all the angels shouted for joy?

8 “Who kept the sea inside its boundaries
as it burst from the womb,
9 and as I clothed it with clouds
and wrapped it in thick darkness?
10 For I locked it behind barred gates,
limiting its shores.
11 I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come.
Here your proud waves must stop!’

12 “Have you ever commanded the morning to appear
and caused the dawn to rise in the east?
13 Have you made daylight spread to the ends of the earth,
to bring an end to the night’s wickedness?
14 As the light approaches,
the earth takes shape like clay pressed beneath a seal;
it is robed in brilliant colors.
15 The light disturbs the wicked
and stops the arm that is raised in violence.

16 “Have you explored the springs from which the seas come?
Have you explored their depths?
17 Do you know where the gates of death are located?
Have you seen the gates of utter gloom?
18 Do you realize the extent of the earth?
Tell me about it if you know!

19 “Where does light come from,
and where does darkness go?
20 Can you take each to its home?
Do you know how to get there?
21 But of course you know all this!
For you were born before it was all created,
and you are so very experienced!

22 “Have you visited the storehouses of the snow
or seen the storehouses of hail?
23 (I have reserved them as weapons for the time of trouble,
for the day of battle and war.)
24 Where is the path to the source of light?
Where is the home of the east wind?

25 “Who created a channel for the torrents of rain?
Who laid out the path for the lightning?
26 Who makes the rain fall on barren land,
in a desert where no one lives?
27 Who sends rain to satisfy the parched ground
and make the tender grass spring up?

28 “Does the rain have a father?
Who gives birth to the dew?
29 Who is the mother of the ice?
Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens?
30 For the water turns to ice as hard as rock,
and the surface of the water freezes.

31 “Can you direct the movement of the stars—
binding the cluster of the Pleiades
or loosening the cords of Orion?
32 Can you direct the sequence of the seasons
or guide the Bear with her cubs across the heavens?
33 Do you know the laws of the universe?
Can you use them to regulate the earth?

34 “Can you shout to the clouds
and make it rain?
35 Can you make lightning appear
and cause it to strike as you direct?
36 Who gives intuition to the heart
and instinct to the mind?
37 Who is wise enough to count all the clouds?
Who can tilt the water jars of heaven
38 when the parched ground is dry
and the soil has hardened into clods?

39 “Can you stalk prey for a lioness
and satisfy the young lions’ appetites
40 as they lie in their dens
or crouch in the thicket?
41 Who provides food for the ravens
when their young cry out to God
and wander about in hunger?"

Our choices greatly impact our lives, but they do not operate outside the sovereignty of God.

It's a little like the parent who reminds the child, "As long as you live under my roof, you'll go by my rules." The child may still choose rebellion, but that choice will not achieve for him what he wants within his father's house.

The same with us.

Proverbs 3:5-6 provides us profound insight to this issue: "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."

This passage reminds us, the creation, to trust in the Creator rather than depending on our infinitely inferior understanding. To do so will surely lead to many bad choices. Instead, we're to seek the will of God as we consider what decisions to make, and submit our choices to the direction He provides.

God did not create us as sovereign creatures to speak into existence our own realities from the exercise of our choices. Instead, His design is that we live as His children whose choices are crafted within His will, under His guidance, and for His glory.

Are you practicing Choiceology? Or are your choices the product of seeking God's will, and leaning on His understanding as you submit yourself to His direction?


Sunday, June 12, 2011

A great way to support your pastor ...

Another Sunday morning has just passed, and across the world there are some tired men.

While many people have toiled to prepare for the church gathering together, pastors have prayed, studied, and toiled throughout the week (or longer) at preparing a message from God's Word that is accurate, honest, challenging, and feeds the minds, hearts and souls of those they stand in front of.

Whether your church is structured to be led by a board of elders, a pastoral team, or any other mix, let's be honest: the pastor is usually the "point man" for the corporate ministry of most local church bodies.

Let me make a clear and concise statement: unless you are a pastor, you will likely never fully understand the weight of responsibility that comes with the calling to be a shepherd. Added to that is the reality that many pastors lead small churches where they have to wear multiple hats. In fact, many pastors have to work a full-time "secular" job so they can afford to serve as lead minister in their local church.

These men need every ounce of support we can provide them!

Recently I had lunch with a fellow pastor I was getting to know for the first time. During our conversation, he spoke of how Bob Russell had been an inspiration to him. Russell was Senior Minister of Southeast Christian Church (SCC) in Louisville, Kentucky for decades. SCC grew to be one of the largest churches in America under Russell's leadership.

My fellow pastor shared about Russell explaining what was behind the tremendous growth at SCC. Early in Russell's ministry, the elders at SCC prayed together and concluded they were led by the Holy Spirit to make Russell "famous."

Now wait.

They weren't led to lift up the man. Their conviction was that God would use Russell's preaching in a great way, and they were led to lift the opportunity for Russell to preach God's Word. So together, they supported Russell by "making him famous" so that he could preach the Gospel as powerfully and broadly as possible.

The result has been an incredible ministering with many thousands coming to Christ. All because a group of men weren't concerned about position or pecking order or anything other than how Christ could be proclaimed as clearly and widely as possible.

What a fantastic way to stand behind and support a pastor!

Imagine what might happen if other churches supported their pastors in a similar way the SCC elders supported theirs.

What are you doing to support your pastor? How are you sustaining him as he proclaims the Good News? How can you partner with him to broaden and deepen the work he leads?

"12 Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. 13 Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other." 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

Is this a line from an old movie?

Saturday mornings as a kid were awesome!

It's the one day of the week I actually wanted to get up early because Saturday mornings meant a few hours of non-stop cartoons, usually followed by a tacky western B-movie.

I always thought it was funny how some of those old westerns were filmed. The poorer quality filming made the the cowboys and horses look odd the way they started and stopped with a jerk. And the story lines for those old westerns were so much alike it was almost as if they used the same script and just changed actors.

A common scene in the old westerns was having the good guy try to head off the bad guy "at the pass." It was a last chance to turn back the bad guy before he could hurt someone or commit a crime.

I wonder if they got that part of the script from God.

Our Creator cares so much about us that He routinely gets out in front of us and tries to turn us back from going the wrong way. God often heads us off from committing sin and hurting ourselves or others.

The whole chapter of Numbers 22 is like an early B-movie. The character is Balaam, who seems intent on going the wrong way. Instead of riding a fast, sleek horse, he's mounted on a slow, stubborn donkey. God tries to turn back Balaam by giving his donkey the ability to speak, and even by sending an angel to block his way.

The experience of Balaam is just one example of God working to head us off from our pursuit of sin, and to turn us in a direction that is good and safe for us, and brings glory to Him.

In our times, God usually doesn't use a donkey to head us off (of course, He could!). Today, He guides us through the Holy Spirit, His Word, prayer, and others in our lives. Some of the methods may be different than those used with Balaam, but God is just as active in cutting us off "at the pass" and turning us toward Him.

Are you headed in a direction that brings glory to God, or is God trying to head you off and turn you away from a path you shouldn't be on?


Friday, June 10, 2011

Would YOU wear these?

My expression must have been the perfect stereotype of a person who has been completely shocked.

That's because I was.

I was in fifth grade at the time. My family was poor, but we didn't really know it. I had two pair of pants, one to wear while the other was being washed. And when I wore the knees out, my mom patched them up so I could keep on wearing them.

I had finally worn out a pair of pants beyond any hope of repair. But my oldest sister had gone to Sears and returned with a present for me. It was a new pair of jeans.

A new pair of green jeans.

The jeans were G-R-E-E-N!

To this day, I don't think I've seen another pair of green jeans.

I've seen red jeans, yellow jeans, white jeans, black jeans, blue jeans, stone-washed jeans, acid-washed jeans, jeans that have been shot by shotguns, and thrashed jeans. But that was the only pair of green jeans I've seen.

That green pair of jeans were my new pair of jeans.

I was traumatized!

My first thought was, "What are the kids at school going to think when I show up in green jeans?!"

Thankfully, my next thought followed soon after that one. It was a realization of how kind, selfless and loving it was of my sister to spend her own money to replace my worn out jeans for me. Green or not, I was grateful for a second pair of pants.

When I think about that experience, it reminds me how we want God to provide for our needs and wants in a culturally acceptable way. We want God to outfit us with everything we need to fit into our culture, while at the same time He wants to distinguish us from our culture. The Apostle Paul describes this in Galatians 3:26-27 this way:

"26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes."

Putting on Christ in a lost and broken world will "distinguish" you from others like wearing green jeans. People will notice. It's not what most others are wearing. It makes you different.

That's exactly God's intent!

Which do you pursue: being like the world around you, or wrapping yourself up in Christ? What are you asking God for in your prayers: His provision according to His will, or needs and wants provided in culturally acceptable packages? Are you grateful for God's provision, or embarrassed?


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Creating a cycle of excellence ...

Some of the most excellent organizations and churches are those where the followership actually "pushes" the leadership with an expectation of excellence!

Let's look at how that can happen. It's a simplistic cycle:
  • You have to start with excellent leaders.
  • Those excellent leaders provide excellent leadership and examples to the followership..
  • Those excellent leaders invest in, equip, enable, and support their followership to not only achieve their own levels of excellence, but to have an individual hunger for excellence.
  • The followership experiences growth and succeeds at achieving personal levels of excellence, and from that develops their own desire to pursue excellence.
  • From there, the followership then looks expectantly to their leaders to continue to provide excellent leadership.
  • Now the leadership is motivated to continue to bring their best because their followership is looking to them, and expecting, excellent leadership.
Let's look at a couple of examples.

Apple is a great example from the business world. Steve Jobs has raised the bar in pursuing the level of quality products his company provides its customers. That push for excellence has developed and fed a demand and expectation for excellence from Apple's leadership. Now, Apple fans "push" Apple leaders with an ongoing expectation of excellence.

In the church, I watched as a great pastor took a medium-sized church and grew it into a mega-church while at the same time taking a Christian college and growing it into a Christian university.

This pastor was a gifted preacher; his preaching was at a level of excellence that took people deep into scripture. It was excellent preaching that "fed the sheep" and that also developed a hunger for excellent teaching of the Word.

This pastor surrounded himself with a family of leaders who equipped and served the followership, helping them to grow in spiritual maturity. As the followership grew, they developed their own hunger for growing in Christlikeness, and developed an expectation of excellence from their leaders.

Now the followership was "pushing" its leadership with an expectation of ongoing excellence in ministry.

Some lessons we can apply from this:
  • Don't cut corners in the selection of your leaders. Recently I was talking with an elder of a church that is in transition with it's leadership team. The elder insisted the church can't afford to hire the quality of senior minister it will take to lead them beyond the challenges they have been facing. I stressed the church could not afford not to do what it takes to get the right leader. Anything less will keep them mired in mediocrity, at best.
  • It takes more than an example from leaders, it takes a total investment. Leaders have to pour themselves into their followers, helping them to grow, succeed and mature in order to develop a followership that desires and pursues its own excellence.
  • Followers have their own work to do. Leaders can't grow for them. Followers have to study, learn, stretch, apply, and mature. They can be helped by examples, teaching, training, and leadership, but they have to do their own work. Leaders have to challenge their followers to do the work only they can do, and to pursue excellence.
The final outcome is a cycle of excellence that eventually creates a culture of excellence, something you'll find at the core of great organizations and churches.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What's your default setting?

My laptop is suffering extended stages of death throes. Any day now, it could crash for its last time.

It has crashed on more than one occasion. Fortunately, when it has done so I've been able to access the built-in recovery mode that activates the default settings for the computer, and it has slowly come back to life. I have to reload some software and rebuild my desktop, but instead of a total collapse I have a fresh start to build on.

Living life is sometimes as difficult (or more so!) than keeping an old computer going. In our lives, circumstances change quickly, not always "for the best." Challenges arise routinely. Failures happen. Trials come, disappointments occur.

What do you do then?

Often we find ourselves reacting rather than responding, which often makes things worse.

The best way to get through life is by establishing our own personal "default settings." Instead of reacting to life, we can "default" to our foundation of Jesus Christ.

We create such a "default setting" in our own lives by building a relationship with Jesus Christ that is so intimate it eclipses all others (Matthew 22:37-38); by learning, internalizing and "storing" God's Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11); by being aware of, and sensitive to, the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives (John 16:13, Ephesians 4:30); and by having a conversation with Christ that is constant (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Responding to whatever life throws at you with a genuine demonstration of Christlikeness is the goal of Christian maturity. Doing so requires a change in our default settings from reacting "in the flesh" to "walking in the Spirit." The Apostle Paul describes what that means in Ephesians 4:23-24, "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."

Do you find yourself reacting or responding to the challenges of life? What's your personal "default setting" currently set on? How can you better learn to "default to Christ" when trials come your way?


Monday, June 6, 2011

Steve Jobs feeds his flock. What can the church learn?

Today is a big day for Apple fans as Steve Jobs temporarily comes out of medical leave to share with the public new offerings coming out from Apple.

One of my Facebook friends posted that he was sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's office listening to Jobs speak via technology providing a live stream of the event.

Other Apple fans are watching in offices, coffee shops, living rooms and any other place they can stop for a few minutes to access technology and plug into the presentation.

These people are excited because when Steve Jobs steps in front of the public on behalf of Apple, he usually has something fresh, exciting, and beneficial to offer loyal customers and the public at large.

As I noted the excitement about Jobs' presentation, I thought: Wouldn't it be profound for the church if Christians were as excited to hear the next sermon from their pastor as Apple fans are to hear the next presentation from Steve Jobs?

Perhaps if preachers were as committed to making their "presentations" as fresh, exciting, and beneficial as Jobs does for loyal Apple customers and potential customers, then perhaps the same anticipation could be accomplished.

And if Christians were as enthusiastic about being a part of the family of God as Apple users are of being loyal fans, perhaps we would see the Gospel spread as passionately as a techie promotes Apple over a PC.


Which one of these are you creating?

The trapper reminded me of the Native American Indian guides in old Western movies who help the good guys track the bad guys across rugged desert terrain. But in this case, it was a modern-day trapper who could track any variety of animal in some tough high desert country.

I met the guy when I was a teenager, and he showed me his tracking skills.

Sometimes, a track was so light he couldn't confidently identify what kind of animal had made the mark in the dirt. Some kind of critter had come that way, but had left too light an impression to distinguish itself.

Other tracks were clearly distinguishable because the animal had made a clear impact upon the terrain. You knew the creature had been there, and you could tell specifically which creature.

What I learned from the trapper about those animals correlates to what I've seen in humans. That is, some people make an impression while others make an impact.

We leave an imprint of our presence in every life, situation, and event we encounter. It will either be an impression (light evidence of our being there), or an impact (our presence isn't simply noticed, but is distinguished).

As a Christian, are you making an impression for Christ, or an impact?


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Attracting the sharks ...

Commercials aren't usually something I watch on purpose, but the one below is creatively funny. Check it out before reading on ...

Steve was delicious to the sharks because he was full of something delicious. They wanted more!

When the "sharks" in your life bite into you, do they taste anything delicious? Is there something about you that would make even the sharks in your life appreciate you?


Champions maximize their contribution ...

A common denominator among champion athletes is they always want the ball.

On any football team, you'll always hear great receivers nagging the coach and quarterback to give them the ball.

Great pitchers want out of the bull pen to pitch all nine innings.

Great basketball players want to take the shot.

Champions want the ball. They want to make the play that scores the win.

But many who consider themselves champions for Christ often take the ball for a moment, and then pass it for others to finish. But too often the ball is dropped when there's no one else to receive the hand-off.

One way we miss championing an opportunity for Christ is by passing the ball to the person who actually needs our help. We do this by saying, "Let me know if there's anything I can do for you."

What's wrong with that?

There's nothing "wrong" with it, but it usually winds up resulting in a dropped ball. That's because the average person who really needs help, and who's needs are known, isn't going to outline exact steps they need someone to take.

For example, a family was out of food and their electricity was turned off. A couple church leaders called on them on behalf of a church, and listened politely to their story. The husband and wife explained how a series of negative events created their current circumstances, and how they didn't have any means to feed their children or pay to turn their utilities back on. They didn't have any support from family or friends, and they were desperate.

At the end of their time together, the church leaders spent a few moments praying with them and then, before walking out the door, said, "Let us know if there's anything we can do for you."

I later asked the couple why they didn't tell the men they specifically needed help with groceries and utilities. Their answer was profound: telling their story WAS telling the men what they needed! It wasn't necessary to be any more clear. The couple felt the response of the men was a demonstration of their not wanting to do more than they had just done.

When we know what the needs are and still don't take action, we cause others to believe we don't want to help. When someone has just shared their needs, and the response is "Let me know if I can do anything for you," about the only thing a person could say to that would be, "Well, what do you want to do?" The needs are known, only you know what you're capable and willing to offer, so the ball is in your court.

To say, "Let me know if there's anything I can do for you" is to pass the ball to the one who needs help instead of running it with it. That's not responding like a champion. A champion wants the ball!

The best way to meet a need is to take the ball and run with it. We do that by:
  • Identifying everything you possibly can do to help. Not simply identify where the next person is you can make a hand-off to, but how far can you run with this yourself.
  • Enthusiastically ask for the chance to take the ball as far as you can with the resources God has blessed you with to share. Offer what you're willing to do, and are capable of.
  • If you've run as far and hard as you can, and the need isn't yet fulfilled, help find the next able receiver.
  • Don't quit until you help the person across the goal line.
Not every champion can carry the ball all the way on his own. Sometimes, the ball must be passed. A champion knows when to pass the ball to make a win happen. But a real champion can't get the ball pried from his hands until he's run as far as he can!

Are you running as a champion for Christ? Are you throwing yourself entirely into helping others across the goal line? Or do you prefer watching the real action from the bench?


Friday, June 3, 2011

What to do when you don't know what God will do ...

When do we humans often lose our cool and make our worst decisions?

When the pressure is the heaviest and we're not sure of exactly what God will do.

That's when we often let fear take control and the result can be calamitous.

Even as Christians, there are many occasions when God's guidance may not be clear in the moment of decision. You know what God is capable of doing, but you have no promise of exactly what He will do in the immediate situation.

So what do you do?

Here's some advice: When you don't know if God will, stand on what you know He can.

That advice was the action lived out by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the dramatic challenge to their faith as recorded in Daniel 3. Verses 1-15 tell how King Nebuchadnezzar had set up a 90-foot tall statue and ordered that everyone was to bow down and worship it.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were faithful to God, and so they simply wouldn't obey King Nebuchadnezzar's command. Some astrologers squealed about their disobedience to the king, who responded by flying into a rage. Nebuchadnezzar gave the three young men one last chance: either bow before the statue and worship, or be thrown into a fiery furnace.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were under a lot of pressure at a time of decision.

They thought God would likely rescue them since they were remaining obedient to Him rather than bowing before an idol. BUT ...

... but they didn't know for sure.

Here's how they responded to King Nebuchadnezzar: "16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, 'O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. 18 But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up'," (Daniel 3:16-18).

They thought it likely God would rescue them ("... He will rescue us from your power ...") but they weren't positive He would ("... but even if He doesn't ..."). But they knew if He didn't deliver them from the furnace, He would deliver them through it by letting them die in blessed obedience to Him. The matter would then be resolved in eternity.

Because they didn't know exactly what God would do, they gained the courage of their convictions by standing on what they knew God could do. He could rescue them from or through the furnace. That was all these three believers in God needed to know in order to have the courage to do the right thing in a difficult circumstance.

What do you do when you're not sure exactly what God will do for you? How can you gain courage and a sense of direction in those times by knowing what He can do for you?