Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A lesson from the American worker?

The American worker is the most productive worker on the planet!

And once again, productivity rose 2.3 percent (see the story here ) during the third quarter of 2011. The productivity of the American worker is the key to our nation's economy being the largest in the world.

Americans know how to get things done!

Except in the church.

How's the productivity of your local church these days?

Now before you start with the statements that the church isn't a business and doesn't produce goods and services for a resale market --- which I agree with --- the church is a body that is expected to produce.

In the case of the church, God does have expectations for us, and if you look at the Commission given to the church, you can see with specificity what the church is expected to produce:

"19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” Matthew 18:19-20.

Rarely do you hear someone teaching biblical truth that, while salvation is indeed by grace, God still has expectations of us. Just read Jesus' parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-29 and you'll come away with a clear insight that Jesus wants us to be productive with the talents He gives us. Continuing in that same chapter, through verse 31 to the end of the chapter, and you'll get a glimpse of how Christ will evaluate what we've accomplished for Him when He returns and takes account of our "productivity."

No, the church isn't some kind of spiritual manufacturing plant pumping out spiritual goods. It is the family of God, who is expected to take all that He's given us and put it to use for His glory, and the growth of His kingdom.

And to be specific, the church is responsible for producing disciples.

So ... how is the productivity of your local church? What are you contributing directly to its "productivity"?


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Another reason why men don't go to church ...

According to scripture, church leadership is supposed to be composed of our most spiritually mature men. But if you listen to many sermons today, you might question whether that's actually true.

In an effort to identify and illustrate, pastors often share about their own weaknesses in their sermons. We may, however, have gone overboard with that as many tend to drone on and on, week in and week out, about their own failings and weaknesses.

Accordingly, it seems many pastors are weak at marriage, parenting, leading, following, faith, and a number of other things they rattle off as areas they struggle with. I would agree there are times when it is appropriate --- and even beneficial --- for a leader to share about his weaknesses, but he also needs to demonstrate strength. That doesn't seem to be happening much in the church today.

And that's another reason why men don't attend church!

Men are drawn to leaders they can trust, men they can have confidence in, and leaders who they believe have strength. Most men have as a "given" that we all have our weaknesses, we all have our failings, we all have our struggles, but to lead men to victory over such things we need to hear about courage, about a faith that produces appropriate confidence, and a discipline that enboldens a man to stand in the gap.

The Apostle Paul gave us a good example. While he was able to reference his "thorn in the flesh" and point to personal weaknesses, this was also a man who challenged us to put on the whole armor of God, and to discipline ourselves like a boxer buffeting his body in preparing for a prize fight.

We know David was a musician and could write soul-stirring psalms, but we also know as a young man he was a shepherd who killed a lion and bear ... and that was prior to taking on Goliath!

Men need to hear and see some strength from our pulpits!

Too often today, they hear a litany of weaknesses, with the closing of the sermon being, "... but through Christ we can be strong and overcome." Most men have already tuned out halfway through the list of weakness. Men are overtly aware of where they are weak; they seek a source for strength, for courage, for a way to win!

You cannot call men to battle with a wimpish battle cry: "I know it's hard. I know it's scary. I really struggle with it all. Sometimes I really doubt. Sometimes I don't really know what to think. Sometimes I want to give up. But God will deliver us!" A regular diet of such sermons doesn't stir the spiritual warrior in a man!

While we want to be "authentic" in every way, maybe it's time we demonstrate and illustrate how God can strengthen us to truly be men of spiritual valor. I think that would capture the attention of many men who are already very aware of their own weaknesses.

"6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous ..." Joshua 1:6-7a.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

The best way to avoid failure ...

So many re-tweet and re-post the platitudes that praise the value of failure, claiming failure is the best teacher of all!

You haven't met the thousands I've seen in clinical counseling, pastoral counseling, and pastoral care whose lives were wrecked because of failure.

Those empty platitudes hailing failure for it's great capacity to take us to success don't tell the stories of the many who were bowled over by failure. They didn't immediately bounce back up. Failure was harsh and painful. Many never fully recovered.

And the vast majority of those people uttered something along the lines of wishing they had listened and learned first so they could have done things right the first time.


Because "success" is the best teacher of "success," not failure!

Another way of putting it, obedience is a great teacher of success. Instead of jumping out and doing things our way without listening to, learning from, or looking toward God, our best means of achieving real success in living is to first listen to the Word of God, and then obey it.

"There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death," Proverbs 14:12. Some can quickly learn from their failures and make better choices. Many do not. Failure is not the virtue so many "leaders" praise it as being.

That's why God directs us to listen to and learn from Him, and then act on His leading for us.

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path," Psalm 119:105.

God's Word does not mislead us. If we start with God, listen to Him, learn from Him, and apply His Word directly to our lives, we have the surest path to and through life we can possibly have.

The best way to live "successfully" is to avoid failure. And the best way to avoid failure is to obey God.

It certainly beats trying to learn from human trial and error.


Blocks, logs, and Legos ...

When we're barely crawling, we start with blocks. We don't do much with them other than stare at, explore, and throw them. It takes a while before we can build anything with them.

Do you remember Lincoln Logs? That was my next step in building toys.

Today, Legos rule the building empire of children. So much so --- get this --- that 50 million Legos are made each day!

It seems as though from our earliest days, we're inclined to build something. We start with blocks, move on to more difficult objects, and eventually face the biggest challenge of all: building a life.

Here's the most significant question about that "project": What will you build it on?

God gave you a life, He's not going to live it for you. It's yours to build, with His help.

Jesus addressed this issue specifically, because what we build our lives on is fundamental to our human experience:

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. 26 Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall," Matthew 7:4-27.

There is a single foundation upon which a human being can build a "successful" life, and the Apostle Paul stated it this way:

"For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ," 1 Corinthians 3:11.

What is the actual foundation upon which your entire life rests and relies?


Friday, November 25, 2011

One day ...

What if you had only one day?

I don't mean one more day. I mean, what if you were created as an adult and given a single day to live. Could you imagine how amazing 24 hours could be in that situation? Wow! Every moment would matter!

Now, take that just a little further. What if God gave you two whole days.

Two days? Incredible! Twice the time to delve into life. You could do, see, experience so much more.

But, what if --- now just imagine this --- what if God stretched and gave you an entire week to live and breathe and be alive.

A week?! Yes, seven entire days of life. Imagine the possibilities! Kind of blows your mind just thinking about it!

Okay ... now I know this will take some real imagination ... but what if God gave you this over-the-top privilege of living for decades.


I know, right?

A lifetime that could go something like 60, 70, 80 years or more. Crazy isn't it?!

Just imagine what you could learn about your Creator, and how you could spend decades walking with Him. Imagine the people you could know and love. Imagine the relationships, the bonds, the connections.

Just think how rich life could be!

If you had more than a day.

And you really lived it.

To God's glory.

"This is the day which the LORD has made; Let us rejoice and be glad in it," Psalm 118:24.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Serving up satisfaction and sacrifice ...

Throughout human history, people have loved feasts.

Whenever and wherever people gather to spend any time together, someone usually brings food. Whether it's a co-worker who brings into the office their freshly made favorite recipe, or almost any event "at church," we like to eat when we gather together.

No more so than on Thanksgiving Day. It's the one day of the year where everyone indulges mightily without any sense of guilt. It's a day when feasting is part of the celebration of sharing our gratitude.

It's interesting that scripture doesn't record many times when Jesus "gave thanks," but there are a couple key examples. Both are giving thanks at a meal.

One is recorded in Matthew 14. Jesus had spent much of a day healing among and caring for a crowd of more than 5,000 people. By evening time, the people needed food. The problem? Hardly anyone brought any food! But there were five loaves of bread and two fish ... more than enough when Jesus is the one serving out the portions:

"17 They said to Him, 'We have here only five loaves and two fish.' 18 And He said, 'Bring them here to Me.' 19 Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds, 20 and they all ate and were satisfied. They picked up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve full baskets," Matthew 14:17-20.

On Thanksgiving, as we gather around tables covered with more food than we could possibly eat at one sitting (which results in those delicious Thanksgiving leftovers), we can see how God continues to bless us with what we need like Jesus did the crowd: "... and all ate and were satisfied."

When we partake of what Christ serves to us, we can be satisfied.

The other text is Matthew 26:26-30 and is a very different setting:

"26 While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' 27 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you; 28 for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom. 30 After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives."

Jesus knew how forgetful we are, even about the things we should be most grateful for. So he created a simple meal (we refer to it as Communion), prefaced with a blessing, to help us remember the thing for which our gratitude should have no end: His sacrifice for our sins.

As Jesus mixed food and the giving of thanks, my prayer is that you will do likewise as you celebrate with family and friends a feast of Thanksgiving. And like Jesus, my prayer is that you'll recall there's something greater than the food to be thankful for ...

Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Squeezing in a little gratitude ...

On Thanksgiving Day, our "giving of thanks" is usually limited to a prayer offered before indulging in a great feast.

That's it?

Yep, that's the sum total of thanks given by many people.

So, for a day supposedly set aside for the giving of thanks, we allot about 30-60 seconds for a prayer? Maybe a little more for the longer-winded pray-ers?

If we really take time to identify what we are genuinely thankful for, who should be thanked? What is an adequate means of expressing such sincere gratitude?

What will your day of Thanksgiving look like?


It's getting ugly out there ...

Behind the curtain was a little old man, pulling and pushing levers to make the myth appear true.

That's how it was in "The Wizard of Oz," a classic movie many of us saw in our youngest years.

People across the world today are looking for some "Great Oz" to resolve their problems because the world today is riddled with them.

Societies have indulged to such a degree that whole nations are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Political leaders are showing their complete lack of leadership and backbone by spending their nations into ruin.

Many people are looking to their government to provide them with bail outs from their own bad choices while others want to be provided for.

Even the church has been in decline for a long time. It has compromised its message and turned it's heart to culture, art, branding, and social interests.

The world is suffering from a long run with falsehood and is in desperate need of the Truth!

But the Truth the world needs is Jesus Christ:

"Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me'," John 14:6.

The Apostle Paul supported Jesus' words in 1 Corinthians 3:11:

"For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."

The answer for the woes of the world cannot be found in politics or political leaders, in social emphases, art, dead churches, philosophy, or the "Oz," but in Jesus Christ alone!

So who is willing to take the message of Christ to the world? Or across the street to a neighbor?

Who is willing to say:

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I. Send me!'" (Isaiah 6:8).


Thursday, November 17, 2011

What does a mad God do with His anger?

One of the biggest fallacies taught about God is that He doesn't get angry at people.

Wanna bet?

Ever hear of a flood that wiped out all human beings except one family? God was mad! He was mad at the sinfulness of humanity, to the point that He regretted making mankind:

"5 The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. 6 So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. 7 And the Lord said, 'I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them'," Genesis 6:5-7.

But, true to His gracious character, God's anger showed its righteousness in containing mercy:

"But Noah found favor with the Lord," Genesis 6:8.

The favor God extended to Noah was His means of extending another chance to humanity. But God is not meek toward sin. Look closely at Psalm 7:11:

"God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day."

God has a z-e-r-o tolerance for sin. Sin makes Him angry! Kind of like the parent who grows angry with the persistent, willful disobedience of an arrogant child.

But before you think of God's anger being something similar to our road rage, with a great celestial being hurling lightning bolts at "bad people," remember this:

"Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires," James 1:20.

Our anger is often not what could be described as "righteous indignation." But God can be angry and righteous. In fact, God "dealt with" His anger in order to extend to us the means of becoming righteous. Check this out:

"9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins," 1 John 4:9-10 (NASB).

From the first humans in the Garden of Eden, all the way to you and me, God has been the brunt of willful sin throughout human history. It's enough to make even God mad! And He was angry at sin.

Do you know what He did with it?

He used Christ on the cross as the dumping ground for His anger. All the wrath that God had toward our sin was dumped on Christ as He hung dying as a sacrifice --- a "propitiation" --- for our sin.

I had to go back to the New American Standard version to have a Bible translation that has the word "propitiation" in it; most modern versions have replaced that word with "sacrifice" or a definition of the term.

But it's a word every Christian should know and cherish!

To be a propitiation for our sin addresses two things: a place where wrath is poured out, and this is done to accomplish a reconciling. When wrath is removed, there can then be reconciliation.

In order to be reconciled to God, His wrath toward humanity's sin had to be addressed. As Christ bore the sins of us all on the cross, He also took upon Himself the wrath God had toward our sin!

Jesus truly --- truly --- bore it all!

God's anger toward sin is settled at the cross, through Christ who was sent to be the propitiation for our sin.

The next time you're prone to get a little angry, just think of the wrath Christ bore on our behalf from a God who was angry at sin. Maybe it will help you contain your anger to righteous indignation ... and be very grateful.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Attitude, The Action, and The Choice ...

Let's use parts of two true stories to learn a greater truth.

The Attitude

I once provided personal training at a gym for a guy I'll call Mark (not his real name). Mark was in his early forties and had made millions as co-owner of a successful, small, international business.

Mark wanted to get back to peak fitness. He admitted a routine indulgence with smoking pot, but he thought he was experiencing negative physical results of his drug use. He wanted to get clean, get fit, and be at his physical best. Mark had good personal self-discipline when he wanted to apply it; it was his ability to focus and be disciplined that made his business successful.

But he had a different attitude toward his workouts.

When it came to achieving his fitness goals, Mark drug his feet even though he didn't have to. He had good core strength and, although I pushed him to his physical limits, he was able to handle the workouts I dished out for him.

But throughout my time training him, I had to push him all the way. He could have reached his fitness goals much more quickly and easily than he did. He simply didn't want to at that time. His attitude was he knew he could reach his goal, but he was going to take his time getting to it. He was going to milk eating however he wanted, doing whatever he wanted, and using his favorite drug whenever he wanted for as long as he could before he finally had to succumb to the full measure of self-control necessary to reach his fitness goals.


The Action

At the high school I attended was a cheerleader who had set a personal goal of having sex with every member of the varsity football team.

By all reports, she succeeded at achieving her goal.

Whenever one of the football players wanted some "action," they knew who to call.


These two stories highlight elements that make up the experiences of many Christians today.

Many Christians adopt "The Attitude" Mark showed in his workouts. They set a "stated" goal of being obedient to Christ, but maintain an attitude of growing at their own pace. They milk their time attached to their old sins for as long as they possibly can. They could achieve their objective much more quickly and easily than they do, but they really don't want to. They justify and rationalize that spiritual maturing takes time, and they're going to take plenty of it before they really cut loose of their pet sins and "have to" face what it means to live a holy life.

Some Christians adopt "The Action" of the cheerleader.

Imagine this cheerleader, now out of high school and married. She gets a call one evening. It's one of the football players she went to high school with; he's in town for a couple of days and wants to get together. This cheerleader, now a bride, says to her groom that she will be spending the night with the former football player.

When the groom responds with protests, she reminds him that before they met she routinely did such things with many of the varsity team members, it was just a part of her life, and she would be back the next morning. Or at least within the next few days. But she would be back.

The Greater Lesson

Yes, none of us are perfect. Yes, God will work at transforming us into the likeness of Christ over our lifetimes. But those realities are not a basis for justifying the prolonging of sin in our lives. God has already given us a position of right standing while we work that out practically. Hebrews 10:14 puts it this way:

"For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy."

The Apostle Paul wrote the following in Romans 6:17-18:

"17 Thank God! Once you were slaves of sin, but now you wholeheartedly obey this teaching we have given you. 18 Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living."

Because Jesus Christ has completely and utterly set us free from sin, turning back to it is a choice. The devil doesn't make us do it. It's not something beyond our control. It's like the bride (cheerleader) saying to the groom she's going to cheat for a while ... but she'll be back.

It's like that because we, as Christians making up the Church, are the bride to Christ. To routinely choose to continually prolonging and playing with sin is to say to the Groom --- in this case, Jesus Christ --- that we're going to cheat on Him for a while, but we'll be back.

We want to milk our desires of the flesh for as long as possible.

That's how serious, how real, a relationship with Jesus Christ really is.

What's your attitude toward obeying God? Toward pursuing a holy life in Christ? How are you applying self-control toward attaining spiritual maturity?

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

What action are you taking to remain free from sin and growing as a disciple of Christ and child of God? Do you see cheating as an ongoing part of your life, or something you do not practice?

What's your choice?


Fashion statement, or fat support system?

A few years ago, suspenders enjoyed a brief moment in fashion's spotlight.

For the man who wore a suit, a colorful pair of suspenders that paired well with his tie and French cuff shirt was the latest fashion trend. Enough so that men were taking off their suit coats to display their suspenders.

A few days ago I noted a TV political commentator still sports his colorful suspenders, which match appropriately with his tie.

I also noted a local man who wears suspenders every day.

Both of these men like suspenders, but there's another reason why they wear them. They're both overweight, enough so that a belt no longer can handle the challenge of the downward push made by their sizeable, protruding bellies on the waistline of their pants. It now takes a pair of suspenders to confidently keep their pants up.

Instead of addressing their growing physical issue of increasing obesity, these men choose to simply adopt a system that will allow them to keep loading up and bloating outward. Instead of doing what is healthy and good for them, they add a couple of straps in an effort to haul the load of fat they carry.

Like these two men, many people are in search of "spiritual suspenders" to haul their brokenness and sin. Instead of turning to Christ to cleanse them from all unrighteousness, they search for ways to carry around their sin. They don't want to curb their appetite for sin any more than the other men want to curb their appetite for food. So they look for ways to carry it around confidently.

"18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth," Philippians 3:18-19.

Are you building systems to support and sustain sin, or an appetite for holiness?


What's on your refrigerator?

Many motivational gurus teach you to make a mess of your refrigerator door by taping on it pictures of all the things you want.

These motivational gurus tell you to visualize things that you want, then cut out pictures of these things and post them all over your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator, in your car, around your home and office ... various places where you can see them regularly.

Pictures of houses, cars, boats, vacations, clothes, electronics ... things.

So you will feed your desire for these things.

So you will feed your envy of those who have these things enough that you will make it your desire to pursue these things.

And, of course, the false "Law of Attraction" teaches you to visualize and focus on these things so that the "universe" will attract them to you.

What really is happening is you're being taught to envy sinners.

You're being taught to have a desire for the things of this world, and so instill them in your mind and emotions that you seek them with a priority. You make little "idols" by posting their images where you can "worship" them by elevating their value in your life.

This is what is taught as a means to success. "It's just good, successful goal-setting," is the excuse. Here is what Proverbs 23:17 says with great simplicity:
"Don’t envy sinners ..."

And then the same verse provides direction for what we should do:
"Don’t envy sinners, but always continue to fear the Lord."
The next verse provides real motivation for people looking for motivation:

"You will be rewarded for this; your hope will not be disappointed," Proverbs 23:18.

The simple lesson: Be careful of who you allow to motivate you, and want you long for.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

We say it's not all about us, but ...

Bad theology, bad doctrine, and those warm, fuzzy platitudes have been perpetuated throughout the church to such a great degree that the average Christian thinks the cross of Christ is all about us!

It's not.

Recently I saw a flurry of posts about how "it was love for us that nailed Jesus to the cross and held Him there" and "every moment Jesus was on the cross He was thinking of you." Here's another post:"Religion says God's so holy He can't stand you; the Bible says God loves you so much He couldn't live without you." Those, and other such ideas --- which are common among Christians and from preachers behind pulpits --- are biblically inaccurate.

The simplest of readings of the Bible makes it clear and unquestionable that God loves us, and amazingly so. So much that He gave His only Son for us. There's simply no disputing His real love for, and unfailing faithfulness to, us.

But that's only a part of the biblical picture. Without placing that in accurate biblical context, we create a theology that has God placing us in the center of His universe, and Him revolving around us to love us and meet our every need. That's incredibly biblically inaccurate.

So what is the truth?

In the middle of "God's universe" ... is God!

The Bible teaches us that all things were made by God, and for God, and all ultimately for His glory. God's primary focus isn't you, me, or some angelic being, it's His own glory!

"For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen," Romans 11:36.

Obviously, God had to love us greatly for Christ to suffer on the cross to be the propitiation for our sin. But the cross is a great demonstration of the glory of God! Yet, over and over again we're told that Jesus being the sacrifice for the sins of the world demonstrates how God's attention is all about us.

God's attention is all about God's glory! And the glory of God is so great that He draws close to us and, through His love, extends the means for us to be adopted as His children.

Why is it that human beings so often think they can make demands of God, have service-based expectations of God, and actually be disappointed with God? Because they have a flawed theology that puts them in the middle of God's universe, with God as the ultimate servant.

We say we know better, but is God the very center of your "universe"? Does your life revolve around Him? Is the purpose for your existence primarily for the glory of God? If the answer is no, then you don't get it yet.

But you can.

Will you?


Monday, November 14, 2011

Cutting the budget ...

It doesn't matter what side of the isle most American politicians are on, they seem to not have an understanding of what "cutting" means.

For most, it simply means reducing the rate of growth. For example, if a program costs a million dollars (ha! that would be dirt cheap), instead of increasing the rate of growth for the following year by an anticipated seven percent, they only increase growth by three percent.

To politicians, that's a cut.

To citizens, that's an increase of three percent!

Some Christians try to apply the same kind of thinking to their spiritual lives. Instead of cutting sin, and pursing holiness as God has instructed us to, we instead are satisfied with a reduction of sin. Maybe we cut out the more obvious and seemingly ominous things, but allow other sinful habits to continue unabated in our lives.

To some, that's cutting sin.

To God, that's continuing in sin.

What is it to you?

"14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, 'You must be holy because I am holy'," 1 Peter 1:14-16.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Are you aware of this?

My first awareness of my limited awareness hit me in my Journalism 101 class in high school. The teacher had us close our eyes and tell him where the nearest electrical outlet was, describe what a certain person was wearing, name objects found in the room, and so on.

The exercise was designed to introduce young would-be journalists to the need of developing their awareness.

I received much greater training about awareness as I studied clinical counseling and clinical psychology.

Many of us who think we're fairly aware people might be surprised at how much we miss around us.

We tend to take better note of what's missing rather than what really is in our surroundings.

We may mildly note, for a brief period, if there's joy in our lives, but we're quite aware when it's absent.

We often pay no heed to our being happy, but are very aware of when we' aren't.

We often miss the fact that we may be blessed, but we highlight those times when we aren't.

We take our health for granted, until we note with keenness our health slipping away.

There are times when we need to be aware of what's missing in our lives; sometimes it's vital to note, then seek, what's missing. But more often, having a heightened awareness of what isn't in our lives and giving little heed to what we have tends to make us less appreciative and more self-centered.

What if we turned that around?

How would it affect your life if you gave a little more attention to what really is in your life, and a little less attention to what's not there?

You may find yourself a little more content, a bit more fulfilled, and a lot more grateful.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

An identity complex ...

There's nothing flattering about identity theft. Those who attempt to steal your "identity" don't do so because they want to be you, or be like you. They just want to use your good standing to steal from you.

Identity theft has become such a serious crime that paper shredders have become commonplace in the average American household. Today, you don't throw away mail, you shred it, lest someone goes through your trash and gathers personal data about you.

There are even companies you can pay a monthly fee to "protect" your identity from being stolen.

In our world, we fight to keep people from stealing our identity. In God's economy, He works at giving us His:

"29 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. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory," Romans 8:29-30.

Being like God, as one of His own children, isn't something that we have to try to sneak or steal. You can't get His likeness that way, regardless of how stealthy you are. Instead, God offers us His identity. It is His desire to change us into the likeness of His Son so that we may truly reflect Him.

Funny how we fight against that change in identity, and strive to keep our own.

Have you given up your identity for a new identity in Christ? Or are you still hanging on to your old self?


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Why Christians fail ...

There are all kinds of people who walk into a gym, but for the sake of discussion, let's narrow these people into two groups: those who are fit, and those who are not fit.

Those who are not fit very often harbor the misconception that the others come often and confidently to the gym because they are fit. The truth of the matter is, usually the people in the gym who are fit are fit because they're in the gym!

These fit members have faced head-on the inconvenience, difficulty, and sometimes even the pain of persistent, consistent exercise in order to become fit. They keep coming to the gym at all hours of the day and night in order to stay fit.

Those who are not fit and show up at the gym hear what they need to do and often respond with that infamous little phrase, "Yes, but ..."

When "Yes, but ..." is the initial response to truth, a rejection of that truth is often what follows. "Yes, but ..." are the common words of the rebellious spirit.

And that's why Christians fail ...

Like the people going to the gym, you have spiritually mature Christians, and the other group is comprised of either immature Christians or yet-unbelieving seekers. The spiritually mature are in the church, "working out" spiritually with discipline and diligence, which is why they are spiritually mature.

The immature and seekers hear the truth and all too often respond with, "Yes, but ..." The complete sentence of their response is often, "Yes, but that's easier said than done."

Here's a good response to that attitude:

"So what?!"

Now I don't mean that flippantly, or insensitively, but whether the truth is hard, easy or something in-between is completely irrelevant. What matters is the application of the truth!

Seriously, who cares if it's hard or easy? Who cares if it's a breeze, a struggle, a challenge, or a test? So long as you have the truth to get you through life to the glory of God, the degree of difficulty isn't the issue. Making it through is.

Our "Yes, but ..." response is often made because we not only dislike the difficult, but disdain it enough to reject it at least long enough for a time of detour that creates huge regrets. We're demanding enough of our comforts to try everything under the sun other than the truth of God's Word in order to avoid difficulty, only to result in bringing upon ourselves the failure of not yielding to God's truth initially.

Some of the immature have learned they benefit by following the truth, but develop the bad habit of griping about it loud and long before submitting to it. While they may eventually reap the reward of yielding to Truth, they make their own lives unnecessarily more miserable with their poor attitudes toward the demands of Truth.

It's one thing to hear God's truth, not necessarily like the cost, but respond with, "Not my will Lord, but Your will be done." Kind of like Jesus, who looked at the cross that loomed ahead and prayed for another way, but more than anything else, wanted the will of the Father to be done.

At any cost.

And it was costly.

Less whining about, and less wrestling with, the truth, and a greater immediate embracing of it, will result in a very real improvement of your quality of life. At least within your own attitude.

How do you respond to God's truth: "Yes, but ..." or "Not my will, Lord, but Your will be done"?


First Church of IKEA ...

Processes don't disciple people, people do.

In today's church, we ask, "What process is in place to disciple new believers?" The question should be, "WHO is in place to disciple new believers?"

Leaving discipleship to a "process" is to establish a do-it-yourself system of discipleship; you lay out a process, and leave the new disciple to move themselves along to spiritual maturity.

There is no question that discipleship requires, and begins with, the new believer taking the personal responsibility to grow in Christ. But Jesus Christ gave the Church --- more specifically, its leaders --- the responsibility for doing the work of discipling those new believers in the faith:

"11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ," Ephesians 4:11-13.

Our churches are full of slick processes, but they aren't full of mature disciples. That's because we've replaced disciplers with processes, and reap the empty reward of doing so.

Do you have spiritually mature people ready to come alongside every believer in your congregation to disciple them to spiritual maturity? If not, you're either relying on a process, or ignoring discipleship altogether.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Like a bull in a china shop ...

Like a bull in a china shop, the lady let loose a rant full of expletives describing just what she thought of the other person, and how she wanted to see the life of that other person turn out badly.

That from a "Christian" woman.

It's not an unusual scene.

You have the pious-acting, Bible-verse-posting, Christian who seems kind and serene ... until someone does them wrong. Then they become that bull in a china shop, wreaking destruction with the unleashing of venomous words and justifying every one of them because of the actions or statements of the other person.

They completely miss the point: no sin committed by someone else is justification for us to commit sin in response.

And if you think those words of condemnation do not come with a heavy price for the justifier, think again. Here is what Jesus had to say about the danger of cursing others:

21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell," Matthew 5:21-22.

James says this about anger, "Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires," (James 1:20), especially when we think we can say and do anything because we have been offended or harmed.

This is when the excuses flow like a river. "But you don't understand, the horrible things they said and did can't be tolerated!"

God doesn't ask us to be sitting ducks for the bad behavior of others. He does expect us to respond in a way that is Christlike. Just because we've been wronged is not a license to respond in an ungodly manner. To follow that reasoning, shouldn't God have just destroyed humanity in response to sin we have committed against Him?

If God can contain His anger, we can also with the help of His Spirit who lives in us.

Sadly, it often doesn't take much to let the bull loose in the china shop. Just let someone cut you off in traffic, and out come the pronouncements of how stupid that fool, that idiot, really is!

Do you take the words of Jesus Christ seriously? If so, some may need to re-examine their own, especially those that are directed toward others.


Who are you talking to?

One of the greatest weaknesses we see from leadership in the church is not understanding the audience the leader is speaking to.

Here's a big case in point:

Today, we often see and hear leaders take to a wide stage in front of a large congregation, where they routinely challenge people to "pursue greatness." That's a challenge Jesus did not spend time making to His followers, yet many church leaders today spend an inordinate amount of time on.

As a result, I've heard from many who sit through these messages and increasingly feel inadequate. They don't have "great dreams" of leading congregations, organizations, or corporations. Their gifts, talents, skills, interests, and direct leading from the Holy Spirit don't have anything to do with "pursuing greatness."

Instead, what these men and women see as doing something "great" is being the best parent they can be, working on having a great marriage that lasts, being a true and loyal friend to others, caring about the less fortunate and those in need around them, and doing their best to see and use opportunities to be a witness for Christ.

If they can pull that off well and consistently, they believe they will have done something great with their lives.

They are right!

They don't have the dream of leading thousands, writing a best-seller, standing in a spotlight on any stage, or having any celebrity status. Instead, they want to pursue the more modest "dreams" God has given them.

So why do these leaders continue to take the stage and challenge them to greatness?

Perhaps in their own preoccupation with, and pursuit of, greatness they have lost touch with who they are talking to.

Who are you talking to?


Saturday, November 5, 2011

Should the church hand out flags?

Going out to eat was a BIG --- and rare --- treat when I was a kid.

When there's eight children in the family, it's not cheap for 10 people to dine out for dinner. That's probably why we sometimes had the chance to go to Pancho's Mexican Buffet for a meal.

Now Pancho's is not a fine dining experience for Mexican food. It's kind of mediocre, but it was cheap, and it's an all-you-can-eat buffet. Perfect for parents wanting to feed eight kids!

But it wasn't the food that made me want to go to Pancho's, it was the flag.

Because Pancho's is a buffet, the restaurant doesn't have servers checking on its guests, there's only a couple who tend to all of the tables. So when you run out of food and want more, all you have to do is raise a little flag on your table. When the server sees your flag up, she knows you need service. The servers won't come by your table unless the flag is raised.

Needless to say, no matter how full I was, I would eat a little more just to be able to raise the flag!

Not being served unless you raise a flag is an interesting concept. Considering it works for Pancho's perhaps the church should consider handing out flags to lost, hurting, sick, needy, lonely people. They're all around the church, but many Christians don't seem to respond to their need for service. They remain ignored.

Perhaps they need to raise a flag to get our attention. But would you see them even then?

Or perhaps we need to get serious about obeying and following Christ so the lost --- of all people! --- will not be overlooked by the church.


Friday, November 4, 2011

When showing up matters ...

A lot has been said about the friends of Job who sat with that incredible man as he grieved and wrestled with the horrendous losses and testing he was experiencing.

Job's friends didn't have good counsel for him. That can sometimes be a frustrating thing to deal with from a friend. But they did show a real hallmark of true friendship: they sat with him (for a while, anyway) in his suffering.

They were present.

Sometimes our friends "get it wrong." Sometimes they offer advice they shouldn't. Sometimes they talk when they shouldn't! But sometimes the most important thing we need from a friend is for them to show up. To be present.

All the words in the world --- even the real profound stuff --- cannot replace the power of presence within a friendship.

Do you have a friend who needs a friend to come alongside them and simply be with them? Will you be that friend?


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

This should be a no-brainer ...

If you don't know why you're doing what you're doing, you probably shouldn't be doing it.

That's especially true when it comes to ministry.

One of the most critical elements of effective, biblically-based ministry is too often missing in many churches today. That critical element is a well-developed theology for the ministry you lead.

At the start of my ministry, one of my first responsibilities was to revamp the entire educational ministry of a church. What surprised me when I first examined what was in place was there wasn't a theology for Christian education developed to give biblical guidance to the church for discipleship and teaching. What had been produced was created from one man's philosophy --- what he thought should be done --- rather than a biblically-based theology for what scripture says about the ministry of teaching and discipling in the church.

I changed that very quickly!

It has been my experience that ministries built from a biblically-based theology of ministry tend to more consistently produce outcomes scripture tells us we can anticipate.

The difference between developing and leading ministry from a theology or a philosophy sounds like a no-brainer, but you might be surprised at the number of church ministries in existence today that operate without any theological context at all. As I visit with ministers of different churches and ministries and ask to see their theology of ministry, I am routinely answered with a puzzled look.

Maybe this is just another reason why the church is in decline?

What are you building/have you built the ministry you lead (or serve in) upon: your own philosophy of what ministry should be, or a biblically-based theology?


Feelings ... oh, oh, oh feelings ...

People are addicted to feelings.

The biggest problem with that?

We like to feel instead of do.

We want to have experiences without the effort. We want the results of action without the personal application.

Even in the church.

We want the relational interactiveness, power, and results of prayer but say we're too embarrassed to pray in public (even though we do little of it privately).

We want the promises of God as extended to us in the Bible, without learning or applying the Bible.

We want God's constant, immediate attention to our "needs" but feel awkward expressing ourselves in a worship service.

We want to feel it, we want to have it. We do not want to think it, study it, learn it, apply it, do it, live it, in order to be it.

If that's how we really approach things, we likely won't be it.

Enjoy the emotions ...


Innovating on God ...

Sometimes it's a little dismaying watching church leaders with their non-stop wrestling with thinking up new models for the church.

Especially when inches from them sits a Bible, containing God's idea for what the church is supposed to be.

Instead of trying to innovate on God's thinking, perhaps the church would be far better off by applying it. Perhaps the most traditional of ideas --- those God had men, led by the Spirit, to write down for our benefit --- are exactly what will create a thriving church body.

Perhaps it's as simple as loving God with all our heart, strength, mind, and soul, loving our neighbors like we love ourselves, and daily picking our our own crosses and walking in Jesus' steps.

Maybe if we love God, serve the Lord, and spend ourselves entirely on Him, we'll be the church we can and should be.

Could it be we think, strategize, and talk about church models far too much, and live out being God's children in simplicity far too little?

What would happen if we simply turned that around?


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Beyond the politics, there's some humanity to see ...

Let's talk about the "Occupy Wall Street" activity for a moment ... but without any of the politics.

First, it should be easy for us to agree there's some degree of truth to the stereotyping happening. Some conservatives immediately and only see the OWSer's as lazy socialists who want their needs delivered by the government. Some of the OWS'ers have said that's something would they like.

Some of the OWSer's see upper middle class and upper class people as out-of-touch with the many who work just as hard but struggle to have life's most basic necessities. And there's some truth to what they say.

So what can we take from this?

Beyond the politics, --- beyond any arguments or hypocrisy from either side --- the reality is that among the OWSer's are some people who have been hurting and struggling for so long they are losing hope, if they have any left. They love their country, they don't support socialism, but they also don't have any answers. For themselves or for the woes of the country. They are weary, ignored and forgotten.

These people are the ones many who call themselves both conservative and Christian often don't have the slightest understanding of. They stereotype them and lump them with the "rabble rousers." And they are wrong for doing so.

America is seeing some hard times today, but the struggles our country is facing is only a part of a bigger economic and social downturn going on in many counties. The world is seeing hard times.

When we throw a cover of politics on a news story, we lose the humanity of the people behind the headlines. Whole families are experiencing a despair they've never known. These realities should do more than pull at the heart strings of genuine Christians, it should elicit a Christlike response of caring and serving from among us.

That doesn't happen when we can't even fathom what these people are going through. When we measure hard times by how long the cable connection or internet will be out-of-service, and only look at people through their --- and our --- politics, then we'll never see those who are hurting and struggling through no fault of their own.

Jesus Christ was not a conservative Republican. He wasn't American. He wasn't liberal, socialist, or a Democrat. He was and is God, and He calls us to see people rather than political parties, to see people as He sees them, to respond to them as He would, and to connect them to Him.

There's nothing wrong with being politically active as a good citizen. There's everything wrong with letting your politics influence your faith rather than your faith directing anything having to do with politics.

Jesus had very little to say about politics, a great deal to say about loving and serving God and others. Too often, we have a great deal to say about politics, and very little to say about loving and serving God and others.

For that, we need to repent. Then we need to take up our own crosses, and follow Jesus.


Editing God ...

There was red ink all over the paper.

My high school journalism teacher had just handed back to me the first news story I had ever written. My heart sank when I saw all the red.

But my spirits rose after reading all the marks and remarks my teacher had made. He didn't change my story, he had improved it and his notes taught me how to write better. The more I wrote, the less red ink appeared on my paper.

When working as a newspaper reporter, I did have an instance of confronting an editor who didn't improve my story, but changed it. He took out key elements of my story that made the report true rather than enhancing anything I had written. That couldn't be tolerated.

As Christians, sometimes we're like that editor with God's Word. One passage as an example is the Apostle Paul's writing in 1 Timothy 6:6, which states:

"Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth."

Here's how we like to edit that verse:

"Yet contentment is itself great wealth."

We like the idea of being content, and we have our own idea of how to achieve contentment. It's different than what the original verse states. We tend to think contentment comes through security, comfort, certain relationships, and indulgence. That's why we "edit" the verse, which points to a different source for pairing with contentment for achieving a rich life:

"Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth."

We can edit God's Word to suit ourselves, but we won't have the results or power of His Word. We'll have the weakness and outcome of replacing Truth with desire, opinion, and preference.

What are you doing with God's Word?