Monday, February 28, 2011

This will take a sheet of paper ...

If you want to try an insightful "spiritual experiment" (okay, most people don't, but give this one a try anyway), do this before you pray your next prayer: Take a piece of paper and list every reason why you are worthy of being blessed by God.

Take your time.

You can use the back of the paper if necessary.

At the end of this activity, you'll likely come to this conclusion: There is no human being who deserves to blessed. Not one!

Yet, God's interactions with us far exceed what we deserve. He is a just God who extends His mercy and is even gracious to us.

An attitude crafted with that understanding is the mindset we need to take into any time we enter into prayer with God. Mix that with this powerful teaching from Psalm 103:8-14:

"8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. 9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever. 10 He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve. 11 For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. 12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. 13 The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. 14 For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust."

When we approach God mindful that we are but dust, He treats us like children and blesses us beyond anything we deserve.

It's hard to get demanding with God with that understanding! Instead, you may find your prayer dripping with gratitude and thanksgiving, praise and adoration, as well as a greater, simpler contentment.


Did you hear that? ...

I like listening to people.

Professionally, I've been trained to listen to people. But personally, I really do enjoy listening to others tell their stories and learning about the people I'm spending time with. On several occasions, at the end of visiting with someone, many have remarked they've spent most of the time talking about themselves. That's fine with me, as I usually spend the time asking questions about them, which is their springboard to go deeper and deeper with their stories.

A recent invitation extended to me was supposed to be somewhat different. A Christian leader had wanted to meet with me after hearing about some of my work. The initial greeting was very warm, and the fellow started by enthusiastically stating how he wanted to get to know me and hear my story. So he led with a question ...

... only to quickly interrupt to tell about a similar experience of his own.

This continued to be the theme of our time together: he would ask a question about me, let me start, then interrupt to tell about his own similar experience. I believe he thought sharing his similar experiences was a way of creating a common bond. However, it became obvious to me that he simply liked talking about himself. So, I subtly changed the interaction to asking questions of him. At the end of our time together, he shook my hand vigorously, remarking how he had really enjoyed learning more about me! Well, at least I enjoyed learning more about him.

I understand my invitation to meet this leader was well-intentioned, but it was really all about himself. His behavior is a common one among weak leaders, which is the habit to want to "best" others with their own experiences.

We really don't learn much about others, help others, or lead others well if we spend much of the time talking about ourselves. Learning to listen to others gives us a more accurate insight about others that better equips us to understand their needs, and how we can best make ourselves available to help them meet those needs.

It's one thing to rattle on about yourself with another person, but I've noticed people who talk a lot about themselves often talk a lot at God as well. It's not enough to "best" a friend or colleague, but they often try to "best" God as well by making their time with the Lord a one-sided conversation of informing the Creator of all things about exactly what they want, and how they want it.

Not only do we do that in our conversations with God, but we do it with His conversations with us by what He says to us through scripture. God has stated perfectly what He wants to communicate to humankind, yet we often take scripture and amplify it with our own opinions, views, experiences and desires. By the time we're done with it, we've stretched it far beyond what God has actually said! We pile so much of our own "stuff" on top of God speaking to us in scripture that soon we can't recognize the biblical passages as originally communicated.

God doesn't need our additions --- or subtractions --- from His Word. He doesn't need our counsel or insights. He doesn't need our puny comparisons. He simply wants us to listen and apply what He has to say.

That doesn't mean God wants a one-way interaction with Him. He delights in our communing with Him. But sometimes we need to be a little more mindful of just who we're communing with! We can never "best" God. There is no experience or accomplishment of any virtue that we can stack up against His. So maybe we need to listen a little more, so we can get to know and understand Him better.

One thing I've discovered, the more we learn to listen to God, the more He prompts us to share with Him. Good listening carves greater depth into a relationship. The reason is because listening doesn't happen naturally, it requires a conscious choice. We hear a lot around us, but we listen to very little and very few.

Our Creator has much to say to us, every bit of it for our benefit. How well are we listening?


Saturday, February 26, 2011

The end has arrived ...

Is this the end of a childhood fantasy shared by millions?

Today's headline in the Palm Beach Post News was, "Discovery arrives at space station for final time." The space shuttle Discovery is completing the final flight of all of the space shuttles, and will soon return to earth to be housed in a museum, marking the end of an era in U.S. space exploration.

As a boy, I wasn't the only one who fantasized about the future being like "The Jetson's" cartoon, complete with flying cars and robots. One of my earliest and most vague childhood memories was that of the entire family gathered in the living room to watch the broadcast of astronaut Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the moon. But the Apollo space flights seemed like just a warm-up to the potential of the more advanced space shuttle program. Surely, the shuttle was the start of something bigger, greater, more sweeping than the Apollo era. Surely, we would visit planets and stretch the boundaries of exploration via the space shuttle, far surpassing anything the Apollo flights could ever achieve.

Yet, we're now witnessing the end of the space shuttle era, but the fantasy of the future isn't even close to what millions dreamed of. We have achieved iPads and laptops and smartphones and hybrid automobiles, but flying cars are nowhere to be seen. And robots are not household norms. We're far from what we dreamed of, and there's no new program waiting in the wings to build on what the shuttle program has accomplished.

Is this the end of our Jetson's fantasy?

I wonder if the apostles experienced a similar dream when they listened to Jesus deliver His commission to the church: "18 Jesus came and told his disciples, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).

The apostles took this commission to heart and turned the world upside down with the Gospel of Jesus Christ! But at the end of their days, they likely thought of their time as we did the Apollo era: a great start, but something much greater was yet to be accomplished.

Do you think they "fantasized" of village upon town upon city hosting the gathering of thousands upon thousands every week who come to worship the risen Christ and proclaim His Gospel? We've achieved that.

Today, megachurches across our nation and around the world gather weekly to put on the most polished of services, complete with worship, Communion, and preaching. It's more like a space shuttle era than the "Apollo-like" days of the apostles. Yet our reality is far from what Jesus envisioned. While some great things are happening in many churches, we're far from a world won for Christ, but we're too content with our current progress over the past.

But this is just a beginning!

If we can plant churches that reach thousands, what more can we do? How can we build off what has been accomplished and learned so that we plant different churches that reach tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions? How can we make ourselves so available to, and empowered by, the Holy Spirit that a robust, quickly growing megachurch looks old-fashioned and old school? How can we so impact a city with the Good News of Jesus Christ that we actually, truly reach the entire city?

We dream of such things, but we see them as more fantasy than real possibilities. Kind of like thinking the space shuttle would explore Mars and Venus and take us into deeper space. It was a fun fantasy, but did we really think it would happen?

What do you expect your church to accomplish in your community? How does that measure up to what Jesus Christ really wants to accomplish in your community through His church there?

What do you expect your life to accomplish in this world in the name of Jesus Christ? How does that measure up to what Jesus Christ really wants to accomplish in your life through the Holy Spirit?

Accomplishing Christ's commission to His church must be more than a fantasy, but a reality every Christian ernestly strives to achieve individually through their unity in the body of Christ. It was Jesus Himself who taught us there are greater things He intends to achieve through us: "
12 I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. 13 You can ask for anything in my name, and I will do it, so that the Son can bring glory to the Father. 14 Yes, ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it!" (John 14:12-14).

The space shuttle being retired to a museum is the end of a fantasy. We can live with that. What we can't live with is big churches with concert-quality worship services attended by thousands as being "enough." That is an "Apollo start" to much, much more that must follow. What is your local congregation going to bring to the future ministry of the church? What greater impact are you going to make with your life?


What's YOUR forecast? ...

I've lived most of my life in the West.

The majority of that time was in California, some time in Arizona, and a few years in Hawaii. Because of my experiences in these places, I've grown used to the weather "looking like" how it feels.

But not here in Texas. For example, as I write this, it's a cloudy, windy day that looks unpleasant. But it's actually reasonably warm! The weather doesn't feel the way it looks.

I remember my first experience spending some time in the Chicago area ... during winter. A brutal experience for a guy from the West! I clearly recall the first time I went outside on a bright, sunny day (literally, not a cloud in the sky) and yet the temperature was zero degrees.

Yes, zero degrees.

Yet, the sun was shining brilliantly.

I had an actual mental disconnect for a second. All my previous experiences taught me that bright, sunny days meant pleasantly warm days outdoors. There was nothing pleasant or warm about zero degrees. The weather didn't feel like it looked.

I think the world often has a momentary disconnect when it experiences something similar with many people who call themselves "Christian." The world has an idea of what a Christian should be like (although, the world often has incorrect views and expectations of Christians), but far too often the actual interaction is very different from the idea they expect. Kind of like the weather not feeling like it looks, or not looking like it feels.

In Christianity, it's Christians not living like their Lord. There's an outward profession, some sampling of what's claimed, but often a dramatic departure from living like Jesus lived, loving like Jesus loves, caring like Jesus cares, serving like Jesus served, giving like Jesus gave, discipling like Jesus discipled.

In the warmth of the Christian Gospel, we bring much colder hearts and interpersonal experiences. We far too often don't feel like the Master to the world.

Who wants more bad weather?


Friday, February 25, 2011

A new frontier for failed ethics? ...

What would you think about a local pastor who goes into a Best Buy store, stuffs his pants and coat pockets with electronics-related material, and then tries to walk out the store without paying for anything?

You'd probably think he was a thief.

Then what do you think about church leaders who loudly proclaim on social media their theft or ethical lapses in the use of technology by jailbreaking cell phones, using software not licensed to them, and seeking out pirated media?

Personally, I've been saddened and frustrated by the overt public bravado of several church leaders who tweet on Twitter and post to Facebook about their latest grabs in technology.

One well-known pastor of a megachurch tweeted about how he was about to jailbreak a cell phone. What kind of ethical standard does that set?

Why does it seem to so many Christians that when it comes to the use of technology, basic morality and ethics don't apply? Why is theft online thought to be acceptable when theft at a store is not? Why is passing around software instead of purchasing it is considered to be acceptable when used for ministry when several churches copyright some of their own materials?

Let me suggest that we Christians rethink how we approach our use of technology from a biblical, moral, and ethical light. All that we do, in any arena of life, should bring glory and honor to Jesus Christ.

If Christ were walking the earth today, I don't think He would ever tweet with delight about how He was jailbreaking His phone!

We need to raise the bar, live to a higher standard ... that of following in the footsteps of Christ and becoming more and more like Him.


BOOK REVIEW: "Sun Stand Still" a delightful surprise ...

"Let me ask you: does the brand of faith you live by provide the kinds of results in your life that you read about in the biblical stories of men and women of faith?" is the great question asked, and addressed, by Steven Furtick in his book "Sun Stand Still" (published by WaterBrook Multnomah).

We read in the Bible of the many great experiences faced by multiple biblical characters, but rarely does our own Christian experiences come anywhere close to what these great men and women of faith realized. Why?

That's the real and deep question this young pastor does an admirable job exploring in depth in this book. I found "Sun Stand Still" to be a delightful surprise because it wasn't any of the three things it easily could have been.

First, when you have a dynamic pastor of a megachurch who has strong communication skills, you often find some of their better sermon series published as books. Not necessarily because of the depth and quality of the content, but because they have a ready-made audience for selling books. In this case, this 30-year-old pastor who planted Elevation Church and has led its growth to more than 6,000 in weekly attendance in five years, has a real message of substance and a passion for sharing it.

Second, when dealing with the topics of faith and prayer, many books are more positive-thinking oriented, with the pastor being a cheerleader for encouraging some kind of "amazing" faith. Furtick goes beyond the rah-rah stuff to clearly define the concept of "audacious faith" and provide a biblical roadmap for how every Christian can experience "Sun Stand Still" movements of God.

Third, sermons by megachurch pastors that are turned into books can be biblically shallow. Not in this case. Furtick does a good job of making scripture the guide in responding to the initial question he posed, as well as providing additional sound biblical insight into prayer.

If you want a faith so substantial that you experience movements of God like those realized by the men and women we read of in the Bible, then I recommend you pick up a copy of "Sun Stand Still" and use it as a tool to grow an audacious faith that changes your life that far more greatly glorifies God.


I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group 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.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sometimes you ARE the lesson ...

On more than one occasion I've listened to some very frustrated people as they have told their stories. Very similar stories in one regard, and that is, they can't figure out their stories.

As they go through some rough times, they look for some lesson God has for them, and something specific seems to be missing.

As we've dug around the facts of their lives, we discovered that God wasn't pointing them toward a lesson chiefly for them, but instead was positioning their lives as a lesson for others! We discovered an interesting reality that many who are truly Christian will experience. It's this:

Sometimes the tough things you go through are to teach OTHERS something, and God uses YOU as the lesson!

Life was never all about you. Never is that more true than when God uses your life to teach others. That fact can be understood when we look at how He has done this in the lives of others. Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 10:1-11:

"1 I don’t want you to forget, dear brothers and sisters, about our ancestors in the wilderness long ago. All of them were guided by a cloud that moved ahead of them, and all of them walked through the sea on dry ground. 2 In the cloud and in the sea, all of them were baptized as followers of Moses. 3 All of them ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all of them drank the same spiritual water. For they drank from the spiritual rock that traveled with them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Yet God was not pleased with most of them, and their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 6 These things happened as a warning to us, so that we would not crave evil things as they did, 7 or worship idols as some of them did. As the Scriptures say, 'The people celebrated with feasting and drinking, and they indulged in pagan revelry.' 8 And we must not engage in sexual immorality as some of them did, causing 23,000 of them to die in one day. 9 Nor should we put Christ to the test, as some of them did and then died from snakebites. 10 And don’t grumble as some of them did, and then were destroyed by the angel of death. 11 These things happened to them as examples for us. They were written down to warn us who live at the end of the age."

Just as we have the examples of others as recorded in scripture, sometimes God allows us to face challenges in life as a living lesson for others. Instead of getting frustrated in trying to find something for yourself in every situation, sometimes we need to relax in the knowledge that some things are for the benefit of others.

Because it's not all about you or me.

It's all about Jesus Christ.

And sometimes, we are the lesson!


Who's on your patio? ...

Christians can boast of having some of the most extraordinary --- and extravagant --- patios to populate any suburb.

These patios are decked out with massive barbeques ... some on wheels, and some permanently built structures ...

... outdoor fire pits ...

... outdoor furniture nicer than many have in their living rooms ...

... outdoor sound/music systems ...

... outdoor lighting systems ...

... outdoor misting systems ...

... and much more! ...

... all designed to be enjoyed by their own families and other Christian friends. Unfortunately, not many neighbors or unsaved people ever find their way onto these patios.

For Christians, here's a thought: show me who spends the most time on your patio, and I'll show you who does or doesn't have a heart for evangelism.

One of the greatest ways of reaching the lost for Jesus Christ is by building genuine relationships, and one of the most effective ways of doing that is having people in our homes. For many Christians, that means having people on our patios ... and most of the people we share our patios with are usually other like-minded Christians.

When was the last time you had non-Christian neighbors sharing some bbq on your patio? When was the last time (if ever) you invited some of the homeless from your community for a meal on your patio? When was the last time you invited your non-Christian co-workers for a cookout on the patio?

What are you using your patio for? What are you using your home for? What are you using your spare bedrooms for? Can you honestly claim the single most expensive item you own --- your home --- is fully committed to ministry? Does the use of your home display a heart for evangelism? Or is your patio home base for a Christian clique that likes to talk about evangelism but never does it?

It's easy to imagine Jesus on a patio, standing by a bbq. You know exactly who would be His guests. Yes, some Christians would be sprinkled among the group, but the makeup of His guest list would likely be very different from what you find on the patios of most Christians.

How would your spiritual life change, and how much more could you accomplish for the kingdom of God, if you fully committed the use of your patio, your home, your spare rooms, your vehicles, yourself, and all that you have, to reaching the lost for Jesus Christ? What if you stepped out of your Christian cliques and started spending more time with people who are clueless about Jesus? What could possibly happen if you got to know some homeless people on a first-name basis?

What if you started making the kind of friends that Jesus had as friends when He walked the earth?

What if you even started simple and replaced just one Christian clique member on your patio with a lost person?

If you really got serious, you might have to take your shoes off on your patio, because you might actually meet God there, for some really holy work!

Spring is drawing near. What are you going to do with your patio?


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Do you really believe this about God? ...

If you've been to church, you've probably experienced this: A leader walks onto the stage and says, "God is good!" and immediately the audience responds, "All the time!" Then the leader says, "All the time ..." and the audience responds enthusiastically, "God is good!"

It's a fun experience! "God is good, all the time!"

We say that as a congregation on Sundays, but do you really believe it?

I mean ... really?

Do you believe that God is always good? Constantly? Every moment? Every second?

When I was a kid, at a time before I really knew or had any honest understanding of God, I was afraid of thunderstorms. When the loud thunder would boom, I was afraid it might be God, peeling back the clouds and coming in anger to punish us humans. I didn't always think God was good. I may have thought He was holy, or just, or righteous, but not always good.

Our culture doesn't think God is good. It questions God whenever death, pain, hunger, loneliness, sickness, or sorrow is brought to light. They ask where God is at times like these, and say that surely a good God wouldn't tolerate such things.

And too often, God's very own children don't believe He is good. At least, not always.

The result is that we make God out to be far less than He is, robbing ourselves of seeing and knowing His goodness. Because God really is good all of the time! Jesus said it this way, "18 Once a religious leader asked Jesus this question: 'Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?' 19 'Why do you call me good?' Jesus asked him. 'Only God is truly good'."

When we don't honestly believe God is good, we seek from Him something less than He is both willing and capable of providing to us ... His goodness! Jesus teaches us to believe that God is good, and to be persistent at pursuing His goodness. Look closely at these words of Christ:

"7 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him" (Matthew 7:7-11).

More than simply giving us good "gifts," God's plan is to give us His goodness in an even greater way. The words the prophet Jeremiah spoken to the exiles are true for us today: "For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).

God has good gifts, a good plan, a good future, a good hope for you IF you believe He is good, and persist in asking for and seeking His goodness.

But do you really believe that God is good ... all the time?



Friday, February 18, 2011

Why leaders mislead on purpose ...

Everyday, leaders of every kind of background purposely mislead the churches, businesses, and organizations they lead.

Here's why: Many leaders have a profound vision of what their church or organization could be, but believe their people will not pay the cost, do the work, and make the sacrifices necessary to achieve their truest, greatest potential. So, these leaders lead their people toward something less.

Some of these leaders may be right. The majority of the people wouldn't buy in and pursue their greatest potential. However, many would be wrong. Often we see that many people will rise to the occasion by responding to a challenge to a greater faith, a fuller life, a bigger risk, a genuine sacrifice, and a more profound purpose. All this leads to an important equation:

Leaders need to challenge those they lead to rise to their highest capacity so that those who are willing to respond will do so, moving themselves and their organization forward. The others will always choose mediocrity.

Go with the go-ers!


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Here's an acid test for discovering your real priorities ...

One of my "spiritual heroes" had a favorite saying I've never forgotten: "Show me your checkbook and I'll show you your priorities."

With many people doing their banking online these days, that saying may need some tweaking, but there's a great deal of truth in it.

Because of the value we give to money, how we spend our money tends to reflect the other things we value. The awkward truth about that is, most Christians do not tithe or give regularly to a local church.

When Christians open their checkbooks, it's usually when they think they have enough stashed away for themselves to drop a little something into the offering plate. Most giving comes out of a perceived margin of comfort, and reduces as that margin goes down. Yet many view their giving from that margin to be "sacrificial giving."

Let me pose a new thought here: You likely have not truly given sacrificially until you've dipped into your savings.

Giving from savings?! Are you nuts?!

"Show me your checkbook and I'll show you your priorities."

When we insist that our dollars go to maintain a certain standard of living (interpretation: comfortable middle to upper-middle class), we direct our dollars to personal living expenses, savings and investments, then perhaps a little something will be given to the building of God's kingdom once those personal priorities are met.

"Show me your checkbook and I'll show you your priorities."

What we really believe about the essential need to proclaim the Gospel, to serve one another, and to be the body of Christ loving people into the kingdom of God is directly reflected in our individual checkbooks ... and rarely from a savings passbook.

Have you ever sat down with your Bible and your checkbook and taken the time to go through your spending habits? What values does your spending reflect? What kind of contribution are you making to building God's kingdom? To the proclamation of the Gospel? To serving your brothers and sisters in Christ? To helping those truly in need of help? To caring for the less fortunate in the name of Christ? How does your checkbook substantiate your theology?

Where is the Christlikeness reflected in your checkbook?

"Show me your checkbook and I'll show you your priorities."


Monday, February 14, 2011

Ministry fails without this ...

Everybody smiled, but it felt like a slap.

Such was part of the welcome to my new ministry responsibilities in Southern California.

When I first started out as an ordained minister, I was with a church that was part of a denomination and was living in the San Francisco bay area. After a busy, exciting, blessed time of ministry there, I moved to a suburb of Los Angeles to take on my first Senior Minister position.

I was warmly welcomed by the congregation, and because I was the "new guy" I was invited to be the keynote speaker at the denomination's upcoming district meeting. I looked forward to that, as it would provide me an opportunity to meet other ministers in the area and learn about what God was doing through these local congregations.

After some time in prayer seeking God's guidance on what to preach about at the district meeting, I settled on the topic of love. In thinking about multiple congregations coming together to discuss ministry efforts, what greater bond could inspire and bring us together than that of love? Imagine how we could impact the greater Los Angeles area if every congregation within the district focused on sharing the love of Christ to the communities they served, and how we could be used by God if we loved one another as we served together.

And imagine how impotent our efforts would be with a lack of love.

At the district meeting, the handshakes were firm, the greetings were friendly, and the "amens" throughout the sermon were robust. And the initial feedback after the preaching was gracious.

Then came the second speaker.

A second speaker?

I didn't have any idea there was to be a second speaker, but following my sermon came the "heavy hitter." The next speaker was a veteran preacher. In the denomination, he was considered to be an old school "preacher's preacher."

I'm talking really old school.

So much so, he wore the "uniform" of a real preacher: plain black suit, white shirt, plain black tie. He preached from the biggest King James Bible I've ever seen. And his topic wasn't love.

He started by noting my topic was nice, and was something to strive for, but then began to school this novice preacher publicly about the realities of ministry. After all, congregations really needed discipline, and Christians should be making sharp stands, and Los Angeles was really a cesspool of sin that needed condemning in no uncertain terms.

His sermon couldn't have been more different than mine.

While the initial smiles at the meeting were nice, they soon felt like a slap as the final message delivered was more along the lines that you really have to be naive to think that love is the message a group of churches called to do ministry together need to hear.

I left the the meeting trying my best not to feel somewhat deflated. I had hoped this would be the start of building strong bonds of fellowship with other churches who shared a similar view of ministry. But during my time in that area and with that denomination, I watched as each district meeting continued with somewhat harsh themes while the churches represented there continued to stagnate.

Fortunately, the church I was part of took to heart the idea of loving the people in our community with the love of Christ, and loving one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. The result of that was God blessing us with a rich fellowship that those outside the church wanted to be part of, resulting in transforming lives for Christ and seeing the body of Christ grow and mature.

Love made a profound difference!

It always has, and always will.

What hope is there for the those who don't know Christ if His body, the church, doesn't mirror and demonstrate God's love to the communities they are part of? What hope is there for the church if love for one another isn't considered to be vital? The Apostle Paul gave us an answer in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:

"1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing."

Ministry fails when we fail to love.

But when we love, people often respond positively. They are drawn to the beauty of what love is, as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

"4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance."

Sometimes we laugh about Valentine's Day. We think of it in terms of heart-shaped candies, flower bouquets, and candlelight dinners. We often think of it as the day we do cheesy things to show our love to others. But I'm all for any reminder about the vitality of love!

Today --- whether it's cheesy or cheap, thoughtful or expensive, friendly or romantic, planned or spontaneous, simple or complex --- remind yourself to love, then demonstrate your love to someone. Share it! Give it away freely! Genuinely! Let the love of God flow through you like a mighty river, and let today be a fresh start at being God's vessel of love to others.

It will make a profound difference ... in your life, and the lives of others.


Saturday, February 12, 2011

You're who's kid?! ...

Today I had an interesting "shout out" from a friend on Twitter.

It was from James Scott.

Wait ... that's my name!

The tweet was from a person named James Scott, giving a shout out to all the other James Scott's out there. That made me think about the many others who share my name. Our backgrounds vary vastly, and it made me think about how there are many who I would be happy to share the same name with. But there are some whose character I would not want my name linked to in any way.

None more so than the character of my deceased father, whose namesake I really am.

Yes, I'm a "Jr." While I have been called "Scotty" from the very moment I was born, that's a nickname. My full name is James Scott, Jr., which means my father was James Scott, Sr. Unfortunately, I don't have any lasting, positive memories of my father. So negative was his character that the State removed me from his physical custody in my early teens shortly after the death of my mother.

As a teenager, I struggled with carrying my father's name. The reason being was that, of all the human beings I knew, he was the one I never wanted to be like. He was an unkind man who did not have the kind of character you wanted to emulate. And I never wanted anyone to think because I carried his name that I also carried his character, because I didn't and never have.

I finally came to terms with the fact that although we shared the same name, that's where the similarity ended (other than perhaps a little physical resemblance ... he was my biological father). So I resolved to make sure the "Jr." was always attached to my name to distinguish myself as distinct from my father, and live the best example I could.

While I disdained the idea of carrying my biological father's name, I also had to come to terms with carrying my heavenly Father's name. When I was 10, I gave my life to Jesus Christ and took on part of His name by becoming a "Christian." Now I was carrying Someone else's name, but one which I was humbled and privileged to carry. One I wanted to strive to live up to. One I was profoundly happy to be connected with. But one I certainly didn't deserve or earn.

While I didn't want to carry my dad's name because of not wanting to be connected to his character, I found myself humbled that the Savior of the world extended His name to me and allowed me to carry it! His name was one I wanted to carry because His character was one I wanted to emulate. I wanted to become like Him as much as possible, and that continues to be what I strive for. The last thing I want is my Savior to regret extending His name to me.

Fortunately, living up to the name of "Christian" is something God empowers us to do. As He adopts us into His family, He changes us into the likeness of His Son. The Apostle Paul writes about this in the following passages:

"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).

"20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy" (Ephesians 4:20-24).

"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" (Galatians 3:26-27).

"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).

Christ has given us a name we can humbly be honored to carry, and one to spend our lives striving to represent well. By the power of His own Spirit working in us, we can bring glory to His name by sharing His character through our own lives.

Do people see the connection to your heavenly Father in the way you live your life? Does your life bring honor to God? How is the way you're living bringing praise to the name of Christ?


Monday, February 7, 2011

If it's on there, you put it there ... and that might be the problem!

Long ago, I transitioned from a paper to an electronic calendar.

At the time, I felt great trepidation about making the change. What if there was some sort of glitch (like user error) that wiped out my calendar? With a paper calendar, I would always have my notes. But I could make sure my electronic calendar was backed up, so I made the change.

I'm glad I did.

But only because having all my operational resources in one device is convenient for me. I still have a calendar that can be full --- too full sometimes. It still wields a strong influence on my life.

However, for any of us who need to keep and maintain a calendar, here's the question: Is your calendar managing you, or are you managing it?

We often hear the laments about the crazy, harried, and overflowing calendars, but keep this simple fact in mind: each item scheduled on your calendar is put there by YOU!

None of us purchase a calendar that comes pre-loaded with activities and events we absolutely must attend or take part in. Everything that winds up on our calendars is there by our making a choice to schedule that item into our lives.

With that understood, the greater issue is in our managing our time and commitments. A good way to get a better handle on that is to better learn to say "no."

We aren't needed in every meeting.

We don't have to do everything ourselves, some things can be delegated.

Some things aren't important enough to give time to.

Some things are so important they need to be highlighted in yellow on our calendars.

The kids don't have to participate in every sport and extracurricular event.

We can be more selective about secondary interests.

There are lots of things that might be nice, fun, or interesting to be a part of, but the quality and productivity of our lives would be better if we simply said no and kept them off our calendars.

If your calendar is a source of stress or frustration to you, take a look at what's on it and reassess your decision-making and how you're valuing what you're scheduling into your life. Make sure you're using your calendar as a tool to manage your time and commitments rather than allowing it to manage you.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

The big truck that couldn't ...

Early yesterday morning I was sitting in the back room of a Saxbys coffee shop looking out the wall-sized window at about six inches of fresh snow.

It was still snowing as I enjoyed a hot cup of coffee while my laptop booted up.

All the new snow was covering a sheet of ice that had plastered the parking lot (and city streets) a couple days before during an ice storm. Needless to say, driving on the slick surfaces was treacherous.

But the sub-freezing temperatures were bringing several customers to the drive-thru window of the coffee shop. That meant I could see every car turn in front of the window across from me in the drive-thru lane. In spite of the ice and snow, each car slowly, carefully, and seemingly easily maneuvered its way to the pick-up window.

That is, until the big Chevy pick-up truck came along.

The shiny black truck was sitting high on large, all-terrain tires and, as it made the turn, slowly began to slide sideways and spin its wheels. Within a few seconds, the big truck was stuck!

The driver first looked shocked, then perplexed. He eased off the accelerator, then tried once again to go forward, only to spin his wheels.

Shaking his head, the driver put the truck in reverse, backed up a few feet, then tried to ease the truck forward. Again, the big tires spun in the snow and the truck started to fish tale, angling the nose of the truck toward the large windows.

The driver stopped, back the truck up again, and gave a running start at going forward. He attempted this a few times until he finally spun his way forward and up to the pick-up window.

I felt sorry for the driver, as he was thoroughly surprised at the difficulty the snow and ice were causing his big, tough truck. A difficulty none of the little cars that came before him seemed to experience!

If any of us were picking a vehicle to take on tough terrain, we probably would pick out something like the truck that had come by the window. After all, in facing difficult elements it would seem to make sense to choose lots of power, rugged tires, and plenty of lift from the ground. The truck was simply dripping macho ability.

But regardless of the power the truck had, it wasn't the right vehicle for that driveway.

In life, we often think the difficult and the "big" challenges belong to the strong, the courageous, the tough, the "macho." Those with the big muscles and big titles. But it's often the quiet, weak little guy that God taps to blaze a trail.

That's not to say characteristics such as courage or strength, talent or training, experience or equipping aren't important or valuable. They have their place. But when God wants a person to accomplish His work, He looks at the heart of the person rather than the trimming.

When selecting a new king to replace Saul as ruler over Israel, God picked someone who surprised His prophet, Samuel. In 1 Samuel 16, God instructs Samuel to find a man named Jesse, as it would be one of his sons who God would raise up as the new king. In the classic style of looking at outward appearance, Samuel makes an incorrect judgment:

"When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, 'Surely this is the Lord’s anointed!'” (1Samuel 16:6).

Like the big Chevy truck, Eliab may have looked like he was equipped to be the next king, but he wasn't the right man for the job. God corrected Samuel's assumption: "But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'.”

After parading the remainder of his sons before the prophet, Samuel asks Jesse if these are all of sons. No, there remains the youngest, but he's out tending the sheep and goats. Samuel insists he be sent for, that they would not even sit until he arrives! And when he does, Samuel comes face to face with the man God would make the greatest human king in Israel's history.

"12 So Jesse sent for him. He was dark and handsome, with beautiful eyes. And the Lord said, 'This is the one; anoint him.' 13 So as David stood there among his brothers, Samuel took the flask of olive oil he had brought and anointed David with the oil. And the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David from that day on. Then Samuel returned to Ramah" (1 Samuel 16:12-13).

Perhaps you feel like you're a SmartCar among Hummers. Don't fret, God can use you in a mighty way! God has a purpose for your life, and with that purpose He provides the powerful anointing of the Holy Spirit. It isn't the physical package you bring that determines what you can accomplish for God, but the heart you have in serving Him.

Do you trust God to use you? Have you made your heart available to what God has in store for you? Or are you passing the buck to the big guy who isn't equipped for what only you can do for God?


What are you looking at? ...

Here's a simple, yet profound fact: You see what you're looking at.

That's why we miss so much of what's immediately around us, and even more of that which is at a distance.

For example, did you know that for less than $200.00 per month five widows and 15 orphans living in Kenya can have two meals daily of rice, maize and beans? Probably not, because you may not have seen the need. A friend of mine through social media regularly travels to Kenya to minister there, so he's seen the need and regularly posts photos and information so others can see the need also.

But did you know about your neighbor on the same block you live on who can't afford adequate food, so is also going hungry? Or the neighbor who's marriage is on the rocks and probably won't last the rest of the year? Or the young person at your church who's developing relationships with bad influences? Or the co-worker who's home is being foreclosed on by the bank?

Are these any of the things you're seeing?

Or are you having a hard time seeing past your own front door?

While we see what we're looking at, it's our heart and our values that determine what we look for.

Too much of the time we don't see the needs of others immediately around us, or at a distance, because we don't care enough to look. Our hearts and values aren't tuned in sharply enough to look for the needs of others on purpose.

Jesus Christ provides us with a completely opposite example. He was so keenly tuned into our needs that He tailored all of human history around His response to it! And over and over again, we read in the Gospels of how He was moved by the needs of people who crowded in to see Him. The eyes of Jesus were constantly on the needs of others while giving little thought to His own comfort. Even as He looked out over Jerusalem, He looked at the need of those who lived there.

What does that have to do with us? Peter explains in 1 Peter 2:21: "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."

If we, as Christians, are going to make a difference in this world in the name of Christ, we have to see the world, and the people in it, through His eyes. To do that, we have to let Him shape our heart and transform our values into His so that we care like He cares. Then we will see as He sees, and respond with the heart of Christ.

So, what are you looking at?


Thursday, February 3, 2011

How to leap forward in your spiritual growth ...

Want to take a major step forward in your spiritual maturity? Here's one way of doing just that:

Make God the God of your circumstances!

We sometimes see in scripture the lives of those who are driven by their circumstances. For example, the Old Testament record of God delivering His people out of bondage in Egypt and guiding them to a Promised Land is riddled with a ripe example of many whose lives were racked --- and wrecked --- by being overwhelmed by their circumstances.

First, they are celebrating the great things God is doing. Then they run into a hard circumstance. The response? They grumble against God, and are overwhelmed by the circumstance. Only for God to demonstrate His limitless superiority over any circumstance that arises. Then the people rejoice (at least those who survive their response to the circumstances) ... and on goes this cycle.

Circumstances change, but God does not!

That's a simple fact, yet many panic, doubt, throw tantrums and act in any number of ungodly ways the moment hard circumstances come around. Instead of seeing a tough circumstance as another opportunity to see the greatness of God demonstrated, the spiritually immature keep their eyes on the problem and forget how big, how great, how powerful, how able, how caring their God is.

We also see in scripture some great examples from "giants of the faith." What seems to be a common denominator among them is when hard times come around, they know they can rely on God. That's because they understand that, although the circumstances may have changed, God did not. He remains faithful. He is their God of their circumstances, not just their God of easy times.

James highlights for us how not making God the God of our circumstances impact our lives, as he writes in James 1:2-8:

"2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. 5 If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. 6 But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do."

When you enter into your circumstances with your eyes on the problem and your head spinning with fear rather than faith, you leave God out of your circumstances which leaves you vulnerable. James says, "... 7 Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do."

When your circumstances change, how do you view God? Do you doubt and curse Him, or look to Him as your Rock in a time of trouble? Do your changing circumstances rule you, or do you find peace in an unchanging God in the midst of any circumstance?