Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fairy tales from the pulpit ...

If you think Prince William and and his new bride are exhausted from a wedding day filled to the brim with activity, just think of all those poor souls who exhausted themselves following all the broadcasts of the fairy tale wedding on multiple television channels all day long!

People love a great fairy tale ...

... just ask many preachers in pulpits across America who serve them up weekly for their audiences.

I'm NOT talking about the preaching of the Gospel, which is the delivery of truth rather than the depiction of a dream.

I am talking about preachers who create "spiritual fairy tales" to sell to their congregations every week.

It's more like a new theology of action and adventure that these preachers try to create. They paint being Christian as being the White Knight taking on injustice in the world. He's brave and courageous, and his deeds are not only noble, but they're fun and adrenalin-soaked.

It's a nice fairy tale --- and sometimes partly true --- but it's often not even close to what the real Christian life is like, either today or in the past.

The original Christians, from the apostles to the early church, weren't adrenalin junkies who did what they did for some need for adventure. They did what they did, which often was very dangerous, because they loved Jesus Christ so much they couldn't imagine not fulfilling His commission to the church.

It usually wasn't romantic.

It usually wasn't a grand 'ol adventure.

It often wasn't easy.

It cost them everything they had, including their lives.

It was challenging, difficult, frightening, harsh ... and incredibly fulfilling. Not because of some personal reward, but from the satisfaction of seeing lost people believe the Gospel and come to Jesus Christ as their own personal Lord and Savior.

It seems as if today so many preachers believe they have to spin Christianity into a fairy tale to gain interest in following Christ. The problem with that is, they can never deliver what they claim. The Christian life today isn't being the modern-day White Knight. It has its own challenges, and in some parts of the world, it can still cost you your life.

Even so, the Christian life is the most rewarding, fulfilling, and satisfying life anyone could live because it is real life! And real life is what people who really want the truth will be attracted to.

There actually is plenty of action and adventure in living for Christ. Sometimes it's great stuff of legend! But often the action and adventure is of a more challenging, costly nature. But even that is something that draws people when given the whole truth. And the final reward far exceeds anything a fairy tale come true in this life could ever even begin to offer!

Isn't it time we stop spinning fairy tales from the pulpit and preach the unvarnished truth of the Gospel? God isn't calling people to come and be super heroes, He's calling them to come be His obedient children who serve as His Ambassadors to a lost and dying world. Let's tell the truth about that, it's much more compelling than a fairy tale.


Friday, April 29, 2011

A fairy tale and its influence ...

In case you missed the news, today a fairy tale happened in London: handsome prince marries beautiful common girl.

The wedding of Prince William to Kate Middleton is a new chapter in a long story that started with a different fairy tale romance thirty years ago.

The wedding of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer in 1981 was one of the greatest media events of the twentieth century. That was a story of a less handsome prince who married a beautiful girl whose family had an aristocratic background. Charles selected Diana because of her position, rather than for love, and very soon after the wedding cracks in the real relationship began. The unraveling of the marriage seemed to happen before the eyes of the world, which witnessed the collapse and end of that fairy tale.

Prince William did not want to make the same mistakes his parents did.

That's understandable.

Unfortunately for Prince William, his mother leaned on him as a confidante while he was quite young. She shared with him all her problems with her marriage and life, a burden a child shouldn't be loaded with by a parent.

Prince William was so determined not to make the same mistakes that he was intent on marrying for love and not position. And to make sure it was real love, and a union that could withstand the "royal life," he and Kate lived together for an extended period of time before the Prince proposed to his would-be Princess.

Therein lies the problem.

The world watches this fairy tale and finds it wonderful. In the process, the act of living together while not married was actually pointed to as something wise on the part of the newlyweds. Multiple programs about the life of Prince William, as well as programs about the courtship of William and Kate, have been running on television all day. In one of the programs, multiple commentators described the time when the Prince and Kate lived together, and spoke of how beneficial it was to the couple. One commentator said their time living together helped them to decide if a marriage could last, and then she said about the premarital arrangement, "... just as it should be."

Who knows how many young people, enraptured with the idea of their own fairy tale, will now make the argument for premarital unions. They will point to the example of Prince William and Kate Middleton as justification for living together prior to pursuing any possibility of marriage.

That choice will be a great way to ruin their dreams of a fairy tale!

Statics have long showed that a majority of couples who live together prior to marriage, and who later marry, will divorce. But beyond the statics, premarital unions simply are not God's design for how to live happily ever after with a spouse.

I can understand Prince William's strong desire to not repeat the mistakes of his parents. But his method was a poor choice which will likely influence the choices made by many other young couples.

That's not a good way to build your leadership and influence in a nation or as a world figure.

As leaders, or as followers, our personal choices in our personal lives can have as great an impact on the lives of others as do key decisions made in our professional lives. Turning dreams into realities can be wonderful life experience, so long as they are done in a manner that brings honor to God rather than disobedience to His instructions for us.

Like many millions of people around the world, today I wish the very best for this young couple as they begin their marriage. Their standing in the world will influence many lives. I pray for a better example from them. Not only will that be best for those who watch their lives, but it will be best for them as well.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where's the anesthesia?!

"Ain't no way!" was my immediate thought.

In the '90's I had a minor surgery, and the doctor told me he would use a "local" anesthetic instead of putting me out for the short, fairly routine surgery.

"Not gonna happen!" was my next thought.

I explained to the doctor there was no way I was going to be cut open, worked on, and sewn up while I was conscious. I didn't want to see or hear or have any awareness of the experience. None!

Fortunately the doctor agreed I could be administered anesthesia, the surgery was scheduled, and everything worked out fine.

There are plenty of people very different from me who prefer to be awake during certain surgeries. I wonder if any of them are "back seat drivers" to the surgeon. You know, asking the doctor, "What are you doing now?" "Why are you doing that?" "Do you think that's wise?" "Have you considered ..."

When it comes to surgery, I consider the surgeon the expert. If we agree on what needs to be done, I put myself in his highly trained, professional hands (after much prayer!) and trust him to effectively, capably accomplish what needs to be done. I can't provide him any assistance, his work is far beyond me. I really want him to do things the way he thinks they should be done, and I'm grateful for his wisdom.

Isn't that a little how we should treat God?

Shouldn't we be glad God does things His way? After all, He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfect. Isaiah 55:8-9 says this of God:

8 “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. 9 For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts."

So when God operates on our lives, when He opens up our hearts and our minds for some radical "surgery," we can rest that we are in the hands of the Master Physician. He knows what He's doing in us and for us, and He doesn't need our second-guessing or back seat driving. Just our trust and our faith that He has our best interests as His objective.

We can be glad that God does things His way!

Are you?


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Are you rolling the dice?

The skies were flashing and booming like crazy yesterday as thunderstorms rolled through this part of Texas.

"Bad" weather has struck a big part of the country in the last few days. A news report told of more than 600 tornadoes that had taken 70 lives and destroyed 750 homes.

One story stood out to me. A lady had sold her home and would be closing on the sale the following day. Unfortunately, before that could happen, a tornado came through and completely demolished her home.

Can you imagine how all of her plans for life immediately changed, and in a big way! Although her plans likely changed, how it actually impacted her life is something we don't really know. The physical structure of her home had been destroyed, which likely would have a significant financial impact (which might be offset by insurance), but she still had her life, the people in her life, and her employment. She probably also had her health. In a very real way, she still had a lot left that contributed to her life, she simply lost a housing structure.

Many people wrap their lives up in their plans for their life. If the plans succeed, they are happy. If their plans fail, they feel completely lost. They live circumstantially, giving control of their thoughts, emotions, happiness, and sense of well being over to however circumstances drive their lives. Living this way is like rolling dice rather than giving direction to life.

That's because we cannot see beyond the current moment. We can wisely anticipate based on all the information available to us, but that's nothing more than forecasting, just like the weatherman does with the information he gathers.

But just like the weatherman, sometimes we can get a forecast right, and sometimes they're wrong!

It's not so bad when we get the forecast wrong if we haven't wrapped our lives around depending on getting the forecast right.

There's a reason God created us with a limited capacity to see ahead, and that's to teach us to rely on Him. We are not God, we don't know what tomorrow will be like, or even if there will be a tomorrow. So God's design is that we live within His will, by faith and trust in Him, and look to Him to unfold each day for us.

That doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't "plan ahead," it simply means we should not place our hope and dependency in our plans for the future, but rather in the One who determines whether we have a future!

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

The wisest way to live life is by a "If the Lord wants us to ..." approach. But that requires a real, intimate, daily reliance on the Lord. It requires trusting God with the direction of our lives rather than circumstances, or even ourselves.

But considering He alone can see anything and everything beyond this moment, it's the only way of living that makes sense!

How are you living: by your own forecasts? By circumstances? Or by faith and trust in God?


Saturday, April 23, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Gabe Lyons' "The Next Christians" is dismissive arrogance ...

It's nearly impossible to appreciate the multiple good points Gabe Lyons makes in his latest book, "The Next Christians" (published by Double Day) since his message is predicated on a sweeping, arrogant dismissal of most of America's Christians today.

The underlying foundation of his message in this book is Lyons' taking a rather large shovel and packing down the dirt on the grave of Christianity in America, which he proclaims as being dead. At the top of the book cover, in all capital letters, are the words, "THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT THE END OF CHRISTIAN AMERICA." Lyons will try to spin that into a hope for the future, but I don't see anything good --- at all --- in the thought that "Christian America" is dead.

In fact, Lyons' statement is an exaggeration. While Christianity has lost a good deal of influence in American culture, it isn't dead yet, and the church can still revive its standing in this country. But Lyons seems all too happy to toss the dirt on the grave of the church and pack it down tightly.

Lyons is quick to blame many Christians in America today for the demise of the American church. He identifies two camps of Christians as being the chief culprits. First are "Separatists" who are composed of "insiders," culture warriors, and "evangelizers." Next are "Cultural" Christians, who Lyons describes as "blenders" and philanthropists. Basically, any kind of Christian of a more conservative theological background are part of these two overly narrow definitions created by Lyons (with almost no dings to the more liberal theological mindset). To him, their poor behavior has so offended non-believers that the church has lost its influence in America today.

With such great dismissive arrogance, Lyons judges the church, the majority of those who make up the American church today, and finds them guilty.

The good news, according to Lyons, is the hope of the American church is the "next Christians." Not those from previous generations who are still serving today, but the next generation of Christians, who he goes on to describe in the book as if they are perfect manifestations of biblical Christianity.

These "next Christians," according to Lyons, are "restorers." Throughout the book, Lyons has a constant and radical view of restoration, proclaiming that as God's foremost focus. In doing so, Lyons completely misses the point of transformation. God wants to restore some things, but He desires to transform others.

To Lyons, restoration is all about engaging culture. I would agree with the vitality of engaging culture if that's what Lyons meant. But his description of engaging culture is more accurately one of embracing culture. From that mindset, Lyons holds to the idea that doing good, or what he refers to as the "common good for all" is every bit as important as evangelism. Lyons even notes a couple times settings describing the value of doing good, and states that hopefully, along the way, some lost people will get saved. He also writes, "Based on a common good mentality, these Christians aren't confounded by only thinking about how to get people 'saved.' They have freed their minds to dream about how they can serve in God's kingdom."

Lyons' misses multiple points taking such a position. It was Jesus who said there isn't anyone who is good except for God. In order for genuine good to come from us, we have to fix that brokenness we have with God. That requires evangelism. Further, Jesus did not come to do some good deeds and, hopefully from doing so, some would decide to believe in Him as a secondary outcome. Scripture says Jesus came for a specific purpose: to seek and to save the lost.

The church does have a singular mission, given to it by Jesus Christ himself. That mission is to go into all the world and make disciples. As a part of living out the mission and being whole Ambassadors for Christ, many good deeds would flow from the lives of Christians as they live out their faith in practical daily living, while maintaining a primary focus of leading others to Christ.

Finally, Lyons is both hypocritical and inconsistent in his criticisms of today's Christians as he contrasts them to his "next Christians." For example, he tells the personal story of he and his wife having a Downs Syndrome child, and how that highlighted to them a problem with abortion. Lyons writes, "We could have gotten involved the way we'd seen many other Christians engage the abortion issue: by calling it out as murder, joining pro-life protests, helping to elect pro-life candidates, and even carrying the fight to the abortion clinics themselves. Or, we could look for a more solution-oriented way to approach this issue." Lyons' better solution was to design and distribute a booklet.

However, he later uses the success of homosexual activist leaders as an example that can "inform" the church. Lyons writes about these leaders, "In the process, they showed us what it looks like to work the levers of cultural influence with mastery." Doesn't Lyons realize the "process" used by homosexual activist leaders include some of the same processes used by pro-life activists, such as holding protests, selecting political candidates who support their view, and taking the fight to specific locations. It seems as though Lyons finds some behaviors perfectly acceptable for some, saying it can "inform" the church, but not supporting the same actions on behalf of Christian positions, even on the abortion issue. Would Lyons support the church hosting "Christian pride" parades in cities across America? Not likely.

Lyons opens chapter one with these words, "Seven years ago, I was twenty-seven years old and embarrassed to call myself Christian." Based on his wholesale judgment and dismissal of today's Christians in America, it doesn't appear he's gotten over his embarrassment. Now, he simply looks to some kind of "next generation" Christians to turn the church into what he envisions it should be.

"The Next Christians" is priced at only $19.99. Save your money, or put it on some other book that actually has a positive contribution to make to the church.


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.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Three things I learned while my plane crashed ..."

Do you remember watching the news report about the U.S. Airways Airbus landing in the Hudson River?

Everyone got out safely, and credit for that was largely given to Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot of the aircraft.

But have your ever thought what must have been going through the minds of the passengers? Or even more, how such an experience would impact your life?

Wonder no more.

In the following video, just 5.03 minutes long, Ric Elias shares with a TED Talks audience what he learned while his plane crashed ...

You don't have to have a life-threatening experience to make life changing decisions followed with real execution.

How should your life change? When will you start?


"Absent ..."

"Jesus ... it would have to be Jesus."

That would have been the answer many --- if not all --- the people who knew Jesus when He walked this earth would have said when asked which person they knew they could rely on the most.

After all, Jesus was the perfect Man.

He would have been great to have had as a child, or a neighbor, or a co-worker, or a friend, or "rabbi." However you knew Him, He simply would have been wholly reliable. If anything, you usually got more than you ever expected when it came to Him.

You could count on Jesus.

Except this one time ...

... one morning, when some women showed up at His tomb.

Jesus was absent.

He wasn't where He was supposed to be.

How unreliable was that?!

I mean, when a person dies, you bury them. You can count on them being buried. They stay in the tomb. They stay dead. You can count on that.

But Jesus didn't.

Yet, it was the absence of Jesus that continued His reliability. How reliable would a dead savior be? How could you count on a buried Messiah? What hope would humanity have if sin and death conquered the Son of God?

So Jesus got up. He rose from the dead. He again demonstrated that you can count on Him!

Remember that on Sunday, it will give you reason to celebrate.

Happy Easter!


Thursday, April 21, 2011

A typo tells the truth ...

A truth came out of a typo I almost sent to a friend on Twitter.

He asked if I had big plans for the weekend considering Sunday is Easter. My response was not really, I was looking forward to celebrating Easter at church and having dinner with family. He responded he was going to do the same and "... looking forward to really reacting to the significance of it."

I meant to respond that I love the significance of Easter, but instead I typed, "I LIVE the significance of it ..."

That was a typo, but one which points to a great truth: the great significance of Easter is to be lived!

The entire purpose of an empty tomb in Jerusalem is so that we may live! If Easter is little more than hunting for eggs, dressing up for church, and eating too much at dinner with the family, the entire purpose is missed.

From before God created the heavens and the earth, He formulated a plan of redemption for His human creation that comes to a dramatic conclusion with an empty tomb ... Christ's victory over sin and death on our behalf so that we may be free from condemnation and have life through Christ.

If that isn't lived out in our lives we miss the entire purpose of God's work throughout history.

I love the significance of Easter because the resurrection of Christ is the pivotal event that provides for our means of being set free from the slavery of sin by being buried with Christ, and with Him rising to a whole new life!

That has to be lived ... or we remain dead!

Is Easter just another holiday, something you celebrate once a year? Or is it something the results of which you live out every day?


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

How a man should love his wife ...

Jack (not his real name) is a bear of a guy.

He stands at least 6 feet, four inches tall and is a mostly husky man with a prominent gut. In spite of his size, there's usually a trace of a smile just above his scruffy goatee and he steps into a conversation with ease.

Now in his mid fifties, Jack shows up at the gym between 3:30 and 4 a.m. nearly every morning of the work week. A couple days ago, when I spied him sweating through the last of a set of bicep curls, I asked him if he was having fun. His response was to share with me why he's in the gym most days ...

.... Jack said his wife has suffered from Multiple Sclerosis for 20 years and he knew some time in the future he would need to be able to physically carry her around when she couldn't get around herself.

So, Jack shows up at the gym before sunrise on most days so he can work at making sure he's strong enough to carry his wife in her times of weakness.

THAT is how a man should love his wife!


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Facing the winds of culture ...

I'm not a handy guy. So when I bought a home in the young community of Green Valley, California, I bought new.

Actually, the house wasn't even built yet.

I liked the model, and the corner lot, and a couple months later the house was finished.

A new home in a new housing development in a young community meant this non-handy guy would have few repair concerns for several years at least.

Even the community landscaping was new, including the trees.

Or should I say, especially the trees.

Not being a "tree person," I still don't know what kind of trees were planted, but they were more like tall branches stuck in the ground than they were trees. They would grow up with the community.

And indeed they did!

The problem was how they grew up.

What I didn't know before buying the home was that Green Valley can sometimes be like a wind tunnel. Strong winds often blow right through that area. If it wasn't for the fact that the young trees were supported with twine so thick it was like small rope, they wouldn't have stood a chance in the gusts of Green Valley.

The last time I was in California, I drove through the housing development I had lived in to see how it had matured. The first thing I noticed was the trees had grown up. I mean, they really looked like trees!

Except they all grew up with a bend that would make the leaning Tower of Pisa look perfectly straight! As it turns out, years of being pushed almost to the point of breaking by the harsh winds blowing through the valley resulted in the trees growing with a bent in the direction the wind had blown them.

The winds of Green Valley had visibly, permanently shaped the development of the trees.

In looking at how the winds had shaped the trees, it made me think of how culture tries to shape us. We're constantly being pushed and blown about by the shifting winds of the culture around us. It's influence is strong, it bends and shapes people who don't have enough support to hold them up against the gusts pushing against them.

Just as there were a few options as to how the trees of Green Valley could have faced the strong winds, there are a few ways we can face culture.

First, you can try to ignore culture, just as some in the community tried to ignore the winds. Those people didn't tie down the trees in their yards. The result was usually a young tree snapped in two like a toothpick!

Americans are bombarded with as many as 5,000 advertisements per day telling them what to buy, how to dress, what to eat, where to shop, and what new prescription medication they should tell their doctors they should be taking. That's just the influence of ads.

Then there's your spouse's opinion, your children's opinion, your parents' opinion, your bosses opinion, what your co-workers think, and all the other influences of all the other people in your life.

You can try to ignore culture, but it's still there, and its influence is real. Whether we say so or not, what others think --- at least some of them --- does matter to us. Culture will have its influence, even if we try to ignore it.

Second, there's the opposite extreme of embracing culture, which is like letting the winds blow however they want.

We already know the outcome of that: an ugly bend. The trees of Green Valley don't stand straight as a beautiful tree should; instead, they are bent as a reminder of the force of the wind.

The same happens when we embrace culture. We lose ourselves, and become a product of whatever our cultural influences make of us.

So what other option is there?

We can engage culture.

Kind of like those homeowners who tied their trees down with enough support so that no matter how strong the winds blew, their trees stood tall. During the strongest winds, there was some jostling and some leans, but the ropes anchoring them in the other direction allowed the trees to endure the stoutest of gusts.

It's easy to spot these trees throughout the community because they are the only ones standing straight.

When we anchor ourselves with the cord of God's Word, the strength of the Holy Spirit, and the bonds of Christian fellowship, we can engage culture. In fact, we can even influence culture! By standing tall in the midst of a strong wind, we provide the example that we don't have to bend in the direction culture pushes.

There's a better way to stand.

Jesus talked about how to overcome the winds (or storms) that blow against us in Matthew 7:24-27:

"24 Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.”

How are you responding to the gusts of culture: ignoring it, embracing it, or engaging it? What have you anchored your life to?


Monday, April 18, 2011

Strike a pose ...

Getting a new outfit to wear to church was nearly as much a tradition as receiving an Easter basket was when I was a kid.

That was quite a feat for my parents to pull off, considering they had eight children to clothe!

But when Easter Sunday rolled around, the Scott family would walk into church with me decked out in a new suit, and my sisters in new dresses (and often new hats as well).

We looked good! We looked fresh!

New clothes was something we usually got only at the start of the school year or at Christmas, so our Easter outfits gave us a new look.

We weren't new, but our clothes were.

Clothes can give you a new look, but they can't give you a new life.

But what happened on Easter can!

Because the tomb is empty --- because Christ conquered death on our behalf --- we can have something better than a new look, we can have a new life! Because of the empty tomb, we can be clothed with something better than a new outfit ...

"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.

When we "put on Christ," we're putting on an entirely new life. The Apostle Paul explains it like this in Romans 6:1-11:

"1 Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? 2 Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? 3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. 5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin. 8 And since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him. 9 We are sure of this because Christ was raised from the dead, and he will never die again. Death no longer has any power over him. 10 When he died, he died once to break the power of sin. But now that he lives, he lives for the glory of God. 11 So you also should consider yourselves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Christ Jesus."

As kids, we thought it was a blessing to have new clothes to put on. As children of God, we know a far greater blessing than a new look. It's a new life when we are clothed with Christ.

Have you been buried with Christ in baptism? Have you been raised to walk in newness of life by being clothed with Christ? Are you looking for a new look, or a new life?


BOOK REVIEW: You have questions, Max offers some answers ...

What do you do when you've written so much, you have 100 million products in print?

You take questions, and do your best to provide insightful, biblical answers.

That's what Max Lucado has done in his new book, "Max On Life," published by Thomas Nelson.

"We have questions. Real, important, and challenging questions ..." Lucado writes at the beginning of this book. As a pastor and writer, Lucado has received many questions throughout his career from people earnestly seeking answers. "Max On Life" is a collection of those questions, complete with thoughtful answers provided by Max.

There are few "softball" questions among the queries in this book. Lucado tackles topics from why would God allow a child to suffer from cancer, to the worries of parents, to whether God leads us through our feelings. Chances are, some (or many) of the questions proffered in the book have, at some time, crossed your own mind. Because of that fact, you'll likely benefit from Lucado's insights.

Lucado develops his thoughts directly from scripture. Instead of providing just his own opinions to these real life questions, Lucado leads the reader to sound answers by directing them to, and through, relevant biblical teaching as a means of drawing conclusions.

True to form, Lucado uses his gift of highlighting biblical truth through powerful illustrations and word pictures as he responds to each question posed. Also true to his writing form, Lucado makes every word count, giving concise answers with simple clarity.

On occasion, I thought Lucado's artistic style of writing was a bit much for a few of the questions. Sometimes a simple, direct answer is better than an artful one. And because this is a man providing answers to questions, you will likely find a few responses you don't agree with.

Whether you share many or few of the questions Lucado answers in this book, the exercise of real, important questions being posed and the searching out of biblically sound answers as provided by Lucado will provide you with an example to seek truth and guidance from the Word of God, as well as some answers you can immediately apply directly to some of your own questions.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, April 15, 2011

This is better than restoration ...

There's a lot of Christian leaders putting a focus on God restoring things. Fortunately for us, they're often missing the point, for if God only restored things to the way He originally intended things to be, we would miss out BIG time!

God does want to restore some things. He also wants to go beyond that and transform other things, like me and you. And then comes an amazing aspect of grace when God changed something so big it's mind-numbing to consider.

If you look at the creation story in the first few chapters of Genesis, you see that God created this magnificent planet to be our dwelling place, and located the first man and woman within a paradise of a garden. Life would have been unbelievably different than it is today if we human beings wouldn't have introduced sin into this world.

But that first couple did choose to sin ... and so have all the rest of us, since that beginning,

Originally, God would sometimes stroll through the Garden. That's a picture of an intimate interaction with God that Adam and Eve had that is very different from the kind of interaction we have with our Creator today.

However, if God were to simply restore things to the way He originally intended, we would miss out on what He now offers and intends for His children.

God's response to our sin wasn't limited to a boundless love that brought the grace of a Savior to provide for our salvation. It also included a change in how we will be able to relate with our Creator in the future. Look closely at these words of Jesus in John 14:1-3:

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. 2 There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am."

God's response to our sin was a grace so deep and so rich that it went beyond saving us to drawing us even closer! He adopted us as His own children, and has now designed an eternity of being with Him. Instead of simply restoring us to an earthly paradise with some direct interaction, He's preparing His own dwelling place to take us in so we can hang out with Him in His house ... forever!

God's fix to our sin gives us an outcome that is far better for us than His original plan of creation.

That's how awesome grace is!

It exceeds restoration. It even surpasses transformation. It is the whole breadth and width and depth of God's perfect love. It is being able to be with Him, where He is, forever.

I'll take that over restoration any day!


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Want to be "empowered"? Here you go ...

Leaders surrounding the church who direct us to embrace culture rather than engage it often talk about a cultural lie as if it were the truth.

That hot topic is all about "empowerment."

We're constantly hearing about how we can be "empowered," or empower others. But the problem with that is two-fold:

First, you already have all the power you need for the life God calls you to.

There are multiple scriptures that speak to this point, but here's just one simple one: "For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength" (Philippians 4:13).

God has a plan for your life, and He is the one who will provide all the capability you will ever need to achieve what He has planned for you. Not only can no one else be the Source for that life that only God can be, but no one can take from God what He's ready to provide you, or what He has already made available to you.

I've even heard pastors talk about the need to "empower" church members to pursue their own ministries. No Christian needs to be "empowered" by church leadership. God calls every Christian to be active ministers for Him, and a Christian doesn't need the permission from leaders or some kind of special "empowerment" to do what God calls them to. They may need discipling, equipping, guidance, support, leadership, and so on, but the "power" to do what God calls us to comes from Him!

Second, because of the false nature of this concept of "empowerment," people today are busy pursing a source of power rather than the power of a Person.

Jesus Christ isn't life's power plant. He's not a source of power we tap into in order to live life however we want. He is a Person who brings fullness of life and power for living through relationship with Him. We are empowered by Jesus through relationship when we die to the old person controlled by a sin nature, are buried with Christ, and are raised to walk in newness of life.

Paul described it this way in Colossians 2:12, "For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead" and in Colossians 2:20a we read, "You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world ..."

So many Christians live unempowered lives because they are pursuing a source of power rather than relationship with the Person who is their source of power!

The real power for living the fullest life we possibly can flows freely from a loving, committed, trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. By embracing Him, we also discover all the power we need for life.

So when all these "leaders" and "gurus" and "coaches" talk about empowerment, be encouraged that they don't have any special means of "empowerment" for you. You have available to you authentic empowerment given by God Himself. Go use it to live a full life in Christ!

Which are you pursing: a source of power for your life? Or an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ, who gives you power through relationship with Him?


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A common way for making life less appreciable ...

A brother in Christ I've known for some time almost always answers the question, "How are you doing?" with the answer of "Stressed!"

I don't know if there's a time since I've known him when he hasn't claimed to be stressed about something.

However, his household brings in an above average income that provides for a comfortable lifestyle. He's happily married. He has teenage children who are maturing well. He has a loving family. He has friends. He has a supportive church family. He lacks for nothing. He owns his own home. He lives debt-free financially.

This brother, like the rest of us. experiences challenges in life from time to time, but generally lives happily and comfortably most of the time.

But he lives his live much like many others do: consistently creating crisis out of life!

His life is not in crisis, nor does he actually experience many real crises, but he creates crisis out of simple things in life.

He gets stuck in rush hour traffic ... he stresses out.

There's a work assignment that's a little more challenging than usual ... he stresses out.

The family schedule gets a little hectic with everyone needing to get everywhere for their own commitments ... he stresses out.

Church runs 15 minutes longer than usual ... he stresses out.

But where is the crisis?

It usually doesn't exist!

The same for most of us.

Most of us aren't reeling from a 9.0 earthquake AND a tsunami like many in Japan are ... people who are facing a real crisis.

Most of us aren't still trying to recover from a huge earthquake in Haiti, like so many still are in that impoverished nation ... people who are still facing real crises.

Most of us had something to eat yesterday, and will today, unlike so many around the world who are unsure if they will have anything to feed their children or themselves before sundown ... people who are facing real crises.

A crisis is not getting home in time to have dinner finished before your favorite TV show comes on, although some act like it is ....

... creating crises out of life!

When we live this way, we rob ourselves of being able to create a life out of crisis when the real thing comes along.

Imagine how much more peaceful, richer, deeper, appreciable, and simpler life would be if we enjoyed life as it is, and saved the "stress" for the real crises when (or if) they come along.


Monday, April 11, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "The Final Summit" is fiction at its peak ...

I've just read my first Andy Andrews novel.

It's likely I am now an Andy Andrews fan!

Even though Andrews is a best-selling author, I haven't read his writing until now. His latest book, "The Final Summit" (published by Thomas Nelson) did something I look for in good fiction: it made me turn the page from the end of one chapter to see what happens in the next!

For those who are already Andrews fans, you'll be happy to see David Ponder --- a character from a previous Andrews book, "The Traveler's Gift" --- re-emerge in this compelling story. Humanity is hurtling out of control, but has a "last chance" to correct its course depending on the outcome of a "final summit" Ponder leads with a host of history's greatest characters.

These historical figures join Ponder in trying to provide the answer to humankind's dilemma before reaching their divinely established deadline. In the process, the reader will traverse insights into great characters from history, and wrestle with them for the answer to the poignant question they must resolve.

Readers will find themselves laughing from the quick wit and humor Andrews sprinkles throughout the book, diving into historical scenes, and pondering some significant life principles almost as if you were a summit participant along with the other characters.

Andrews is a master story teller. In addition to a great sense of humor, one thing I appreciated about this book is that it's "smart fiction." More than a riveting story, Andrews compels you to think of your own answers as he unfolds the drama of trying to find a resolution for humanity before time runs out.

Probably the best recommendation I can make for "The Final Summit" is noting that once I finished reading this book, I was certain I want to read the other books Andrews has written. Great story tellers who make you think AND laugh with a dramatic narrative are too good to miss out on!


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Living out loud ...

Slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I tossed my empty paper coffee up into the trash can and headed out of the Starbucks.

Crossing the busy intersection at the light, I headed east through the small town of Murphy on a three mile trek home that would put me back into Parker, Texas.

About a quarter mile down the road I turned north, walking down a side street where the quiet was interrupted only by the sounds of birds chirping and a yapping dog registering its displeasure that I was walking by his master's home.

I departed that road where it curved West and instead took the narrow dirt road running alongside a small field, passing by a small creek, and disappearing at the old cemetery before delivering me onto another field. Crossing the field, I came out at a city park that delivered me onto the back streets of a housing development.

As I headed up the street lined with refined brick homes, I heard an indistinguishable noise somewhere ahead of me.

The farther I walked, the clearer the sounds became.



Excited voices.

The further I went, the louder and more jumbled the sounds and voices became.

Suddenly I realized the sounds were the voices of children coming from the playground of an elementary school just now coming into my view.

The closer I got, the louder the voices became, until it was a roar of children laughing, playing, singing, shouting, talking.

Children doing what they do: living loudly!

The explosion of noise coming from the playground was the natural expressions of children actly freely.

They play loudly.

They talk loudly.

They cry loudly.

They sing loudly.

They laugh loudly.

They simply live loudly!

Something we tend to lose as adults.

There's something to be said for a little refinement, for a little maturity. But in the process, we often bridle back living freely, and so we become more quiet. We put a hush onto our lives.

We stifle our speech.

We laugh when when think it's appropriate.

We only cry around certain people, in certain settings.

We sing only in the shower, in the car, and at church.

We don't play nearly as often, not nearly as hard, and not nearly as well.

And in doing all these things, we think we're grown up.

Sometimes we're simply bigger, but not better; older, but more inhibited. We've learned and experienced more, but forgot how to express both as people who are free in Christ. We've put away childish things, but also put away some childhood lessons.

Like living out loud.

"14 But Jesus said, 'Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.' 15 And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left," Matthew 19:14-15.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Instead of doing that, I'll just do this ...

Among the various topics that make up my stream of tweets on Twitter, you'll occasionally find some fitness and personal training tips.

A couple days ago, I posted the simple tweet, "Exercise does not make junk food healthy."

One of my Twitter friends responded with the humorous tweet, "No, but it reduces guilt ;)"

Even through his humor, my friend was right on regarding why many people occasionally decide to walk around the block or stroll the mall. They attempt to appease their guilt over lack of exercise and poor nutrition by occasional activity.

In other words, they choose the wrong change in an attempt to reduce the guilt they feel.

Instead of changing their diets and routinely exercising their bodies --- doing what their bodies need for good fitness and health --- they instead choose a level of change that falsely helps placate their feelings of guilt while maintaining their negative habits.

Choosing the wrong change will never lead you to where you really need to be or could be!

Yet we take on this behavior of purposely choosing the wrong change in all aspects of our life, whether it's under performing at work, settling for mediocre relationships, or allowing sin to persist in our lives instead of allowing God to change us into the likeness of His Son.

Appeasing or reducing real guilt does not lead to change. Only real change leads to change.

In what areas of your life are you allowing negative behaviors to persist while making wrong choices to try to alleviate the guilt you experience? What changes do you need to make to achieve real, life-impacting change?


Thursday, April 7, 2011

Most churches fail at vision/mission. Here's why ...

Numerous churches fail when they try to establish "vision" and "mission" for the church. The primary reason for this failure is due to leaders applying a business model to the concepts of "vision" and "mission" rather than a biblical model.

Here's the mistake many church leaders make. Working up a structure for a business --- new or old --- is fairly simple and well-established. You craft the following items to give life to your organization:
  • Vision.
  • Mission.
  • Core Values.
  • Goals.
  • Objectives.
  • Strategy.
  • Action plan.
  • Execution.
The problem with this business model is that "vision" and "mission" are in the reverse order for what is needed for the church. In the church, "mission" must precede and drive "vision."

A business is a human-created organization. Thus, to start a business, the founder must have a vision for the purpose of his business; that vision isn't going to come from anywhere other than what he sees for the purpose of his business. From that vision, he can craft a mission, add core values to be committed to, and continue with the structure-building of his organization.

But the church is very different!

The church was created by and for Jesus Christ. It's HIS church! It is His vision for the church that is fleshed out in scripture. And because He has a very specific purpose for the existence of the church, Jesus Himself provided us with a mission for the church. That mission gives us a clear definition for the purpose and priority of His church.

Because Jesus provided the mission for the church, mission comes first to give us purpose and definition. From there, we can add vision, which is very different in the church than it is in business. A vision for a business is the man-made view of why the organization exists. However, in the church --- since we already have the mission from the Creator of the church --- vision is seeing how a local church body is to go about executing the mission already given to the church.

When church leaders try to create their own "vision" of the church, and then craft a "mission" based on their vision, they are tweaking the original purpose and priority of the church as already provided by the church's Creator ... all because they are following a business approach to leading in the church.

To further complicate things, church leaders then compound their tweaking of Christ's structure for the church by adding their own "core values." What values could be more "core" to the church than what scripture says is essential for salvation?

So a structure for the church would be more like:
  • Mission (already provided by Jesus Christ).
  • Vision (how the local church body will execute the mission).
  • Core values (what scripture says is essential for salvation).
Then leaders can add Goals, Objectives, Strategy, Action Plan, and Execution in their planning for ministry designed to accomplish the mission.

To wrap up, let's look at how the Apostle Paul provides us with a great version of Christ's mission for His church, with a vision for executing it. This is found in Colossians 1:28-29:

"28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me."

Notice Christ's mission for the church tucked in the middle of Paul's writing, "... We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ ..." That means going into all the world to reach the lost for Christ, and then discipling them.

How does Paul execute this?
  • "So we tell others about Christ ..."
  • "... warning everyone ..."
  • "... and teaching everyone ..."
And how does Paul accomplish this?
  • "... with all the wisdom God has given us ..."
  • "... That’s why I work and struggle so hard ..."
  • "... depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me."
Restructuring the church with a man-made vision that drives a man-made mission robs the church of it's original structure as provided by its Creator. Church leaders need to place the mission of the church, as provided by Christ Himself, at the forefront of the local body of Christ, and then continue to build a biblically appropriate model of ministry.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

How about seconds? ... Thirds? ... Fourths? ...

History is one of my favorite subjects. Not only do we learn a lot about humanity by looking at our history, but you can stumble across some really odd things as well!

For example, did you know the wealthy citizens of ancient Pompeii were famous for hosting dinner banquets for their friends and neighbors?

These weren't polite, well-behaved dinner parties. Often hosts would write rules for the banquet on the wall, including such tips as not propositioning your neighbor's wife!

Of particular interest, dinner banquets in Pompeii were indulgent affairs. Literally! Guests would stuff themselves on the lavish spread of foods to the point they couldn't eat anymore ... but they wanted to! In fact, they wanted to continue indulging so badly that "wretching" was common at banquets in order that guests could continue feasting on the delicacies.

Like the people of Pompeii, people throughout history have demonstrated a willingness to take on severe behaviors in order to be able to indulge themselves with their desires.

In our times, we see obesity out of control because we don't want to control ourselves, we want to indulge. Credit limits are stretched to the breaking point so we can get what we want to indulge ourselves. Home foreclosures are at an all-time high because a multitude of people went over the top in indulging, only to lose their homes because of it. And the church in America is on the decline ... again, so that we may indulge ourselves.

Do you have your own version of "wretching"? Are their behaviors in your life you take on simply to enable you to continue indulging in desires? What unhealthy behaviors do you need to eliminate from your life to enable you to exercise healthy self-control?

"22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!" Galatians 5:22-23.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

A recipe for weak leadership ...

There are some extraordinary people in leadership roles within the church today, and we are blessed to have such leaders.

There is also an abundance of weak leaders in the church.

Why is this?

One reason is we rush through and cut short the discipling process of new or young leaders --- that early time of becoming students and learners of Christ --- in favor of being mentored by a man regarding his successful methods.

The promising developing leader who wants to be like the rock star pastor seeks mentoring from someone who has achieved the success he wants to achieve, cutting short putting in the initial work of study and personal development of becoming a disciple himself.

Rock star pastors are flattered that so many developing leaders seek their mentoring, so they take them "under their wing" and teach them their methods.

The outcome is a greater interest in being mentored than in being discipled, thus greater influence is given to the opinions and methods of men rather than a fully developed foundation of scripture.

Many great church leaders have stated, when asked what would they do if they had everything to do over again, is they would have studied more.

They didn't say the would have sought out more mentors or better mentors. They said they would have studied more ... they would have deepened their own discipleship!

Reliable leaders who bring the most to the church are those who first become students and learners of Jesus Christ before they pursue the opinions and methods of human models.

Fortunately, the fix for this is not so hard. Those in leadership today should place a premium on emphasizing to newly developing leaders a primary need to be committed to, and thoroughly focused on, their own discipleship development before they expand to taking on mentors. The greatest influence that developing leader needs to have in his life is that of Jesus Christ!


Sunshine and storms ...

I have an addiction.

It's to good weather.

Not simply fair weather, but really good weather.

That's why I lived most of my life in California, some in Arizona, and even a while in Hawaii. All places with really good weather.

But even in those places it sometimes gets cold. It sometimes rains. It sometimes storms.

When the bad weather comes along, I don't run outside and shake my fist at God, stomp my feet, and throw a fit that the bad weather has interrupted my enjoyment of the good weather. Not every day will be a sun-shining beach day, even in the "paradise" of Hawaii.

And not every day in life is going to be a good day. Not every day is going to be chalk full of blessings. Not every day is going to be wholly enjoyable.

Sometimes, storms arise in life.

And that's just life!

In fact, Job 5:7 says, "People are born for trouble as readily as sparks fly up from a fire." We're lightning rods for trouble! It's only by the mercy and grace of God that we don't experience more troubles than we actually do.

But have you noticed how some people throw a fit with God when the bad times come?

Maybe that's because so many preachers teach from the pulpit that we can get mad at God, that He's big enough to handle it.

Well, He is. We can get mad at God, but that doesn't mean we should.

God doesn't owe me or you a perfect day every day. Or any day.

In fact, He doesn't even owe us another day!

Instead of throwing a fit about the "bad" things that sometimes cloud our lives, we need to remember just how full of grace, mercy, love, forgiveness, help, presence, and a host of other incredible blessings that God pours into our lives on a daily basis.

If we did that, we'd likely worship a lot more, and complain a lot less.

About the only thing I could do to fulfill my preference for good weather was to live in places that usually have good weather. If I chose to live in other places, like Chicago during the winter, my choices would be contrary to what I want to accomplish.

The same goes with living life with the blessing of God. If we want Him to smile on us, then we need to live in such a way that provokes His smile! If we want to be blessed of God, then we need to live as children of God. But we can't expect the blessings when we live in contradiction to God.

Whether our lives consist of good weather, or good favor, often comes down to the choices we make of where we place ourselves and how we interact with God and others. The results will be sunshine or storms.

Which results are you pursuing with your choices?


Friday, April 1, 2011

This separates great leaders from the average ones ...

There are a lot of people in leadership positions. That reality doesn't make a person a leader, or at least it doesn't make a person a "great" leader.

One of the most distinguishing factors I've noticed between truly great leaders who have significant impact or influence in the lives of others versus a leader of mediocre capacity is the heart they put into their example.

Here's what I mean ...

I'm seeing more and more leaders who care more about being liked and being accepted as "one of the guys" that they more easily and quickly come to the place where they say, "This is good enough" about the quality of example they provide to others.

As human beings, we're all equal. I'm not "better" than you, and you're not better than me. But the very idea of being a leader is one of being out front leading, setting an example. Too many leaders today desire to run with the pack than lead it. They prefer the camaraderie of being peers to the additional responsibility of leadership while still wanting to be "the leader."

The result of this attitude toward leading is often, at best, mediocre leadership.

What I've noticed about great leaders who make a more profound impact and have a broader, deeper influence, is a heart for providing the greatest example they possibly can. They aren't satisfied being just a step ahead. They study, learn, and work harder (often to a point of personal sacrifice) to provide the greatest quality example possible in order to help those they lead to a greater level of success or achievement. Their commitment to the well being of those they lead is so great they are compelled to push themselves to do what is necessary to provide a model of excellence rather than a plain path to average.

Most people don't need a leader to attain average.

Most of us do need good models for attaining excellence.

Which leader are you?