Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Feeling a little over-extended?

Regardless of what side of the political isle you find yourself on, I think we'd all agree our government is grossly financially over-extended.

So are many countries. And states. And businesses. And organizations. And families.

Not only do we find ourselves over-extended financially, we tend to over-extend our time commitments, sometimes our talent, and even our goals.

People today feel stretched as thin as paper.

Except spiritually.

Do you really know anyone who is over-extended spiritually?

Someone who has over-extended on faith? On scripture? On prayer? On service? On loving? On giving? On serving? On sharing? On discipling? On being discipled?

Do you know anyone who is over-extended on living like Jesus?

We sometimes may think we are, but more often than not, we over-extend ourselves in most other aspects of life and use our being over-extended elsewhere as our excuse for not extending ourselves spiritually.

Here's how Jesus responded to that issue in Luke 9:57-62:

57 "As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' 58 Jesus replied, 'Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.' 59 He said to another man, 'Follow me.' But he replied, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.' 60 Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' 61 Still another said, 'I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.' 62 Jesus replied, 'No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God'."

Answering Jesus' simple call to follow Him isn't about scaling back our over-extended lives so we can squeeze Him in somewhere. Rather, it's about fully extending ourselves to Him first, regardless of all the other demands in our lives.

To the person feeling so burdened because they are so over-extended, that sounds unreasonable. Surely Jesus wouldn't ask so much!

Verse 60, "...
Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God."

He also says, "
28 And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own" (Matthew 6:28-34).

And Jesus adds, "
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).

It's only when Christ has His rightful place in our lives that we can accurately value and order all the other things that make up our lives.

But first, we have to fully extend our whole lives to Him.


Sunday, May 29, 2011

When will God lighten up?!

You've bought the new home, finally unpacked all the boxes, and now it's time to tackle the front yard.

Other than a simple green lawn, the only real project is the hedge, which you enthusiastically attack with your shears. Twenty minutes later you step back to inspect your artistic labor, and think pruning wasn't so hard after all.

As time goes by, a little pruning keeps the artistic edge you've cut into the hedge. Maintenance is even easier than the initial pruning process. You've got plenty of time for a sweet tea and a good book in the hammock out back.

If only God's pruning in our lives was so simple!

We tend to think God prunes away the wild growth in our lives just once, creating a "spiritual masterpiece" that only takes a little maintenance.

But that's not how God operates.

John gives us some insight into how God continues to prune our lives throughout our lifetime for a specific purpose:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful" (John 15:1-2).

While we may initially be responsive to God pruning and shaping us to get us where we need to be, we want to "arrive" after the first take. But John highlights for us that God continues to regularly prune our lives "... so that it will be even more fruitful."

Maybe you're happy with the fruitfulness of your life today, but God will continue to prune your life so that you can become more fruitful.

What happens when you've become more fruitful?

God will again prune your life so that you become even more fruitful.

Once He's done that, what happens next?

God will continue to regularly prune your life so that you become even more fruitful!

When does it all end?!

When we become like His Son.

Until then, become accustomed to the shears.


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Death by wall ...

What's one of the most effective ways of killing the passion of a young minister?

Be a wall of opposition.

That's what happened to the last young minister I spent a brief period consulting with. It was his first senior minister position. He seemed to be approaching his new responsibilities humbly and soberly. But he was scared. Not of failing, but of the wall of opposition already erected by the elders.

The church was more than a couple decades old, long enough that, statistically speaking, it would likely be declining if not already in the throes of death. The existing leadership team was composed of old-school elders who knew what they believed, nevertheless were fairly biblically illiterate. They cherished the status quo. The young minister cherished a biblical model of a vibrant church striving diligently to achieve its part of the Great Commission.

After a few months of smiling warmly while pushing back at the young leader, the minister changed. Now he was talking about how he was blessed to be where he was at, how well things were going, and quietly dropped his consultations.

He had surrendered his passion for biblical church mission to the "comfort" of the stagnation. It was easier. He could stop fighting, stop pushing, and just work.

The wall of opposition did its work: it killed his passion.

Ultimately, it will kill that church.

The doors might remain open. Nice things may even be done in Jesus' name. But the very purpose for that local church's existence will be long dead.

Leaders, fellow staffers, and local church members often give little thought to the effect of their opposition to their leaders. They throw out their opinions, especially their criticisms and disagreements, without any consideration of their affect on their leader.

Leaders are human beings. Some more fragile than others. But all of them can feel beaten up, unsupported, even unloved and more than a little threatened by the opposition recklessly expressed by the very people they are trying to lead, love, and serve. Even the strongest of leaders can endure only so much before they either leave or surrender.

Before adding your brick to a wall of opposition, consider this exhortation from the writer of Hebrews, "Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you" (Hebrews 13:17).

Are you expressing confidence in, and support of, your leaders? Does your followership feed the passion for mission in your local congregation, or smother it? Are you tearing down, or building up, your leaders?


The power of one step ...

Magazine covers boast 1,000 tips for this, 101 ideas for that ...

... the pastor preaches a sermon with ten steps for achieving something great ...

... your boss gives you five areas to build on during your annual review ...

... your spouse asks you to improve three things in your life ...

... just about anywhere you turn, you're being bombarded with a ridiculous amount of suggestions, ideas, recommendations, and requests. Most will be ignored, and if too many are taken on at once, most will fail.

The best way to help someone improve their life is with one solid idea at a time. Give them one step they can take that would take them one step forward.

Then you can add another.

And then another.

Before long, you can add two or three at a time.

Eventually, the person can take a broader view of growth and develop a more comprehensive approach to their development.

Considering the average American never writes down a personal goal, it's unrealistic to think that person will suddenly become a highly disciplined achiever just because you provide them with a winning road map to transforming their lives.

Leaders who consistently are churning out lists of ideas, steps, patterns, and plans need to step back and realize if they get someone to take ONE step they will have greater success than the leader who actually thinks a majority will implement every aspect of the whole constructs they provide.

Usually, people who aren't going forward and are in the greatest need of the leader's teaching are those who aren't taking any steps forward. Why, then, would you expect them to suddenly have the self-discipline to jump five or ten steps from where they are at now?

Start them with one step. The most needed, most immediate step. A step they can take and achieve right now.

The result will be they have taken a step forward. They will experience the success of moving forward a step. They will be primed to believe they can take another step. Before you know it, one step in front of another leads to a new walk of life!


Monday, May 23, 2011

Five steps to transforming your prayer life ...

Which friend do you least enjoy spending time with?

It's probably the same friend that you find yourself wanting to spend less time with: the friend who spends all your time together complaining about what's wrong with his life.

Regardless of how much you may care about someone, listening to constant complaints that may, or may not, be real gets old. Even in the worst of situations, there comes a point where the complaining needs to end and a focus on changing things needs to begin.

So imagine how God might feel listening to us constantly complaining to Him!

Have you noticed that for most people, the majority of their prayer life focuses on reducing problems.

"God, would you do this ..." "... would you change that ..." "... would you deliver me from ..." "... would you tweak this for me ..." and on it goes. We spend most of our time praying about problems, real or imagined.

Yet, there's a great deal more to life than the challenges we face. And there's far more to our relationship with God than our hurling complaints or concerns at Him.

At least, there should be.

There can be.

Enriching and deepening our lives and relationship with God can come by transforming our prayer life into being something much more than a session of grumbling and pleading. Here are just five steps you can take toward transforming your prayer life:

1.Be conversational. If you're God's child, act like it. Talk to Him like you're His son or daughter, and He's your Father. Go beyond concerns to conversation. You can talk to God about anything, just like you would a spouse or friend. Take Him through your day and talk to Him about all the other things on your mind. Talk to Him when you're out for a walk, or driving to work, or shopping at the grocery store. Be a whole person with Him, including Him in all the other aspects of your life beyond just your problems.

2. Be curious. Ask Him all the questions you have about life. Share with Him the things you wonder about, the questions you have on a host of subjects. Open up your curiosity to Him, tell him what it is that leaves you pondering. Let God partner with you in your curiosity about life.

3. Be creative. This has a double meaning. First, share with God your creativity. We're often shy or fearful of revealing our greatest creativity to just anyone for fear they won't understand or appreciate it. God loves it! Take time to share with Him your ideas, and the possibilities that run through your mind. Just as a parent cherishes hearing a child talk about all the clever and creative things they think of, and the parent responds with encouragement, God delights in your sharing with Him the creative ideas for life that you dare to think.

Second, be creative in your approach to prayer. Prayer doesn't always have to be something done secretly in your "prayer closest." It can part of your exercise routine, it can be the central part of getting outside and enjoying nature, it can be a sit down discussion, or something you write out in a journal. Be creative about talking to God in a variety of settings and ways. By doing so, you'll find you will eventually ease into the biblical admonition to "pray without ceasing."

4. Be compassionate. Make time to have a time for prayer focused on praying only for the needs of others. Come before God with a heart full of love and concern for other people, and pour out your requests on their behalf. Don't make this a time about yourself, save your personal requests for some other time with God.

5. Celebrate! Some of the greatest experiences I've had with God have been times when my prayer was only a time of celebrating God! Set aside time to worship, praise and adore God without raising a single request for yourself or others. Make this a time that is all about you expressing your love and adoration for Him. Times like this can be some of the deepest moments of truly communing with God.

No one cares about your problems or needs as much, or more, than God. But your time with Him needs to be about more than you making requests. And your relationship with Him, as with any relationship, needs to be broader and more multi-faceted than just focused on your problems.

Try building these five additional elements into your prayer time and see if they don't transform your prayer life and enrich your relationship with God.


Saturday, May 21, 2011

A prayer request for self-indulgence ...

Recently I was reading the comments and prayer requests sent out by some people I know, but these were a little different.

They detailed some stress, fears, and challenges these persons were currently facing, then each added a statement. They wrote they didn't want the "normal Christian response." You know, an offering of encouragement that God understood their situation and would provide for them. They instead seemed to want "real" answers.

That statement revealed they completely missed the point --- and reality --- of the Christian faith! It's this: Jesus Christ IS the answer!

Asking for prayer when not wanting provision from your faith is a vain, empty act. To say you want and seek answers to your troubles, but don't want that in terms of being encouraged in your faith is to demonstrate a lack of understanding of the very purpose for our faith in Christ!

I think the issue wasn't so much that these people wanted God to do a work in their lives, but more that they wanted immediate relief to their troubles. They didn't want to have to exercise their faith. They didn't want to have to wait on the Lord. They didn't want to have to trust that God may have a reason for their trials. They just wanted relief ... now!

I can understand the emotion they expressed. But I also understand such emotions can be a very real form of self-indulgence. Not wanting to have to live out (act on) their faith by submitting themselves and their circumstances to the Lordship of Christ and, instead, simply want a return to comfort, is seeking an easy way and a selfish way. To not want to hear the "churchy" answer is to look for an answer outside their faith.

There isn't one.

Christ alone is the answer for every issue we face in life.

When we begin to understand and accept that, and then to live out that acceptance as our faith in action, we will finally make our faith into our reality.


Convictions without courage can ruin you ...

We've been taught to respect the man or woman "of conviction."

"Oh, he has great conviction!" someone says in almost a whisper filled with awe.

For some reason, people think there's something special, almost holy, about having convictions. But here's a greater reality: to not have the courage to act on genuine convictions is to fail utterly, both morally and spiritually.

James went right to the heart of the matter when he wrote, "Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it" (James 4:17).

There are a lot of "arm chair Christians" who sit and observe life, just watching what everyone else is doing. They're fast to point out what's wrong, and what should be done. Then they put the chair in full recline position and bask in their knowledge of the truth.

The problem for them is that knowing does not equate to doing. You do not gain the blessing that comes from living out your convictions by simply having convictions that you don't act on. To have deeply held convictions that you do not apply courage to act on is a failure to do what you know you should.

Excuses can never erase that space between our God-given convictions and our lack of courage to act. Only action can.

Which are you choosing in your life: the courage to act on your convictions? Or trying to cover the sin of not acting with excuses?


Friday, May 20, 2011

This isn't the OK Corral ...

Being both the clown and the uncoordinated one of the group, my friend warned his buddy to be careful as they strapped on their holsters.

One of my best friends when I was a teen was getting ready to go target shooting in the Arizona desert with a couple of his buddies. It should be a fun and uneventful outing, something they had done together on several occasions. But their awkward friend was known to sometimes create problems with his carefree attitude.

Sure enough, they didn't come back to the house safely. Instead, they went from the desert to the hospital.

The "clown" had failed to clear the leather of his holster while trying a quick draw and had shot himself in the foot!

He was the only person I've known to actually shoot himself in the foot with a gun. But I've met many who have done so, figuratively, with the choices they make in their lives.

Both as a pastor and counselor, I've spent time with many people struggling from a variety of challenges that "life" had thrown at them. But I've spent time with far more people who were in pain from the way they had crippled their own lives from their own bad decisions.

Choices to spend money they didn't have.

Choices to cheat.

Choices to steal.

Choices to pretend.

Choices to lie.

Choices to start something they shouldn't.

Choices to quit.

Choices to ignore.

Choices to fear.

Choices to do whatever they wanted.

Choices to disobey.

The outcome? By their disobedience to God, they shot themselves in the foot. They played fast and loose with life, and they wounded themselves (and often others) in the process.

Many of the very real problems we face in life are our own creation!
When the truth is told, it wasn't something someone else caused. It wasn't just an accident. And the devil didn't do it.

We stepped away from God, made a bad decision on our own, and in the process we hurt ourselves.

James describes this "self-wounding" this way in James 1:14-15:

"14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death."

Fortunately, there's hope for us. God offers not only mercy, but grace to the "clowns" and awkward ones. When we come to the place where we're willing to confess our bad choices (sin), God is ready to heal, to transform, and to give us a spirit of self-control.

He doesn't just protect us from the enemy without, but also from the enemy within, "... our own desires."

Choices left ungoverned by the will and Word of God will cause harm to ourselves and others. Are you submitting your desires and decisions to the will and direction of God? Or are you still playing fast and loose with your life?


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

God's Part and Your Part ...

Here's a solid message about "God's Part and Your Part" by Mark Taylor, Editor of the Christian Standard. This video is worth taking the time to soak in the challenge ...

Better than a mobile beverage unit ...

When a couple steps onto a car lot, the wise salesman will give focused attention to the wife.

That's because studies show women have the greatest influence in a majority of vehicle purchases for couples and families. And what is the leading item about a vehicle that women inquire about the most?

The number and placement of cup holders.

That's right. Not horse power. Not chrome rims. Not stereo quality. But number and placement of cup holders.

It seems as though Americans are addicted to hydrating themselves wherever they are.

People stroll through the mall ... drinking beverages.

People watch movies ... drinking beverages.

People go to their favorite sporting event and cheer on their teams ... drinking beverages.

People sit on the park bench ... drinking beverages.

And people pick out their cars based on the number and convenient placement of cup holders ... so they can travel with their beverages!

Almost anywhere you see people engaged, there's a plastic bottle in their hand.

For the really thirsty, there's the "camel pack," a backpack designed for water storage with a long plastic straw to suck out the liquid while packing the water around.

There are even shopping carts with cup holders. That's right, cup holders so you can keep yourself adequately hydrated walking the aisles of your local grocery store.

By the looks of it, you would think Americans are thirsting to death!

Many are, but not for water.

John 7:37-39 record these words of Jesus, "37 On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! 38 Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” 39 (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)"

Better than a massive camel pack bulging with water is the Holy Spirit who lives inside every believer, always present to help us quench our spiritual thirst. There is more than enough living water flowing from Christ to meet your every spiritual need.

How are you "hydrating" yourself spiritually?


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The white-washing of Christ's Christianity ...

I'm tired of liberal Christians using the excuse of love to condone what they don't do in the name of Jesus Christ.

Less than an hour ago, I finished reading a new blog post from a popular Christian writer who droned on about how he chooses to do what he does, and doesn't do, based on love rather than duty. Then he gave the reasons why love is a superior motive to duty.

In the process, he completely missed the point of how much of what we read about in scripture has been done: by both motivations of love AND duty.

It doesn't take a genius to conclude that it's better for everyone involved when what is done for someone is done from a motivation of love. But the problem with human beings is that we aren't always loving when we need to be. In those times, it is far better for us to do what should be done because it's right (out of a sense of duty) than fail to do what is right simply because we don't feel like doing it.

This writer believes in doing what he feels.

Another, similar view is something preached far and wide by "positive thinking" and success gurus and is also something I've seen posted broadly across social media. It's the statement that the people in your life are either holding you back, or helping you move forward; they are either helpful to you, or a hindrance.

Again, that way of thinking completely misses the example of Jesus Christ and the larger point that life is not all about you or me! I've sat and listened to a broad array of leaders teach that we need to eliminate all the "toxic relationships" in our lives, divesting ourselves of anyone and everyone who doesn't support our ways, and allow into our lives only the people who feed our doing what we feel like is good for us.

Such an ungodly, unbiblical concept! That's the white-washing of Christ's Christianity that is taught as the means to living a "successful" life.

It's a good thing Jesus Christ didn't think that way. If He had, humanity would be doomed! What human relationship for Him wasn't toxic? Who really stood with Him to move His life forward? If Jesus were to eliminate all interaction with people who didn't move His purposes forward, who really would be left?

God has not called us into a self-indulgent life that is to be lined with people who are there for our convenience. Instead, He has called us to come die to ourselves and wade into the midst of broken, "toxic" people who need the love and grace of God precisely because of their brokenness!

In order to reach these people, you have to go into difficult relationships in unsafe environments to serve unlikeable people who will often use you. Following Christ is not about safe relationships with perfect boundaries where everyone is looking after your best interests. It's about risking being hated and rejected by the same world that hated and rejected Jesus Christ himself.

In John 15:18-21, Jesus talks about what following Him can entail: 18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. 20 Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. 21 They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the One who sent me."

So if you wait to serve those that you feel like serving, you'll do little for the cause of Christ. If you wait to serve those who hate you only from a motivation of love, you'll get little done. Sometimes it takes a sense of duty to stir us to express the love of Christ in the midst of sin-indulging, broken, toxic, boundary-stomping, selfish people.

There was a moment when Jesus didn't want to wade into such an ugly situation. Look closely at this poignant scene in Luke 22:39-44:

39 "Then, accompanied by the disciples, Jesus left the upstairs room and went as usual to the Mount of Olives. 40 There he told them, 'Pray that you will not give in to temptation.' 41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 'Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.' 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. 44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood."

Jesus didn't feel like going to the cross for undeserving humankind. But He loved the Father and us, and He certainly had a sense of duty toward the will of the Father over His immediate feelings. Both motivations helped Him through this time of struggle.

In spite of His great example, we continue to fill books telling Christians to eliminate relationships, erect boundaries, and stay true to self.

Which message are you taking to heart?


How to tweak a life ...

I'm convinced one of the profound realities we will understand when this life is over and we stand before Christ is just how many lives we have tweaked in a negative way.

That's because it's fairly common for us to offer our judgments of others without considering the impact of what we have to say on the lives of the people we're sharing it with.

Albert Einstein once offered this great insight: "If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it'll spend its whole life believing it is stupid."

I've listened to many, many people tell of their struggles, feelings of being lost, and sense being a complete failure, because someone of influence in their lives had, at some time, judged them by a standard that wasn't meant for them.

Sometimes it's the classic story of the father who wants his uncoordinated, artistic son to be the next great quarterback when the son would rather be off doing something creative. Such a scenario is the same as a fish trying to climb a tree.

When we attempt to saddle others with our expectations of who we think they should be, and how they should be, we often contribute to their feeling stupid for being a fish who cannot climb a tree.

How are you tweaking the lives in which you have influence?


The Cookie Monster and vision chasers ...

"Sesame Street" was one of the TV shows I sometimes watched as a kid, yet I never really knew if I liked the show or was just a little fascinated with a few of the characters.

One stands out: Cookie Monster. The blur-fur muppet who screamed for, and drooled over, cookies.

"COOKIE! ... Cookie! Cookie! Cookie!" he would yell before vigorously devouring a cookie.

Today, we have a similar version of the Cookie Monster. But instead of being a muppet, it's often a minister. And instead of the focus being a cookie, it's the topic of "vision."

"VISION! ... Vision! Vision! Vision!" is what these modern-day "leadership gurus" slobber over.

I was reminded of this today when a popular minister, once again, posted yet another blog post about "vision." The topic of vision seems to pour off the blogs, books, conferences presentations, and sermons of many of today's church leaders, demonstrating a growing disconnect with the people they lead.

I'm not saying vision isn't important. It is. The problem is with leaders who are so addicted to leadership that they spend an inordinate amount of time on the subject of vision and greatness with the people they're supposed to be leading.

Their leadership is misguided in a few ways:

1. It often has nothing to do with where their people are at. The average American never writes down their personal goals. That's because many people do not think the way many of these leadership-oriented leaders do.

They don't dream about greatness.

They don't have lofty visions of great organizational feats.

They don't dream about getting their picture on the back of a book cover, or speaking in front of an audience of thousands.

The greatest of their dreams are made up of humbly drawing close to their God and really connecting with Him. Of having a marriage that works because they really do love their spouse. Of loving and caring for their children, and guiding them well into being adults of good faith and character. Of having a career that will provide for their families as well as being a way to make a contribution. And stretching themselves to care for others less fortunate than themselves because they really do care about others.

If they can pull all that off, they believe life really will be great!

They don't have to write those goals on a piece of paper because they're etched on the forefront of their minds and deep in their hearts. They will not forget them.

Yet, to have a leader stand before them constantly talking about legacies of greatness, pursuing great things, achieving great accomplishments is like talking in a foreign language. It's not where they are at in life.

2. It's not the primary role of the leader. It might be shocking for some of these leaders to understand their ongoing message of grand visions isn't the work God has called them to as a leader in the church. Their work is to preach the Gospel, to make disciples, and to equip those disciples to do the work of ministry.

Yet many of these leaders spend their time teaching on goal-setting, developing a vision, building a legacy, being dream chasers, moving mountains with faith, making the sun stand still, and any number of miraculous things that really are not the basic content of Discipleship 101.

While these leaders drone on about vision, their people remain biblically illiterate. They do not know or understand basic Christian doctrine. They cannot communicate the Gospel because they're not really sure what that is. And they don't fully understand what Christ actually accomplished at the cross.

But they have an idea they should write down a goal, and dream great dreams.

In the model Jesus gave us, He never focused His time or attention on talking about having visions of greatness. In fact, His message was quite the opposite of that.

3. It shows what they would rather be doing. This persistent, non-stop flow of "vision talk" exposes what many of these leaders are more interested in: pursuing personal or organizational greatness. They would rather hangout with other leaders talking about achieving visions of greatness than do the more basic work their office exists to accomplish.

These leaders often miss the most simple of truths before them. It's this: to help an unbeliever come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior, and to help that new Christian grow into being a mature disciple of Christ is the greatest thing they could ever possibly accomplish! By being focused on the basics of teaching, preaching, praying, equipping, and serving, the leaders will achieve a great vision of actually doing what God has called them to do.

By pursuing vision, and visions of great visions, they may fill up auditoriums with people, but far too many of those people remain ignorant of a saving faith in, and biblical knowledge of, Jesus Christ.

Leaders who spend an inordinate time chasing vision and leadership greatness are misguided leaders who's vision chasing cause them to fail their real mission.


Monday, May 16, 2011

Why do you get soaked when walking by a puddle?

Sometimes, in life, you get splashed because you were by a big puddle when a vehicle drives by.

Sometimes, the enemy puts the puddle there.

Sometimes, God puts the puddle there.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "Galileo" is a compelling story of theology meets new science

Forget the short, uninformative bios in textbooks. If you want a real glimpse into the life of a great genius, pick up a copy of "Galileo" by Mitch Stokes (published by Thomas Nelson).

Stokes does an excellent job of opening up the lives of great men as a writer for Thomas Nelson's "Christian Encounters" series, an offering of biographies of great Christian men and women in history. I first had read (and previously posted a review on) Stokes' book, "Isaac Newton," and found his work on "Galileo" to be just as compelling.

For most of us, the only exposure we have to such intellectual giants (who were also devout Christian men) such as Galileo and Newton come from a paragraph or two in a history book. Stokes does a remarkable job of telling the life story of Galileo from his birth to his death, capturing both the greatest of moments to the saddest of trials.

Stokes is particularly talented at helping the reader understand the great achievements of Galileo without the reader having to have any kind of background in science or mathematics, a fortunate thing for a guy like myself whose least favorite subject is math! He also highlights how faith was an intimate, and intricate, part of Galileo's life.

For a significant part of history, the church was actually the leader in supporting scientific thought and developments. But soon after the Protestant Reformation, as a part of the Catholic church's counter-reformation, a negative tension would develop between the church and some scientists, and Galileo would find himself the target of this new struggle. Stokes does an admirable job of telling how Galileo tried to "go along, to get along" with the church while also remaining true to his scientific beliefs. The result was fairly tragic during Galileo's lifetime, only to finally receive some exoneration more than three centuries later.

"Galileo" is a compelling story of a greatly flawed --- and greatly gifted --- man working out his faith, his feelings, and his genius where theology meets science. You'll likely come away informed and inspired by reading this worthwhile book.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com 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, May 13, 2011

Your best critic ...

Since God is the single greatest lover of our souls, why then do so many reject Him?

One reason is because He's also our best critic.

It's true, God provides "constructive criticism" better than any human being can. And He does!

The platitude so many like to pass around stating, "God accepts you just as you are" simply isn't true. God loves you just as you are. God receives you just as you are. But He does not accept you being just as you are.

God insists that all those who enter into relationship with Him be transformed into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ. And it's the life of Christ that God uses as a measure for ours. He helps us understand where we fall short, but also encourages us with hope, gives us the Holy Spirit for help, and offers His limitless power to fix what's broken in us so that we can become like His Son.

But just as there are those who don't want to hear constructive criticism from peers, friends or loved ones, there are many who don't want to hear it from God either.

What about you? Do you welcome the voice of God in your life to provide you with the truth about yourself? Or have you decided even He is not worth listening to?


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Worth getting out of bed for ...

A couple days ago I was arranging a meeting with someone. The person told me where to meet him at his workplace, even down to the specific parking spot his vehicle would be in.

That's because every single work day, he parks in the exact same spot.

It's not an assigned parking spot.

Many people are like that. They do the exact same things, the exact same way, every day ... day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

And then?

Then they wonder why their lives are so mediocre, why there is such a nominal amount of enthusiasm for their lives. They believe they are nominally content and relatively satisfied, but life is little more than an ongoing routine.

If you want a life worth having some enthusiasm for, then you have to make it. You have to pray it out, then plan it out, and then pursue it. You have to purposely bring changes into your life with a conscious intent of doing something with your life.

But if you keep doing the same things over and over and over, don't expect a life so full, so purposeful, that you're enthusiastic about getting out of bed every morning to get your day rolling.

Life will either happen to you, or you can journey with God into making it an adventure. Which one are you doing?


Monday, May 9, 2011

Where are your feet?

My new Personal Training client complained about pain in his lower back. I immediately looked at his feet. It quickly became obvious one of the reasons for his pain was due to how he placed his feet.

Like many people, this fellow had grown up distorting his posture by turning his feet outward rather than resting or using his feet in a straight forward direction. This affected his "kinetic chain," which simply means you really can't use one joint without affecting another. When the feet are turned outward, it throws off the support of the ankles, which then affects the knees, and finally pushes strain into the lower back.

All because he turned his feet outward.

How you plant your feet matters. It affects your physical performance, and how other parts of the body support your capacity to stand or move.

And how you plant your "feet" spiritually also impacts your life.

Psalm 119:101 says, "I have refused to walk on any evil path, so that I may remain obedient to your word."

Obedience to God doesn't just happen. It depends on where we walk ... or how we plant our feet. If we think we can travel the paths of "evil," we won't find any firm footing to stand on. We'll fall.

How are you planting your feet spiritually?


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Table for one?

"How many in your party?' asked the smiling host the moment I stepped into the restaurant.

Raising a single finger, I said, "One."

"Just one?" clarified the host.

I paused for a moment, then responded, "One."

The host led me through a maze of tables to a partial booth. It looked like someone had taken a regular restaurant booth, cut it in two, and had placed the short end in front of me.

"Is this okay?" the smiling host asked.

"No," I responded, shaking my head. "I'd like a regular booth please."

The host frowned and silently led me to a regular booth, which is much more comfortable for my 6-foot, 2-inch tall frame. He immediately started gathering the additional silverware settings from the table, originally set to accommodate four persons. I didn't mind the additional settings being left on the table, but for some reason restaurants seem to want to remind single patrons they really are "just one."

Restaurants often don't provide very good service to single individuals. You'll order less, which means you'll pay less, and therefore tip less. They'll make less money off you.

You're "just one."

As a single individual, I've found it annoying how restaurants tend to consistently call the single patron a party of "JUST one." They don't say, "Will you be dining alone today, sir?" or "Will this be for one?" It's JUST one, as if being "just one" devalues the person.

Churches often don't seem to know how to respond to the single individual either.

Much of what churches offer are designed with couples and families in mind. And much of what is communicated from the pulpit is stated in terms of couples, families, or relating to marriage. Little consideration of the single individual is given in program planning or thought to what is communicated. Not much is done for "just one."

In fact, many couples purposely avoid having single friends because they find it uncomfortable for their partners. Or the single individual is considered to be someone "en route" to marriage so match-making becomes the focus.

Whether it's a business or church, defining the single individual as "just one" gives the connotation of devaluing the person for being "just one." But that's not how Jesus saw the lone person. Instead, He saw the individual as being priceless. Look closely at Matthew 18:12-14:

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! 14 In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish."

The world often sees the individual as "just one." Jesus sees the individual as "even one."

How do you see the single person?


Your Life: Experiences v. Reality

My brain stopped the words before they came out of my mouth.

I was asked if I was a hunter, and immediately I was about to respond that I was. But then my brain clicked in and reminded me that I used to be a hunter during my childhood, but I haven't been hunting since I was a teenager (that's me on the left in the photo above, javalina hunting with a friend).

So the correct answer is no, I'm no longer a hunter. Not because I have anything against hunting (I don't), but I no longer have a personal interest in hunting. If someone invited me to go hunting now, I would likely decline the invitation, simply because my personal interests have changed over the years.

When the topic came up, I identified with the hunter. I know the experience, and really enjoyed it in the past. But hunting was just one of a multitude of experiences in my life. It would not be accurate to say that I'm currently a hunter. It's something I understand and have fond memories of, but is no longer any part of my life.

My experience is how many people live their lives: they see themselves today based on false perceptions built from past experiences.

But an experience from the past --- whether one-time or an extended time --- doesn't necessarily make us who we are today.

I spent some time living on a ranch in Arizona. I could ride a horse well, and I was very good at roping. Good enough I was encouraged to pursue roping professionally in rodeos. I wore the hat and boots because at that time of my life, I was living as a cowboy. By the time I started the "Rodeo Club" in high school, that was changing. I was studying journalism at the time, and roots to my future was changing who I was becoming.

I still have a great pair of cowboy boots that I occasionally wear. But I'm more "me" in a pair flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt because I've become much more accurately the beach guy rather than the cowboy.

That's who I actually am today.

Because of my experiences, I can be comfortable in a variety of settings: from a pair of shorts at the beach, a pair of jeans at a rodeo, an aloha shirt in Honolulu, slacks and a shirt in a clinical counseling setting, a suit in a boardroom making a presentation, a tuxedo at the symphony, or preaching the Gospel in front of a large audience.

My life experiences have given me "scale" or range, but only some of them play a direct part of who I actually "am" today. Who I am exceeds what I have experienced or what my interests are. It is all about what I believe so much that I actually put those beliefs into consistent action.

Sometimes I don't always have the opportunities or resources to do all the things that are an accurate reflection of who I am, but I apply myself as fully as I can. Doing so takes me beyond perceptions of the past, to the reality of today. And it's those things I believe in so much that I live out as fully as possible that make up who I have actually become.

For too many, serving Christ is an experience to them like hunting was to me. It's something they have done in the past, they have fond memories of, and they enjoyed, but it's not a real part of their lives right now. Yet, they perceive themselves as being Christians.

Past experiences may, or may not, influence who we become or who we are, but what is ultimately important is the reality of the moment. Not that we once did something, once experienced something, or once liked something.

What is important is who we are today and how we live today.

Based on that, who are you? Do you know? Or are you living life on perceptions of the past?


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

An easy way to ace a test?

The second the teacher finished his sentence, his statement sounded like a really dumb idea.

We were going to have a test. An "open book" test.

Granted, not a single person complained. I mean, if we're going to take a test, and the teacher was going to allow everyone to use their books in finding the test answers, then no one was going to point out to him how ludicrous that seemed. After all, it sounded like an easy way to score an "A."

But even by allowing all the students to use their books, some didn't make an A on the test. Some students actually did quite poorly. That's because they were unfamiliar with the textbook and had no idea where to find the answers. By the time they dug through chapter after chapter, time for the test was over. And so was their chance for an easy grade.

Actually, the teacher's idea wasn't so dumb. Learning isn't always about a grade. Knowing how to find the answers to questions is an important skill to have, one that can be refined by open book examinations. For this kind of exam, the teacher was more interested in building his students' learning skills than testing rote knowledge.

Living the Christian life is sometimes like an open book test. The Bible tells us we'll face tests in life, and the Teacher allows us to have an "open book" --- the Bible --- during every test we face.

That should make each test much easier for us. After all, the answers can be found in the Book.

But some still do poorly, because they remain unfamiliar with the text.

How are you doing in your tests of life?


Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Feeding or killing creativity?

Creativity. Intelligence. Education. Great subjects all touched upon in an insightful and entertaining way by Sir Ken Robinson in the following TED video. It will make you think!

(Thanks to Gabriella Sannino for bringing this video to my attention).

Here's a tip for improving the quality of your communication ...

Do you remember sounding out words?

Or moving on to that huge task of learning to write in cursive?

Or graduating from addition to multiplication?

At the time, these steps of learning seemed so big!

Fortunately, the process of learning was simple, and it usually started with being provided with definitions of words. Once we understood the proper definitions, we could embark on the task of learning by applying the definition or meaning of words to various functions.

That seems long ago, yet some of the best college textbooks start each chapter by providing definitions of key words the student will encounter in the new chapter.

Whether we're starting out in elementary school, or going back to college for a graduate degree, the value of common definitions helps us to develop a common understanding.

Funny how we forget that in the workplace. Or in relationships. Or in the church.

We tend to splatter others with our words, knowing precisely what we mean, but taking little (or no) time to make sure others share the same understanding of the words we use.

Often they don't, simply because they may have their own definition for some of the words we've used.

If you want to enhance the clarity and effectiveness of your communication with others, take time to make sure the people you work or interact with share the same definition you have for the key words you use when communicating with them. Doing so can build greater cohesiveness among groups, greater clarity in relationships, and less confusion for everyone.