Saturday, December 31, 2011
Suppression can be a difficult (even painful) thing.
Whether it's suppressing a sneeze, a cough, a laugh, or an opinion, holding back can be a tough thing to accomplish.
Although there is value in doing things with good timing, suppression often isn't a good thing, unless we're talking about the immoral, unethical, the sinful.
But we're not talking about that when it comes to the concept of living a Christian life, yet many culture-leaning church leaders routinely teach the suppression of Christian identity and values ...
"You don't want to scare people off with your faith ..."
"You don't want to offend others ..."
"You want to be sensitive to others ..."
"You don't want to come across like a Bible thumper ..."
"You just want your life to speak through random acts of kindness ..."
So goes the wave of unbiblical nonsense!
First, Jesus Christ didn't practice random acts of kindness, He simply was kind. Consistently so. His example and teaching for us was not to be "stealth believers" who suppress to the world who --- and whose --- they are.
14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father," Matthew 5:14-16.
Jesus lived out who He was authentically. Could you imagine Jesus not speaking of the Father when He had time with someone?
"Well, He was God's Son," some might respond.
But if you are a Christian ... so are you!
Would you like a more personally fulfilling New Year? And would you like to contribute more to the kingdom of God in 2012? Then live out your faith openly, kindly, humbly. Demonstrate it. Speak of it. Be the child of God that you are everywhere, always. No suppressing it!
Just enjoy being a whole Christian who lives out his or her faith every day without reserve, without shame, without a false sense of embarrassment, without fear. And without the lousy advise from liberal leaders who tell you to hold back. Suppress it.
In 2012, unleash your authentic self in Christ, you'll be greatly blessed by the freedom and the result of doing so!
Happy New Year!
Thursday, December 29, 2011
A New Year is just a couple days away.
In spite of the New Year resolutions many will make, most will enter the new year as the same person they were on December 31. Most want from a new year not so much change in themselves as they do different circumstances.
But a change in circumstances doesn't equal a change in self. It doesn't represent growth, maturity, or accomplishment. Circumstances may change a little or a lot without any change in the person.
That's why many will end the new year much the same as they went into it.
Growing, developing, maturing, or improving doesn't happen simply through circumstantial change, it comes only by real change in oneself.
What are you going to do with you --- not your circumstances --- but you, in 2012?
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
"The Encounter" By Stephen Arterburn (published by Thomas Nelson) is a quick-read paperback fiction that lightly delves into the topic of resolving the unresolved to keep the past the past so you can build the future God desires for you.
Arterburn does a compelling job of story-telling in a novel-like approach, but doing so in just 159 pages. The author quickly draws you into the life of billionaire Jonathan Rush, who on the surface, would seem to "have it all." But his life is unraveling dramatically, and the reason is because his past continues to invade his present.
How can he come to grips with things that happened when he was a boy that continue to plague him as a grown man?
That adventure, which takes Rush from sunny Miami to frigid Fairbanks, is just enough story to keep you tuned in while sparking some focused thoughts about your own life. The story is an enjoyable read, while the content is just enough to motivate you to ask of yourself: "What unresolved issues do I have in my life that negatively affect my present, and my possible future?"
"The Encounter" is a good fit for those moments when you want some reading on the lighter side, but still provokes a little introspection.
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.”
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Part of the American dream includes the right send off of children from the home.
Parents dream of raising good, healthy children who they send off to college. From there, they continue to mature, learn, meet the love of their lives, and go on to build families, careers, and productive lives.
Some can't go to college, but they find jobs, spouses, and make families and homes.
Parents want to send their kids out well.
So did God. He sent out His Son on that first Christmas.
But did you ever notice that Jesus kept leaving homes?
First, He left the intimate fellowship of the Trinity and the splendors of heaven to become human and join us here on Earth. God planted Him with a good family, and Jesus lived a "normal" human life with earthly parents and siblings for about 30 years.
Then He left home again.
He struck out to preach the message His Father had given to Him to give to the world. During His time of ministry, He didn't have a home to call His own. His "home" was the fellowship He shared with His disciples.
Then He left "home" again.
With His disciples gathered around, He gave them a Commission, then returned home to the Father, where He is now.
But He plans on leaving home again!
That's because He plans on returning to earth to get His church ...
“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. 4 And you know the way to where I am going,” John 14:1-4.
Christmas is about Jesus leaving home --- more than once --- so that we may, some day, make our home with Him.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Each month, several thousand of you visit with me here on "Extraordinary Living." It is a real privilege and blessing to be able to share with you through the articles posted here, and also to be able to interact with and get to know many of you.
Throughout the year, we have shared and prayed for each other. Thank you for your fellowship!
I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year filled with blessings!
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
There was a woman who, at the end of a very long life, died and found herself standing in front of heaven's pearly gates.
Peter stepped forward and welcomed the woman, and then asked for the pass code in order to enter.
"The pass code?" the woman asked with a startled expression.
"Yes," Peter said. "In order to enter, you must give the pass code. The pass code, of course, is to give the correct spelling of the word 'love'."
"Oh," said the woman, "Why it's L-O-V-E," stated the woman.
"Right you are!" exclaimed Peter, "Welcome to heaven!"
Peter extended the hand of fellowship, gave her a map to guide her on her way, and then asked, "Listen, could you do me a favor? I need a short restroom break. Could you stay here for a minute and fill in for me? If anyone comes along, just ask them for the pass code --- how to spell love --- and if they spell it correctly, let them in. I'll be gone just a few minutes."
"Well, certainly, I could do that for you," the woman said, and Peter quickly disappeared.
Moments later, the woman saw a man approaching the heavenly gates from a far distance. The closer he got, the more familiar he became. Soon, she recognized him and was shocked to see her ex-husband approaching heaven's entrance. The woman was upset at the idea of having to spend eternity with her ex-husband, surely she wouldn't have to suffer so!
When the man arrived, he had a look of surprise and mischief on his face as he recognized his ex-wife.
"Well, imagine seeing you here!" he said to his former bride.
"Yes, well, you haven't gotten in yet!" she said.
"What do you mean?" the man asked.
"Well, in order to be allowed into heaven, you must give the correct pass code," the woman said with a sharp look.
"Okay, so what is the pass code?" the man asked?
"You must spell correctly the word 'Czechoslovakia' ..." the woman answered.
But sometimes, the hardness of our own hearts are the very stumbling blocks put in front of others.
That same heart can be a stumbling block to our own relationship with God. Jesus spoke to that issue this way:
23 “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, 24 leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God," Matthew 5:23-24.
Unreconciled issues with others creates a problem for our being reconciled to God. This Christmas season, is there anyone who you need to offer the gift of reconciliation and peace? Are you a stumbling block for someone, or do you hold the gates of heaven open for all?
Business people dress to impress when they walk into boardrooms to make presentations.
We get dressed up, if in just our "best" jeans, to go out on the town.
We learn lines, polish manners, and practice certain etiquette at different times and in different places.
In other words, we often attempt to impress.
Making an impression is an outward attempt to manipulate the thoughts others have about us. We do that often with each other.
We even try it with God.
But it never works with God.
Regardless of what we may display outwardly toward God, this fact remains:
"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,'” 1 Samuel 16:7.
How do you try to impress God? When He looks past your attempt to impress, what does He see when He looks at your heart?
Immediately under the space to log in on Twitter is a box that can be checked, with the words "Remember Me" next to it.
I've seen the same option available on other websites.
On some of them, including Twitter, I have checked the box.
The problem is, the site doesn't remember me. Every time I return, I have to type in my identity because it has "forgotten" me.
Those sites are a lot like us.
We say --- about some very important things -- that we will never forget.
But we forget.
We promise we will always remember!
But we don't.
We even allow to slip from our minds the sacrifice Jesus Christ made of His body and blood on our behalf. We forget, so Jesus designed a reminder for us ...
"23 For I pass on to you what I received from the Lord himself. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took some bread 24 and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and said, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.' 25 In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood. Do this to remember me as often as you drink it,'” 1 Corinthians 11:23-25.
The work of the cross starts with Christmas.
God so loved the world, that He gave His Son to save us from our sins (John 3:16). Christmas begins a work of God that should be unforgettable.
With all the fond memories this Christmas season, what are you remembering?
Who are you remembering?
Monday, December 19, 2011
Go ahead: think it all, express it all, feel it all. Let it all out, God is a big god, He can handle it!
That's what many church leaders teach congregations regarding responding to God when God acts in our lives in ways we really don't like.
"God can handle your doubt, your anger," they say, and thus encourage some poor --- and wholly unhelpful --- behavior from people.
How should we respond to God when God acts in an impacting way in our lives?
Should we be angry at Him?
Should we doubt Him?
Should we rebuke Him?
Should we school Him in what we really want from Him?
I think a better response might be learned from a teenage girl directly from the Christmas story.
Mary had dreams. She was in love with a handsome boy. A good boy who had all the makings of growing into a godly man. He had asked her to marry him, and she was already dreaming of their lives together, him working as a carpenter to care for their family, and her keeping house and nurturing their children.
God turned those plans upside down and, in the process, very nearly brought an end to the coming marriage before it happened. Now a pregnancy was in the scene before a wedding, and Joseph was planning on how to quietly end the engagement. This was nothing like a young girl's dream for living happily ever after.
How did Mary respond?
She sang praise to God!
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47 How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
"56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months and then went back to her own home," Luke 1:46-56.
Instead of throwing a fit that God was ruining her "dream" and changing all her plans, she praised and worshiped Him; she trusted that He knew better than she did, even about her own life.
How do you respond to God acting in your life? Who do you believe knows better for you? What can you learn from Mary's example?
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
There is no artificial substitute for blood.
Many scientists have tried (and still continue to try) to devise a means of creating or replicating blood, but all efforts have failed.
It's thought in the scientific research community that blood is the primary obstacle to humans ever learning to "create life," and loss of blood is a fast-track to losing life.
There simply isn't any adequate substitute for real blood.
And that is why God gave Himself to the world that very first Christmas.
Oh, His gift had nothing to do with science or medicine. It had to do with another need for blood ...
"15 The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16 But the Lord God warned him, 'You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—17 except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die,'" Genesis 2:15-17.
Ezekiel stated this, "The person who sins is the one who will die," in Ezekiel 18:20a.
And for even greater clarification, we read, "For the wages of sin is death ..." in Romans 6:23a.
Every person who disobeys God --- who sins --- must pay the consequences of sin: death. And death requires the shedding of blood.
Romans 3:23 gives a simple expansion of the problem: "For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard."
That's a problem for us humans. If we offer the shedding of our blood as a cost for sin, we die. And we are not capable of overcoming death. Yet, Hebrews 9:22 says, "In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness."
So, to pay the cost of sin, so that we may be forgiven of our sin, requires real human blood.
Not a substitute. After all, there is no artificial substitute for blood. Especially when it comes to our sin.
Because of that fact, God wrapped Himself in human flesh and was born of a virgin. He became human. With real blood. Blood which He later shed on a cross on our behalf.
Real human blood.
And Christ was able to overcome death!
Now, through Christ, our debt for sin is paid through His blood!
"19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water," Hebrews 10:19-22.
God loved us so much He gave the world His Son, who was willing to shed His very real human blood on our behalf. And by the blood of Christ, our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to God.
And that is the "why" behind Christmas.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Monday, December 12, 2011
As culture continues to invade and pervade the Church, an unholy display of faux righteous indignation also seems to be demonstrably on the rise.
I'm talking about those persons who know what is right, choose not to do it (see James 4:17 about that), yet attempt to make pious-sounding arguments and proclaim polished philosophies for disobeying God. And when those finally fall flat, they retreat to their favorite excuse and cry, "Grace!"
Having a problem with obeying God speaks directly to an individual's spiritual condition rather than to the holiness of God.
God is utterly pure!
He's perfectly holy ... "This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all," 1 John 1:5.
So what's the problem, then, with obeying Him? Where does the questioning come from? Why the consistent hand-ringing, mental manipulations, and emotional hijinks?
We've all had our moments of trepidation about obedience. However, it's one thing to occasionally struggle with weakness; it's another to make every day a challenge of obedience ...
"So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth," 1 John 1:6.
Those who have to constantly make another decision to exercise faith and walk with God are really doing their own thing and evaluating God on --- quite literally --- a step-by-step basis: "Maybe I will take this step, or maybe I won't ...," "Maybe I'll take that step, or maybe I won't ..."
That is not a life surrendered to Christ, it's a "self-sovereign" demanding of God to provide a good enough reason why He should be obeyed!
If you don't know what your commitment to Jesus Christ is right now, tomorrow, or the day after, you've likely not made one. Commitment is something you decide now, and then live out as best you can one day at a time.
But God isn't going to drag it out of you.
Joshua made the whole issue simple, and stated it this way:
14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord," Joshua 24:14-15.
How about you ... is God "good enough" to earn your obedience?
Mary's attempt to explain her pregnancy to Joseph had to be one of the most unbelievable statements ever made by a human being.
Do you know anyone before Christ, or after, born of a virgin birth?
It appears Joseph didn't believe Mary either ...
"... Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly," Matthew 1:18b-19.
But when the same message came from God, Joseph believed and obeyed ...
"When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife," Matthew 1:24.
After Jesus was born, Joseph obeyed God's direction to flee to Egypt (Mt. 2:13-15) for safety --- the same country that had enslaved his people for hundreds of years. You would have to really trust God to run off to a place like that ... for your safety!
Upon his return home, Joseph obeyed God's redirection to forget about Bethlehem and, instead, relocate his little family to the rough neighborhood of Nazareth (Mt. 2:19-23).
These directions of the Lord in Joseph's life were not "little" things. Believing and obeying God about these matters directly decided who Joseph married, the safety and well-being of himself and his family, and the environment he exposed his wife and child to when finally settling down.
God asked some BIG things of Joseph!
Yet, we don't hear about Joseph complaining, or fretting, or procrastinating. Instead, we see when God spoke, Joseph believed and then obeyed.
No wonder God picked this man to be the stepfather to the Savior of the world!
Have you ever experienced "crazy love"?
You know, that, "I just can't fathom living without you!" kind of love.
That all-consuming, makes you almost giddy kind of love.
That kind of love for someone where you gladly put their interest before yours, where you delight in serving them, where simply being near them makes your heart full.
I think that's likely the kind of love Joseph had for Mary.
It must have been, for him to do what he did.
What did he do?
He kept loving her.
Step back for a minute and think about Joseph's experience. If you've ever experienced crazy love for someone, then had them cheat on you, you've known one of the deepest, harshest, ugliest pains a person can experience.
For a brief time, Joseph experienced that with Mary.
One minute, he couldn't wait for the wedding; the next, she's telling him she's pregnant.
Joseph knew he wasn't the father. That clearly meant she had cheated on him.
The scripture doesn't capture the tale of Joseph's heartbreak, but his love must have been deep to decide not to publicly embarrass Mary.
But then she tells Joseph the baby is from God.
Imagine how that must have stung Joseph!
"First you tell me you're pregnant, so that means you must have been cheating on me, but now you're going to lie to me by claiming God made you pregnant?!" is something like what Joseph must have wanted to say.
Maybe he actually said it.
Added to his hurt had to be anger, even a righteous indignation.
Until God cleared up the matter.
And guess what ... Joseph believed God!
Imagine the depth of faith and obedience it took for Joseph to believe that something that had never occurred in human history --- a virgin birth --- was the true story behind his fiance's pregnancy.
It must have been crazy love.
For God, and for Mary.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Do you know any magi?
Are you one?
You might be surprised at the answer to that.
I've always thought the magi were an interesting inclusion to the Christmas story. You would think the grand chorus of angels and the heavenly herald proclaiming the birth of Christ would be sufficient for the written record. But no ... enter the magi.
Beyond Israel, God's "chosen people," was a world of other people who believed and lived quite differently. In one society, the influential men of their time were known as "magi."
Don't mistake that for "magician."
While it is thought some of the magi studied magic, the magi were the highly educated, intellectual elites of their day within their society. They were learned men who studied the depth and breadth of human knowledge of their time. They were the modern-day scientists, scholars, astronomers and astrologists, gurus, doctors, lawyers, and philosophers. For all their learning, they were known to be the "wise men" of their culture.
Because of their wisdom and wise leadership, they also served as a council to select the king who ruled their society.
That's what makes their pursuit of Jesus Christ so interesting.
These men had studied it all, searched it all, investigated it all, tried it all. They had given themselves to learning and exploring all the knowledge and resources that humanity had to offer in their time.
And they found it wanting.
Enough to hop on their camels and make a long, trudging, perilous pursuit for something better. After all their human exploration, these magi found everything humanity could think or perform to be lacking for the human need.
So they sought something better. For someone better. For a true King. For someone worthy of their worship.
"Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 'Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him,'" Matthew 2:1-2.
The Jewish people were longing, and impatiently looking for, an earthly king to change their political position as they lived in subservience to the Roman empire. But the magi? They were looking for a king to worship!
"9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh," Matthew 2:9-11.
When the magi found the Christ, they found the One they were looking for; down to their knees they went, offering their worship of the only one to finally bring fulfillment to all they were looking for.
Their search was done!
Many people today search the breadth and depth of human knowledge for answers to life. They're smart, bright, capable ... and lost. In spite of everything humankind can think or do even today, nothing humanity offers can fulfill the human need.
Yet, it is few today who are wise enough to keep searching until they come to Christ. It is few today who, when they find Him, bow themselves in true worship of Him. It is few today who offer their greatest treasure as gifts for Him. In fact, it is few who are willing to saddle up and journey out.
What are you searching for? Have you found the Christ? If so, how have you responded?
It's not a mirage, but you rub your eyes just to make sure you're seeing clearly.
It is, indeed, an oasis!
Time to quench your thirst, rest your weary body, refresh yourself from a long, tiring journey that's far from done.
Or is it?
It's nice here in the middle of an oasis. There's plenty of water, and shade, and food. Comfort. No trials and tribulations of traveling.
Why not just settle here?
You've got everything you need right here. Why not just pitch a tent and stay?
Because that's not what an oasis is for.
The oasis in our travels of life are those places and times God provides for refreshing, not for settling. The oasis is designed to reinvigorate and re-supply us for the journey.
It's not our destination.
Yet, many settle for the oasis.
Like Peter wanted to.
"1 Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. 2 As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. 3 Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus," Matthew 17:1-3.
Doing ministry with Jesus wasn't an easy thing. Being on a mountaintop with the glory of Christ piercing through life's daily routine was, to say the least, a great oasis from the journey. Add to that the appearance of Old Testament greats Moses and Elijah, and you have a scene you want to freeze frame for a while.
At least, Peter did. He wanted to pitch a tent and stay right there, in the midst of unearthly glory.
"Peter exclaimed, 'Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials — one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah,'” Matthew 17:4.
The problem is, when you indulge your fascination for the oasis, you lose sight of not only the journey, but the purpose for it. For Peter, he was as enthralled with seeing Moses and Elijah as he was seeing Christ transfigured. So God redirected his attention ...
"5 But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.' 6 The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground," Matthew 17:5-6.
The mountaintop was for a time of refreshing, to ready the servants to get off the mountain and back down into the valley to continue the journey among those who needed them.
Imagine if Jesus (or even Peter) would have lounged on the mountaintop. If they would have pitched their tent and stayed.
Better yet, imagine this world if you settle for the oasis. What would be lost that the world will not have if you cut short the journey for the glory of comfort?
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
The world is not seeking out the church.
Thus, the church must seek out the world with its mission and message.
Just like long ago, on that first Christmas ...
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life," John 3:16.
God didn't wait on the world to seek Him, He took action! Here's a few steps we can learn from that first Christmas:
1. We need to love the lost the way God did. We won't give or serve the way we need to until we do.
2. Then we need to give our very best, our all. God did. He gave Jesus.
3. We need to have the right mission with the right message: reach the lost with the Good News that "... whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
Christmas needs to be so much more than something we celebrate; it needs to be something we emulate.
Monday, December 5, 2011
You've likely heard the old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different outcome.
In that case, could it be some of our church planting methods are insane?
In many instances, what we call church planting is launching a new plant comprised of as many people as possible who are already Christians; starting with a "core group" that is large enough to be a small church.
With such a "large" start, what often happens is this little congregation (that came together without any evangelistic effort) is excited about it's new life at first, but quickly becomes program-oriented. Why? Because you already have enough people to be tempted to turn inward to minister to an existing congregation. The evangelistic impact of this kind of church planting is nominal.
By planting a full-sized church (in America, the average church is less than 90 people; many church plants start with a core group that size or larger), we are often simply starting another church that is more inwardly focused than it is mission focused.
Now here's a novel idea: What if we did more church planting like that done in the New Testament? Where smaller teams were sent out to proclaim the Gospel and the work was about building a new body of believers from among the lost in the community being served? This is how we often approach "foreign missions" work, but not at all how we work at expanding God's kingdom here at home.
Maybe that's why we routinely get reports of lives saved and hundreds or thousands of baptisms from the foreign field, and continue to see churches closing their doors here at home.
Perhaps if we changed our method of planting a small church full of Christians, and sent teams into communities to build relationships from which they could share the Gospel, we would see more lost people come to Christ right here in our own towns and cities.
Or we could just keep planting full-sized churches that turn inward shortly after being planted.
Doesn't that sound insane?
Saturday, December 3, 2011
With "The Voice New Testament," publisher Thomas Nelson is playing with a fine line of producing the latest contemporary translation of the New Testament, or compromising the accuracy of God's Word by elevating cultural influences in the translation process.
I'm not sure why Thomas Nelson, partnering with Ecclesia Bible Society, thought it necessary to produce yet another translation of the New Testament, but anytime a publisher takes on generating an actual translation of the Bible, the most essential element must be accuracy of translation from the original languages.
In producing a New Testament or complete Bible, accuracy is priority one.
I've had the opportunity to read "The Voice" --- reading it was my responsibility as a reviewer. I haven't had adequate time to do any type of comprehensive analysis of the accuracy of translation from the original languages. Nor have I had enough time to adequately compare and contrast "The Voice" with other translations. From my general reading, relying on general knowledge, there's much to like about the fluidity and clarity of the contemporary style of "The Voice," but there are multiple times where I question the choice of words or phrases and would have to rely on deeper study to draw thorough conclusions.
What is an immediate red flag for me is the purposeful inclusion of artists --- such as singers, musicians, song writers, and poets --- as contributors to the translation team. In order to have the most reliable translation possible, I want the the most gifted, skilled, capable scholars in the world doing the work of translating, not an artist!
So why were "artists" included as part of the translation team?
The first few pages of "The Voice" explain the translation method for this New Testament. The goal was not a word-for-word or even a dynamic equivalence translation, but what the publisher calls a hybrid of those two as a "contextual equivalence" version. To that end, artists were added to the translation team. Under the heading of "A Different Translation Process," this explanation is offered:
"'The Voice' Bible is a different sort of translation. It combines the relative strengths of scholars who are experts in the original languages (in the case of the New Testament, Greek) and modern writers, musicians, and poets who are skilled in their use of English, our target language."
The publisher does not offer a clear or more thorough explanation about the specific contributions made by artists on the team, or their degree of influence in the translation. That is something I definitely want to know. While I appreciate the gifts and skills of artists, having the scholarly aptitude to translate ancient documents into an accurate version of the New Testament is not among their gifts, skills, or experiences. I cannot believe that Bible scholars are so lacking in their knowledge of the English language that they need the guidance of a poet to put together what is both an accurate and readable translation. Furthermore, why would a Bible scholar need the skill of a musician in Bible translation?
In today's church, there are some churches that engage culture so they can proclaim the Gospel and reach people for Christ. Other churches have gone far beyond engaging culture to embracing it, with the result being culture having a greater influence on the church than the church on culture.
This cultural influence has been so strong among some of these churches that their written mission statements speak of culture, art, beauty, and social justice but little or nothing of the original mission of the church as given by Jesus Christ --- that of making disciples.
With it's modern "screenplay" format, "The Voice" may be Thomas Nelson's reflection of these churches that embrace culture by elevating artists and "creatives" to a new level of influence. But in this case, it's not simply within the church, but in the work of translating the Word of God.
I find that disturbing.
Let me clarify that my discomfort with the inclusion of artists on the translation team is not, in any way, a disdain of art or artists. I appreciate both. I'm a writer, I've had a youthful stint as a musician, I appreciate and enjoy the arts. But it makes as much sense to put truck drivers, cashiers, and school teachers on a Bible translation team as it does to add artists to one.
One of the most important responsibilities I have as an ordained minister is the accurate teaching of the Word of God. Until Thomas Nelson can provide a thorough reasoning as to why artists were part of its translation team, and clarify with great specificity what influence these artists had in the translation process, there is no way I could recommend "The Voice" with a clear conscience.
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.”
However, if you would like a book that has some substance to it and doesn't read like a frat boy trying to preach, then you'll likely appreciate and benefit by this new paperback.
Harris starts by posing a vital question: What are you building your life on? Jesus spoke directly to that question, and it's this biblical teaching Harris uses to push off into a book that offers substantive biblical response and content in a highly readable fashion.
Harris is a gutsy pastor to write "Dug Down Deep" because in this book he takes us back to Christian basics and makes an excellent argument that --- now get this --- that theology, doctrine, and orthodoxy are actually very important for Christians.
Many Christians couldn't accurately define what those three things are. Others criticize each and have rejected them. But Harris does an insightful job of making the case for the need for each.
What you build your life on matters!
And Christians having a biblical theology, knowledge of doctrine, and orthodoxy really does matter!
Such terms sound heavy and usually frighten readers away. Don't be afraid of this book! Harris is a gifted writer who explains these terms, then takes us into key doctrines in a fashion that is readable, understandable, and even enjoyable for any reader. Through some story-telling, and relatable pastoral teaching, Harris not only makes things like doctrine understandable to a wide audience, but he takes us back to those things which are at the core of being Christian.
"Dug Down Deep" would be a solid learning tool for a variety of people --- the new believer, small groups and Bible classes, Bible students, theology buffs, the "average, ordinary Christian," or the unbeliever who would like to understand what Christianity is about.
I appreciate "Dug Down Deep" because it offers teaching with some real biblical substance to it. For that reason, I not only highly recommend it to you, I encourage you to buy it, read it, and share it with others.
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, December 2, 2011
I once found a $20 dollar bill in the pocket of my coat. Nice surprise!
Finding money can be fun, especially if you use it to bless others.
Years ago, I wanted to expand the giving I was already doing so I could support additional ministry efforts.
Where could I find the additional money to give?
Not in my pockets.
Not under the cushions of the couch.
Not in the consoles of the car.
But I did find some in the current bills I was paying.
I took time to check out rates for the types of insurances I was paying for, and for the services I spent money on, such as phones, cable, internet service, etc.
Often, we choose a service provider for various services, and stay with them for years. But during that time, other providers may come along who offer the same services at lower costs.
That's what I discovered when I compared rates. I was able to make some changes and gain almost a $100 per month in fee reductions. That was $100 per month in my pocket that I could forward on to the additional kingdom work I wanted to support.
Being the best stewards of our dollars means managing our spending. Doing that means occasionally checking to make sure we're getting the best deal, or to see if rates have changed for the goods and services we spend our money on. Sometimes you can find savings that you could use to bless others with.
When was the last time you made sure you were getting the best deals for the best stewardship of your money?
A clinical counseling session with me always starts with the same question for everyone I see. The question is this: "Why are you here?"
The answer to that question is profound for each person because it's foundational to what we can accomplish in our time together.
Many people think if someone comes in for counseling, they want change.
And when they do, it's often not change in themselves, but in or about someone else.
Scores of people who walk into a counselor's office do so because they're running out of options (or have already run out of answers) to their problems. Some are willing to do whatever it takes to bring about positive change, regardless of how dramatic that may be to their own selves. Others are looking to shore up excuses, find support for failing positions, and ammunition to use against others.
Many simply don't want to leave elements of their brokenness.
If you think that's crazy, just look at the example of Lot's wife, as told in Genesis 19. As she and her husband, Lot, were escaping the doom of Sodom, she looked back with longing in her eyes. That unwillingness to flee from sin was her ruin.
It's the ruin of each person who harbors a place of fondness for sin:
"For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away," Isaiah 64:6.
You cannot grow into the likeness of Christ (which is God's ultimate goal for each of us) and look back with desire on your past sin. The Apostle Paul makes this admonition to us:
"11 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses," 1 Timothy 6:11-12.
Growing as a child of God requires us to run from some things, while diligently pursuing others. Where you place your focus is foundational to what you will accomplish.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
I was glad when legislators decided America would not adopt the metric system. I simply didn't want to have to learn to use measurements that were so foreign to me. I understood the current measurement system already in place.
I wish I could say the same about new measurements in our culture.
For example, I'm completely lost when it comes to units of measure used for things computer-related. What, exactly is a byte? What's a megabyte? Or a gigabyte? Or various amounts of RAM? Or ROM?
I know many of my techno-nerdish friends out there could immediately ramble off an understanding of those terms, all while laughing in disbelief that I don't understand such simple things!
But I don't. I've never had a source of learning for those things, so I don't have a real grasp of what their true measure really is.
Many of us are the same way when it comes to God's "measurement system." The Bible teaches us that God is utterly holy, that He is a just God, that He is righteous, and that He is love. He doesn't "have" these traits or characteristics ... He is holy, He is love! His measure is just and His standard is righteous:
"The LORD is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds," Psalm 145:17.
"This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all," 1 John 1:5.
3 “For I proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God! 4 The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He," Deuteronomy 32:3-4.
To have a better understanding of God, we need to understand these measures that reveal God to us. Learning these measures can be summed up in the example and life of Jesus Christ, who displayed all these measures of God's character in His physical life on earth.
Knowing such characteristic measures not only helps us better understand God, but helps us understand the whole measure God is calling us to:
"11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ," Ephesians 4:11-13.
How are you doing with learning God's measurement system?
It was (as usual) a beautiful day on Waikiki Beach. I was strolling through the area, scanning for just the right place to kick back on the sand, when I noticed the angry surfer walking almost directly toward me.
"Can you believe that?!" he said, shaking both his head and the single flip flop shoe he was clutching in his left hand.
"Believe what?" I responded.
He stopped and, still shaking the flip flop for emphasis, said, "All I had with me was my slippahs [that's what locals in Hawaii often call flip flops] so I buried them in the sand. Some thief came along and stole ONE of my flip flops! Why would someone take just one?" he asked, again shaking his head as he walked on in bewilderment and anger.
Unfortunately, theft along the beach is not uncommon in Hawaii. Tourists bring all sorts of things --- including wallets, phones, jewelry, and other valuables --- and "hide" them on the beach while they go swimming. Some locals come along and loot the tourists of their goods. Apparently, someone had searched for what the surfer may have left (probably hoping for a wallet) and, finding only a pair of flip flops, decided to take one for spite since he didn't have anything of real value to tote away.
A lot of people are like those beach scavengers. They're looking for what they can take away from someone else, and when others don't have much to offer, they may not be so kind in the parting.
Our culture teaches people to connect with others who have something to give, and to scorn those who don't have something to contribute directly; take what you can get from others, and when that value is depleted, move along.
That's often what is the hidden message in the warm, fuzzy platitude that says some people come into our lives just for seasons. Actually, neither friendship nor kindness have expiration dates. People falling out of our lives more often occurs because we don't see them bringing value to us, or they don't see us bringing value to them.
James 4:1-4 says, "1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
We pillage each other.
And above all, we pillage God.
Rarely do we approach God with the idea that He won't have something for us. It's not so common for us to desire time with God because of what we have to bring to Him! Instead, we're looking for the blessing, the gift, the something to make our time "worthwhile."
And if it's not, we grab a shoe just to have something for our effort.
I wonder if God sometimes feels like that bewildered surfer.