Thursday, May 31, 2012

How many do you have left?

"No. I'm uncomfortable evangelizing others. I'm not going to bring up God in my conversations."

"No. I'm not going to make disciples, that's what the preachers are for."

"No. I'm not going to love God the most. I'm going to love my children the most, then my spouse. Then God fits in."

"No. I'm not going to give anything near a tenth of my income to God. I'll see what's left at the end of the month and then decide what I'm comfortable giving."

"No." It's a "big" little word we're all too comfortable using with God. Each use has a direct impact on the quality of our relationship with God, and on our lives.

Jesus said, "If you love me, obey my commandments," John 14:15.

Just how many "no's" do you have left between you and God?

How would your life change if you removed all the no's?


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Is it a dream, or a pipe dream?

That massive idea that keeps you up at night ... is it a dream, or a pipe dream?

How do you know if the dream that is stirring you deeply is the right pursuit for you?

I've been asked that question a multitude of times in my career. My response has often been the same, but I love the way I heard pastor and entrepreneur, Erwin McManus, talk about it recently. McManus says that dream where you will be happy only at the end of the dream is not the dream to pursue. It's the dream with which you can enjoy the journey --- including the tough times, big challenges, and multiple hurtles --- that is the dream to pursue.

And that is why many people give up on their dreams.

They want to go from A to Z, and skip all the trials inbetween.

They want to jump over the journey for the reward.

Achieving dreams doesn't work that way.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Where have all the demons gone?

How many demon-possessed people have you known?

Have you seen?

How many demons have you cast out of people?

Can't relate to the topic?

Perhaps we need to ask, "Where have all the demons gone?"

In our Western culture, as we read the Bible, it feels as though we might as well be reading a Harry Potter novel when we get to those portions of scripture where Jesus casts out demons. It seems He did quite a lot of that in His days on earth, but the average Westerner has never seen such a thing. Or even heard of it.

But travel into parts of Third World countries and you will find it to be much more common.

Demons have not migrated to lesser developed nations only, they are still real and still busy at their work of destroying lives right in your own back yard.

Even if your preacher never preaches on the subject.

Here's the reality for us, as described in scripture:

"For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places," Ephesians 6:12.

Have you ever seen someone so addicted they seem to have lost control of themselves? Have you ever met someone so depressed and oppressed the voice in their head tells them to end it all? Have you ever ...

There are multiple questions that can be asked that will highlight scores of lives you have known and seen who may well have been ravaged by a demon.

The spiritual battle continues, and it will not end until Christ returns.

What to do?

"14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere," Ephesians 6:14-18.

"So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you," James 4:7.


Making it personal ...

Many of the heroes we honor this Memorial Day stepped up to serve their country because they love what this nation stands for and were willing to sacrifice themselves for such a cause.

For others who have served or are serving, the initial reason may have been less grandiose. For some, it was employment when they couldn't find something else. For others, it was for the benefits, especially for a means to go to college. And for others, they were too young to know what they wanted to do with their lives so they followed their buddies into the service. Some were told by the government it was their duty and were drafted.

Regardless of the initial reason, for most who have fought their nation's battles and those who continue to serve, the reason for serving quickly changes to one of relationships. The idea that brought them into service gives way to serving and fighting for the men and women they serve with.

It gets personal.

It's that "something personal" that provoked the Creator of all things to wrap Himself in flesh so that He might enter this world and serve us. A service so selfless it led to the last full measure of service, the offering of His life on our behalf.

Not because of any lofty theological ideas. It was personal. He loved us, and so He was willing to live and die for us.

"There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends," John 15:13.

Today we salute, with genuine gratitude, those who have served our country selflessly, and those who continue that tradition. Thank you!

May we also remember each and every day the sacrifice Jesus Christ made on our behalf, and respond to His expressed love with obedience and service to Him.

"13 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command," John 15:13-14.


Sunday, May 27, 2012

"With ..."

So you won't die alone ...

... enhanced financial situation by sharing costs ...

... to have children, then enjoy the children ...

... because it's expected of "successful" people ...

... for status ...

No joking, those are some real reasons why some people get married.

What those reasons miss are part of the heart of marriage, the blessing of "two becoming one," which is being with the one you love second only to Christ.

Americans are so productivity driven, we even bring the need for achievement into our relationships. That includes our relationship with Jesus Christ. How many times do you hear preachers expound on doing this for Christ, or doing that for God, as compared to living with Him?

The greater issue is not what you can do for or through Christ, but what He wants to do in, with, and then through you.

Before Jesus wants your service, He first wants you! His desire for being with you is an eternal one ...

"When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am," John 14:3.

Sometimes what we strive to do for the Lord suffers for lack of walking with Him.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Could changing your vocabulary help revitalize your church?

Words have real meaning because they also have corresponding actions. In that case, perhaps we could strengthen and revitalize the church to some degree by cleaning up some of our vocabulary.

Here are just a couple of examples of how we've twisted our terms to the detriment of the church ...

Church leaders should abandon the use of the term "volunteer." That is, if you really believe in the "ministry of all believers."

"Volunteer" does not simply denote one who serves without pay; it can create a connotation of separation between "leaders" and those being led. The concept of having volunteers assist "professional staff" or those "ordained for ministry" is to create a clergy class responsible for ministry, and those who assist them with more "menial" ministry tasks.

Noting could be further from the biblical concept for the church.

With a view of leadership created by, and recruited from, the world, we've turned upside down a biblical role of leadership from equipping to directing. Scripture says ...

"11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ," Ephesians 4:11-12.

The work of ministry is both an expectation and responsibility of every follower of Christ. Just because most are not paid a salary for the work they provide within God's kingdom does not make them any less essential to the cause of Christ. But the term "volunteer" gives the impression of temporarily offering service in a limited way for a limited time. Yet, every believer is called to give every ounce of their lives in service to the King.

Along with deleting "volunteer" from our church vocabulary, it would be a good idea for church leaders to dump the term "staff" for referring to fellow servants in the church.

"Staff" are people who work for you. Could you imagine the Apostle Paul referring to any of the men who traveled with him as "staff"? Of course not! Because Paul was aware he was serving with brothers and sisters in Christ, his spiritual family. He did not consider himself superior to them; in fact, he referred to himself as the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

Some churches use the term "team" instead of staff. That's a little closer to the idea of working together, but every member of a team looks forward to going home to their family. Why? Because family is a deeper bond than a team.

A key contributing factor to strife among church leaders is the hierarchy they create for themselves. Instead of wrestling for position and influence, how could it impact your local church if your leaders genuinely viewed themselves as brothers and sisters in the same family? You likely would be a bit more passionate about the "success" and well-being of your own brother than you might be a person who works for you or a teammate. If you have a family of servants devoted to equipping and serving the larger family, you likely will have greater ministry cohesion.

Much more could be said for the words we use regarding the people in, and purpose of, the church. From the "corporate speak" to cultural preferences commonplace in today's church, we haven't given much attention to the words we choose. But words build vision and concepts, which create value and drive actions. In that case, perhaps we should give a little more consideration to the words we select.

But these are just words ... 


Sunday, May 20, 2012

If you function right, I'll love you ...

Long ago I owned a Mac.


It eventually died.

The years since are a trail of dead laptops.

On more than one occasion, I shared with a talented geek friend the excessive loss of production and time (meaning my frustrations) just trying to make the various computers work correctly so that I could actually get some work done.

He encouraged me to return to Mac.

When my last laptop went into protracted death throes, my friend intervened and set me up with one of his old MacBook Pros he no longer used. Since I started working on the Mac, I haven't had a single instance of technical dysfunction.

I now turn on my computer, work, then turn off my computer.

The productivity and time savings using the Mac have been remarkble! And the frustrations of trying to get my computer to function properly so I could function have disappeared.

It isn't just computers we want to function this way, it's also people.

We don't want to be mired down in the "technical dysfunctions" of others. It eats up our time and sometimes causes frustrations. It's much easier to have people in our lives who function the way we want them to, when we want them to, for our productivity and pleasure.

You can treat people that way, but not if you intend to share the love of Christ with them.

The Apostle Paul says this about relationships where real love is expressed and practiced ...

"4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance," 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.

Jesus didn't avoid a person because they would demand His time or attention, behave dysfunctionally, eat into his ministry productivity, or otherwise be a "bother."

That's because He loved them.

Some people are easy to love and a joy to be around. Some, not so much. Both need the love of Christ.

Are you making room for, and loving, the "PC" people in your life? Or are you limiting yourself to those who only serve your purposes? 


Friday, May 18, 2012

Tinkering with change ...

What kind of change does God want to bring to our lives?

Imagine awaking tomorrow to a pink sky, blue velvet grass, and animals that talk. Imagine people that fly, birds that walk, and pigs that smell good.

No, those aren't the changes God has in mind for us, but the scope is on the right track.

The kind of change God wants to bring to our lives is a "sea change."

Not a tweaking of an attitude, or the polishing of a behavior, but a change so radical it would be as if the sea changed the flow of its currents.

The phrase "sea change" was coined by Shakespeare in his play, "The Tempest." Ariel sang a song to comfort the grieving Ferdinand after his father had died from drowning ...

"Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made,
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
into something rich and strange ..."

 What would a sea change look like in a life?

The Book of Acts in the Bible records some of the life of a man whose life underwent a sea change. Here's something of what he was like prior to real change coming to his life ...

"11 The Lord said, 'Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. 12 I have shown him a vision of a man named Ananias coming in and laying hands on him so he can see again.' 13 'But Lord,' exclaimed Ananias, 'I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name'.” Acts 9:11-14.

At first, Saul was no friend to the Church. In fact, he was one of its most vicious enemies. But God intended to change the currents in Saul's life ...

"But the Lord said, 'Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel'," Acts 9:15.

You likely know part or all of the rest of the story. Saul became Paul, one of the greatest evangelists and church planters the world has known. Paul would write about the sea change in his life in ways such as this ...

"12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, 13 even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. 14 Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus," 1 Timothy 1:12-14.

"7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!" Philippians 3:7-11.

That's more than a little change. It's a sea change!

God doesn't tinker with lives, He transforms them.

Are you cooperating with God in bringing about a sea change in your own life? Or are you still clutching to the old you? What would your life be like if you submitted fully to the transforming love of Jesus Christ?


Thursday, May 17, 2012

It might be your life, but ...

... God is the architect.

That fact plays heavily into the lack of happiness in many, many lives.


Because we try to be the architect. We crowd God out, take up the pencil, and draw up plans for something other than God's blueprint for us.

But God has already crafted the big picture ...

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:13-16 

What might God's plan for you involve?

"For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope," Jeremiah 29:11.

When the Master Architect offers that kind of blueprint, you may want to consider handing back the pencil.


Monday, May 14, 2012

What a rotten tomato and a bad thought have in common ...

"What is that smell?!" you ask, then almost get knocked over from the odor as you pull open the refrigerator door.

The tomatoes are fuzzy, the meat is brown, the lettuce has become an incubator for some unknown growth, and the leftovers have changed color.

It's time to clean out your refrigerator!

That scene has happened to many of us. We pick up food items we intend to eat, then stuff them in the fridge and either forget about them, or take too long getting to them. Their freshness fades and they ruin. We need to get rid of them or we'll make ourselves sick eating them.

The same goes for some of our thoughts. Sometimes we find ourselves as adults with a lot of immature thoughts and thought patterns still stuffed in our brains. As Christians, we need to change the way we think! We need to clean the clutter from our minds and replace it with fresh, healthy thoughts and attitudes. The Apostle Paul commented about this need:

"Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes," Ephesians 4:23.

"Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God," Colossians 3:1-3.

"And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise," Philippians 4:8.

Have you yielded to the Spirit and allowed Him to renew your thoughts and attitudes? Or is there still some stinkin' thinkin' that needs to be cleaned out of your life?


Sunday, May 13, 2012

Only a mom would keep this ...

Stored away in a box in a garage in Arizona is a necklace.

It's not a diamond necklace. There's no gold or silver in this necklace. No precious gems.

In fact, this necklace is a string. Strung upon the string are hand-rolled clay balls interspersed by rolled up Christmas wrapping paper.

This necklace was an art project I made at school in the fifth grade, and gave to my mom for Mother's Day. I have it because, when my mom died long ago, it was one of the personal items she still possessed.

As simple as that necklace is, it meant a lot to my mom because it was an expression of love from me to her.

Moms cherish those moments.

And we cherish those kinds of moms.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!


Saturday, May 5, 2012

A few good titles to grow by this summer ...

Summer is almost here!

For some reason, we think of summer as a time of indulgence. The good weather beckons us to get outdoors and have some fun. We tend to think of the next few months as an acceptable time to turn inward and do what we want.

What if we tweaked that just a little?

What if we set as an objective to actually grow spiritually during the summer?

It can be done, even from a favorite beach or under the shade of a tree. That is, if you're up for some good reading over the summer months.

Here are a few titles from some of the book reviews I've posted that could serve for some beneficial reading over the summer:

1. "With" by Skye Jethani (published by Thomas Nelson). This is a great book to start with. We speak often of doing things for God, but He's much more interested in what we do "with" Him!

2. "Radical" by David Platt (published by WaterBrook Multnomah). I can't fathom any Christian who wouldn't find beneficial challenge from this book. Platt challenges Christians to live a "radical" biblical faith.

3. "I Am A Follower" by Leonard Sweet (published by Thomas Nelson). I think this is the best book currently on the market regarding church leadership. Why? Because it straightforwardly exposes the leadership myth that is rampant in the church, and challenges leaders to a more biblical view of followership. Sweet is brilliant on this subject. Every church leader should read this book!

4. "Dug Down Deep" by Joshua Harris (published by Multnomah books). Harris first challenges the reader with the question, "What are you building your life on?" then leads readers into finding some answers by going back to some real basics of Christianity. This would be a great summer refresher!

5. "Why Church Matters" by Joshua Harris (published by Multnomah Books). While you're back to basics, take a fresh look at the church and "discover your place in the family of God."

6. "Beyond Opinion" by Ravi Zacharias (published by Thomas Nelson). This is a helpful resource for equipping the believer  to better share and defend the Christian faith.

I think it would be hard for the average Christian to get through the summer without some growth if they dug into the titles above. Of course, this reading is always in addition to your primary reading and study of the Bible ... right?


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

How big of a barn do you need?

Do you have a bucket list? A real list of several things you want to accomplish before you "kick the bucket"?

How do you decide what goes on your bucket list? What is so important that you would have regrets if you didn't get to experience it?

By the way those who live in the West are taught to dream massive dreams, pursue goals, not settle for anything less than the best, and seek what makes them happy, we've come to think that life is about stuffing our human experience as full as we possibly can.

Then we open the Bible.

There we're exposed to how God values life, and we hear the simple and clear teachings of Jesus. From these things, a new thought rises ...

Perhaps the quality of our lives is less about how full we stuff them and more about how graciously we empty them.

Kind of like how Jesus lived when He walked this earth:
"You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, 8he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." Philippians 2:5-11.

Just as Jesus emptied Himself, so we can find the richness of life in His example of humility, love, and service.

Or, we can go after the dream of packing life full of things we think will make us happy. Jesus once told a story of a man who chose that kind of path ...

"Then he told them a story: A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, 'What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.' 18 Then he said, 'I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!' 20 But God said to him, 'You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’ 21Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God," Luke 12:16-21.

 Have you chosen to try to stuff life to overflow, so you can kick back and just "enjoy life"? Or have you chosen to empty your life to the glory of God?