Friday, August 31, 2012

This can cause your faith to fail you ...

When you cannot explain why you believe what you say you believe, your "faith" can quickly come tumbling down.

Why would this happen?

When you've been taught what you're supposed to believe as a Christian, but you haven't personally learned it.


For many, the depth of their faith is as shallow as knowing only what they have been told, what they've heard from others, or from a little reading (very little). Not many actually do the work of learning for themselves what the Bible teaches, and what comprises genuine Christian faith.

When you only know what you've been told, you've accumulated some knowledge, but not to the level of personal understanding. That takes doing some study yourself.

The Bereans were interested in having a correct understanding of the truth by studying the truth themselves. These early Christians had some of the greatest Gospel teachers ever, but that wasn't good enough. They would take what they were taught, and compare that with what they learned through their own study ...

"10 That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. 12 As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men," Acts 17:10-12.

It's easier to understand why so many Christians are ill-equipped to explain their faith when studies show us only one in four Christians today open their Bibles outside a church service on Sunday. Many Christians today are too willing to be told what to believe, rather than to learn what God really has said.

In crunch time, only those who have gained an understanding by learning will have a faith that will sustain them.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

How to remove a huge frustration from your life ...

Some of the most faithful Christians, some of the kindest, most caring people I know carry around a massive frustration: that of seeing other people missing out on truth, as provided to us by God.

"They have their heads in the sand!" some say.

Because of their frustration, they spend an inordinate amount of time and resources on trying to get those people to see the truth.

Here's how you can remove this massive frustration from your shoulders: understand that many of those people are not missing or overlooking the truth, or even have their heads stuck in the sand. Instead, many of them choose to reject the same truth that God has revealed to us in His Word.

Jesus was the Master Teacher. He was able to reveal truth with simplicity and clarity. Yet, many walked away from what He taught. Not because they didn't understand, but because they did understand what He was saying, yet chose to reject it. For example, in John 6, Jesus spends some time teaching about Himself being the "bread of life." In response to His teaching we read, "Many of his disciples said, 'This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept it?'" (John 6:60).

Look at the initial response from Jesus:

"Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, 'Does this offend you?'" John 6:61.

Some were "offended" by what Jesus taught because it didn't sync with what they believed. So they rejected it ...

"61 Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining, so he said to them, 'Does this offend you? 62 Then what will you think if you see the Son of Man ascend to heaven again? 63 The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But some of you do not believe me.' (For Jesus knew from the beginning which ones didn’t believe, and he knew who would betray him.)" John 6:61-64.

John 6:66 gives the final outcome: "At this point many of his disciples turned away and deserted him."

 It's one thing to grieve the rejection of Christ by those who refuse Him, but another thing entirely to spin your wheels trying to make people "see" what they do see. Their eyes are wide open, their minds and hearts clamped shut.

We still proclaim the truth, but from there we must leave the outcome in the hands of our faithful God. So unburden yourself by handing off your frustration to the Holy Spirit, who can do more with your faithful sharing of truth than you may ever know or witness.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

When Jesus flips the question ...

"Where was God ..." is the start of one of the most asked questions by human beings.

For some reason, we expect for God to be in the middle of every difficulty, ready to deliver us to a soft landing.

It doesn't work that way.

Oh, God is there, but how He works things to His glory and what is actually good for us is sometimes different from the outcomes we expect.

So we ask that question, "Where was God when ..."

But there's going to be a time when Jesus flips the question.

He's been asked where He was when someone died, someone got sick, someone got hurt, or lost, or fired, or cheated, or any number of things. As often as He has been asked that question, we likely haven't asked that question of ourselves!

Where were we when the neighbor down the street lost his job? When the homeless Viet Nam vet died alone under a bridge? When the visitor to your church sat in the middle of the congregation and felt lonely? Where were we when all these hurting people hurt?

There is coming a time when Jesus will flip the question:

21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws'," Matthew 7:21-23.

When we have to give an account to the Lord, many will list some of the things they were doing in Jesus' name. But to many, Jesus will flip the question ... it will become about where were we in all the things that really mattered that we expect God to be in the middle of.

He was there, we were not.

"I never knew you ..."

If you want God to be in the middle of something, get there. Not only will you be able to see Him if you look, but you'll be better positioned to represent Him.


Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Mr. Chairman, I proudly cast all my votes for ..."

I'm a bit of a political junkie, yet you will not often find political comments from me in my writing or social media posts. I prefer to keep what I have to share about Christ separate from routine, daily politics.

But this is a fun time for political junkies!

Don't get me wrong, I am more than ready for this political season to be over. But one of the exciting times for those with an interest in politics is now, time for the political conventions!

They're a blast to watch!

You see thousands of people from all across our nation gather together with a shared purpose. They are excited to see and be with each other! They are passionate about their message, passionate about sharing their message, and passionate about turning their message into the nation's reality. They go through great lengths to work together in getting their message out and making their message understandable to others.

Wait ... are we really talking about politics?

Just imagine if we had the same kind of passion for the Gospel message, and the sharing of it. Imagine if we worked as hard and as united in lifting up Christ to the nation as we are about lifting up a politician. Imagine if, when we gather on Sundays, it was as purposeful about worshiping and proclaiming Christ as a convention is about pushing a political leader.

Just imagine if we worked as hard to make Jesus the King of peoples' lives as we do to make a man President.

I know a lot of Christians who have greater passion and commitment to their politics than they do making Christ our King.


I say so little about politics publicly because no politician or political party is the hope of humankind. Christ, alone, is our hope.

He gets my vote.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

There really are apps for that ...

On my iPhone are multiple apps for listening to sermons.

All kinds of sermons from all kinds of Christian preachers from all around the world.

Each night, before turning in, it's my habit of listening to at least one (if not several) sermons. It's a great way to wind down my day and load some good thinking into my head before resting it. I also have a professional reason for this habit; being a preacher myself, it's one way of being more aware of what is being preached in churches around the globe and makes me more familiar with other preachers.

It's also a practical and positive means of expanding my Christian education. The apps are much easier than going to individual church links for sermons.

Every app I have for sermons were free, yet they offer thousands of messages that can challenge, inspire, and educate listeners in the Word Of God.

Now here's a challenge for you: download a free app for sermons, and listen to just one sermon each day (whatever time works for you) for the next 30 days. Don't miss a day; simply don't allow yourself to go to bed without listening to one sermon.

At the end of 30 days, measure what you've learned by adding a little Bible teaching to each day. Don't be surprised if you want to make this challenge into a new normal.


P.S. Just one of the apps I use is shown above, From that app I have discovered the preaching ministry of Dr. Stephen Davey. Dr. Davey comes from a Baptist background. Even though I am not Baptist, I have listened to at least a couple dozen of his sermons and find him to be a competent, intelligent and enjoyable preacher. You might want to check out some of his sermons. I have not listened to all of his preaching, so there may be some doctrinal and theological differences (I assume there are), so I do not give a blanket endorsement for him. But so far what I've heard has been reliable.

Losing your balance for something better ...

The preacher urges us, "Let go, and let God!"

Our application of that: "Hold on for dear life!"

Truth be told, life is not about balance. God routinely works at throwing us off balance because everything isn't equal. The way of the world is a wide super highway pursuing pleasure, the way of Christ a narrow path toward holiness. It can be tempting to just settle down and hold on.

Francis Chan, in his video message below, challenges us to unclench the fear-laden grip we have on our lives and risk that imbalanced, narrow way of Jesus Christ ...


The biggest idol of all?

One of the biggest idols throughout the world is big because it is worshiped by Christians and lifted up for worship by some church leaders.

It's the idol of prayer.

There's nothing idolistic or wrong with the biblical concept of prayer. But often there is something quite wrong with what we church leaders and Christ followers make of prayer. The chief problem? We teach people to pray in order to activate the power of prayer, and use prayer as a power source rather than a means of communicating with our Lord and Savior. We teach people to believe in the power of prayer, rather than the One we pray to.

We don't really need communication leading to relationship if we can activate power from prayer itself. And often it's the power we're after, not the communion or the relationship.

Such is the case of Simon in Acts 8. Not Simon Peter, but Simon the sorcerer, a man who had been somewhat empowered by the Enemy with some magic, enough to astound people who referred to him as "the great one - the power of God" (Acts 8:10).

But then comes along Philip who preaches the Gospel, which draws away the people's attention from Simon's magic. Simon supposedly embraces the Good News Philip is preaching, is baptized, and follows Philip around as he ministers. When Peter and John come to town and Simon sees the power of God displayed by people receiving the Holy Spirit, Simon's real motives are laid bare when he sees a way back to prestige: buy some of this "power" from Peter and John.

"18 When Simon saw that the Spirit was given when the apostles laid their hands on people, he offered them money to buy this power. 19 'Let me have this power, too,' he exclaimed, 'so that when I lay my hands on people, they will receive the Holy Spirit!'” Acts 8:18-19.

It wasn't relationship with God that Simon was after, it was the power, which he reckoned could be bought.

 Peter didn't hold back in his response to Simon's grab for power:

"20 But Peter replied, 'May your money be destroyed with you for thinking God’s gift can be bought! 21 You can have no part in this, for your heart is not right with God. 22 Repent of your wickedness and pray to the Lord. Perhaps he will forgive your evil thoughts, 23 for I can see that you are full of bitter jealousy and are held captive by sin'," Acts 8:20-23.

God encourages us to bring our troubles to Him and to ask for His help. But He desires that we do so because of who He is, not just because of what He can do for us.

When we use prayer as an avenue to draw close to God, to worship, praise and adore Him, and for bringing ourselves into communion with Him, we often find ourselves not caring about whether God uses His power the way we prefer; for as we lose sight of ourselves and place our sights on Him, the desire of our heart becomes His will, not ours, for His glory, not ours.

That's very different from what we often hear today. Many speak of prayer more as a way of siphoning power from God than anything having to do with applauding Him for who He is. To desire His power without offering our praise is more an attempt to plunder God for our gain than it is anything else.

Does praise precede your seeking His power, or are you just seeking a means to power itself?


Friday, August 24, 2012

Left in the wake ...

"Why is the paint peeling off my vehicles?" I thought to myself as I started the car one early morning.

"What is this thick, syrupy substance on the windshield?" I asked, noting the chemical had been appearing on my car window the last few days.

When I returned home from the church office later that day, I asked some of my neighbors if they had noticed something on their windshields lately.

They had.

More questions finally led to discovering the Unocal 76 refinery right next to the street we lived on was the culprit. We would later learn the plant had a chemical leak that it allowed to go unabated until it became serious enough it had to temporarily close the plant for repairs.

In the meantime, the leak from the plant had exposed those of us in the community to more than 300 tons of chemicals that coated our homes, our lawns, our vehicles. Lawns and gardens died, paint on cars stripped, and many people became sick from the exposure. I was one of the many who became sick. For me, the exposure meant permanent damage to my sinuses. For about five years after being exposed to the chemical, I exhibited the symptoms of having a severe sinus infection. Yes, day after day, for five years, I dragged myself through the day with the symptoms of a severe sinus infection that really wasn't a sinus infection. After about five years, those harsh symptoms started to recede.

Today, I still have some kind of symptom from the exposure every day. Often it's no more than a little sinus drainage that is hardly annoying. But when a storm rolls in and weather changes, it can mean some ugly suffering. Being treated by a team of a dozen physicians in varying specialties for five years left the doctors stymied. When my sinuses flare up, I just have to trudge through the experience until it abates. Fortunately, the harsh symptoms don't come around much anymore.

The outcome of all the treatment from the chemical exposure is that I have to live with the results of being exposed to the wrecklessness and carelessness of Unocal 76.

Yes, there is a life lesson from this.

What are you and I exposing others to when they come across our paths?

Is their exposure to our lives something that blesses them for years to come, or something that results in ongoing suffering? Paul gives us some guidance in how our lives should touch others:

"Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had," Philippians 2:1-5.

The people we interact with will be better or worse for having crossed our paths. How are you impacting those in your sphere of influence?


Embracing the new normal ...

We like to think positive, beneficial change in our lives comes from an abundance of consideration, much planning, and gentle execution.

In reality, change often leaves behind ugly gouge marks made by our clawing, kicking, and screaming from not wanting to be thrust into change!

But because He knows what's best for us, God often propels us into new situations and circumstances that demand change in our lives. All too often, if it wasn't for God's pro-active steps on our behalf, we wouldn't progress much in life.

Real progress, really moving forward as a person, is about routinely releasing current realities to embrace new normals. The longer we hold onto what we think of as normal, the longer we stagnate. This is especially true for our spiritual lives. We don't go from our initial confession of faith to spiritual perfection. Instead, what is today's healthy spiritual life has to be released for tomorrow's "new normal," a greater challenge for a deeper maturing in Christ.

"But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit," 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NASB).

It's when the Lord is prodding us to release today's reality for tomorrow's new normal that we see herds of people stampede into counseling offices and the pastor's study. Stressed and riddled with anxiety, they look for help to fight change.

Imagine the peace that might come from embracing new normals!

Imagine the adventure life could be if we cooperated with God's transforming work in our lives!

Are you embracing new normals with God, or leaving skid marks as you're dragged into new challenges?


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Expectations from the pews ...

The mother pounded loudly on her son's bedroom door.

"Get up! It's Sunday morning, you have to go to church!" she shouted.

But her son just rolled over and pulled the blankets up over his head.

The mom banged on the door again.

"Get up son, you're going to be late for church if you don't get up now!" she yelled.

"I don't want to go to church!" the son yelled back.

"But son ... you're the pastor!" responded the mom.

As hard as you might think it is to get yourself to church on a Sunday morning, a similar challenge can be there for many pastors who aren't feeling the joy of what they face every Sunday morning.

That's because for too many faithful servants of God, this is similar to what they see when they look out over the pulpit:

We tend to burden the preacher and other pastoral servants with a full load of expectations, many of which are not biblical. But that doesn't stop us from expecting the preacher to jump through our hoops and perform to our satisfaction.

Just imagine what Sunday mornings might be like it we put away our hoops and, instead, obeyed the Word of God:

"12 Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. 13 Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other," 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13.

What messages do your church leaders get from you?


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What's the reason for this?

The couple was barely home from their honeymoon and the young bride wanted to impress her husband with a fine meal, so she set about making a roast with all the trimmings.

When the husband entered the kitchen and saw all  his bride's busy work, he was impressed. Offering to dice some vegetables, he watched as she prepared the roast. When he observed her cutting off the end of the roast before placing it into the roasting pan, he became curious.

"Why do you cut off the end of the roast?" he asked.

The bride's happy expression suddenly disappeared.

She thought for a moment, "You know, I really don't know. I always saw my mother cut off the end of the roast, so I do it that way."

"Well, why does your mother cut off the end of the roast?" the husband asked.

"I don't know, but let's find out," replied the bride as she wiped her hands and picked up the phone.

A moment later she was explaining to her mother her husband's question.

"I told him I cut off the end of the roast because I always saw you do that. But what we were wondering was, why do you always cut off the end of the roast?"

A moment of silence followed the call.

Finally, the mother responded, "Well, I always cut off the end of the roast because my mother always cut off the end of the roast. But thinking about it, I have no idea why she did that!"

Determined to get an answer about the odd preparation of the roast, the curious bride called her grandmother and explained how both she and her mother always cut off the end of the roast because the grandmother did so.

"So please tell me, grandmother," pleaded the bride, "why do you always cut off the end of the roast?"

"Why honey," answered the grandmother, "I always cut off the end of the roast because the roasts are too big for my roasting pan!"

As the story shows, what was practical for the grandmother was impractical for the following generations. Because they didn't know why they did what they did, their actions were not only impractical and without purpose, but were wasteful as well.

The moral of the story?

Have a reason for doing what you do, and know why you do what you do the way you do it.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Becoming a try-athlete ...

Just as the start of a new year brings about a flurry of new resolutions and fills gyms for a couple of weeks, the televising of the Olympics every four years stirs the wanna-be champion in us.

As inspiring as it is to hear the life stories of these elite athletes and watch them strive for gold, most of us watching will never join them on the field of Olympic competition.

Yet, while the majority of us may never become Olympic athletes, world champion decathletes, or even triathletes, we all can be "try-athletes."

Becoming an Olympic champion comes only by dogged, determined trying --- day in and day out, year after year --- to push yourself to do your very best.

All of us can do that!

Each of us can commit to abandon the ordinary to seek the extraordinary, to surrender the average in pursuit of the excellent. But you have to get off the couch and try.

Are you a "try-athlete"? Or an observer as life passes you by?


Monday, August 20, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: "Spark" offers both sparks and sputters ...

The spark of an idea has resulted in revolutions, the spark of a match has caused vast forest fires, and the spark of a conviction has changed a multitude of lives.

Imagine what could happen in your own life if you fed your "spark" with the courage to take a small risk.

That's the idea of Jason Jaggard's soon to be released book, "Spark," published by WaterBrook Press (the book goes on sale August 21).

Jaggard's book is both a spark and a sputter.

He does a good job of reminding us nothing much happens without taking a risk. In fact, risk is the focal point of the book, and Jaggard is an evangelist for moving people to act on a spark. What is a "spark"?

"A Spark is a choice. A small risk. It's a flash of light that brightens the everyday routine of your life. It's a decision to move from inaction to action," writes Jaggard.

But the book also sputters ...

First, it's a little self-serving. The book represents some of the message and mission for Jaggard's company, "Spark Good," and a tool for "spark groups" which are somewhat promoted throughout. A "spark group" is a "... small group of people who agree to encourage and support one another in an experiment in risk."

The book also sputters when Jaggard, like many others today, finds a need to redefine some key biblical terms and the concepts they represent. I found myself uncomfortable with Jaggard redefining the meaning of "holy" to "living an inspirational life" bcause he didn't like the original meaning of the word. He doesn't stop there with his redefinitions; he later redefines faith as risk, love as compassion, and hope as optimism. Then he proffers what is probably the single worst redefinition for the Great Commission I've ever heard or read.

And he's still not done.

Jaggard also tries to offer a new definition for balance. I thought I would be in agreement with him on this one because he starts out by highlighting how the concept of "balance" is more myth than true ... and then he turns around and simply tries to redefine balance instead of showing how God calls us to live an "imbalanced" life.

What I found most valuable in this book is inbetween the sparks and sputters, Jaggard shares some brilliant biblical insights and thinking. I was delighted to see the depth to which Jaggard has studied and thought on several of the ideas he offers, and appreciate his ability to communicate some wise insights clearly and concisely. It is these flashes of brilliance that make wading through the sputters worth the effort.


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.”

If you really loved me ...

"If you really loved me, then you would support me no matter what I do," is a phrase I have heard many say to family members and friends when trying to defend the sin in their own lives.

What these people who make such proclamations fail to understand is this: unconditional love does not mean unconditional support.

The very God who loves every human being He has created is the same God who, some day, will judge humanity. God loves us all, but He does not support any attitude or action of a sinful nature. In fact, sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to not support the behavior of others that is contrary to the Word of God.

The line, "If you love me ..." is often used to manipulate others to condone sin. But when Jesus coined that phrase, He meant something entirely different:

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

That sentence from Jesus provides us with how we can have both His unconditional love, and His unconditional support!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

A little help, please ...

A few days ago, one of my sisters posted the photo below onto her Facebook page:

Can you relate?

I know it's a picture of a dog, but there's something about the awkwardness of the mutt and content of the message that most of us can relate to. Many of us have, at some point, found ourselves in an odd situation that may have looked even sillier, made us feel embarrassed, and required a little help to get out of.

In those situations, true friends often laugh hysterically while coming to our rescue. At least we know they're laughing with us rather than laughing at us, and least they're there for us when it matters.

Others simply laugh.

Have you ever felt the pain of being laughed at when you really needed help?

It's painful and humiliating.

Jesus offers words of encouragement to the hurting:

"20 Then Jesus turned to his disciples and said,
'God blesses you who are poor,
    for the Kingdom of God is yours.
21 God blesses you who are hungry now,
    for you will be satisfied.
God blesses you who weep now,
    for in due time you will laugh'."
Luke 6:20-21

 And to those who simply laugh, Jesus foretells of sorrows to come:

"24 What sorrow awaits you who are rich,
    for you have your only happiness now.
25 What sorrow awaits you who are fat and prosperous now,
    for a time of awful hunger awaits you.
What sorrow awaits you who laugh now,
    for your laughing will turn to mourning and sorrow."
Luke 6:24-25. 

How do you respond to those in your life who find themselves in an awkward situation and just need someone to help them? Do you respond with the love of Christ, or laugh as you pass by?


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Are you a leg clutcher?

One of my sisters was a leg clutcher.

As a little girl, she was so shy around strangers she would clutch onto, and hide behind, our mother's leg. Our mom would have to make the introductions and coax my sister to release her vice-like grip of the leg and come out to greet the stranger.

A lot of people in church are leg clutchers.

A stranger can sit in the seat in front of them and they never offer a word of greeting until the pastor or an elder comes along and stirs up introductions.

All too often, without the intervention of a church leader or someone who is actually assigned to greet visitors, we ignore the strangers among us.

Then we wonder why they don't come back ...

Are you a leg clutcher?


Friday, August 17, 2012

Dreams from the pulpit ...

As the vibrations from the band fade away, the stage fog recedes, and the theater lighting dims, you saunter across the stage, place your Bible on the high-top table and settle into the matching chair. You take a moment to peer out at the thousands who are ready to hear you preach a motivational message perfectly timed to not a second more than 20 minutes ...

... or so goes the dream for many of today's church leaders.

One of the problems with that dream is current reality.

For most, the preacher stands on a simple stage before about 75 people in a  modest meeting place and takes on various roles: making announcements, sharing a communion and offering mediation, leading prayer, and sometimes even leading worship.

Then he finally preaches, but not to the audience he has. Instead, he preaches to the audience he dreams of having.

That's because the dream of ministry stardom is his dream, not a shared dream of those comprising his audience.

The people in the pews make up a handful of families and singles. The devoted are more interested in seeing their neighbors come to Christ than the church reaching any kind of "mega" or "multi-" status, and the others are present out of a sense of duty or guilt.

God has a lot to say to this little fellowship of followers. The question is, will the preacher bring that message, or preach to the audience he wishes he had?

There's certainly nothing wrong with dreaming of being used to proclaim the Gospel to thousands. After all, Christ's commission to the church is to make disciples of all the nations. But to reach the whole world, you first have to reach and serve the people you're with.

You have to preach to the audience you have, rather than the one you dream of having.

Which one are you preaching to?


Thursday, August 16, 2012

I've got a secret ...

"You will never believe what just happened!" squeals one friend to another, followed by details told in hurried, clipped tones.

When something good, something profound, something dramatic, something exciting, something impacting happens to us, we can barely contain ourselves until we can tell someone else what has happened.

Is that how you respond to Jesus Christ giving His life for yours? Or is it your great secret?

"Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
    Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies."
Psalm 107:2.
If the Lord has redeemed you, tell someone!
Tell everyone!


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

If God was a magic genie ...

Have you ever experienced that awkward moment when you approached someone and started talking to them because you thought they were someone else?

You thought for sure this stranger was your good friend Joe!

Embarrassingly, he wasn't.

Sometimes we mistake one person for another. We even make this error with God, often mistaking Him for a magic genie. You know the kind, rub the bottle and you get three wishes. Anything you want, just ask!

What if God would actually grant any wish you asked for? Not three, just one.

Think about it ... what would you ask for?

Here's what King David asked for:

"The one thing I ask of the Lord
    the thing I seek most—
is to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
    delighting in the Lord’s perfections
    and meditating in his Temple."
Psalm 27:4

Foremost, David did not seek security from his enemies, or the comfort of his palace; he longed to be like the priests, to live in the house of the Lord and delighting in Him his whole life.

Times have changed since David was king, but one thing has not: the Lord desires our company. Not just for a lifetime, but forever. It is His desire that we dwell with Him in His house ...

"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? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am," John 14:2-3.

That's one request the Lord wants us to desire and ask for!

What's your wish?


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A cup of encouragement, please ...

Whether you like Starbucks or not, you'd have to admit the coffee giant is always striving to innovate ways to provide for America's caffeine addiction.

Take, for example, it's product called "Via." It used to be if you wanted coffee quickly, you pulled out a jar of "instant" coffee from the kitchen cabinet and just added boiling water. With Via, you just open the packet and pour the coffee ingredients into water, hot or cold.

Viola! Instant caffeine fix!

The Via packets can be easily stuffed into a pocket, purse, or backpack so you never have to worry about being without a source of coffee.

That's nice for coffee addicts, but what about when we need something more important? Something like encouragement. What do you do when you really need to be encouraged?


Paul and Silas once found themselves in prison because of their ministry; that's certainly a setting in which one needs some encouragement. Instead of letting their circumstances drag them down into the depths of discouragement, they added worship to their prayers ...

"Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening," Acts 16:25.

By turning our minds and hearts to the adoration and worship of the Lord, whatever the world may have turned upside-down in our world gets set right-side-up. When we come before the Lord with praise, we're reminded that He alone is God, He's still in control, and He always cares. From that, we are encouraged.

Feeling a little discouraged? Spend some time worshiping the Lord and see what that does for you.


Monday, August 13, 2012

A wink and a nod to soft porn for women?

Is pornography bad for men and good for women?

Is it "cool" for women to indulge in a little "soft porn"?

Is "soft pornography" allowed for women but a sin for men?

Then how do we explain the current popularity of "50 Shades of Grey" among women, including Christian women?

The book has sold more than 40 million copies internationally and has topped best seller lists around the world. Yet, what makes the book (the first installment of a triology) notable is its explicitly erotic scenes.

For some reason, there is a deafening silence in the church about Christian women not only being engrossed by the novel, but openly gushing about their delight in it. There is an endless drumbeat of conversation about the problem of men being addicted to pornography, but open recommendations by Christian women of a trendy erotic read.

It's more than hypocrisy.

Perhaps we're best guided by Paul's admonition to the Ephesians:

17 With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18 Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19 They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21 Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22 throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23 Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy," Ephesians 4:17-24.

It may not be the culturally cool thing to call out this issue among women, but if the church ignores things like this, what else will it ignore? And by "things like this" I'm not talking about book bashing, but rather the silence of the Church toward the bigger issue of seemingly dismissing for women what it easily condemns for men. It's time to be a little more consistent with our biblical convictions.


The "after whisper" ...

After she walks by, the other teenage girls roll their eyes and giggle ...

After he walks by your office and says hello, you raise an eyebrow and exchange knowing expressions with a co-worker ...

After shaking hands with the visitor at church, you contain a laugh to just a smile and lean in to your spouse and whisper ...

... and by the "after whisper" you have done the work of both judge and gossip.

We like to think of ourselves as people who neither judge nor gossip about others, so we practice the shorthand version of both: the "after whisper." It's that little whisper of a single sentence, just the slightest of comments with a knowing expression, and you've shared with someone else what you're trying to hide in your heart.

The problem is, what you're trying to hide in your heart.

Just as Jesus taught that to lust after a woman was to commit adultery with her in one's heart (Mt. 5:28), the "after whisper" is an attempt to make a judgment and share it without being guilty of it.

But you know what is really in your heart.

And so does God.

"Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions," Proverbs 18:2.

"The mouths of fools are their ruin; they trap themselves with their lips.Rumors are dainty morsels that sink deep into one’s heart," Proverbs 18:7-8.

But it's just a little whisper!

"For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all," Luke 8:17.

For all the effect that whisper has on your own heart, and the heart of the one you whisper to, you may as well be yelling.


The things siblings do ...

One of my seven older sisters is only 10 months older than me. Because we were so close in age, we were close as kids.

That's not to say we didn't have our sibling spats.

For example, I learned when my sister wasn't in a playful mood that I could lean over and barely touch her with the tip of my finger and she would (with great dramatic flare) recoil, twist her face into a commanding expression, and demand in a halting voice, "Don't ... you ... touch ... me!"

I thought her reaction was hilarious! Which meant I would continue to do it until our mother intervened and told me to leave my sister alone.

I provoked her in order to get the lively reaction for my entertainment.

It wasn't a nice thing to do.

We shouldn't provoke each other in such a negative way. Even the Bible teaches us that ...
"25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another," Galatians 5:25-26.

But it also tells us we should provoke (or motivate) one another, yet in a very different way ...

"Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works," Hebrews 10:24.

When you come together as the body of Christ, how do you provoke (or motivate) one another in this way?

Or do you?


Sunday, August 12, 2012

In everything ...

The bowl was displayed prominently in an office I had with a church ministry during the 90's.

It was a handsome blue-white hand-made piece of art. It wasn't expensive as far as real costs are measured, but it was priceless to me because it was a gift.

The bowl was a gracious expression of appreciation from a counseling client, a young, talented triathlete. He had fallen head-over-heels in love with a brunette beauty and married quickly.

Too quickly.

She seemed to be as intoxicated with him as he was with her before they were married. But once they were married, the only thing she wanted was out. He tried everything to save their marriage, but she didn't want to have anything to do with it. She came to one counseling session only to flatly express she was not staying.

He was heartbroken, she was moving on.

Because much of his time was spent training for competition, he had little time to work, which meant his income was barely enough to get by. I didn't charge for clinical counseling because it was ministry. So we spent several sessions working through the issues in his life. At the end of our time together, this young man wanted to express his appreciation and friendship in some way, so he presented me with the piece of art he had created.

Because of what the gift meant to me, it was prominently displayed in my office where I could see it often and remember my time with a new friend.

It's not uncommon for us to place who or what is important to us in prominent places in our lives. The problem is, we tend to give Jesus Christ only a place of prominence instead of the pre-eminence He deserves ...

Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything.
Colossians 1:18

Like a piece of art, we tend to give Jesus a place of prominence in our lives, but not pre-eminence: "... first in everything."

To be pre-eminent isn't simply to be first, but first in everything. This is the place Jesus Christ deserves in our lives.

Does He have that place in your life?


Saturday, August 11, 2012

I like you when you agree with me ...

One of the greatest tensions in any kind of relationship is that no two human beings are exactly alike. Put another way, there will always be some differences between any two people who interact. The great human desire is to get the other person to see things the way we see things.

Sadly, sometimes winning that wrestling match becomes more important to us than the person themselves.

When we make any kind of relationship (e.g., with a spouse, with a child or parent, with a friend, with a boss, with God) primarily about getting others to come around to our way of thinking, we have lost the purpose, value, and beauty of interacting with another human being. Controlling or manipulating is not a form of loving.

If someone in your life disagrees with one or most of your views, you still have left the greatest reason for their being in your life: to love them.

"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.


Thursday, August 9, 2012

Over-selling God ...

When grandiose miracles don't come, many don't stay around.

That is happening among believers and non-believers alike. In an attempt to "lure" people to Jesus, some make extra-biblical promises of great miracles.

When the spectacular miracles don't come, many don't stay around. And even when there are remarkable miracles, miracles alone often aren't enough to convince people to surrender their self-governed lives for a genuine relationship with Christ, just as scripture described ...

“But Abraham said, ‘If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead',” Luke 16:31.

Surely if the miracles were great enough, or unmistakably from the Lord, people would come running to Christ, right? That wasn't the experience of Jesus during His earthly ministry:

13 “What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse. 14 Yes, Tyre and Sidon will be better off on judgment day than you," Luke 10:13-14.

The problem with "over-selling" God is building hope in miracles, rather than in the One who is the only hope for humankind: Jesus Christ alone. God is able to do more than we could ever imagine (Eph. 3:20), but the desire for what He can do is not the same as a desire for Him.

What God has promised in his Word is this, "For 'Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved',” Romans 10:13.

That is the greatest miracle we could ever experience! That is our great hope! A hope shared not by leaning on grandiosity, but on the simple message of the Gospel.

Are you building hopes in miracles, or in Jesus Christ?


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

So many voices, so many choices ...

No matter what you do, regardless of how good it may be, someone won't like it.

That reality motivates people in different, negative directions. For some, they work all the harder to try to please everyone all of the time. The result takes us back to that old saying:

"You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time."

Others withdraw from sharing their lives or seeking advice in an effort to avoid the scrutiny, opinions, and judgments of others. But then they are criticized for their aloofness!

Scripture gives us some direction about seeking the opinion of others in what, to some, seems to be contradictory terms.

First, we read in Proverbs 15:22, "Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success." But in the previous chapter, we read in Proverbs 14:15, "Only simpletons believe everything they’re told! The prudent carefully consider their steps."

In one verse, we are encouraged to seek out counsel, but in the other, to be careful who we listen. The combination of those two verses is wise counsel, indeed.

Many fail because they don't listen to anyone but themselves. On a host of topics, there are a vast army of people who know more than you and I do. For example, it can be wise to seek counsel about your taxes or finances; with regard to health issues; about that knocking sound coming from the engine of your car; or for directions when you're driving cross country. There are a lot of people out there who know a lot that we don't. Seeking their advice can benefit us.

But, it's knowing who to listen to that is important. We shouldn't believe everyone because not everyone is right. Listening to the advice from everyone who offers it --- or from everyone we seek it from --- can lead us into more trouble than we could get into on our own!

 At the end of the day, we have to take all the counsel we've received and prudently, carefully consider our steps. In other words, we still have to make our own decisions and have peace with ourselves about them.

That's where a little wisdom and courage merge.  It takes both to acknowledge you don't know everything, and seek wise counsel. It takes courage to weed out what advice you will accept, what you won't, and then "own" your decision.

A good way to filter all the counsel you receive for reliable, applicable advice, is to strain it through God's Word. Any counsel that conflicts with the Word of God is not reliable and should be discarded. What remains may offer insights worthy of consideration.

Finally, before you launch out in pursuit of wise counsel, remember where to start:

"The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you'."
Psalm 32:8

The first stop on the route to seeking wise counsel is with God. He desires to be your primary Counselor, and offers to "... guide you along the best pathway for your life." How could you pass up such a great offer?


Monday, August 6, 2012

Some lighter reading for the last of summer ...

It's the dog days of summer, the perfect time to lighten your reading regimen with some inspirational stories and a good novel! Here are a few titles that can do just that (I have previously posted full reviews of the first two books listed below) ...

"Redemption" by Bryan Clay (published by Thomas Nelson). After hours and hours of watching the Olympic games, what better way to enjoy a slow summer day than with the inspirational story of Clay's journey from fighting in school as a kid in Hawaii to fighting his way up the ranks as a decathlon athlete to win an Olympic gold medal. This is more than the story of the forging of a decathlon champion, it's also the story of the forging of a disciple as you read about the true redemption Clay experiences.

Could you survive nine months lost at sea? Could you survive the lifestyle of a Hollywood executive? In "The Fourth Fisherman" by Joe Kissack (published my WaterBrook Press), two unlikely worlds collide in a way only God could bring together. Kissack shares his story of career and personal collapse, and how his path crossed those of Mexican fishermen who battled the harsh elements at sea for months with only part of the little crew surviving. What was the key to survival in both instances? Read the story to find out and be inspired!

When you want to get lost in a good story, David Baldacci is a talented writer to check out. Baldacci is not a Christian fiction genre writer, but he is an outstanding story teller. He has written more than 20 books, mostly thrillers, many of them international best sellers. But his latest book, "One Summer" is a departure from his usual thriller novel. Instead, Baldacci serves up the tale of a family impacted by tragedy, and how a summer trip away from home challenges them to come back together.

Enjoy your reading!


When service becomes sacrifice ...

What are some of the things you've been supplied with when starting a new position?

A uniform?

Cell phone?

Cubicle or office?

Laptop computer?

Company car?

Business cards?

Tools or equipment?

One of the most unique items issued to a beginner must go to American military personnel. When a person enlists in the military, part of their new gear includes "dog tags," that small piece of metal with your personal identification stamped on it worn on a chain around the neck.

Military personnel are issued dog tags in anticipation they may give their lives in the carrying out of their new duties; the dog tags might be needed to identify the person who gave their life.

Have you ever started something with the anticipation that you may give your life doing it?

You did if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.

When you are adopted by God into His family, you give up your life ... for a new one. Gone is the old person, he or she has been buried with Christ and you have been raised into a whole new life (Col. 2:12). This new life is designed, and being equipped, to also be  spent in the line of duty, that of an Amabassador for Christ.

The Apostle Paul served God to the point that it cost him his life. Paul encouraged us to have the same faithfulness in our service to God when he wrote, "But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God, just like your faithful service is an offering to God. And I want all of you to share that joy," Philippians 2:17.

Are you pouring your life out as an Ambassador for Christ? Or are you AWOL in the spiritual skirmish for the salvation of souls?


Sunday, August 5, 2012

Oh, I want one of those!

An American company had a difficult time retaining local employees working in its Panama factory. The laborers in that part of the world lived in an agrarian, barter economy, but their new employer paid them in cash.

Lots of cash.

At least, a lot for them. At the end of one week of work, the laborers found themselves with more cash than most of them had ever seen. Because of that, many of the employees would quit their position at the factory, being satisfied they had accumulated all the cash they would need.

Troubled with the high rate of employee turnover, company executives brainstormed ways to retain the needed workforce. The leaders came up with a brilliant idea: they gave each of the factory employees a Sears catalog.

Employees stopped quitting, and retention of workers skyrocketed.

That's because after the workers saw all the items in the catalog they could get for themselves if they had the cash, they kept working to make more money to get more things.

People feed their desires.

And sources feed us new desires.

That's one reason why the Word of God is infinitely superior to a Sears catalog: it stirs in us better desires. For example, Paul urges us to fix our thoughts in such a way that it would shape our desires:

"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.

By looking into the Word of God, and building new longings from it, our desires change. Paul stated, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there," Galatians 5:24.

What is the source of your desires? What desires are you feeding?


Friday, August 3, 2012

The necessity of loyalty ...

The escape of Lot, his wife, and two daughters from the city of Sodom is a well-known story told in Genesis 19. It offers us a profound lesson: you're not living for the Lord when you're longing for Sodom.

"But Lot’s wife looked back as she was following behind him, and she turned into a pillar of salt," Genesis 19:26.

You cannot be rescued by God from something you secretly desire.

" ... Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do," James 1:6b-8.

Are you loyal to the Lord? Or are you still harboring a longing for sin?


Thursday, August 2, 2012

Feeling a little mule-ish?

Mentors ...
Coaches ...
Teachers ...
Counselors ...
Pastors ...
Spouses ...
Friends ...
Bosses ...
Horoscopes ...
Fortune tellers ...
Fortune cookies ...
Magical 8 ball ...
Ouija boards ...
Mediums ...
Intuition ...

... and so grows the list of sources people turn to for guidance.

Among the myriad of means for seeking direction we humans concoct, there is one perfect Source offered to us freely:

"8 The Lord says, 'I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
    I will advise you and watch over you.
Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
    that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control'.”
Psalm 32:8-9

Who or what is the primary advisor in your life? Do you trust God to "... guide you along the best pathway for your life," or are you stubborn as a mule in regards to His leading?


Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Daily gold ...

Most people think when they watch an Olympic athlete compete for the gold, they're seeing that athlete performing at that moment the best they ever have.

That may not be the case.

Instead, they might be watching an athlete having another day at the office.

Many Olympic athletes have written and spoken about how they handle the pressure and nerves of major competitions, including the Olympics. Most of these athletes have been training and competing in their sport for the bigger part of their lifetime. What many of them have learned about competing is that winning comes from what they do every day in their training.

Elite athletes train and compete throughout the year to work their way up the rankings to be able to compete in something as grand as the Olympics. But for many, they approach their Olympic performances much like they do the other performances they have competed in: going out and executing well what they do most days of the week.

For example, one diver noted his training routine includes him making 25,000 dives in one year. That is the equivalent of making more than 68 dives per day, every day of the year!

If you think about that, it means these Olympians aren't pushing themselves at a championship level for just a moment during games held once every four years; it means that on many days throughout the year, they are pushing themselves at a champion level. So, when they find themselves in competition, they turn to do what they do every day, as well as they can. If they do that, they usually do very well.

How about the rest of us?

We hear "rah-rah" talk about the rest of us being "champions" at the things we do: in our jobs, in our homes, in our relationships, in our ministries, in our churches. We talk about being champions and "crushing it," but are we pushing our training, our execution, our "performances" anywhere near the level of commitment, dedication, and excellence these Olympic champions (with or without medals) do?

They literally are pushing themselves for the gold most days.

The Apostle Paul wrote of living as a champion in his letter to the Corinthians:

"24 Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 25 All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. 26 So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. 27 I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified," 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

How about you? Do you work as hard for your boss? In your marriage? As a parent? In your relationships? In service to others? Could you call yourself a "champion for God?"