Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Could you repeat that one more time?

"I'll have a Tall green tea, sweetened, with light ice."

"What was that again?"

(Slower) - "I'll have a Tall green tea ... sweetened ... with light ice."

"What size would you like?


"What kind of tea?"


"Would you like that sweetened?"


"Will that be all?"

"Light on the ice, please."

And so went the exchange with a barista a few days ago.

One thing was obvious, the barista wasn't listening or paying attention to anything I said. Thus, the need to twice repeat myself.

Such poor customer service is all too common among businesses today. That lack of genuine interest in serving others well is just as common in the church.

"Joe! Good to see you, how are you?"

"Well, so-so, things are kind of tough now that I'm unemployed ..."

"Great! And how's the wife and kids?"

"Well, the wife is worried about my being out of work, and we don't have any kids yet ..."

"Right! Well I'll be praying for ya Joe. Good to see you!"

That kind of exchange between two people in the church demonstrates as much genuine care as does the exchange with the barista who didn't care about my order. It highlights a profound reality:

We don't listen to people we don't care about.

When we care, we tune our focus clearly onto what the other person is saying, and we respond in a manner that reflects real caring.

When we care, we do pray for the well being of others, but we also fully respond. We take measure of the other person's need, and our capacity to meet it. Then we act without having to be asked.

We do that because, from our head to our heart, our hands to our feet, we care!

Caring is more than an emotion, or distant fifteen-second inclusion in a hurried prayer list. Caring is stepping into the lives of others with the love of Christ and acting in His name as He would with the resources He has provided.

"14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, 'Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well'—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? 17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless," James 2:14-17.

Faith is a springboard for caring.

At least it should be.

Is yours?


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How to fail consistently ...

What is one of the most crucial elements to:
  • Having a great marriage?
  • Being content?
  • Being fulfilled?
  • Being an awesome parent?
  • Being an effective business leader?
  • Being an effective church leader?
  • Being an authentic, obedient, and faithful follower of Christ? 
  • Being ...

Some may need additional growth, equipping, training, etc., but in any of the items listed above --- or other things we would like to accomplish --- often the single greatest factor between succeeding and failing is execution.

Many of us know what we need to do to be a great husband or wife, we just fail to execute what we already know. The same goes with the rest of the list.

I can't count the number of times in the past I've sat across from someone seeking spiritual guidance or clinical counseling, and they already knew what they needed to do; their anxiety and angst was actually about having to do just that! Often, good counsel is to confirm there are no shortcuts, there are no routes around truth. To do what you need to do, you have to do what needs to be done.

You must execute.

Not just think about it. And, yes, not just pray about it. At some point, you have to get off your knees, out of your prayer closet, and execute.

Do you really want to be an awesome husband? Then start loving your wife self-sacrificially, the same way Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it (Eph. 5:25-28).

Do you really want to be an awesome wife? Then start respecting your husband the same way you respect Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:22-24).

Do you really want to know God? Then do what that takes.


"I have!" some respond.

Not consistently.

Taking three steps and then expecting the outcome from what 100 steps takes to accomplish is irrational. But it's an irrationality a lot of people nurture. They use it as a cover for choosing to fail; they can say, "I've done X, Y and Z, I just don't know why things haven't turned out for me ..."

Things haven't turned out for them because they stopped executing three steps in on something they knew takes 100 steps.

To accomplish something in life, you must execute consistently (and often persistently) until you reach the desired or possible result.

What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? What steps will it take to get from where you are, to those desired conclusions? Now that you know them, go execute them!


And stick with it until you achieve the desired results.

If you're not willing to do that, then it's time to get honest with yourself: you don't really want what you say you want. In that case, you might need to return to your prayer closet, get back down on your knees, and stay there until you come to a mutual conclusion with your Creator about who you should be and what you should be doing.

Once you've gotten honest with yourself and God and have a new clarity ... go execute!


Monday, October 29, 2012

You don't want to miss this incredible blog post, it will blow your mind and turn your life upside down ...

We live in a hyped up world.

Advertisers try to convince you that you can lose that stubborn fat and look like a fitness model in 30 days, grow hair and win the girl with this particular tonic, and this product is so amazing that if you call in the next 10 minutes, not only will you get the item but they'll send you TWO for the same price PLUS get  yet another product thrown in (just pay for the shipping ... which costs more than all the products).

We extend the hyperbole into the church. You absolutely don't want to miss this coming Sunday because it will be amazing! Incredible! Spectacular! Life changing! That's the same thing the preacher said about last Sunday and both turned out to be another average, over-hyped exaggeration just to get people to show up.

With all the exposure to hyperbole, we bring such exaggerations into our own lives. The least little mole hill becomes a mountain, to the point that everything is a challenge, a difficulty, a hardship.


Maybe we're missing a good deal of the peace that Jesus Christ promised His followers because we're living more a life of hyperbole than simplicity, where truth is truth even if it's simple.

Speaking in hyperbole is an effective way of eventually getting people not to trust you (because the reality of what you produce doesn't match the hyperbole), and eventually weakening your own faith.

Have you ever stopped to consider more people might be more attracted to a calm statement like, "Listen, I know you're going through some tough times right now, I've been there myself. Fortunately, I've learned not just how to work through the same issues, but to overcome them and have a peaceful, satisfying and fulfilling life. I'd be happy to tell you how I did that sometime, if you'd like," rather than drown others with a load of hyperbole that goes far beyond your own experience to testify to.

Jesus didn't speak with hyperbole, He just spoke. He spoke the truth. He did so simply and clearly. He did so motivated by love. And in that fashion, He changed the world.

Maybe that's an example worth following.


Saturday, October 27, 2012

It's all the rage ...

The guy at the Starbucks pounded his fist and loudly unleashed his rage at the partner across the counter from him. He wasn't going to tolerate the travesty done to him over his coffee!

There are a lot --- and let me emphasize, a lot --- of angry people out there.

Anger is an emotional response, and the emotions we have in response to others are choices.

When you choose to be an angry person, you choose to be a victim.

The angry person becomes that person who looks for sleights toward them from everyone else so they can unleash their rage on others. They live in perpetual argument not only with family members and friends, but with co-workers, acquaintances, and complete strangers.

They become a slave to their anger.

James 1:20 states simply but clearly, "Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires."

Did you catch that?

God's desire is that we live righteously. Quick reactions of anger rarely extol the righteous virtue God desires from us.

That is not to say that we should never be angry. In fact, the verse preceding the one quoted above says this, "Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry," James 1:19.

The Apostle Paul gives us additional insight about anger, "26 And don’t sin by letting anger control you. Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil," Ephesians 4:26-27.

Quickly responding with anger eliminates the opportunity to express mercy or be gracious to others. Instead, it jumps over justice to condemnation and punishment.

Aren't you glad God doesn't treat us that way? He could. Check this out ...

"God is an honest judge. He is angry with the wicked every day," Psalm 7:11.

Yes, God does get angry! His anger is stirred toward sin; our anger usually isn't sourced from a position of holiness and righteousness. But as God's children whose lives are being transformed in holiness, it should be.

"5 So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Because of these sins, the anger of God is coming. You used to do these things when your life was still part of this world. But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. 10 Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him," Colossians 3:5-10.

Our responses to others should be from our new nature in Christ. Sometimes, that may include anger toward sin, but now expressed as one who is filled with the Holy Spirit and loves even his enemy. In that case, anger is no longer an ugly, hurtful rage. It may instead choose to respond by turning the other cheek, by forgiving on a multitude of occasions, expressing mercy instead of judgment or even extending something the other person doesn't deserve --- grace. Or it might become the occasion for a gentle rebuke or even a firm chastisement. But the source --- and, thus, the expression --- of the anger has changed.

Have you?

Have you allowed for your  new nature in Christ to rule in your life so that anger doesn't? Or is anger still raging as your style for responding to others?


Friday, October 26, 2012

A bride crossing the street ...

Last week I sat at a coffee shop in the downtown square of McKinney, Texas while a mechanic searched for ways to take money from me.

After a few hours, I tossed my backpack across my shoulder and headed out the door to return to the auto shop. Crossing the street and heading down the shop-lined sidewalk, I was suddenly taken by surprise when a bride turned the corner and headed my direction.

Yes, a bride.

At least, it was a woman in a wedding dress, accompanied by another woman who assisted with the train of the dress as they changed their direction and crossed the street.

I was quickly reminded how beautiful a woman looks as a bride. From the way this woman had styled her hair, to the perfect tailoring of her immaculate dress, this bride was a beauty. No doubt, when she turns the corner to walk down the aisle, her groom will be taken with the beauty of his bride.

It's not every day you see a bride strolling the sidewalk in a downtown square.

But it should be.

Not necessarily a female looking to get married, but each day the bride of Christ should be evident in our town squares. And when the citizens see the bride of Christ in their town, they should be taken by a beauty of good deeds and greeted with an invitation to come join in the wedding feast ...

"Then I heard again what sounded like the shout of a vast crowd or the roar of mighty ocean waves or the crash of loud thunder: 'Praise the Lord! For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself.She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.' For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.And the angel said to me, 'Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.' And he added, 'These are true words that come from God'," Revelation 19:6-9.

Is your local church a beautiful bride of Christ in your town? Or is there some other, lesser reputation placed upon your local congregation? What would it take to become Christ's beautiful bride to your community?


Thursday, October 25, 2012

Are we there yet?

I don't know how long Interstate 5 between southern and northern California is, but my best guess would be it's endless.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to, once again, make my way up that heavily traveled route, this time from Bakersfield to the San Francisco bay area. It's been a few years since I drove that stretch of road and had forgotten how long it is.

The days before, I had been traveling through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. The roads went up and down and curved here and there through an ever changing, and often colorful, landscape. The stretch of road into northern California was the final leg of my trip, and I was ready to get to where I was going. But I-5 is one long, mostly straight stretch of road with unremarkable scenery, all of which makes the ride feel much longer than it is.

Even cruising along unimpeded at 70 miles per hour, I felt like a kid, asking myself over and over again, "Am I about there yet?" only to discover I was a just a few more miles down the road.

As I made my way closer to the bay area, I thought life sometimes feels like traveling I-5. You may be moving along at a brisk pace, but there's a whole lot of area to cover and sometimes it can feel like it's taking forever to get to where you want to go.

But that's often more a feeling than a fact.

You are moving along. You are headed in the right direction. You will arrive. It just takes time. Every mile has to be traveled and there are no shortcuts.

The same with life.

You are moving along. If you're following in the footsteps of Christ, you are moving in the right direction. You will arrive. It just takes time. Every moment has to be lived and there are no shortcuts.

In that case, you might as well roll down the window, crank up the stereo, and enjoy the ride!

"7 Dear brothers and sisters, be patient as you wait for the Lord’s return. Consider the farmers who patiently wait for the rains in the fall and in the spring. They eagerly look for the valuable harvest to ripen. You, too, must be patient. Take courage, for the coming of the Lord is near," James 5:7-8.


"... and it's a phone too!"

You enter the event into your calendar ... on your smartphone.

You check the weather ... on your smartphone.

You check your email ... on your smartphone.

You send a tweet on Twitter and then post an update on Facebook ... using your smartphone.

You look up a friend's address ... from your contacts on your smartphone.

You read a chapter in the Bible, then a chapter in a riveting novel ... on your smartphone.

You listen to your favorite music ... using your smartphone.

You take notes for the meeting ... on your smartphone.

You put together a to-do list ... on your smartphone.

You board the airplane ... using the electronic ticket in your smartphone.

You bundle your study and research notes in Evernote ... using your smartphone.

You pay bills and check your banking account ... on your smartphone.

Then the phone rings and it startles you ... you almost forgot the gadget actually is a telephone!

Using a smartphone as a phone is one of the least used uses for one of our favorite electronic devices. We use our smartphones daily for so many other reasons, the fact it actually is a phone is almost secondary.

That's often how we treat the Bible.

We use scripture for a variety of reasons other than what it was provided to us for.

We support our politics with it ...

We support our opinions with it ...

We support our selfishness with it ...

We rationalize our sin with it ...

We use it to record important dates for family events ...

We use it as a manual when all else fails ...

We use it as one of several reference manuals ...

... and we almost forget that it's actually God's revelation of Himself to humanity, providing us with truth to live by.

"16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work," 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

Is the purpose of scripture put to primary use in your life? Or are you using it for something else?


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Standing on the premises ...

There is a key reason people today continue to fall to sin that is rarely ever talked about in churches.

What is it?

We continue to allow Satan to establish the premise for our circumstances and the decisions to be made about them.

Let me explain it this way ...

This past weekend, a Christian friend helped me resolve a data transfer issue. As he was working with my computer, we talked about an assortment of biblical issues. My friend stated it's his observation that too many Christians are not equipped to properly respond to what Satan brings against them.

I responded the greater issue is that we continue to allow Satan to define what the premise is.

In the beginning, God established what the premise was for Adam and Eve. It was simple and clear. What disrupted and ruined that perfect plan was when this first couple allowed the enemy to redefine the premise already set forth by God, thus luring them into a different --- and very wrong --- response.

The same continues today. God has set forth the truth about life for each one of us. If we respond properly according to God's premise, we will have the fullness of life God desires for us. But routinely, we allow the enemy to creep in and proffer a different premise, one skewed with a lie. Then we go running to God, wringing our hands with anxiety, pleading for God to deliver us from this new premise.

But His premise never changed; who we're listening to, and allowing to define the premise, has.

That is the problem.

Pastors and counselors routinely counsel people whose lives are at a crossroads because they have entertained an entirely different premise offered by the enemy than what God has already established. The primary question for resolving their issues is who they decide they will allow to set the premises for them.

Whose premise for life are you listening you?


Don't try this with bricks ...

When I moved to Texas, it was odd seeing most homes were built with bricks.

That's because I came to Texas from the San Francisco bay area, where it's rare to see a brick house. Brick buildings don't fare well in earthquakes, so structures in California have to be constructed with other materials.

The type of material used to build a structure depends on what you're building and where you're building it.

The same goes for the church.

Some are trying to build the church with earthly bricks, but the church cannot be built that way.

"You are coming to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God’s temple. He was rejected by people, but he was chosen by God for great honor.And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple. What’s more, you are his holy priests. Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God," 1 Peter 2:4-5.

"20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit," Ephesians 2:20-22.

Christ Himself is the cornerstone in the building of His church, and He uses authentic followers as the building blocks for this "spiritual temple."

What are you using to build the church?


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How are you at cornering?

By designing a new type of camera that utilizes a laser, a beam-splitter, and a sophisticated algorithm, scientists at MIT are making advances in helping people do what they have tried to do throughout history --- see around corners.

Since World War I, governments have been straining science to develop a means of seeing around corners, especially in times of war. For example, the "periscope rifle" was designed in WWI to enable soldiers to remain safely in a trench while placing their rifle atop the trench and still be able to see where to shoot.

Whether at war or in peacetime, people have always wanted to know what's around the corner. Is it friend or foe? Are their dangers lurking around the corner, or can you safely travel forward? Corners have caused so much fear they have deterred many from pressing onward; others have charged ahead, only to discover calamity around the corner. And still others have found blessings and answers in what lies just around the corner.

God has not gifted humanity with the ability to see around the corners in life. He has enabled us to see the moment we're in. Because of our limited sight, we tend to overly focus on what we can't see and fill our lives full of anxiety ... about what might be around the corner.

But God can see around the corners.

Because of that, He asks us to follow and trust Him as He safely navigates us through life.

"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.

God has provided us with the Bible to show us the big picture of what's around the corner, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us to help us know how to face each corner in our individual lives.

By walking with God, there's nothing to fear about the corners in life.


Monday, October 22, 2012

If you don't have a reputation for this, you might want to develop one ...

I've never met a human being the love of God has not touched.

Scripture says that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, Jesus ... You know the story. It's a story of a love so great we struggle to wrap our minds around it.

God's love for us has touched us in so many ways, we could never cease in our gratitude for it. The love we know from God is something we like to talk about.

But let's talk about something else.

How great is your love?

As a child of God, adopted by the Creator to be His own son or daughter, how great is your love? Do those who are, or have been, touched by your life speak of an incredible love that comes from you?

There is no governor or filter or brake to throttle back the love that you and I share with others. Quite the opposite, scripture encourages us to unleash love!

"Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God," 1 John 4:7.

"34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.
35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples,” John 13:34-35.

"Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins," 1 Peter 4:8.

"12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony," Colossians 3:12-14.

God's love is a big thing!

Is yours?


Sunday, October 21, 2012

If you think that is beautiful, check this out ...

There's beauty in the desert.

No, I'm not crazy, there really is a great deal of beauty in the desert.

When I first moved to Arizona as a boy, I didn't think that. Initially, all I saw was a lot of cactus and dirt. But after settling in and looking more closely, I discovered the desert not only has a "beauty of its own," but real beauty anyone can see if they have eyes to see it.

Many don't.

When I lived in Arizona, I saw two types of people: those who saw they beauty of the desert and loved it, and those who didn't and hated it. There wasn't much in between.

But having discovered the beauty of the desert, it was initially difficult for me to see the beauty in Northern California when I moved there. Yes, it's true. Initially, I saw a lot of hills, and they were green! Those hills gave way to the wine country, or led to the redwoods, or over to the Pacific Ocean.

I adjusted.

I discovered beauty all over the place in Northern California. God seemed to have splurged on His handiwork there!

But then I moved to Hawaii.

By then, my eyes were better about seeing beauty at first blush, and it wasn't difficult at all in this tropical haven. I remember taking a taxi to my temporary dwelling, dropping my bags and walking a couple blocks over to Waikiki Beach where I saw people from all over the world resting on the sand or playing in the Pacific. I turned left and saw towering in the distance the dormant Diamond Head volcano. The beauty was nearly breath-taking.

I couldn't take a step without stumbling over beauty in that place!

As I have traveled, I have become better at seeing that God has splashed beauty everywhere. From draping the skies with colorful sunrises and sunsets, striping mountains with majestic hues, carpeting the earth with greens and golds and ambers, or rolling crystal clear waters onto white or black sandy beaches, His handiwork is everywhere.

But of all God's work, I've discovered what He most enjoys slathering with beauty:

"For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago," Ephesians 2:10.

God wants our lives to be a beautiful masterpiece that reveals Himself to others. Is your life being transformed into a living display of the handiwork of God?


How to survive being used in ministry ...

Bible colleges and seminaries fail to offer one of the most needed courses any future vocational minister will need: How to survive being used in ministry.

Such a course should be added to every institution equipping future church leaders and could easily be the shortest course offered. That's because the content could revolve around a simple answer: Expect it.

Yes, expect to be used.

Many young men see ministry through the images of rock star pastors sitting on chrome-legged chairs next to high top tables preaching to an audience of thousands. They see the same preachers traveling to be keynote speakers at conferences across the country, and see their hipster images on the back of best-selling books or starring in their own teaching series offered on CD. That is the alluring nature of today's call to ministry.

But the reality --- and the call --- is quite different.

A call to preach the word is a call to follow in the footsteps of Christ by spending your life in service to others to the glory of God.

Real ministry is about spending yourself on others, and others get used to that. They will ask for more, and they will seek your help. You may (or may not) get a thank you for your service, but often the reward is in lives that are changed and what God is storing up for you in heaven.

Expect to be used.

Expect for people to bring their sins, their problems, their challenges, their fears, their failures, their relational issues, their doubts, their difficulties to you for you to help them with. After all, you have answered the call to shepherd them. As a shepherd, you guide and protect them. And as you do that, your people will seek you out and use you for that purpose.

Be concerned if they don't!

How do you survive being used and not wind up being used up and burned out?

Love your sheep.

Christ so loved the world that He poured His life out in service and sacrifice. Love is so strong that it desires to serve and give and protect, and finds its fulfillment in the best interests of the other person being met. When the shepherd loves his sheep in the same way the Great Shepherd loves us, we will want to be used by the sheep for their guidance and protection.

In addition to being motivated by love, be guided by the Word of God, stay in constant touch with the Lord by praying without ceasing, and be empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the shepherd's guide as well as his foremost tool, constant communion with God keeps you on course, and the Holy Spirit is the shepherd's constant partner in ministry.

Finally, refresh yourself often in times of worship, rest, reflection, and personal relationships untethered to shepherding responsibilities. By doing so, you will find yourself wanting to get off your knees and back out into the pasture with your sheep, offering yourself to be used by them.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bored with a little peace ...

On a recent weekend I took my laptop to Saxbys and spread out my materials on a table in the back of the coffee shop.

For a couple hours, I almost had the place to myself. Only a couple of customers came in while I was there working. With some light music playing in the background, I got a lot done in the peace and quiet.

When I was leaving, I walked through the front of the coffee shop and there I saw the teenage boy leaning against the counter, eyelids drooping as he tried to stay awake.

I felt for the guy as I thought to myself, "He looks like he's bored out of his mind!"

Most of us can relate. He looked young enough that serving coffee at Saxbys may have been his first job. And on that day, it wasn't an exciting one.

Not every day is filled with excitement. Not everything we do brings an adrenalin rush. Not every job is fascinating or fulfilling. Not every responsibility is fun. Sometimes, the day is going to be a slow, uneventful day. And some days, we might just be bored out of our minds if we allow ourselves to be.

But we don't have to be.

In a busy world where people complain far more about being too busy and being overwhelmed with responsibilities, we all to often turn around and complain we're bored when things slow down for just a day.

That's called a moment of peace; an opportunity for rest.

It's a blessing!

Use it to catch your breath. Learn to appreciate it. And thank God for it!


BOOK REVIEW: Save your time and money for a better book

"The Simple Secret to Growing the Church You Love" is the misleading subtitle of the latest book by Robert Morris titled "The Blessed Church."

The subtitle is misleading because there aren't any secrets in the book, but maybe the publisher can sell more books if the idea that there is a secret inside is claimed on the cover.

Instead of a secret, the content revolves around Morris telling the story of the church he started, Gateway Church located in the north Dallas area. With more than twenty thousand members, Gateway has experienced phenomenal growth, and apparently that is the primary reason this book was written. In today's church, developing a massive mega church in a relatively short period of time is the measure of stardom for preachers.

In that case, Robert Morris has achieved stardom in the church. But not based on the content of this book.

"The Blessed Church" is another familiar story from the "new establishment" within the modern American church comprised of popular pastors made celebrities because of the sheer size of the ministries they lead and their involvement in the speaking circuit of conferences for church leaders.

In sharing about "doing church" in our time, Morris draws heavily from Old Testament scripture, rarely looking at the actual model and instruction for the church we find in the New Testament. In fact, when addressing leadership and "church government," Morris again turns to the Old Testament and looks to the leadership of Moses as a primary example church leaders can follow. Morris advocates a "singular headship and plural leadership" model for church government, but his description of the actual role for elders make it clear he believes the pastor is in charge and describes very little actual authority or responsibility for elders.

Morris increasingly uses a corporate vocabulary in describing leading his church and even notes that himself, then responds to it by saying we should not be afraid of sounding corporate. Thus, he routinely refers to church leadership as leading an organization. Morris will later write a sentence that the church is more than an organization, it is the body of Christ and the family of God, but then moves on to talk about the vital need to develop community in the church rather than focusing on the fact that developing family ties between brothers and sisters in Christ is vastly more intimate than any concept of "community." After all, the church is not a community, it is Christ's body and God's family.

Morris also speaks about the need to "experience God." The problem with that is, God is not an experience! He is a Person who feels, and sees, and hears, and is to be interacted with. He's not a ride at some amusement park that a person "experiences." He is a Person to know, to love, to worship, and to serve.

Instead of containing a secret or secrets to being a blessed church, "The Blessed Church" is a book filled with popular catch phrases and weak or questionable theology that is common among the new establishment leaders of today's church.

But with all that said, I must say the final chapter of the book is excellent. If Morris would have written only the last chapter, he would have had a more solid message to share. No secrets, but something far more accurate and worthwhile than all of the previous chapters of this book combined.

But in my own opinion, "The Blessed Church" isn't worth picking up for just one good chapter.


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, October 19, 2012

Who said that?

"That's not what I said!"

Chances are, some time in your life (if not multiple times), you've spoken that sentence.

Sooner or later, someone will misrepresent something you've said. It can be frustrating when that happens because of the problems it can cause. We want to be correctly quoted in order to be correctly understood.

Now imagine how God must feel, especially on Sundays.

It matters what comes from the pulpit because we're claiming God said it, we're just sharing it. In that case, the cartoon below is a great encouragement to every preacher and Bible teacher:
The Apostle Paul encouraged us in this way:

"Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth," 2 Timothy 2:15.

Are you rightly explaining the word of Truth to others? Or, if after listening to your preaching or teaching, would God say, "That not what I said!"?


Excuse me, would you mind taking my picture?

There's the Eiffel Tower ... and Jenny posing in front of it ...

There's the great pyramid ... and Johnny posing in front of it ...

There's the Taj Mahal ... and the Joneses  posing in front of it ...

There's a great block of rock at Stonehenge ... and Frank posing by it ...

Have you noticed how people like to put themselves into the picture when they visit great historical sites or places of renown? When they get back home and show the pictures to their friends, they can point and say, "I was there!"

Funny how we make sure we insert ourselves into the picture of someone else's history.

What's the great thing in your life others would point to and want to pose by?


Thursday, October 18, 2012

What's that behind you?

When I lived in Arizona, I knew people who longed to get away for a weekend on the beaches of San Diego, but who had never seen the majestic hues of the Grand Canyon.

When I lived in Hawaii, I knew people who had experienced the grandeur of Yosemite, but had never taken in the view from atop of Diamond Head.

When I lived in California, I knew people who loved a long weekend in Times Square, but never stood in the shadow of a towering redwood.

Have you ever noticed how we tend to long for something else, somewhere else, overlooking the beauty and potential in our own back yards?

How would life change if we learned to see first what was immediately in front of us and around us? Could it become richer and deeper?

Take a look and see ...


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The boy without hope ...

When my family sat down for dinner, there were 10 people at the table.

Two adults, and eight children.

That's a lot of hungry mouths to feed!

Yet we always had just enough to eat. The food would be placed on the table and then someone would start passing it. There was enough food for everyone to have one portion of everything that was served. There may not be enough for seconds, but there was enough for each person to be adequately nourished.

Unlike dinnertime when I was a kid, there seems to be something needed as much as food that some people simply aren't getting enough of today.

The item in such great lack is hope.

On my drive home today, I heard a news report broadcast on a local radio station about how a 12-year-old in this area hanged himself earlier this week.

How bad does life have to be for a boy just a dozen years old to be in such despair --- to be so emptied of hope --- that he would hang himself?

Apparently, some weren't sharing hope with him.

As children of God, there is something precious, something powerful, something vital to the human soul that we have in abundance, and that is hope. As children of God, we know the One true source of hope; His name is Jesus Christ.

"We put our hope in the Lord. He is our help and our shield," Psalm 33:20.

"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.

From the riches of hope that you have in a living Savior, are you sharing that hope with others who are starving for just a nibble of hope in their lives? What are you doing with the hope you have through Christ?


Fact or fiction?

Are the claims about Lance Armstrong doping true or not? Was Armstrong telling the truth all along?

As just another member of the general public, I don't have the answer to that. But I was taken aback by the photo above when I first saw it posted on Facebook. What a powerful picture!

What happened to Armstrong can happen to anyone. Those who oppose you will try to label you in some way; a key defense to such labels is how you really live your life. The Apostle Peter gave us this warning:

"Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world," 1 Peter 2:12.

Do you live your life with such integrity that it is both believable and honorable? Or would someone who saw it stick the label "Fiction" on the cover?


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Troubleshooting the Gospel ...

I've been so delighted with the quality of function with my MacBook Pro I don't ever want to go back to using a PC.

It's been a nice experience being able to use a computer without having to fight it just to get it to function properly.

However ...

... I have run across my first problem with this laptop.

I was able to salvage some documents and photos onto a disc from an almost dead PC. I was so happy I had been able to save the data! So I inserted the disc into the disc drive on my laptop ... and it kicked it right back out.

I tried again, with the same result.

I tried a few more times, always with the disc being immediately rejected.

So I tried a few different discs in the drive to see if there was a problem with the disc or the laptop. With each attempt, every disc was ejected.

The problem wasn't with the disc, the problem is in the laptop.

That incident made me think about how some people reject the Gospel. It often is not an issue of the source of the message or how it's delivered, it's the message itself that's being rejected. Even so, many churches try so hard to change up how and who delivers the message in an attempt to make it more appealing that the message itself suffers.

The problem is not the content of the Gospel message, but with the unreceptive minds and hearts of some who hear. No matter how you may try to package the message of Christ, there are some who will always reject Him.

"The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God," 1 Corinthians 1:18.

Don't make the mistake of trying to tweak the Gospel to make it more palatable to some. You cannot improve on the work of Christ. You cannot make grace any more wondrous and beautiful than it already is. All you can do is proclaim it and demonstrate it.


Monday, October 15, 2012

Is it payday yet?

What's the one time an employer fears an employee?

When an employee has given his or her notice they will be terminating their employment.

What scares an employer about that?

The act of an employee announcing they are leaving the company is the employee stating they do not need the employer. If the employer isn't needed, he fears the productivity of the employee during their remaining days will wane.

Several years ago, I was working with the vice president of a national company who taught his senior managers to focus on hiring people who needed their jobs. He encouraged his managers to especially hire people who were married and had both children and mortgages; those people need their paychecks, he taught. The VP believed the need for a consistent paycheck was a primary motivator for employees to do their jobs well and stay with a company instead of looking for greener pastures.

That vice president had one point right: many people work from an attitude of "need." They do need a regular paycheck coming in, and can't afford not to be working.

The point the vice president missed is, working from a "need attitude" is also a constraining influence on the quality of work and productivity of employees. When we work from need, we do a good enough job to keep us employed, but that's usually as far as we go.

The Apostle Paul teaches us to go farther than that.

First, he writes, "And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father," in Colossians 3:17. Then, he gets even more specific:

22 Slaves [or in our day, employees], obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. 23 Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. 24 Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. 25 But if you do what is wrong, you will be paid back for the wrong you have done. For God has no favorites," Colossians 3:22-25.

A regular paycheck shouldn't be the chief motivator for doing our best in our work; bringing glory to God should be.

For the Christian, our bosses should never have to look over our shoulder, double-check our time cards or expense reports, or scrutinize customer feedback. Our work should be done as if we were serving Christ rather than a boss.

That's because everything we do should be done to bring glory to God!

As an employee, are your working to the glory of God, or for a paycheck?


Sunday, October 14, 2012

A God of expectation ...

No expectations, no rules, no requirements, just love, and grace, and bliss!

That is exactly how many describe what "the truth" is about being a follower of Christ.

When I hear that, I wonder what Bible they're reading. That's because a simple perusal of scripture often reveals commanding language full of expectation.

Take, for example, this imperative written by the Apostle Peter:

"You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart," 1 Peter 1:22.

If the writing of an apostle inspired by the Holy Spirit isn't convincing enough for you, here's a statement made by Jesus:

"34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples," John 13:34-35.

Too many believers skim over the vital fact that God does not belong to us, we belong to Him:

"19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price ..." 1 Corinthians 6:19-20a.

For the person who wants to be a follower of Christ, the apostle insists we love each other deeply. Jesus commands us to do so. And God still requires repentance of sin. There are expectations, there are some rules, there are some requirements.

Like what?

Things like this, "This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ," Ephesians 4:13.

God saved us not for some kind of radical independence, but with an expectation. An expectation that, through His transforming power at work in our lives, we will one day measure up to the example of Christ.

God expects that from us, but it is an expectation fueled with His enabling power.

A faith that expects nothing or requires nothing produces nothing because it is nothing.

Perhaps that's why we get nothing more than a profession from so many who claim to follow Christ.

Perhaps it's time we expect something more of each other.


Do you have a scripture for this?

Two preachers met at a Starbucks to flesh out the contents of a new sermon.

One of the men excitedly shared his comprehensive view on contemporary life. The other minister occasionally chimed in with his opinions of how things are and how things should be. Together, they identified key points they wanted to stress.

At the conclusion of their discussion, one preacher looked at the other and asked, "Do you have any scriptures for this?"

That real scenario is how too many sermons are prepared today. They are birthed in the opinions of a person, and sometime before delivery, an effort is made to find a scripture that seems to justify the human position.

But God has never called a man to go preach human opinion. Instead, the commission of Christ is this: "And then he told them, 'Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone'," Mark 16:15.

The Apostle Paul was also clear about what should be preached: "I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God ..." 2 Timothy 4:1-2a.

You do not preach the word of God by finding a scripture to attach to your opinions. Instead, you must start with the word of God, allowing it to transform your thinking so that you deliver God's message rather than your own.

Where does the word of God fit into your sermon preparation?


Saturday, October 13, 2012

A tale of two leaders ...

Several years ago, I traveled to another city to attend a conference for members of the American Association of Christian Counselors. While there, I met two different men doing the same work in a very different way.

I was looking forward to the first session I had signed up for. A nationally known Christian psychologist was going to speak on the topic of his latest book which I had found to be an excellent resource. Unfortunately, the session was not much more than a PowerPoint presentation on the contents of the book. I had hoped for something more.

Between sessions, I was perusing the book and resource tables set up in the lobby when I heard someone say, "Would you like me to sign that?"

Turning around, I found the speaker I had just listened to standing behind me.

"Excuse me?" I asked, having no idea what he was talking about.

He then pointed to the books under my arm I had purchased moments earlier. On the top of the short stack was a book written by him. He pointed to that book and again asked, "Would you like me to sign that for you?"

"Uh, sure," I responded in surprise.

I handed him the book and he retrieved a Sharpie from his suitcoat pocket. As he quickly scrawled his signature on the inside cover, I remarked how I had enjoyed his most recent book. Hardly before I could finish my sentence, he snapped the top back on his pen, placed it back into his pocket, patted me on the shoulder and said, "Thanks!" before hurrying off down the hallway.

I watched in surprise as the man walked away, not sure what had just happened. While I appreciated the writings by this colleague, I had no interest in obtaining his signature!

Shaking my head, I made my way to the next session. This presentation would also feature a nationally known Christian psychologist, only he was better known and had written even more books.

I had arrived at the session early and several of the attendees were standing around talking to each other. Suddenly, out of the group stepped the man I had come to listen to, and he stepped right in front of me.

Extending his hand, he introduced himself and immediately started asking questions ... what was my name, where was I from, what do I do there, what are the challenges I'm facing in such service? Looking me in the eye and focusing all his attention on me, he continued to ask questions and listen with great interest. Finally, he was pulled away by an introduction of himself to the audience, but not before telling me he had been delighted in sharing together and would like to talk later if time allowed. He then stepped to the podium and shared a captivating presentation that included interaction and discussion with his audience.

At that conference, I met two very different men.

The second man had come to serve, the first to sign books.

The second man had come to listen and encourage, the first to be listened to and looked at.

The second man meant to be second, the first man intended to be first.

Can you guess which was the greater leader with the greater impact?


A block of wood, or a chip off the ol' block?

I admit it: some of my favorite stories are children's stories.

That's because some of the most profound lessons are colorfully captured in children's books.

Take, for example, the story of Pinocchio.

Here is the story of a puppet, a wooden boy who desires to be a real boy; a creation loved by his creator, who longs to be a son rather than just a creation.

I enjoy that fictional story because it reminds me of the true Gospel story. We are all a creation of a loving Creator who would rather we be more than just one of His creations; He would rather we be His son or daughter.

The good news is, our Creator has made a way where we can be more than His creation:

"10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God," John 1:10-13.

Our Creator desires for us to become His adopted children. Now, it's a question of what we want. Do you want to be just a creation of God, or a child of God?


Creating failures in the church ...

When the police arrived on scene, they questioned the employee at the location about why the silent panic alarm had been activated. The alarm company had responded by calling the location in an effort to find out what the problem was, but no one had answered the phone. So the police were dispatched to discover what had gone wrong.

What was the problem? Where was the emergency?

There wasn't any. The employee had accidentally hit the alarm button, but had never heard the phone ringing or the police arriving because the music blaring through his ear buds was too loud!

Americans love their music, as is all too easy to see by the familiar site of ear buds and headphone cords attached to electronic devices. When I lived in Hawaii, it was common to see someone pull out a ukelele and start strumming a song, even while on the job!

Whether in the shower, in the car during a commute, around a camp fire, or in a worship service, people love harmonizing with a catchy melody.

In the church, we often miss that simple lesson from music. When we miss taking the melody of sound doctrine and harmonizing to it how we actually live, we create failures in the church.

We do so in a couple ways. There is the church that focuses on getting doctrine right, but misses teaching how to live right. And there's the church that focuses so heavily on living "right" they get their doctrine wrong.

Both kinds of fellowships create failures in the church.

The Apostle Paul was concerned about this kind of leadership and this kind of outcome in the church. He addressed the issue succinctly in his letter to Titus:

"As for you, Titus, promote the kind of living that reflects wholesome teaching," Titus (2:1 NLT). The New International Version phrases Paul's instruction this way, "You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine."

Paul emphasizes we not only need to teach sound doctrine, but also how to live in such a way that the substance of our lives harmonizes with it. What we believe is important, we need to get our doctrine right. But if how we live fails to be in harmony with what we profess to believe, we ultimately sound the sour note of failure.

Is how you live your life in harmony with sound doctrine? Or is one, or both, off key?


Thursday, October 11, 2012

How to get a bounce in church attendance ...

What is one of the "sure fire" methods American churches use today to get people from the community to come to one of the church services?

Rent a bounce house!

Lots of churches are doing it these days. That's because kids in the neighborhood will squeal with delight and insist mom and dad take them for some jumping fun. So some churches are using every excuse possible to air up a bounce house out on the lawn.

But what will keep that family coming back Sunday after Sunday?

Are you sharing a message so compelling they want to know more?

Are you embracing them with a love, a kindness, a fellowship so real they leave with a desire to get to know you better?

Are they seeing you serving one another in such a way they want to be part of a family like that?

If you're doing all these things, you probably don't need a bounce house!

If you aren't doing these things,  you might have to open a revolving account with the bounce house rental company ...


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Photoshop or portrait?

John Singer Sargent (pictured at right in a self-portrait) was an American artist who was considered to be the greatest portrait painter of his generation.

In spite of his great talent, Sargent once said, "Every time I paint a picture I lose a friend."

Sargent painted, with great realism, what he actually saw.

That was the problem. That's why he lost friends.

Many people don't like to hear (or see) the truth about themselves. They prefer a deceptive, photoshopped version of themselves rather than an honest portrait. But look closely at what scripture states about those who practice deceitfulness:

"You will destroy those who tell lies. The Lord detests murderers and deceivers," Psalm 5:6.

Are you living an honest life before God and others? Or do you persistently try to airbrush the reality of your portrait?


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

God doesn't want a satisfaction survey, He wants this ...

I noticed the new barista at Starbucks had a common question for several of the customers he served:

"How is it?" he would inquire after they sipped their drinks.

He made each drink just for them, so he was eager to get a response from those he served; he wanted to delight them with what he made for them, so he naturally desired a response.

Watching those interactions made me think how much more that must play out between us and God. Our Creator loves us more than we can imagine and desires to delight us with His lovingkindness. Accordingly, He desires a response from us.

That response is what we know as worship.

"Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!
    Bring your offering and come into his presence.
Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor."
1 Chronicles 16:29

 What is your response to the Lord's lovingkindness in your life?


Monday, October 8, 2012

He's just like his father ...

Last year when the Texas Rangers were making a run to get to the World Series, I listened to a local radio personality tell the story about a father and son.

He had pulled into a gas station that morning and saw a man with graying hair and wearing a Rangers shirt fueling up his pickup truck. A younger male about 20 years old got out of the passenger side of the truck and started talking to the other man. He, also, was arrayed in Ranger gear, from his shirt to his hat.

He watched the two men as he fueled up his own car, and finally came to the conclusion this must be a father and son who were getting an early start out to the ballpark in Arlington to catch the Ranger game. He was taken with the idea that, even though the son wasn't a boy any more, he and his dad still made time to take in a ball game together.

The scene touched him enough that he approached the men and told them he thought it was great they were still making time as father and son to share their interests.

"Thanks!" said the father.

"So you're on your way to the ballpark?" the radio guy asked.

The two men looked at each other, then shook their heads.

"Too much of a headache to fight all that traffic," replied the younger man. He then explained he and his dad were heading out to watch the game on the multiple big screens ... at the local topless bar.

That wasn't quite the warm, fuzzy story the local radio personality thought he was witnessing. But it was a true story of a father and son sharing mutual interests, a modern-day version of "like father, like son."

Fathers and sons who love each other share mutual interests. "Like father, like son" too often means a father leading his children into the same path of sin he pursues.

As Christians, God calls us into a relationship of Father and son (or daughter) with the intent of that relationship being "like Father, like son." God desires to share His "interest" in holiness with us, and invites us to join in holy living with Him.

"Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children," Ephesians 5:1.

Are you following the example of your heavenly Father? Are His interests yours?


Got a minute?

It was 11 a.m. on a weekend when I stopped in at Saxby's to enjoy a cup of coffee while connecting to the wi-fi to do some writing. As the college freshman behind the counter handed me my coffee, he asked matter-of-factly, "So, what are you doing up so early?"

My facial expression must have gone blank because he quickly added, "Well, it's early for me anyway ..."

We may not think about it often, but most of us cherish time. How we each spend it can vary radically, but time is a priceless commodity to us.

Some love to spend it sleeping, with occasional bouts of consciousness for eating and interacting. Others live their lives off three or four hours of sleep each night, wanting to be busy about living rather than "wasting" it on sleep. Still others enjoy activity punctuated with the occasional afternoon siesta.

Some treasure every moment they can get in the great outdoors, while others work in offices 16 hours a day and like it.

Some fill their time with people, others with things.

Some are alone, others would like to be, and still others are simply lonely.

Often, each of us feel like we just don't have enough time to get done what we "need" to ... or want to. And most of us have known that wiry guy or girl who appear to have "too much time on their hands."

As valuable as time is for any of us, few of us see it as something to give to God as a gift or offering, as an expression of our love for, and devotion to, Him. We tend to spend our time on God on a Sunday morning, when it's our "duty" to do so. We spend a little more time on God when we need something from Him (we usually call this "prayer time"). But it's not often we think about blocking out time just to spend with God.

But just like a husband or wife wants time with a beloved spouse or their children, God wants time with us!

There are a couple ways we can have time with God.

First, is quantity of time. You don't have to block out massive measures of time alone with God for this. You can interact with God in any setting or situation, wherever you are, whenever you want. Since God is everywhere, you can interact with Him anywhere --- at home, at school, at work, in the car, or whatever you're doing. He's already there, so whether you include Him in what you're doing at any given time is a choice you make.

Second, is quality time. This is when you do set aside time just to spend with God. However, you don't have to be in a church building to do this. You don't have to be on your knees in a darkened, quiet room with your head bowed and eyes closed. Some of the most precious times I've spent with the Lord have been hours talking to God as I hiked trails skirting along the coastline in the Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

Time is not something you can put into a savings account and withdraw only when you want to spend some of it. God gives each of us a certain amount of time for our lives, and every second is being spent.

Are you spending it with Him? Are you setting some aside for Him? Where does God fit into your time?


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Do you know what to do when things go right?

How many sermons, books, blogs, articles, classes, seminars, and any other type of communication within the church features an overly common topic: When things go wrong ...?

There seems to be an overt focus on teaching how to live and what to do when things go wrong. But for the average person, life isn't going wrong every day. And when things do go wrong, if for noting other than our natural fight-or-flight response kicking in, we tend to become more focused during times of difficulty than at other times.

What we too often fail to address is, When things go right ...

Things go right for us a lot. Many of us, especially those of us in the Western world, experience more going right in a typical day than there is going wrong. We fail to teach about, or learn how, to live well when things go right. As a result, opportunities, relationships, and resources are squandered.

Then things start to go wrong.

How well do you live when things go right? Do you respond with great thanksgiving, praise and worship for God's blessings in your life? Or do you just consume the blessings and expect God to replenish them? When things go right, do you find yourself free, motivated and equipped to live in service to God and others, or are you too busy using the good times for yourself and your family?

When things go right, how well do you live?


Friday, October 5, 2012

Saint or sinner?

Whether taking an exam at school or applying for a job, you've likely at some time been exposed to some old school psychological testing ...

"Waves are to the ocean as a house is to ..."

"Stars are to the galaxy as a hat is to ..."

"Blue is to yellow as savory is to ..."

The idea is that some things naturally go together, and most of us see these matches.

Kind of like sinner and saint.

Wait ...

... sinner with saint?

If you listen to many Christians today, they routinely identify themselves as sinners.

"I'm just a sinner saved by grace."

But that is not the identity scripture gives to those who have been redeemed. Jesus Christ didn't suffer a horrendous death on a cross so that we would maintain the identity of sinner; rather, He offered Himself as a sacrifice so that our identity may be forever changed!

There are multiple descriptions the Bible gives to Christians from being the body of Christ, the children or family of God, to New Testament writers routinely referring to Christians as "saints." Peter amplified his description of a Christian in the following way:

"But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession ..." 1 Peter 2:9a.

When God looks upon His children, He doesn't automatically pair them with "sinner" any longer. While it is true there are no perfect Christians, for all who are followers of Jesus Christ there is now a specific change in their lives: they no longer practice sin.

"4 Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.
Dear children, don’t let anyone deceive you about this: When people do what is right, it shows that they are righteous, even as Christ is righteous. But when people keep on sinning, it shows that they belong to the devil, who has been sinning since the beginning. But the Son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. Those who have been born into God’s family do not make a practice of sinning, because God’s life is in them. So they can’t keep on sinning, because they are children of God," 1 John 3:4-9.

"But it's just in our nature to sin," argues some Christians regarding the pattern of sin in their lives.

Not any more, it isn't!

"11 When you came to Christ, you were 'circumcised,' but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead," Colossians 2:11-12.

Many Christians, including many pastors, dismiss this as semantics. But it is much, much more than that! Whether you see yourself primarily as a sinner, or as a saint, is how you establish your identity.

Even some preachers recoil at the thought of people identifying themselves as "saints." But to do so is to reject precisely what Jesus Christ has accomplished in us! Those who belong to Him are no longer practicing sinners, they are being transformed into saints.

"For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy," Hebrews 10:14.

Not perfectly sinless saints, but saints nonetheless!

Many stumble over this concept of being a saint because they have a misunderstanding of the word. The word "saint" comes from the Greek word "hagios," which means "consecrated to God, holy, sacred, pious" or referring to those who have been "set apart." It is used 233 times in 221 verses in the New Testament. One scholar notes, "Hagios is Paul's favorite description of believers and designates the believers position in Christ as holy or set apart from that which is secular, profane, and evil and is dedicated unto God, His worship and His service."

A sinner is one who practices sin; a saint is one who has been set aside as holy unto the Lord and is growing in holy living as the Holy Spirit continues His transforming work in the life of the Christian.

Because of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, "sinner" and "saint" are not a natural pairing.

What's your identity: are you a sinner, or a saint?