Friday, November 30, 2012

More than a friendly diplomat ...

"HELP WANTED" are welcome words in today's economy. It's also one that fits well regarding the mission of the church, and there is a job opening Jesus is recruiting you for.

The job I'm talking about is being an Ambassador for Christ, a position probably best spotlighted by this writing from the Apostle Paul:

"18 And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!'” 2 Corinthians 5:18-20.

When we think of the work of an ambassador, we tend to make the cultural mistake of seeing it only like the work of a modern-day ambassador representing one country to others. There certainly are similarities. As an Ambassador for Christ, we do represent the King and His kingdom to the world. But there's a littler deeper meaning when we consider in context the work of an ambassador.

The context in this situation would be what serving as an ambassador would be like during Paul's day. When the apostle penned the word "ambassador," he knew his readers would immediately know exactly what he meant.

At the time Paul wrote this passage of scripture, there was a primary responsibility that fell to the ambassador. As countries waged war, it was the job of the ambassador of the victor nation to go to the defeated nation and, as a personal representative of the king, declare what the terms and conditions for peace were as established by the victorious king.

Romans 5:10 tells us we were enemies of God when we lived in sin. But Jesus Christ defeated sin and death and is the vanquishing King! Now, He enlists us as His ambassadors to declare to those who are still enemies what His terms and conditions are for peace with God.

" ... And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him ..."

" ... God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, 'Come back to God!'”

The position of ambassador Jesus has delegated to His followers is more than a quiet, boring assignment at some remote outpost. It's to present to the world good news that peace is offered by the King on terms so gracious it would be foolish to rebuff them.

That is the primary task of an ambassador. Jesus has appointed you as His ambassador. Are you proclaiming the terms for peace on behalf of your King?


Wooden bowls ...

I came across this story several years ago. The lesson contained in it makes it worth re-telling. The original author is unknown.

A frail old man lived with his son, his daughter-in-law, and his four-year-old grandson. His eyes were blurry, his hands trembled, and his step faltered.

The family would eat together nightly at the dinner table. But the elderly grandfather's shaky hands and failing sight made eating rather difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon, droping to the floor. When he grasped his glass of milk, it often splashed clumsily onto the tablecloth.

With this happening almost every night, the son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess.

"We must do something about grandfather," said the son.

"I've had enough of his milk spilling, noisy eating and food on the floor," the daughter-in-law agreed.

So the couple set a small table in the corner.

There, grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed their meals at the dinner table. Since grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in wooden bowls. Sometimes when the family glanced in grandfather's direction, he had a tear in his eye as he ate alone. Still, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food. The four-year-old watched it all in silence.

One evening, before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor. He asked the child sweetly, "What are you making?" Just as sweetly, the boy replied, "Oh, I'm making a little bowl for you and mama to eat your food from when I grow up." The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.

These words so struck the parents that they were speechless. Then tears streamed down their cheeks. Though no words were spoken, both knew what must be done. That evening, the husband took grandfather's hand and gently led him back to the family table.

For the remainder of his days, grandfather ate every meal with the family. And for some reason, neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk was spilled or the table cloth was soiled.

"Do to others as you would like them to do to you," Luke 6:31.


Thursday, November 29, 2012

New doctrine for a falling church?

Not everyone is wringing their hands about the looming "fiscal cliff" America is supposedly racing toward and may soon go tumbling over.

That's because some just don't believe it will be as bad as it's made out to be. Others prophesy impending doom for our nation if something isn't done quickly. One celebrity pastor recently stated the President "... is paving the way for the future reign of the anti-Christ."

Many among those who are laden with consternation are "conservative Christians." Their twitter feeds and Facebook timelines are littered with railings against the President and Congress, and are flowing with great expressions of worry. Not faith, but worry.

Such are some of the responses regarding the financial well-being of our nation.

But what about the "spiritual cliff" this country has already hurled itself over?

We'll be anxious, worried, loud, animated, exacerbated, and demanding about our country's fiscal condition, but we have very little concern or urgency about America rapidly becoming a "post-Christian" nation.

Oh, there are several who talk about the decline of Christianity in the U.S., but instead of doing anything about it, they are making a home of it. Pastor, theologian, and author Leonard Sweet recently posted this question on Facebook: "Has declineology become a new doctrine of establishment Protestantism?"

Discussing the decline of the church is now en vogue. It's a topic at a variety of conferences, new books are flowing off the presses about the subject, and social media is trending on the issue. But that's the problem: we're just discussing it, wringing our hands about it, and pointing fingers over it. Few are doing anything productive about it.

Some are trying to respond intelligently with biblical guidance. Fans of celebrity preacher Francis Chan try to track what he's doing going door-to-door in San Francisco's tenderloin district to tell people about Jesus in an effort to make disciples. Chan has joined forces with another celebrity pastor, Dr. David Platt (author of the best-selling book "Radical"), for the Multiply Movement (the website is Others are making efforts to do more than engage in "declineology."

Like the church I visited with yesterday.

It's not a big church, less than 200 people. But it is growing spiritually and numerically, and it's leaders are passionate about making disciples. That's why some of it's leaders spent yesterday together praying and seeking the Lord's direction on new steps for discipleship. This group of disciples are examining themselves regarding their efforts of making disciple-making disciples. They will be back at it again next week to pray and plan further regarding how they can better be a church that makes new disciples, and disciple those new disciples to be disciple-makers.

There's our hope.

When the local church returns to the purpose Jesus Christ gave it --- that of making disciples --- then we have real hope of surviving our plummet over the spiritual cliff.

Are you a disciple maker? Is your local church a congregation of Ambassadors for Christ who are making disciple-making disciples? Or are you engaged in declineology?


The triple filter test ...

In ancient Greece, Socrates was reputed to hold knowledge in high esteem. One day an acquaintance met the philosopher and said, "Do you know what I just heard about your friend?"

"Hold on a minute," Socrates replied. "Before you talk to me about my friend, it might be good idea to take a moment and filter what you’re going to say. That’s why I call it the triple filter test. The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"Well, no," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and…"

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don’t really know if it’s true or not. Now, let’s try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my friend something good?"

"Umm, no, on the contrary…"

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about my friend, but you’re not certain it’s true. You may still pass the test though, because there’s one filter left—the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my friend going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither true, nor good, nor even useful, why tell it to me at all?"

This story may not be the precise exchange between Socrates and his acquaintance, but the content is a good lesson for us all.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

If I feel it, it must be valid ...

"It's always a good practice to remember that a person's feelings are valid even if you don't agree with their actions, behavior, or words."

That was the post on Twitter. You likely have heard it some time, somewhere.

It's an old platitude that sounds so right and so nice.

Too bad it's so wrong.

It is quite common for our emotions to be more irrational than rational. Emotions are generated by our thinking; to have irrational emotions you must have thoughts not fully sourced from truth. This platitude attempts to give falsely-based, irrational emotions the same standing as rational thinking based on truth. The idea is that because the irrational feeling exists, it is "valid."

Let's use a simple example.

Jane has a strong Supine temperament, so she is a little more sensitive to the direct interactions of others. Jane enters a room where there is another person, a stranger named John, and they make eye contact. Jane immediately notes John did not smile at her. The immediate irrational feeling generated from this thought is, "John didn't smile at me, therefore he doesn't like me."

All other thoughts, feelings, and behaviors Jane has toward John is now sourced on an irrational feeling that she is not liked by John. The feeling of being unliked may exist, but it has not been validated by the one thing that can bring validation to it: truth.

What Jane doesn't know is John was distracted by some serious personal issues, or John was disturbed with thoughts of pressing business issues to follow in his day, or John is shy, or John is not an emotionally demonstrative person, or John was not feeling well, or John is socially awkward, or ...

There can be a host of reasons for John's behavior, all of which invalidate the irrational feeling Jane has created toward John.

Much of the work done in the counselor's office is helping people develop the skill and habits of rational thinking and repairing the damage done to lives because of irrational thinking and feelings piled onto others as if they were valid.

Before you saddle others with the thoughts and feelings you have about them, first be sure to validate them with the truth. Then, apply love.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Looking for loopholes ...

How can you tell when someone is spiritually mature?

Well, we do know that we should never cease in our daily pursuit of growing in Christ because, although we can become mature spiritually, we'll never reach the point of spiritual perfection while in this skin. So, we always have more growing to do.

But what are some of the marks of spiritual maturity in a disciple's life?

Here's a simple one, but I think it really is a profound measure of someone who is earnestly committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in their life:

You finally stop looking for loopholes.

When you've come to that place where you either stop looking for reasons to not obey the Lord, or for ways to minimize obedience, then you're growing up in the Lord.

 "So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say?" Luke 6:46.
“If you love me, obey my commandments," John 14:15.
"Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. And because they love me, my Father will love them. And I will love them and reveal myself to each of them,"
John 14:21.

The disciple who earnestly loves his Savior and desires to be like Him and live to His glory isn't looking for a way to do the least, give the least, serve the least, love the least, care the least; instead, he looks for ways to faithfully be the least, making most of Christ in His life and all its circumstances.

When you stop looking for loopholes, you don't even think about shortcuts. You show up each day, having shouldered your own cross, and you're ready to imitate Christ at home, at work, in the community, with your family, or whatever situation the day will bring.

All because you're done with loopholes. You no longer are looking for an out because you're all in. The Apostle Paul modeled this attitude when he wrote:

"7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us," Philippians 3:7-14.

Are you still looking for loopholes in the Gospel? Are you looking for shortcuts in obeying Christ? Are you still trying to discover what "minimum" is for a disciple? Or have you given up the search for loopholes in exchange for an authentic walk with Christ where you can spend yourself for His sake?


Monday, November 26, 2012

That's a little freaky ...

I'm a freak.

I am one of those people who actually enjoyed more than a decade of higher education. I could easily be a perpetual student, but I couldn't be a professional one.

While pursuing three different degrees, I relished the learning environment. I thrived in digging into books, soaking in lectures, participating in discussions, conducting research, articulating positions in writing, serving in an internship, and all the various means of challenging one to think, learn, and grow.

But the reason I enjoyed being a student was primarily because of the opportunity to put to use what I learned. Whether it was to improve myself, or in service to others (it was both), my educational pursuits were connected to a purpose greater than simple theoretical exercise.

That's why I couldn't be a professional student. To simply bury myself in study for the sake of the intellectual exercise alone is empty. Knowledge and understanding are intended to have meaning through application. Applying the understanding one has developed by growing in knowledge is the difference between the perpetual student and the professional student.

It's also the difference between being a disciple and being a professional student.

As disciples, we're perpetual students of Christ, but with the intent that we apply to our lives all that we are learning.The Apostle Paul described this kind of discipleship for us:

"9 So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10 Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better," Colossians 1:9-10.

Paul describes learning as a means of personal growth that yields fruit. Growing in knowledge should lead to greater understanding and wisdom, and the application of such resulting in producing "... every kind of good fruit." That's why Paul put such a great emphasis on application when he wrote, "Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you," Philippians 4:9

The Apostle Peter echoes Paul in encouraging us to be students who apply what we learn.

"Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," 2 Peter 3:18.

It is possible to grow in knowledge through book learning, but you cannot grow in grace that way. To grow in grace requires us to imitate Christ, to live out in all our relationships what we have both received from and learned of Him. Growing as a disciple is living out one's learning, becoming wiser not only in our thinking but also in our doing, until both become more and more like the One we are students of. Peter urges us to become "freaks," disciples who "crave" this kind of learning.

"Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation. Cry out for this nourishment, now that you have had a taste of the Lord’s kindness," 1 Peter 2;2.

What kind of student are you? Are you a lurker, one who looks at the things of Christ without applying them? Or a learner, a student of Christ who puts into practice all that he or she learns? Or are you a student at all?


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Here's why ...

My buy-in to anything is always greater when I understand the "why" behind whatever it is I'm being challenged to. So let's take a look at one answer of "why" to a big challenge.

Why should studying the Bible be a primary commitment of our lives?

The Apostle Paul provided some of the "why" when writing to Timothy. In 2 Timothy 3, he begins by describing some dangerous times in the last days. Read this closely and see if it doesn't sound like a description of America in 2012:

"You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!" 2 Timothy 3:1-5.

In verse 8, Paul states, "These teachers oppose the truth just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses. They have depraved minds and a counterfeit faith," and in verse 13 he adds, "But evil people and impostors will flourish. They will deceive others and will themselves be deceived."

Just about every word Paul writes sounds like he's writing to us, personally. Given the fact his writing was inspired by the Holy Spirit, the truth contained in his letter is for us. It comes not only with the above warning, but with some valuable guidance on how to deal with the dangers in our times.

"14 But you must remain faithful to the things you have been taught. You know they are true, for you know you can trust those who taught you. 15 You have been taught the holy Scriptures from childhood, and they have given you the wisdom to receive the salvation that comes by trusting in Christ Jesus. 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 3:14-17.

There's our "why."

Now, what's your buy-in?


Saturday, November 24, 2012

Are you hip to the form, or just hipster?

There are a few new attitudes today's "must be relevant" crowd push within the church, to the detriment of the church.

One of them is their attitude of living entirely spontaneously ... no rules, tenuous structure, all freedom. They disguise as "hip" a revised version of circumstantial theology: they'll tweak their theology according to circumstances to appear culturally hip and relevant.

They attempt to follow Christ without form.

In the beginning, the world was without form, and God changed that. Being without form was a starting point for God to create a masterpiece, it wasn't the way the world was to remain!

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.
Then God said, 'Let there be ...'" Genesis 1:1-3a.

From a formless and empty beginning, God layered on detailed design and order to the world and filled it with life. He gave form to the earth, and all that filled it.

He's done the same with our new life in Christ. Having been buried with Christ in baptism, He has not raised us to the newness of a formless life. Quite the contrary. The Apostle Paul gives us a picture of the church --- and each one of us as part of it --- taking on the form God has designed:

"11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 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. 14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love," Ephesians 4:11-16.

"16 But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image," 2 Corinthians 3:16-18.

Just as "... the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters ..." ready to participate in creation in the beginning, God has given us His Spirit to bring form to our lives, to fashion us into the likeness of His Son.

What form are you growing in, one that reflects the glory of the Lord, or one that reflects the culture around you?


Friday, November 23, 2012

It's not all about the journey ...

Carl McCunn planned every detail of his excursion into the remote wilderness of Alaska.

After a short stint in the Navy, McCunn, a talented wildlife photographer, settled in Anchorage, Alaska. It was from this vantage point he made plans to spend several months along the southern margin of the Brooks Range on an expedition to photograph wildlife there.

So it was that in March, 1981, McCunn paid a bush pilot to land him at a remote lake about 225 miles northeast of Fairbanks, Alaska near the Coleen River. With attention to detail, McCunn brought with him 500 rolls of film, 1,400 pounds of provisions, two rifles and a shotgun. It would be several months later, when the same plane did not return to pick him up, that McCunn realized he had given great detail to undertaking his journey, but had failed to make plans for leaving.

"I think I should have used more foresight about arranging my departure. I'll soon find out," he wrote in his personal diary.

McCunn hoped family or friends would eventually become concerned about him when he failed to return. They did, but too late. Nearly a year later, McCunn's body, along with his diary, were found. He had committed suicide before dying of starvation and exposure to the elements.

McCunn's fatal error is one repeated by people around the globe --- failure to exercise foresight in arranging for their departure. The Apostle Paul described this focus on the present life this way:

"18 For I have told you often before, and I say it again with tears in my eyes, that there are many whose conduct shows they are really enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 They are headed for destruction. Their god is their appetite, they brag about shameful things, and they think only about this life here on earth. 20 But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior. 21 He will take our weak mortal bodies and change them into glorious bodies like his own, using the same power with which he will bring everything under his control," Philippians 3:18-21.

Are you giving adequate attention to your departure from this life, or are you among those Paul describes as " ... they think only about this life here on earth"


Heroes and villains ...

Whether in comics, movies, or the wrestling ring, there is a certain portion of the audience who find themselves captivated by the dramatic and often charismatic characters who play the role of villain.

The draw?

The bad guys seem to get to blow up and destroy more stuff than the good guys do. They also don't forgive anyone, and take great delight in bringing as much harm as possible to their enemies.

Perhaps that's why more story lines are giving the heroes a darker background, adding a tinge to their good guy images. Audiences cheer when the hero gets busy destroying the villain and wreaking some damage of his own.

In a similar manner, some people seem to have given Jesus an alter ego, "Jesus the Destroyer." He's the one who will take revenge on our enemies for us, condemn forever people we don't like, and destroy Satan and his minions. They are just waiting for Christ to return with the hope He will start knocking some heads around. Angry people in particular really seem to like Jesus the Destroyer.

That's a very different attitude than that held by those who see Jesus as the pure hero and worship "Jesus the Savior." Instead of salivating over the destruction He can bring to others, they are overwhelmed with humility by Jesus being the hero who rescued us on the cross. They seem to see something others don't:

We were the enemy!

"21 This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. 22 Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault," Colossians 1:21-22.

The image of Jesus the Destroyer might give you an adrenalin rush until you realize we've all been on His enemy list. The only way off that list is to receive Him as Jesus the Savior. It is His desire to clear that list completely!

"The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent," 2 Peter 3:9.

Is Jesus Christ starring as the hero and Savior in the story of your life? Or are you still playing the role of villain?


Thursday, November 22, 2012

Why are you blessed?

For once in our lives ...

... everyone should have to be alone on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Or both. The facade of gratitude and the idea of what's important will be replaced with a new way of measuring things ...

... everyone should know hunger and wonder if they will have anything to eat that day. You'll never "say grace" over a meal the same again ...

... everyone should know what it's like to have no place to rest your head. It will give new appreciation to the word "home" ...

... everyone should have a vital need they don't have the resources to meet, and rely on the kindness of another. You'll learn how to be generous to others ...

... everyone should have one outfit to wear for a week, and you'll grow in humility ...

... everyone should have to travel everywhere without shoes, and you'll learn what simple necessities really are ...

... everyone should have no means of transportation, and you'll learn what real creativity and endurance are ...

... everyone should momentarily feel unloved, and you'll learn how to love unconditionally ...

... but our God, who is rich in grace and mercy toward us, has blessed us greatly. Most of us have never experienced any of the situations listed above, and never will.

But a few billion people live this way every day.

Perhaps we have been so abundantly blessed in order to share our blessings with them ...


Thanksgiving comedy ...

A little (very little!) comedy for your Thanksgiving Day ...

I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all my readers who make the "Extraordinary Living" blog a joyful experience. May God bless each of you, and may you be blessed today in recalling all you have to be thankful for.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Just another bumper sticker?

Bumper stickers are faddish, they capture today's popular phrase but it won't take long until you're trying to peel it off your car.

One bumper sticker I'm glad to see gone is "Practice random acts of kindness." It sounds nice, but the sentiment actually is quite shallow. It highlights the fact we tend to be so lacking in kindness we need to purposely practice random acts of it. There's something far superior to outbursts of kindness, and that is to be a kind person.

A similar situation revolves around Thanksgiving, which millions of people will celebrate tomorrow through random acts of gluttony. It's a day on which we're encouraged to "give thanks." It's a good encouragement for all of us, as we tend to lack expressing thanks like we lack in expressing kindness. But there's something far superior to simply giving thanks, and that is being a grateful person.

There's more than just semantics to that. It's one thing to occasionally pause and direct yourself to an expression of thankfulness; it's quite another to be a person who lives out life from a grateful heart. Giving thanks is often a circumstantial event, and routinely misses more reasons for giving thanks than are moments stilled for it. Living from a grateful heart comes from seeing the grace and mercies of God afresh each day and, from that view, having our minds and hearts (and, therefore, our actions) shaped and directed by it --- "grateful" becomes a part of who we are and how we live.

Being a genuinely grateful person was a dangerous thing for a small group of Americans held prisoner on a remote island in the South Pacific during World War II. Over the months of being starved with the most meager of food rations, one of the men saw the lovingkindness of God in the little food he had to sustain him. He was so grateful for his rations that he would not eat until he had bowed his head and gave thanks. His captors didn't like this behavior, so they warned the man not to bow his head and pray in public.

The next day, at meal time, the soldier took his place on the bench, bowed his head and offered thanks. His disobedience was responded to with the butt end of a rifle to his head. The soldier fell unconscious to the floor and was dragged off to his bunk.

The next day, as the soldier entered the mess hall, looking dazed and moving slowly, his companions immediately encouraged him to sit down and eat without bowing his head. They warned him he couldn't endure further assaults. The soldier sat down and looked at the sparse food rations on his tin plate. That there was anything at all to eat seemed to him to be a great gift from a loving God.

He bowed his head.

The butt end of a rifle collided with the solder's skull, and he was dragged out.

He never returned.

For this soldier, it was unthinkable to not express his gratitude to God. Such a character of gratitude cost him his life.

A life he was grateful to God for.

This Thanksgiving, challenge yourself to do more than give thanks. Ask God to shape you into being a grateful person.

"6 And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness" Colossians 2:6-7.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Differentiator ...

What is the difference between your willingness to take a bullet to save the life of your own child, and your unwillingness to take a bullet for the stranger who is homeless and sleeps on a park bench?

"Biology! My child is my own!" comes one response.

Nope, that really is not it. Being connected biologically is no guarantor of caring anything about the people you're physically related to. In fact, statistically speaking, you're more likely to be physically harmed or killed by someone you're related to than by a criminal you don't know.

So what is the differentiator?


Love is the single greatest motivator a human being can experience. Love is the primary source for the greatest experiences humankind has ever witnessed. Here's dramatic proof:

16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 17 God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him," John 3:16-17.

God's grace, mercy, and lovingkindness come to us because He loves us. It's just that simple.

It is a simplicity that we are instructed in over and over again in the Bible, yet to little positive result.

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength," Deuteronomy 6:4-5.

"37 Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments," Matthew 22:37-40.

"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.

4“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. 44 But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! 45 In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. 46 If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. 47 If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect," Matthew 5:43-48.

It is no wonder, then, that the Apostle John pleads for us to love one another ...

"7 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. But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.God showed how much he loved us by sending his one and only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. 10 This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us," 1 John 4:7-12.

How do we build the kingdom? How do you reach your lost neighbor? Your lost co-worker? Your lost cousin? Your lost city? Your lost nation? A lost and dying world?


You will respond to the lost condition and needs of others according to your love for them. No love, no care. A little love more akin to pity will result in a lukewarm handout. Love from a sense of duty, and you'll get a service project. But the love of God received by you, and then flowing through you? That will result in a person who is willing to daily take up his own cross and follow in the loving footsteps of Jesus Christ.

"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love ..." Galatians 5:22a.

Marriages that fail are marriages where one or both persons refuse to love each other. Families that fight are families that refuse to love each other. Churches that stagnate and decline are churches that refuse to love God first, and then love others in His name.

So what's your love quotient? Do you love God as prescribed in scripture? Do you allow the love of God to flow freely and fully through you to others? Or is love for self keeping you from the greatest experiences and relationships you could ever know?


Monday, November 19, 2012

A fresh perspective ...

If someone had a broken leg, would you hand them a pair of crutches and send them on their way?

If someone had a knife stuck between their shoulder blades, would you tell them not to lean back when they sit down?

If someone had a car that didn't have any brakes, would you recommend they drive slowly?

The responses to each one of the scenarios above have a level of benefit, but not nearly enough. It's not enough to simply supply with crutches a person who has a broken leg; they need medical care to reset the leg so it can heal properly.

It's not enough for a person who has a knife protruding from between their shoulder blades to not sit back, thus pushing the knife deeper into them; they need the knife removed and the wound cared for so they can heal.

It's not enough to tell the person who has a car without brakes to drive slowly; this person shouldn't drive their car until brakes are added to the function of the car so they and others will be safe when they do drive the vehicle.

And it's not enough for church leaders to keep telling those they lead to change their perspectives.

As human beings, our capacity to see things rightly or righteously is broken. Sin has warped our thoughts and flooded our desires to such a degree that simply changing perspectives will not result in right thinking or life transformation. Yes, we do need to redirect our thinking, but the heart of man continues to return his thoughts to sin. For true life transformation, we must have God change the way we think, or we will continue to live with perspectives far less than the truth and holiness God has called us to.

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

"Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect," Romans 12:2.

It is true we must do our part in changing our thinking. But if the only change we experience is how we tweak our own perspectives, we will still be broken, unable to live to the standard of holiness God has set for us. To be truly transformed requires God to change our thinking so that we are capable of living righteously and pursuing holiness. That's much more than a change of perspective.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Kind of like working out online ...

"I'm thinking about joining an online gym," the person quipped.

It sounds funny, but there is some real benefit that can be gained from the many fitness-related websites or online fitness communities. Some good information can be obtained, and interacting with others can be encouraging and help motivate people to better fitness outcomes.

But an online gym can never compete with the results stepping into a real gym can provide. You can have all the information and discussion you want, but until you break a sweat and really exercise, you'll never achieve any dream for true fitness.

The same goes with the idea of online churches.

There's much that can be shared via the internet regarding living out the Christian faith. Real connections can be made, real encouragement can be offered, real learning can be accomplished. We certainly cannot say the Apostle Paul writing a letter to one of the churches didn't have dramatic impact! We study the same letters today as part of the heart of scriptures for the church. Paul writing a letter was his using "modern technology" to continue to interact with local churches during his absence.

But what was one of the great longings of Paul's heart? To get back to those same churches and minister to them in person. Here's one example:

"17 Dear brothers and sisters, after we were separated from you for a little while (though our hearts never left you), we tried very hard to come back because of our intense longing to see you again. 18 We wanted very much to come to you, and I, Paul, tried again and again, but Satan prevented us. 19 After all, what gives us hope and joy, and what will be our proud reward and crown as we stand before our Lord Jesus when he returns? It is you! 20 Yes, you are our pride and joy," 1 Thessalonians 2:17-20.

Paul knew he could accomplish a lot with a letter, but he also understood he could do much more in person.

So can we.

The internet and social media can be used in positive and effective ways for the cause of Christ. But they can never rival the level of effect we can have by literally walking into each others lives. Online Christian communities can expand the reach of some of our efforts, but never replace real touch. So use them wisely while making sure you're an active and committed member of a local body of Christ wherever you are.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

The User ...

The white goatee on the man's chin has about as much white hair as there is thinly stretched atop his head. Decked out in a flannel shirt and casual pants, he silently slinks through the entry and crowds his way onto a seat by an electrical outlet.

He comes to the same Starbucks every day, carrying his laptop in a trendy bag slung over his shoulder, and sets up shop for a couple of hours.

But he never buys a cup of coffee.

He never buys a cup of tea.

He never buys any kind of beverage or food item.

He only comes to use the free wifi provided for paying customers. Except he doesn't pay anything, he just uses, and then leaves.

Doesn't this sound eerily similar to the church?

Many slip quietly through the doors and into a pew or cushioned seat. They never make a buy-in, they just come to get their blessing and then leave. Knowing our penchant for such selfishness, Jesus gave us a profound example for how we should do more than take:

"12 After washing their feet, he put on his robe again and sat down and asked, 'Do you understand what I was doing? 13 You call me "Teacher" and "Lord," and you are right, because that’s what I am. 14 And since I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash each other’s feet. 15 I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message. 17 Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them," John 13:12-17.

Like the disciples with Jesus, we're inclined to just walk in, sit down at the table, and feast to our individual desires. But Jesus got down on His knees and first washed the feet of His disciples so they could properly come to the table. The Creator of these men served them. Then He stated we should follow His example of humbly serving one another instead of taking what we want and then leaving.

When you gather with God's family, are you humbling yourself to give and serve? Or do you come to collect a blessing and then leave? When it comes to you and the church, what makes you more than a user?


Friday, November 16, 2012

I want a pony!

Sometimes it's not a good idea to give your children everything they ask for ... (take 30 seconds and watch the video below) ...

Parents don't always exercise wisdom in how they respond to the requests of their children, but our heavenly Father does.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? 10 Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! 11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him," Matthew 7:9-11.

Often what we ask of God is the equivalent of a pony that will wreck the house. God knows what's best for us, and from that perfect knowledge He responds to the petitions of His children.


Growing up to be a boy ...

Young Joshua was an apprentice to the man God chose to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt ...

Young Joseph was dreaming dreams others were jealous of ...

Young Samuel heard the voice of God calling ...

Young David was selecting a handful of stones and eying a giant of an opponent ...

Young Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were being groomed for high office in the greatest empire on earth during their day ...

Young Joseph was preparing to become the earthly stepfather to the Son of God ...

Young men today spend much of their free time playing video games. In fact, the latest study shows the most avid gamers to be men in their 30's (who started in their teens and never stopped). Perhaps that's why the stage of adolescence was recently formally revised for males to extend to the age of 30.

So many boys in a man's world!

The scene from biblical manhood to today's version of being a man has flipped. In Bible times, males were marrying, starting families, and impacting the world around them as teenagers. Today, we expect little productivity from teens and not much more from young adults. We really don't expect serious strides and potential for important leadership positions from men until they're pushing 30 (at least).

In Bible times, you were pushing middle age by the time you hit 30! Today, you might still be living in your parent's basement at that age.

Again, so many boys in a man's world!

No wonder the church is hurting for men.

We demand every church have a youth program, but are such programs contributing to building Godly young men? We see men's ministries rise and fall, rise and fall, and then rise and fall yet again, in spite of all the fun activities they focus on. You would think the paintball wars, baseball games, Wii nights, and Superbowl parties spent together would forge great men of God, right? Or are many of these things exacerbating the adolescence of those they recruit?

Where is today's Paul discipling a new Timothy or a new Titus? Where is today's Barnabas who takes today's new Mark under his wing and helps him become an effective disciple?

When we leave the raising of boys primarily to mothers, schools, youth groups, and culture, you will get what you have. But you might get something different if godly dads stepped up and actually stepped into the lives of theirs sons with the intent of teaching them to become a man of God. Just imagine how effective that might be if other godly men were available as examples and influences to reinforce what godly dads taught and modeled!

That's what it will take to make a change and create a culture of so many godly young men in a man's world.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

You're out of order, mister!

You wake up at the crack of noon and load the family, still in pj's and bunny-feet slippers, into the car and head for the local pizza buffet.

After indulging in multiple types of pizzas by the slice and a few games for the kids, you head home and start the laundry.

Once the laundry is folded and put away, you change your clothes and head for the office ...

Wait, that isn't how the average day is done. We don't usually start with lunch and household chores before going to work.

Usually, there's an order to our day, one that makes sense and gives flow to meeting our responsibilities and providing opportunity to do some things we like.

Most of us apply a sense of order to our daily activities. Likewise, we also usually attempt to apply some kind of order to our lives as well. Therein can be the problem: you can't apply order to your life without knowing what the order is.

God has designed everything to have order to it.

24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries," Acts 17:24-26.

"But be sure that everything is done properly and in order," 1 Corinthians 14:40.

"For God is not a God of disorder but of peace ..." 1 Corinthians 14:33a.

All the way from how the cosmos functions, to how a marriage works right, God has weaved order into His creation. Foundational to that order is this:

"15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, 16 for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see — such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. 17 He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together. 18 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 1:15-18.

The starting place for order in anything is found in the final sentence of the passage quoted above: "So he is first in everything."

When you want to bring order to your life, Christ has to be first. Attempting to order your life any other way creates disorder because everything will be out of order.

Are you trying to order your life without Christ being first? How's that working out for you?


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Motivated by ignorance ...

When my hero in the faith uttered those words, I was shocked. I never expected to hear that kind of language from him.

As usual, he was being quite vulnerable in his sharing, and that's when he said it ...

"It's at times like that, when I'm feeling my own ignorance, that I'm motivated to study all the more."

Did you catch it?

There, in the middle of the sentence, he says he felt his own ignorance.

Perhaps it was because I was still in my late teens and greatly respected this man that it never occurred to me this humble, gifted, and brilliant preacher and professor would ever feel ignorant.

This man started his ministry by planting a church, went on to build a megachurch, was in the process of being used by God to build another megachurch, would later lead a Christian college to become a university while still pastoring a church, would serve as president of the North American Christian Convention, write almost 30 books, and consult with a leading missions organization and preach around the world.

No, the word "ignorant" was never one I had used when thinking about this servant of the Lord. But today, nearly a few decades removed, I understand his statement more clearly.

Especially when I'm feeling my own ignorance.

What I learned from that single sentence uttered long ago was that leaders don't know it all. They don't arrive at a place where they're equipped enough, educated enough, discipled enough. They never arrive at a place in life where they've learned all they need to know.

Neither do "followers."

It's those times when we're especially feeling our own ignorance that we should be spurred on all the more to grow, to continue to learn, to apply ourselves even more diligently to studying the Word. As children of the Living God, we should be committed to a life of reducing our ignorance.

It was near the end of his own life that the Apostle Peter gave us a similar exhortation:

"17 I am warning you ahead of time, dear friends. Be on guard so that you will not be carried away by the errors of these wicked people and lose your own secure footing. 18 Rather, you must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," 2 Peter 3:17-18.

Peter knew what he was talking about. He had been discipled by Jesus Christ himself, yet he could testify to great gaffes and gaps of ignorance. But he continued to learn and grow, and his life would become a great testimony for our Lord.

Will yours?

What do you do when you feel your own ignorance? Do you try to hide it? Or do you reapply yourself to greater study?


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

For leaders, this is worse than herding cats ...

The direct message the new follower on Twitter sent to me stated, "Thanks a ton for joining the ------- Club! Watch for our BMGs on Twitter. Do you still watch local TV news?"

To be honest, I was a little annoyed with the message. Not because it had been sent, but because of the dishonest content. This person had, for whatever reason, chosen to follow me on Twitter minutes earlier. After briefly reviewing his Twitter account, I responded by following back. Shortly after, I received his direct message.

Instead of just ignoring it, or playing along with it, here is my response: "I didn't join the ------- Club. I followed you back after you followed me."

This is a classic example of a person who wants to be a "leader" so desperately that when someone simply responds to them, this person makes the claim you've joined their club! You've become a fan, a follower, a groupie. All from someone I don't know and have never heard of.

Quite a leap! He's attempting to lead the unrecruited.

Joshua didn't want to make that mistake.

After spending years as the apprentice to Moses, Joshua now had the responsibility of leading Israel. He had watched as Moses tried to lead a stiff-necked people to the promised land. Worse than trying to herd cats, Moses was trying to lead the unrecruited. Many among the people were on board for escaping slavery, but not for the wilderness, and not God's way. Their cycles of sin --- symptoms they were not on board --- resulted in many of them perishing. They would never see the land promised to those who had joined up to join God.

So Joshua took the pro-active step of reviewing and renewing their covenant with God, and then he challenged them to make a choice:

14 “So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord,” Joshua 24:14-15.

Little thwarts the leadership of today's church leaders more than trying to lead the unrecruited. The presence of a person in a church service doesn't mean you have a new recruit for the kingdom of God, although it might. As a leader, you need to know for sure. At some point, you will have to make the challenge, "... choose today whom you will serve ..."

In the local congregation you lead, do you know who are the true recruits from those who are just along for the ride? Or are you attempting to lead the unrecruited?


Monday, November 12, 2012

This will make you gag ...

I'm glad "kid theology" doesn't work, otherwise I think some of us would have gotten into more trouble than we did as youngsters.

You know how "kid theology" works, right?

That's when you really, really want to do something, but you know that "something" is sinful. So you rationalize a theology from what you've been taught. You could indulge yourself (thus, sinning), and then ask for forgiveness afterward (force God to forgive you because you confessed like you were told you must). Of course this theology, weaved in the mind of a child, doesn't factor in God seeing the motive and the heart.

The church has it's own little version of "kid theology" when it comes to the issue of making disciples.

Notice, I clearly phrased the issue as "making disciples" instead of "discipleship" because it's in the subtle distinction of the two that the church tries to hide its failure.

After such an extended period of undeniable decline, the church is having to admit its failure at discipling its members and is giving a level of renewed focus to that issue. Now, when the need for discipleship is again raised, many churches point to a class or small group used for this purpose (even though the same group may have been in existence for years or decades, at least it's something real that can be pointed to). If a class or group doesn't exist, someone is assigned to disciple new members ... when there are new members that aren't Christians transferring from another church.

That brings us to the kid theology moment in all this. By claiming, "Oh yes, we are actively involved in discipleship" through that class that never really discipled anyone, we avoid addressing the key aspect of discipleship --- making disciples of unbelievers.

The church still gags when it hears the word "evangelism," yet it is the first step in the process of making discples. To say anything other is kid theology, a rationalization for your own benefit.

Here is Jesus giving us the Great Commission in His own words:

"18 Jesus came and told his disciples, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age'," Matthew 28:18-20.

Notice the first part of the Commission: "Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations ..."

Yes, the remainder of the Commission does instruct us to disciple new believers, but that step comes after the first --- going into the world and making disciples of those who do not yet know Jesus Christ.

Do you know what that means? Yep, prepare yourself for a harsh gag reflex. Ready? IT MEANS EVANGELISM!

You can call it whatever you like, the truth is it's evangelism.

Something we aren't doing very much of at the local church level. In fact, if it wasn't for some mission agencies with a genuine heart for making disciples of peoples around the world, the failure of the church to evangelize the lost would be almost overwhelming. Even much of our church planting efforts has become the reassembling of Christians into newly grouped bodies in different venues with trendy names.

The Great Commission was never to be about the church turning inward and focusing only on teaching its members. It was to go into the world and make disciples. Then teach those new disciples all that Jesus taught us (disciple them to maturity) so they become disciples who go and make disciples, discipling those new disciples to become disciples who go make disciples, and so goes the process.

The first step of the Great Commission is evangelism, and we hide the great failure of our lack of evangelizing by claiming we are discipling members.


In that case, your church should soon have many disciples who are about to go into the world and make new disciples, right? In that case, the church can expect a great deal of growth by adding vast numbers of unbelievers to membership rolls soon, right?

"Discipleship" is an ongoing process, we are students and learners of Jesus for life. We spend this life growing to be more and more like our Lord. Making disciples is an evangelistic effort, which is why we see so few new disciples from among non-believers.

Please don't mistake an important point. I'm personally very excited about the growing interest among local churches to disciple their members. I'm encouraged that some great things will come from these new efforts. But until we take seriously the Commission Jesus gave us and recognize the first step of making disciples is to get into the world and preach the Gospel to the lost, we will never be honest about our motives.

We'll just be practicing kid theology.

Are you making disciples who make disciples? Or are you reveling internally in "fellowship," safe and secure from the lost world around you?


Sunday, November 11, 2012

What your pillow says about you ...

If you've ever been on a long flight, bus ride, or cross country trip in a car, you may have invested in an item similar to the one pictured below:

A neck pillow not only provides stability to the neck, but a soft place to rest your head. No matter if you're stretched out on a bed, or trying to sleep while traveling, you never really rest well until you can comfortably rest your head.

Imagine, then, how exhausting the earthly ministry of Jesus must have been for Him:

"19 Then one of the teachers of religious law said to him, 'Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.' 20 But Jesus replied, 'Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head'," Matthew 8:19-20.

To carry out His mission to save humankind, Jesus left home twice. First, He left the splendor of heaven and all that entailed; later, He left His earthly home to launch His ministry among us. When He traveled in His ministry, He didn't check in at the local Hilton, get a suite, and teach in the ballroom.

He didn't have a place to lay His head.

When Jesus pointed out this fact to a religious teacher who said he wanted to follow Him, the fellow had to choose between the comfort of his pillow, or following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. We don't know what the man chose, but the lack of a positive result being recorded may indicate he picked a place to rest his head.

It may sound a little crazy to us that someone might choose a pillow over Jesus, but we aren't much different. There's very little comfort we're willing to give up for the cause of Christ. We see following Christ as being recipients of blessings, not surrenderers of comforts. But that's a false picture of followership. Jesus described following Him like this:

"24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. 25 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it'," Matthew 16:24-25.

What are the creature comforts you cling to that keep you from fully following Christ? What are you willing to give up for Christ's sake? How uncomfortable are you willing to become in order to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Which is greater in your life: walking in the footsteps of Jesus, or the comfort of your pillow?


Saturday, November 10, 2012

I'm so impressed!

It's no secret the constant barrage of messages from life coaches, self-identified motivators, and even preachers urging us to discard from our lives people who don't feed the successes we pursue bothers me immensely.

The reason is the message isn't biblical. In fact, it's the opposite (with some exceptions) of what we often read in scripture.

We want people in our lives who celebrate us rather than challenge us. We want people who will watch us stop at a certain point in our growth and celebrate us for who we have become, instead of people who will exhort us to become more. We want people who are impressed with our story, rather than respond, "Okay, that's cool. Now, what's next?"

The Apostle Paul was one of those who exhorts us to "... even more." Check this out:

"Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more," 1 Thessalonians 4:1.

"9 But we don’t need to write to you about the importance of loving each other, for God himself has taught you to love one another. 10 Indeed, you already show your love for all the believers throughout Macedonia. Even so, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you to love them even more," 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10.

Paul acknowledges what the Thessalonians had already achieved in their walk with God and in fellowship with each other was good, but then he challenges them to even more. And what you and I have accomplished so far may be good as well, but we need to heed the same challenge from Paul and strive for even more.

How can you live in a way that pleases God even more? How can you love one another even more? Or have you already perfected your walk and your love?