Monday, December 31, 2012

Do you hear the music?

The original source of the article below is unknown. It has been broadly circulated because many originally thought it was a hoax, but it isn't. It tells a true story that challenges us to think ...

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and continued on without stopping.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against a wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a three year old boy. His mother herded him along, but the kid stopped to look at the violinist. Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only six people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars. Two days before his playing in the subway, Bell sold out at a theater in Boston where the cost of a seat averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

(You can find the Washington Post story about this experiment here .)


Sunday, December 30, 2012

Celebrating the good times of others ...

This might sound shocking, but not everything that occurs in 2013 will be all about you.

It's true!

Others will be blessed, others will have great moments of joy, others will have successes, others will achieve notable accomplishments, others will be happy.

That's a good thing!

Your life will be immensely richer if you learn to be blessed by others being blessed. We often do a reasonable job of applying the second half of Romans 12:15, but we're not as good at living out the first part of this passage:

"Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep," Romans 12:15.

Do you rejoice in the blessings of others, or are you more like Sister Hissyfit?

A pastor helped arrange for a gathering of the women’s ministry. It was to be a garden party on the church lawn, under the shade of a grand old oak tree. At the last moment, the morning of the party, Mrs. Preacher discovered she left Sister Hissyfit off the invitation list.

The pastor called the dear sister and begged forgiveness. "I’m so sorry we didn’t catch this sooner, Mrs. Hissyfit, won’t you please come to the garden party?" pleaded the pastor.

"Beggin’ won’t help now, Preacher," said the offended Mrs. H., "I’ve already prayed for rain!"

When others are enjoying life, do you share their joy? Or are you busy praying for rain? The answer to that question will greatly impact the quality of your life in the New Year.


Saturday, December 29, 2012

This man inspires me ...

This past year, I stumbled across the dramatic photo above. I don't know the man featured in the picture, but this single snapshot of him slaps me with inspiration.

I won't even try to guess what he's thinking or feeling as he is portrayed in this picture. You can see at a glance this man has real challenges in life, and it looks like he's facing at least some of them with courage, determination, and creativity.

This is a great picture to take with you throughout 2013. When you're faced with your own troubles, trials, and challenges in the new year, take a moment to look at this picture. Would you rather face your own difficulties, or exchange realities with him?

By the way, while you use his example for some inspiration, remember to pray for him. You don't have to know his name or details of his life to lift him up to our heavenly Father. Your prayers on his behalf could help lighten his load.


A grand new pursuit for 2013 ...

With 2013 just a few days away, many are scrambling to come up with some kind of goal for the New Year.

What should be the new "grand pursuit" for a fresh year?

Moving up the ladder at work?

Finishing that big project?

Or working on something personal, something that will deepen the character?

How about this: rediscovering the sacred and re-establishing reverence for God.

We live in a time where celebrity preachers teach about a "holy buddy," a "righteous friend," a "cool divinity," but not a God to be revered, or a personal hunger for and pursuit of holiness. That's just too biblical, it's not culturally trendy.

But it is what God commands of us.

"15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, 'You must be holy because I am holy',” 1 Peter 1:15-16.

God is not our "buddy." He is more than a friend or divine source of life. At the core of who God is is holiness. He is holy, and He commands us to be holy like Him.

You can't really start to understand God until you start to wrap your mind around the fact that God is utterly holy; and when you see Him as holy, the natural response is to revere Him. Not the cheap acknowledgements we routinely give Him today.

With our disdain for all things religious, we have cheapened that which is truly sacred and lost our reverence of a holy God. Finding that again would be a great pursuit for 2013.


Friday, December 28, 2012

If you want something better in 2013, you will need to do this ...

For some people, 2013 will not be a good experience unless they first unlearn some ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving so they can achieve something other than the same outcomes forged from flawed lessons learned in the past.

If you walk into 2013 with the same way of thinking and doing things that brought less than desired results to your life in 2012, you can't expect continuing to apply the same learning in a new year will bring different outcomes.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, we are students or learners of the Lord. Sometimes, we don't always learn a lesson correctly. Spiritual growth includes unlearning lessons we've adopted into our lives in defective ways, relearning some things we already learned but have let fall out of practice in our lives, and deepening our learning with fresh and greater insights about how to rightly follow in Jesus' footsteps.

What are some things you've learned in the past that you need to unlearn as you face a new year? What are some things you need to relearn and reapply to your life in 2013? What are somethings you need to discover or deepen to grow as a disciple?


Make January matter and you'll make 2013 matter ...

Staring a New Year in the face, you're likely thinking, dreaming, hoping, and asking God for His guidance.

It would be nice to have a little peace, a little rest, a little blessing, a little love, a few growth challenges ... there are a number things that contribute to a "good year," and it doesn't take much to slide into a troubled one.

So how do you prepare to take on a new year in an effort to make it a "good" one? Here's a great way to immediately begin shaping the new year into the kind of year you would like it to  be: use January as a month-long commitment to build and execute a template of all the positive attitudes, behaviors, and habits you want and need for building a great 2013.

We often do the opposite come January 1. We want a good year without having to work for it, so we saunter into a new year, coffee in hand, just waiting to be blessed. Doing so leaves us unready for whatever may come our way. So use January to prepare for making the rest of the year a successful, full, and productive experience. Push yourself spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally throughout January with maximum levels of discipline, focus, and effort. By pushing hard all the attitudes and behaviors you need and want for the year throughout the first month, you will be starting the year strong and will be building the positive habits you will need throughout the rest of the year.

If you don't prepare yourself early in the year for the rest of your year, don't be surprised if you're feeling overwhelmed and perhaps even a little defeated long before you ever see June.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Before 2013 gets here, think about quitting ...

The end of one year and the fresh start of another is the perfect time to think about quitting.


Isn't a new year the time when we make goals and set objectives for new ventures, new challenges, new disciplines?

Yes, which is why you need to think about quitting.

Many people start many things but don't finish them. They just keep adding to their lives new starts upon new starts, and before you know it, their lives are laden down with a whole lot of unproductive activity and extraneous stuff.

Before starting new endeavors in the new year, take time to look at what you have started this year (or years past!) and don't really intend to finish, and determine what you need to quit and clean out before loading on new commitments.

The likelihood of your being successful at or completing new starts in the new year will be directly impacted by the current level of commitments and clutter you already have. So take a little time to look at what you should continue with into the new year, and what you should quit so you can have an uncluttered start to 2013.


If you had to pick one ...

I didn't follow back my new Twitter follower. What we believe and teach were so far apart we wouldn't have anything to share, our tweets would be nothing more than opposites of each other.

I realized that when I read one sentence she used in describing what she promotes in her job as a "life coach," which was this sentence: "Fill your life with love and money."

Teaching people that message is teaching them to believe and pursue the opposite of what God teaches us in the Bible. His message?

"19 Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be," Matthew 6:19-21.

“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money," Matthew 6:24.

God IS love, and the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Trying to make life about love AND money is to attempt to have two masters, something Jesus tells us we cannot have.

As we roll into a New Year, which will you pursue: love (God), or money? You can't have two masters.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Let me tell you a secret ...

Just the visual from the picture above will instantly bring back childhood memories to many of my readers.

The photo depicts Maxwell Smart, aka Agent 86, trying to have a conversation with his boss whom he routinely referred to as Chief.

In the spy genre TV show "Get Smart," Smart was paranoid about the possibility the enemy organization, KAOS, may have bugged CONTROL's headquarters. Even though they sat in the Chief's office, they still couldn't comfortably trust who might be listening, so Smart insisted top secret conversations be conducted under the "cone of silence." The problem with that was the "cone of silence" never worked right and, after frustrating attempts to hear each other under the bubble, they finally would relent and have their conversation in the open.

Spies may have reason to be concerned about someone overhearing their conversations, their mission and their lives could be endangered. But if you're not a spy (most of my readers aren't), you should be trusted if you happen to overhear a conversation.


Can you be trusted with information about others? Or do you turn what you've heard into gossip? Do you endanger the character of others by broadcasting what you've heard about them or from them,  or is information shared with you (purposely or otherwise) secure? Scripture speaks directly to being a person who is reliable rather than a gossip:

"A troublemaker plants seeds of strife; gossip separates the best of friends," Proverbs 16:28.

"A gossip goes around telling secrets, but those who are trustworthy can keep a confidence," Proverbs 11:13.

"A gossip goes around telling secrets, so don’t hang around with chatterers," Proverbs 20:19.

Do people who know you need a "cone of silence" to talk around you? Or can you be relied upon to keep a confidence?


Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas!

"8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. 'Don’t be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.' 13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, 14 'Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased'," Luke 2:8-14.

To all of my readers, may God's richest blessings be yours this Christmas and throughout the New Year!


This is not the Holiday Inn ...

We are greatly blessed to live in a time where humanity has the revealed Word of God easily available to them.

Whether it's paperback or bound in fine leather, we have the story of God from prior to creation to the description of what it will be like after Christ returns.

With such insight, we often question why so many portrayed in the scriptures made such bad decisions. It's easy to see the right thing to do with the whole story in front of you, but would you have done much differently than some characters in the Bible did?

For example, if there was a knock on your door and there stood a couple of teenagers --- one being a pregnant girl --- who said they were in town for a while and didn't have any place to stay, would you open your home to them? Would you make room for them somewhere in your house? Or would you send them on their way to work out their problems somewhere else?

By not making room in your home for others, who knows what great blessings you're missing out on.

"Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!" Hebrews 13:2.

Who do you invite into your home? Who do you make room for? How do you show hospitality to strangers?


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Born with a purpose ...

The birth of Christ on that first Christmas Day was not God's plan B, it was God carrying out the plan crafted by the Trinity before the work of creation ever started. It was a profoundly intentional birth!

So was yours.

Your being born into this world is every bit as intentional by God as Christ's birth was. You're not an add-on or an extra. You're not simply one among billions. You weren't thoughtlessly included in creation. You're not just a number. God desired and designed a life for you before He ever made you.

Just as Jesus was born with a purpose --- that of seeking and saving the lost --- you, also, were born with a purpose. Yours is to worship, glorify and enjoy God, and to carry on Christ's mission on earth of seeking the lost so they may be saved through Him.

Yes, your birth was intentional. But is your living intentional?

The intent surrounding the birth of Christ became a reality. The Christ-child became the Savior of the world. Through His life, we have the means of a new birth so that we can live out God's original intentions for us.

"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.

Do you intentionally live for the glory of God? Do you intentionally live as His child? Do you intentionally live as an ambassador for Christ? Or do you have for your life intentions that differ from God's creative purpose for you?


Saturday, December 22, 2012

How many people does it take to make your Christmas?

Three boxes of piping hot pizza just delivered took up prominent space on the long table almost in the middle of the local Starbucks.

Next to the pizza were festively decorated cup cakes and a spinach dip. Finally, at the end of the table were several brightly wrapped gifts topped with bows of shimmering gold, green, and red.

The store manager was there. A couple of the shift supervisors were there. And a few of the baristas were there. But not everyone working at that Starbucks was invited to the staff Christmas party.

Behind the counter remained a shift supervisor and a barista. They were not invited to the Christmas party.

Someone had to take care of business while the others celebrated.

Have you ever thought about how many people are busy minding the store so you can enjoy the traditions and activities of the Christmas season?

Men are standing out in the cold all day and into the night selling Christmas trees. Across the country volunteers with red kettles shake annoying bells in hopes you'll share some holiday spirit in the form of cash donations to help those who don't have any cash this Christmas. An army of retail associates daily suffer assaults and unkind demands from harried shoppers. A plethora of loss prevention employees are watching cameras and pretending to shop to contain those who want to complete their shopping lists without paying. People in front of computer screens are working long hours processing your online purchases. Postal carriers are getting home late to their own families. A u-haul trailer is spotted being towed behind a UPS truck in a desperate attempt to get everything shipped. Bakeries are adding seasonal workers to churn out an insane amount of holidays treats. Soldiers are still fighting to maintain your ability to freely enjoy your religious observances. And at your own place of business, the administrative assistant smiles at how festive the room looks for the company party she planned and executed, all work for which the boss will take credit for.

As the clock winds down to Christmas Day, and you squeeze in that last dash to the mall for one more gift, remember there are a lot of people working behind the scenes so you can celebrate the way you want. Be grateful for them. Offer a prayer of blessing on them. Be kind to them. Smile at them. And don't forget to wish them a Merry Christmas.


You are not a tree ...

Hymns have quickly gone by the wayside in many churches, but perhaps at some time you stumbled across this old one with the words, "Just like a tree that's planted by the living waters, I shall not be moved."

The words to that old hymn sound a lot like these words from the prophet Jeremiah:

"They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought ..." Jeremiah 17:8a.

Jeremiah is describing what a person who trusts the Lord is like.  In the previous verse he writes, "But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence" (Jeremiah 17:7).

Those who trust the Lord to the point their hope and confidence is sourced by roots running deep into the fertile soil of God's Word, drawing sustenance from the Living Water that is Christ, are portrayed as sturdy and steady during difficult times of troubles and trials.

Like a tree planted by waters, they will not be moved.

One problem, though, is some Christians take an aspect of this description too literally. Like a planted tree, they won't be moved; they remain planted just where they are. They may draw from scripture, but they remain planted where they are in spite of it.

You cannot follow Christ with your feet planted!

"For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps," 1 Peter 2:21.

Those who try to be a follower of Christ with their feet planted miss the last sentence of the passage in Jeremiah:

"Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit," Jeremiah 17:8b.

The rich soil of scripture and the life-sustaining Living Water are given so that, like a tree, we are always producing fruit. If you were a tree, you could do that by being planted in good soil alongside water. But you are not a tree. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you cannot produce fruit by staying planted in place. As a disciple, you must go in order to grow; you have to actively live out the trust, hope, and confidence you have in Christ. Doing that will result in a continual production of fruit.

 Are you planted on the couch, comfortable with life? Or are you living out your trust in Christ, producing fruit as a disciple of Jesus?


Friday, December 21, 2012

All tied down ...

The circus had come to town and a local resident decided to attend the show. As the man was passing some elephants tethered outside the big tent, he suddenly stopped, confused by the fact these huge creatures were being held only by a small rope tied to their front leg. No chains, no cages. It was obvious the elephants could break away from their bonds but for some reason they didn't.

Being curious, the man saw a trainer nearby and asked why these animals just stood there and made no attempt to get away.

“Well,” the trainer explained, “when the elephants are very young and much smaller we use the same size rope to tie them and, at that age, it’s enough to hold them. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they cannot break away. They believe the rope can still hold them, so they never try to break free.”

The man was amazed. These animals could break free from their bonds any time they wanted to, but because they believed they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were.

Like the elephants, how many of us go through life hanging onto a belief that we cannot do something, simply because we failed at it once before? Through Christ, we can find freedom from a slave mentality and truly be free from what binds us.

"So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free," John 8:36.

Are you living freely in Christ, or as a slave to issues from your past that you have been unwillingly to throw off?


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Entertained with the ugly ...

The recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, brought out the philosopher in many of us. We were tempted to look for the motivation behind something so evil, and in the process we often placed our attention on the symptoms of the issue at hand, rather than the core problem.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't visit the problems some of those symptoms create. Take, for example, the very real issue of "unholy escapism."

At times we all try to escape the pressures life can bring each day, and we've gotten comfortable with seeking our escape in some unholy ways ...

... reveling in the adrenalin generated by games of violence ...

... watching movies where dozens of people are blown away by "bad guys" (and "good guys") and where winning is confirmed by the good guy having sex with the girl ...

... music with lyrics commonly centered on illicit relationships and easy sex ...

... television programs about the sordid life of our neighbors ...

... watching couples get divorced on television ...

... octagon battles where pummeling your opponent in almost any way possible harkens back to attitudes found in ancient coliseums ...

... this is how we entertain ourselves, this is how we "escape." Yet, when someone is honest enough to point to how such content is truly ugly, some Christians shout you down in the name of "relevance" and even of "grace." It was the church bemoaning rated R movies that made the world laugh at us, they argue.

Maybe we should be less concerned about who's laughing at what, and a little more concerned about what we find entertaining and what we escape into; perhaps finding such ugly ways to entertain our minds sometimes works its way out into the reality of our lives. Maybe it really isn't a wise thing to find violence entertaining, even if it's simulated. Maybe we would actually be better off keeping our minds a bit more where the Apostle Paul said we should rather than entertaining ourselves with something we would consider horrible tragedies if actually acted out.

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

Maybe we need to ask ourselves why we're bored with something beautiful and find entertainment with something violent.

Maybe it really would make a difference in both our lives and this world if we found our enjoyments, our "escapes" in things that are more noble, more beautiful, and more worthy of our thoughts and emotions.

Maybe it's time we learn to actually enjoy, long for, and be contented with that which is holy instead of simulated sin.


Whatever you say ...

Put yourself in Mary's shoes.

You're a teenage girl. You're engaged to be married to the man of your dreams. You're in love, and the thrill of being loved back consumes you with joy. You dream constantly of your future with Joseph. It won't be the lifestyle of the rich and famous, but it will be good.

Suddenly, an angel appears and delivers a message that shreds your dreams.

You're going to become pregnant supernaturally. That will not only ruin your reputation, but a lot of folks will want to stone you to death. Your parents will be deeply disappointed in you. Who knows what Joseph may want to do.

All the excitement and dreams and hopes you had a moment ago are gone. It seems God has a vastly different picture for your future. It's going to be your job to be the mother of the Messiah. The days and years ahead will be nothing like you've envisioned in your short life thus far.

How does this teenage girl respond to this life-altering news?

"Mary responded, 'I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.' And then the angel left her," Luke 1:38.

Not a word of push-back.

Not a moment of entertaining her own desires for a different, easier life.

Just one clarifying question, "Mary asked the angel, 'But how can this happen? I am a virgin'," Luke 1:34, and then her response.

It appears that it never occurred to Mary to be obstinate, argumentative, or to object to God's will for her. She listened to the angel, Gabriel, deliver a personal message from God, then she immediately accepted it.

"I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true," she stated.

Not, "Come back and talk to me about this after my wedding." Not, "I'm way too young to handle something like this." Not, "But this isn't how I envisioned my life!" Not, "What will people think about me being pregnant?"

Mary saw herself as being the Lord's servant, and He had a plan that included using her life to fulfill His purpose and bring Him glory.

In that case, " ... May everything you have said about me come true."

More than marrying the man of her dreams, more than making her parents proud, more than indulging her own wants for a happy life, Mary wanted to to serve the Lord. Is it any wonder, then, that Gabriel would say, "Don’t be afraid, Mary,” the angel told her, “for you have found favor with God!" (Luke 1:30).

How do you respond to God's will for your life? Do you make yourself available to being the Lord's servant like Mary did? Or do you try to edit God's will for you?


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

If hell could speak ...

Too few Christians today know anything of the courage and boldness the likes of the Apostle Paul ...

"For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile," Romans 1:16.

We've become so afraid of offending someone with the Gospel, we either don't share it, or we change it to the point it's unrecognizable. Being "culturally relevant" is the flawed reasoning given for our failure to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.

It's a lousy excuse.

If someone could speak to us from the perspective of suffering the hellish circumstance of life without God, what would they say?

Someone has done just that.

In Luke 16, we read the story of a rich man and a poor man ...

"19 Jesus said, 'There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. 20 At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores. 22 Finally, the poor man died and was carried by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side'," Luke 16:19-23.

The first thing the rich man does is plead for the formerly poor man, Lazarus, to come to him and place just a drop of water on his tongue. After being refused the slightest easing of his torment, the rich man, in his agony, makes one more plea ...

27 “Then the rich man said, ‘Please, Father Abraham, at least send him to my father’s home. 28 For I have five brothers, and I want him to warn them so they don’t end up in this place of torment'," Luke 16:27-28.

This anguished soul begs that others be warned so they may escape the eternal agony he was suffering. If hell could speak, it would plead for us to preach the Gospel!

Warn them!

That's exactly what Paul did with great courage and boldness. The apostle lays out for us his mission statement in Colossians 1:28-29:

"28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me."

If the example of the great ministry of Paul isn't enough to motivate us to share the Gospel, then perhaps we should listen to that voice that speaks from hellish experience.

Warn them!


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What are these strings for?

That which you may call love but to which you attach strings isn't really love.

Nothing illustrates that reality like the story of the blind girl who hated herself just because she was blind. She hated everyone, except her loving boyfriend. He was always there for her. She said that if she could only see the world, she would marry her boyfriend.

One day, someone donated a pair of eyes to her and then she could see everything, including her boyfriend. Her boyfriend asked her, “Now that you can see the world, will you marry me?” The girl was shocked when she saw that her boyfriend was blind too, and refused to marry him. Her boyfriend walked away heartbroken, and later wrote a note to her saying: “Just take care of my eyes dear.”

Love is not conditional.

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


Has anyone ever called you this?

If a friend was thanking you for your kindness and friendship, how would they describe you?

I was reading the comments of one person to another a few days ago. One lady was thanking another for her encouragement and then remarked about her Christian faith, "You are a worshiper ..."

That sentence stopped me.

"You are a worshiper ..."

What a beautiful way to be viewed and thought of!

When others respond to your influence and impact in their lives, when others consider your character and stature, do they see a worshiper of God? Not simply someone who acknowledges there is a God; not only someone who professes a faith in God, but someone who worships God!

Is the love, care, and friendship you express to others the kind of rich connection that only comes from a vivid, animated worship of God? It certainly is the way the Apostle Paul admonishes us to live ...

"16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father," Colossians 3:16-17.

That's what life looks like among those who worship without ceasing.

Is that you?


Monday, December 17, 2012

The most important book of 2012 ...

Of all the books I've reviewed during 2012, there's one title that stands out above the rest, the book I considered being the most important new title because of its valuable (even critical) content.

I'm referring to "I Am A Follower" by pastor, theologian, and author Leonard Sweet. You can find my original review of the book here .

Why is this book so important? Because Sweet not only does a brilliant job at challenging the widespread addiction to leadership within the church, he goes on to point us in a better direction by refreshing and deepening our understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

If you're working on your New Year resolutions, let me encourage you to start 2013 being deep into reading this book. It will challenge your thinking about what it means to be both a leader in the church, and a follower of Christ. Having that kind of challenge is a great way to start a new year!


When prayer isn't enough ...

Prayer isn't enough when ...

... you have hands and won't use them to serve others ...

... you have legs and will not  use them to go in the name of Christ ...

... you have a voice and won't speak truth with it ...

... you have a pantry and cabinets full of food and others having nothing to eat ...

... you have a roof over your head (with room to spare) and others have nowhere to lay their heads ...

... you have "disposable income" that you dispose of rather than steward in Christ's name ...

... that's when prayer is an empty act of tossing all the needs of others back to God and telling Him to deal with it.

God tosses it back and reminds us the reason He blesses us isn't for our own indulgence. It's to be the body of Christ here on earth. That includes being His body with His mind and His heart toward others; a fully equipped body complete with hands and legs and everything it takes to not only take care of ourselves, but to actively, fervently, passionately love and serve others through Christ.

Prayer is vital, but prayer alone is blatantly un-Christlike. Jesus didn't simply pray, He lived a life of aggressively serving the real and direct needs of others, making His life a living resource and, ultimately, a sacrifice for us.

Today, many Christians use prayer as a cop out for a full, authentic followership of Christ. Once you get off your knees, get up to do all that you're capable of doing in Christ's name.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Breaking the silence ...

As soon as the words left my friend's mouth, the handful of us sitting there listening to him all smiled. That's because we knew this was, once again, our friend just talking.

Our mutual friend rattled on excitedly about a new idea, some new bold venture he wanted to pursue. Over the many years we knew each other, he had voiced several bold ideas his vivid imagination had conjured up. Few ever became a reality.

Our friend liked to talk.

So on this day, we just smiled as he talked. We had heard him talk a lot, now we were waiting for him to act.

The 400 years of silence between what is recorded in the Old Testament, and the birth of Jesus Christ on that first Christmas day, was God concluding what He had to say.

Then God broke the silence with dramatic action. He gave us His Son. He did what He dreamed of and spoke about.

God is not just a talker, He accomplishes all that He states. His words are not empty, but declarative. Before He created this world or anything in it, He dreamed of this moment of giving His Son as a gift to the world. It wasn't empty talk.

The birth of Christ was God's bold new venture with humankind ...

"And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ ..." (2 Cor. 5:18a) "For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself ..." (2 Cor 5:19a) "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ" (2 Cor. 5:21).

A great lesson of Christmas is the need for us to listen closely to what God says, for you can count on Him doing whatever He states.

Are you listening closely to God? Do you trust that He will bring to pass what He has promised?


Saturday, December 15, 2012

You've made a mess of things. Now what?

Have you ever purchased a pencil that didn't have an eraser attached to it?

Not many people use pencils today. Once you start moving up class levels in school, teachers allow you to use ink pens. Once you reach that level, it feels a little childish to continue using pencils. Although you may be maturing as a student, one thing doesn't change: you'll still make mistakes, even if you're allowed to write in ink.

Attaching an eraser to a pencil isn't the act of expecting failure; it's an understanding that no one who may possibly use that pencil is perfect. Errors will be made by any user. The eraser is provided to remove the error and offer a fresh start.

It's one thing to make an error on a math equation, or misspell a word on an English assignment, but what about when we botch something in our lives? What about when we make a bad decision from a bad attitude that leads to some bad consequences? What about when we should be pursuing holiness and instead yield to sin?

That was the problem King David faced. He had messed things up --- badly. He had given in to lust and committed adultery with Bathsheba, who became pregnant from the affair. David tried to hide his sin by having Bathsheba's husband, Uriah, killed and then marrying the woman even though he was already married. The more David tried to "write over" his errors, the messier his life became.

It was as if his sins were etched in bright red ink. He needed an eraser!

King David couldn't undo the sins he had committed, but God had a means of reconciling David from his quagmire.

"1 Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight!Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long.Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, 'I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.' And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone," Psalm 32:1-5.

In our own way, all of us can relate to David's situation. We've all made a mess of our lives by succumbing to sin. What can we do?

"8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness," 1 John 1:8-9.

Are you still living in the mess you've made of life? Or have you confessed your sin to God so that you can know His forgiveness and be cleansed from all your transgressions?


Friday, December 14, 2012

It's a desperately wicked world out there. Here's what we can do about it ...

Being both a minister and a clinical counselor often leads to some interesting conversations. Among them are reactions to events such as today's tragic shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. A common response to such a horrific flurry of terror is, "The man who did that must be sick!"

That comment is often made to appeal to my counseling hat.

In this case, wrong hat.

The people who carry out such destruction in this world often are not mentally ill. The problem isn't that they're sick, the problem is sin.

Sin has always wreaked havoc and brought death, and our sin often spreads to the destruction of others. Many people contain that to a "softer" destruction ... gossiping about others, judging others, manipulating others, speaking harshly to others, harboring resentments toward others, and so on --- and some with lesser moral restraint pick up weapons and bludgeon others.

Social media is already teeming with the paradoxical calls for prayer and gun control, for the peace of Christ and for his quick return, and with exhortations to hug your children and be close to them today. One pastor posted this on Facebook:

"Saddened by the tragedy in CT today. Praying for peace and healing for all affected. I know I'll be hugging my kids a little longer today. Words cannot express how I'm really feeling but I know that we all need more of Jesus in this broken world."

This broken world needs more than just a little more of Jesus; let's expand that thought to something that can provide the needed difference. If you're really tired of such dramatically destructive sin ravaging this world, do something about it by striving to introduce every non-Christian you know to Jesus Christ. Humankind's capacity for any level of moral restraint routinely fails. To restore the world to God's original design, people must be transformed, and that kind of change can come only through Jesus Christ.

"The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?" Jeremiah 17:9.

Praying for, caring for, and consoling the hurting is the right compassionate thing to do initially during troubled times. But it is not enough. To bring deep change into this world, we must bring Christ to those who don't know Him.

You can contribute to bringing real help and wholeness to individuals, marriages, whole families and communities by committing yourself to the reconciling of people to peace with God ...

"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!' 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ," 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.

When people are right with God, they live right. When people are at peace with God, they practice that peace. When people are free from sin, they strive for righteousness and true holiness. Imagine how different this world could be if we worked together to help everyone we can to know this peace with God.

Let's start today.


Knowing your place ...

Are you willing to voluntarily take second place in the lives of those you love the most?

Joseph was that kind of guy.

While he was still engaged to Mary, he discovered she was pregnant ...

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancĂ©, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly," Matthew 1:18-19.

Like many men who learn their fiance is pregnant by someone else, Joseph was going to break off the engagement. But before he took action, he listened to the Lord ...

"20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. 'Joseph, son of David,' the angel said, 'do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins'," Matthew 1:21-22.

God revealed to Joseph that He had a great purpose for Mary, and He encouraged Joseph to cooperate with His plan for how He would work through her life to the greater good of all humankind. Joseph responded by taking second place in Mary's life so that God --- and His will for Mary --- could take first place.

Just as God had designed His plan to flow through this teenage couple, He continues to work His plan through our lives ...

"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.

God still intends to take first place in our lives and, from that position, to seek and save the lost --- "God is making His appeal through us." For that plan to work best, we need to step back to second place in the lives of those we know and love so they can give God the full prominence He deserves in their lives. Like Joseph, we need to cooperate with His plan for others instead of trying to infringe on the place and position He alone should hold in the lives of our loved ones.

Do you know your place in the lives of others? Or do you try to elbow in on the place only God should hold in the hearts and minds of others? Do you cooperate with or confound God's will for those you're closest to?


Thursday, December 13, 2012

What to do when you don't know what to do ...

What do you do when you don't know what to do?

We all have those moments in life when we've been seeking the Lord's leading; our communion with Him is good, and He is steadily clarifying things albeit slowly, BUT ...

... but He's not done speaking and clarifying and pointing yet.

So what do you do in that time when you're not sure what to do?

Lift up Jesus.

Just lift Him up. In your conversations, in your relationships, in your behaviors, in your own mind and heart; in all that your are and do, just lift up Jesus Christ before everyone.

Being busy lifting up Christ is a way to keep yourself productive when you're waiting for that final word of direction from the Lord. You can be sure that lifting Him up will never take you off track from where or what He will eventually point you to. That's because anything He may want you to take on, or any place He may want you to be, He will want you to lift up Christ!

Lifting up Christ is always at our core, it's the context of the disciple's life. Lifting up Christ to others is a central detail of our journey on the Way. So while you may be waiting on the Lord to provide those fine details about how He may be directing you to change your circumstances, you can be sure His call on your life will remain the same ... lift up Jesus!

"You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake," 2 Corinthians 4:5.

"There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved," Acts 4:12.


What are your intentions?

Good intentions are nice things to have, but even better when we carry them out.

Most of us would rather be judged for our good intentions than our actual behavior. We tend to have a lot of good intentions, but our behavior often goes awry in the execution of what we originally intended.

We aren't all that good at doing all those good things we intended to do.

God is a perfect model for those of us who want to be intentional people. Before God created anything, He already had clearly developed intentions. The Bible is the story of God executing His original intentions. Throughout human history, God steadily stayed the course to turn His intentions into reality ...

"4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure," Ephesians 1:4-5.

"9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, 10 but the angel reassured them. 'Don’t be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!'" Luke 2:9-11.

"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.

"19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them ..." 2 Corinthians 5:19a.

God completed what He intended! Now He wants to know what you intend to do with what He has accomplished. What are your intentions?


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rockin' out together ...

Some churches have turned serving one another into service projects. They show up, do their good deed, then disappear, often not to be seen again.

Serving others isn't just about the deed that is done; it often has more to do with the fact you cared to not just show up, but enough to keep coming back.

There was once an elderly, despondent woman in a nursing home. She wouldn't speak to anyone or request anything. She merely existed, rocking in her creaky old rocking chair.

The old woman didn't have many visitors. But every couple mornings, a concerned and wise young nurse would go into her room. She didn't try to speak or ask questions of the old lady. She simply pulled up another rocking chair beside the old woman and rocked with her.

Weeks or months later, the old woman finally spoke.

"Thank you," she said. "Thank you for rocking with me."

Your presence offered from a loving and caring heart can be one of the greatest ways you can serve others. But you have to purposely walk into their lives ... and keep coming back.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The secret to a happy life ...

Sometimes you never know what you will wake up to, each day has it's own experiences to live.

We often dream of life filled with days that are stress-free, problem-free, and just a joy to engage in. Other days start hard and just get harder with each passing hour. Some days bring moments of ecstasy, others deep tragedy. Life is filled with a variety of challenges, opportunities, troubles and trials. And God has designed a time for all of them ...

"For everything there is a season,
    a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace."
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Some people don't do well with the ups and downs of life, they never really develop a flow to living. King Solomon, blessed by God with an abundance of wisdom and resources, looked upon life's offerings and gave us this encouragement for our daily living:

"12 So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. 13 And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God," Ecclesiastes 3:12-13.

This king, who had experienced all the wealth, power, and pleasures life had to offer, proffered very practical advice: be happy! Find something in your day to be happy about. Instead of getting caught up in the drama and minutiae of living, learn to enjoy your life! Find a little satisfaction in things like a good meal and rewards earned from hard work. These simple things are little gifts from God as we make our way through this world day by day.

This king, blessed by everything anyone could ask for, understood that simple daily blessings from God make for a happy heart and a rich life. So go ahead and be happy for what God has given you today. It's your gift from Him.


Who's in charge here?

King Herod felt threatened by a baby.

"Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 'Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.'King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem," Matthew 2:1-3.

The idea of someone removing and replacing him on his throne was something Herod would not entertain. Instead, he took drastic steps to try to eliminate the threat.

"Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance," Matthew 2:16.

The birth of Christ was God's gift of a King for us, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He came to rule in our lives. Have you given up the throne in your life to allow Christ to reign as your King? Or are you still clinging to power over yourself? How far will you go to eliminate the threat of Jesus being your King? Or have your surrendered any claim to the lordship of your life?


Monday, December 10, 2012

On the other side ...

Ask a Christian what lies beyond death and they likely will tell you about their picture of heaven. Some might describe how scripture portrays life beyond this one. The Bible tells us several things about both heaven and eternal life, but it doesn't supply nearly the detail we'd like to have.

What is life really like when a follower of Christ dies?

A sick man turned to his doctor as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, "Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side."

Very quietly, the doctor said, "I don't know."

"You don't know? You, a Christian man, do not know what is on the other side?"

The doctor was holding the handle of the door. On the other side came the sounds of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room with his tail wagging and an eager show of gladness.

Turning to the patient, the doctor said, "Did you notice my dog? He's never been in this room before. He didn't know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here, and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing: I know my Master is there and that is enough!"

We may not have every detail we'd like about passing from this life to the next, but we do know one thing: our Master is there.

That is enough!

“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am," John 14:1-3.


Sunday, December 9, 2012

Knock, knock ...

If you want quality craftsmanship, look up the guys who made doors in ancient Italy and you'll find some fellows who knew how to make something that would last for centuries.

I took the photo above while walking through ancient ruins in Rome, and the photo to the right is the doorway of a very old Roman church. During my visit to both Rome and Venice, I saw several centuries-old buildings that had fallen into ruin, except the doors on many of these buildings remained in tact and were still intimidating barriers to those who might intend mischief.

While new materials had to be introduced to restore some of these sites, some of the original doors were left standing.

These stubborn old doors remind me of the church, which has had a long-held belief that the primary entry for non-Christians to gain access to the Gospel was the Sunday morning church service. It's an old door that still stands for many local churches.

The problem is, that isn't the door God intended to be the primary portal to the Gospel. So what is the door?

You. The Christian. You're a key door God has crafted as an opening to His message of reconciliation.

"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.

The great failure of the church today is it's chosen strategy of waiting on non-Christians to walk through the door of the local church building in search of the Gospel.

That wasn't God's strategy.

Instead, Jesus told us to go into the world and make disciples. God has given to us the "message of reconciliation" along with an appointment to be ambassadors for Christ --- official representatives of the King sent out to deliver his terms for peace.

God's strategy is brilliant: wherever there is a follower of Christ, there is a portal to the Gospel for the unbelievers in their lives. In that case, it is vital that we beckon those around us to come in! It is vital that we be inviting open doors to a lost world.

As ambassadors for Christ,  we need to put out the "welcome mat" in front of our lives and be that doorway to the Gospel. Otherwise, if we continue to wait for people to walk through the doors of church buildings, many will perish without being reconciled to God.


How to make stone soup ...

You might be familiar with Aesop's fables, but you may not have heard this story credited to the fifth century story teller.

Long ago three soldiers, hungry and weary of battle, came upon a small village. The villagers, suffering a meager harvest and the many years of war, quickly hid what little they had to eat and met the three at the village square, wringing their hands and bemoaning the lack of anything to eat.

The soldiers spoke quietly among themselves and the first soldier then turned to the village elders. "Your tired fields have left you nothing to share, so we will share what little we have: the secret of how to make soup from stones."

Naturally the villagers were intrigued and soon a fire was put to the town's greatest kettle as the soldiers dropped in three smooth stones. "Now this will be a fine soup," said the second soldier, "But a pinch of salt and some parsley would make it wonderful!" Up jumped a villager, crying, "What luck! I've just remembered where some has been left!" and off she ran, returning with an apronful of parsley and a turnip. As the kettle boiled on, the memory of the village improved; soon barley, carrots, beef and cream had found their way into the great pot, and a cask of wine was rolled into the square as all sat down to feast.

They ate and danced and sang well into the night, refreshed by the feast and their new-found friends. In the morning the three soldiers awoke to find the entire village standing before them. At their feet lay a satchel of the village's best breads and cheese. "You have given us the greatest of gifts: the secret of how to make soup from stones," said an elder, "and we shall never forget." The third soldier turned to the crowd, and said, "There is no secret, but this is certain: it is only by sharing that we may make a feast." And off the soldiers wandered down the road.

Life is richer when we share our blessings with others, something the early church understood and practiced:

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved," Acts 2:42-47.

This example of shared blessing isn't something just for the early church, or the thing of fables. It's something the Bible encourages from each of us:

"And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God," Hebrews 13:16.

"Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others," 1 Timothy 6:18.

"John replied, 'If you have two shirts, give one to the poor. If you have food, share it with those who are hungry'," Luke 3:11.

"Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back," Luke 6:38.

Isn't it time to make some stone soup?