Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sometimes, you're the problem ...

Sometimes life happens to you.

That's when circumstances beyond your control become difficult realities you have to deal with. The story of Job is a classic case from the Bible of life happening to you.

Yet many of the challenges we face in life come from our own making. When that happens, we can confound our situation this way:

"People ruin their lives by their own foolishness
    and then are angry at the Lord."
Proverbs 19:3
We make matters worse by fueling our foolishness with pride, being unwilling to humble ourselves in our obvious guilt, but instead look for a scapegoat. When all else fails, when there's no one else to blame but ourselves, we get mad at God.
You'll never get past your blunders, failures, and foolishness until you come to the place where you confess you're the source of the problem. It's you. Not your spouse, not your children, not your family, not your friends, not your boss, and not God. It wasn't the devil that made you do it. It's your foolishness that has caused the calamity in your life.
James explains our capacity to ruin our own lives this way: "14 Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15 These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death," James 1:14-15.

When you finally come to that place when you will confess your sin, you're finally in a place where the Lord you were angry at can redeem your brokenness and remake you into something whole, holy, and beautiful.

When life isn't happening to you, but instead is being wrecked by you, who do you blame? Are you angry at God for your own choices, or are you ready to confess your own sin so that God can free you of it?
"5 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.
Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
    that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
For you are my hiding place;
    you protect me from trouble.
    You surround me with songs of victory.
Psalm 32:5-7 

Monday, July 30, 2012

A great motivator for ministry ...

"Good grief, Charlie Brown!" was the famous refrain of the feisty "Lucy" in the Charles Schultz enduring cartoon series.

While Lucy used the phrase as an exclamation, she may have unearthed a nugget of truth for us: some grief can be good. Take a look at this gem from Ecclesiastes 1:18 ...

"For with much wisdom comes much sorrow;
    the more knowledge, the more grief."

 And therein lies one answer as to why many purposely do not seek wisdom, why many people don't want to be bothered with the truth. 

They do not want the grief.

The world tells us the greater knowledge we have, the more we will celebrate humanity. Scripture tells us the wiser we become, the more real knowledge we have, the more we grieve at what we see. Humankind, left to itself, doesn't display and foster the beauty God has implanted within it. Instead, it erodes, degrades, and destroys it.

It is a grievous thing.

Grief over that which is broken and lost stirs the deepest of motivations for us to strive for healing and redemption. We're not likely to pour our hearts and lives into making people or places more beautiful until we first understand, see, and then become grieved.

What is your understanding of this world, and the people in it? Do you grieve for the broken and lost, or do you ignore the truth? How does grief spurred by wisdom motivate you to minister to others?


Sunday, July 29, 2012

The "God Experience"

As you watch the broadcast of the 2012 Olympics, keep in mind what you're listening to could be the Milli Vanilli of sound.

You can't "lip sync" sound, but you can record it and play it to match live events. Much of that --- along with extraordinary sound effects and placement of microphones --- are all an elaborate plan to bring you as much of the "sounds" of the games as possible.

Have you ever wondered how, when watching the games on television, you could hear the archer's arrow whisk through the air? Or clearly hear the sounds of rowing as the paddles glide through the water? According to Dennis Baxter, chief Sound Engineer for the 2012 Olympics, capturing or enhancing the sounds of the Olympic games has been done for about two decades now, all with the intent of creating a fuller experience of the events for folks watching the competitions on their televisions at home (read and hear more about Baxter's work at the Olympics here http://n.pr/NbhjV8 ).

Baxter says people want experiences, so some sounds are pre-recorded and matched to live events, others are amplified, and still others are added effects to round out what people expect to hear when they see an event.

People want experiences.

That desire is contributing to a significant slide in ticket sales for the National Football League (NFL). With bigger television screens, including 3D, and broadcasts that include instant replays, close-ups, analysis, social media connections, and other interactivity, why pay all the money and go through all the hassle of going to a stadium? Instead, you can invite your friends over to watch the game on your mega screen in a comfortable, air-conditioned or heated (whatever is needed) environment without having to drive anywhere. It's a more comfortable, fuller (and cheaper) experience.

To counter the loss in ticket sales, the NFL is working on enhancing technological and social media opportunities at the stadiums in a plan it hopes to roll out within a couple years to provide a more enticing "experience" at the football games, hoping to lure people off their couches and back into the stadiums.

People want experiences. Or, perhaps more to the point, they want the stimulation that comes from experiences. They want sights, sounds, and connectivity that provides an experience that leaves them feeling stimulated.

Even at church.

Many of today's churches are good at creating an "experience." You can feel the floor vibrate from the sounds of the worship band, visuals play on massive screens, fog rises from the stage, and dramatic stories are told. All done to help you "experience God."

There's only one problem with that: God is not an "experience." He is a Person. Yet, we're constantly encouraged to "experience God," as if He were a hi-tech simulation at an amusement park.

But He isn't.

You can talk with God, walk with God, enjoy God; you can serve Him, be blessed by Him, and get to know Him. Because He is a Person, not an experience.

Could it be that so many miss out on getting to know God personally because we keep directing them to an "experience"? Could it be that so many look for an "experience" with God because the church keeps trying to create one?

When it comes to God, are you looking for an experience or a relationship?


Monday, July 23, 2012

Jesus wants you to be an entrepreneur?

You have only 30 minutes for lunch. You pop the frozen dinner you brought to work into the microwave in the breakroom ... and become impatient as the two minutes and 30 seconds tick away before your meal is done.

People hate to wait. Whether it's for dinner to be done, a red light to turn green, to get an answer from the boss, or guidance from God, people hate to wait.

Except for the offering plate to be passed.

The one thing we seem to give no consideration to unless we're directly asked is our financial gifts to God.

Perhaps that's because we're given very little instruction about the stewardship of our financial blessings. We hear the arguments for and against tithing, we're encouraged to give cheerfully, and even liberally. But it's not often we're taught that stewardship is not only an active and ongoing part of the Christian life, but a pro-active one as well.

We need to be teaching disciples to be spiritual entrepreneurs and philanthropists, because that's what Jesus taught. Read closely this lesson from Jesus:

14 “Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. 15 To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. 16 The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. 17 So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. 18 But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. 20 The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’ 21 His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 22 The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’ 23 His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ 24 Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. 25 So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’ 26 His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? 27 Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. 28 ‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. 29 For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. 30 And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth'," Matthew 25:14-30.

 Jesus paints a simple picture here: everything we have belongs to God and is entrusted to us as a stewardship. We need to pro-actively invest His blessings upon our lives --- including financial blessings --- in the building of the kingdom of God. God has not blessed us so we can bury our blessings, or lavish them only upon ourselves and a select few (such as our family), but to bring about a "return" for Him upon His return.

Instead of waiting for the offering plate to be passed before begrudgingly parting with a little cash, we should be seeking opportunities to serve others with our gifts and investing in those things that accomplish the purpose and will of God. We can support our church and mission works; we can feed the hungry and house the homeless; we can invest in those who have gifts we don't that bring people to Christ, that disciple people, that help the hurting.

God doesn't hand us a bag of cash and say,"Enjoy life!" He blesses us with what resources we have and expects us to expend those blessings as a stewardship in such a way that, when Christ returns, He will say to you and me, "Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!"

There are both simple and great things that can be done for the cause of Christ that are simply waiting on our pocketbooks, our stewardship.

Are you living as a spiritual entrepreneur and philanthropist? Or are you waiting for the offering plate to be passed?


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ministry by budget ...

Have you heard the joke about the two astronauts talking with each other, with one of them remarking how it was a little unnerving to think his ride into space was built by the company submitting the lowest bid?

There's a difference between NASA quality "cheap" and what is commonly cheap. NASA has specific demands that must be met for its equipment, then the company that can achieve those standards for the lowest cost gets the contract. It might be the lowest bid wins, but the standard of quality remains.

All too often, that isn't how we do ministry.

Some time ago I met with an elder of a church who had gone through a bitter split, losing more than a third of their members and seeing a big drop in their financial giving. They had various visiting leaders preach for them, but it was clear they needed to resolve their need for a senior minister. With the issues and healing that needed to be addressed to move this church forward to spiritual health and mission, I recommended the leadership team not settle for a lesser qualified individual. They would need a godly man with spiritual maturity to help them navigate out of their issues and into their future.

With less than ten seconds of consideration, the elder responded, "We can't afford that."

In looking at the leadership needs of the congregation, the elders weren't looking at the quality of leader needed, but instead were looking at the budget.

When we do ministry by budget, we abandon our faith in God to provide the resources needed to accomplish what He has called us to do.

I encouraged this elder to take his eyes off the budget and, instead, clearly identify the kind of leadership needed to guide the congregation through their existing problems and into spiritual growth and mission vitality. Then, once they had clearly identified what was needed, they could share that need --- along with its costs --- with the congregation. By trusting God to provide for what was needed, and challenging themselves to do their part to meet the need, they would be able to do more than they were currently aiming for.

But those elders decided to keep their eyes on the budget, lead accordingly, and settled for calling a minister who didn't have any senior minister experience. Things are crawling along for them. Because it is Christ's church, the Lord is working there. But things are sluggish because ministry by budget continues.

Obviously, each local church has a budget from which to work. But let me suggest that budgets are often sources of constraint, rather than a reflection of God's leading. Many churches design their vision for the mission of their local congregation by sitting down with a budget and asking what is it they can afford.

To seek God's will and act in faith, that question needs to be turned around. Every local church needs to first ask how is it that God wants to reach the lost and build His kingdom through them, then design strategy and budgets to accomplish that. At first, it may look too big for them ... it should! God usually does not call us to do what is comfortably within our current capacity. Instead, He challenges us to do things that stretch us and requires the ongoing exercising of our faith. When we act in faith, He equips, supplies, and blesses.

Before I heeded God's call to vocational ministry, I was part of a medium-sized church that did ministry by faith. The leadership and congregation wanted to be in the middle of God's will, which meant they had a great passion for proclaiming Christ to the lost. This church, consisting largely of middle-class folks, exercised their faith in following God's leading for them. Today, that church is one of the largest and fastest growing in the nation. Rising to the vision God gave them meant a lot of sacrifice, including some members selling their large homes for smaller ones and giving the profit to finance the ministry. But the blessings from God has been more than they ever dreamed of.

Doing ministry by budget is more a means of budgeting faith rather than an expression of faith in God to enable, equip, and supply us to do what He is leading us toward.

How are you doing ministry: by faith, or by budget?

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


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Is that a milk moustache?

Good nutrition is a critical factor to physical fitness and good health. Key to good nutrition is the "nutrient density" of the foods we eat.

Some foods, such as carbohydrates, are energy-dense foods while other foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are nutrient-dense.

If what you're eating doesn't adequately provide the nutritional needs of your body, sooner or later your body will suffer from the neglect.

In like manner, how we feed ourselves spiritually impacts us dramatically. Many people feed off of sources and resources that are lacking in "spiritual density." The result is, they can only handle milk instead of something more spiritually dense ...

"Dear brothers and sisters, when I was with you I couldn’t talk to you as I would to spiritual people. I had to talk as though you belonged to this world or as though you were infants in the Christian life. I had to feed you with milk, not with solid food, because you weren’t ready for anything stronger. And you still aren’t ready ..." 1 Corinthians 3:1-2.

How is your spiritual diet? Is it adequate to build a mature Christian, or is it stunting your spiritual growth?


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Grace and your personal space ...

I love the little New Testament book called Philemon. It's a powerful story written by the Apostle Paul. I would have loved to have been there when he wrote it.

Maybe I still can be ...

Let's take a trip back in time, and visit Paul as he pens this letter to Philemon. Brandon Bradley, Senior Pastor of Hillcrest Christian Church in McKinney, Texas, takes us back in time in the video below ...

Thanks to Brandon for sharing the powerful message we find in Philemon.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Can you be your own enabler?

If you think you're an enabler to someone, you should check out God! Without a doubt, God is the greatest enabler ever!

But in a vastly different way than we are.

We tend to enable people to stay in their addictions, brokenness, and sins. God enables us to overcome all those things.

Are you ruled by fear? God enables you to be courageous.

Are you wracked with worry? God enables you to have peace, faith, and confidence.

Just take a look at this ...

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline," 2 Timothy 1:7.

God enables us to have all the power we need to live fully, freely, and victoriously. God enables us to love others and to be lovable. But notice, He also enables us to have direct outcomes on our own lives by applying self-discipline.

By enabling us to be able to exercise self-discipline, God helps us to stop negatively enabling ourselves.

Are you crippling your health with bad nutrition habits and laziness? Apply a little self-discipline and you can avoid those negative outcomes.

Are you hurting relationships with selfishness, judgements, or apathy? Apply a little self-discipline and you can avoid those negative outcomes.

When you enable yourself by applying the capacity for self-discipline God has equipped you with, you maximize and magnify the the other attributes God has enabled within you.

How are you enabling yourself: to your detriment, or by exercising self-discipline?


Why follow-up can lead to failure ...

You may be setting yourself up to fail when you intend to achieve something with good follow-up.


Because to "follow-up" means you start something and then let it go for a while, only to return later to see what your start has turned into. Often it has turned into something you didn't want or expect because you weren't around to guide your start to a proper completion.

That's why, when you want a particular outcome, it's important to follow-through rather than follow-up. The difference in those two terms are more than words.

To follow-through is to start a motion or action and continue with it until it is complete. Ask any athlete just how vital good follow-through is to their success. The same for a good business person or leader. Once you start an action, you need to stay properly connected with it --- follow-through --- until the desired result is achieved.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

One-stop shopping ...

It almost seems as if everything you could possibly need you can get at the local gas station.

Today's modern fuel stops come paired with a convenience mart to meet your every need.

At the corner gas station, you can buy a basic supply of groceries. Most toiletries are available. Have some addictions you want to feed? You can pick up cigarettes or coffee or chocolate, and don't forget your lottery ticket. Fresh donuts are delivered every morning. Want a print newspaper? You can get that, or one of several magazines might interest you. Need batteries? Bottled water? Ice? Firewood? A quart of oil? Paper clips? A new pair of sunglasses? Over-the-counter medication? They're all available at the gas station.

Even ready-to-eat foods, from breakfast burritos to hot dogs, pizza, and chicken wings, are piping hot and ready for your selection. You can even upgrade a common cup of coffee for a latte and grab hot chocolate for the kids. Yes, all at the gas station.

And, if needed, you can even fill up your vehicle's gas tank with gas.

In the same way we expect so much from a corner gas station beyond it's primary function, the same is true for the church today.

Church can be used to provide an array of social groups and social outings. Want to take up a cause? The church has plenty to choose from. Need a place to get married? Call the church. Need to rent a room for a meeting? The church has several rooms to choose from. Ready to give up that addiction? The local anonymous group meets every week at the church. Looking for a free concert? Family skate night? Holiday block party? Financial seminar? Local Boy or Girl Scout troop meeting? The church hosts all of these.

Need a reliable preschool? Ready to move your kids out of public school? The church will educate your kids. Want that quarterly parents night out? The church sponsors that. How about the challenge of a 5k run? The church sponsors their own. Want to join a softball team, bowling league, or quilting circle? Yep, the church has those, too.

And, if needed, you can even hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and be set free from your sins forever.

Well, some churches still offer that.


When theory meets reality ...

Have you ever talked to your television?

Probably so.

Whether it's providing your own response to a political commentary, reacting to a referee's call on the field, or warning the young lady not to go down into the basement in the spooky house that just lost its electrical power ... at some point, you've probably expressed a few words with your television.

That's because we're full of theories.

If that's not you, then you've known people like that. You've likely known the person who not only is loaded with theory for anything they may face, but have plenty of theories to share with others about their own lives. They can tell just about anyone how to live or what to do ... until the tough stuff becomes their own reality.

Then opinions change.

Another way I've heard it put is, "Yes, but what if it was your own child? Then you would think differently!"

There are many who claim to have a deep faith and a well-developed biblical theology, until they face crisis. Then, what they're willing to tell everyone else about how to live goes out the window. When they have to make a tough decision, or when their child has greviously sinned, they are suddenly ready to part with their theoretical faith ...

... when it's their daughter who has become pregnant ...

... when it's their son in jail ...

... when it's their spouse popping the pills ...

... when it's their boss handing the money under the table ...

Abraham didn't have a television to talk to, but he was known to have a well-developed faith. His was not theoretical, it was tested. And it was his child who was at the center of the test.

"Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. 'Abraham!' God called. 'Yes,' he replied. 'Here I am.' 2 'Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you'," Genesis 22:1-2.

In one short conversation with God, theory met reality for Abraham.

Now what?

For Abraham, circumstances had no impact on living out his faith in God.

"3 The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. 5 'Stay here with the donkey,' Abraham told the servants. 'The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.'So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, 'Father?' 'Yes, my son?' Abraham replied. 'We have the fire and the wood,' the boy said, 'but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?' 8 'God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,' Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice," Genesis 22:3-10.

Even at the expense of his only son, who he loved greatly, Abraham was not willing to disobey God. His faith, and his commitment, were real rather than theoretical. God rewarded his obedient faith ...

"11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, 'Abraham! Abraham!' 'Yes,' Abraham replied. 'Here I am!' 12 'Don’t lay a hand on the boy!' the angel said. 'Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.' 13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son." Genesis 22:11-13.

How real is your faith? Is there anything God is asking of you that you think is asking too much? Are you  willing to go only so far in obeying God? Or have you laid before the Lord everything you love and hold dear?


Saturday, July 14, 2012

What's your perspective?

I am the living, breathing antithesis of a chef. I am a survival cook (one who attempts cooking in order to survive).

Why, then, do I find myself watching some of the Food Network reality shows? I think it's because I'm fascinated with the level of culinary knowledge and impressive skill many of the chefs have. It's amazing what they can do with food!

What is interesting, though, is to watch a panel of judges critique the meals. One judge may love the meal, another states it is well seasoned, and another judge finds multiple technical flaws and thinks the food lacks flavor.

All three persons ate the same food, yet have differing critiques.

What's the difference?


We tend to think of perspective as a conclusion of the facts before us. But when you have the same facts but different opinions, perspective is more than just basic information. It may include your own opinions and preferences. Basically, perspective comes down to how you decide to assess facts, preferences, experiences, and other factors to create your own conclusion.

In that case, perspective depends on how you decide to skew your view of things. We can tweak information for about any outcome we want. And that is what makes human perspective so dangerous: perspective is often not the same as truth.

While it is quite possible different culinary judges can have different experiences with the same food, truth is not an individual creation. When we feast on the Word of God, it's not our role to critique it for what tastes good to us, for our preferences, for our likes and our tastes. Truth isn't something we are supposed to develop our own perspective on; instead, it is provided to us as our new perspective!

Jesus said this as He prayed, "Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth," John 17:17.

How can we make sure our perspective of anything --- ourselves, others, life, this world, even God Himself --- is an accurate perspective? By allowing God to teach us His Word, which is truth. As God transforms us by His truth, we begin to think as He thinks, and see as He sees. We gain a hunger for holiness and a distaste for sin.

Are you still holding on to your own perspectives? Or are you allowing God to replace your flawed knowledge and understanding with His truth?


Friday, July 13, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: The redemption of Bryan Clay is an inspiring story ...

When you hear a Christian athlete has written a book, it takes only seconds for the stereotypical story to form: a star athlete with lots of ego and a praying grandmother finally finds God and then wins big.

While there are some similarities in Bryan Clay's new book, "Redemption" (published by Thomas Nelson and written with Joel Kilpatrick) there are some refreshing and interesting differences.

Yes, Bryan Clay is a great athlete. Being a two-time Olympic medal winner of the decathlon would put his standing as one of the greatest athletes in the world. But his issue wasn't so much his ego as it was a rebellious spirit, and it was his mother who was his constant prayer warrior.

Although Clay grew up in Hawaii, life was not a paradise. Things got difficult for Clay early. His parents fought often and loudly, filling the family with strife. The rocky marriage ending in divorce didn't bring peace, but simply added fuel to Clay's rebellious ways. His mother was advised to get Clay into sports as a means of heading off a potential ugly future for him, but that didn't happen immediately.

The book goes on to tell a very real story of a man who slowly found a calling and a place for himself in sports. He didn't suddenly think he would be a great athlete, or consider himself the best on the track. It's not a story of a man who started with a boyish dream of being an Olympic champion, but rather the story of a man who learned how to push through multiple times of nearly throwing in the towel when things got tough.

But he didn't.

And yes, that is where God comes in.

That's because, through all his struggles, Clay heard the call of God and answered. His redemption by Jesus Christ changed his life. Clay didn't become a champion by squeezing a little room for God into his life. He became a champion after making God the priority of his life, followed by family, and then his sports career.

And his greatest victory of all? Was it the silver medal of the 2004 Olympics? Or finally getting gold in the 2008 Olympics? Neither. It was his redemption, and the transformation that brought.

"Redemption" is more than the telling of the forging of a champion; it's the tale of the forging of a disciple. Putting the two together offers insight and inspiration to anyone looking for an enjoyable new summer read.


I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, July 12, 2012

How do you put on your shoes?

If you are like most of the rest of us, you are a God-created original who has taken the Creator's handiwork and turned it into something highly habitual. For our good, or to our detriment, most of us live deeply habitualized lives.

The average person has no real inclination of the depth of habit they have developed in their lives. Here are just a few simple ones ...
  • Putting on both socks, then both shoes. Some put on left sock, then left shoe; others, right sock, then right shoe. Whatever the pattern, it's the same every day, often for life.
  • Arranging food on a plate the same way every meal.
  • Eating the same foods.
  • Keeping the same daily routine for years or decades.
  • Taking the same route to and from work every day.
  • Sitting in the same place, especially at church.
  • Reading the same select authors.
  • Watching the same shows.
  • Shopping the same stores.
  • Doing the same recreation.
  • Spending time with the same people.
  • Keeping furniture in the same place for years or decades.
 If we gave it some thought, we would likely discover our lives to be a mass of habits carried on for years, if not a lifetime.

Some habits are good for us. Brushing our teeth should be a habit. So should exercise and adequate rest. We could create a list of things that should be consistent aspects of our lives.

We could also create a list of things that should be eliminated from our lives. From our poor diet and lack of exercise, to how we think about and treat some people, to who God really is to us, there are some things that have become habits that need to change.

When we develop habits of certain patterns of thinking, feeling, and/or behaving, we find our lives regulated by these developed patterns often at a subconscious level; the habit becomes so deeply ingrained we simply think, feel, or act in a certain manner automatically, as a matter of habit. And that can, at some point, cause us some problems. Habits can bring automatic thoughts, feelings, or reactions to situations and interactions that call for original thought, emotion, and behavior.

A good counselor serves his or her clients by helping them see how they have habitualized certain patterns of thinking, as well as emotional and behavioral patterns, and helps them assess the benefit or detriment these habits bring to a life. Further, they help their clients learn to de-habitualize bad habits for better choices, and help them learn how to build good habits into their lives. Yes, some things really do need to be habitualized into the core of our being.

But for many, it doesn't take a counselor to work on bringing about such real change. Some good time in prayer, some biblical insights, yielding to the Holy Spirit, and a piece of paper and pencil (or preferred electronic device), are all many need to begin this process of identifying current bad habits that need to go, and new habits that need to be started.

If you want to bring some real change to your life, I encourage you to give some focused consideration to the habits --- real and lacking --- in your life, and then apply yourself to breaking some and making others.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Are you ready for the wrecking ball?

A story is told about a successful businessman in London who had a warehouse he wanted to sell. The building had been empty for several months and was in dire need of significant repair. Vandals had damaged the doors, smashed the windows, and trashed the interior.

One day, as the businessman showed the property to a prospective buyer, he tried to paint greater potential for the place. He offered to replace the broken windows and bring in a crew to fix any structural damage and clean out the garbage.

"Forget about the repairs," the buyer said. "When I buy this place, I am going to build something completely different. I don't want this building, I want the site."

In the same manner, we sometimes wonder if who we are is good enough to bring to Jesus Christ. We may make promises to clean ourselves up and get ourselves in condition to come before the Lord. But Christ's concern isn't about who we've become thus far. When He purchased us with His blood, it was with the intent of building something new!

"This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" 2 Corinthians 5:17.

Have you allowed Jesus to renovate your life with a whole new construction? Or are you still hanging on to a broken life? What more could Christ do in you if you embraced His will for you?


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

When comfort smothers a dream ...

As a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a detective.

I really, really wanted to be a detective. So much so, for a brief period I was pen pals with L. Patrick Gray, III who was the Acting Director of the FBI, and W. Mark Felt, the Associate Director who we have since learned was "Deep Throat," the source for journalists Woodward and Bernstein who uncovered Watergate.

I never became a detective.

But over the years, I've dreamed of doing different things, and have been blessed with the chance to accomplish most of them.

Becoming a detective was a childhood fantasy. The other dreams I pursued were not. As I grew up, it was important to learn the difference between a God-given dream and a faux dream.

Some are faux dreamers.

They speak dramatically, even passionately,  of their intent to pursue this, or achieve that. Yet, there's always a "but" ...

When the kids get a little older ...

When they save up enough money ...

Things are just crazy at work right now, when the schedule calms down ...

... all the while they live on, buying that bigger house, getting the new car, taking the fun vacations. Yet, the times never seem "right" to step out and achieve their dream.

The real "but" is, they know deep down inside, they will never be willing to pay the cost to make their dream a reality.

They're faux dreamers.

After years of enthusiastic talk, even the faux dreamer begins to hope their friends don't raise the subject of how things are coming along with their dream because even they have wearied of telling the tale. The life they live is just too comfortable to take the risks, do the hard work, and pay the costs of making their dreams come true.

They'll just keep the fantasy, because they know they really could have done X, accomplished Y, or become Z if they had really wanted to.

They finally taught themselves one thing: they really didn't want to.

Are you talking yourself out of pursuing your dream? Or are you willing to trust God to help you step out in faith to turn a God-given dream into reality?


Monday, July 9, 2012

Used properly, this could make you a better person ...

It's an uncommon thing to see someone in a mall or a Starbucks dressed like a super star ready to go on stage.

It's not too often you see someone wearing clothes covered with rhinestones and glitter at a gas station. Not many super stars roll up in limos to a 7-11 to grab a quick snack.

But most superstars aren't shy about projecting their status to the world. That is, unless you're the Apostle Paul.

Paul was a Gospel "super star." No doubt, he easily could have been a proud man for all God accomplished through him.

But that's just it ... God  accomplished great things through Paul. And to help Paul make sure he didn't become proud, God placed in Paul a "thorn in the flesh" --- a weakness --- to keep him humble (you can read about it in 2 Corinthians 12, starting with verse 10). After begging God on three different occasions to remove the thorn, Paul finally surrendered to God's will and embraced his weakness as a means of discovering God's greater strength.

It's that last step that is a great example for us, but one some of us miss.

It is not uncommon to find in any church someone who tweaks Paul's example and, instead of allowing their weakness to keep them humble before the Lord, they use their weakness as a source of pride.

Instead of relenting of their "thorn," they display it front and center in their lives by constantly despairing of their woes. They become known as the person who is plagued by X. They relentlessly tell of the suffering they face because of their thorn; they cultivate sympathy for their sorrows, draw attention to their plight, and morph their thorn into their identity with others.

And so, what was meant to help them be humble before the Lord and seeking His strength is used in a twisted way as an expression of warped pride. On more than one occasion, I've heard several such people boast how they will never apologize for their behavior regarding "all they suffer." What they're really saying is they refuse to give up their pride and accept their thorn for the holy purpose God provided it.

Paul became a better man because of his thorn.

Will you?


Sunday, July 8, 2012

And give us this day ...

One contributor to feelings of inadequacy in life for Christians comes from misleading messages some church leaders teach about what we should pursue in life.

There's a sharp contradiction between seeking the abundance many preachers say we should pursue, and the adequacy for the day Jesus taught us to pray for:

"Give us today the food we need," is what Jesus taught us to pursue from God in Matthew 6:11.

Jesus didn't teach us to pray for such abundance that we can store up resources for an unpromised future, thus relying on our storehouse rather than our God. Instead, He taught us to pray for God to provide us with what is adequate for today.

We love to talk about living in the moment, but our actions are often opposite of that idea. We wring our hands and worry about the future, long before it ever gets here. That's not to say there isn't wisdom in doing our part to plan and prepare for a potential tomorrow. But our trust too often falls on what we've stored up rather than God's provision for us.

The result? We feel poor when our bank account provides only for what is adequate for today, rather than being a full storehouse where we can dream of what we will spend and buy tomorrow.

For millions around the world, to end the day with adequate enough food for that day is to have a blessed day. How many Christians are content with that? How many have forgotten just how immensely blessed they are to have so much more than enough food for the day?

What is your measure of adequate? When do you reach contentment? What do you pray for?


Never let it be said ...

It was such a poignant moment --- painfully so --- that the memory with full visuals are crisply clear in my mind. The day my dad said to me, "You're so stupid you stink!"

I was just a kid when he spoke those angry words. That memory is a key example of the kind of man my dad was.

Like any other man, he could have chosen to go another route and be a good husband to his faithful wife, and a good father to his eight children. But he didn't.

Could, but didn't.

The result for my father was an empty life with an ugly ending.

But each of us face that critical differentiator: Could, but didn't.

Each of us have many, many choices we could make, but don't. Not for the better.

Some could actually love God, but don't.

Some could make a much greater difference in the lives of others, but don't.

Some could live the faith they proclaim, but don't.

Some could make a real difference, but don't.

Some could lead others to Christ, but don't.

Some have much more they could give (in a variety of ways), but don't.

Some could become who God wants them to be, but don't.

Some could have richer, deeper relationships, but don't.

How about you? What is the greater, higher leading of God in your life you could reach if only you would? What remains undone in your life because you've chosen a lesser direction thus far?

What are you going to do about these things? Anything? Or will you let it be said of you, "Could, but didn't."


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Setting off fireworks in your life ...

Say "Fourth of July" and what do you think of?


Okay, it is the day Americans celebrate the independence of our nation, but how we go about doing it is what so many get excited about.

Tomorrow, barbeques will be blazing, flags will be flying, bands will be marching, boats will be buzzing across lakes, sunblock will be poured by the gallon, and to end it all with a bang --- literally --- will be the fireworks.

To prepare for the holiday, many people have made stops at roadside fireworks stands. But here's something interesting: in many places, it is legal to buy fireworks, but illegal to shoot them off.

Now there's a situation just waiting to explode! Again ... literally!

Why would anyone buy fireworks if they aren't allowed to ignite them?

Why do we refuse to give up sources of sin in our lives? Why do we keep the same influences? Why do we hide and harbor means of old temptations?

Because even though we aren't supposed to light the fire crackers, we do so anyway; and even though we are supposed to repent of our sins, we supply ourselves with the means to keep sin going in our lives.

Most people can't honestly say when they purchase the fireworks they will abide by the law (in some areas) and not set them off. You know you will, that's why you bought them! And most people can't honestly say when they keep all the old sources of their sin in their lives that they won't return to it. You know you will, that's why you've kept such things in your life!

What to do?

The Apostle Paul says, "Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God," 2 Corinthians 7:1.

Isn't it time to clear out what we've stored away from the old life, and "... work toward complete holiness because we fear God"?


Monday, July 2, 2012

BOOK REVIEW: This is a captivating story, with a twist ...

... and the twist is, it's really two fascinating stories brought together as only God Himself could orchestrate.

"The Fourth Fisherman" (published by WaterBrook Press) is partly the story of author Joe Kissack's fall from his successful Hollywood career. Finding himself strolling the red carpet with a beautiful, supportive wife, and appreciating all the finer things of life, Kissack never dreamed everything was about to change dramatically for him.

As Kissack's life begins to spiral out of control, five fisherman launch a small panga from the Pacific waters of San Blas, Mexico. What should have been a week of fishing turned into a nightmare of being lost at sea for nine months. Not all of the fishermen come home.

So what does a Hollywood executive and Mexican fisherman have in common? The transforming power of God, His grace and faithfulness, and a common need.

Kissack is a fine storyteller; parts of the story are so riveting you'll keep turning the pages to see what happens. Kissack's writing style is smooth as he unfolds his story in short chapters.

"The Fourth Fisherman" is an inspiring read for anyone, but it's definitely a story that can grab and hold the attention of men. Guys will be challenged with Kissack's story of how life (especially his career) got the best of him, and how God turned that around. But don't misunderstand, this is an inspiring read for anyone, it's not just a "guy's book." Many can relate to the challenges Kissack faces in trying to pull his life together, and anyone will find gripping the woeful trials of the fishermen.

I couldn't think of a better, more inspiring summertime read than "The Fourth Fisherman." I look forward to seeing the movie when it's finally made.


I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Trinkets or aloha?

 The photo above is one of the entrances to the International Market Place, which was located about two blocks away from where I used to live in Waikiki. It was a very popular tourist trap.

Visitors to the island would stroll down the narrow row of vendors, who would greet you warmly and then suddenly go for the close: "You like? You buy?"

The second you shook your head and said no, the person immediately turned their back on you, looking for more cooperative prey.

As a local, I would often stroll through the area just people-watching. As I became familiar with the sites, I realized many of the places were selling the same cheap trinkets. Shoppers would often weary of seeing the same cheap offerings, so they would head off to other areas of Waikiki or grab a taxi to check out the mall.

Some people are happy with a cheap t-shirt, mass produced ankle bracelets, dancing hula girl statuette or surfer bobble head. Others want something of quality from their visit.

The same is true for people "shopping" churches. Some are happy with a cheap visit, something that makes them feel better for having been to church, but doesn't cost them much.

But others are looking for real value.

That reminds me of two different medium-sized churches in Honolulu. One offered a great worship experience, complete with sacred hula and a polished service. You could walk in and out without a single person other than the preacher saying a word to you. But at the other church, you couldn't enter the building without four or five people hugging you, welcoming you, and wrapping a lei around your neck.

What is your church offering to the stranger who walks through your doors? Are they getting the cheap trinket of Christianity, or are they lavished with rich fellowship and the love of Christ?


It's not embarrassment that's the problem ...

The gray paint on the old Ford Taurus that drove by was so worn it looked unbuffed and beaten. The vehicle was missing a rear bumper. None of the wheels had hub caps. Multiple dents created a wave effect along the side of the car.

But to really get your attention?

On the right side of the clunker was a big hand-painted sign that said, "Jesus loves you." I noted two other signs attached to the same side, but the car passed too quickly for me to be able to read them. I think they were Bible verses.

That's one vehicle that would make even many Christians shake their head. Scores of pastors would point and say that's what's wrong with the church and the evangelistic-minded today.


I say, "BRAVO!"

Oh, I would not be one to post signs or paint Bible verses on the side of my car. And I can think of various things to bring up about this person's methodology of sharing Christ, but I greatly appreciate one thing about this stranger: he seemed entirely unashamed of Christ and His Gospel!

Funny how some men relish the opportunity to stand on a stage before a large crowd and proclaim Christ, but would never do so on a street corner.

Odd how we say we would do anything for Jesus, just not "anything" that would embarrass us.

It's not "embarrassment." It's shame.

The Apostle Paul didn't have that problem: "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.

The driver of that old gray auto wasn't ashamed either. I love that spirit! That person has more courage to stand for Christ than most of us filling the seats of mega churches.

How about you? Are you embarrassed being seen with a Bible in your hand? Praying over a meal? Is the Gospel something you're ashamed of, or is it something you share with abandon?