Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Do this in 2014 and it will change your life ...

At the end of the ceremony where I was ordained as a minister of the Gospel, I was introduced with a new title: Rev. James Scott, Jr.

That was the last time that title was attached to me.

I had no idea that introduction would be made, but I quickly and clearly communicated I didn't want such a title to be attached to me.

Why? Thousands of ministers use the title every day. I had it dropped because I'm just a man, a creation of the One who is worthy of our reverence.

It's one thing to respect another human being, but God is the one we should show reverence for. And we aren't doing much of that these days.

In fact, there's too many popular preachers out there who subtly communicate a little irreverence is cool. I have to disagree. A little irreverence toward God is nothing short of an insult.

As we roll into a New Year, let me suggest just one step you can take in 2014 that can radically impact your life this coming year: every day, show reverence to God.

"Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe," Hebrews 12:28 (NASB).

Our holy, righteous, merciful, gracious, loving God is faithful to us every single day. He is more than worthy of our love, our praise, our adoration, our complete devotion ... our reverence.

"We cannot imagine the power of the Almighty; but even though he is just and righteous, he does not destroy us. No wonder people everywhere fear him. All who are wise show him reverence," Job 37:23-24.

Demonstrate reverence for God every day of the New Year and your life will be changed in a dramatic way!

Happy New Year!

Scotty

Monday, December 30, 2013

Is there hope for you in the New Year?

Some people will end 2013 badly.

For some, it will be from circumstances beyond their control, even with an authentic faith in God for His will to be done. The rain falls on the just and the unjust; sometimes, bad things happen to "good" people.

But for many, 2013 is ending with the reaping of what they have sown. They have placed their faith in other people or things instead of God. Now, like sinful Judah, they end the year with a frightful cry:

"'The harvest is finished, and the summer is gone,' the people cry, 'yet we are not saved!'" Jeremiah 8:20.

In spite of their idols, they expected God to come through for them. Now, as the year ends badly, they are learning the hard way that you cannot have it both ways.

God is a jealous God!

But there is hope. The same prophet gives us a bigger picture of how God works with His creation ...

"This is what the Lord says: 'Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans, who rely on human strength and turn their hearts away from the Lord. They are like stunted shrubs in the desert, with no hope for the future. They will live in the barren wilderness, in an uninhabited salty land. But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. 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. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit. The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve'," Jeremiah 17:5-10.

Our hope for any new year and beyond is in Christ alone.

"God overlooked people's ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead," Acts 17:30-31.

"This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. 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 1:5-9.

So what is your 2014 going to be like? Will it be a year of enjoying the fruit of the Spirit in your life? Or one of desperation without God? The choice is yours, and it depends entirely on who Jesus Christ is to you. If you're ending 2013 badly, I urge you to call on the Lord, confess your sins to Him and repent of them, so that He may bring you true hope and peace in the days ahead.

Scotty

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How to determine the quality of your New Year ...

I read a post yesterday from a lady who was writing about her blessings this past year. She wasn't counting her blessings, she was wallowing in them. She was going on and on about all the blessings of this past year, and especially how curious she was about how she would be blessed in the coming year.

For her, the quality of 2014 will depend on how blessed she will be.

She's not alone. We all tend to be opportunity seekers, it just depends on what kind of opportunity we're looking for. Many of us are looking for that opportunity to be blessed. But I would suggest there's a greater measure to determine the quality of the coming New Year --- not by searching for blessings to hoard, but by searching for opportunities to bless others. That's a mindset and behavior the Apostle Paul urges us to adopt ...

"Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too," Philippians 2:3-4.

If you're putting together plans and resolutions that will set up the value of your new year based on what you gain, rather than what you give, you're setting yourself up for a limited, selfish experience. Such plans are intentional about getting, and have no strategy for being a blessing to others.

Have you been focusing your 2014 goals on getting as much as you can, or searching for opportunities to give as much as you can? Are you in search of blessings, or being a blessing? Your answer will have a dramatic impact on your life in the New Year.

Scotty

Saturday, December 28, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Go deeper in your devotionals in 2014 ...

Are you searching for a new daily devotional for 2014?

Would you like something better than the almost cheesy, positive-thinking philosophy, more-platitude-than-biblical-thought devotionals written by rock star pastors? Would you be interested in something with a little more theological depth that can actually challenge your thinking and your living?

If so, let me point you to "Awakening Faith" by James Stuart Bell, with Patrick Kelly (published by Zondervan).

So what is it that makes this book something of depth and value as a devotional? Simple answer: it's comprised of 366 writings from the early church fathers. These guys were a little more thoughtful and sober in their writings than many of the guys who write today. The early church fathers weren't worried about building a "platform," expanding a personal brand, amassing an audience for book sales, or becoming popular so they could go on the conference speaker circuit. They were primarily concerned about teaching Christ, as is evident in the content of their writing.

Each page of the book begins with a scripture verse, followed by a short writing from one of the early church fathers. It could be notes about the church from John Chrysostom, thoughts about holiness from Clement of Rome, ponderings on forgiveness and holiness from Leo the Great, or teaching about how Christ shares our suffering from Augustine. The topics are multiple, as are the church fathers, but each takes you a little deeper than a daily platitude.

In the back of the book you'll find a paragraph-length "bio" on each of the church fathers included in this devotional. In addition to providing you with thoughts to awaken your faith, this book is an easy way for Christians to get a simple introduction to the men who provided spiritual leadership to the church in its early days.

"Awakening Faith" provides a refreshing new depth to short devotional reading. Why not pick up a copy of this book and spend the year learning from the early church fathers? It just might really do something to awaken a deeper faith in you.

Scotty

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.”

Friday, December 27, 2013

Two keys for getting through life's storms ...

By the time I got to Chicago, I almost had to literally pry my fingers off the car's steering wheel. I had gripped the wheel so tightly, for so long, it actually hurt to uncurl my fingers.

The problem started back in Arizona.

I wasn't even 20 years old yet, and was heading to Chicago to make some money for a while to help for college. I left the Phoenix area in the late afternoon, and in northern Arizona it started to rain. By the time I reached New Mexico, the rain became snow, and that side of Albuquerque it quickly became a blizzard. Literally.

So heavy was the snow that I suddenly experienced white-out conditions. Then, flashing into my sight for just a second, was a sign to my right saying a motel was off the exit I could now barely see. I eased off the highway and found the small roadside motel where I got a room for the night. Within minutes the place was full of other travelers who happened by the exit.

The bad news came the next day. A major storm had left a wake of ice on the highways across multiple states. So slick were the roads that it took me all day just to get into Albuquerque proper. Another night in another motel room.

The next morning, I had to take stock of my situation. I was a poor older teen with little more funds than the cost of the trip. After two nights in motels, the remainder of my funds would have to go strickly for fuel and food if I was to make it to Chicago.

That meant, as I slipped and slided on the roads, I couldn't make any more stops along the way. No more motel rooms.

So as I pulled on the entrance ramp of the highway, I stopped to get out and assess the condition of the road. As I stepped out of the car, I immediately slipped and fell flat onto a sheet of ice. Struggling back onto my feet, I looked at the highway ahead. You could see the road was covered in ice. But worse, all along the road were vehicles strewn every which way --- semis, cars, pickups, mini vans
that had spun out and come to a stop in the median and all along the road for as far as I could see. It would be like driving through a used car lot situated on ice.

This was not going to be fun.

I got back into the car, put it into gear, and started driving.

Slowly.

Very slowly.

And I started praying.

I prayed my way across a few states, sometimes traveling no faster than 15 or 20 miles per hour, and still passing cars even at that slow speed.

I kept praying.

I couldn't stop because I couldn't afford to.

I finally arrived safely in the Chicago area, having overcome the storm. I made it because of praying and persevering. I put my journey into God's hands, and never stopped talking to Him all along the way; and I didn't stop, because I would be stuck if I did.

Two things safely brought me through that major storm: praying and persevering.

They still work in storms today.

Scotty

Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's time for personal inventory ...

You've just experienced the double whammy of first Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas yesterday. You may still be bloated from the feasts, and you're likely experiencing the after glow of the blessings of these celebrations. But now it's time to get down to business and make some plans for a new year.

One of the biggest mistakes people make in planning for a new year is failing to first stop and take personal inventory of their lives before planning for new adventures. The result is that we add layer upon layer of spiritual failings onto our lives instead of first fixing what has gone wrong so that we really can have a fresh start in a new year.

One Christian man who was keen at examining his life, not just at the end of a year, but at the end of each day, was America's first president, George Washington. This great leader saw beyond the facade of the faith he expressed to the feebleness of his walk with God, and sought to make changes. This didn't happen when he was a wise, older man, but it was in his youth that he sought to take inventory of the reality of his followership of Christ. When Washington was about the age of 20, he wrote the following entry in his prayer journal:

"O most glorious God, in Jesus Christ my merciful and loving Father, I acknowledge and confess my guilt, in the weak and imperfect performance of the duties of this day. I have called on Thee for pardon and forgiveness of my sins, but so coldly and carelessly, that my prayers are become my sin and stand in need of pardon. I have heard Thy holy word, but with such deadness of spirit that I have been an unprofitable and forgetful hearer, so that, O Lord, tho' I have done Thy work, yet it hath been so negligently that I may rather expect a curse than a blessing from Thee."

What an insightful personal inventory! If Washington would have gone on, from day to day, without seeing the slothfulness of his walk with God, he would have just added layer upon layer of dead experiences to his life. Instead, he stopped and took inventory of the reality of his faith, then saw and acknowledged his failings. By taking these things to God each day, he made himself fully available to God to mold and use him more fully. Each day would be a fresh opportunity in the light of such prayerful introspection.

The result for Washington was that God used him in a mighty way. To this day, Washington is highly respected for his great contribution to the founding of the United States, and is one of the greatest figures in all of American history.

So what do you think God might do with you in a new year if you stopped long enough to take personal, prayerful inventory of your life, acknowledging and submitting to God your failures and sins first before making a single plan for 2014?

Scotty

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas will make your life a mess ...

Take the one minute, 25 seconds to watch the video below ...



When I first saw the commercial above, at first I thought it was a joke ... but it's not!

Do you really see what the advertiser is trying to sell? An imitation bird! And the actors are petting the faux critter and "interacting" with it as if it were real! The announcer makes the argument that this false bird is better than a real pet because it "... brings you all the joy and none of the mess."

Relationships are messy things, even with our pets. They take time, attention, commitment, caring, giving, forgiving, devotion, and love. Among other things.

As crazy as this product is, Christmas makes me wonder why God didn't settle for a holy version of "Perfect Polly." He could have left us with a religion that provided a version of His presence without all the mess, but He didn't. Instead, God entered this world as a man and got messy with us.

"So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, The glory of the Father's one and only son," John 1:14.

He waded through all the experiences of a family, being a son of poor parents in ancient Israel. He put Himself through the happiness and heartaches that comes with humanity and suffered the biggest mess of all - the cross. He did this to make our relationship with Him as real as it gets: personal, one-to-one!

Christmas will make your life a mess, but in a good way. That's because Christmas brings the Person of God to us. There's no more faking it, no more distance. Christmas brings all the joy with all the mess of loving and living for a very real Savior.

Don't settle for anything less than the one true God.

Merry Christmas!

Scotty

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Here's one gift you won't have to wrap ...

One of the fastest ways to disappoint someone at Christmas is to give them a gift they need rather than a gift they want.

Just watch the face of a kid who tears into a brightly wrapped package only to discover ... new socks. Or the wife who opens a box to discover ... a new toaster. It's just not what they were hoping for!

That first Christmas long ago was the first Christmas gift exchange. God gave us something we needed, but also something we didn't deserve, and something we would have never dreamed of.

That's because He gave us Himself : Immanuel - God with us!

Some are disappointed in that gift. They don't want God, they want things.

None of us deserve the gift, it was a package of grace. "For God so loved the world that he gave ..." (John 3:16).

It certainly was a surprise. None us ever thought God would give us something so infinitely precious as the gift of Himself.

But He did.

Now, it's our turn in this gift exchange.

God doesn't want things. There's just one gift He wants from you ... you!

Have you completed your gift exchange with God by giving Him your entire life? If not, it's not too late. You can put a smile on God's face this Christmas by giving Him yourself. And you don't even have to wrap the gift!

Scotty

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas reveals the value of scripture ...

It's almost impossible to overstate the impact of the the Word of God on our lives. Believe it or not, that's a lesson that is demonstrated for us in the Christmas story.

Enter the magi ...

"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, 'Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him," Matthew 2:1-2.

While Israel seemed to be asleep at the spiritual wheel, strangers from a far-off land were apparently more alert to the teaching of scripture. Long ago, they had been taught about God, and knew of the prophecy of a king that would come to save all humanity.

One of the most likely possibilities for this is when Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were taken captive to Babylon. While the initial plan was to re-educate these young men to a new way of thinking, the opposite would happen. Their faithfulness to God would radically influence their captors and bring attention to the power and worship of their God.

It was by studying the teachings they had learned that these magi had insight to what was going on when they saw the star arise over Bethlehem. Trusting the Word of God they had been taught, they responded to it by traversing a rugged terrain to come worship this new king.

When we look into the Word of God, and believe it, the response it will generate in our lives is a willingness to do whatever it takes to acknowledge and worship Christ the King.

God's Word is given to us to both believe AND act upon, always leading us to Jesus. What a great reminder from Christmas!

This Christmas, are you a contemporary version of the magi, following God's Word to acknowledge and worship Jesus Christ? Or are you like ancient Israel, well-educated in scripture but blind and deaf to it?

Scotty

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Putting prayer on the move ...

I routinely hear churches report very few people attend any prayer services or gatherings they have. Often, it's just a handful of praying faithful at such gatherings.

But a faith family that doesn't pray, and pray together, is a spiritually impotent body.

Well, if you're having difficulty getting folks to come to the church building to pray, then why not try taking the prayer gatherings to the people?

Let's say you have six people on your prayer team that meets every Tuesday night at the church building to lead a prayer service open to all. Try assigning each prayer team member to leading a prayer gathering in a home of a church member; have each prayer team member and each person hosting in their home invite and encourage others to join them for prayer at the home they're assigned. Next week, have each prayer team member move to another home, etc. Over a period of time, you will likely build multiple locations of new prayer teams in homes.

The result could be many more members of the body meeting to pray together. If you wind up with five or six people praying together in 25 or 30 homes, you've greatly expanded the prayer life of your congregation!

Trying something like this will take some planning, coordination, and good communication so people will know week by week where to meet to pray together. But it could be a fun, casual, and more intimate way of bringing together the body of Christ for prayer.

Scotty

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A relational version of Chinese water torture ...

If you consider all the terrible methods of torture used by evil men across the centuries, the idea of drops of water doesn't sound so bad.

But it's effects are highly destructive.

In what is often referred to as "Chinese water torture," a person is tied down so they cannot move, then ever so painstakingly slowly drops of water are dripped, one by one, onto the person's forehead.

Initially, it's a breeze to contend with. But over time, it has been said to result in insanity. That's because the anticipation of the next drop onto the forehead becomes overwhelming.

There's a relational version of the Chinese water torture that can slowly, but brutally, destroy relationships. What is this relationship destroyer?

Nitpicking.

"You're late again ..."

"Why can't you pick up after yourself?"

"Why do you always cook the same thing?"

"Why do you always leave your socks on the floor?"

"Why don't you ever remember anything I tell you?"

"Why do you have to chew your food like that?"

"Why do you always watch sports?"

"Why are you always ..."

Nitpicking can wear down a courtship or a marriage, the closest of friendships, a professional relationship, and it often tears apart children from their parents ...

"Do I have to tell you everything?"

"Why does your room always look like a pigsty?"

"Can't you do anything without my telling you?"

"When I was your age ..."

And on it goes.

An incessant drip of complaining, questioning, and otherwise negative comments from ...

... wives who think they need to train their husbands, or husbands who think they need to teach their wives ...

... friends who think they need to fix their friends ...

... a boss who is never satisfied ...

... or parents who also are never satisfied ...

... can slowly, but surely, destroy almost any relationship.

The result of nitpicking is usually not positive change in the one picked on, but sorrow for the nitpicker. The Pharisees were masters at nitpicking, but Jesus said the outcome for such behavior on their part would not be something good ...

"What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law --- justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides! You strain your water so you won't accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!" Matthew 23:23-24.

Spending an inordinate amount of time nitpicking the unimportant can ruin your relationships as it slowly sucks out love and mercy and infuses judgment and criticism. On many occasions as a counselor, I've sat across from couples and listened to the stories of a spouse who felt the life --- and love --- had been drained out of them by the persistent nitpicking by their spouse. I've talked with children and teens who felt emotionally beaten down by the onslaught of years of nitpicking by parents. I've seen the depression and frustration of men and women who spent long days and years working for a boss who always had something to nitpick about.

Nitpicking may not drive a person crazy, but it often drives people away. Such behavior is radically different than how the Apostle Paul exhorts us to treat one another ...

"Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them ... Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you," Ephesians 4:29, 31-32.

What's the application of this?

Don't be a drip!

Scotty

Friday, December 20, 2013

God is waiting for you in 2014 ...

With a sparkling fresh New Year rapidly approaching, you've likely groaned a time or two already over the need to make a few resolutions and plans for 2014.

Go ahead, God will meet you there!

You see, we serve a God who is immeasurably steps ahead of  us. There's nothing in the coming year that will sneak up on God or surprise Him, and that includes what you'll have to ask of Him in 2014.

Let me illustrate this with an interesting story reported by Helen Thomson in the July, 2013 issue of New Scientist magazine. In the article, Thomson tells the story of a 67-year-old man known only as PH who has become the first documented case of someone who hears people speak before seeing their lips move. PH describes the phenomenon as if he were watching a badly dubbed movie.

This dubbing effect first started when PH was recovering from a surgery. The experience has now become so pronounced that PH says he hears his own voice before he senses his lips moving.

According to New Scientist magazine, "Light and sound travel at different speeds, so when someone speaks, visual and auditory inputs arrive at our eyes and ears at different times. The signals are then processed at different rates in the brain. Despite this, we perceive the events as happening simultaneously."

But in PH's case, his sight and hearing have gotten out of sync.

With us, the mind of God processes the words of our hearts long before they ever leave our lips. It is when our will is in sync with God's will that He he stands ready to respond even before we speak our concerns. The prophet Isaiah described this experience with God this way ...

"I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!" Isaiah 65:24.

So don't worry about not being ready for 2014, God will meet you there, He's already preparing the way for you!

Scotty

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Keep calm and do this ...

One of the trendiest "sayings" being bounced around these days has become so popular it's reaching annoying status.

You've likely seen a plethora of versions of "Keep calm and ..." The original statement is that shown to the right, "Keep calm and carry on."

Being curious as to the origin of the phrase, I did what any good researcher would do ... I googled it, and found this entry in Wikipedia:

"'Keep Calm and Carry On' was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 several months before the beginning of the Second World War, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the aftermath of widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities. It had only limited distribution with no public display, and thus was little known. It was rediscovered in 2000, has been re-issued by a number of private companies, and has been used as the decorative theme for a range of products ..."

Now in 2013, there are still wars raging around the globe. But the greatest skirmish we face is a spiritual battle. If we look closely at scripture, one of the messages we could take away for how to live life on a spiritual battlefield would be this:

"Keep calm and mind your own business."

With so many people constantly tethered to some kind of electronic devise, we're not nearly as good at minding our own business as we used to be. In fact, we've greatly expanded our capacity to not only stick our noses into places it shouldn't be, but also to broadcast what isn't our business to others whose business it also isn't. But minding our own business is a very real biblical exhortation for believers ...

"Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands, just as we instructed you before. Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others," 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12.

It was this issue of minding our own business Jesus alluded to when He taught us this familiar teaching:

"And why worry about a speck in your friend's eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, 'Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,' when you can't see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye'," Luke 6:41-42.

Scripture doesn't say ignore others and focus on self, it says to mind your own business. That does factor in that we are our "brother's keeper," and we have a responsibility to love and serve others. But loving and serving others does not mean butting into their business. Some Christians seem to think they have license to unduly pry into the lives of others if they are helping them. But love is not a license to be a busy-body.

Are you content to live a quiet life, minding your own business? Have you learned how to love and serve others without being a busy-body? If not, perhaps these should be a couple of primary goals for you as we look forward to a new year. In 2014, may you keep calm and mind your own business.

Scotty

Monday, December 16, 2013

Sooner or later, you've got to own your own junk ...

The Chief Executive Officer of a company had made a terrible blunder. It wasn't his first, and this time he knew it would likely cost him his job.

Sure enough, that afternoon he was called before the board of directors and was told he had the remainder of the afternoon to clear out his office, he was being replaced.

The executive packed a box of his personal belongings, and as he sat at the large, opulent desk for the last time, he took out three envelopes and began to make some notes. He then numbered the envelopes one, two, and three.

As he sealed the last envelope, a sharply dressed man entered the office, introduced himself, and explained that he was the new CEO.

"I'm sorry you got sacked," the new boss said. "But if you don't mind me asking, do you have any advice for me?"

"I do," the executive said. "Regardless of how good you are at this job, you will make mistakes. When you do," he then paused and handed the new boss the three envelopes, "open one of these and follow the advice I've left for you."

The new CEO thanked the executive, then they shook hands and parted ways.

For a while, things not only went well, but improved for the company. The new CEO was a brilliant leader and his leadership helped the company gain new clients and make greater profits.

For a while.

But being human, the CEO finally made his first mistake. When he did, he opened the first envelope the former CEO had left for him and read the simple note that stated, "Blame me."

"Great advice!" thought the executive, so he went to the board and blamed the leadership of the former CEO for the current problem. The board bought the excuse, and so things went forward without any further discussion.

Eventually, the CEO made another mistake. When he did, he opened the second envelope and read the note, which advised him, "Blame the board."

"Great advice!" thought the executive, so he met with the board and made an argument that the current problem was really their fault. The board actually accepted the argument, and the CEO was relieved to get past the problem.

But it didn't take very long before the CEO made a third mistake. When he did, he quickly opened the last envelope the former boss had left for him. The note inside stated, "Prepare three envelopes."

You may get by blaming others for your mistakes for a while, but that will last only so long before you will inevitably have to own your own junk. The decisions you make and the actions you take are yours, and the responsibility for them will always catch up with you at some point.

You're more likely to be able to overcome your mistakes and failures if you own them from the start instead of trying to pass the buck. The Apostle Paul admonishes us to focus on our own responsibility ...

"Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won't need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct," Galatians 6:4-5.

Sometimes circumstances interfere in our lives in ways beyond our control. But we can control the decisions we make and the actions we take. Are you taking responsibility for them? Or are you trying to blame others for your mistakes and failures?

Scotty

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The ugly side of Christmas ...

When we think of Christmas, it's easy to think of beauty.

There's all those pictures of little towns, cozy cottages, and quaint churches wrapped in a soft blanket of snow. Colorful lights decorate homes, Christmas trees glisten by the light of fireplaces, and music of joy and peace plays in the background.

We hear the Christmas story from scripture, telling of a lonesome starry night with shepherds in the field, suddenly disturbed by an angelic announcement and the armies of heaven bursting out in praise. We read of the magi traveling from afar to worship a king. We hear of a magnificent star pointing the way to a manger in which the Savior of mankind rested.

It all sounds so beautiful!

But then there's the rest of the story ...

Not everyone was happy about the birth of Christ.

"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, 'Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and have come to worship him.' King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem'," Matthew 2:1-3.

It wasn't just King Herod who was unhappy to hear about the birth of a new king, the passage above says "... everyone in Jerusalem ..." was deeply disturbed by this news. The idea of a new king would be a direct threat to the position of Herod, and could disrupt the status quo too many of the Jews had come to accept in Jerusalem.

A new king could mean someone new in control, someone new on the throne, someone new reigning.

You know how the story goes. The wise men worshiped the Christ child, then quietly got out of town. But so determined was Herod to maintain his own kingship that he ordered the mass murder of little boys ...

"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.

For many, Christmas was a threat, and for many others, it was a tragedy. While some rejoiced and worshiped at Christmas, others sought to strengthen their own position and power in view of the challenge Jesus represented to them.

Jesus is still an intrusion on lives today. He has come into this world as more than a Savior, but also as Lord and King. He hasn't come to give us a beautiful holiday, but a holy life as children of God serving a new king, the King of kings and Lord of lords! For some, that is a threat because they want to be lord of their own lives, they don't want a king to worship.

What about you? Is Jesus a threat to who reigns in your life? Or is He the King to whom you kneel in submission and worship?

Scotty

Friday, December 13, 2013

The greatest story ever told, produced by ...

There's a saying that if you need something to get done, assign the task to a busy person.

On the face of it, it doesn't sound right. If someone is already busy, why give them even more to do?

The reason is many of those busy people are busy because they know how to get things done. They're producers. They are masters at multi-tasking and thrive on making things happen.

Hollywood is full of producers, men and women who actually hold the title "Producer." Their job is to turn into reality the vision of making a screenplay into a popular and profitable movie. The writer develops the script, the director directs the action, the star acts out the story, but it's the producer who generates all the resources needed for the project to succeed.

At Christmas, we see the greatest Producer of all at work, as the Holy Spirit produces a grand story written by the Trinity, directed by God, and now starring Jesus Christ ...

"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," Matthew 1:18.

The grand story actually started with a scene in a garden, but one of the most riveting scenes in the story is the birth of Christ, a dramatic moment in time produced by the Holy Spirit. We see Him still at work during the most crucial scene in the script ...

"The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David's family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit," Romans 1:3-4.

Each member of the Trinity contributes to the ongoing success of this grand story, but the Holy Spirit is still actively doing His work as a producer. But now, He wants to bring His skills to bear in our lives, making us a part of this great story ...

"The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you," Romans 8:11.

"Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God," 1 Corinthians 6:11.

Christmas reminds us that the Holy Spirit is still busy producing a great story as He continues to work out in our lives the story He enriched with Christ on that first Christmas. Are you cooperating with what the Holy Spirit wants to produce in you? Or are you busy trying to write and star in your own production?

Scotty

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Is Jesus worth your reputation?

In our culture, a harshly worded Facebook post can bring an end to long-standing friendships and even fray the bonds within a family.

Barely are the words posted or spoken and we immediately launch into a defense of our good character. The one thing that can bring out the beast in us is someone lying about us.

Imagine, then, being asked to purposely step into a scandal that would be based on false assumptions and would wreck your good name.

That's what Joseph was being asked to do when he was volunteered by God to be the step-father to Jesus. Since there had never been a virgin birth prior to that of Jesus (or since), it would make sense that no one would believe him or Mary regarding the miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit. Everything would indicate that Mary had to have had sex with someone, and if Joseph claimed innocence, then he was condemning Mary as an adulterer.

But --- and here's where the plot thickens for Joseph --- if he went ahead and married Mary, it would appear to everyone that Joseph was condoning sin; and in that case, others would likely think Joseph must then be the co-sinner with Mary.

The only way Joseph could keep his good name and not be blamed for something he wasn't guilty of --- at least in the eyes of those who knew him and Mary --- was, at the least, to divorce his fiance. Exactly what God didn't want Joseph to do ...

"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 ..." Matthew 1:20a.

Joseph knew to obey would be to purposely step into scandal and willingly subject his decision to ridicule and his character to disparagement. Joseph was being asked to put his name on the line for God.

What did he do?

"When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife," Matthew 1:24.

Knowing that to do what God asked would bring him great trouble and personal derision, Joseph didn't hesitate. Joseph was willing to put his entire reputation on the line in order to obey God.

Are you?

Scotty

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

When God volunteers you ...

Here's a fact we often forget: Jesus Christ will be glorified through our lives, whether or not we want to cooperate.

None of us were made for our own glory; all of us were made for His own good purpose ...

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

Because of this, God sometimes "volunteers" us, something demonstrated powerfully in the lives of Joseph and Mary.

Here was a young couple with their own dreams of getting married, starting a family, and enjoying life as much as it could be in ancient Israel. But God had different plans for them; He needed someone to be the earthly mother and step-father of His only Son, so He volunteered them to be the parents of Jesus.

Joseph and Mary certainly didn't ask for the job. They were informed by the angel Gabriel that God had volunteered them. That's because God, in his omniscience, knows the best and highest use of our lives and will always direct us that way, sometimes even volunteering us for missions we may not be inclined to think of or risk on our own initiative.

God still volunteers people today. You might think you've got your life all planned out, only to discover God has something very different in mind for you. Or you may hear God calling for volunteers, as Isaiah did ...

"Then I heard the Lord asking, 'Whom shall I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?'" Isaiah 6:8a.

Isaiah didn't hesitate.

"I said, 'Here I am. Send me," Isaiah 6:8b.

God is looking for those who are willing to volunteer for His mission. Even today, He asks who will go as His ambassador to the lost. Are you an enthusiastic volunteer for the kingdom of God, or is the only glory God gets from your life that which He volunteers you for? And when God does volunteer you, do you embrace His mission or selfishly push against it?

Scotty

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas shows us the need to receive others ...

The human brain is so incredible that we can make vital judgments in microseconds. That's what happens when we swerve to miss from having an accident or catch an object hurled at us.

It's also what happens when we look at someone and immediately make a judgment about them based upon only what we see in an instant.

While the first reactions may be life saving, the second often result in bad decisions and wrong impressions. And when it comes to sizing up someone incorrectly, no one could have gotten it more wrong than Bethlehem's innkeeper.

Imagine peering out the peek-hole of your front door and seeing a strange man standing there with a teenager who was very noticeably pregnant.

Would you answer the door?

Apparently this guy finally did, only to tell the strangers there was no room for them. But there was a problem ...

"And while they were there, the time came for her [Mary's] baby to be born," Luke 2:6.

You would have to have a heart of stone to completely turn away a teenage girl who was in labor. You couldn't send her to a hospital because there was no such thing. She needed help, and she needed off her feet.

But to understand just how cold morals were at the time of Jesus' birth, the most that was offered to Mary and Joseph was a little space in a stable, which some believe may have actually been a cave where animals were kept. Either way, it's not showing much concern for a woman giving birth to a child. Yet, I think at the moment this young couple were happy to get what they got.

The innkeeper responded to these strangers at his door much the same way we respond to unexpected visitors at ours. We tend to react to what we think intruders are going to do to our circumstances rather than considering what God may do, through them, with our lives.

Such snap decisions are often bad ones. Even scripture warns us about them ...

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

In this case, it wasn't an angel, it was the very Son of God!

How would your life change if you welcomed those who knocked at the door of your home --- or life --- as if God had sent them with a purpose? That purpose may be for you to serve and be a blessing to them, or He may have sent them to be a blessing to you. Or both!

There's only one way to find out.

Scotty

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas marks a changing of command ...


Years ago, a captain of a ship went crazy --- literally --- while out at sea.

The captain had decades of experience sailing the seas, but on this particular voyage something happened to cause him to lose his mind. The only thing the crew could do was lock the captain in his quarters until they could reach the nearest port. Until then, the First Officer would be in command.

The problem was, the captain didn't agree with the change of command. The crew could hear the voice of the captain yelling out orders that contradicted the commands of the new skipper. It took focus and some discipline for the crew to ignore the voice of their captain and listen to the orders of their new captain.

Christmas is about listening to a new voice and taking orders from a new captain. That's because on Christmas day, not only was a Savior born, but our LORD had come ...

"But the angel reassured them. 'Don't be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior --- yes, the Messiah, the Lord --- has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!'" Luke 2:10-11.

Jesus didn't come just to save us, but also to assert His lordship over our lives --- to take command in a bold, new way! The challenge for believers is learning to tune out the voice of sin that had for so long been captain of our lives, and learn to listen to the voice of a new captain, Christ the Lord.

Who's giving the orders in your life? Which voice are you obeying?

Scotty

Saturday, December 7, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: One of 2013's best books ...

You couldn't tell just by looking at the cover that "Risky Gospel" by Owen Strachan (published by Nelson Books) is one of the best books of 2013.

But it is.

When I received my review copy, my first thought was, "Who is this guy?"

I had never heard of Owen Strachan; I'm glad I have now.

The author page in the back of the book presents an impressive set of credentials for Dr. Strachan, and even that could be misleading with regard to this book. When reading that Dr. Strachan is an assistant professor, the Executive Director of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, has written six books, and writes essays for noted publications, you might jump to the conclusion you're about to read something complex by a formal academician.

You would be right ... and sort of wrong.

Being a professor, Dr. Strachan is an academic, but in "Risky Gospel" he takes a complex issue and breaks it down into simple terms, then communicates as if he's your study buddy in college. I didn't count the number of times he used the term "dude" but I noticed them.

 Then you open the book and get blown away.

The first two chapters completely captivated me as Dr. Strachan launched into his argument that God has given us a risky Gospel to live out in a big, bold way and that God wants us to "abandon fear and build something awesome."

What I think makes this book one of the best in 2013 is that Dr. Strachan gets right his diagnosis of what's wrong with the church, but then does something extraordinary for many writers today --- he demonstrates a real and raw understanding of human beings as a part of that diagnosis, and thus speaks realistically and practically to his readers while remaining unrelenting in his challenge to them.

And make no mistake about it, "Risky Gospel" is a full-throttle challenge to readers in the likes of the best-seller "Radical," only better. The only reason I believe it is better is because of Dr. Strachan's ability to not just persuasively present a biblical argument, but to always keep his argument tethered to an understanding of people. He "gets" the struggles the common Christian faces with his thoughts, desires, and emotions, and is still able to provide reason for pushing through to living out a risky gospel.

"Something has happened to many of us today. We're not sure what transpired to make it so. We just know that we're a little off. We love the Lord, and we want to love him more, but we don't really know how to ramp everything up. We feel a variety of things, but they boil down to a mixture of fear, uncertainty, and boredom. And what does all this mean for our actual, day-to-day lives? It means, I think, that at the base, we fear making the wrong decision, taking the wrong step. We know God is good and real, but we struggle to act on that belief in everyday life, because our problems feel bigger than God's promises," Strachan writes.

He gets it.

From there, Dr. Strachan walks you through God's call for us to live a risky gospel by abandoning our fears and truly building something awesome with our lives.

Yes, that sounds like a platitude you might read on any given day on a host of social media sites, but it isn't. It's what God really wants from us. And if you want to learn how to make that happen, then by all means buy this book and read it cover-to-cover.

"Risky Gospel" isn't a perfect book. I actually thought the chapter regarding the church was weak, or at least somewhat dull. But like a good friend who cares, Dr. Strachan comes alongside believers and challenges their current state while providing recommendations any Christian can take to change their lives, if only they will risk it.

Scotty

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.”

Friday, December 6, 2013

A manger full of truth ...

In his book, "A Whack on the Side of the Head," Roger von Oech tells the story of two men who had a fierce argument. To settle the matter, they went to a judge for arbitration. The plaintiff forcefully made his case, being eloquent and persuasive in his argument. When he finished, the judge nodded and said, "That's right, that's right."

On hearing this, the defendant jumped to his feet and objected, "Wait a second, Judge, you haven't even heard my side of the story!"

So the judge told the defendant to state his case. He, too, was very eloquent and persuasive. When he finished, the judge responded, "That's right, that's right."

When the court clerk heard this, he jumped to his feet and said, "Judge, they both can't be right!"

The judge looked at the clerk, nodded his head, and said, "That's right, that's right."

In this story, at least the clerk got it right --- two completely opposite statements are not both going to be true, regardless of how eloquent or persuasive the argument.

There is a such a thing as truth and it can be found. The first place to look is in the manger on Christmas day! It was more than 30 years after His birth that Jesus would explain to an earthly ruler why He had been born that first Christmas so long ago ...

"Pilate said, 'So you are a king?' Jesus responded, 'You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into this world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true'," John 18:37.

Shortly after God created the world, Satan made a mess of things by introducing a lie, and the world has struggled with truth ever since ...

"For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies," John 8:44.

To fix this mess, Jesus was born into this world to bring us truth. It is found in Christ Himself!

"And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth ... For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ," John 1:14, 17 (NASB).

"Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me," John 14:6.

Have you discovered the truth of Christ? Or are you still trying to argue in favor of a lie? May the truth be known afresh in you this Christmas season.

Scotty

Thursday, December 5, 2013

What Christmas can teach parents ...

An algebra teacher was concerned his students were not learning the material he was teaching, so he sent a note home to each parent asking them not to do any of the homework he assigned to their children.

The next day, one student turned in a reply from his parents. The note read, "Dear Mr. Wood, we are flattered that you think we could."

Because of the love for their children, parents are sometimes tempted to overextend themselves for their kids. Any good parent wants to support their children in learning and maturing however they can.

Imagine, then, the parents of Joseph and Mary.

Can you imagine what Joseph's parents could have thought when he explained to them that Mary was pregnant ... but the child wasn't his ... but the child was the Holy Spirit's?

"Joseph! We raised you better than that!" they may have shouted in response.

They may have initially been disappointed and angry, thinking their own son was lying to them --- and not being good at it! --- to cover his own sin with Mary. Then perhaps their anger swung from their son to Mary. It could be that Joseph's own parents may have encouraged him to stone her as an adulterer, or at the very least, to "divorce" his fiance. They may have blamed Mary for wrecking their son's good reputation.

But then, just imagine what Mary's parents must have thought! They likely didn't buy her explanation for her pregnancy. If there would have been shotguns in those days, Mary's dad would likely have gone looking for Joseph ... and perhaps he did, anyway.

Whatever these sets of parents thought and felt, it probably wasn't supportive toward Mary and Joseph, at least initially. They probably didn't make things easy for this young couple for a long time, and there likely weren't any warm and fuzzy dinner gatherings between families.

In spite of all the understandable thoughts these parents could have had in such remarkable circumstances, their opinions were probably wrong initially. God was doing a miraculous and marvelous thing through these two young people; their incredulous explanation was true!

Without spiritual discernment, it is easy for parents to fail to cooperate with the great things God is doing in the lives of their children. It's so easy to react from our limited thoughts and emotions, without giving any prayerful consideration that God might be up to something remarkable.

They only way parents can understand what God is doing in the lives of their children is for the parents to be yielded to God themselves, listening closely to Him through His word, pouring out their hearts to Him in prayer, and being sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Otherwise, you might just be more like Mary and Joseph's parents.

Are you cooperating with God to achieve His will in the lives of your children? Or are you an obstruction to your children in their obedience to God?

Scotty

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

One tradition you don't want at Christmas ...

Simpson had to fight to introduce chloroform. Lister battled to have antiseptics accepted. Copernicus was forced to retract his belief that the earth revolved around the sun.

Resistance to change among us human beings is an ancient problem!

We even allow a demand for change to keep us from our Creator. Surely, all the world would stampede to God if only He would relent on His insistence of changing us.

Then comes along the Christmas story, where once again our Savior is busy setting examples for us. This time, He demonstrates how love embraces change ...

"So the Word became human and made his home among us ..." John 1:14.

Did Jesus really change that much? Check this out ...

"In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it," John 1:1-5.

Yes, He changed that much!

The Word was literally, physically born into this world as a human being. The Word desired to radically change Himself just so He could save us. Jesus did more than embrace change, He volunteered for it. It was His idea.

At Christmas, the Word changed Himself so that He could come into the world and provide us with the means to be changed into His likeness.

"And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes," Galatians 3:27.

Today, we may think of tradition when we think of Christmas, but that first Christmas day was awash in radical, wondrous, gracious, loving change.

All so that we could be changed.

Are you allowing God to carry out the purpose of Christmas in you --- to transform you into the likeness of Christ? Or are you holding to that ancient tradition of resistance to change?

Scotty

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Isn't Christmas all about family?

Pastor Darren McCormick tells the story of a third grade Sunday School teacher who was trying to drive home the importance of family life. She illustrated her point by referring to the commandment "honor your mother and father." Then she added, "Now that commandment about honoring your mother and father deals with how we are to treat our parents --- can any of you tell me a commandment that deals with how we are to treat brothers and sisters?"

There was a long pause and then one boy's face lit up as he said, "I know! Thou shalt not kill!"

In spite of the battles we have within our families, they are often one of life's greatest blessings to us. So much so many tend to turn their families into idols, a behavior radically contradictory to one of the first lessons we can learn from Christmas.

That's when God gave away part of His "family" for His glory.

The Christmas story is loaded with lessons and examples for us, but we tend to skip over this example of God giving His Son. Oh we talk about it often, we just don't see it as an example to be followed. It's fine with us for God to give His Son for His glory, just don't ask us to give our family to God for His glory!

But God does expect us to follow His example. Jesus put that expectation into blunt words for us:

"If any of you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine," Matthew 10:37-38.

For many, Christmas is all about family and giving to family, rather than Christmas being all about Christ and giving all --- including our families --- to Him.

What's the order of priority in your Christmas?

Scotty

Monday, December 2, 2013

I've got good news and bad news ...

When someone says to you, "I've got good news and bad news, which do you want first?" how do you answer?

I usually want the bad news first, that way I can finish the exchange with some good news.

That's a little like the way God has communicated with us through Christmas. Before the world received the good news of the birth of a Savior came the bad news that we all needed one. Before there was, "Immanuel! God with us!" there first comes an indictment, one which the Apostle Paul describes like this:

"For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God's glorious standard," Romans 3:23.

That first Christmas was initiated from a very different reason that we exchange gifts today. Think about it --- how many people do you give Christmas gifts to who have rejected you and openly become your enemy? We exchange gifts with the people we love the most; on that first Christmas Day, God was giving His most precious gift to a world that had sinned against Him.

First, there's the bad news, then comes the good. Paul put them together like this:

"For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord," Romans 6:23.

On Christmas, God didn't decide just to give away His Son to the world because He was feeling generous; He gave what was most precious to Him because we would be utterly lost without that specific gift. He loved us that much!

"For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life," John 3:16.

The great joy of the good news of Christmas can only fully be understood in the context of the bad news that precedes it. Putting the two together, we see the love and grace in God giving His gift.

Have you heard the good news?

Scotty

Sunday, December 1, 2013

If you think YOUR job is tedious, try saving the world ...

If you ask a child what they would like to do when they grow up, chances are they will respond with something they think would be exciting.

Most kids don't dream of doing something difficult and tedious.

Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered the planet Pluto, probably thought exploring the universe would be an exciting job. Yet, his significant discovery would come only after great persistence in his work.

After astronomers calculated a probable orbit for this "suspected" heavenly body, Tombaugh took up the search in March of 1929. Time magazine  recorded the investigation:

"He examined scores of telescopic photographs each showing tens of thousands of star images in pairs under the dual microscope. It often took three days to scan a single pair. It was exhausting, eye-cracking work --- in his own word, 'brutal tediousness.' And it went on for months. Star by star, he examined 20 million images. Then on February 18, 1930, as he was blinking at a pair of photographs in the constellation Gemini, Tombaugh suddenly came upon the image of Pluto! It was the most dramatic astronomic discovery in nearly 100 years."

That doesn't sound like exciting work, although the outcome was dramatic. If you think Tombaugh's work was tedious, imagine God's job of executing a perfect plan to provide the world with a Savior. That took millenia of patiently working out a plan He had prepared before He had created anything. Throughout human history, God was executing that plan, and on Christmas Day, a particularly great moment in that plan had arrived ...

"But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children," Galatians 4:4-5.

"So the Word [Jesus] became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father's one and only Son," John 1:14.

So exciting was this moment in the execution of God's plan that the angels, who were watching God at work, just couldn't contain themselves any longer ...

"Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others --- the armies of heaven --- praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased'," Luke 2:13-14.

The birth of Christ is a wildly exciting part of God executing His plan. It's not the end of the story, though, albeit a pivotal part of it. The pinnacle of God's plan would take a few more decades before His strategy for saving the world would be culminated by Christ on a rugged cross.

But talk about an exciting moment! Even the angels couldn't contain themselves!

So why should you try?

This is the season to unleash your joy, worship, and praise in celebrating God doing the glorious, tedious work of providing us with a Savior.

Rejoice!

Scotty

Saturday, November 30, 2013

It's time to look to 2014 ...

As the calendar is about to turn the page to December, it's not too early to get working on your New Year resolutions. In fact, if you haven't started already, you might be running behind!

But before you start that list, take a moment to review how you did on your resolutions for 2013. Do you know a single person who achieved every resolution they made for this year?

I don't either.

There are a lot of contributing factors to such failure spanning from lack of discipline to having too many items on the list.

The key to any resolution is establishing a personal goal you are fully committed to turning into reality. In that case, one well-thought out goal achieved is better than failing at a long list of wishes you never really made as serious goals. Too often, our New Year resolutions sound more like a set of threats than personal goals, kind of like these "resolutions" from the late Erma Bombeck ...
  1. I'm going to clean this dump just as soon as the kids grow up.
  2. I will go to no doctor whose office plants have died.
  3. I'm going to follow my husband's suggestion to put a little excitement into my life by living within our budget.
  4. I'm going to apply for a hardship scholarship to Weight Watchers.
  5. I will never loan my car to anyone I have given birth to.
  6. And just like last year ... I'm going to remember my children need love the most when they deserve it the least.
So, instead of racking your brain to create another insincere wish list, what if you set a single resolution for 2014 and seriously dedicated yourself to achieving it ... at any cost. What should that "mother of all resolutions" look like? How about this ...

"The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith," 1 Timothy 1:5.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that he could narrow his ministry work to a single objective - that we all "... would be filled with love ..." Paul was concise about such a significant goal, describing that such a love would come from "... a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith."

Now that sounds like a resolution that would so impact our lives (if achieved) that we really wouldn't need a long list of wishes, would we?

So why not save some time and simplify your task of resolution-making by joining Paul in achieving this objective in 2014? I think we would all be blessed by the results.

Scotty

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Blessed and unhappy ...

It's Thanksgiving Day and some people are miserable in spite of being blessed by God.

That's because they want different blessings than the ones God has chosen to give them.

Their complaints may include they aren't living where they would like to live, with the people they would prefer being with, or in the fashion they would like. Or they aren't doing with their lives what they would really like. Or they don't have specifically what they want, or as much as they want.

God has blessed them, but they insist on being miserable as long as they don't get what they really want.

To be unhappy with life because God hasn't given you life on your terms is to truly be ungrateful.

That was the problem with a rich young man we read about in Mark 10:17-22. He had about all a person could want in life, but there was yet one more thing he wanted.

"As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Mark 10:17.

This young man was looking into the face of  the very Source of life, and was having offered to him the very thing he was asking for --- a means to eternal life.

"Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. 'There is still one thing you haven't done,' he told him. 'Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'," Mark 10:21.

Jesus answers the young man directly with a way to have exactly what he's asking for. But the young man didn't like the terms for achieving what he wanted.

"At this the man's face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions," Mark 10:22.

We can be a lot like that young man. We have a lot of things in our lives, yet we're still unhappy because God isn't giving us what we really want on our terms. We cannot be truly grateful to God when we're disappointed with what He has given us.

It's like a story told by Jeff Strite about a Polish railroad worker named Jan Grzebski who was hit by a train back in 1988. He lived, but only barely. For the next 19 years, Grzebski was in a coma.

Grzebski awoke from his coma in 2007 to a whole new world. Nineteen years earlier, Poland was a communist state. Grzebski noted back then meat was rationed and there were huge lines at nearly every gas station. And, "there was only tea and vinegar in the shops."

But 19 years later, he awoke to a free nation where he said there were "people on the streets with cell phones, and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin!"

But something puzzled him.

"What amazes me is all these people who walk around with their mobile phones and yet they never stop moaning," he said.

These people had freedom, food, and wealth greater than Poland had had for decades, and yet Grzebski woke from his coma to find that all they seemed to want to do was grumble!

If you don't get into the habit of thanking God for what you DO have, you'll soon become ungrateful because of what you DON'T have. And you can't honestly be grateful while really wanting something different.

What are you doing today - genuinely thanking God for what you do have, or wanting something different on your own terms?

Scotty

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Maybe you need a goat ...

There is much in life to be thankful for. Unfortunately, our perspective on life may stifle our gratitude.

In Budapest, a man went to his rabbi and complained, "Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?"

The rabbi answered, "Take the goat into the room with you."

The man was incredulous, but the rabbi insisted, "Do as I say and come back in a week."

A week later the man returned looking more distraught than before.

"We cannot stand it," he tells the rabbi, "The goat is filthy!"

The rabbi then tells him, "Go home and let the goat out. Then come back in a week."

A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, "Life is beautiful! We enjoy every minute of it now that there's no goat, only the nine of us."

Perspective is a human thing, man's "take" on reality. Fix your perspective and you'll discover much to be thankful for.

Scotty

Life is messy ...


You've likely heard the story of the man who went in to see his physician.

"So let's have it," the patient said.

"The bad news is that you have only 24 hours to live," the doctor stated somberly.

"I can't imagine what could be worse than that!" exclaimed the patient.

The doctor replied, "I forgot to call you yesterday."

Life is messy.

As we gather around the table on Thanksgiving Day, many will be feeling the messiness of life sharply.

With the messy economy, many have lost homes, savings, and jobs. Many will struggle to put together a meal for Thanksgiving Day. Some won't have anything to eat. Others will be missing family and friends who couldn't afford to travel. And still others will be missing family and friends who are no longer here.

Life is messy.

Yet, when we gather on Thanksgiving Day with those we love, and take stock of what blessings from God we do have, we always find something to be thankful for.

Life is never so messy that's there's no longer reason for gratitude. Deep, genuine gratitude.

In the harshest of moments, God is ever present, walking with us through our trials and troubles. And as we bow our heads tomorrow, we can remember a hope-provoking promise from our Savior ...

"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world," John 16:33.

Let me encourage you to make your prayer around the dinner table tomorrow something more than offering thanks for the meal. The food can wait; take the time to offer a heart-felt, genuine giving of thanks that reflects the graciousness of God in your life and the lives of those at your table.

Whether life is messy for you right now, or God is blessing you abundantly, it's my prayer that you will be moved anew with a fresh attitude of gratitude toward God and His lovingkindness toward you.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Scotty

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's not always like this ...

No matter how hard things may be for you this Thanksgiving Day as you gather for dinner, there will be plenty for you to be thankful for.

Some measure their blessings only by their immediate circumstances, but such a narrow view misses much of life's greater context.

Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for getting that greater context, and for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, " Certainly the preacher won't think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this."

Much to the fellow's surprise, Whyte began by praying, "We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this."

If things are tough for you today, remember that things are not always like this. And for that, be grateful.

Scotty

Monday, November 25, 2013

Sweet berries for the soul ...

If you haven't planned your Thanksgiving dinner menu yet, you're running behind!

With just a few days before the biggest feast your family will likely indulge in this year, most people have made their plans for the meal and are finishing their shopping for the groceries.

What's on your menu?

Turkey? Stuffing? Homemade rolls? Pie?

Have you ever tried miracle fruit?

According to Dennis Himm, in West Africa there is a cranberry-like fruit called the Sweet Berry or Miracle Fruit. The meat of the fruit contains a molecule called miraculin that binds to the tongue's taste buds, changing a person's sense of taste so that everything eaten seems sweet, even sour foods.

An attitude of gratitude and praise has a similar effect as the Miracle Fruit. Thankfulness sweetens a person's entire life, even in the midst of such sour servings as pain, loss, or sorrow. An attitude of gratitude in all things is sweet berries for the soul!

"Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!" Psalm 34:8.

Scotty

Sunday, November 24, 2013

As a leader, you have better things to pursue than this ...

One of the things I find bewildering is how popular a sermon and conference topic is the subject of "greatness" among so many church leaders.

A very different message was preached at the funeral of King Louis XIV, which was conducted in the great cathedral of Paris, France. The cathedral was dark except for a single candle placed on top of the golden casket containing Louis' remains. At the appointed time, Massillon, the court preacher, addressed the assembly of mourners.

He arose, walked to the candle, and snuffed it out.

Then, in the darkness, he declared, "ONLY God is GREAT!"

When it comes to the topic of greatness, Jesus taught his disciples they had better things to pursue ...

"But Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many'," Matthew 20:25-28.

Do you have a desire to be great? Or to be a great servant? The difference matters.

Scotty

Saturday, November 23, 2013

If you're going to lead ...

When I was a teenager, a pastor once told me, "There's always someone watching your life."

That reminds me of a story about a pastor who was building a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine. As he was hammering away, he saw a little boy was watching him. The youngster didn't say a word, so the pastor kept on working, thinking the lad would just leave.

But he didn't.

Finally, the pastor asked, "Well, son, are you trying to pick up some pointers on gardening?"

"No," replied the boy, "I'm just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer."

If you're going to lead, then set the example.

"... Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity," 1 Timothy 4:12b.

Scotty

That's saying a lot ...

A young man wrote this note to his girlfriend:

"Sweetheart, if this world was as hot as the Sahara Desert, I would crawl on my knees through the burning sand to come to you. If the world would be like the Atlantic Ocean, I would swim through shark-infested waters to come to you. I would fight the most fiercest dragon to be by your side. I will see you on Thursday if it doesn't rain."

We can be generous with our grandiose offerings, but when it comes down to the practical living out of the claims we make, our words often do not match our actions.

It should not be that way.

"Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions," 1 John 3:18.

Do your actions prove your words? Or do your profess more than you demonstrate?

Scotty

Friday, November 22, 2013

Are you too good to fail?

What's the first thing you do when you mess up?

A lot of us are like the veteran baseball player who got angry at his manager who one day decided to put in a rookie in the right field. The regular fielder wasn't happy about the change and loudly let it be known from the bench how he thought it was a mistake to play the kid.

As it turned out, the rookie was so nervous he messed up big time. He made a couple of errors and misjudged several other fly balls that should have been called errors. Each time he messed up, the veteran complained loudly from the bench.

Finally, late in the game, the manager replaced the rookie with the veteran, mostly to shut up the seasoned fielder. Not long after, the veteran mishandled the first ball hit to him for an error. As he came off the field at the end of the inning, everyone on the bench became very quiet so they could hear what he would say.

The manager was waiting for the veteran, but before he could address the man, the veteran ballplayer threw his glove down in disgust and said, "Skipper, that kid has right field so messed up nobody can play it!"

When you mess up, what do you have to say about yourself? The Apostle Paul gives us some guidance regarding how to handle our own performance ...

"Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won't need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct," Ephesians 6:4-5.

Are you blaming someone else for your own errors? Or are you taking responsibility for your own mistakes?

Scotty

Thursday, November 21, 2013

What's your plan?

Most of us don't develop strategies for living until we've messed things up and have to have them. Such as ...

... a strategy for losing weight, usually put off until we get a diagnosis from the doctor demanding we lose weight in order to be able to regain our health ...

... a strategy for saving, forced on us after we're so in debt real savings won't happen until after years of digging out of debt ...

... a strategy for managing our relationships, which often don't come until we're on the verge of losing the most important people in our lives ...

We hurtle through this life with such a carefree attitude (thinking that's "cool"), expecting everything to constantly fall into place --- in our favor, every time --- and never consider we actually do need to make time on a regular basis to think, make smart decisions, and even put in place some specific strategies for living.

The one strategy most of us never put into place in our lives is a strategy for being a disciple of Christ. A real strategy that ...

... makes sure we get the discipleship we need so we can grow up in Christ ...

... a strategy that includes our being equipped for ministry, including knowing how to share the Gospel so we can do so when we have opportunity ...

... a strategy that creates opportunities to make disciples ...

... a strategy that lines out how we can invest our lives fully --- our time, talent, and resources --- in living our lives as ambassadors for Christ.

Most Christians look at serving Christ as occasionally responding to one of the myriad opportunities they stumble across each day, or expect the church to make an announcement about something they can make a small contribution to in some way.

That's not a strategy for living for Christ, that's a strategy for living for self.

Do you have any kind of plan for making your life count for the cause of Christ? Or are you just winging it? How much more could your life make a difference if you had a simple strategy and executed it?

Scotty