Thursday, January 31, 2013

A double-claim on our lives ...

Tom carried his new boat to the edge of the river. He carefully placed it in the water and slowly let out the string. The little boat sailed atop the waters so smoothly! The boy sat in the warm sunshine, admiring the little boat he had built. Suddenly a strong current caught the boat. Tom tried to pull it back to shore, but the string broke. The little boat raced downstream.

Tom ran along the sandy shore as fast as he could. But his little boat soon slipped out of sight. All afternoon he searched for the boat. Finally, when it was too dark to look any longer, Tom sadly went home.

A few days later, on the way home from school, Tom spotted a boat just like his in a store window. When he got closer, he could see --- sure enough --- it was his!

Tom ran into the store and breathlessly approached the store manager, "Sir, that's my boat in your window! I made it!"

"Sorry, son, but someone else brought it in this morning. If you want it, you'll have to buy it for one dollar."

Tom ran home and counted all his money. Exactly one dollar! When he reached the store, he rushed to the counter. "Here's the money for my boat!" As he left the store, Tom hugged his boat and said, "Now you're twice mine. First, I made you and now I bought you!"

I love that story because it's a great example of what Jesus Christ has done for us: first He made us, then He bought us with His own blood.

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

"13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins," Colossians 1:13-14.

"And they sang a new song with these words: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and break its seals and open it. For you were slaughtered, and your blood has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation," Revelation 5:9.

Jesus Christ is our Creator and our Savior. Do you know and worship Him as both?


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fix this failure and watch your church grow ...

Yes, I do WANT to start this blog post with a preface. Anyone who really knows me, knows I love the Church. It is the bride of Christ, for which He is passionate about. Given that simple preface, it's easy for anyone to see there are multiple problems in the Church which keep it from being the beautiful bride Christ desires it to be.

Without launching into a list of what's wrong with the Church, let's look at just one great failure, and this one falls directly into the laps of leadership: the failure to equip the congregation. When leaders fail to equip the saints, the result looks something like this:

Christ has specifically gifted the church with leaders who have, among other responsibilities, a primary objective of equipping disciples to be able to serve.

"11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ," Ephesians 4:11-12.

When leaders carry out their biblical responsibility to equip the saints, the results look more like this (yes, the leader will also row with the team, this is just an view of equipping):

It is true that some people would not be willing to be equipped if training was offered; but it is also true that many saints not only would be willing to be equipped but actually want to be! The problem is, there is far too little equipping of the saints going on in the church, to the point the average church member is thoroughly unequipped to share the Gospel with a non-believer.

That's often why they don't.

Churches that get serious about equipping members, and then encouraging, supporting, and challenging them to serve both in and out of the Church usually experience both spiritual and numerical growth.

That's because they're applying scripture by actually doing what they should be doing.


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Are you a holy aglet?

Some of the most brilliant ideas are hatched from practicality. Take, for example, the aglet.

You know that very small piece of plastic at the end of your shoe lace? That's an aglet. You never give it a moment's consideration ... until you lose an aglet. The result is, the end of the shoe lace frays and you have great difficulty getting the lace through the holes to tighten up your shoes.

The word aglet (or aiglet) comes from Old French aguillette, meaning "needle." This comes from acus, a Latin word for a needle. An aglet is thus like a small needle at the end of a cord, defining the function it retains until today

Aglets have been around at least since the days of the ancient Roman empire, only back then they weren't made of plastic. Originally aglets were made from metal, glass, stone, whatever else could be shaped as necessary. Rich people would have aglets made of precious metals like brass or silver. Aglets were used in place of buttons at the end of ribbons to help fasten closed a person's clothes.

Without that cheap little piece of plastic at the end of laces, ribbons, or whatever it's attached to, things become frayed, unraveled, causing the function of larger things to fail.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is a little like being an aglet used by the Holy Spirit. God puts us little ol' Christians at the tip of a lost person's life, attached to a message of reconciliation. As the disciple weaves themselves, and the Gospel, into the lives of the lost, the message of God's Word is like a needle sewing up the broken and reconciling the lost to the Lord.

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

Are you weaving yourself into the lives of the lost with God's message of reconciliation? Are you making yourself available to God for Him to make His appeal through you?


Monday, January 28, 2013

It's not just a Sunday thing ...

When do you give glory to God? How do you do it?

A lot of people would have to think about those questions because they practice "selective glorification." Perhaps before a meal, they give thanks and glory to God. Maybe if God heals them or a loved one from an illness, they glorify God. Or at the birth of a child, and at Sunday church services.

The answer to the questions should be for us to glorify God in everything. In our homes, our marriages, our parenting, our friendships, our conduct at work, even how we treat other drivers during rush our.

Our lives should glorify God in all that we are and do.

"So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God," 1 Corinthians 10:31.

"With all my heart I will praise you, O Lord my God. I will give glory to your name forever," Psalm 86:12.

"Forever" includes today. Is your life today being lived in a way that brings glory to God?


Sunday, January 27, 2013

The risky pursuit of security ...

The person who makes a bet they know they will lose is a fool. That would be betting on a sure loss, rather than a sure thing.

But we do something similar with our lives. We tend to live the lives we're willing to bet on. That doesn't mean we have a sure win, it's just the safe route, and security is one of humanity's most worshiped idols.

The problem with the persistent pursuit of security is that there's little room for faith in that kind of life; it's an ugly form of selfishness. The means for making a decision isn't just asking, "Is it safe?" The greater question is, "Does it glorify God?" If it does, take the risk and trust God for your security.

"Those who fear the Lord are secure; he will be a refuge for their children," Proverbs 14:26.

"24 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. 25 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but are yourself lost or destroyed?" Luke 9:24-25.


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Got the munchies?

You tell yourself you're hungry, so you walk into the kitchen and pull open the refrigerator door.

Every shelf is packed with an assortment of food.

Meat. Eggs. Milk. Vegetables. Leftovers.

As you slowly gaze from one shelf to another, you finally arrive at the conclusion, "There's nothing to eat."

We've all done it. With a pantry full of food, a fully stocked refrigerator, and additional items in cabinets, we tell ourselves we don't have anything to eat.

The problem isn't a lack of food, far from it. The problem is our appetite. We don't want what we have, our appetite is for something we don't have.

Our spiritual appetites are often the same way. In spite of the fact that God "... has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ," (Eph. 1:3b), we find ourselves desiring other things. Sometimes we still yearn for a diet of things unhealthy for our souls. The Apostle Paul put it this way ...

"Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows," 1 Timothy 6:6-10.

 Paul also wrote, "And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus," Philippians 4:19. The issue for us isn't any spiritual need, but our appetites.

What are you hungry for?


Friday, January 25, 2013

Getting past the door ...

A little boy constantly fell out of bed. No matter what his parents did, the boy couldn’t sleep without rolling out of bed. An uncle came to visit and in the middle of the night the usual thump and cry was heard. In the morning the uncle teased the boy and asked him why he fell out so often. The little fellow thought for a moment and then said, “I don’t know, unless it's because I stay too close to the place where I get in.”

This story highlights our individual need for discipleship.

Many who enter into a New Covenant relationship with Jesus Christ struggle with falling back into former life patterns. Why? Because they stay too close to the place where they got in; they need to go and grow in Christ. They need to move past the "door," and walk the Way with the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

When we become new disciples of Christ, we need that teaching experience which Jesus instructed every disciple to have when He commissioned the church:

"Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you," Matthew 28:20a.

Disciples are to be taught how to take on both the character and skills of Christ, so that we become like the One we're following.

"Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher," Luke 6:40.

As disciples of Jesus, we should be in a discipling rationship with a seasoned saint so we can learn to become more like Christ; or, we should be discipling new disciples. Better yet, we should be doing both! As we are walking the Way with Christ, learning to become like Him, we should be sharing the Good News with others and discipling those we introduce to Jesus.

To be like our Lord, we need to be disciples who are making disciples.

Are you learning and growing as a disciple of Christ, or are you hanging around the entry point, failing to venture into the Way with Jesus? Are you sharing Christ with others, and discipling those who join you in the journey on the Way?


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Missing God in pursuit of miracles ...

Have you ever noticed how many people pursue spiritual highs?

One way of identifying the "spiritual high" chaser are those who are constantly searching for God's next "big" miracle. Life as a follower of Jesus is flat --- even empty --- for them if God isn't conducting some kind of remarkable demonstration of His power.

Never mind the fact that their being alive yet another day is a miracle in itself, they look for something that will overwhelm their senses and give them an adrenalin rush of faith. Never mind the fact that there are endless miracles both "big" and "little" happening constantly just to keep this world going, the miracle chaser seeks an uninterrupted string of astounding experiences with God.

Yet, what the miracle chaser doesn't understand is to constantly be searching for the next big miracle more often means we ignore God in a vain human effort to feel Him.

But God is not in the miracle business. Miracles are a "natural" expression of interacting with a God who transcends natural laws and functions. When we walk with God, sometimes His expressions of love and care for us overflows the boundaries we are contained in as humans, and we call those expressions miracles.

God hasn't set out to impress us with miracles, or to earn our praise with works of wonder. He isn't exalted by planting the likeness of Jesus on a tortilla, or selecting you as the next lottery winner. Instead, He wants us to walk humbly with Him and enjoy Him; He wants us to be in awe of who He is, not simply from what He does. God will more often provide for us by blessing us with health enough to work for an employer who will pay us. God will often heal us with the help of a skilled physician. God will often calm us with conversation over coffee with a friend. God will often mature us through the challenges of a seasoned saint who disciples us. God will often mend us through the help of a godly counselor.

It doesn't take magnificent miracles for God to demonstrate His love and care for us; He does that every single day, often in simple ways and through common experiences and ordinary people. That doesn't detract from the depth of His love and care for us.

We get the fullest experience of walking with God when we stop seeking the next "high" from Him, and learn to delight in Him even in the simple, ordinary, commonplace moments of life.


Monday, January 21, 2013

You can't hurdle hindrances ...

I've written before about the fact I'm not a runner and never have been. I've tried it, and just didn't discover that enjoyment so many have for running. But I did enjoy bouts of track and field as part of Physical Education in school.

Being a competitive guy, I was looking forward to getting back onto the track one school afternoon when, to my dismay, I discovered someone had set up hurdles along the track.

Now why would someone purposely place obstacles on a track where people would be running?

I would soon find out.

Not having a natural liking for running, I certainly didn't find the idea of running hurdles to be appealing. I envisioned the hurdles sending me hurtling face first into the track's surface, something I wasn't looking forward to. Fortunately, I did well in my outing with the hurdles, finishing with just a couple clips but no calamities.

As a sport, hurdles can be an interesting --- even fun --- challenge. But in life, hurdles can cause us to fall in ways that result in real harm.

The Bible refers to hurdles in life, specifically set out to cause us to stumble in our faith, as being those things that hinder us in our walk with God. The Apostle Paul wrote about the issue of hindrances to our faith:

"7You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? 8It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom," Galatians 5:7-8.

Satan is always trying to put in our way something to hinder us in running well the race of faith. But other people, things, even persistent thoughts and emotions can hinder us in our relationship with God when they lead us away from His truth. To make sure we finish the race well, we need to remove any obstacle to our loving and obeying God.

"17And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions [hindrances] and upset people’s faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them. 18Such people are not serving Christ our Lord; they are serving their own personal interests. By smooth talk and glowing words they deceive innocent people," Romans 16:17-18.

"We destroy every proud obstacle [hindrance] that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ," 2 Corinthians 10:5.

What obstacles remain in your life that hinder your walk with God?


Saturday, January 19, 2013

God's selective forgetfulness ...

A young nun once claimed to have had a vision of Jesus. Her bishop decided to test her truthfulness and ordered the next time she had a vision she should ask Christ what the bishop’s primary sin had been before he became a bishop.

Some months later the nun returned and the bishop asked if she had asked Christ the question, to which she affirmed she had.

"And what did He say?" the bishop asked, apprehensively.

"Christ said ..." and the nun paused a moment ... "He said, ‘I don’t remember. ’"

God not only forgives, He also forgets!

 “I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again," Isaiah 43:25.

The depth of God's grace goes even to what He chooses to remember; He never forgets His promises to us, but He chooses not to remember the sin He has already forgiven.

If God has forgiven and forgotten your sin, so should you; move forward into the new life you have in Christ instead of trying to look back at something God doesn't even think of.


Friday, January 18, 2013

A well-connected church can be an impotent one ...

What we do becomes ineffective quickly when we forget why we do what we're doing.

"Making connections" in the church is a great example.

We've narrowly pursued the task of connecting people to such a degree that most of the congregation (or a majority) is connected in some way, and yet those connections aren't yielding much fruit.

We welcome people at the door, lead them to their seats, greet them before and after service, recruit them into groups and classes, and give them a task. We're "connected."

But usually only on Sunday. Perhaps on a weeknight as well.

But we often aren't in each others homes or lives outside of a structured, planned time to meet. Yet, we call that "doing life together."

The problem is we've made connecting people the entire goal, rather than the reason why we make it important to connect people in the first place. We connect because we're family --- God's family! We are brothers and sisters, we belong to each other. Our connectedness to each other is supposed to be one of living out being a spiritual family, loving each other, caring for and serving one another, and being ambassadors for Christ together.

To be connected without living out the reason for the connection leaves a church impotent, just as if there were no connection. That's because without loving and serving each other in the way Christ loved us, we really aren't "connected."

"This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you," John 15:12.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

If you're happy and you know it ...

We've made the measure of a successful Sunday gathering "at church" to be the number of happy people leaving the building.

Bad measure!

By being more concerned about creating a "warm, fuzzy" experience, we've abandoned the power of God's Word and the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin, to challenge us, and to hold us accountable. We have made the exercise of "going to church" a "feel good" experience and have forgone passionate, authentic worship, exegesis of scripture, and especially any kind of call to repent.

If you can feel good with the fluff that has replaced all that, you've likely veered from the way, the truth, and the life Christ calls us to in scripture.

Sending people home from church "happy" but lost, "happy" but backslidden, "happy" but rebellious is to enable them in their sin.

Do you really think that's a good measure for a successful Sunday gathering "at church"?


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A path to peace ...

The fact God has plans for us is often something we make into a source of anxiety instead of grounds for peace.

Instead of trusting God to unfold His perfect plans in His time and His way, we want to know what God knows so we can micro manage His work in our lives.

God doesn't work that way.

We shouldn't either.

God does know what He has planned for us, and knowing He knows should ignite peace in our minds and hearts.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope," Jeremiah 29:11.

Not only does God have plans for us, He assures us His plans will be good for us. Trusting God with what He knows is our path to peace. We don't have to know everything when we know God knows. We can find rest in trusting His perfect knowledge, and have peace in His promise of His plan being good.

Do you trust God to know your future? Or are you anxious about His plans for you?


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Well ... can you?

Jesus couldn't hide in a crowd.

He couldn't let the needs of the needy go unmet.

He couldn't just be with people and not engage them.

He couldn't draw close and not care; He couldn't "care" and not act.

What He had to say didn't fit into the culture, it countered it, so it stood out.

His kindness was noticeable.

His goodness was different.

His graciousness with others was remarkable.

Wherever He went He was light, obviously so. Even a crowd couldn't hide it.

Can you hide in a crowd?

14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father," Matthew 5:14-16.


Monday, January 14, 2013

When a little is a lot ...

A story is told of a king who planned to host a great feast and invited all his servants throughout his kingdom.

The king said he would provide all the meat, vegetables, fruits, and the desserts. Each servant was to bring one quart of the best wine they had and pour it into a 500 gallon wine vat.

A little servant thought, "My quart can’t matter that much in 500 gallons." So he got there early and poured one quart of water into the huge vat. All day long over 2,000 men poured their quart of their best wine into the vat. In the evening the king blessed the meal then took his silver chalice to the wine vat. When he opened the tap, his chalice filled with water. Each servant thought they were so little that their little part would not matter, so the vat was filled with water.

In the kingdom of God, you matter!

"18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, 'I don’t need you.' The head can’t say to the feet, 'I don’t need you.' 22 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. 27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it," 1 Corinthians 12:18-27.

Are you making your contribution within the body of Christ, or are you bringing water to the feast?


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Christians should stop eating fish ...

Christians need to stop eating fish.

No, I don't mean the scaly ones you reel in from water.  I mean the new disciples you make when fishing for men.

Making disciples has one thing in common with sport fishing: it's a "catch and release" process.

Sport fishermen revel in the joy of finding and reeling in a fish, then release it back into the waters from which the fish came, and then search for a different fish to catch. Discipleship is supposed to be sharing the Good News with the lost to make new disciples, then releasing them back into their communities so they can join the fishing for lost souls.

However, instead of releasing the new disciples, we entrench them in programs, activities, and various endeavors all in the name of "doing life" together. We're supposed to release them so we can fish together.

Scripture says Jesus came to set the captives free; we tend to grab those freed captives and entangle them in a lot of things other than the purpose for which they were saved.

Are you releasing new disciples to go fishing? Or are you entangling them in the nets of activity?


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Your salvation came with a vocation ...

There was a missionary in China whose talents and abilities were so outstanding one of the American companies tried to hire him. They offered him a job with an attractive salary, but he turned it down. He told them God had sent him to China as a missionary.

He thought that would end the matter, but instead they came back with a better offer that included an increase in salary. He turned that down too, but again they came back, doubling the financial package.

Finally he said to them, "It's not your salary that's too little. It's the job that's too small!"

Sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ is a big job, one that belongs to every disciple of Jesus. When we became followers of Christ, God gave us a new title, with a specific task, and a message to go with it ...

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

There's no bigger job than being an ambassador for the Creator of all things and being used by Him to reconcile others to Him! Yet, we so often let the simplest of things draw our attention away from representing God to the world.

Are you serving God as His ambassador where you live? Or is something smaller more important to you?


Friday, January 11, 2013

Changing your mind ...

The single greatest power a human being has is choosing the thoughts they will entertain, and what they do with those thoughts.

It is our thinking that we use to draw closer to, or push away from, God. It is our thoughts of others that determine our value and views of them, and our interactions with them. It is our thoughts about ourselves that motivates what we do with the life God has given us.

Our thoughts are powerful things!

Our thoughts create our emotions, and our thoughts and emotions together formulate our actions. It is no wonder, then, that our thinking is at the core of our spiritual transformation. The Apostle Paul wrote concisely, "Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes" (Ephesians 4:23).

William Shakespeare put a poetic spin on this issue by writing, "Make not your thoughts your prisons." Instead of heeding these words, we routinely paralyze ourselves with our own thinking.

This type of behavior is highlighted in the urban legend reported by the Associated Press about Lisa Burnett, 23, a resident of San Diego. While she was visiting her in-laws, she went to a nearby supermarket to pick up some groceries. Several people noticed her sitting in her car with the windows rolled up, her eyes closed, and with both hands behind the back of her head. One customer who had been at the store for a while became concerned and walked over to the car. He noticed Lisa’s eyes were now open, and she looked very strange. He asked her if she was okay, and Lisa replied she had been shot in the back of the head, and had been holding her brains in for over an hour.

The man called the paramedics, who broke into the car because the doors were locked and Lisa refused to remove her hands from her head. When they finally got in, they discovered Lisa had a wad of bread dough on the back of her head ...

A Pillsbury biscuit canister had exploded from the heat, making a loud noise that sounded like a gunshot, and the wad of dough hit her in the back of her head. When she reached back to find out what it was, she felt the dough and thought it was her brains. She initially passed out, but quickly
recovered and tried to hold her brains in for over an hour until someone noticed and came to her aid.

Lisa hadn't been shot, she simply had become a prisoner of her own thoughts.

We need to be set free from the prisons of our own thinking by having our minds renewed by the Holy Spirit, and finding the peace that comes by focusing our thoughts on God:

"You will keep in perfect peace
    all who trust in you,
    all whose thoughts are fixed on you!"
- Isaiah 26:3

How do you limit yourself by your own thinking from being all God wants you to be? Have you allowed the Holy Spirit to renew your mind, transform your thinking, and set you free from the prison your thoughts have created?


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Getting in God's way ...

Throughout my ministry career, I've been approached by several men who believed God had called them to vocational ministry or others who were convinced God was directing them to serve others by becoming a clinical counselor (psychologist, psychiatrist, or pastoral counselor, etc.).

Sadly, I've watched many of these men abandon what they believed was God's clear and specific direction for them chiefly because their wives were not supportive, some to the point of threatening a divorce if the man followed God's call. The primary objection raised by the wives was the change in their lifestyle that would come about by being obedient to God's call. I remember one wife drawing a "line in the sand" by telling her husband they couldn't afford to keep their children in a private Christian school if he became a pastor, and she would not support any reason for taking the children out of the school they were in.

This kind of "resistance" happens a lot.

Not just in sweeping vocational issues, but in the every day serving the Lord and others in and out of the church. Quite often, one of the greatest sources of squelching obedience to God and our service in His kingdom is the resistance raised by a "loved one."

It is not uncommon for a spouse or family member to think it's alright for a loved one to do a little something for God, but not a lot. Certainly nothing as "silly" as radical devotion where all of life revolves around loving, serving, and glorifying God. That kind of radical obedience tends to impede personal comfort levels and lifestyle choices, exactly why spouses and others sometimes resist.

We often address the issue of how marriages and families can be neglected by those in vocational ministry (a real issue that needs to be addressed), but rarely do we have the courage to admit that loved ones often purposely make themselves to be a wedge between God and us. In subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) ways, family members apply pressure and false guilt with the intent of redirecting their loved one away from God's direction in order to meet their own desires.

Jesus spoke to this issue on more than one occasion, and I won't attempt to cover all relevant biblical teaching on this subject in this limited space. At the heart of the issue is identifying who is at the heart of the issue, and Jesus says that should be God:

3“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” 37Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments,” Matthew 22:36-40.

Jesus got a lot more specific about applying this "God first" thinking to our relationships:

34 “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword. 35 ‘I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36Your enemies will be right in your own household!’ 37 If 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. 38 If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. 39 If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it," Matthew 10:34-39.

Scripture has plenty of specific information about marriage, family, and those close kindred relationships. But Jesus makes plain a very bold and clear teaching: every relationship, every desire, every thing is to be subjected to God being first in all of our lives. The idea of a marriage is a man and woman who, joined together, jointly love God foremost. The idea of a biological family includes those close knit relationships that, together, love God first. Ultimately, everyone and everything in our lives need to yield to loving God first.
And therein lies a primary objective: a mutual loving of God and yielding to His will rather than putting ourselves or our desires ahead of God and His will. Joshua provided an example for us in his great challenge recorded in Joshua 24:14-15 ...
1“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

It's important for marriages and families to settle who they, together, are going to serve. What place are they giving God? What place should God have in their individual and joined lives, and what does that look like? Have you settled this issue?


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A critical measure ...

Take a mental trip ...

... something has happened and you find yourself alone on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

What do you need?

An honest rendering of the list would come up with very few items. There are not a lot of things we must have to survive. What we tend to think of as "needs" are often things which enhance our comfort or happiness with life. Some are worthwhile, others are nothing more than indulgances.

Now compare this little mental trip to how you live each day. If you're an American, chances are your life is clogged with a host of things you have in your life specifically for your personal enjoyment or entertainment. There's nothing wrong with having things that make life comfortable or more enjoyable unless we give them the wrong value by treating them as needs.

We often reduce what we're willing to do for others --- especially for God --- to what we have left of ourselves and our resources after taking care of both our needs and our wants. Once we're done with our wants, there's not much left to give --- we tend to never run short of things we desire for ourselves.

What would your capacity for serving God and others look life if you measured your resources after meeting your needs? It might mean you may not have every electronic gadget known to man, or fewer means of entertainment and comforts, but you would have enough. You would have your needs, and be able to serve more, give more, help more.

How do you measure what you have to offer in service to God and others? Does the measure start after you meet your needs, or after you indulge your desires?


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

When it's just you and God ...

Barely more than a week into a new year and you probably know at least one person who has already failed at their resolutions for 2013.

A primary weakness in the makeup of many resolutions we set for a new year is they tend to be things we wish were reality rather than something we establish as objectives we are deeply committed to.

When it comes to achieving something in our lives, there's a tough truth we have to face: Self-motivation is essential for personal productivity.

When first starting out in life, we have the push of parents, teachers, coaches, and others to help motivate us to learn and achieve certain experiences. But when you grow up, you have to learn how to motivate yourself through a variety of challenges and opportunities. If you only go as far as the encouragement from others in your life will carry you, plan on missing out on the best for your life.

Disciples of Christ have been equipped by God to push past fears and apply the discipline needed to achieve at the deepest levels possible for themselves. There will be times when you need to be productive but no one is standing on the sidelines cheering you on. In fact, there may be sources aggressively seeking to discourage you. The Apostle Paul provides us with insight and encouragement for such times:

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

Some of the biggest moments in your life will come down to what you're willing to do when it's just you and God. God has equipped you for those moments. Now, what are you going to do with them?


Monday, January 7, 2013

Priceless partnerships ...

That "Aha!" moment led to storyboarding your creative idea. You've captured it, and you're thrilled about it!

Now what?

A great idea left as an idea is a dead idea. Great ideas executed become great experiences, great accomplishments, great realities.

A lot of people who consider themselves "creatives" are more dreamers than real creatives. That's only because they leave many of their creative ideas on the mental vine to wither and die. They fail to understand or accept the fact that process matters. The process of taking a creative idea and turning it into reality is the vital link between a great thought and a great conclusion.

I've worked with may creatives who understood their weakness was the skill of designing processes, of knowing how to take their great idea and turn it into a reality. These creatives can benefit greatly by partnering with someone who can see their vision and has the skill to develop processes needed to turn the idea into an achievement. It's better to partner and produce than to play the lone ranger and simply wish.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

What are you searching for?

I wanted information on a particular subject, so what did I do? I turned to Google, of course.

I typed in the word identifying the topic I wanted information about.

Almost instantly, Google responded. At the top of the page was noted, "42,700,000 results."

I didn't want that much information!

In fact, much of what came back as results for the topic I was interested in didn't directly pertain to my subject. Google was identifying about anything possibly related in some way to what I was searching for.

Such responses to searches can be frustrating if you want focused and specific information. Others may love the plethora of optional and quasi-related information regarding their subject.

I think we often approach the Bible in a similar manner. If we're really looking for God's truth about a subject, we appreciate finding specific teaching in the Bible. But if we don't like what God has to say about a matter, we tend to rummage through scripture looking for optional teachings.

Fortunately, God does not contradict Himself.

"God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?" Numbers 23:19.

Trying to trump one passage of scripture with another is a vain human effort to escape the truth. God says what He means, and scripture provides us with the opportunity to hear what God says, understand what He means, and then apply His truth to our lives.

Do you take God's Word and apply it? Or do you look for ways to twist it into something more to your own liking?


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Do you see the growth?

The photo above is a fascinating piece of art that speaks volumes to the value of growth. Artist Giuseppe Penone took the tree and removed the growth rings, revealing the tree at a much younger age.

Without the growth, you see a strikingly more fragile and vulnerable tree. Only by growth did the tree eventually mature into the dynamic and sturdy timber it became.

The Apostle Paul writes of the value of spiritual growth in our lives as Christians:

"14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church,"  Ephesians 4:14-15.

What are you doing to grow up in Christ?


Thursday, January 3, 2013

You can't photoshop life ...

We live in a photoshop culture where anything of an undesirable nature is edited, masked or hidden. We're taught to present an appealing outward impression, and not let others see our flaws.

We even try this with God.

That wasn't how King David related to God. Instead of trying to hide things from God, David begged Him to do a thorough examination of his life ...

"23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life," Psalm 139:23-24.

David wanted God to bring to his attention anything that offended Him so he could repent of it and live in a way that was pleasing to the Lord. By opening his life with such abandon to Him, is it any wonder God described David as being a man after His own heart?

Do you open your life for God to search? Or do you try to hide things you know would offend Him?


Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Pleasing God ...

Believe it or not, having a desire to please God IS a good thing!

We don't hear that message from many of our leaders. We hear the shout of "Grace!" so constantly that we have warped it to mean we're free to do whatever we want; it has turned us inward rather than humbled us. We've missed the fact that it is precisely because of the grace and love of God that we should strive to please Him!

Don't misunderstand: a desire to please God is not rooted in a sense of duty, but rather, as a natural response to the One we love. Just as it is natural to desire to please your spouse, we should have a greater desire to please God. It should be a wonderful thing to us when we live in such a way that makes God smile upon us.

The example Jesus provided us is one of doing that which is pleasing to God, "And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him," (John 8:29) and the Apostle Paul makes clear that pleasing God should be our desire as well:

"So whether we are here in this body or away from this body, our goal is to please him" (2 Corinthians 5:9).

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

"For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts," 1 Thessalonians 2:4.

As we purposely live to please God, He is so gracious to us that He enables us to be able to please Him ...

20 Now may the God of peace — who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood — 21 may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen," Hebrews 13:21-22.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ready for a crop of love?

The start of a new year is often a time of introspection. In that case, it's a good time to take measure of any unplowed ground in your heart.

A simple reason why we often lack a harvest of love in our lives is because much of our hearts remain unplowed territory. Hosea spoke directly to this issue:

"I said, ‘Plant the good seeds of righteousness,
    and you will harvest a crop of love.
Plow up the hard ground of your hearts,
    for now is the time to seek the Lord,
that he may come
    and shower righteousness upon you'."
Hosea 10:12

Want a harvest of love in 2013? Plow up the hard ground of your heart, plant good seeds of righteousness, and seek the Lord.