Thursday, February 28, 2013

This is what it means ...

What does it really mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

It isn't a grand plan just to get you to heaven, it is God's call for you to enter a New Covenant relationship with Him, to be His child, and to represent Him as His personal Ambassador ...

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

The video below is an inspiring and challenging look at being this kind of disciple. I hope you MAKE the time to watch it and be blessed by it.


A little advice about advice ...

Here's some wise advice directly from scripture:

"Without wise leadership, a nation falls; there is safety in having many advisers," Proverbs 11:14.

"Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success," Proverbs 15:22.

Simply put, failing to obtain wise counsel can lead to failure; plenty of good advice can be a genuine "key to success."

There is a key to actualizing the truth of this scripture: choose your counselors wisely. Ungodly counsel from people who don't seek knowledge, understanding, and wisdom from God, and who don't have your best interests at heart, can quickly mislead you from God's vision for you.

"19 Someone may say to you, 'Let’s ask the mediums and those who consult the spirits of the dead. With their whisperings and mutterings, they will tell us what to do.' But shouldn’t people ask God for guidance? Should the living seek guidance from the dead? 20 Look to God’s instructions and teachings! People who contradict his word are completely in the dark," Isaiah 8:19-23.

Simply put, the will of God will always align with the Word of God. Plenty of advice from those who fear, love, listen to, and serve God can bring great insights into God's guidance for you. Likewise, advice from those who pay no heed to God and His Word can be a direct means to derailing you from following God's will for you.

Are you listening to yourself too much, or are you getting the wise input you need? How do you acquire good, godly counsel for yourself? Do you currently have any ungodly sources of counsel in your life that need to be removed?


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Once upon a time there was you ...

One of my favorite stories as a child was "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

I have no idea why.

Perhaps it was the drama of Goldilocks being in the home of the three bears, who could return unannounced at any moment. What would happen if the bears caught her, uninvited, in their home?

You know how the story goes. Golidlocks tastes from the three different bowls of porridge sitting out on the dinner table. One was too hot, another too cold, finally one was just right.

She then meanders into the living room where she checks out the chairs. One was too high, another was too wide, finally one was just right.

Goldilocks then makes her way upstairs where she scopes out the beds. One was too hard, another was too soft, finally one was just right --- a little too right. The last bed was so comfortable, Goldilocks curls up and falls asleep.

You know the rest of the story.

The three bears return home and soon discover Goldilocks fast asleep in Baby Bear's bed. Upon being awakened, the terrified Goldilocks dashes out of the house as fast as she can!

One thing Goldilocks was good at was finding what fit her well. Whether it was porridge, a chair, or a bed, she didn't settle for what wasn't a fit. If only we were a little more like Goldilocks in that regard!

We often don't get the "right fit" of ourselves.

It's not uncommon for us to think too highly of ourselves, a problem the Apostle Paul warned us against:

"Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us," Romans 12:3.

When we aren't thinking too highly of ourselves, it can be easy to swing too far in the other direction and not see the value God has placed on us. We finally get the "right fit" of ourselves when we come to understand how God sees and values us.

"This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins," 1 John 4:10.

"4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding," Ephesians 1:4-8.

When we see how God loves and values us, we are diverted from pride or self-loathing to the position that fits --- humble and grateful children of God.

Do you think too highly of yourself? Too lowly? How does God see and value you?


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Like sunshine on a cold day ...

Having spent the first part of this winter in northern California, it's feeling extra cold now that I'm back in Texas.

Weather conditions the past few days have been a contradiction. There have been a few sunny days, but the breeze had a cold bite to it. The sunshine lured you out, then the cold pinched you; what was on display (sunshine) didn't match what was experienced.

That experience from the weather is what we often experience from people. It is possible for a person to actually speak the truth, and yet the content of their life be a deception. Jesus vigorously denounced such behavior:

Jesus replied, “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me'," Mark 7:6.

What do people experience from you: the warmth of the Son, or the cold bite of the world? What does Jesus receive from you: genuine praise from a surrendered heart, or lips that profess something the heart doesn't prove?

"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer," Psalm 19:14.


Monday, February 25, 2013

This doesn't look like the picture ...

If you haven't had the "pizza experience" as pictured above, you've likely had a similar encounter with a product.

From the half empty bag of chips to the taco filled mostly with lettuce, what is advertised about products often don't meet our expectations once we've purchased them.

I recently wrote about having expectations with people, and how that often leads to disappointment as well. But have you ever noticed how our expectations regarding God are different from those we have for others or things?

When it comes to God, we either saddle Him with expectations that have no biblical basis to them, or we just don't expect anything from Him.

We often toss at God our list of wants in a fast prayer, and then depart mentally from Him, expecting Him to get busy accomplishing for us what we have asked. When it doesn't work that way, we return to make our complaints. Expecting God to be a divine provider of our selfish desires results in failed expectations.

"... Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong — you want only what will give you pleasure," James 4:2b-3.

God never promised to do anything we asked so long as we prayed for it. What He did promise was this:

"Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires," Psalm 37:4

When our desires are aligned with God's desires, and when He is the delight of our lives, it is then that prayer yields great results. We can then have great expectations from God!

"Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results," James 5:16.

Those who trust God with their lives never have to be concerned about a disappointing "product" from God.

"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think," Ephesians 3:20.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

How some good habits can turn into bad habits ...

Your old clunker keeps running but takes a little more TLC on your part. One Saturday afternoon, after getting the oil changed, you wash the car and attempt to improve on the interior by hanging a classic, Christmas-tree shaped air freshener from the rear-view mirror.

Weeks, then months, pass. The old clunker keeps on going. The air freshener keeps hanging there, now making no substantial contribution to the interior of your car because it long since lost any pleasant fragrance to emit.

Now, the air freshener just hangs there, looking more like a tired, misplaced Christmas ornament than anything else.

What was once a good idea now is just an odd decoration. That's because the idea --- like many of our ideas --- had a "shelf life." By turning a good idea into a habit, and never paying attention to its "shelf life," we can slowly transform good ideas into empty (or even negative) practices.

For example, those plaid, polyester bell-bottom pants may at one time have been a good idea if you wanted to wear the coolest styles. The same pants decades (and a few waist sizes) later will probably not be a good idea. The same goes for good ideas in relationships, in business operations, in organizational practices, and sometimes even in approaches to ministry.

Whatever the setting, we keep things fresh by replacing what were originally good ideas with new good ideas before the shelf life of the current good idea runs out.

What current habits do you still practice even though their shelf life have expired? What new, good ideas can you replace those expired habits with to bring freshness to your life?


Friday, February 22, 2013

Afraid of not knowing when to be afraid ...

Five-year-old Johnny was in the kitchen while his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup, but he didn't want to go in alone.

"It's dark in there and I'm scared," he said.

She asked again, and he persisted. Finally she said, "It's okay, Jesus will be in there with you."

Johnny walked hesitantly to the door of the pantry and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came and he said, "Jesus, if you're in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?"

Fear can be the ugly source of keeping us from doing the simplest to the greatest of things. Even though we know fear does not come from God (2 Timothy 1:7), there's an irrational aspect about fear that negatively motivates us to hang on to our fears: the fear of being wrong about our fears.

You're feeling poorly, and a few odd pains have hit you. Could it be something serious? Your mind and emotions are immediately flooded with a powerful inclination to be afraid. Instead, you remind yourself fear doesn't come from God, and no matter what, God will be with you. But then you ask yourself, "What if something really is wrong? What if this is serious?"

We talk ourselves into holding onto our fears because we don't know when to be afraid and when not to. We think if something really is "wrong," that is the time to be afraid. And that's the irrational aspect of fear. For Christians, no matter how "wrong" something might be or become, there isn't a time to entertain fear, for no event or experience can ever come about where God will not be with us to guide us each step of the way.

A bad diagnosis ...

A terrible accident ...

A tragic loss ...

A painful betrayal ...

Whatever might come our way, there is nothing that God will not see us through and bring about, ultimately, to our best interests.

In 1 Samuel 21, we read that David had an experience with the Philistines in Gath that scared him deeply.

"12 David heard these comments and was very afraid of what King Achish of Gath might do to him. 13 So he pretended to be insane, scratching on doors and drooling down his beard," 1 Samuel 21:12-13.

Fear initially motivated David to some very odd behavior. From that experience he would later write:

"3 But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you.I praise God for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?" Psalm 56:3-4.

David realized that even in the middle of those times when we think we should be afraid, there is no reason for the Christian to fear simply because God's love and care for us is bigger than what anyone or anything could ever do to us.

This does not mean we will not face difficult and deeply painful experiences in life. It does mean God will be with us in the midst of those experiences, and His final outcome for us will always bring glory to Him and be good for us.

In that case, we don't have to wonder when to be afraid and when not to.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tell me what you see ...

Chasing the clues of a case led Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, out of town.

The trip was long enough the pair wouldn't reach their final destination until the next day. So, that night they pitched a tent and then turned in for the evening.

In the middle of the night, the quirky Holmes suddenly awoke Watson and demanded of him, "Watson, tell me what you see!"

"Well," the doctor began, "I see countless stars. Among those stars are planets, and it could be among those planets some would be like Earth. So, it is possible that other life ..."

"No, no, no my dear Watson!" Holmes interrupted, "You can see the stars because someone stole our tent!"

Sometimes we may sound so brilliant with our guesses while, all along, missing what is right in front of us.

It's easy to focus on what we don't know, or what we don't have, and miss what is immediately in front of us. Jesus encouraged us to think differently.

27-29 “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them. 30-33 If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers — most of which are never even seen — don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. 34 Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes," Matthew 6:27-34 (The Message).

What has God put in front of you today that works? That's good? That's beautiful? Have you noticed?


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

When all else fails ...

With a tone of exasperation, the person concluded the description of his current woes by saying, "All I can do now is pray."

He had done everything he was humanly capable of doing in taking on his troubles. Now that everything had failed, he figured the only thing left was prayer.

For some reason, we all too often think of prayer as a last resort rather than a first step. One reason for this could be in misunderstanding what prayer is.

Many tend to think of prayer as some mystical power source that may, or may not, work for them. We confuse what prayer is by applying scores of definitions to it. But simply put, prayer is talking to God.

In that case, why don't we look at prayer as a starting point for anything in life? What is there that we wouldn't want to talk to God about? How could we actually be making our problems bigger by thinking of prayer as a last resort rather than our first step?


Getting face-to-face with mortality ...

"We just want him healthy!" was the final message received as part of an exchange of tweets with a friend on Twitter.

The father of this person had just been released from the hospital. It was the second time this month he had been rushed to the hospital due to a life-threatening situation. You can just imagine how deeply rattling it was for this family to face such serious challenges to a loved one's health.

Indeed, all they wanted was for their father to be healthy!

Nothing sobers us so thoroughly or quickly as when the life or health of one we love is threatened. Suddenly, the mundane things of life don't matter, and that big circle of things we thought was important becomes much smaller.

All you want is your loved one to be healthy!

As I thought about that mindset, I thought that's similar to how God wants his children to think about, and feel for, the lost. It should rattle us deeply that someone --- anyone! --- would have their life and eternity threatened by sin. All we want for them should be that they be "spiritually healthy" by  knowing and receiving Christ as their Savior. Such a true concern for the lost should motivate us to introduce those who are dying from sin to the only One who can save them from it.

Does it "rattle" you that so many are spiritually sick and dying? What's your response?


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Here's something you can do every day ...

There's a story told of a newspaper man who, for his own amusement, wrote a note to twenty of his friends containing a single word: "Congratulations!" However, not one of the friends had done a single thing he thought deserved a congratulatory comment, he just wanted to see their reaction to receiving the note.

As it turned out, all 20 of his friends responded with a thank you note without questioning why the message had been sent.

The lesson of this little story? We all need encouragement.

"So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing," 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

The heaviness of someone's life can be made a little lighter by you sharing a little encouragement with them. Who will it be?


Monday, February 18, 2013

So what did you expect?

If you want to get real about your motivations, examine your expectations.

That's right, your expectations reveal what your true motivations are. For example, if you serve someone but don't receive the thanks or accolades for doing so you thought you would receive, and find yourself pouting because of this, your motivation wasn't altruistic service.

If you give, but you don't receive the same or more back any time soon, and find yourself thinking God owes you something, your "giving" wasn't to give, but a manipulation to "get."

If you express love to someone who responds with anger or malice, and you find yourself regretting even speaking to them, your motivation was more likely a desire to receive love rather than to give love.

If we limit our kindness, generosity, friendship, selflessness, service, and love only to those we believe will respond with reciprocity, we're seeking those things for ourselves more than we are giving them selflessly.

By saddling our actions with expectations of others, we muddy the purity of our best motivations.

What to do?

Try acting without expecting. Do your thing from the most pure motivation possible, and let people do their own thing with their own responses. And if you don't like their response, don't let that stop you from doing right, doing good, and doing it with the selfless kindness of Christ.

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

"Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant." Galatians 1:10.

(One final word: having expectations isn't, of itself, a bad thing. For example, we should expect of our brothers and sisters in Christ what God expects of us. What is usually the problem is the kind of expectations we have, the motive for them, and not clearly communicating our expectations from the start.)

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Is God waiting you out?

Dr. Andrew Bonar tells of how, in the highlands of Scotland, a sheep would often wander off into the rocks and get into places they couldn't get out of.
The grass on these mountains is very sweet and the sheep like it. The sheep will jump down ten or twelve feet to get to this sweet grass, only to later discover they can't jump back up again, and the shepherd hears them bleating in distress. The sheep may be there for days, until they have eaten all the grass. The shepherd will wait until they are so faint they cannot stand, and then he will put a rope around him, and he will go over and pull that sheep up out of the jaws of death.
"Why don't they go down there when the sheep first gets there?" someone asked.
"Ah!" responded Dr. Bonar, "The sheep are so very foolish they would dash right over the precipice and be killed if they did!"
That is the way with human beings --- they won't go back to God until they have lost everything. If you are a wanderer, know  that the Good Shepherd will bring you back the moment you have given up trying to save yourself and are willing to let Him save you His own way.
"All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all," Isaiah 53:6
Have you strayed from God? Are you ready to let Him save you the way He wants to deliver you? Or are you bleating in distress while resisting His offer of salvation?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Be a little dogmatic ...

The word "dogmatic" almost automatically brings  up negative thoughts and emotions. In our culture, we're taught being dogmatic, instead of tolerant, is a "bad" thing.
But that isn't what the Apostle Paul taught to Timothy and the rest of us. In fact, Paul urges us to be a little dogmatic when it comes to the truth.

"13 Hold on to the pattern of wholesome teaching you learned from me—a pattern shaped by the faith and love that you have in Christ Jesus. 14 Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you," 2 Timothy 2:13-14.
The pit bull, as you may know, is bred to be a fighter. But what you may not know is what they were originally bred to fight with. The pit bull is actually a mutt that made good, having terrier and mastiff breeds in its line. From the mastiff side of the tree, they are descended from bulldogs, which in pre-industrial England were farm dogs. You know what they were used for? To protect the farmer from the bull when he was trying to feed, castrate or breed him. If the bull turned to gore the farmer, the bull dog would subdue the bull by biting the bull on the nose and holding on until the bull submitted. Because of the nature of their job, bulldogs were bred to have powerful, muscular bodies, and the resolve to hold onto a violently struggling bull, even when injured.
That's the sort of picture the Apostle Paul is drawing for Timothy here with words like "hold on to," "guard," and "entrusted." Timothy, grab hold of this Gospel, this doctrine, this dogma and do not let go no matter how violently life shakes. Latch on to it as if your life and the life of those you shepherd depend on it --- like a bulldog protecting the farmer from the bull. Put the dog in dogma, Timothy.
What are you doing with the truth of God's Word that has been entrusted to you?


Monday, February 11, 2013

Beware Nazi's on the moon!

At first, the person's tweet stream on Twitter was flowing with insightful encouragements from the Bible.

Then the content of his tweets suddenly changed. Dramatically so!

The person launched into dire warnings about Nazi's planning an attack from their base on the moon. Needless to say, the credibility of this person with regard to what they have to share instantly took an immediate nose dive. A good start ended in an abrupt crash of the person's credibility.

That's because living a credible life requires consistently living the truth.

By living the truth consistently, we present to the world a credible witness that brings glory to God. That's why scripture implores us to be consistent in living out our faith.

"So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless," 1 Corinthians 15:58.

"3 And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. If someone claims, 'I know God,' but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. But those who obey God’s word truly show how completely they love him. That is how we know we are living in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did," 1 John 2:3-6.

Are you living out the truth in such a way your life is a credible witness for Christ? Or is your life inconsistent and unreliable?


How politics corrupts discipleship ...

I've consistently written about how mixing our faith full of political positions is bad for our faith and the church. Here's another reason why: A focus on politics has led to a preference for "self-discipleship" in the church.

There's a strain of Christians who have so saturated their faith with their political views that there's more politics than there is Christlikeness in what they believe and how they behave. A strong cord running through their political views is that each person should take care of themselves, there should be no "hand outs." So instead of mature Christians discipling new and younger-in-the-faith Christians, we give these new and younger believers some pointers about the Bible and list out what they are supposed to believe, and then expect them to exercise daily spiritual disciplines to disciple themselves.

Just like we politically think every man should "pull himself up by his own bootstraps," every Christian needs to grow themselves to spiritual maturity.

But the Bible teaches something very different.

In His commission to the church, Jesus included these words: "Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you ..." Matthew 28:20a.

The Apostle Paul didn't miss Jesus' instruction to be thorough about discipling new disciples. Instead, he poured his life into the lives of others to guide them to spiritual maturity: "We want to present them to God, perfect [mature] in their relationship to Christ. That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me," Colossians 1:28b-29.

We routinely make the mistake of thinking this teaching is just building head knowledge, but biblical discipleship is more than that. To make disciples is not only to equip a Christ follower with the words of Jesus, but with the ways of Jesus as well; it's not only building a knowledge of Christ, but a development of His skills as well. We not only teach disciples we should love as Jesus loved, but we help them build the skill of actually loving.

The early church understood this fuller concept of discipleship. Look closely at the following passage from Acts and see how the early church not only focused on being taught, but also on building the skills of living out (in a very real way) what they were learning from the apostles:

42 All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. 43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved," Acts 2:42-47.
That kind of living as a disciple of Jesus cannot be built or experienced through "self-discipleship." And living interdependently as these early Christians did certainly flies in the face of much of our modern political views or what we've constructed as "faith" today.
Maybe if we purged from our faith the politics we've soaked it in, and returned to clear, specific, and simple biblical teaching, we could make disciples who more greatly mirror biblical Christianity than the "self-made" disciples we have today who more closely reflect our culture than they do Christ.
Is your church making disciples of Jesus Christ, or encouraging a "self-discipleship" that results in making cultural disciples? Are you personally discipling someone to become like Christ? Have you been discipled to spiritual maturity?


Saturday, February 9, 2013

Leading for accolades ...

There's something to be said for the leader who, at first blush, doesn't seem to want the job.

Take, for example, Moses. He cared deeply about how his people were being treated, to the point he acted so poorly he killed a man. But when God picked him to do something that would change the lives of his people in a profoundly positive way --- leading them out of the slavery they suffered under --- Moses made excuses as to why he was unqualified for the job. Once he surrendered to God's call, he would go on to become one of the greatest figures in all the Old Testament.

Esther hesitated. She took a moment to count the cost of stepping out for her people, and then she embraced the risk.

 Jonah was honest about something from the start: he didn't like the people God called him to deliver His message to, and would rather see them face the wrath of God than repent. Lousy attitude, but no pretense.

Then we have the incredible example of the Apostle Paul, a man whose life routinely is an example for us in many ways. Blinded by the light, Saul quickly saw the error of his ways and, as Paul, came back a transformed man whose passion was to serve. Paul wanted to lead because he wanted to be used by God to change as many lives as possible (Col. 1:28-29).

That's more closely the kind of heart God wants in a leader. Look closely at 1 Timothy 3:1, "This is a trustworthy saying: 'If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position'."

Paul points out some people want to be a leader, and that's not a bad thing. That is, if their desire to lead comes from a proper motivation. Not one that seeks accolades by being out front, but one that pours out the entire life in serving.

With just about any leader we see in scripture who is used in a big way for God, we see their motive at some point aligns with God's will in order to be used most effectively for Him. They did not seek to lead by accolades, but rather from love for God and others.

Too many leaders today are lured into leadership from a desire for accolades. They stack up the titles of Reverend, Bishop, and any others they can use, and seek to be loved and adored more than pouring out their lives for the sake of others because of love. They care more about their brand and their name being known than being an unknown figure who makes the name of Jesus famous.

Fortunately for the Church, that's not the case everywhere. Thousands serve in little churches in out-of-the-way places no one has ever heard, just so the few they can love and serve in the name of Christ really do know the love and name of Christ. They desire to lead because they desire to serve.

Leadership was never to be about accolades. If it is for you, you need to re-examine your motives and realign them with the will and heart of God. Otherwise, you really are unqualified to lead.


Friday, February 8, 2013

Is that your friend or your family?

It's not uncommon when growing up to think of a brother or sister as also being a best friend.

That's because the familial bond included all those aspects of what we share and experience with only the best and closest of friends, but goes even deeper because we're family.

There's an aspect of that kind of relationship that should be in the church but is often missing.

Leaders routinely encourage the people in their flocks to make friendships with each other and "do life together." But there's a bit of a misnomer in what is being said: we're already more than friends, we're family!

The average church member might identify with only a handful of people in their local church as being "friends" and are disconnected from the rest of the congregation. They sit with the same people, go to lunch after church with the same people, and attend the same small group together.

The problem is, everyone else they're disconnected from are still their brothers and sisters, yet there's not a "family bond" tying them together.

There should be.

"But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God," John 1:12.

"God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure," Ephesians 1:5.

The issue isn't one of simply "making friends" with others within the church, the greater issue is living out our true relationship as brothers and sisters! 

God has adopted us into His family, we belong to each other! Now we need to live like it.

"So now we can tell who are children of God and who are children of the devil. Anyone who does not live righteously and does not love other believers does not belong to God," 1 John 3:10.

"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 you love other Christians as your brothers and sisters? Or are you just looking to make a few friends in church?


Thursday, February 7, 2013

How to grow from timid to tenacious ...

Starting with the boogey-man under the bed, or the monster in the closet, we human beings have grown up scared.

That's why, as you read through the Bible, you consistently see God saying to us, "Fear not!" and "Be of good courage ..."

When we aren't downright frightened, we tend to be tentative people at best. We hesitate because we fear making the wrong decision or having to face costly consequences.

Few things in our lives limits us more than the fears we entertain and the timid tact we take to living life. We've grown up learning how to try to avoid risks and minimize difficult circumstances. There's a profoundly ugly result to all of this: we make the living out of life more about our circumstances than we do the purpose for our existence.

God wants to fix that.

His fix starts by sharing with us an important truth:

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

Other than our "fear" or reverence for God Himself, any fear we have, and that spirit we entertain of facing life tentatively, does not originate from God. It is important for us to know that, because when we see it and "feel" it, we know something other than God (more often than not, our own irrational thinking) is attempting to influence us in a way God doesn't intend for us.

But this verse says more. God doesn't want us to be afraid of life; instead, He has given us power. The Spirit of the very same God who created everything simply by speaking it into existence lives in every disciple of Jesus, and He is willing to apply all of His power to accomplish His will in our lives.

That, my friends, is a source of power unmatched by any other source, or anything the world can throw at us! Therefore, we don't have to be afraid of having the capacity to face life; we don't have an adequate capacity on our own, but with God "... everything is possible" (Matthew 19:26).

Power for living is no longer an issue to the disciple. So, then, what about that timidity, fear of making wrong decisions and facing difficult circumstances?

That issue has to be addressed with raw truth, which Jesus spoke eloquently:

"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.

We are not all-powerful and all-knowing like God. No matter how good our decisions or intentions, we will make mistakes, we will get things wrong, and we will sometimes give in to sin. But Jesus reassures us He is bigger than any troubles we will have, and not only do we find power through Him, He has also given us His love.

When we've blown it, when we're facing troubles, one of the greatest sources of both encouragement and power to get up and keep going is to know we are still loved in spite of what we may have done, or what has been done to us. God hasn't given us a spirit of fear or timidity, but of power and love.

He's also given us a full capacity for self-discipline, that ability to gain knowledge, understand it, and apply it wisely to avoid many of the bad decisions we would make otherwise.

We want a life without pain and troubles. Jesus promises we will have troubles. But God says to us don't be afraid, and don't live timidly. Instead, He supplies to us His power, encourages and calms us with His love, and enables us to exercise the self-discipline we need to live well.

So what, then, are you still afraid of?