Tuesday, April 30, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Too much story in an otherwise interesting story ...

Every human being has a personal story, but not every story should be a book.

Such might be the case regarding "North of Hope" by Shannon Huffman Polson (published by Zondervan), or at least not in the heavily chronicled format in which it has gone to print.

First, let me state "North of Hope" is an intensely personal story, and I admire Polson for revealing to her readers what she has about the most difficult aspects of her personal journey. It's a story of a woman who, as a girl, developed a deep attachment to her father, especially after her parents divorced. Making her dad happy was a (if not the) driving force in her life. So when her father and stepmother were tragically killed by a rogue bear in the remote wilderness of Alaska, Polson's life was upended.

As a means of working through her grief and attempting to right her life after such a tragedy, Polson decided to traverse the Alaskan wilderness by rafting down a river to the place where her father and stepmother were killed. The telling of the story weaves back and forth between Polson first learning of the tragedy and life afterward, and her wilderness journey.

That's where the reader can get bogged down.

Not in the back and forth of the story-telling, but in the great amount of detail Polson puts into telling her story. In painting thorough word pictures for her readers, Polson delves too deeply into the more mundane setting of the story. You'll learn more about Alaska than you need to know, as well as about the details of Polson's trip and earlier life. Providing a full context for a whole story is important, but this book simply buries the reader in too much detail.

As a result, some of the connection the reader could have with the writer is lost. Had Polson kept her story-telling cropped more closely to her personal experience, rather than all the detail surrounding her experience, the reader would have likely gained a greater insight about the author and a deeper sharing of her journey. The personal story is there, it's just smothered with too much unnecessary information.

Some readers will connect with this book regardless of how much detail they will have to wade through to encounter the personal aspects of the author's life, but I'm afraid many will become weary with the amount of effort it will take to finish this volume.

With respect to Polson, who's personal story is a remarkable one, "North of Hope" is weighted down with too much minutia to be broadly recommended.


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

Monday, April 29, 2013

Batter up!

It's the bottom of the ninth.

The bases are loaded.

You're down by 3 runs, and you are up to bat.

You would really like your team to win, so you swing at the pitch ...

In that moment, your team needs you because you're the person who has the opportunity to make the greatest difference at that moment.

That baseball scenario is similar to your role in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

The harvest is plentiful.

There are a few billion souls to be saved.

The enemy keeps on lying and leading people astray and he's currently ahead in the head count; now your neighbor asks you a question about your faith.

You are up to bat!

Quite literally, from a disciple-making perspective.

God doesn't need us in order to bring the lost to Him, but He has chosen to use us as His instruments in taking His message of reconciliation to the lost ...

"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.

What do you do? Will you take a swing at the pitch ... will you speak for Christ when there's an opportunity? Or will you just stand there, and allow a strike out because of your passivity?

Batter up!


Sunday, April 28, 2013

A fresh recommendation on a recent book review ...

Recently I wrote a positive review about Louie Giglio's newest book, "I Am Not But I Know I Am" (published by Multnomah Books, you can find my original review here http://bit.ly/ZdbEF3), and would like to return to this review with an even greater encouragement that you check out this little paperback.

My heightened enthusiasm for recommending this book comes from the fact that in my thoughts, meditations, and studies since reading this book, I'm often recalling and drawn back to the contents of this book with the odd title. What was especially compelling about this book was that it doesn't just help us see who we are in Christ, or focus just on who God is and what He's like, but it does both in a brilliant way.

Developing a growing understanding that God is the great "I Am" helps us to understand we are "I Am Not," and it's the connection of one view to the other that broadens our understanding of both.

A book that continues to resonate a profound biblical teaching in a way that helps us better understand both God and ourselves is worth the time to read.


Preacher, stop apologizing!

"Now I don't say this to make you feel guilty ..."

"I don't want you to feel pressured ..."

"Please don't feel bad about this, but ..."

Have you noticed how common it has become for preachers and other Bible teachers to preface their preaching, teaching, and writing with something like an apology? By doing so, they're dismissing whatever convicting work the Holy Spirit may accomplish in the lives of the listeners or readers.

Certainly we don't preach and teach just to make someone "feel guilty," but if someone is guilty, we want the Word of God to convict lives so that they may respond with repentance and allow themselves to be transformed by the Holy Spirit.

So stop apologizing! Instead, "... speak the truth in love ..." (Eph. 4:15a) and let the Word of God do what it does ...

"For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires," Hebrews 4:12.

"16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work," 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

So stop sucking the authority out of the Word in the minds of your listeners and readers by apologizing for it. Instead, preach and teach the Word of God accurately and boldy and see what great things God accomplishes from it!


Life wrapped in bacon ...

If we traveled around the world asking people what they thought was the single most delicious food item to them, we would get a variety of answers.

But among the common responses, one would stand out: bacon.

People love bacon!

That's not a surprise because bacon tastes delicious! And anything wrapped in bacon tastes better!

There's just one problem though --- bacon is seriously bad for you.

How bad? Check out just how bad for yourself here http://bit.ly/14DN4iN . The short answer is that as little as one slice a day can have a significant negative affect on your health.

Many bacon lovers have heard (often on multiple occasions) about bacon being bad for them, they simply choose to eat it anyway. In fact, it's not uncommon to see bacon lovers wrap their favorite unhealthy food item around other food that's much healthier for them

That's an example of how we often live our broader lives. We find that which is good for us to be bland to our desires, so we wrap it in something that better meets our tastes and, in the process, lose the value of the good that's being smothered by the bad.

Here's just one example: praying is a very good thing, in fact, it's essential for Christians. Yet, our attitude and method wrapped (like a slice of bacon) around something as good as prayer can make it very bad ...

"When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get," Matthew 6:5.

Are you smothering out what is good for you by wrapping it in unhealthy desires?


Saturday, April 27, 2013

She looks more like Jesus than she does a winner ...

I cringe every time I hear a Christian (especially one considered a "leader") talk about people being "winners" or "losers."

But it isn't uncommon.

In fact, "winning" and "success" are popular topics in many pulpits. But there's much more to life than "winning," which is powerfully demonstrated by this runner ...

Pictured above, an elite Kenyan runner passed water to a dehydrated, handicapped Chinese runner who was suffering. This act of compassion slowed her time (she came in second in the race), not only costing her the race but also the $10,000 cash prize.

It's not all about winning.


More than a fairy tale ending ...

A husband and wife shared how they, as Christians, had come up with the epitaph they wanted for themselves when they passed from this life: "... and they lived happily ever after."

That well-known little phrase is more than a line in popular fairy tales, it is God's promise to His children. If you have been adopted by God, the end of your story --- regardless of how easy or harsh this life might have been --- will be that you will "... live happily ever after."

"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.

"But we are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth he has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness," 2 Peter 3:13.

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever," Revelation 21:4.

Such are the things God has for those who have received Jesus Christ as both Lord and Savior. In that case, what will your epitaph be?


Friday, April 26, 2013

It's time you served notice ...

A friend of mine has been struggling with certain issues for years. Finally tired of the struggle that keeps her constantly weary, she proclaimed a certain day would be "eviction day" --- she was evicting the issues from their current residence in her mind and heart, sending them to the hands of God who could deal with them far better than she ever could.

I was impressed with the decision of my friend.

Whether in your past or still in your present, we've all needed to have an "eviction day," a time when we finally take all of our fears, worries, anxieties, struggles, defeats --- all the accumulated junk of living in this world --- and evict them from our lives.

"Worry weighs a person down ..." Proverbs 12:25a.

Why live that way when you have a far better option?

"6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus," Philippians 4:6-7. 

"Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you," 1 Peter 5:7.

What worldly junk do you still have in your life that you continue to wrestle with? Isn't it time you have an eviction day?


Thursday, April 25, 2013

So ... where is God?


That's where God is.

You might not think that considering the language we choose to use about interacting with God. We talk about "encountering" God, "experiencing" God, or "meeting" God as if we have had to find God in some particular place. But we don't have to go somewhere to "meet" with God, and when we walk out the front door to go to work in the morning, God isn't left alone at home until we get back.

Wherever you go, God is already there.

"7 I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you."
Psalm 139:7-12

Knowing that God is omnipresent gives us greater insight to the Apostle Paul's exhortation, "Never stop praying," 1 Thessalonians 5:17 (some versions say "pray without ceasing). God is with us all the time, wherever we are ... so talk to Him!

Imagine your spouse or a best friend was going to spend the entire day with you, from the time you get up in the morning, until the time you head for bed. Would you only talk to them for a few minutes in the morning and then ignore them until a few minutes before going to bed? Of course not! Because they are with you, you would engage in conversation throughout your entire time together.

That's how we can interact with God. He is always with us, and we can converse with Him throughout our day, sharing our life with Him in its entirety.

Are you aware of God's constant presence in your life? When do you talk to Him?


Your life isn't a "Seinfeld" episode ...

Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is not the same thing as doing the "Costanza Opposite."

The what?!

You remember the George Costanza character on the TV show "Seinfeld" don't you? Nothing ever worked out for George, he failed at most of the things he tried. He finally realized that fact and decided to start doing the exact opposite of what he would naturally do.

Putting into practice this principle of doing the opposite, George started experiencing success ... for a while, anyway. He just didn't stick with it.

Many Christians think becoming a disciple of Jesus is simply doing the opposite of the sinful behavior that has characterized their lives. If that's all it took, we wouldn't need a Savior. But becoming a child of God requires more than that. It requires an entirely new birth!

"Jesus replied, 'I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God' ... Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life," John 3:3, 6.

By trying to apply the "Costanza Opposite" as a means of living spiritually, we have human beings trying to reverse the sin of their lives from human power. That's an effort, much like the efforts of George, that will always end in failure. We'll never be free from sin until we die to self, are buried with Christ, and are raised to walk in newness of life in His likeness.

"11 When you came to Christ, you were 'circumcised,' but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead. 13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins," Colossians 2:11-13.

Are you trying to reverse the devastation of sin by attempting to do the opposite on your own power? Or have you been born again, free from the power of sin and its consequences through the sacrifice of Christ?


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Off to a good start ...

One of the baristas at the local Starbucks recently described to me and his co-workers how he played volleyball first thing that morning before heading out for college classes.

Many of the locals I knew in Hawaii would hit the beach at sunrise in an attempt to get in some surfing before going to work.

Several of my friends in California can be found at dawn every morning pounding the pavement for a few miles of running before getting a hot shower, eating a healthy breakfast, and then heading out for a long, slow trek of commuting to the office.

Many people I know are up before the sun, praying, worshiping, praising God, and studying the Bible before spending time over breakfast with the family prior to everyone splitting up for the days' adventures.

And many others hit the snooze button repeatedly, are desperate for a cup of coffee before being a decent human being to talk to, and are already tired before walking out the front door to start another day ... often running late.

How you start your day is just that: how YOU choose to start your day. It's a choice that will set the tone for all the rest of the day.

You don't actually expect to have a vibrant, energetic, positive, healthy, peaceful, blessed day by choosing to start each day poorly, do you?

Or do you?

How do you start your day?


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Living life between the lines ...

People don't like rules because they don't like the idea of obedience.

Even in the church, we hear a great deal of derision for rules or standards, often from popular pastors, who tend to overlook that Jesus Himself spoke commands He really does expect for us to obey, not the least of which are His teachings such as
John 13:34 ...

"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other."

Perhaps those who chafe so much at the very idea of rules or commands didn't learn a very simple lesson as a child:

Coloring between the lines helps us create beauty, even a work of art, instead of discordant scribble.

Our Creator hasn't given us a holy standard or specific commands to rob us of free will, but to know how to be more like Him!

"14 So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, 'You must be holy because I am holy'," 1 Peter 1:14-16.

Jesus made the issue of our "coloring between the lines" --- our obedience to Him --- a very simple issue: "If you love me, obey my commandments," John 14:15.

So, do you love Him? Or are you scribbling all over your life, however you want?


Monday, April 22, 2013

CAUTION! Attitudes are contagious ...

Is depression contagious?

According to today's news report, it is.

Research was conducted among college students sharing dorm rooms. Persons who shared a room with someone with clinical depression were more likely to later be diagnosed with clinical depression themselves. On the other hand, persons who shared a room with someone who expressed a positive attitude tended to adopt that thinking and behavior as well.

We really didn't need clinical research to understand that we often adopt the attitudes, and sometimes even the behaviors, of the people we spend time with. The Bible has been telling us this fact for a long time ...

"... bad company corrupts good character," 1 Corinthians 15:33b.

It's this fact that has been used as an excuse for Christians to seclude themselves from the world, quite an opposite behavior from what we see in the life of Christ. Jesus routinely spent time with people of poor character --- or, more bluntly, with sinners --- but He did so without adapting to their way of thinking or joining in their sinful behaviors.

That's the difference between engaging the world (where we interact and share our influence) and embracing the world (where we share the attitudes and behaviors of the world). We need the fellowship of devout disciples of Christ to be the circle of interaction from which we are influenced, and we need to be a source of influence among those we interact with who do not know Jesus Christ. This allows us to continue to grow in becoming more like Jesus while influencing the world for Christ without taking on the thinking and behaviors of the world.

Who are your influences? Who's thinking and behaviors have you adopted? Who are you an influence to? What kind of influence are you to others?


Sunday, April 21, 2013

When "doing something" isn't good enough ...

The message from Nike: "Just do it."

The message from many pulpits: "Do something!"

Those two messages aren't the same thing, and it's turning out the message from Nike might be the more correct one.

As the church has been going through the throes of decline in our culture, and professing Christians have wallowed in the comfort of their padded pews, safely tucked away from the world, church leaders began a desperate plea for Christians to just "do something."

In fact, a very popular Christian fiction book builds to the climax of what is supposedly a great message from God to man: "Do something!"


Don't just sit there and let people perish, or starve, or hurt, or be homeless, or be alone.

"Do something!" came the cry.

Because people weren't doing something, instead of challenging them to pack up and head out to the far reaches of the globe to make disciples, we whittled  that down to convenient week-long mission trips where we only have to do a little but still feel like we've done a lot, squeeze in some sight-seeing, and then return to the comforts of home, spiritually satiated.

Not comfortable sharing the Gospel with someone? No problem! Just build a friendship with them, that will do the trick! Of course, evangelism by osmosis isn't a reality, but it sounds good and is much easier than actually telling someone about the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Too much to write a check, bring it to church, and put it in the offering plate as it's passed? No problem! We'll let you give online while you're surfing porn on the web so it will be "easier."

Is meeting the ongoing needs of the people around you just too much to ask? No problem! We'll develop little "projects" to help people so that you have to do very little; what one person could do we'll break up into 100 parts so 100 people can do something very little and not feel any pinch from it.

We've turned some of our "doing something" into symbolic acts ... support this cause by wearing this ribbon, this pin, this bracelet, this color, or writing something on your wrist or hands. Thank you! That really cost you a lot to do that! You really changed the world by wearing a funky bracelet you thought looked cool.

Yes, I know, some of these symbolic acts help "raise awareness" about serious and important issues, but if that greater "awareness' doesn't translate into action that results in real change, all you have are more people aware of a problem that continues to persist.

We don't really impact our world much by just "doing something." And by doing just a little, we accomplish just a little. Symbolic acts of service are just that, symbolic acts.

Christ's call on our lives isn't to just "do something," but to do everything He asks:

"23 Then he said to the crowd, 'If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me. 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'," Luke 9:23-24.

That message is much bigger than "do something." Jesus lays out what we must do, and our response needs to be the Nike message.

Just do it!

Just do exactly what Jesus both asks and commands of us.

Do all of it! Spend, pour out, completely deplete your life doing what Jesus said.

Not part of it. Not a little of it. Not pieces of it. Not just "something."

Just do it.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Which one would you buy?

One beautiful Sunday morning, the pastor of a church made the following offer to the congregation:

"My good people, I have here in my hands three sermons: a $100 sermon that lasts five minutes, a $50 sermon that lasts fifteen minutes, and a $20 sermon that lasts a full hour. We will now take up a collection and see which one I deliver!"

In some churches, that might be an effective way to increase the offerings! But a lousy way to feed the body of Christ.

Are you hungry for sound biblical teaching from your church leaders?

"How sweet your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey. Your commandments give me understanding; no wonder I hate every false way of life," Psalm 119:103-104.


Friday, April 19, 2013

The wonderful world of Disn ... oops, uh ... church ...

Why is it that one of the most profound absences in many churches is the great scarcity of disciple-making disciples?

Why is it that more church congregations are biblically illiterate than spiritually mature?

Why is it that the church continues to decline?

There are multiple reasons, but I'll suggest one: too many have gone Walt Disney.


Disney once said, "I would rather entertain and hope that people learned something than educate people and hope they were entertained."

Walt's statement is a remarkably accurate description of what comes from too many pulpits (or stage chairs) today, in spite of the Apostle Paul's admonition to "Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching," 2 Timothy 4:2.

To lead the people of God, you must preach the Word of God. What are you doing?


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Make leaders, or make disciples?

While visiting a Swiss town, an American businessman watched a man painstakingly carving the casing for one of the fine, hand-crafted cuckoo clocks made in that region.

Noting the slow rate of progress, the businessman said, "My good man, you'll never make much money that way!"

"Sir," the clock maker replied, "I'm not making money, I'm making cuckoo clocks."

Like any great artist or craftsman, the clock-maker was focused on the excellence of his work rather than being (like the businessman) distracted by dreams of profits. The clock maker excelled at what he did because he didn't lose sight of what his primary goal was, and his profits would come because he stayed focused on the quality of his craftsmanship.

Such a focus on purpose is too often not shared with many church leaders. The pervasive mantra among many church leaders today is for leaders to be busy making other leaders. It's a very different message and focus from that which Jesus Christ gave the church. Jesus commanded us to go make disciples, not other leaders. That's because Jesus understood that by making a disciple, and then discipling that person to spiritual maturity, you will routinely be growing other leaders from that maturing process.

Instead, many of today's leaders do little discipling, and instead focus on "mentoring" others to be "leaders." The result may be someone trained in a version of "leadership" (often a view of leadership that is sourced more from the business world than the Word) but not discipled to any real level of maturity.

You know you're thoroughly off course from Christ's desire for His church when you have undiscipled, biblically ignorant, unequipped, and spiritually immature people who have been mentored to be leaders in the church.

Imagine what the church could be like if we only obeyed what Jesus told us to do --- if we made disciples, and then taught them everything He taught as part of discipling them, and equipped them to do the good works He has planned for us to do (Matthew 28:18-20, Ephesians 4:11-13). Out of that spiritual growth and equipping leaders would organically, naturally step forward! And those people would be more spiritually mature, and better equipped to serve, than the undiscipled but mentored "leaders" we are often turning out today.

This post will prompt a frenzy of rationalizations and wholly unbiblical arguments from some about the "necessity" and "critical need" for leaders to spend their time making other leaders. Such arguments don't change the fact that Jesus never called us to be leader makers, He called us to be disciple makers ... just like He was!


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Be careful, it's a spiritual war out there ...

Starting your day with quiet time with God, a piping hot cup of coffee, a delicious breakfast, and a little time with the family before heading off to work can sometimes wrap us in a cocoon of pleasantness that tempts us to forget we're stepping into a spiritual world ...

Beneath the surface of what we see with our physical eyes is a spiritual war waging around us and your soul is one of the targets ...

"For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places," Ephesians 6:12.

"Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour," 1 Peter 5:8. 

"But I am not surprised! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no wonder that his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness ..." 2 Corinthians 11:14-15a.

That early morning time with God certainly should be a time of worship, praise, and expressing your love for God. But it should also be a time of preparing yourself for the spiritual warfare you're about to walk into ...

"So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you," James 4:7. 

"Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil ... Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm," Ephesians 6:11, 13.

Do you prepare yourself each morning to face the spiritual challenges awaiting you? Or do you walk about the door oblivious of the dangers lurking just beneath the surface?


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Evil is ugly, but it shouldn't surprise us ...

Yesterday, once again, the peace of our nation was pierced by the ugliness of evil.

Some of the responses of people across the country were quite understandable --- appalled and repulsed by the senseless taking of life, compassion and caring for the people of Boston, tears and prayers for the victims and their families, even anger at the boldness of such terror.

But there was one response from some Christians that didn't seem to fit the circumstances.

One young lady expressed this response in a long and labored Facebook post, explaining how she was so overwhelmed with the news she thought she might be having a heart attack. She described how she just wanted everything to be peaceful and happy and could not understand how anything like this could possibly happen.

What seemed to be missing in the explanation of her response to the Boston tragedy was any awareness of evil.

Within the church, we have developed a culture that doesn't include the whole of the Gospel message, and the fact that we not only live in a broken world, but we live in a world that is wicked and where evil is not uncommon.

Yet, we preach about prosperity, pursing great dreams, legacies, and even how to set and pursue goals. Rarely do we talk about the reality of this world being one where all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; where sin savages souls daily and people are in desperate need of a Savior.

We talk about "following our hearts" instead of following Christ. But here's just one problem with that:

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

Yesterday, someone followed their heart, and the evil in it poured out.

One thing that should not surprise Christians is the persence of evil. Not only does scripture teach us that we live in a broken world where spiritual warfare is being waged all around us, but that spiritual warfare will actually continue to intensify until Jesus Christ returns.

That's the reality of the world we live in, one which is not taught much and isn't the biblical worldview held by many Christians.

If we want to understand the world we live in and equip Christians to face the evil in it, we need much less preaching of platitudes and more proclaiming the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ so that hearts and minds can be transformed and evil can be properly responded to.

With a whole understanding of the Gospel, we can find peace even in the face of evil, because we follow a Savior who says to us, "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).


Monday, April 15, 2013

A friendship that will cost you ...

The Karankawa Indians, who used to inhabit the lower Gulf plains of Texas and Mexico, met their demise in the middle of the Texas Revolution in 1836.
It seems that Captain Philip Dimmit, who owned a ranch north of present-day Corpus Christi, used to give the Karankawas beef whenever they were in the area. At the outbreak of the Revolution, however, Dimmit left his ranch to serve with the Texans. In Dimmit's absence, the Indians rounded up a few cattle. As they ate the beef, a party of Mexican soldiers rode up and demanded to know what they were doing,
"We're Captain Dimmit's friends," the Karankawas replied.
When the Mexicans heard this they attacked, killing many and causing the rest to flee. The remaining Karankawas later met a party of Texans. Fearing another assault, the Indians began shouting, "Viva Mexico!" Immediately the Texans attacked, and only a few of the hapless Karankawas escaped.
The friendship the Karankawas had with Captain Dimmit cost them dearly, and our friendship with God may also come with a steep cost.
"And all nations will hate you because you are my followers. But everyone who endures to the end will be saved," is what Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 10:22.
John captured these words of Jesus: 18 “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. 19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. 20 Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you," John 15:18-20.

Even though the world hated Jesus and persecuted Him, for some reason we tend to think we can be friends with Jesus and friends with the world. Just like with the Karankawas, it doesn't work that way. 

"You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God," James 4:4.

So who are you friends with --- God, or the world?


Sunday, April 14, 2013

This is something God expects you to honor ...

An elderly couple waiting in line to pay for their groceries were discussing their upcoming 50th wedding anniversary.

The young cashier, shaking her head, interjected with the comment, "I can't imagine being married to the same man for 50 years!"

The wife looked at the young lady and wisely replied, "Well, honey, don't get married until you can."

That thinking is an echo of what scripture says to us about marriage:

"Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery," Hebrews 13:4.

Whether you're single or married, are you giving honor to marriage as God crafted it?


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Check out these muscles ...

I've worked out in more than a hundred different gyms in multiple states. Regardless of the gym, there's always someone (usually a guy) who pauses to look in the mirror, flex his muscles, and admire what he sees.

Most gyms have mirrors on most or all of its walls. The mirrors aren't there for the sake of vanity, but for form, measuring, and motivation.

The mirrors offer a very practical use of allowing a person to watch themselves execute an exercise so they can make sure they are using proper form. They also serve as a tool for self-examination, providing a visable means of measuring a person's progress toward their fitness goals, and this measure feeds their motivation in the pursuit of those goals.

In a similar manner, we need to examine ourselves to make sure we're doing more than just hearing God's Word, but actually applying it to our lives so we can progress toward the ultimate goal of becoming like Christ.

"22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it," James 1:22-25.

Taking time for self-examination provides us with a means of measuring the reality of our faith, and that measure should serve as a means of motivating us to press on toward greater spiritual maturity. 

"Examine yourselves to see if your faith is genuine. Test yourselves. Surely you know that Jesus Christ is among you; if not, you have failed the test of genuine faith," 2 Corinthians 13:5.

Do you routinely take time for self-examination? How could doing so help you progress in your spiritual growth?


Friday, April 12, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: A limited niche book only some will like ...

Before I read "Bread and Wine: A love letter to life around the table, with recipes" by Shauna Niequist (published by Zondervan), I did something I usually never do before reviewing a book: I watched the author's promotional video about the book.

Authors and publishers are always trying to get reviewers to watch videos and include links and do things I just do not do as a reviewer because I want my reviews to be thoroughly independent and entirely about what the author actually wrote.

But the video captivated me! It promised a message by the author that I thought the church had long forgotten and could sorely benefit from hearing again. "Bread and Wine" was to have three  key ingredients to it: fellowship around the table, food, and faith.

Niequist delivers on her promise when it comes to re-introducing the church to the immense value of swinging wide the doors of our homes to practice hospitality by inviting people around our tables to share in authentic fellowship.

"Both the church and modern life, together and separately, have wandered away from the table. The church has preferred to live in the mind and the heart and the soul, and almost not at all in fingers and mouths and senses. And modern life has pushed us into faux food and fast food and highly engineered food products cased in sterile packages that we eat in the car or on the subway --- as though we're astronauts, as though we can't be bothered with a meal," Niequist writes, "What happens around the table doesn't matter to a lot of people. But it matters more and more to me."

Much of the rest of the book is a testimony to just how much fellowship around the table matters to the author, as most of the content centers around what has happened around her table or other tables with her friends. Niequist writes so glowingly of those times around the table that it makes the reader want to immediately plan a dinner party and gather friends around their own tables.

The book also delivers on sharing the author's love for food, including the sharing of recipes at the end of some of the chapters. In fact, Niequist so persistently raves about her passion for food I soon began to be concerned as to whether she was placing too great a value on it, then she clarified the matter.

"It's not, actually, strictly, about food for me. It's about what happens when we come together, slow down, open our homes, look into one another's faces, listen to one another's stories," Niequist wrote.

Great message!

So the book delivers on highlighting the great value of gathering people around our tables and enjoying the rich fellowship that can come from sharing a meal together. But on the aspect of faith, the book fails to deliver much.

The author does mention praying together around the table, and having a house church (of sorts) in her home that focused on fellowship around the table. But there are only glimpses and fleeting mentions of faith; this certainly is not the kind of book where scripture is shared (none are).

In fact, when it comes to the issue of faith, there are a couple of items mentioned by the writer that brings to question just what the author means by "faith." On pages 159 and 160, Niequist tells of praying in a hospital chapel and how a friend had told her she prays to Mary at such critical times. The writer noted she kneeled near a statue of Mary to pray, and upon leaving the chapel adds, "I don't know the Hail Mary, but I knew enough for that moment. I nodded at her, like dipping your head before royalty. Hail Mary, full of grace." This scenario from a Protestant made no sense to me with regard to any expression of a biblical expression of faith.

Additionally, the writer states she serves as an officiant at weddings, but neither the author's bio nor the content of the book itself mentions anything about Niequist being an ordained minister --- so how does she officiate at weddings?

Once you get past the positive and powerful message at the opening of the book regarding the value of fellowship around the table, the remainder of the book is very "Seinfeld-esque," a lot of writing about nothing of real significance. The content isn't quite a series of personal stories told by the author as it is more like the writer reminiscing on events in her life that involved being around the table or the sharing of food. Some of the chapters lack any substantial subject matter, but that doesn't stop the author from writing them.

Whether on purpose or not, "Bread and Wine" is appealing mostly to a female audience due not only to the way it's written, but also because of some of the content. For example, the author strings across multiple chapters her very personal struggles with pregnancy, and shares this story in a way one woman would relate to another. Men would have to be diehard foodies to make their way from cover-to-cover with this book.

If you're female, a foodie, and like the idea supposedly sharing your faith with others around the table or while cooking, you might love this book. For the rest of us, it's a little too much like a bad batch of bread --- it initially has a lot of promise, but ultimately falls flat.


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

Thursday, April 11, 2013

You'll hurt your neck doing that ...

Life's circumstances can sometimes smack you hard ...

... a sick child ...

... an inattentive, seemingly uninterested spouse ...

... a dysfunctional family ...

... inconsistent friendships ...

... harsh bosses ...

... a depleting bank account in an expensive world ...

All such things become heavier when we add to them our own imperfection, the bad choices we make, the failures we create, and the fall to sin that occurs.

And still to be added to the mix is the fact that we have a very real enemy in Satan, who never ceases in his efforts to destroy the followers of Christ.

As all these factors pile on a person's life, I've noticed the burden of it often tends to show itself in our outward demeanor, especially by the hanging of a person's head. One who is weighed down by the issues of life, whether self-inflicted or by circumstance, often doesn't feel the strength, courage, or confidence to hold their heads high.

The heavier the load, the more bowed the head.

Until we allow for God to be God in our lives. Then look what happens ...

"But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high," Psalm 3:3.

Just as a parent is torn deeply when they see their children hang their heads from being burdened with life's struggles, our heavenly Father is also moved when He sees His children weighted down by life. God is not uncaring or inactive, but rather He offers Himself as our shield, and He does something that not only energizes and enables us, but it emboldens us to the core of our being: He lifts our heads!

Life will always have it's struggles, but God does not intend for His children to be defeated and hang their heads.

"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.

 Are the issues of life weighing you down? Are you hanging your head in weakness and despair? Or are you allowing God to lift your head with the confidence that He is your sufficient and mighty shield?

Below is a music video that highlights this message from Psalm 3. Take a moment to worship and praise God for being the lifter of your head.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

When caring isn't on the menu ...

A Facebook friend shared this exchange ...

Overheard in a restaurant:

WAITER: "Is everything okay sir?"

MAN: "Huh? Oh, yeah, well, I've been kind of down since the divorce."

WAITER: "Uh, I meant with your meal."

There are a lot of people like this restaurant customer all around us. People who are hurting, struggling, and feeling very alone. People with real needs who need someone to share their burdens with. People who find conversation with a waiter a welcome interaction.

God understands that about us, and has a couple of remedies for us. In addition to His Holy Spirit living in us as our constant companion, we also have each other:

"Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ," Galatians 6:2.

Outside of your immediate family, who's burdens are you sharing?


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

If I should die before I wake ...

Pastor and author, Leonard Sweet, posted the cartoon below on his Facebook page yesterday:

Perhaps a few of us might know someone who would actually say something like that as their final words, but most of us don't. For most of us, the regrets we would have if we breathed our last breath within the next few minutes would be very different.

What would yours be?

As long as you are breathing you have an opportunity to change how you live so that you finish well. What adjustments do you need to make in your life to finish well?

"6 As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing," 2 Timothy 4:6-8.


Monday, April 8, 2013

You don't say?!

President Calvin Coolidge once said, "I have never been hurt by anything I didn't say."

I'd be willing to bet all the gold in Fort Knox that Coolidge was wrong, even if he wasn't aware of it at the time.

What you don't say can still hurt you. If the thoughts and emotions you entertain, even if left unspoken, are ungodly in nature, then you harm yourself by harboring such thoughts and feelings. A sinful thought life corrupts your emotions, and fostering such internal corruption will warp the life as a whole.

Because what is unspoken and "hidden" away on the inside matters greatly, Jesus spoke out about the hypocrisy of trying to make the outside look good while the inside is a grave.

25 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy — full of greed and self-indulgence! 26 You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. 27 What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs — beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. 28 Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness," Matthew 23:25-28.

Essential to our transformation is allowing the Holy Spirit to make a necessary change in us ... 

"Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes," Ephesians 4:23.

What's your thought life doing for you: glorifying God, or fostering corruption?


Sunday, April 7, 2013

What big, burly football players can teach the church ...

Football players are warriors!

Football players are tough, powerful men!

And some of them model compassion and love greater than what we see coming from some churches ...

Take a moment and watch the video below, it will touch you deeply ...

Jack Hoffman is a seven-year-old boy battling brain cancer. The Huskers brought him onto the field in full uniform and gave him the great opportunity to run 69 yards to score a touchdown while the 60,174 fans at Memorial Stadium cheered him on.

That's how we need to cheer each other on!

With great compassion and caring for one another, so much that we demonstrate it with kindness, generosity, and copious expressions of love. Here's how Jesus said we should do it:

"So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other," John 13:34.

Jack's response? "It felt awesome!"

Go be awesome to someone, in Jesus' name.


Friday, April 5, 2013

A little PR in exhange for prosperity ...

Lou Gehrig was once hired by a breakfast cereal company to promote a cereal named "Huskies," but when the radio interviewer asked Lou what he attributed his strength and stamina to, he quickly answered, "Wheaties."

Gehrig didn't have any personal knowledge of the product he was hired to promote, he was just pursuing a means of prospering himself.

That's often the same situation many people professing to be Christians find themselves in. When asked about the source of strength for their lives, they might mumble something about God, but they don't really have a personal knowledge of Him. They're just willing to promote Him as a means of trying to prosper themselves.

God isn't looking for a celebrity to be His "pitch man," His invitation is for everyone to have a personal and direct relationship with Him; not for the purpose of pursuing personal prosperity, but for the incredible blessing of being known and loved by the God of all creation.

Are you pursuing God to know and love Him personally? Or are you just pursuing the things of God?


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Try a little Windex ...

A young couple moved into a new neighborhood. The next morning while they were eating breakfast, the young woman saw her neighbor hanging laundry outside.

"That laundry is not very clean," she said. "She doesn't know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap."

Her husband looked on, but remained silent. Everytime her neighbor would hang out her wash to dry, the young woman would make the same comments.

About one month later, the woman was surprised to see clean laundry on the line and said to her husband, "Look, she has learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?"

The husband responded, "I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows."

And so it is with life. What we see when watching others depends on the purity of the window through which we look. Is Christ your portal to viewing others? Do you see and value others as He does, or are you looking through a dirty window?

"12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful," Colossians 3:12-15.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How to ruin a God-given dream ...

Throughout my ministry career and various leadership positions, a key measure of knowing I was on track in pursuing turning a dream into a reality was when some people told me I was unrealistic.

That's because one of the fastest ways to ruin a dream God has given you is by allowing others to re-size it.

It kind of works like this ...

... out of the blue, God has given you an "Aha!" moment by providing you with a dream He wants you to turn into reality. He has given you great clarity about what He wants you to accomplish. So, with great enthusiasm, you launch out on your new endeavor.

As you share with a friend the news of your new adventure with God, and fill him in on the details, he responds, "That's awesome! Such a great idea, I can't wait until it's finally going! However ..."

... that "however" is the point where a human being attempts to step into a dream given to you by God and tries to improve on it with their own human mind ...

"... this is really a huge venture, if you really want to get this going you should be realistic and start much smaller. Not everyone will support starting at such a high level. Take just a few steps, just kind of get things rolling, and over time you can eventually add to your efforts ..."

To many people, that advice sounds like it has the merit of practicality. The problem is, it is changing God's design of the dream He gave you. If God wants you to start at a certain level, start there. By scaling back and being more humanly "practical" according to the advice of others, you suck out the faith you originally had in God to supply what is necessary to achieve the dream he gave you as He gave it to you.

The mistake many people make when listening to someone share about a dream God has given them is converting what they hear into human capacities and human equations. But when God gives us a vision for something to do for Him, He does not limit it only to what we are capable of. In fact, He usually gives us visions, dreams, and missions that specifically require Him to be at the center and the primary source for "success" because the task is bigger than our capacity.

We quickly ruin a God-given dream when we allow others (or ourselves) to become the architect of the dream rather than the laborer who does the work. To achieve what God inspires requires that God remain the architect, and for us to have the faith to implement the vision He's given us the way He has given it to us.


How to kill a good idea ...

Your team has been studying the Word together, praying, and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit as you meet together over a period of weeks to revisit the direction for your local church.

After more than a month of such meetings, the team is more excited than you've ever seen them. It's clear to all of you the Holy Spirit has given you a fresh vision and direction for the church, one in line with scripture and having a clearer focus for the purpose of Christ's church.

Now that the meetings are done and you begin the work of executing your new plans, you begin sharing the new direction with others in the church. But they weren't a part of the praying and studying and seeking and discussing and planning. So some quickly criticize the new plan and urge you to leave things as they are.

You tell others and some of them say the same thing. For the same reason.

Now you're doubting the entire process you've just finished, and its outcome.

And it's all your fault.

That's because, as Martin Luther King, Jr., once stated, "A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus."

Your team had been authorized by the leadership to be the team to develop a new strategy for the church. In such cases, to open wide the results of such plans to just any kind of general feedback by any and everyone will often result in criticism you may not benefit by because those outside your team did not see and experience all of the "spiritual work" involved in arriving at the conclusion you came to.

On several occasions, I have seen church leaders go through this process, arrive at what they were positive was God's will and clear direction, and His exciting new leading for them and the church, only to have their conclusions quickly shot down by people who had no part of the visioning process. This occurs when leaders don't treat the final result of the work of their team as a settled decision, and instead open it for general consensus. Once the team made a decision, the leader should have began a process of molding consensus around the decision rather than making the decision unsettled by leaving it vulnerable to general consensus.

Put simply, once a vision is sure and a decision is made, the leaders need to mold broad feedback toward fitting into the execution of the decision rather than opening up the decision itself to people who had no experience in the making of it. That's why leaders, not large groups, make decisions.

A key part of leadership is molding lots of ideas and attitudes around the support of a single vision and mission. Failure to mold consensus is one of the fastest ways to kill a good idea.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

It's not just common folk God uses in big ways ...

A common message we hear from Bible teachers is that God uses the least likely, most common among us to do some of the greatest things.

There's a lot of truth to that. Some of the greatest figures of faith in scripture were very ordinary people.

But some weren't.

So let's take a look at the larger picture.

That bigger picture is that God also uses the very talented and gifted among us as well as the most ordinary. To see proof of this, we need look no further than the biggest figures (other than Christ) in both the Old and New testaments: Moses and the Apostle Paul.

After being plucked from floating in a basket in the Nile River, Moses grew up in the house of Pharoah as a prince of Egypt. He had the finest of educations, as well as the finest of things in life. Moses knew prominence and prosperity, he was anything but ordinary or average. Few people who ever lived held such a position of prominence as Moses had when he lived as the son of Pharoah's daughter. But it wasn't his experience as a prince in Egypt that Moses turned to in leading Israel to the Promised Land, it was the wisdom, power, and mercy of God he relied on.

Likewise, the Apostle Paul, was a respected religious leader before his spectacular conversion on the road to Damascus. Indeed, Paul (then known as Saul) had studied under renowned teacher Gamaliel, gaining what would be an extensive seminary education in our day. Paul describes some of his background in Philippians 3:4-6 as follows:

"4 Though I could have confidence in my own effort if anyone could. Indeed, if others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more!I was circumcised when I was eight days old. I am a pure-blooded citizen of Israel and a member of the tribe of Benjamin — a real Hebrew if there ever was one! I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault."

For some reason, we seem to almost want to hide the fact that these two giants of the faith were already highly accomplished men before God called them to the greater purpose He had for them. There's no reason to be skittish about their grand pedigrees, especially because of this key fact: it wasn't their existing skills, talents, and successes that was the source for the great things they accomplished for God --- it was God Himself, enabling and working through them!

It doesn't matter if you are educated or not, skilled or not, talented or not --- what God will accomplish through us for His glory and His kingdom will always be because of God Himself working in us.

Paul echoed this truth when he wrote, "28 So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ. 29 That’s why I work and struggle so hard, depending on Christ’s mighty power that works within me," Colossians 1:28-29.

It's interesting how we are loud about God using the most common among us, but we often see elder boards or other church boards stacked with men of worldly prominence, not necessarily selected for their spiritual maturity but often because of their business successes.

Being "useful" to God has nothing to do with your resume, but everything to do with who He is to you. God can use the least, or the greatest, among us for His purpose and glory if we are yielded to Him working through us. The least skilled, least gifted, and least experienced can do great things if God wills and enables it; and the greatest among us can accomplish for God nothing more than what God supernaturally enables us to do.

So how does God select leaders from among us?

"But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart'," 1 Samuel 16:7.

"25 This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God’s weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength. 26 Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. 27 Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. 28 God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them to bring to nothing what the world considers important. 29 As a result, no one can ever boast in the presence of God," 1 Corinthians 1:25-29.

No resume is so small a person cannot be used greatly by God. And no resume is so great that God is not necessary to do spiritual work. Kingdom work requires the calling and enabling of the King; with it, anything is possible, without it our efforts will be futile.