Friday, May 31, 2013

How you can serve others without serving Jesus ...

Why is it that many Christians show up for church services every Sunday, and will sign up to participate in service projects, but then fail to follow Christ in the day-in-day-out living of life?

One reason is we place such a strong emphasis on serving others that we often fail to put the emphasis regarding service where it first belongs: serving Jesus.

But wait, our service to others is one way we serve Jesus, isn't it?

It should be, but it often isn't.

Too often, we fail to connect that our relationship with Jesus includes serving HIM, and part of serving Him is to love and serve others in His name. Instead, we simply promote service projects, without initially developing that our service  to others should initiate from our overflow of love and service to Jesus Christ.

As a result, we have a lot of people professing to "know" Christ who "go to church" and complete service projects, but who don't daily deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus.
So who are you really serving: Jesus Christ, and then others through His name? Or by passing the relational foundation in Christ and serving others as projects of good deeds?


Thursday, May 30, 2013

What's so important about the Gospel?

Two kinds of rhetorical questions for consideration, one for preachers and one for Christians who are not preachers vocationally:

Which would you rather hear preached: how to set goals, or the Gospel?
Which would you rather preach: how to set goals, or the Gospel?

Which would you rather hear preached: the need to have a vision, or the Gospel?
Which would you rather preach: the need to have a vision, or the Gospel?

Which would you rather hear preached: how to be a leader, or the Gospel?
Which would you rather preach: how to be a leader, or the Gospel?

Which would you rather hear preached: if you can believe it you can achieve it, or the Gospel?
Which would you rather preach: if you can believe it you can achieve, or the Gospel?

Which would you rather hear preached: steps to happiness, or the Gospel?
Which would you rather preach: steps to happiness, or the Gospel?

Which would you rather hear preached: how to make money, or the Gospel?
Which would you rather preach: how to make money, or the Gospel?

Which would you rather hear preached: how to be successful in business, or the Gospel?
Which would you rather preach: how to be successful in business, or the Gospel?

What have we done with the Gospel? It is NOT the most common message preached from American pulpits. And it shows, in the church and the world.

Why is it important that we preach the Gospel?

"For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes — the Jew first and also the Gentile," Romans 1:16.

So what do you want to hear? What do you want to preach?


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The squealer ...

During a trial in a small Missouri town, the local prosecuting attorney called his first witness to the stand. The witness was a proper, well-dressed elderly lady, the grandmother type, well-spoken and poised. She was sworn in, asked if she would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help her God.
The prosecuting attorney approached the woman and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?"
The woman responded, “Why, yes I do know you, Mr. Williams. I’ve known you since you were a young boy and frankly, you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, cheat on your wife, manipulate people and talk badly about them behind their backs. You think you’re a rising big shot when you haven’t the sense to realize you never will amount to anything more than a two-bit paper-pushing shyster. Yes, I know you quite well."
The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?"
She again replied, “Why, yes, I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, has a bad drinking problem. The man can’t build or keep a normal relationship with anyone and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. Yes, I know him."
The defense attorney almost fainted. Laughter mixed with gasps thundered throughout the courtroom, bringing the audience to the verge of chaos.
At this point, the judge brought the courtroom to silence, called both counselors to the bench, and in a very quiet voice said, “If either of you morons asks her if she knows me, you’re going to jail."
It's not uncommon for us to live an undercover life, one where the exterior is a false representation of the inner person. We just don't want anyone to blow our cover.
But the Holy Spirit is a squealer.
In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira tried to present to the apostles faux covers instead of acting with integrity. Such behavior on their part, as the Apostle Peter described it (Acts 5:3), resulted in lying to the Holy Spirit. The outcome was both Ananias and Sapphira dropping dead.
The integrity (or lack of it) with which we present ourselves is something the Holy Spirit actually takes seriously.
Do you?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

I can't believe you said that!

It's a myth that we're all searching for the truth. If you don't believe that, think about how you might feel if you were served a consistent diet of unadulterated truth.

Maybe a little more like Jim's wife ...

It was Friday, and quitting time, when Jim asked, "Boss, have you got any extra work I can do tonight?"

"Sure do," answered the boss, "but I can't pay you any overtime."

"That's okay, I just don't want to go home," said Jim.

"Why not?" asked the boss.

"Well, I've been in the doghouse since last night," Jim confessed.

"I see," responded the boss, "Why? What did you do to deserve that?"

"I still don't know," Jim said, shaking his head in wonder. "It must be one of those women things. I was minding my own business relaxing in front of the TV. My wife enters the room and asks, 'What's on the TV?' And honestly, I swear all I said was 'Dust!' And she's been mad at me ever since!"

In this instance, the wife found fault with her husband's truthfulness, and forfeited her companionship.

Most of us would immediately counter the husband wasn't very "gracious," but this silly story does shine a little light on the fact we often aren't fond of truth in its purest form.

One reason is because truth can hurt. Not in a bad way, it can just deliver a blow that we have to deal with, which is likely why the Apostle Paul directs us to "... speak the truth in love ..." (Eph. 4:15). The problem is, we've come to think of truth told in love as meaning truth skewed to something we would rather hear, something that doesn't land a blow, challenge our positions or behaviors, or convict us.

Or remind us of the dust.

Are you open to the truth? Or do those who speak the truth in your life wind up in the doghouse? On the flip side, do you speak the truth in love? Or are you wreckless with how you communicate truth to others?


Monday, May 27, 2013

Are you smarter than a monkey?

Legend has it that if you want to trap a monkey, you create a cage or box with a slit just big enough for a monkey to fit its hand through. Then you place a banana inside the cage.

When a monkey comes along, it will put its hand through the slit and grab hold of the banana. The problem (for the monkey) is the slit is not wide enough for it to pull both its hand and the banana out, effectively trapping it. The monkey is so attached to the new treat it has discovered that it will not let go of the banana no matter what dangers it puts itself in.

Yes, monkeys really are that dumb! Fortunately, as human beings, we're smarter than that.

Or are we?

Some choose to hold on to things they need to let go of.

"If you cling to your life, you will lose it, and if you let your life go, you will save it," Luke 17:33.

What are you still holding onto that you need to let go of?


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Who is really the worship leader here?

Do you know who the worship leader is at your church?

No, it isn't the guy in skinny jeans and funky shirt trying to look uber cool while singing at an octave no one else can hit.

The real worship leader is you!

It's you and the other Christians in the pews who set the tone for one another more than the man on stage does.

When a visitor comes to your church service and can walk through the front door all the way to a seat in the sanctuary without as much as a smile or hello from someone, you're all setting the tone ... just not a good one.

As the visitor sits alone, still without a greeting, and then watches church members mumble their way through a worship service, you're leading worship for him --- just not in a good way.

As members stand, silently staring at the "worship team" as they sing, you're squelching the suggestion for worship the singers and musicians are trying to encourage.

Our lack of engagement --- with others and in the act of corporate worship --- dampens the expression of worship in a church service like a wet blanket on smouldering embers; yet, our being engaged will stir others to participation more than the antics of a worship leader from a stage.

When blue collar Joe enthusiastically belts out a worship song in spite of being radically off key, chances are he's inspiring at least a couple other men to join in singing with him.

When the family next to you stops whispering among each other and pours their hearts out in praise, the families around them are stirred to do the same.

When Tommy Cool Teen rocks out to the songs in church service, he's unleashing a lot of other teens to be free doing the same.

The person or team on stage might guide us through a coordinated service, but it's the engagement of you and me with one another, and toward God, that leads us into and through corporate worship more than most anything else.

Remember, worship isn't something you go to a church building to find, it's something you take there and share.

So when you "go to church," are you leading others into worship, or hindering it?


Called to be opportunity makers ...

Christians who have been blessed with earthly resources have also been saddled with responsibility. That's because Christians with resources are called to be opportunity makers in God's kingdom.

Put another way, God doesn't bless us with abundance just so we can wallow in wealth. When He entrusts us with resources beyond our own needs, He is enabling us to create opportunities and make investments in His kingdom.

19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be," Matthew 6:19-21.

How are you using your God-given resources for His glory and the expansion of His kingdom? What opportunities are you creating? Who are you investing in?


Saturday, May 25, 2013

God's idea of deliverance may not look like yours ...

God often does NOT deliver us "from," but He does deliver us "through."

God allowed Joseph to be thrown in a pit, then sold into slavery, and even to be unfairly imprisoned. He didn't deliver him from those things, but He did deliver him through those things.

God allowed Daniel to be put into a pit of lions. He didn't deliver him from that experience, but He did deliver him through it.

God allowed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be thrown into a fiery furnace. He didn't deliver them from such a terrifying moment, but He did deliver them through it.

God allowed Stephen to be stoned to death. He didn't deliver him from that horrifying assault, but He did deliver him through it.

God allowed the Apostle Paul to permanently suffer a "thorn in the flesh." He didn't deliver Paul from this persistent plaguing, but He did deliver him through it.

We see through the lens of scripture that God often does NOT deliver us from what may be terrible, terrifying, even tragic events, but He always delivers us through them. In other words, He may not deliver us from facing an experience, but He will deliver us through it, bringing the final result to be something that glorifies Him the most and ultimately is best for us. That is NOT to say that God doesn't often deliver us from many bad experiences; whether He delivers us from or through, His ways are always perfect, resulting in glory for Him and the best outcome for us.

In spite of this, we see a great imbalance in today's teaching of focusing almost entirely on calling on God to deliver us from, and a disappointment with Him if He doesn't. Yet, God's plan may be greater than our desire, as He may determine it is better for us, and more glorifying for Him, to deliver us through.

Trust God to do what is best for you by doing what brings Him the greatest glory.


Friday, May 24, 2013

What happened when one church stopped just talking the talk ...

Have you ever heard people talk about the evangelistic strategy of having Christians live in every neighborhood block in a city?

Many talk of such a strategy, few actually develop and execute a real strategy for achieving such a goal.

But one church in Los Angeles, California did several years ago.

As the story goes, the church leaders identified more than 3,500 such neighborhood blocks in the sprawling city, and the church already had Christians living in more than 1,700 of them.

In one of those neighborhood blocks lived a block captain who was diligent about getting to know, serve, and express the love of Christ to his neighbors. One of his neighbors was an atheist, a fellow who had a great disdain for the persistent Christlike kindness shown by this block captain.

After some time, the atheist decided he had enough. He sold his home and bought a new house on the other side of L.A., sure he would escape the smiling hospitality of the block captain he so disliked.

The atheist loaded his belongings into a truck, and as he pulled away, he saw in his mirror the block captain waving goodbye to him.

"Finally! I've escaped!" he thought.

As the atheist drove away, the block captain retrieved his cell phone from his pocket and called the block captain in the neighborhood the atheist was moving to. It turned out the the block captain lived just a few houses down from the atheist's new home.

When the atheist pulled his truck to a stop in front of his new address, he was warmly greeted by the block captain of his new neighborhood, and a few other men from the church, who offered to help him unload his truck.

"My gosh! They're everywhere!" cried the atheist.

It doesn't do any good to talk about reaching your city unless you have a strategy to do it and you actually execute that strategy.

Do you have a plan to reach your city? Are you executing it? Or do you just talk about how nice it would be to reach the lost in your city while they actually perish?


Thursday, May 23, 2013

When silence isn't golden ...

I know some parents who used to play a specific game when they were on long road trips in the car with their children. The rules of the game went something like this, "The first one to talk loses." These parents called it the "silence game."

Have you ever played the game?

I would bet that many parents have made up a game similar to this. When traveling in a vehicle and arguing continues, or complaining erupts, or the eternal question, "How much further?” is asked for the 100th time, parents want silence. So they play the silence game.

Sometimes, silence is golden.

Sometimes, though, silence is not golden.

If you have ever felt the awkward pause in a conversation, or if you have ever had an angry spouse or parent give you the "silent treatment," then you know what I’m talking about.

Sometimes silence can be deafening ... especially when we're silent with God.
"But God already knows what I need!" some argue, "So why do I have to waste His time, and mine, telling Him what He already knows?"

It is true that God does know exactly what you need.

"Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!" Matthew 6:8.

But ask Him anyway!

"If God knows what I need, then why doesn't He just get busy providing it?" some question.

Because God is not just some cosmic "supplier," He is our Father, and He wants to interact with us as Father and children. Just as a good parent knows what their children need, they still long to talk with their children about their needs and share in them.

God doesn't want our silence, He welcomes our conversation.

Do you converse with God about your life? Or do you just expect Him to provide for you without the need for relationship?


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How would you answer this?

A young lady was sunbathing on a beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked, "Do you believe in God?"

She was surprised by the question but replied, "Why yes, I do."

Then he asked her, "Do you go to church every Sunday?"

Again, her answer was, "Yes!"

He then asked her, "Do you read your Bible and pray every day?"

Again she said, "Yes!"

By now, the young lady's curiosity was very much aroused.

The little boy sighed with relief and asked, "Will you hold my money while I go swimming?"

This little boy believed that if someone professed to being a Christian, then there was a certain reliable character that came with such a profession. In fact, he was depending on it.

So are others, and some of those other people are in your life. They believe that, because you profess to follow Christ, they can rely on a Christlike character from you. They need that from you!

What are you giving them?


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Be encouraged!

"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, May 20, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Getting the truth AND our attitudes right ...

You can be right without being a jerk.

In fact, it really is important to know the truth, and it's also important to convey that truth humbly.

That's the concise message of "Humble Orthodoxy" by Joshua Harris, with Eric Stanford (published by Multnomah Books). In fact, the physical book itself models the message by the authors. Instead of stretching a single subject into a full-sized hardback edition, the photo above shows this small book in the palm of my hand.

It's a little hardback (just 79 pages in a mini-hardback format, and that includes a study guide in the back of the book) because the authors stick to the subject, one that needs to be broached by many in the church. Being right --- having orthodox beliefs --- matters. But so does how we communicate the truth of God's Word to others.

In 2013, the church is rife with arrogance and even mean-spiritedness in how some use their version of the truth to pummel others. Others are willing to fudge on the truth for the sake of "peace." What we really need in order to be the church unified on mission for Christ is humble orthodoxy.

"One of the mistakes Christians often make is that we learn to rebuke like Jesus but not love like Jesus," the authors write.

Harris and Stanford identify the problems surrounding a lack of both humility and orthodoxy and lead us in learning how we can harmonize knowing and sharing God's truth with genuine humility and graciousness toward others.

Anyone with a heart to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others would benefit from this book. It's a fast but worthwhile read that may help you be more effective in pursuing orthodox beliefs with the right attitude.


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

Did YOU destroy the ships?

"Burn the ships!"

Legend has it that was the order given by Spanish conquistador, Hernando Cortes, but it's somewhat inaccurate.

Cortes had heard of the great wealth of the Aztec empire, and he set his mind on a single mission: to conquer the Aztecs and take their vast treasure.

In 1519, Cortes left his 11 ships anchored off the Yucatan and came ashore with 500 soldiers and 100 sailors, ready to begin the task of toppling the Aztec empire while appropriating its wealth.

There was just one problem --- some of his men were having second thoughts about their commitment to the mission.

Cortes had selected his men carefully, yet he had to do something to significantly buoy their motivation for the mission.

"Destroy the ships!" he ordered.

Initially, that order met was with resistance from Cortes' men. But Cortes challenged them, "If we are going home, we are going home in their ships."

The ships were scuttled (instead of burned), which meant Cortes' soldiers and sailors were making a total commitment toward successfully completing their singular mission. It was reported that morale and individual commitment to the mission shifted radically after the sinking of the ships. With no way to sail home, it was now all or nothing. Two years later, they would successfully complete their mission.

Great missions are usually rife with risks, dangers, and uncertainties. It's not uncommon to want to keep one foot safely on home base instead of losing our means to return to where we feel safe. But missions aren't accomplished that way, including the mission Jesus Christ has given to each Christian to join Him in building the kingdom of God.

"57 As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' 58 But Jesus replied, 'Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.'  59 He said to another person, 'Come, follow me.' The man agreed, but he said, 'Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.' 60 But Jesus told him, 'Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.' 61 Another said, 'Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.' 62 But Jesus told him, 'Anyone who puts a hand to the plow and then looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God," Luke 9:57-62.

Following Christ comes with all the promises and assurances of a faithful and perfect God, yet the journey will have its troubles. What's a motivation to move forward? It's an all-or-nothing proposition. You can't follow Christ for just select parts of the journey, you're either with Him or you aren't.

"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'," Luke 9:23.

You either "destroy the ships" and commit to the mission, or turn back to the world and its false safety and comforts.

Which choice have you made?


Sunday, May 19, 2013

They STILL didn't get it! Do you?

Two pals are sitting in a pub watching the eleven-o'clock news. A report comes on about a man threatening to jump from the 20th floor of a downtown building. One friend turns to the other and says, "I'll bet you ten bucks the guy doesn't jump."

"It's a bet," agrees his buddy.

A few minutes later, the man on the ledge jumps, so the loser hands his pal a $10 bill.

"I can't take your money," his friend admits, "I saw him jump earlier on the six-o'clock news."

"Me, too," says the other buddy, "but I didn't think he'd do it again!"

There are times when we should be able to expect someone to "know better" or to have finally learned a lesson. The time the apostles spent with Jesus just prior to His ascension into heaven is one of those times.

During their three years of intimately following and learning from Jesus, they missed a lot of lessons at first. But now, they have seen their Master endure the cross and then overcome death. Still, they just aren't getting it. Instead of inquiring about the kingdom of God, their minds return to a worldly, political setting as they ask Jesus if the time has come for Israel to be restored.

"So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, 'Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?'" Acts 1:6.

The apostles still have their minds set on the things of this world, rather than the things of God. Jesus redirects them to what they should be focused on ...

"7 He replied, 'The Father alone has the authority to set those dates and times, and they are not for you to know. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth'," Acts 1:7-8.

The future of Israel wasn't unimportant, but there was something more important the apostles needed to be focused on, and that was building the kingdom of God rather than any earthly kingdom. It would take the coming of the Holy Spirit in their lives for them to finally "get it."

The Apostle Paul echoes that same message when he writes, "Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God," Colossians 3:1-3.

Are you focused on being witnesses for Jesus? Or are you distracting yourself with political worries about earthly kingdoms?


Saturday, May 18, 2013

First this, THEN that ...

One of the most pondered questions by human beings is this: What is God's will for me?

So much could be (and has been) written on that topic, but let's approach it from a different angle: When will you know the will of God for you?

The Apostle Paul provides a direct answer for us:

"Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. THEN you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect," Romans 12:2.

Did you catch that?

You will not understand God's will for you with a mind that is conformed to the world. Stated another way, you must allow God to transform how you think first, "... THEN you will learn to know God's will for you ..."

So perhaps the more pressing question is this: Is your mind conformed or transformed?


Friday, May 17, 2013

May God forgive us for turning THIS into a selfish act ...

Leave it to us human beings to make the topic of forgiveness an act of selfishness.

Here's one example of a very common message about forgiveness:

Forgiveness is discussed and described often and broadly among Christians and non-Christians alike. Unfortunately, we've warped this critical topic into something "all about us." You'll routinely hear people talk about how not forgiving others wrecks our lives (true!), and how forgiving others benefits yourself (also true!). Rarely do you hear any discussion about how forgiving others mirrors the graciousness and character of God!

The Apostle Paul didn't miss this key to forgiveness:

"Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you," Ephesians 4:32.

How did God forgive us?

Selfishly so He would feel better about maintaining a relationship with us?

Selfishly to avoid bitterness in His holy heart?

Selfishly to free Himself from holy resentment?

Scripture tells us this: "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners," Romans 5:8.

God forgave our sins because He loves us! When we were at our worst, He acted in love.

In the Garden of Gethsemane we see Jesus didn't relish having to endure the cross as the means of providing forgiveness of our sins, but in spite of His feelings He acted in love, in our best interest at the expense of His own.

That's how we should forgive one another "... just as God through Christ ..." forgave us. Not from selfish reasoning, but because the One who is love has forgiven us, and is transforming us to be like Him. That means being able to act in love even when others are at their worst.

Are your expressions of forgiveness an act of love, or an act of selfishness?


Thursday, May 16, 2013

This one word makes a HUGE difference ...

Have you ever wondered what God really wants from you? Have you ever thought deeply about what would be an appropriate response to God for His saving grace?

The Apostle Paul gives us an answer ...

"And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him," Romans 12:1.

We often think Paul is speaking of our physical bodies in this verse, but what do our bodies contain? They contain our thoughts, our emotions, our desires, our memories, our ideas, our imagination, our wants, our needs, our anxieties, our worries, our hopes, our fears, our dreams ... our bodies contain us!

It's "us" --- every ounce of who we are --- that we should offer to God as a living sacrifice.

Speaking on this subject, pastor and seminary president Dr. Stephen Davey once said, "God is not calling you to a martyr's death, He's calling you to a martyr's life." That's what being a living sacrifice for God is ... dying to self and living to the glory of God.

But there's a word in that verse we often skip over or give little thought to. It's the word "holy" ...

"... I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice ..."

Not only should we offer God the entirety of our lives as a living sacrifice, but as a holy one as well. That means allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us into the holy likeness of our Savior so we can live holy lives offered as living sacrifices to God.

Have you offered to God your life as a living sacrifice for Him? Is it a holy life that you're offering Him, or just a living one?


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Leading like Christ means making BIG challenges ...

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

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

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

Going into all the world to make disciples is a BIG job! That's why it's so odd to see so many church leaders make such little offers --- such small challenges --- to their congregations. Some challenge their flocks with baby steps for fear they will leave if confronted with a BIG, God-sized challenge.

Challenges like Jesus made ...

"... Go and sin no more," John 8:11b.

"Jesus told him, 'If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'," Matthew 19:21.

"But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!" Matthew 5:20.

"You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 So if your eye—even your good eye — causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your hand—even your stronger hand — causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell," Matthew 5:27-30.

"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'," Luke 9:23.

"But Jesus told him, 'Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God'," Luke 9:60.

Jesus didn't call people to baby steps, He confronted them with challenges so big that to respond would mean turning their lives upside down!

Many walked away. 

That never stopped Jesus from making BIG challenges!

It often stops today's leaders. We fret about asking someone to hand out bulletins, greet visitors, or help serve communion. And we don't even consider asking someone to go share the Gospel with an unbeliever for fear of completely freaking out the "Christian" with such a request. Yet, for someone to repent of their sin and follow Jesus Christ requires the greatest challenge of all --- we have to be challenged to die to self and live for Christ!

How are you challenging the people you lead ... with the challenges of Christ? Or pleas for the occasional baby step?


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Are you ready for it?

It's not too hard to slap together a program, find a few volunteers and launch into doing a service project.

But what about actually sharing Jesus Christ?

What about being ready to make a disciple?

What about seeing people the way God sees them, then loving them the way God loves them?

Are you really ready for that?

Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle, wasn't. Is your story different than his? This is part of his story ...
It was Easter Sunday and I was so tired at the end of the day that I just went to the edge of the platform, pulled down my tie and sat down and draped my feet over the edge. It was a wonderful service with many people coming forward. The counselors were talking with these people.

As I was sitting there, I looked up the middle aisle and there, in about the third row, was a man who looked about 50, disheveled, filthy. He looked up at me rather sheepishly, as if saying, "Could I talk to you?"

We have homeless people coming in all the time, asking for money or whatever. So as I sat there, I said to myself, though I am ashamed of it, "What a way to end a Sunday. I've had such a good time, preaching and ministering, and here's a fellow probably wanting some money for more wine."

He walked up. When he got within about five feet of me, I smelled a horrible smell like I'd never smelled in my life. It was so awful that when he got close, I would inhale by looking away, and then I'd talk to him, and then look away to inhale, because I couldn't inhale facing him.

I asked him, "What's your name?"


"How long have you been on the street?"

"Six years."

"How old are you?"


He looked 50 --- hair matted, front teeth missing, wino, eyes slightly glazed.

"Where did you sleep last night, David?"

"Abandoned truck."

I keep in my back pocket a money clip that also holds some credit cards. I fumbled to pick one out thinking I'd give him some money, I won't even get a volunteer, they are all busy talking with others.

Usually we don't give money to people. We take them to get something to eat. I took the money out. David pushed his finger in front of me. He said, "I don't want your money. I want this Jesus, the One you were talking about, because I'm not going to make it. I'm going to die on the street."

I completely forgot about David, and I started to weep for myself.

I was going to give a couple of dollars to someone God had sent to me. See how easy it is? I could make the excuse I was tired. There is no excuse. I was not seeing him the way God sees him. I was not feeling what God feels. But oh, did that change!

David just stood there. He didn't know what was happening. I pleaded with God, "God, forgive me! Forgive me! Please forgive me. I am so sorry to represent You this way. I'm so sorry. Here I am with my message and my points, and You send somebody and I am not ready for it. Oh, God!"

Something came over me. Suddenly I started to weep deeper, and David began to weep. He fell against my chest as I was sitting there. He fell against my white shirt and tie, and I put my arms around him, and there we wept on each other.

The smell of his person became a beautiful aroma.

Here is what I thought the Lord made real to me: "If you don't love this smell, I can't use you, because this is why I called you where you are. This is what you are about. You are about this smell."

Christ changed David's life.

He started memorizing portions of Scripture that were incredible. We got him a place to live. We hired him in the church to do maintenance, and we got his teeth fixed. He was a handsome man when he came out of the hospital. They detoxed him in six days. He spent that Thanksgiving at my house. He also spent Christmas at my house. When we were exchanging presents, he pulled out a little thing and he said, "This is for you." It was a little white hanky. It was the only thing he could afford.

A year later David got up and talked about his conversion to Christ. The minute he took the mic and began to speak, I said, "The man is a preacher." This past Easter we ordained David. He is an associate minister of a church over in New Jersey ... and I was so close to saying, "Here, take this, I'm a busy preacher."

We can get so full of ourselves.
Is your story different? Or are you too busy, too tired, to love like Christ, and live like Him?


Monday, May 13, 2013

How do you do this?

How do you invest in the lives of others?

Before you answer that question, consider this little story ...

Before leaving on an extended vacation, a very wealthy man said to a contractor, "While I am away, I want you to build me a fine new home according to these plans. Be sure you work with extreme care, and use the best of everything. Tell me the cost as soon as you have it and I’ll send you a check."

During the process of construction, the contractor discovered many opportunities to substitute inferior materials; he put in his own pocket the money he saved. His employer would never know the difference, and he himself would profit.

But he soon regretted his dishonesty. When the wealthy man returned from his travels, he inspected the finished home and said to the contractor, "You have built it exactly as I wanted it, and I’m sure that you used the best of everything in its construction. Now, in appreciation for your long years of service to me, I am giving you this new home for your very own. Here’s the deed!"

Do you pour into the lives of others the same way you care for yourself?

"29 Jesus replied, 'The most important commandment is this: "Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength." 31 The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these," Mark 12:29-31.

Now, how do you invest in the lives of others?


Sunday, May 12, 2013

The danger of pursuing the unnecessary ...

A store owner in Maine refused to buy a saleman's wares.

"You have to understand, young fellow," said the owner, "that in this part of the country every want ain't a need."

That's a lesson many miss.

Are there things you want that you don't need?


I don't mean to imply that wanting something that isn't a need is wrong, but it can become a problem if it's value gets out of line in your life. Just think of how wanting something you don't need can potentially interfere with your relationship with God.

Consider how wanting something you don't need can possibly fester into something that literally diminishes or damages (or even destroys) your life. To want that which you don't need is to stoke the fires of a constant yearning; that persistent yearning for the unneeded reduces contentment and peace, and draws away attention and resources for the unnecessary. Yet, most would refuse to live a life that didn't routinely focus on the pursuit of wants.

Mark worked for the United States postal service as a mail carrier. He was married to an intelligent, beautiful, and lively woman, and had two healthy, energetic boys. They had a small home in beautiful northern California, a couple of cars, and an income to meet their needs, feed a simple savings account, and provide a few treats.

Mark had grown in his Christian faith and had come to the conclusion God was calling Him to vocational ministry. As Mark's hunger for Christ grew, his wife's hunger for things was growing, and that's an appetite that couldn't be fed on a pastor's paycheck. She applied pressure, and won the argument. Mark did not pursue the ministry, but over the years he chased better paying employment. This family moved to a bigger home in a nicer neighborhood, bought cars, trucks, motorcycles, a boat and a place at the lake, They dressed better, went out more often, and even traveled a little. They fed their wants well.

The couple also divorced.

The decision to make their wants their primary focus resulted in taking the heart of their marriage --- Jesus Christ --- from center stage. Instead, wanting what they didn't need became more important, which changed the dynamic of their relationship.

Eventually, Mark went off with the boys to live with a woman who would introduce him to drugs and the swinger lifestyle, and his ex-wife left the boys to Mark while she pursued the things a new man could provide for her.

Choosing to chase the things they wanted but didn't need ruined this family.

It's an ages-old story ...

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

What are the things you want that you don't need? Are these things draining your resources, your focus, your commitments elsewhere?


Saturday, May 11, 2013

I think I can, I think I can, I ... uh ...

Etta Mae Lopez had tried to stop smoking on more than one occasion, but she had always failed.

Confident of her lack of self-control, Lopez waited outside Sacramento County's main jail until a sheriff's deputy came out. Then she approached the deputy and slapped him.

Lopez was arrested for battery on a peace officer, which was exactly what she wanted to happen. Knowing persons are not allowed to smoke inside the jail, Lopez thought getting arrested would be a good way to make up for her lack of self-control over her habit of smoking.

It appears Lopez didn't think through her plan very well. She will soon be free from jail, and will once again find herself free from restrictions and having to exercise self-control over thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

God's design for our lives is not for us to be so weak that we cannot purposely give direction to our free will and our decisions for the good of ourselves and others. In fact, the Bible teaches us a lack of self-control leaves us vulnerable, and that God enables us to have the self-control we need to make positive choices ...

"A person without self-control is like a city with broken-down walls," Proverbs 25:28.

"22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!" Galatians 5:22-23.

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

But what about those times when we really are just too weak to overcome by our own discipline what we're faced with? In those times, God steps in to help His children.

"The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure," 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Are you wisely exercising the capacity for self-control God has enabled you with? Or are you looking for something external to compel your decision-making?


Friday, May 10, 2013

You're the lifeguard, and the world is drowning ...

Spring has brought beautiful weather to Beachtown, USA ,which means hoards of people are itching to start their summertime at the beach.

As chief lifeguard in Beachtown, your job every summer is to manage a competent team of lifeguards whose job it is to keep swimmers safe along a mile-long stretch of sandy beach just off the boardwalk near the town center.

As your team is gathered around with their gear, you give your final set of instructions and encouragements, then send them off to their assigned watch towers.

In less than an hour, the first emergency call comes over the two-way radio.

A lifeguard in tower one spotted a teenage male frantically trying to swim, and heard his plea for help. The lifeguard ran to the edge of the ocean water then stopped --- because he didn't know how to swim.

He signaled to the lifeguard in the nearest tower, who ran down the beach to him --- and stopped at the water's edge because he, too, didn't know how to swim.

Each of the lifeguards signaled to the next tower until the entire team of lifeguards had gathered at the water's edge --- none of them knowing how to swim.

With siren blaring, you drive your patrol truck onto the sand and stop just short of your team.

"Why are you all just standing here?" you yell as you run into the water, then begin the swim out to the teen boy.

But when you reach him he's unresponsive.

You grab the body and swim to shore; in the shallow water, your team members run out to help you bring the boy up to the beach.

You administer CPR, but to no avail.

You're too late.

The young man died of drowning ... because none of your lifeguards knew how to swim.

Making disciples is the mission of the church, and the responsibility of every Christian. Why is it, then, that the average Christian will never share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with another person in their lifetime?

One reason is because they don't know how to swim.

Stated differently, your team of "lifeguards" (disciple makers) haven't been equipped for how to share the Gospel in order to make a disciple. There's no guarantee that if your flock was equipped to share the Good News that they actually would when the had (or could make) the opportunity --- but many would.

Not only has the church fallen short of discipling the believers who are members of the church, but many (if not most) churches do nothing to literally equip followers of Christ to effectively share the Gospel and make a disciple. Such equipping is a basic responsibility of church leaders ...

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

While equipping the saints is the responsibility of servant leaders, every Christian can and should take the initiative to make sure they are equipped to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-20) if their spiritual leaders aren't doing their duty of equipping them. 

As Christians, you're all "spiritual lifeguards" assigned a tower on this world's beach. Will you be ready to save those drowning in sin, or will they perish on your watch?


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Are you losing the human touch?

You find your friend's name in "Contacts" on your smartphone, select it and the phone number. Your smartphone dials automatically, and after a couple rings you're startled to hear, "Hello?"

"Mark?" you stutter, surprised to hear a live human voice.

"John? Is that you?" your friend asks.

"Uh ... yeah ... hi ..." you stammer.

"Hi! What's up?" he asks.

"Uh ... I was just calling to leave a message for you ..."

In our constantly connected world, we have become accustomed to not actually connecting with people in a live format. We send text messages, we tweet, we post, we email, we leave voicemail messages, but we don't really talk to each other. In fact, many people report they prefer to reach a person's voicemail to leave a message than actually call someone with the intent of having live interaction.

Some say not connecting live allows them to multi-task but still stay connected; others say it's a way to maintain control of their time. The bottom line is that we're becoming more personally distant when we lose interest in having a live conversation with other human beings. This attitude prompts us to turn inward, feed our selfishness, and minimize having to have genuine fellowship with other human beings.

The more impersonal we become with how we connect, the more detached we become from others, the more we care about ourselves and the less we care about others. Connections that are purposely limited to impersonal communication are more about exchanging sentences than sharing life together.

I'm not saying we can't make and have significant connections with others through a variety of means of communicating, but when we prefer not to have live human interaction, we are moving away from the authentic means of human relationship.

If you're finding yourself preferring to reach someone's voicemail than the actual person, you know it's time for a social media fast and time to go be with other live human beings.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

You cannot make a difference without being different ...

That truth from pastor Alistair Begg is opposite of what we have heard from too many pastors for far too long. Embracing culture instead of engaging it, too many leaders have pressured the people of their congregations to look and live like the world, and have led the way by insisting on offering services that mimic culture.
But when someone steps out of their broken cultural norms to look for truth among the church, they don't want --- and will not benefit from --- a church that is a mirror image of society.
Without the Gospel of Jesus Christ, lived fully in a counter-cultural openness, the church has nothing of lasting benefit to offer the world.
"Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect," Romans 12:2.
"14 I have given them your word. And the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I’m not asking you to take them out of the world, but to keep them safe from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to this world any more than I do. 17 Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. 18 Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world," John 17:14-18.
"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.
"10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret," Ephesians 5:10-12.
"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," John 15:19.
Be different! 
"Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children," Ephesians 5:1.
"For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps," 1 Peter 2:21.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Modern relationships ...

This is what relationships routinely look like in 2013:

And following are just a couple snippets of what our Creator, who made us social creatures with a need to be loved and to express love, says our relationships should look like ... 

"4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance," 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. 

"9 Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. 10 Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other," Romans 12:9-10.

Who do think has the better idea for relationships? What do your relationships look like?


Monday, May 6, 2013

We say we live for Jesus, but what does your day look like?

"Hmmm, what do I want to wear today? What would make me look good ..."

"What do I want to eat?"

"What do I want to watch?"

"What do I want to listen to?"

"What do I want to play?"

"What do I want to read?"

"How do I want to be entertained?"

"Who do I want to spend time with?"

"What do I want to buy for myself?"

"How do I want to use my time?"

"How hard am I willing to work?"

If we were to be honest, for many of us our days are filled with pursuing our own interests from the time we get up until the time we go to bed.

It's not the kind of life God has called us to. It certainly isn't following in the footsteps of Jesus ...

"For even Christ didn’t live to please himself ..." Romans 15:3a.

What would your day look like if you started it with the intent of not living it to please yourself? What would your day look like if you started it by placing your feet in the footsteps of Christ and followed Him throughout the day, wherever you were, and whoever you were with?

"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'," Luke 9:23.


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Turning a duty to love into a channel of love ...

"You can't just command love from someone!" insists the husband who, long ago, chose to stop loving his wife.

"Actually, you can ..." responds the marriage counselor.

What the counselor had in mind was the words of Jesus, when Christ actually did command us to love each other ...

"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.

The key to Christ's command is in the second sentence: "Just as I have loved you, you should love each other."

Christ isn't ordering us to push out of ourselves a begrudging sentiment sourced in compulsion, but a genuine love sourced from the One who the Bible says IS love! The difference looks a little something like this ...

Are you "doing love" from a resistant attitude out of a sense of duty to Christ's command, or are you allowing the source of love (God) to flow through you so you can be love to others?


Saturday, May 4, 2013

How to tell counterfeit Christians from the real thing ...

You hand the clerk at the checkout stand in the store a $100 bill to pay for your purchase. Then the odd little examination begins ...

The clerk rubs his fingers on the bill. He crinkles the paper, then smooths it, feeling the paper again. Then he holds the currency up toward the light and visually examines it. Finally, he takes a special "pen" and marks the bank note. He finally tucks the money away in his register till, satisfied the bill is not counterfeit.

Key to his deciding the bill was not a forgery was the watermark on the money.

Watermarks are a key security feature used by governments to protect against the counterfeiting of currency, passports, and stamps. You may have also noticed watermarks lightly embedded on fine stationery, denoting the quality of the paper and identifying where the paper was milled. Watermarks are also commonly placed across photos to denote copyrights or ownership.

Like these embedded watermarks used to guard against counterfeiting, and identifying a source of origin and quality, God has embedded His mark into the Christian in the form of the Holy Spirit.

"21 It is God who enables us, along with you, to stand firm for Christ. He has commissioned us, 22 and he has identified us as his own by placing the Holy Spirit in our hearts as the first installment that guarantees everything he has promised us," 2 Corinthians 1:21-22.

"And now you Gentiles have also heard the truth, the Good News that God saves you. And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago," Ephesians 1:13.

Those who claim to be children of God don't have to undergo an odd examination to determine if their claim is true, just look for God's watermark; if they truly belong to God, the embedding of the Holy Spirit in the life will be evident.

Is God's watermark obvious in your life?


Friday, May 3, 2013

Are they goals or idols?

The leaders who influence your life have harped about the value of setting goals many times, so you finally sit down and put some goals in writing.

What is on that piece of paper ... goals, or idols?

Often what we may think of as goals are really a list of idols, things that we want that can too easily hold a place of too much value in our lives. It's not uncommon for us to create a list of goals for ourselves without ever talking these things over with God before making them our desires and pursuits.

Once we have our list of goals, we pour ourselves into pursuing them. Achieving our goals becomes our passion and focus; we spend our time, treasure, and talent trying to turn them into reality. In the process, it can be easy to displace God while chasing our own objectives. John warns us against doing this ...

"Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts," 1 John 5:21.

What are you pursuing, goals or idols? What role does God play in how you set goals?