Saturday, June 29, 2013

When a blessing becomes an insult ...

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is more than being a student.

We quickly define being a disciple as being a student or learner of Christ. The definition can easily be taken as an intellectual task --- to study the God-Man and appreciate what He taught and did. But discipleship is far more than that; to be a student of Christ is to follow in His steps literally, not just intellectually.

"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.

That means taking real action in the lives of other people. Instead, we can be quick to offer a prayer or extend a "blessing" before quickly walking out of the lives of people in need. To offer a blessing and walk away without acting like Christ is turning a "blessing" into an insult ...

"Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, 'Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well" --- but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless," James 2:15-17.

Is your discipleship one that leads you to follow in the steps of Christ? Does your followership produce good deeds? Or do your offer empty blessings without action?


Friday, June 28, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Here's an outstanding book!

"Plastic Donuts" by Jeff Anderson (published by Multnomah Books) is the best book I've read in several years on the topic of giving.


I know, the very topic incites a groan and conjures up visions of arguments about tithing, gifts, offerings, legalism and guilt.

That is NOT what you'll read about in "Plastic Donuts."

Yes, those items are touched upon in this little hardback booklet, but instead of the "usual" content regarding giving, you'll get an insightful, easy to read, scripturally-based and brilliant discussion on "giving that delights the heart of the Father."

Have you ever considered that God could be delighted with your gifts? He can be! In "Plastic Donuts," Anderson takes you on a journey of biblical teaching that reveals how your gifts can not only delight God, but deepen your relationship with Him.

I highly recommend you buy this book, read it, and share it broadly. Further, because this is a small hardback booklet, it is a great resource for churches to provide to every member as a valuable tool for teaching on the topic of giving, or for use in small group studies.


 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.”

Thursday, June 27, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "The Point" fails to deliver its potential ...

"The Point: The Redemption of Oban Ironbout" (published by Port Estillyen Productions) is one of those books where the reader wants the writer to turn the corner and deliver a brilliant book ... but the writer never turns the corner.

Instead, The Point is a book where the writer routinely tells the reader "words matter" but fails to make his words matter as much as they could.

That's because of the convoluted writing style adopted by author William Jefferson. At once, the writer attempts a simple, descriptive style, then suddenly mixes in an attempt of the poetic that makes for confusing, slow, and difficult reading, and rhymes more fitting for a Dr. Seuss book.

The subtitle, "The Redemption of Oban Ironbout," gives away the plot on the cover of the book. Yet, the Mr. Ironbout character isn't the main character of the book. The story starts with Goodwin and Hollie McBreeze heading for the isle of Estillyen for a personal retreat. Ironbout is an inhospitable recluse living on the island, and the collision of their lives is supposed to be key to this narrative.

In the meantime, multiple secondary characters jump in and out of the story, without bringing enough value to the story other than making for slow reading.

The author attempts to build tension, but it's at these peak points where the writing is the most convoluted. For example, there is a scene where the Ironbout character tells of seeing himself trapped inside a mirror, but the story makes no sense.

Apparently what is supposed to make this book "Christian" fiction is the inclusion of story-telling monks on the island. Goodwin and Hollie sit in on multiple "readings" performed by the monks, but instead of these being as profound as the writer obviously hoped, it's at these points where the author mixes in his difficult and odd rhymes. Just because some of the characters are supposed to be monks providing tidbits of commentary on scripture doesn't mean you will have a profound spiritual message ... and you don't find that in "The Point."

A weak plot, under-developed characters, and an odd and difficult writing style results in "The Point" being a book with some promise that is never fully delivered.


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.”

Want to make disciples? Try this ...

How do you make a new disciple?

Let's take an example from the Day of Pentecost, when the church was born, and see how about 3,000 new disciples were added to the church that first day. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Peter was preaching ...

"Peter's words pierced their hearts, and they said to him and to the other apostles, 'Brothers, what should we do?'" Acts 2:37.

What does it take for someone to turn from self to the Savior? Piercing their hearts with the Gospel, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

That's how Peter did it. How do you do it?


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Bait-and-switch disciple-making is a failure ...

"I knew it was too good to be true!" is something most of us have said at some time in our lives, often after someone has pulled a "bait-and-switch" routine on us.

"Bait-and-switch" is the practice of drawing someone in with something attractive or appealing, then switching what they're really given with something less appealing.

While many unscrupulous businessmen use this method routinely, it's also a popular method for drawing people into the church. The method might fill some seats or pews with more people, but it's a failure at making real disciples of Jesus Christ.

That's because in luring people into the church with select teachings of really good news for sinners, we often fail to tell a key truth about discipleship: becoming a disciple of Jesus is always on His terms and His timing.

What are the terms and timing Jesus requires of anyone in order to be His disciple? Complete surrender of your life ... now!

Here's how Jesus communicated His terms and timing with a couple of people who claimed a desire to follow Him:

"As they were walking along, someone said to Jesus, 'I will follow you wherever you go.' 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.' He said to another person, 'Come, follow me.' The man agreed, but he said, 'Lord, first let me return home and bury my father.' But Jesus told him, 'Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the kingdom of God.' Another said, 'Yes, Lord, I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my family.' 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.

We use the "bait-and-switch" method of bringing people into the church today because we know if we were honest with people about the terms and timing of being a disciple, many would reject the call to follow Christ.

Instead, we've lured a lot of people into the church who say, "Yes, I will follow You ..." but then say, "First let me ... then, I will ..."

One thing Jesus understood is that those who respond with the "First let me ... then I will ..." are people who put others ahead of Him and are insincere about their profession.

There's a lot of people like that in the church today, people who say ...

"First, let me raise the kids, then I will ..."

"First, let me help my family, then I will ..."

"First, let me get my studies done, then I will ..."

"First, let me get my career going, then I will ..."

"First, let me get some bills paid off, then I will ..."

"First, let me learn some more, then I will ..."

A church full of "First let me ... then I will ..." people has little impact on the world around it because there are few who are actually following Christ.

These people fail to understand that discipleship is not something you give mental assent to now, and later live out in a piecemeal fashion on your terms and timing. Jesus sets the terms and timing, which are the complete surrender of our lives, now!

Do you share the Good News of Jesus Christ, complete with His terms and timing? Or do you try to attract people into the church with "bait-and-switch"? Have you surrendered your whole life to Jesus, or are you one responding with, "First let me ... then I will ..."?


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Playing spiritual cop will cause you to miss the mark ...

In 1992, a Los Angeles County parking control officer spotted a brown El Dorado Cadillac illegally parked next to the curb on street-sweeping day.

The officer dutifully wrote out a ticket. Ignoring the man seated behind the driver's wheel, the officer reached inside the open car window and placed the $30 citation on the dashboard.

The driver of the car didn't offer any excuses. No argument was made --- and with good reason. The driver of the car had been shot in the head 10 to 12 hours before but was sitting up, stiff as a board, slumped slightly forward, with blood on his face. He was dead.

The officer, preoccupied with ticket-writing, was oblivious to anything but the offense. He returned to his car and drove away.

Many people around us are "dead in transgressions and sins." What should catch our attention most is their need, not their offenses. They don't need a citation, they need a Savior.

Jesus saw the need in people. In fact, seeing our need was the reason for His coming to earth.

"For the son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost," Luke 19:10.

While Jesus cared about our need, we can be quick to spot the offenses of others, and then stubborn about seeing anything else about them. Such tunnel vision results in a lot of judgment and little love.

Do you see the need for a Savior in those around you? Or are you too busy focusing on their offenses?


Monday, June 24, 2013

Kind of like sweating Gatorade ...

Several years ago, Gatorade featured basketball legend Michael Jordan in an ad that showed him covered in orange drops of sweat. The image suggested Jordan is so full of Gatorade it's literally pouring out of him like sweat.

That's a good example of how it should be with the Holy Spirit in us. If the Holy Spirit is living inside of you, there is going to be external evidence.That's because whatever is inside of you is eventually going to come out of you.

For example, if you squeeze a grape, you will get grape juice. If you squeeze an apple, you will get apple juice. If you squeeze a prune, you're going to get prune juice.

If you "squeezed" a Christian, what would you get? The Apostle Paul provides one answer to that question ...

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

Is that what is oozing out of you?


Sunday, June 23, 2013

You might want to stand up for this ...

If you want to conduct a meeting that is concise, short, productive, and doesn't wander from a focused topic, try holding a "stand-up" meeting.

This kind of meeting is exactly what it sounds like --- a meeting where all persons attending are required to stand up throughout the length of the meeting. A stand-up meeting motivates participants to be very specific, not waste time with trivial information, and achieve results quickly, simply because you have to remain standing. Keeping everyone on their feet almost forces participants to immediately engage and more directly move to acceptable conclusions so they can quickly move on from this standing position.

Once people sit down, part of their focus wanders to their comfort. We want a comfortable chair, or an ergonomic chair, or something that might even recline or allow us to put our feet up. The more our attention strays toward our comfort, the more our focus weakens from the important matter at hand.

Perhaps that's why scripture exhorts us to "stand" when it comes to life's spiritual battles. Spiritual warfare isn't waged well from a "Lazy Boy" stance or recliner mentality. An overstuffed couch might be comfortable for fighting the virtual battles conjured up from your xbox, but doesn't work well for real spiritual warfare. When it comes to spiritual battle, the exhortation is to "stand" ...

"And everyone will hate you because you are My followers. But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls," Luke 21:17-18.

"Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. And do everything with love," 1 Corinthians 16:13-14.

"A final word: be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 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. 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 be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God's righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere," Ephesians 6:10-18.

It would take some effort to be able to sprawl out in your favorite chair while wearing a full suit of armor. When we strive for comfort, we tend to yield to the temptation of removing some armor so we can feel more "comfortable." And the more comfortable we make ourselves by shedding some armor, the more vulnerable we become. Instead of that, the Apostle Paul urges us toward a spiritual version of a "stand-up" meeting ...

"Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News," Philippians 1:27.

How are you taking on the spiritual battles in your life ... on your feet, outfitted in the armor God has provided, or trying to defeat the enemy with your feet up and the TV on?


Saturday, June 22, 2013

What could happen if ...

Revival had started to break out in the Scottish Hebrides in 1949 before Duncan Campbell arrived there. But the ladies who had prayed for revival, and a local pastor, thought Campbell was the man God could use to preach the Gospel to the wayward youth there.

Campbell declined an invitation to come and preach, citing previous commitments elsewhere.

But while waiting to speak at a conference, Campbell experienced a strong feeling that he needed to leave immediately for the Hebrides, so he got up and excused himself.

When Campbell arrived, he made his way up to the church where he discovered the cleaner going about his work.

"What's happening here?" Campbell asked.

"We have a speaker tonight," answered the cleaner.

"What is his name?" inquired Campbell.

"Duncan Campell," responded the cleaner.

"But I'm Duncan Campbell! How did you know I was coming?" he asked in amazement.

"How did you know to come?" asked the cleaner.

Campbell had yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit to go to the Hebrides, and by so doing, God used Him in a mighty way.

The Holy Spirit still leads the children of God. Do you hear Him? Do you listen for Him? Do you obey Him? What might God accomplish in you, and through you, if you yielded to the leading of the Holy Spirit in your life?


Friday, June 21, 2013

Looking good doesn't mean you are ...

Yesterday, a Facebook friend posted the following picture of Dragon Castle in Schloss Drachenburg, Germany:

Beneath the photo was her comment, "Wow! Wonder what it's like on the inside. The outside is very impressive."

The outside of the building in the photo above is, indeed, very impressive! It captures the eye, and certainly appears to be a valuable, remarkable structure; by viewing the outside of this castle, it would be easy to assume the inside would be as spectacular.

But outward appearances can be deceptive.

And some are happy to use their outward appearance for the purpose of deceiving, because they know the internal is very different from what they express outwardly. 

“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! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too," Matthew 23:25-26. 

No matter how masterful you may be at presenting an appealing outward appearance, it is who you are on the inside that ultimately matters. 

What lies beneath your external appearance? 


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Tell them His name!

Talking about a friend of his, Paul Newsham once told a story that relates how the Holy Spirit keeps a testimony in different cultures.

A missionary went to an African tribe that had had little contact with white people. When he arrived, they were in the middle of a ceremony which was remarkably like our Communion. Because he was a linguist, he was able to understand a lot of what was said. When they got to the end of the ceremony they said, "We do this in memory of him whose name we cannot remember."

At that point, the missionary stood and said, "I want to tell you His name. His name is Jesus!"

The Holy Spirit continues to testify of Jesus Christ in the lives of people, but they need to know His name.

Tell them His name!

"There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved," Acts 4:12.

"Therefore, God elevated Him to the place of highest honor and gave Him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father," Philippians 2:9-11.

It's one thing for the Gospel to be demonstrated in our lives, but we still need to tell others the name of the One we serve who can save their souls.

Tell them His name!


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Nothing left over ...

Why does the church seem to be so impotent in our culture?

Perhaps one reason is similar to the problem folklore tells us Mark Twain occasionally suffered while working as a pilot on steamboats. When coming into a town, he would often blow the whistle. He was occasionally known to blow it so long that he ran out of power, and drifted downstream while the power built up again.

Christians are sometimes like that --- they use the blessings of God for themselves ("blowing their own whistles"), and then when they need it, find themselves depleted. The Apostle Paul warns us against such behavior.

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

Paul describes to the Corinthians God's plan to provide not only for the needs of His children, but to bless them so they can be a blessing to others.

"And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, 'They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.' For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God," 2 Corinthians 9:8-11.

Do you purposely look out for the interests of others? Or do you empty out your blessings by blowing your own whistle?


Monday, June 17, 2013

Getting real about who your friends are ...

In the church --- especially among church planters --- and in business, there's a well-known phrase that provides good guidance, which simply says: "Go with the go-ers."

That phrase contains some sound wisdom. There are many people who "talk the talk" in church and in business, but fail to ever get up and "walk the walk."

Let me suggest this phrase should have some value in our personal relationships as well.

On many occasions, I have watched people sit on the sidelines socially, recreationally, and interpersonally in general as they wait on people who call themselves friends to actually connect with them. But they don't. They call themselves friends, and talk about doing together the things friends do, but they're always too busy, and they always have an excuse.

For example, the friendly guy at church who is always saying he's going to have to you and the "missus" over for dinner sometime ... but never actually extends the invitation. Or the business acquaintance you know who always talks about doing a big deal with you ... but never does.

Move on!

Go with the go-ers!

I'm not talking about forgetting about these people, but I am saying if you wait on these people to have a life rich with friendships, you'll be a lonely, unsatisfied person. If the people who call themselves your friends don't actually demonstrate friendship, and don't respond to your attempts to move forward into a real friendship, then go with the go-ers --- move on to those who are willing to actually be active friends, and if the talkers eventually want to engage, then they can catch up with you. To wait for talkers who never become walkers is to allow them to become distractions from the real opportunities God has for you.

Let me make something very clear, though. I routinely speak and write about the need for us to be more Christlike in our relationships by putting the needs and interests of others ahead of ourselves, and that would include being patient with people as we build the bonds of friendship. So I'm NOT suggesting a selfish motivation or behavior here. But I am saying it benefits no one for you to shelve your personal life because you're waiting on someone who is only talking but will never act. All that does is rob of you of the opportunities and blessings God has for you with people who are willing to engage, at least to some degree.

Let's look at this another way, from a biblical perspective ...

Proverbs 18:24 states, "There are 'friends' who destroy each other, but a real friend sticks closer than a brother." The talker who calls him or herself a friend, but doesn't actively live out a friendship with you while they continue to do what is important to them, can rob you of real friendships if you sit and wait for them to become a walker instead of a talker. You destroy each other ... the talker through his or her selfishness, and you by sitting and letting the real opportunities go by.

Go with the go-ers!

Instead of sitting on the sidelines, engage those who are sincerely interested in building the bonds of friendship with you, all the while leaving the invitation to friendship open to the talkers should they happen to decide to become walkers.

Let me add one more important observation. To love as Jesus loves, all of us will likely have some one-sided friendships in our lives. There are some people who are very shy, socially awkward, wounded by the world or afraid of it, who need us to be persistent in our demonstration of love, care, and friendship. Those are friendships where we will serve and support more than receive, but they can be some of the richest relationships we will have. It's in these type of relationships where the words of Jesus ring very true in our lives .

"And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35.

So to summarize, don't miss out on what God has for you (in both receiving and giving) by waiting on talkers who will never become walkers; instead, go with the go-ers while leaving the invitation to friendship open to the talkers. And never hesitate to maintain relationships where you are privileged to serve and give much more than you will receive. Finally, as much as you are able, be the friend you would like others to be and you might be surprised how many will respond in like manner.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Even imperfect fathers can be a profound blessing ...

There are no perfect fathers.

But today, give thanks for those father's who are there, who do care, and although imperfectly, who love their families.

Dads make their share of mistakes, but they also bring an invaluable blessing to life ...

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there!


Saturday, June 15, 2013

It's not as easy as some parents think ...

'Tis the season for graduations.

Parents are flooding their social media sites of their children posing in cap and gown as mom and dad stand next to them, beaming with pride.

This morning, I noticed this post for graduates:

It is a time to congratulate those who are graduating from high school or college because it's not the easiest part of life, although it is different from the years that will follow.

Take, for example, high school graduates. They have gone from years of moving from teacher to teacher, all placing different demands on them, all controlling their every move right down to having to ask for permission just to use the restroom.

They have had a full-time job of learning, followed with having to do even more school work at home, along with chores, plus additional work to earn a small allowance. In addition, they have participated on teams and in school organizations and have contributed in community activities and at church.

As they entered adolescence, many of them took on (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not) part-time jobs in addition to their full-time job of becoming educated and maintaining responsibilities at home, at church, and in the community. Many of them took on additional activities in school in an effort to earn scholarships for college.

Many of these students have been working at a pace a lot of adults do not, and have been directed and loaded with expectations by others at a level most adults are not. And in the midst of all this busyness and the whirlwind of demands and expectations on them, they have been changing and growing from a child, to an adolescent, to a young adult, trying to build their identity and find a place for them in the world.

Are these really the easiest years of their lives?

For some, perhaps they will be. For others, settling down to a job with some personal autonomy will be easier. But to go through everything they have experienced in their "educational career" and actually cross the finish line and end well deserves our respect, along with a hearty congratulations.

So to the class of 2013, congratulations and best wishes for a different and blessed future!


Friday, June 14, 2013

The Jesus genie ...

Yesterday, I read the following tweet posted to Twitter by a pastor:

"JESUS IS YOUR 'WAY' AHEAD. He is your answer to your troubled situation. He is the means to your end. He is your ever present help. He IS!"

There's something right in that statement ...

... what's right is the idea that Jesus Christ is our ever present help, and the answer to life.

But there's something very wrong about this statement ...

... Jesus Christ is not simply "the means to your end."

The problem is, with teaching like this being so pervasive from pulpits and splattered across social media today, it is how many people look at Jesus --- just a means to their end. He's a power source, a problem solver, a cosmic genie in a bottle, a god in our pockets. He's someone you turn to to fix what you've messed up.

That's not how the Bible describes Jesus Christ. Here's another view, this one from scripture:

15 Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
16 for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see —
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
17 He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
18 Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything.
19 For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
20 and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Looking at Jesus as a means to an end results in our trying to use Jesus for our own purposes. But when we see Christ as He is revealed in scripture, we see our Lord, our Savior, our God --- someone to be worshiped, loved, and served.

How do you see Jesus: as a  means to your ends, or your Creator worthy of your worship?


This is one fire you want to stoke ...

What was the power that fueled the apostles, transforming them from timid men to bold and courageous examples of faith?

What was the power behind the birth and launch of the church?

The Holy Spirit.

So why is the church today weak and declining? Perhaps this story will shed some light ...

A Lutheran bishop once told of visiting a church in California and finding a stirring red and orange banner on the wall. "Come Holy Spirit. Hallelujah!" it declared in words printed under a picture of a fire burning. The bishop then noted a sign posted on the wall directly underneath the banner which stated in bold letters: "FIRE EXTINGUISHER."

While the Holy Spirit wants to transform, empower, and enable us, we all too often have active in our lives the things that quench the "fire" of the Holy Spirit from burning in us. The Apostle Paul gives us a simple, concise warning:

"Do not quench the Spirit," 1 Thessalonians 5:19.

We'll never be the disciples, or the church, God intends so long as we quench His Holy Spirit in us.

Is your life, and your church, fueled by the fire of the Holy Spirit showing Himself within you and your faith family? Or are you dousing the very source you need to live fully as a whole child of God?


Thursday, June 13, 2013

This evil scheme can wreck you ...

Matthew Kratz once told in a sermon the fable of three apprentice devils who were coming to earth to finish their apprenticeships. They were talking to Satan, the chief of the devils, about their plans to tempt and ruin humankind.

The first said, "I will tell them there is no God."

Satan said, "That will not delude many, for they know there is a God."

The second said, "I will tell humans there is no hell."

Satan answered, "You will deceive no one that way; humans know even now that there is a hell for sin."

The third said, "I will tell humans there is no hurry."

"Go," Satan said, "and you will ruin men by the thousands!"

One of the most dangerous of all delusions is the lie that there's plenty of time.

"Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom," Psalm 90:12.

Are you wasting the time God has given you, or spending it wisely?


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: How an ancient sin permeates our lives today ...

If someone accused you of worshiping idols, you might respond with a laugh.

"You won't find any hand-carved figurines being bowed down to in my house!" you think.

In fact, you might dismiss the topic completely, thinking idol worship is an ancient problem and has never been yours.

You would probably be wrong.

In "gods at war," (published by Zondervan), pastor and author Kyle Idleman does an excellent job of helping the modern person understand just how rampant idol worship is today, even in the homes of those who profess to be Christians.

Has anything ever been more important to you than God? Have you ever given too much priority or value to someone or something, moving God out of the top spot in your life?

Chances are you have in the past, and perhaps you're still doing so without even realizing it.

"Idolatry isn't just one of many sins; rather it's the one great sin that all others come from," Idleman writes. "Idolatry isn't an issue; it is the issue. All roads lead to the dusty, overlooked concept of false gods. Deal with life on the glossy outer layers, and you might never see it; scratch a little beneath the surface, and you begin to see that it's always there, under some other coat of paint. There are a hundred million different symptoms, but the issue is always idolatry."

Idleman's straightforward writing style and multiple stories makes for easy reading as he helps his audience understand just how pervasive the issue of idol worship is today.

"Anything at all can become an idol once it becomes a substitute for God in our lives," the author states.

Idleman then takes his readers on a journey through the "temples" of pleasure, power, and love to explore some of the more common idols we worship today. You likely won't be very far into the book before you start examining your own life for the possibility of an idol or two actually being present and wielding influence in a way you had not previously considered.

And that's what makes this book good!

"gods at war" provides readers with a fresh, modern understanding of idol worship, motivates you to search for idols in your own life, and encourages you in living life in such a way that no person or thing will be allowed to compete with who God is in your life.


I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers 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.”

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A real school on Sundays ...

Is anyone learning in your adult Sunday school?

There's a story of a new minister who was asked to teach a class full of boys during the absence of the regular teacher. The minister decided he would see what the boys knew, so he asked them who knocked down the walls of Jericho. When all the boys denied having personally done it, the preacher was appalled at their ignorance.

At the next deacon's meeting, the minister told about his experience with the class of boys.

"Not one of them knows who knocked down the walls of Jericho!" he lamented.

The group was silent until one seasoned deacon spoke up.

"Preacher, this appears to be bothering you a lot. But I've known all those boys since they were born and they're good boys. If they said they didn't know, I believe them. Let's just take some money out of the repair and maintenance fund, fix the walls, and let it go at that," the deacon suggested.

Have you ever noticed that adult Sunday school is about the only "school" where there are no tests, no measuring of knowledge learned or understanding gained, no homework, no graduation, and no diploma earned. The classes continue year after year with the same people, many of whom don't know who knocked down the walls of Jericho.

Have you ever considered changing that?

Several years ago I overhauled an adult Sunday school to be a real Bible school held on Sunday mornings for adults. I wasn't the first to think of the idea, but it certainly challenged the status quo of the never-ending adult Bible class that produced very little results.

Instead of the standard classes, we offered an actual adult Bible school on Sundays, where adults had a specific curriculum they would study over a two-year period. Each of the classes were eight weeks long, there was weekly homework and a test to pass the class, and after eight weeks they changed to a different class. At the end of the two-year period, all those who had successfully completed the two-year curriculum and passed the tests were awarded a Bible diploma presented by the church.

A few topical classes were offered for those who didn't want to register for and take on the challenge of the Bible school. The good news was that about two-thirds of the adult members signed up for the new Bible school and became more serious about actually learning something in class on Sunday mornings.

There are all kinds of creative ways of making your adult educational offerings something more than a never-ending, unproductive meeting of adults, but you'll have to have the courage to challenge your adults to study, to apply themselves to learning, and to be challenged with testing their knowledge and understanding gained. The outcome of such a challenge should be more biblically literate, and spiritually mature adults.

Is anyone learning in your adult Sunday school?

Monday, June 10, 2013

A sure-fire way to continually limit yourself ...

When millions of people stepped out their front door this Monday morning, they were taking with them a key item that would limit their success, limit their efforts, limit their productivity, limit their relationships, and even limit what they attempt to reach for.

The item they tucked away and carried into their day with them is fear.

How does fear have such a limiting affect on our lives?

It's kind of like how it limits the African impala. The impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of over 30 feet. Yet these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a three-foot wall. The animals will not jump if they cannot see where their feet will fall.

In the same way, we often will not attempt something unless we, also, can see where we will land. We limit our steps, our reach, to that which we can see. By so doing, we quench all the possibilities that could become realities if only we walked by faith.

Faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see, and with faith we are freed from the flimsy enclosures of life that only fear allows to entrap us.

Are you limiting yourself by carrying fear with you? Or do you leap into life, having faith that God will provide a sure footing for your landing?

"He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along," Psalm 40:2.


Sunday, June 9, 2013

What would YOUR neighbors say?

In Luke 9:18 we read, "One day Jesus left the crowds to pray alone. Only his disciples were with him, and he asked them, 'Who do people say I am?'"

The video below picks up on that question by asking people on the streets of New York City who they think Jesus is. Take a couple of minutes to watch it ...

New Yorkers are often asked for their opinions because it's an easy city to step out onto a street and find people to ask questions of.

But if you were to take a camera to the homes lining the street you live on and ask the people in those homes who Jesus was, what would they say?

Since they are your neighbors, it might be something worth knowing. Right?

How different would the answers be from your neighbors regarding the question of who is Jesus? How many really know Him? How many only know a little about Him? How many don't know Him at all? What could you and your local church do to help these people know the real Jesus?

These are important questions for you and your church. So why not get a couple of friends together, grab a video camera, and head out to the streets of your community and video the answers your neighbors have to the question of who is Jesus. Then show the video at church. Let your neighbors' own words help motivate your local faith family to do something to help introduce the people in your community to the real Jesus Christ.

By the way, Jesus followed up the question He asked His disciples with an even more important question for them: "Then he asked them, 'But who do you say I am?'" Luke 9:20.

Who do you think Jesus is? 


Saturday, June 8, 2013

Does the church need a deadline?

Famous American composer, pianist, and jazz orchestra leader, Duke Ellington, once said, "Without a deadline, baby, I wouldn't do nothing."

Now there's a sentiment many can relate to!

Without a deadline, formal or informal, much of what is needed to be done, or is most beneficial for us, often wouldn't get done. At least, not in a timely way. We're often too busy doing the things we would rather do than the things we should be doing.

Perhaps that's a contributing factor as to why the church is so lackadaisical about it's commission by Jesus Christ to go make disciples of the entire world --- there's no date specific for completing the task.

But there is a deadline.

Yes, the return of Jesus Christ is certainly a deadline, simply because time to complete the commission will then have run out. There's also another "natural" deadline, and that is a certain number of people die each day; their chance to respond to the Gospel message ends with their last breath.

But we never know who will be here today and gone tomorrow, and we don't know when Christ will return. In that case, carrying out the responsibility of making disciples of all nations becomes an urgent mission, to reach with the Gospel today who can be reached before their earthly life expires, or before the Lord returns.

Time is ticking.

Are you acting urgently to be Christ's ambassador? Is your church urgently sharing the Gospel with your community? Or are you busy doing what you'd rather being doing while time goes by?


Friday, June 7, 2013

What's your opinion of you?

A business executive received outstanding customer service from a young man at a local business. He asked the fellow how much he was making at his current job, and was surprised to hear how low the wage was.

"You should come work for me," the executive said, "I would pay you what you're really worth!"

"I'm sorry sir," the young man replied, "but I couldn't work for such low wages."

It isn't often we come across someone with such a humble attitude. In fact, many would say that's an unhealthy attitude.

It is true that we gain a sense of our value in knowing Jesus Christ offered His life to save us from our sin --- we're greatly valued by God! But for some, it can be all too easy to think more highly of themselves than they should, something the Apostle Paul warned against ...

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

Does God's great value for you lead you to humility? Or do you think more highly of yourself than you should?


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Look at me, God!

Imagine living a life so in sync with God that you actually ask Him to test you to see the motives of your heart.

"Yeah right!" you probably think.

Many of us live in such a way we don't want God snooping around in our lives for fear of what He would really find.

But King David welcomed God's scrutiny of his life. In fact, he invited it.

"Declare me innocent, O Lord, for I have acted with integrity; I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart," Psalm 26:1-2.

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

If God were to test you, to search your heart and motives, what would He find? What would it take for you to start living the kind of life where you would welcome God's examination?


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A tale of two resorts ...

Consider this tale of two resorts ...

My vacation to Jamaica wasn't at one of the large, posh resorts you often hear about. Instead, I stayed at a basic, all-inclusive resort in the town of Falmouth.

Guests at the resort were encouraged not to stray outside the property alone, and it was recommended travel be limited to guided excursions outside the resort grounds. It was emphasized that guests who wondered out on their own could become a target of criminal activity or harassment.

The resort had a great beach, and that was good enough for me. Although one day, while swimming in the ocean, a town local somehow made his way around the walls and onto the beach. The fellow swam out to me, introduced himself as "Captain Skippy," welcomed me to his country, then informed me he could provide me with marijuana if I had any interest (which I didn't).

This was a resort that walled off its beauty and comfort from the community that surrounded it; it was only for select guests who could pay the rates. Locals were not welcome.


Contrast that with Crusoe's Retreat, a small resort on Fiji's main island of Viti Levu. This little resort is about a two-hour drive from the international airport and is tucked away on a secluded beach on the famous Coral Coast.

Immediately next to the resort was a traditional Fijian village and most of the employees at the resort lived in the village next door. The villagers would come over in the evening to dance and sing for the resort guests, and would invite the guests over to the village for a sip of kava. As resort guests strolled the beach, villagers would wave and cry out, "Bula! Bula!" (somewhat like the word "aloha," it is a kind Fijian greeting).

This resort interacted openly with the locals to the benefit of both guests and villagers.

Which resort is your church like?

A private affair that caters almost exclusively to the "guests" inside its walls? Or a church that flows freely into the community it is in, mingling with the people who live around it?

Which church do you think is making any strides in carrying out the Great Commission of the church?


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Bartering in the aisles of Kmart ...

When I was very young, my mother occasionally went shopping at Kmart. I always liked going along because while she shopped, I lost myself in the aisles of the toy department.

When it was time to go, my mother would come to get me, and the bartering would begin.

"Mom, if you would get this for me, I would ..." and the sentence would be completed by some lavish promise of stellar behavior or grandiose accomplishment I thought might induce her to immediately make the requested purchase.

Unfortunately for me, my mother knew my methodology, and all too often I left the store empty-handed. Occasionally, my mother relented to my request, not because of my bartering with her, but because she wanted to bless me.

My bartering was an attempt to make obedience all about getting a "blessing;" my mother kept her blessing me all about her gracious love for me.

Like a child wanting something from a parent, we often attempt to barter with God. What we are actually doing is telling God that we may become obedient to Him to some degree if He performs for us in a manner we want. By so doing, we try to barter obedience for blessings ...

"God, if you will ________, then I will ______," is how the plea often goes.

By playing this barter game with God, we attempt to reverse our roles with God, putting ourselves in control; we're willing to give to God a little of the obedience He desires from us so long as He delivers to our satisfaction. One reason we do this is because we often hear preached that if we obey, God will bless. In our minds, it looks like this: Obedience = Blessings. If that's the case, then we can manipulate God to give us blessings through our behavior.

But like a wise parent, God is all too aware of our methodology, and too wise and holy to fall for our manipulations. In other words, God doesn't play our game. He sets the relational standards and calls for us to first submit our lives to Him. When we do, He gives us the blessings He has for His obedient children, something that can't be bartered for from outside a covenant relationship with Him. God doesn't lure us into obedience with the promise of a blessing; rather, He loves us as our Father, expects (commands!) our obedience because of who He is, and blesses us because He loves His children and desires to be gracious with us.

If you want the blessings a child receives from a loving parent, you have to humble yourself to the will and authority of the parent. The same is true with our heavenly Father. With God, blessings flow from His love and grace toward us, something He has always desired to shower us with ...

 "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding," Ephesians 1:3-8.

Do you try to barter obedience to God for blessings from Him? Or do you give yourself to Him without condition, and receive the grace He decides to give?