Thursday, September 26, 2013

Majoring on the minors ...

There's a story of two church congregations located just a few blocks away from each other in a small town. They thought it might be better to merge and become one united, larger, and more effective body rather than remain as two struggling churches. It was a good idea ... but they weren't able to pull it off.

The problem?

They failed to agree on how they would recite the Lord's Prayer. One group preferred "forgive us our trespasses" while the other group insisted on saying "forgive us our debts."

So, as the local newspaper reported, "One church went back to its trespasses while the other returned to its debts."

Unity in the body of Christ and relating to others with Christlike love and peace will never come when you major on the minors, putting your focus and demands on things that are not essential. The Apostle Paul gives us clear direction to yield with love and honor toward others ...

"Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves," Philippians 2:3.

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

Are there relationships in your life where you are majoring on the minors? What could happen if you put your focus on the essentials (such as "love each other with genuine affection") rather than the unimportant?


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The bad thing about auto-pilot ...

Auto-pilot technology has now become so sophisticated there is growing concern some pilots are becoming overly-dependent on the use of technology.

The same can be said for many of us with regard to being thoughtful. We make our interactions with others so routine, we often fail to give much thought to what we say and do before saying and doing it. This is also an issue among leaders, who teach those they lead to respond by rote rather than from deliberate thoughtfulness.

It's kind of like the Lutheran pastor who always started each service by saying, "The Lord be with you." The people would respond, "And also with you." But one Sunday the PA system wasn't working, so the first thing he said was, "There's something wrong with this microphone," to which the people responded, "And also with you."

How about you?

Are you thoughtful about your interactions with others? Or do you respond by rote, ways you've learned to respond without any real thinking about others?

"There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking," Proverbs 29:20.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Swimming with the sharks ...

If you didn't hold yourself back so much with negative self-talk, what more could you accomplish with your life?

That's a huge question for every human being, one we won't know the full answer to until this life is over. But we can get an idea by challenging ourselves with the question and stepping out into greater risks.

There's a story about a rich man who threw a party at his mansion. One of his pride-and-joys was his new saltwater pool in which were swimming various species of ocean fish.

Later that night, the rich man had his guests assemble along the edge of the pool as he proudly released into the water his new collection of great white sharks. As the sharks swam back and forth, the rich man offered one million dollars to anyone brave enough to swim across the width of the pool.

Suddenly there was a splash and someone began swimming across at a speed never seen before, not even in the Olympics. Then a man bounded out of the pool on the opposite side, completely out of breath. The rich man ran to him and congratulated him on his courage.

The tired swimmer said, "I only have one thing to say --- WHO PUSHED ME?"

If you toned down your negative self-talk and gave yourself a little more push, what could you do?


Thursday, September 19, 2013

ATTENTION: We interrupt your life for a very important reason ...

Some of the most important moments in your life may well be the interruptions that suddenly burst into it.

That was the case for Jesus during His earthly ministry. Just a few examples: when Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, He was interrupted by a man possessed by an evil spirit, so He delivered him of the possession (Mark 1:23-26); while Jesus was preaching in a house packed with people, a few men tore a hole in the roof and lowered their sick friend down on a mat to Jesus, who healed him (Mark 2:1-5); and while Jesus was teaching, the leader of a synagogue came to Him because his daughter had just died, so Jesus went and raised her from the dead.

Time and time again, the ministry of Jesus faced interruptions, and what we see from His example is that often it's the interruption that is the ministry for the moment. Some of the greatest teaching, examples, and miracles of Jesus came from those moments when He was interrupted.

How do you treat the people who interrupt your life? What opportunity for ministering to others and glorifying God could come from your interruptions?


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What is real courage?

Many times in scripture we are exhorted to be courageous. But what is real courage?

We tend to think of being courageous as those times when we take on something we're poorly equipped for. But real courage looks more like this ...

One summer morning as Ray Blankenship was preparing his breakfast, he glanced out the window and saw a small girl being swept along in the rain-flooded drainage ditch beside his home in Andover, Ohio. Blankenship knew farther downstream the ditch disappeared with a roar underneath a road and then would empty into the main culvert.

Without another thought, Ray dashed out the door and raced along the ditch, trying to get ahead of the floundering child. Then he hurled himself into the deep, churning water. When Blankenship surfaced he was able to grab the child's arm, and the two tumbled end-over-end. Within about three feet of the mouth of the culvert, Ray's hand felt something hard --- possibly a rock --- protruding from the bank. Ray clung to the object desperately as the tremendous force of the water tried to tear him and the child away.

"If I can just hang on until help comes ..." he thought.

He did better than that.

By the time the fire department and other rescuers arrived, Blankenship had pulled the girl to safety. Both were treated for shock. On April 12, 1989, Ray Blankenship was awarded the Coast Guard's Silver Lifesaving Medal. The award is fitting, for this selfless man was at greater risk to himself than most people knew.

That's because Ray Blankenship doesn't know how to swim.

Real courage isn't simply taking on that which you have some skill, talent, or preparation for, but throwing yourself into service for others, even when you're utterly unequipped, and trusting God to make you capable for what He has called you to.

All around you are lives being swept away by sin. Do you have the courage to jump in and save some?

"This is my command --- be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go," Joshua 1:9.

"For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength," Philippians 4:13.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Something you need to know ...

In the fifth century, a man named Arenius made the decision to live a holy life. So he abandoned the comforts of Egyptian society to follow an austere lifestyle in the desert. Occasionally, Arenius would visit the great city of Alexandria, where he would spend his time wandering through its bazaars. When asked why he spent his time there, he explained that his heart rejoiced at the sight of all the things he didn't need.

Whether or not you agree with his lifestyle, Arenius knew what he needed and what he didn't need.

Do you?

Arenius could walk through a marketplace and rejoice in not having any need for what surrounded him. In stark contrast, we walk through malls and superstores desiring what fills the shelves and thinking of how badly we "need" such things.

Do you  really?

What are your needs? How does the desire for things other than needs affect your life?

"Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need," Matthew 6:33.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Get over yourself ...

Have you noticed how many pastors talk and write about seeking opportunity for self?

So many sermons, books, blog posts, tweets and other postings are about searching for opportunities that benefit yourself, that make you happy, you more prosperous, you "better off."

And then we open scripture and read something different ...

"Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone --- especially to those in the family of faith," Galatians 6:10.

We hear too much about how to do well for ourselves, and too little about doing good to others.

When was the last time you sought opportunity to be a blessing to others? How often do you think there are such opportunities in your life? How often do you take advantage of these kinds of opportunities?

Are you purposeful about doing good and being a blessing to others, or do you still need to get over yourself?


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Strike a pose in this ...

Other than hitting the snooze button once too often, a common reason for people running late for work is spending too much time in front of the closet trying to decide what to wear.

Clothes are important to us, hence the multi-billion dollar fashion industry. Many of us are very concerned (if not too concerned) about what we put on and how we present ourselves to the world.

At least, regarding how we look externally.

But how much time do you spend caring for what you look like spiritually?

"And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes," Galatians 3:27.

"Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ ..." Romans 13:14.

"Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him," Colossians 3:10.

"Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience ... Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony," Colossians 3:12, 14

"Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all the strategies of the devil," Ephesians 6:11.

How are you dressing yourself each morning?


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

To make disciples, you may have to do this ...

To describe Jesus as a "victim" would not be accurate.

But He was taken by a mob, falsely accused, judged by a man He had created, and then nailed to a cross by Roman soldiers. He would die on that cross.

But even Jesus disputes any victim status.

"The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded," John 10:18.

You might say Jesus was a "willing victim." He knew in order to accomplish the will of the Father, and the best for us, would require allowing Himself to be "victimized" by those He came to save.

The same is true for us, His disciples.

If we are to carry out the will of the Father, and to serve the best interests of others, we have to allow ourselves to be "victim" to their treatment in our efforts to reach them in Jesus' name. You may not have to lay down your life, but you will have to pour it out.

Are you willing?


Friday, September 6, 2013

From the ordinary, suddenly ...

One of the most annoying aspects of social media is the constant flood of posts from pastors screaming for the spectacular, the "great" achievements, and greatness itself, as if every moment must be some monumental miracle experience from God.

All along, forgetting what God can (and does) do with the ordinary moment.

God doesn't keep us spiritually piqued every moment of every day; we have a lot of "ordinary" hours and days, even years. Laundry still has to be done, dishes washed, and lawns mowed. But God still achieves the extraordinary in the midst of our ordinary.

Here's a great example. In Luke 2, we read of the incredible event of God being born into this world as a man in a lowly stable in Bethlehem. It's a night described like this ...

"That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly ..." Luke 2:8, 9a.

It was an ordinary night. Shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks like they did night, after night, after night. But on this night, during a very ordinary moment, God not only did the extraordinary, but the astounding!

"Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them ... but the angel reassured them. 'Don't be afraid!' he said. 'I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people'," Luke 2:9a, 10.

God hasn't designed for us to live every moment bathed in spiritual ecstasy. In His perfect timing, He pierces our lives with actions that are amazing, like this ...

"But when the right time came, God sent his Son ... " Galatians 4:4.

A contributing factor to a lack of faith and disappointment with God --- even anger toward God --- is feeding the notion that any day that isn't riddled with the astounding is sub-par for God. Of course, that's overlooking the innumerable miracles it takes for God to keep His entire creation under control every moment of every day as He does. That seems mediocre if it doesn't personally push our emotions and "spiritual adrenalin."

Here's a word of advice: chill out!

God will do in your tomorrows more than you could ever hope or dream. So if today is just an ordinary day, another ordinary moment, just be patient and wait. For it's out of our ordinary, at just that right time, that suddenly God does the astounding.

Be ready!

"That is what the scriptures mean when they say, 'No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him," 1 Corinthians 2:9.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How to step boldly into the future ...

One of the primary things that paralyzes us from  moving forward into the future God wants to lead us into is our stubborn refusal to move until we have everything we think we need to succeed.

God often does NOT equip us for life's journey in advance, but rather day by day, if not even step by step.

It's kind of like the story of Jesse Pullen, a converted drunk. One day, as he tried to lead an old companion to Christ, the man expressed the fear that he would not hold out. Pullen said to him, "I'm the engine man on a little steamboat during the summer. I don't wait until I get up enough steam to carry me across the lake before I start. I would blow the boat all to pieces if I did. When I get about 20 pounds of steam up, I call out to the captain, 'Alright, go ahead!' Down in the hold I have plenty of coal. As fast as we use up the steam, we make more, and so we go across the lake."

His friend saw the point.

Do you?

"Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me," John 14:1.


Monday, September 2, 2013

What in the world am I here for?

Why in the world are you here in the world?

The Bible answers that question clearly for us, but let's take just one answer directly from Jesus as He prays to the Father:

"Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world," John 17:18.

From birth to death and resurrection, the purpose for Jesus coming into and being in this world was to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). In the same way that God the Father sent God the Son into the world to redeem the world, Jesus sends us into the world as a continuation of His ministry to seek and save the lost.

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

If you are a disciple of Jesus Christ, then you are one who is sent into the world as an ambassador for the King of kings!

That's what you're in the world for. Is that how you're living?


When truth gets in the way of "love" ...

"But we love each other ..."

"But we have so much in common ..."

"But he/she makes me happy ..."

Those are just a few of the simplistic excuses "Christians" give for marrying unbelievers (or for living with and being sexually active with unbelievers they aren't married to) in spite of the scriptural command to not be "unequally yoked" (2 Corinthians 6:14).

They don't think about the fact that real "love" doesn't lead someone to sin, or given a little time we discover we have something "in common" with just about anyone, and that being "happy" isn't something someone else can provide for us over a lifetime.

And what these excuses don't --- and cannot --- explain away is that massive difference that will always separate them from any unbeliever they would be unequally yoked to: the truth.

When we consider the words Jesus prayed for His disciples, "... so they may be one as we are one ..." (John 17:22), it is sometimes forgotten that in the very same prayer He asked that they may be made holy ("sanctified") through the truth (verse 17). The word used for "sanctify" signifies separation --- the idea is to be set apart for special use. So two ideas are seen to be in the mind of Christ as He prayed: first, that His disciples should be a separated people, and then united together in Him.

What the disciples were to be separated from is clear from the context, as follows:

"They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Make them holy [sanctify them] by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world," John 17:16-18.

Clearly, the disciples of Jesus were to be separated from the world, even though they were to be in it. This separation would result from the influence of  the "truth" upon them.

"Make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth," says Jesus, so it was the power of the word of God upon their minds which caused the separation to come about. When a Christian insists on being unequally yoked to an unbeliever, they attempt to meld truth with a lie, the believing with the unbelieving. It's an impossible mix. There will always remain a separation, or even worse, the believer will surrender an obedient practice of faith in order to become yoked with an unbeliever.

Jesus prayed that the Father would make us holy by His truth, that God would teach us His word, which is truth. We either are made holy by living out the word of God, or sin by failing to obey the Word of God. To claim to be a child of God but then give yourself to one you know does not live out the truth of God is choosing to join with one in rejecting the truth from God.

Truth creates a gap between the authentic believer and the unbeliever that only conversion of the unbeliever can resolve.

And no, there is no such thing as evangelistic dating! That's just flirting with sin.


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Living by (manic) faith ...

I never saw the movie "It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World," but I always liked the title, just because it has a lot of truth in it.

It's a mad world out there!

And here's one of the things that makes living in this world a mad experience: trying to live out a manic faith.

A "manic" faith?


A manic faith is when you consistently push against what you say you believe about God. Many who call themselves Christians do this routinely. They believe God made them, and that God can save them, but they push against what God wants for them. Things like holy lives, communion with Him, and loving others as He loved us.

They practice a manic faith, trying to take from God only what they like, and push against the things they don't like. It's a mad mad mad mad thing to try to "sort" the things of God by your own likings. Instead of experiencing freedom and peace through a manic faith, you only discover frustration and failure.

Instead of a manic faith, Jesus says to us ...

"... Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light," Matthew 11:28-30.

Are you living a manic faith, or by faith?