Thursday, October 31, 2013

Are you spending too much time on the playground?

It might be hard to get kids to try new foods, but it's rarely hard to get kids to play.

Kids are experts at playing, something they can find great joy in spending hours doing.

Even something as simple as playing on the monkey bars.

The monkey bars was a simple form of play. You grab ahold of a bar, then swing forward to grab hold of the next bar, repeating this movement from one end of the set of bars to the other end. You don't let go of the bar behind you until you had a hold on the bar in front of you, or else you would fall.

Perhaps some of us have spent too much time on the monkey bars!

As adults, we often live a "monkey bar" life, unwilling to let go of what is behind without first having something new in front of us to grab on to, fearing we'll fall otherwise.

But that isn't how God moves us forward.

First, He wants us to let go of what's behind us so we can fall into His hands, then we can reach forward to what He puts in front of us. The Apostle Paul described his experience of this change like this ...

"I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us," Philippians 3:12-14.

Are you playing "monkey bars" with your life, clutching to what's behind you and insisting something be in front of you before letting go? Or are you willing to fall into God's hands so He can position you to move forward?


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The tale of two drawers ...

I was so young I don't really know who Lester was.

I don't know whether he was just a neighbor or someone my parents knew. But one thing I always remembered about Lester was the full drawers in his garage.

When someone needed a certain size washer, or screw, or nail, or some part, they went to Lester and asked if he had it.

They went to Lester because they knew Lester kept all that kind of stuff in the drawers on his workbench in his garage.

Lester kept such stuff not because he needed it, but because when he came across it, he thought someone else might need it some time in the future. So he would pick it up or purchase it, then toss it in a drawer.

Because someone might need it some day.

We had just moved into a new (for us) house and, being the curious boy that I was, I was exploring. As I found myself in the kitchen, I began opening the drawers to see if there was anything inside.

Then I pulled on one drawer handle and nothing happened.

That's because there was a handle, but no drawer!

Startled, I asked my mother why there was a handle, but no drawer.

"It's just there for decoration," she explained.

Some people are like Lester. They are always thinking about others, even the future needs of others, and keep themselves supplied to help meet those needs when they arise.

Others have faux drawers. Just a decorative handle, but nothing real to offer.

The Apostle Paul admonishes us, "Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had," Philippians 2:4-5.

Not only should we consider the needs of others, but we are to do so with the same attitude that Jesus demonstrated --- His life was spent in serving others.

How do you consider the needs of others? What drawer do you offer to those in need?


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Get out of your chair!

There's a true story from the 1920's of a man who was walking along a pier in Massachusetts when he tripped over a rope and fell into the bay.

The man couldn't swim, and as he thrashed about he shouted, "Help! I can't swim!"

His friends, who were one pier over, heard his cries and ran as fast as they could to him, but when they finally reached him and pulled their friend out of the water, it was already too late.

The man had drowned.

During this incident, there was a young man on the same pier from which the drowned man had fallen, who had been sunbathing in a chair. He had seen the first man trip and fall into the water; he had heard the man's cries for help. The observer, it was discovered later, was an excellent swimmer. But he only watched as the first man died.

The observer had never gotten out of his chair.

Outraged, the family of the drowned man sued the observer, and the case was heard before the Massachusetts supreme court which ruled, reluctantly, that the observer had no legal responsibility to save the drowning man's life.

It's easy for such a story to stir outrage in us as we read about someone so nonchalantly watching another person die, almost as if it were an entertainment. Yet, all around us, there are people who are drowning and dead in sin.

As Christians, we have the message that can bring dead people life.

What are you doing with that message? Sitting in your chair, or diving into the waters of the lost with the life-giving Good News of Jesus Christ?

Time to get out of your chair ...


Monday, October 28, 2013

Row, row, row your boat ...

When the Olympics roll around and people around the world tune in, there aren't a lot who watch every event from opening to closing ceremony. Most of us have our favorite competitions or competitors we want to see, and tune in for the more popular contests.

But have you ever watched the rowing competitions?

Before the rowers get into the boat, they must know who has control of the team on the water. When a coxswain is on board, he is the leader and sits at the stearn facing the rowers. The rowers have their backs to the direction of the race; they face the bow.

The coxswain sees what the paddlers do not; they trust him for guidance. Everyone must keep their eyes on the leader because he will direct them throughout the race. He keeps the boat moving straight, giving signals when they drift out of their lane, until they pass the finish line.

The coswain's job is to make the tactical decisions. The rower's job is to be attentive to the directions of the coxswain.

This competition is a good illustration of following Christ. We need to be busy putting our backs into rowing through this life, and keeping our eyes on Jesus, being attentive to the directions He provides for us.

"... And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith," Hebrews 12:1b-2a.

Who are your keeping your eyes on? Who is directing you through life?


Sunday, October 27, 2013

Now wait just a minute! (or two) ...

It's right there on the instructions printed on the packaging:

"Let stand two minutes ..."

So you've nuked your food for 2 to 4 minutes. You're already drooling from having to wait so long! Now the food distributor wants to you wait an additional two minutes?

Not likely!

Instead, you slightly burn your tongue biting into the hot food too soon, spending the next two minutes blowing on the food in an attempt to cool it ... because you're still impatient!

Are you too impatient for a microwave meal? Then you may not be very effective as a follower of Christ, a life that routinely demands our patience toward others, ourselves, and even God.

But patience has its reward.

Take, for instance, this example from the life of William Carey ...

After Carey was well established in his pioneer missionary work in India, his supporters in England sent a printer to assist him. Soon the two men were turning out portions of the Bible for distribution. Carey had spent many years learning the language so that he could produce the scriptures in the local dialect. He had also prepared dictionaries and grammars for the use of his successors.

One day while Carey was away, a fire broke out and completely destroyed the building, the presses, many Bibles, and the precious manuscripts, dictionaries, and grammars. When he returned and was told of the tragic loss, he showed no sign of despair or impatience.

Instead, Carey knelt and thanked God that he still had the strength to do the work over again. He started immediately, not wasting a moment in self-pity. In England, news of the event sparked an interest that sent more money and materials than Carey had ever received. Before his death, he had duplicated --- and even improved upon --- his earlier achievements.

Patience turned out to be a blessing for the mission work of William Carey.

How could you know the greater blessings of God by learning to be patient?

"Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord," Psalm 27:14.


Friday, October 25, 2013

If you want a great marriage ...

Just like clockwork, the couple pulled up in their tan Honda sedan and entered the Starbucks store. He picked out a table and she placed their order. Then, hot java and a snack before them, they spend a part of their morning talking and smiling together.

You would think they're best friends ... because they are!

This couple has developed the habit of going to Starbucks every day, not just for coffee, but for each other. They've learned a vital secret to having a great marriage ... making time for each other every single day, and by doing so, developing an enduring "like" for each other.

They're an elderly couple, and their habit has kept them connected for decades. Not every conversation over coffee has been a happy one. But because they have made time each day for each other, they've been able to push through the challenges together, and as a result, to enjoy years of contented companionship.

"Well, it's easy for them since, as elderly folks who are retired, they can go hang out at a coffee shop," some are thinking.

It might be easier with more time on their hands now, but they didn't start this habit yesterday. They were busy young people once also. They just learned that if they are really going to love each other and be committed to one another for a lifetime, they would have to make each other a priority every day of their lives.

Are you making time for your spouse? Or is focused attention with your spouse an occasional "gift" you offer?


Book publisher prefers poor customer service to a simple fix ...

If you have liked some of the WaterBrook Multnomah titles I have recommended --- or appreciated being steered away from a few! --- then you'll have to wait on any further recommendations since I won't be reviewing for this publisher, at least for a while.

With my relocation back to California to launch a new ministry, I have had to set up a post office box as a means of receiving my mail for a while. When I notified WaterBrook Multnomah of this change, the response was that they will not send review books to a post office box. Contrast that with the responses of other publishers who had no problem with the change, and with Thomas Nelson Publishers adding, "Let us know if you need anything else!"

It's odd how publishers will recruit someone to review their books, but too consistently provide poor customer service to such people who are providing a service for them. Reviewers provide publishers with almost free marketing and sales, all for the cost of a book! Yet, WaterBrook Multnomah noted they are busy with 11,000 bloggers and have to keep things automated and cannot (will not) make exceptions.

It isn't that they cannot mail to a post office box, it's they won't solve a very simple procedural deviation, but instead opt to dismiss someone who doesn't fit exactly how they want to do things. To cover for this, they pointed to shipping by UPS and that such shipment requires a signature. My response to that was every book I've ever received from them was left for me without a signature, and the post office has my signature on file as a program it offers to receive mail requiring signatures!

Publishing is a business, and some publishers treat those who benefit them as just another number, rather than someone who is contributing to their success. In the business world, that's simply called bad customer service. Because of it, I'll be spending more time sharing with you reviews and recommendations from other publishers.

There's a lot of good reading out there!


Thursday, October 24, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: "Moving Forward" moves forward clumsily ...

One of the worst places to be is stuck in your past, wallowing in guilt and unable to forgive yourself. Any helpful guidance in moving forward from the ugly past is usually welcome, and for that reason there's a new book out that you might gain some benefit from.

"Moving Foward: Six Steps to Forgiving Yourself and Breaking Free from the Past" is the latest book by professor and psychologist Dr. Everett Worthington, Jr. (published by WaterBrook Press). Because Worthington is a leading researcher on the topic of forgiveness, the six steps to "breaking free from your past" that he expounds on can be helpful to those who need to move forward in their lives.

But because he is a leading researcher on forgiveness --- and because I've read some of his other writings --- I expected something better from Worthington. At least, as far as the writing style is concerned.

The greatest weakness I found with the book is a lack of conciseness. Worthington tries to illuminate what he has to share by telling a personal story of struggling with forgiving himself during a difficult time in his life. The problem is that, instead of telling his story, he stretches it throughout the entire book. That story is woven in with the six steps he tries to teach, while also pointing out various research studies, and tossing in a Bible verse here and there.

The result is an odd mix that made the points of his writing less concise. He would tell a snippet of his story, bring up some research findings, mention something from scripture, and still try to explain a point. The outcome was the writing was too busy. Just make the point!

I was surprised at what seemed to be an excessive desire to mention research findings, even when the research was not very significant, which made the exercise of raising the research seem irrelevant. It was almost as though Worthington didn't feel comfortable making a point without establishing some clinical evidence for it. But not everything of value has to have clinical validation, especially if the Word of God establishes a truth.

Regardless of the clumsy style, there are points made in this book that are of value. If you're struggling with how to move forward from your past, you could gain some benefit from this book. But because of its clumsiness, it's not the first book I would recommend on the topic of learning to forgive yourself.


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.”

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Talk about encouragement!

Reading through the Bible, some people might find Hebrews 11 to be a somewhat intimidating chapter.

This is the chapter that presents the "hall of faith," listing many people who lived by faith and highlighting how their faith demonstrated serves as examples for us. There's such great characters as Moses, Abraham, King David, all the prophets, and several others.

And finally, joining these great men and women, is ... you!

That comes in chapter 12, starting with verse 1 ...

"Therefore, since we are surround by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us," Hebrews 12:1.

With this verse, what might seem to be intimidating becomes encouraging. Think of it this way ... there's a big difference between batting practice and playing ball. It is common for pro ball players to describe the overwhelming power of the sound of thousands cheering them on. In a sense, our life is the game and the cloud of witnesses, heroes, our audience cheering us on in a similar fashion.

What an encouraging thought that is!

All of heaven is rooting for you, especially the greatest champion of all, Jesus Christ ...

"We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith ..." Hebrews 12:2a.

So step on up to the plate with confidence, knowing heaven is cheering for you.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Without the truth, plan on losing life's battles ...

Bertrand Russell commented that one reason why Hitler lost World War II was that he did not fully understand the situation. Bearers of bad news were punished. Soon no one dared tell him the truth. Not knowing the truth, he couldn't make decisions that could win the war.

This behavior is common in our own time, especially in the church regarding how we respond to the spiritual war being waged in this world.

"Don't judge me!" we shout to anyone who tries to step into our lives to tell us the truth about ourselves. Soon, we've conditioned others to tell us only what we want to hear, rather than what we need to hear. The result is that we are ill-equipped with the truth we need to make right decisions, which leads to losing important spiritual battles.

Are you allowing people to speak the truth to you? Or do you listen only to yourself?

"Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life," Proverbs 19:20.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Are we misusing prayer?

You've just heard a tragic story. Moved deeply, you reach out and touch the person on their shoulder and say, "I'll pray for you!"

But you do nothing more than that.

You don't step into the person's life beyond the offer to pray for them.

Not a phone call to check up on them.

Certainly not a personal visit to their home.

Not gathering additional support among other brothers and sisters in Christ to help fully meet someone's need.

Just an offer to pray.

Now don't get me wrong, to pray for someone is to do a lot! But it's also one way we limit doing what we could more fully do if only we stepped into the lives of the people we offer to pray for. God often meets the needs of people through other people, and we can make a mess of that sometimes when we are the ones put into the lives of others and the only thing we offer to do is pray.

When we pray for others, we are asking for God to do something in the lives of the people we're praying for ... but what are we going to do other than ask God to do something?

Jesus prayed for others, but we don't see Him just telling people He would pray for them. He stepped into their lives and served them.

"I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you," Matthew 13:15.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

The vision God gives you is for Him ...

We talk (a LOT) about God giving us a vision, but then look at some of the things we do with ...

... we tweak it to improve on it ...

... we tell others about it and let them tweak it ...

... we package it, and put our face on it ...

... we brand it ...

...we hype it ...

... and we take the bow when success rolls in.

But it's not our vision!

When God gives us a vision, it is His vision for us, given to us by Him to execute to the glory of God.

Is that how you're doing it?


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Final exam ...

A little boy asked his friend, "Why does your grandmother study the Bible so much?"

"I'm not sure," he responded. "I think she's studying for her finals."

Without knowing it, the boy was right about his grandmother!

You see, everyone one of us will some day have a "final exam" for the life we live, and that day will be when we each have to stand before God ...

"Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God," Romans 14:12.

What have you done, and what are you doing, to prepare for your final exam?


Friday, October 18, 2013

A service to die for ...

One Sunday morning the pastor noticed little Alex staring up at the large plaque that hung in the foyer of the church. The plaque was covered with names, and small American flags were mounted on both sides of it.

The seven-year-old had been staring at the plaque for some time, so the pastor walked up, stood beside the boy, and quietly said, "Good morning Alex."

"Good morning pastor," replied the boy, still focused on the plaque. "Pastor, what is this?"

"Well, son, it's a memorial of all the young men and women who died in the service," the pastor explained.

Soberly, they stood together, staring at the large plaque. Little Alex's voice was barely audible when he asked, "Which service, the 9 a.m. or the 11 a.m.?"

Some people think of attending a church service as a grave act, as if it's something to be survived. Some services in some churches may feel that way!

But they shouldn't.

Not if we follow the example of the early church, which was so full of vitality that it attracted people. Look closely at the passionate love, fellowship, and service the early Christians shared ...

"A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity --- all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved," Acts 2:43-47.

Who wouldn't want to be a part of such a vibrant family of faith?

Whether or not the faith family you're a part of is a similar church family, or is one people feel like they have to survive, depends on each person in that local body of Christ. It doesn't just happen. It comes from each person denying themselves and pouring out the love of God on each other.

It isn't something that falls on you as you sit passively in the pew. Those who do that really are the dead sitting in a service.

Do you contribute to the "great joy and generosity" your local church can experience? Do you love and care for your brothers and sisters in Christ? Or are you waiting for someone to create an entertaining experience for you as you observe a service?


Thursday, October 17, 2013

The essential need for a personal knowledge ..."

A family who had moved into a new neighborhood had a late start one morning. As a result, the six-year-old daughter missed her school bus. Although it would make him late for work, her father agreed to drive her to school if she would give him directions. After about 20 minutes of going in circles they arrived at the school, which turned out to be only a few blocks away from where they lived.

Steaming, her dad asked her why she directed him all over the neighborhood when the school was so close to home.

"We went the way the school bus does," she explained. "That's the only way I know."

That story reminds me of how so many find their way through scripture, which is often by following only what they are told by someone else.

Considering the "average Christian" usually doesn't read their Bible except when they bring it to church on Sundays, so many who claim to follow Christ rely almost entirely on their spiritual leaders to tell them what is in the Bible, and what to believe the scriptures teach. If few read it, fewer still actually study it!

That's not the way we're to live as Christians.

And it's not the example we're given in scripture.

The Bereans approached the scriptures very differently than Christians do today. Take a look at their example ...

"That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea. When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul's message. They searched the scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men," Acts 17:10-12.

There are many scriptures that highlight the essential need we have for the Word of God, yet so few are like the Bereans, studying the Word of God daily to make sure they are being taught the truth and to ensure they are learning the truth for themselves.

How do you know what you're being taught is the truth from God's Word if you're not studying it for yourself? Can you find your way through scripture, or is your knowledge of the Bible largely made up of what someone else has told you about it?


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Something you won't regret ...

I've had regrets.

I hope you have, too.

That's because the "no regret" mantra is a dynamic sounding platitude, but it's not a good way to think or feel.

If you've ever hurt someone with poorly chosen words, disappointed someone by not keeping your word, or broken the trust someone had in you, regret can then be a healthy thing. Regret is a part of sorrow for having hurt another person, including yourself.

The key is to not get stuck in your regrets, but to move forward from your failures and strive to live --- as best we can --- a life that doesn't continue to generate regrets.

Kind of like William Borden, the heir to the Borden Dairy estate, who in 1904 graduated from a Chicago high school a millionaire. His parents rewarded him with a trip around the world. Traveling through Asia, the Middle East, and Europe gave Borden a burden for the world's hurting people.

Writing home, he said, "I'm going to give my life to prepare for the mission field."

When he made this decision, he wrote in the back of his Bible two words: "No Reserves."

Turning down high paying job offers after graduating from Yale University, he entered two more words in his Bible: "No Retreats."

After completing studies at Princeton Seminary, Borden sailed to China to work with Muslims, stopping first at Egypt for some preparation. While there, he was stricken with cerebral meningitis and died within a month.

A waste! some say.

Not in God's plan.

In his Bible underneath the words "No Reserves" and "No Retreats" Borden had written the words "No Regrets."

You will never regret answering God's call on your life, regardless of the costs you may have to pay to answer it. Living in obedience to the will of God is the way to truly live without regrets.


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Are you sure it's worth it?

A gang of thieves once broke into a jewelry store, but instead of stealing anything, they switched the price tags. The next day, no one noticed the switch, so people were spending a huge amount of money for cheap junk, while others were paying only a few dollars for incredibly expensive jewelry.

Someone has switched the tags on our planet, with the result that people are focusing on the wrong things. They're spending exorbitantly to furnish their lives with junk, and very little on what is really precious.

Jesus gave us a simple remedy for such a problem: "Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need," Matthew 6:33.

Who sets the values in your life?


Sunday, October 13, 2013

'Tis the season for rainy day reading ...

Summer tried to hang on, but it's gone already, being replaced by some rainy days of fall.

What pairs better with a rainy day than a good book and a cup of coffee?

If you supply the coffee, I'll offer up five books worth reading from among the more recent reviews I've posted.

My top recommendation would be the mini hardback, "Plastic Donuts" written by Jeff Anderson and published by Multnomah Books. This is an outstanding book on "giving that delights the heart of the Father." Read my complete review here

"I Am Not But I Know I Am" by Louie Giglio (published by Multnomah Books) will help you rediscover the greatness of God. Read my complete review here

For those long rainy days, when you need a big hardback and you've got a whole pot of coffee on the stove, you might want to dive into, "Jesus - A Theography," by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola (published by Thomas Nelson). When studying the life of Christ, you usually have to read from a historical context, or a theological perspective. Now you have a new option. Read my complete review here

As you settle in on the couch and think you absolutely must add a title on leadership, then try "I Am A Follower: The Way, Truth, and Life of Following Jesus" by Leonard Sweet (published by Thomas Nelson). This is the best (and one of the most important) books on leadership I've read in years. You can read my compete review here

Quiet rainy days can be perfect for pondering the important. The Church is important, and Joshua Harris can help you better understand "Why Church Matters: Discovering Your Place in the Family of God" (published by Multnomah Books). Read my complete review here

Those are just a few recommendations for reading on a rainy day.

But sunshine or rain, don't forget to make a priority opening the Bible everyday and spending valuable time drawing closer to God through His Word. He's the best author I know!


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Hold out your hands ...

I love the story about a young boy who went to a local store with his mother. The shop owner, a kind man, passed the boy a large jar of suckers and invited him to help himself to a handful.

Uncharacteristically, the boy held back. So the shop owner pulled out a handful for him.

Once outside the store, the boy's mother asked him why he had suddenly been so shy and wouldn't take a handful of suckers when offered.

The boy answered, "Because his hand is much bigger than mine!"

When you try to demand of God what you want when you want it, you rob yourself of the greater things God has for you.

His hand is much bigger than yours.

"... 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.


Friday, October 11, 2013

Someone is out to get you ...

Why is it that Christians often use the language of warfare and preachers talk about putting on the whole armor of God?

The reason is, as a Christian, you have an enemy in Satan who is as devoted to your destruction as God is to your salvation.

"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour," 1 Peter 5:8.

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms," Ephesians 6:12.

To ruin you, the enemy makes sin as easy as possible, and throws stumbling blocks on the path of holiness. As much as you might desire to follow Christ, your enemy is mightier than you.

But not mightier than God.

"You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world," 1 John 4:4.

The early American Indians had a unique practice of training young braves. On the night of a boy's thirteenth birthday, after learning hunting, scouting, and fishing skills, he was put to one final test. The boy would be placed in a dense forest to spend the entire night alone. Until then, he had never been away from the security of the family and the tribe. But on this night, he was blindfolded and taken several miles away. When he took off the blindfold, he was in the middle of a thick woods and he was terrified! Every time a twig snapped he visualized a wild animal ready to pounce. After what seemed like an eternity, dawn broke and the first rays of sunlight pierced the interior of the forest. Looking around, the boy saw flowers, trees, and an outline of a path. Then, to his utter astonishment, he beheld the figure of a man standing just a few feet away, armed with a bow and arrow.

It was his father.

He had been there all night long.

As dangerous as this world may be, you have a heavenly Father who loves and cares about you, and is ever present to protect you.

"God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble," Psalm 46:1.

There might be someone out to get you, but there is Someone greater out to save you.

"Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you," James 4:7.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

If you had to choose one --- and you do --- which would you choose?

In nearly three decades of pastoring and clinical counseling, I've never had someone come into my office and say something like ...

"You know those negative habitual behaviors I used to have that were destroying my marriage? I'd like to get them back again ..."

"Do you remember all those fears I used to have? Could you help me get them back?"

Or ...

"Do you remember all the shame and guilt that used to paralyze me? I miss them and would like to recover them ..."

Usually, once we are freed of what has enslaved us previously, we don't want to go back. But, as odd as it may sound, it's not uncommon for us to return to the scene of our sin, our hurt, our brokenness ...

"As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his foolishness," Proverbs 26:11.

It's not uncommon for us to wander back to bad influences, bad habits, and bad desires, only to once again find ourselves enslaved and broken.

Like the woman who continues to put herself in abusive relationships ...

Or returning to junk food and "comfort" eating after a hard fought battle to lose 60 pounds ...

Like treating your children the negative way your parents treated you ...

And like routinely making promises to God, only to return to your sinful ways after God has mercy on you to get you through your circumstances.

What an ugly way to live!

There is a better way, and this is it:

"So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free," John 8:36.

By surrendering your entire life to Jesus Christ, you can be set free from the sins that enslave you. You can have a new nature and live as God's very own adopted child.

Which do you choose: a life of returning to your vomit, or freedom in and through Jesus Christ?


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Sounds like it's all about you ...

If you took a year's worth of sermons from many (most?) churches these days and review the contents, it would sound like life is all about you.

At least you could get that idea from how so many sermons are more about how to make your life happier and "better" than it is about following Christ. You would almost think Jesus exists for us rather than the other way around.

But the reality is, it is the other way around ...

"Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, 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," Colossians 1:15-16.

But this focus on making it all about us doesn't take much arm twisting from us. How much of your thought life, emotions, actions, desires, dreams, interests --- how much of what you are passionate about --- centers squarely on Jesus Christ, or loving and serving others in His name?

At this moment, who is your life all about?


Monday, October 7, 2013

A BIG question from Jesus ...

A former park ranger at Yellowstone National Park tells the story of a ranger leading a group of hikers to a fire lookout. The ranger was so engrossed in telling the hikers about the flowers and animals that he considered the messages on his two-way radio to be distracting, so he switched it off.

As the group neared the lookout tower, the ranger was met by a nearly breathless lookout who asked why he hadn't responded to the messages on his radio. A grizzly bear had been stalking the group and the tower lookout was trying to warn them of the danger.

That story reminds me of how God sees everything, which certainly includes the dangers to us that we cannot see. He warns us, as well as leads and teaches us --- and reveals Himself to us --- through the written Word He has provided for us. Even Jesus emphasized how scripture holds within them the most vital answers for our lives ...

"Jesus said to them, 'Haven't you read in the scriptures what David did ...'" Matthew 12:3.

"And haven't you read in the law of Moses that the priests ..." Matthew 12:5.

"Haven't you read the scriptures?" Jesus replied. "They record that ..." Matthew 19:4.

"They asked Jesus, 'Do you hear what these children are saying?' 'Yes,' Jesus replied. 'Haven't you ever read the scriptures? For they say ...'" Matthew 21:16.

"Then Jesus asked them, 'Haven't you ever read this in the scriptures? ...'" Matthew 21:42.

Over an over again, Jesus raised this question. He even clearly stated to one religious sect that their problem was their not knowing the scriptures ...

"Jesus replied, 'Your mistake is that you don't know the scriptures, and you don't know the power of God," Matthew 22:29.

How about you? Have you shut off the messages of God being sent to you, not through a two-way radio, but through the Bible?

Jesus expects the people of God to know His Word!

One writer commented about the Bible, "God placed this high priority on reading the scriptures because He breathed their very words (2 Tim. 3:16). Through the scriptures, God reveals what we are to believe, why we can believe it, where we need correction, and how we are to live in righteousness. It is the Word of God that can equip us for service and '... has the power to save your souls' (2 Tim. 3:17, Jas. 1:21). How valuable it is to read, and be motivated to read, this divine revelation."

Are you reading the Word of God so that you may hear --- and heed --- the voice of God?


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Do you remember ...

Two little boys got into a fight. But the next morning Johnny took his cap and headed for Bobby's house again. Surprised, Johnny's big brother teased him.

"You're going to go play with Bobby again? I thought you had a fight last night and was never going to have anything more to do with him! Funny memory you have!" the older brother chided.

Johnny looked a little sheepish, dug his toe into the carpet for a moment, then flashed a satisfied smile as he hurried away.

"Oh! Bobby and me are good forgetters!" he said.

How about you? Are you a good forgetter?

God is.

"And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins," Hebrews 8:12.

"Bad forgetters" stumble over what they remember that should be forgiven and forgotten to the past. The Apostle Paul gives us an example of keeping our eyes on what lies ahead so that we can forget the troubles of yesterday.

"... but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us," Philippians 3:13b-14.

Are you focused on what lies ahead? Or stalled by all the things you're remembering from the past? How could your life change if you changed your focus?


Being a disciple is more than discipling ...

Words can't express the joy I feel in seeing the topic of discipleship becoming increasingly important (and discussed more frequently) in the church. But as we engage more in talking about discipleship, sometimes we make it a little too simplistic.

Sometimes we see discipleship described only in terms of the evangelistic mission of making new disciples, and often it's spoken of in terms of one who disciples new believers.

But there's more to being a disciple than either of these two aspects of making other disciples. That's why scripture describes discipleship from a "big picture" point of view, showing us what it means for us to be a disciple, with the idea of what a disciple does will flow from our new being as a Christ follower.

To understand this better, look closely at Colossians 3:10, "Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like Him."

Discipleship is our becoming alive in Christ. In this new life, we put on an entirely new nature, something we need to do every day as we walk with God. And as we walk with God each day, he continues to renew or transform us. During this life-long experience, we continuously are learning about God and becoming more and more like Him.

It's because we put on this new nature ...

It's because we are being renewed ...

It's because we are learning to know our Creator ...

It's because we are becoming more like Him ...

... that we share the Gospel with others to make new disciples, and then disciple them in the Way of Christ.

Discipleship starts with being a disciple who puts on that new nature, continues to be changed, continues to learn and grow, and because we are becoming more like our Savior, we increasingly think, feel, and act like Him.

Our "doing" flows from our new "being."

Part of the problem we see in some discipleship efforts today is trying to force the "doing" without first experiencing the "being." You cannot do the work of a disciple with the power of God without first being a disciple.

So if you really want to be a disciple of Christ, what should you do?

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


Friday, October 4, 2013

Pass it along ...

Once during Queen Victoria's reign, she heard the wife of a common laborer had lost her baby. Having experienced deep sorrow herself, and the comfort from loved ones who cared, she felt moved to express her sympathy. So she called on the bereaved woman and spent some time with her. After she left, the neighbors asked what the queen had said.

"Nothing," replied the grieving mother, "She simply put her hands on mine, and we silently wept together."

Once you've experienced being comforted during difficult times --- especially the comfort we receive from God --- you can't just sit by and watch others suffer alone. It's God's design that as we are comforted by Him, that we pass along to others the comforting we have received.

"All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer," 2 Corinthians 1:3-6.

Do you share the comfort of Christ you have received with others who are hurting? How can you be a comfort to others on behalf of Christ?


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Eating spaghetti in Italy ...

This may sound silly, but while planning my trip to Italy some years back, one of the things I looked forward to was enjoying a delicious spaghetti dinner. Spaghetti is one of my favorite foods, so how much more enjoyable would it be to have the real thing in the land of it's origin?

As much as I looked forward to it, a spaghetti dinner wasn't the first meal I experienced on the trip. I discovered that, as far as food was concerned, there was much to explore, including how different pizza is in Italy as compared to our American version.

So it wasn't until my last night in Italy, while spending time in Venice, that I picked out a little cafe with tables outside along the grand canal and ordered my spaghetti dinner.

How great was it?

It was a real disappointment.

The meal had very little flavor to it. I had eaten much better tasting spaghetti in America. And to top off my disappointment, it was the single most expensive meal of the trip!

How could spaghetti, made by native Italians in Italy, be so disappointing?

I wonder sometimes if non-Christians have a similar experience when they come into the church. They hear us preach loudly about love and forgiveness and grace, then when they finally come to visit, they're all too often disappointed in what they actually experience.

Instead of a delicious taste of Christlikeness and agape, they're often served up judgmentalism, legalism, liberalism, and pop psychology in place of genuine Gospel, none of which resemble God's lovingkindness, holiness, and truth. It's an experience that doesn't taste good.

Just as I expected something better from my Italian friends, those who finally come to the church expect something better from God's children.

They should!

Jesus said, "I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you," John 13:15.

When people step into your life to know you as a child of God, are they disappointed, or delighted in the Christlike love you serve them?


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The idol of leaders ...

The most treasured asset among those hungry to be "leaders" isn't title, position, or power. It's influence. Why a person wants influence in the lives of others, and how they use it, determines whether that influence benefits or harms another.

One day, a mother took her young son with her on a long shopping outing. After a day in the stores, a clerk handed the little boy a lollipop.

"What do you say?" the mother said to the boy, to which he replied, "Charge it!"

Simply by being in the life of another person, you will have some degree of influence. Are you careful about what you're doing with it?

Jesus wants us to be people of influence, but having our influence be the example of Christ in us.

"I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you," John 13:15.

What example are you using as influence in the lives of others?


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Are you living a virtual reality?

Before I traveled to Italy a few years ago, I took the trip virtually.

I was living in Hawaii at the time, and getting to Italy from an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is quite a trip, so I wanted to make sure the plans I had worked out with my travel agent were good choices.

So I took the time to make the trip virtually.

I went online and checked out the airlines, the transportation arranged for getting from Rome to Venice, the hotels I would be staying at, and the sites I would be visiting.

It was all very appealing online. My virtual travel didn't involve any jet lag, passports, insane Italian drivers, or the bite from exchanging dollars into euros.

It also wasn't real.

The sights, sounds and smells of the real places were missing. Conversations with complete strangers that would teach me experientially how much we're alike, and how people live differently, didn't translate online.

For my travel to Italy to be of great personal value, I had to get on a plane and go there myself.

I did.

I laughed with the server who pointed out that he had the very same brand of backpack as I had. I soaked in the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I walked on the ancient Roman roads, through ruins of a once powerful city, and saw the Colosseum in person. I learned the difference between American pizza and pizza made in Rome, and smelled the stink of the Venice canals.

There's nothing like experiencing the real thing.

The real thing can change you.

But many people are too afraid to get out from behind their computers and venture into the world where real interactions and relationships happen. Everything is cleaner, nicer, neater, easier when explored via the internet.

Or through the pages of a book or magazine.

Or from the stories others tell.

Yet, one real journey taken by real steps with exchanges with real people can have more lasting impact on your life than any adventure you can imagine while viewing photos on a website.

That's because life is meant to be lived, not leered at.

Are you living it, or imagining it?