Saturday, November 30, 2013

It's time to look to 2014 ...

As the calendar is about to turn the page to December, it's not too early to get working on your New Year resolutions. In fact, if you haven't started already, you might be running behind!

But before you start that list, take a moment to review how you did on your resolutions for 2013. Do you know a single person who achieved every resolution they made for this year?

I don't either.

There are a lot of contributing factors to such failure spanning from lack of discipline to having too many items on the list.

The key to any resolution is establishing a personal goal you are fully committed to turning into reality. In that case, one well-thought out goal achieved is better than failing at a long list of wishes you never really made as serious goals. Too often, our New Year resolutions sound more like a set of threats than personal goals, kind of like these "resolutions" from the late Erma Bombeck ...
  1. I'm going to clean this dump just as soon as the kids grow up.
  2. I will go to no doctor whose office plants have died.
  3. I'm going to follow my husband's suggestion to put a little excitement into my life by living within our budget.
  4. I'm going to apply for a hardship scholarship to Weight Watchers.
  5. I will never loan my car to anyone I have given birth to.
  6. And just like last year ... I'm going to remember my children need love the most when they deserve it the least.
So, instead of racking your brain to create another insincere wish list, what if you set a single resolution for 2014 and seriously dedicated yourself to achieving it ... at any cost. What should that "mother of all resolutions" look like? How about this ...

"The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith," 1 Timothy 1:5.

The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that he could narrow his ministry work to a single objective - that we all "... would be filled with love ..." Paul was concise about such a significant goal, describing that such a love would come from "... a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith."

Now that sounds like a resolution that would so impact our lives (if achieved) that we really wouldn't need a long list of wishes, would we?

So why not save some time and simplify your task of resolution-making by joining Paul in achieving this objective in 2014? I think we would all be blessed by the results.


Thursday, November 28, 2013

Blessed and unhappy ...

It's Thanksgiving Day and some people are miserable in spite of being blessed by God.

That's because they want different blessings than the ones God has chosen to give them.

Their complaints may include they aren't living where they would like to live, with the people they would prefer being with, or in the fashion they would like. Or they aren't doing with their lives what they would really like. Or they don't have specifically what they want, or as much as they want.

God has blessed them, but they insist on being miserable as long as they don't get what they really want.

To be unhappy with life because God hasn't given you life on your terms is to truly be ungrateful.

That was the problem with a rich young man we read about in Mark 10:17-22. He had about all a person could want in life, but there was yet one more thing he wanted.

"As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Mark 10:17.

This young man was looking into the face of  the very Source of life, and was having offered to him the very thing he was asking for --- a means to eternal life.

"Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. 'There is still one thing you haven't done,' he told him. 'Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me'," Mark 10:21.

Jesus answers the young man directly with a way to have exactly what he's asking for. But the young man didn't like the terms for achieving what he wanted.

"At this the man's face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions," Mark 10:22.

We can be a lot like that young man. We have a lot of things in our lives, yet we're still unhappy because God isn't giving us what we really want on our terms. We cannot be truly grateful to God when we're disappointed with what He has given us.

It's like a story told by Jeff Strite about a Polish railroad worker named Jan Grzebski who was hit by a train back in 1988. He lived, but only barely. For the next 19 years, Grzebski was in a coma.

Grzebski awoke from his coma in 2007 to a whole new world. Nineteen years earlier, Poland was a communist state. Grzebski noted back then meat was rationed and there were huge lines at nearly every gas station. And, "there was only tea and vinegar in the shops."

But 19 years later, he awoke to a free nation where he said there were "people on the streets with cell phones, and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin!"

But something puzzled him.

"What amazes me is all these people who walk around with their mobile phones and yet they never stop moaning," he said.

These people had freedom, food, and wealth greater than Poland had had for decades, and yet Grzebski woke from his coma to find that all they seemed to want to do was grumble!

If you don't get into the habit of thanking God for what you DO have, you'll soon become ungrateful because of what you DON'T have. And you can't honestly be grateful while really wanting something different.

What are you doing today - genuinely thanking God for what you do have, or wanting something different on your own terms?


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Maybe you need a goat ...

There is much in life to be thankful for. Unfortunately, our perspective on life may stifle our gratitude.

In Budapest, a man went to his rabbi and complained, "Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can I do?"

The rabbi answered, "Take the goat into the room with you."

The man was incredulous, but the rabbi insisted, "Do as I say and come back in a week."

A week later the man returned looking more distraught than before.

"We cannot stand it," he tells the rabbi, "The goat is filthy!"

The rabbi then tells him, "Go home and let the goat out. Then come back in a week."

A radiant man returns to the rabbi a week later, exclaiming, "Life is beautiful! We enjoy every minute of it now that there's no goat, only the nine of us."

Perspective is a human thing, man's "take" on reality. Fix your perspective and you'll discover much to be thankful for.


Life is messy ...

You've likely heard the story of the man who went in to see his physician.

"So let's have it," the patient said.

"The bad news is that you have only 24 hours to live," the doctor stated somberly.

"I can't imagine what could be worse than that!" exclaimed the patient.

The doctor replied, "I forgot to call you yesterday."

Life is messy.

As we gather around the table on Thanksgiving Day, many will be feeling the messiness of life sharply.

With the messy economy, many have lost homes, savings, and jobs. Many will struggle to put together a meal for Thanksgiving Day. Some won't have anything to eat. Others will be missing family and friends who couldn't afford to travel. And still others will be missing family and friends who are no longer here.

Life is messy.

Yet, when we gather on Thanksgiving Day with those we love, and take stock of what blessings from God we do have, we always find something to be thankful for.

Life is never so messy that's there's no longer reason for gratitude. Deep, genuine gratitude.

In the harshest of moments, God is ever present, walking with us through our trials and troubles. And as we bow our heads tomorrow, we can remember a hope-provoking promise from our Savior ...

"I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world," John 16:33.

Let me encourage you to make your prayer around the dinner table tomorrow something more than offering thanks for the meal. The food can wait; take the time to offer a heart-felt, genuine giving of thanks that reflects the graciousness of God in your life and the lives of those at your table.

Whether life is messy for you right now, or God is blessing you abundantly, it's my prayer that you will be moved anew with a fresh attitude of gratitude toward God and His lovingkindness toward you.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 26, 2013

It's not always like this ...

No matter how hard things may be for you this Thanksgiving Day as you gather for dinner, there will be plenty for you to be thankful for.

Some measure their blessings only by their immediate circumstances, but such a narrow view misses much of life's greater context.

Scottish minister Alexander Whyte was known for getting that greater context, and for his uplifting prayers in the pulpit. He always found something for which to be grateful. One Sunday morning the weather was so gloomy that one church member thought to himself, " Certainly the preacher won't think of anything for which to thank the Lord on a wretched day like this."

Much to the fellow's surprise, Whyte began by praying, "We thank Thee, O God, that it is not always like this."

If things are tough for you today, remember that things are not always like this. And for that, be grateful.


Monday, November 25, 2013

Sweet berries for the soul ...

If you haven't planned your Thanksgiving dinner menu yet, you're running behind!

With just a few days before the biggest feast your family will likely indulge in this year, most people have made their plans for the meal and are finishing their shopping for the groceries.

What's on your menu?

Turkey? Stuffing? Homemade rolls? Pie?

Have you ever tried miracle fruit?

According to Dennis Himm, in West Africa there is a cranberry-like fruit called the Sweet Berry or Miracle Fruit. The meat of the fruit contains a molecule called miraculin that binds to the tongue's taste buds, changing a person's sense of taste so that everything eaten seems sweet, even sour foods.

An attitude of gratitude and praise has a similar effect as the Miracle Fruit. Thankfulness sweetens a person's entire life, even in the midst of such sour servings as pain, loss, or sorrow. An attitude of gratitude in all things is sweet berries for the soul!

"Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!" Psalm 34:8.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

As a leader, you have better things to pursue than this ...

One of the things I find bewildering is how popular a sermon and conference topic is the subject of "greatness" among so many church leaders.

A very different message was preached at the funeral of King Louis XIV, which was conducted in the great cathedral of Paris, France. The cathedral was dark except for a single candle placed on top of the golden casket containing Louis' remains. At the appointed time, Massillon, the court preacher, addressed the assembly of mourners.

He arose, walked to the candle, and snuffed it out.

Then, in the darkness, he declared, "ONLY God is GREAT!"

When it comes to the topic of greatness, Jesus taught his disciples they had better things to pursue ...

"But Jesus called them together and said, 'You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many'," Matthew 20:25-28.

Do you have a desire to be great? Or to be a great servant? The difference matters.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

If you're going to lead ...

When I was a teenager, a pastor once told me, "There's always someone watching your life."

That reminds me of a story about a pastor who was building a wooden trellis to support a climbing vine. As he was hammering away, he saw a little boy was watching him. The youngster didn't say a word, so the pastor kept on working, thinking the lad would just leave.

But he didn't.

Finally, the pastor asked, "Well, son, are you trying to pick up some pointers on gardening?"

"No," replied the boy, "I'm just waiting to hear what a preacher says when he hits his thumb with a hammer."

If you're going to lead, then set the example.

"... Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity," 1 Timothy 4:12b.


That's saying a lot ...

A young man wrote this note to his girlfriend:

"Sweetheart, if this world was as hot as the Sahara Desert, I would crawl on my knees through the burning sand to come to you. If the world would be like the Atlantic Ocean, I would swim through shark-infested waters to come to you. I would fight the most fiercest dragon to be by your side. I will see you on Thursday if it doesn't rain."

We can be generous with our grandiose offerings, but when it comes down to the practical living out of the claims we make, our words often do not match our actions.

It should not be that way.

"Dear children, let's not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions," 1 John 3:18.

Do your actions prove your words? Or do your profess more than you demonstrate?


Friday, November 22, 2013

Are you too good to fail?

What's the first thing you do when you mess up?

A lot of us are like the veteran baseball player who got angry at his manager who one day decided to put in a rookie in the right field. The regular fielder wasn't happy about the change and loudly let it be known from the bench how he thought it was a mistake to play the kid.

As it turned out, the rookie was so nervous he messed up big time. He made a couple of errors and misjudged several other fly balls that should have been called errors. Each time he messed up, the veteran complained loudly from the bench.

Finally, late in the game, the manager replaced the rookie with the veteran, mostly to shut up the seasoned fielder. Not long after, the veteran mishandled the first ball hit to him for an error. As he came off the field at the end of the inning, everyone on the bench became very quiet so they could hear what he would say.

The manager was waiting for the veteran, but before he could address the man, the veteran ballplayer threw his glove down in disgust and said, "Skipper, that kid has right field so messed up nobody can play it!"

When you mess up, what do you have to say about yourself? The Apostle Paul gives us some guidance regarding how to handle our own performance ...

"Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won't need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct," Ephesians 6:4-5.

Are you blaming someone else for your own errors? Or are you taking responsibility for your own mistakes?


Thursday, November 21, 2013

What's your plan?

Most of us don't develop strategies for living until we've messed things up and have to have them. Such as ...

... a strategy for losing weight, usually put off until we get a diagnosis from the doctor demanding we lose weight in order to be able to regain our health ...

... a strategy for saving, forced on us after we're so in debt real savings won't happen until after years of digging out of debt ...

... a strategy for managing our relationships, which often don't come until we're on the verge of losing the most important people in our lives ...

We hurtle through this life with such a carefree attitude (thinking that's "cool"), expecting everything to constantly fall into place --- in our favor, every time --- and never consider we actually do need to make time on a regular basis to think, make smart decisions, and even put in place some specific strategies for living.

The one strategy most of us never put into place in our lives is a strategy for being a disciple of Christ. A real strategy that ...

... makes sure we get the discipleship we need so we can grow up in Christ ...

... a strategy that includes our being equipped for ministry, including knowing how to share the Gospel so we can do so when we have opportunity ...

... a strategy that creates opportunities to make disciples ...

... a strategy that lines out how we can invest our lives fully --- our time, talent, and resources --- in living our lives as ambassadors for Christ.

Most Christians look at serving Christ as occasionally responding to one of the myriad opportunities they stumble across each day, or expect the church to make an announcement about something they can make a small contribution to in some way.

That's not a strategy for living for Christ, that's a strategy for living for self.

Do you have any kind of plan for making your life count for the cause of Christ? Or are you just winging it? How much more could your life make a difference if you had a simple strategy and executed it?


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

To be a good writer, you sometimes have to be annoying ...

Good writing is routinely annoying.

It is!

The best writing gets into our thoughts and stirs our emotions because, at some point, it will challenge our thinking and make us restless.

Kingsley Amis put it this way, "If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing."

If you write only for an "amen," you bring little value to your readers. If you don't care about the "amens," then you will annoy someone because most people usually don't naturally like having their thoughts and positions challenged. But it is exactly by moving your readers to think that you are able to both encourage and challenge them.

And people need both encouragement and challenge.

So sometimes it's okay to annoy someone.

Scripture has a similar idea: "Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy," Proverbs 27:6.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The need for negligence ...

If you look at the lives of many who profess to be disciples of Jesus Christ, and compare them to the promises of Jesus, you often see a striking contrast.

So is Jesus a liar?

Or could there be some other explanation for the divergence?

Could it be that we've failed to plan into our lives the neglect that is needed to realize His promises? Let me explain what I mean ...

A celebrated, young concert violinist was once asked what was the secret to her success.

"Planned neglect," she responded immediately.

Then she explained, "Years ago I discovered that there were many things demanding my time. After washing breakfast dishes, I made my bed, straightened my room, dusted the furniture, and did a host of other chores. I then turned my attention to violin practice. That system, however, failed to accomplish the desired results. So I realized I had to reverse things. I deliberately set aside everything else until my practice period ended. That program of planned neglect accounts for my success!"

Jesus has His own version of "planned neglect" He urges us to implement into our lives ...

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

Are you focusing on the non-essentials to the detriment of what is really important? Or are you exercising "planned neglect" so that priorities are proper, and promises become realities?


Monday, November 18, 2013

A few ways you can make this Christmas a richer experience ...

Don't you just love Thanksgiving and Christmas?

I do!

It's more like a season of worship and celebration for the Christian. But with the growing influence of technology in our lives, it has also become something else for some: a season for complaining.

Every year for a while now, I've noticed how so many Christians spend a lot of time complaining how non-Christians "misuse" Christmas. From griping about "It's Christmas, not xmas!" or "What does Santa have to do with Christmas?" to other things they don't like, they warp what could be a time of rich worship and fellowship to focus on the behaviors of others.

Let me offer some suggestions as to how this Christmas can be a richer experience for you ...

1. Take your focus off the behaviors of others, and instead, put it back onto Jesus. One of the things Christians complain about is that Jesus is supposed to be "the reason for the season." In that case, make it that way! Make this holiday season of Thanksgiving and Christmas all about the One that it really is all about, not the behaviors of others.

2. Re-discover Christmas. Just this once, I'm going to break a general rule I have of not recommending a book without first reading it. Ray Hollenbach is one of those social media connections that has become a real blessing to me, and Ray has written a book that might be a fun and real blessing to you this Christmas. It's called "25 Days of Christmas: A Devotional for Incredibly Busy People." I love the description of the book provided on Amazon:

"A Christmas devotional for incredibly busy people. Each day in December, in one minute or less, you can capture a concept that will enrich your journey toward Christmas day. Everyone's busy --- and the holidays only add to the list of things to do. Yet Christmas is something more than a celebration of an event from long ago or modern holiday centered around shopping. God is still speaking through the Christmas story: the gospel narratives centered around the birth of Jesus are filled with encouragement and revelation concerning the love of God and His wisdom for us today. This practical book means you can catch a devotional moment on the go. If you can create enough space to read these one-minute devotions, you can carry these thoughts and ideas with you the rest of the day. Why not build a habit of turning your attention toward God's grace day-by-day as you see Christmas coming? Just one minute to light the candle, and you can nurture the flame throughout the day."

What a great idea! What a great tool! The book sells on Amazon for just .99 cents for the Kindle version, or only $4.49 as a small paperback (you can find it here

Here's another great idea ... you still have time to order several copies of the paperback and share them as gifts for your friends for Thanksgiving Day. This would be a great way to share how you are thankful for their friendship, and provide them with the opportunity to read through the devotionals as they enjoy the Christmas season.

3. Be a blessing to someone. Living Bread Ministries plants churches among the global poor, and this Christmas they will be ministering to about 1,000 children. To do so, they need your help!

You can learn more about this opportunity to become part of "Share Christmas" at this link Please take a look and see if this is a way you would like to share God's love with others this Christmas. They could really use your help!

4. Let your light shine. Instead of being bothered by what others do with Christmas, let your light shine! Instead of correcting and complaining, let them see you worshiping, praising, and celebrating. In other words, be the change you would like to see in our culture.

"In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father," Matthew 5:16.

I pray that your Thanksgiving and Christmas will be a rich time of fellowship with others, and a deeper communion with God!


Saturday, November 16, 2013

The need to give up what you're really good at ...

Actor Nicolas Cage stars in a rather dark movie called "Lord of War," in which he plays the role of a weapons dealer.

In the movie, he sells all kinds of weapons to just about anyone, including opposing sides and even to his country's enemies. So swept up in what he does, he even drags his younger brother into the business with him.

His endeavors are wildly successful, making him a wealthy man. But there's one problem --- his wife, who he loves, doesn't know what he does for a living. When she finally finds out, she wants him to quit. It's obvious Cage's character knows what he does is wrong, now with his wife begging him to quit, he wrestles a little with his conscience.

"We have enough," she says to him.

"It's not about the money," he responds, "I'm good at it."

Cage's character built a successful, albeit evil, business simply because he was good at. Walking away from what he was good at seemed to be harder than dealing with the evil morass his work resulted in.

A very real reason why many people who actually do believe the Gospel message refuse to walk away from sin to serve a risen Savior is because they understand one thing about their sin --- they're good at!

It comes naturally to them, they feel competent at it, and it offers waves of temporary pleasure. They feel "safe" continuing to do what they know rather than take on a radical life change. They're good at being a sinner!

Asking anyone to turn from what they're good at (sin) to serve Jesus Christ is asking them to take up something they are incompetent at doing, at least on their own. For them to succeed at following Christ, they will literally have to be transformed by God, tutored in the Word by the Holy Spirit, and encouraged by a supportive faith family.

That's a big expectation, especially considering how deep in each of us is the need to feel competent at something.

There's probably no one who better understood this issue of competency more than the Apostle Paul. Prior to his conversion, Paul was a highly competent Pharisee; he was brilliant at being a religious leader. But when it came to being a disciple of Jesus Christ, Paul did not have self-generated confidence.

"We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to become ministers of his new covenant ...Since this new way gives us such confidence, we can be very bold," 2 Corinthians 3:4-6a, 12.

Becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ is a call to give up our core competence of sin, and allow God to make us competent in and through Christ. Through a confidence in God, we spend our lives growing in competence as children of God ...

"But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord --- who is the Spirit --- makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image," 2 Corinthians 3:16-18.

Are you confident that God is making you a competent disciple of Jesus Christ? Or are you still holding on to your core competency?


Friday, November 15, 2013

You don't have to sneak out at night to do this ...

Nearly lost to the church in our day is the biblical concept of taking up someone else's burden ...

"Share each other's burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important," Galatians 6:2-3.

Notice the scripture doesn't say "just pray about each other's burdens." We do that all the time --- we tell God of the burdens of those around us and leave it to Him to do something about them. The verse says share each other's burdens, meaning to make our own the burdens of someone else who is struggling.

We've diluted the idea of shouldering someone else's burdens by spreading the load so broadly that our little portion doesn't hurt at all. That's because if we are to serve someone else, we want it to be painless; if it really cost us something, we will likely turn our shoulder away from it rather than into it.

Such wasn't the case of two brothers who were both farmers. As they grew up into strong young men, one brother married and eventually had several children. The other brother remained single.

One night, the married brother thought to himself, "Here I am, blessed with a wonderful wife and beautiful family. When I get old, my children will take over the farm and take care of me, but my brother has no one to care for him. I will do something to make sure he will be secure in his old age," he decided.

In planning what he would do, the brother decided he wouldn't directly offer something to his brother because he was a selfless man and would likely say he didn't need it because he was single. So he decided that each night he would take sacks of grain and empty them into his brother's silo so he would have plenty for himself as he grew older.

Little did the married brother know that his single brother was thinking about him.

"Here I am, a single man blessed with a fruitful farm that provides me with plenty, yet my brother has a wife and children to care for. I will do something to help him make sure he has plenty for his family," he thought to himself.

So the single brother decided that each night he would take sacks of grain and empty them into his brother's silo so he would have plenty to care for his family over the years.

The brothers emptied their sacks of grain into each others' silos each night for a long time when, one particularly dark night, they bumped into each other. When they observed the other brother and realized what they were doing, they embraced in a hug and wept together, overwhelmed by the lovingkindness of the other.

Are you helping a brother or sister in Christ bear their burdens? Or are you fooling yourself, thinking you're too important to do something like that?


Thursday, November 14, 2013

How Christians expand the influence of false teachers ...

Christians often do more to expand the influence of false teachers among true believers than do those who embrace the false teacher.

It happens when Christians choose to post, re-tweet, blog about, and otherwise broadcast the occasional truths false teachers state or write because they like it as a quote. Here's the problem with that: you may know the person you're quoting is a false teacher, but those who read your re-posting may have no idea who the person is but give them credance because YOU reference them. By using false teachers as a source of truth, you legitimize their overall teaching in the eyes and ears of your readers or listeners.

"I figured since Joe Christian quotes him, he had to be reliable," is a common excuse many Christians give for becoming "fans" of false teachers.

A simple perusal of social media on any given day will find a deluge of quotes from Gandhi and Buddha to modern false teachers such as Rob Bell, Joyce Meyers, and Joel Osteen (and many others who are not so famous) --- all passed and promoted by Christians. Thus, Christians enlarge the influence of false teachers among those they have influence with.

The danger of sharing these occasional truths from false teachers is in exposing others to the false teacher as a source of truth. Just because a false teacher sometimes gets it right doesn't mean you should shine the spotlight on them as a source of truth. If their teaching is, overall, a promulgation of false doctrine, why would you want to expose others who may be naive about the truth to someone who would mislead them?

The Apostle Paul instructed us, "Don't let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ," Colossians 2:8. And I think it would be safe to say Paul would add that we shouldn't help such people by using them as a reliable reference for truth.

Do you feel comfortable quoting false teachers to your readers or listeners? Why?


Wednesday, November 13, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: Life rhythms for serious spiritual growth ...

If you want to walk with God, there need to be some rules.

And you need to set them up.

Once a person surrenders their life to Jesus Christ, they don't become a mature Christian with a rich, deep faith overnight. We have to grow up in Christ, and learn how to live out our faith.

That's the challenging part, because it takes discipline.

It takes a few rules.

In that case, "God In My Everything" by Ken Shigematsu (published by Zondervan) could be a great book to help you exercise enough discipline in your life to practice the spiritual disciplines you'll need to grow in your faith.

Just the mention of "rules" is enough to immediately scare away many who call themselves believers, but without establishing certain practices in your life, it's not likely you will successfully live out a consistent faith. Inspired by a visit to an Irish monastery, Shigematsu shares solid Bible teaching and good ideas about "how an ancient rhythm helps busy people enjoy God."

Borrowing from ancient monastic practices, Shigematsu walks his readers through how to develop a rhythm of life that will draw them closer to God.

"And don't forget that developing your rule is not a gimmick, a technique, or a shortcut to spiritual growth. It's a rhythm of spiritual practices that helps center your life on Christ, enabling you to become more receptive to the work of the Spirit," Shigematsu writes.

Shigematsu explains those spiritual practices by using the illustration of a living plant growing with the help of a trellis, with the trellis being the "life rule" or rhythms we develop. As he guides you through the different sections of the trellis, the author does an excellent job of illustrating each rule or spiritual practice in easy-to-understand language and interesting stories.

You may not agree with every idea Shigematsu offers, but reading the book will likely not only challenge you to grow in spiritual maturity, but also provide you with helpful steps in how you can bring God into all aspects of your life. This book can also be used by a couple of Christians studying together or a small group in which each person is hungry for spiritual growth.

If you don't adequately have God in your "everything," then I recommend you read "God In My Everything" and use it to help you more fully enjoy your relationship with God.


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, November 12, 2013

Are you sure you're alive?

Army veteran John Crabtree was wounded while serving in Vietnam, so for years he had been receiving disability benefits from the government when one day, out of the blue, he received an official notification that he was deceased.

John was shocked to hear of his demise.

In response, Crabtree wrote the government a letter stating that he was, indeed, very much alive and would like to continue receiving his benefits.

The letter did no good.

He then tried calling the government but the phone call didn't change the situation either.

Finally, as a last resort, the veteran contacted a local television station which ran a human interest story about his plight.

The reporter asked Crabtree in the interview, "What do you feel about this whole ordeal?"

Crabtree chuckled and said, "Well, I feel a little frustrated by it. After all, have you ever tried to prove that you're alive?"

You may have never been in a situation where you had to prove that you're physically alive, but every day spiritually dead people try to find ways to feel alive.

To do so, they indulge in all the things that stimulate them. Whether it's drugs, sex, adrenalin rushes, intellectual pursuits, relationships, or shopping sprees, when you're really (spiritually) dead you'll do all kinds of things to try to prove otherwise.

But the only way to truly be alive --- more than just physically --- is only through Jesus Christ ...

"Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil --- the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God's anger, just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God's grace that you have been saved!) For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus," Ephesians 2:1-6.

How do you demonstrate to the world that you're spiritually alive and well?


Monday, November 11, 2013

Freedom isn't free ...

Newman Howard Smith used to tell of a remark made by Winston Churchill the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

After the fall of France to the Nazis in May, 1940, until December, 1941, Great Britain fought the war against Germany alone. President Roosevelt did what he could to help the British, but too many voices in America called on him to keep out of "another of Europe's wars."

In London, when Churchill received the news of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he knew exactly how the United States would respond. He is said to have uttered, "So ... we have won!"

In comparison, Pastor Davon Huss once commented, "I can imagine when the Lord Jesus went to the cross and His disciples scattered, when the nails were driven in and the forces of hell were cackling with glee, when the Savior breathed His last and it looked like all His work had come to naught, an angel in heaven turned to another and said, 'So ... we have won!'"

Freedom isn't free.

It has costs the lives of our nation's finest to defend freedom for people here and abroad. And it has cost the blood of our Savior, who gave His life so that whether free or oppressed, we could know the truest freedom.

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

On this Veteran's Day, may we remember the men and women who have served in our nation's armed forces to keep people free. And may we remember every day the sacrifice Jesus Christ has made to free all humankind of the worst of all oppression, that of sin.


Saturday, November 9, 2013

A leaner, meaner church ...

As the church has become leaner due to it's decline, we've also become meaner.

We once talked a lot about winning souls, but if you look at the stance of many Christians today toward unbelievers, it's one of trying to defeat them rather than disciple them.

We've flooded our faith to overflowing with our politics, and we spend our days hurling political rants all focused on defeating our "enemies." So much so, we've come to see our world as being made up of "us" and "them," with anyone in the "them" camp being an enemy to be defeated.

So we spend a lot less time loving others and sharing the Gospel, and a lot more time looking for a point to debate, another argument to win, and ideas to destroy.

In the process, we've lost sight of who our real enemy is ...

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

Even when we discover human beings who really do position themselves as our enemy, our response to them is often far short of what Jesus says it should be ...

"You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor' and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!" Matthew 5:43-44.

In "The Grace of Giving," Stephen Olford tells of a Baptist pastor during the American Revolution, Peter Miller, who lived in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, and enjoyed a close friendship with George Washington.

In Ephrata also lived Michael Wittman, an evil-minded sort who did all he could to oppose and humiliate the pastor. One day Wittman was arrested for treason and soon was sentenced to die. Peter Miller traveled 70 miles on foot to Philadelphia to plead for the life of the traitor.

"No, Peter," General Washington said. "I cannot grant you the life of your friend."

"My friend!" exclaimed the old preacher. "He's the bitterest enemy I have!"

"What?" cried Washington. "You've walked 70 miles to save the life of an enemy? That puts the matter in a different light. I'll grant your pardon," he said. And he did.

Peter Miller took Michael Wittman back home to Ephrata, no longer an enemy but a friend.

Are you busy trying to defeat unbelievers, or disciple them? Are you battling against people you see as enemies, or obeying Christ by loving them?


Friday, November 8, 2013

Would Jesus use Instagram?

From the time our parents first began teaching us to communicate, pictures have been a central part of how we connect with others.

Some things don't change much.

With technology revolutionizing the way we communicate with each other (and even who we can communicate with), the latest hot spot among social media sites --- Instagram --- largely focuses on interacting with others through pictures.

A key reason why images are so effective for communicating with others is because, when you can't quite pick the perfect word for what you want to say, a picture portrays the same image to all who view it. At least, all the same elements are visible to everyone who sees the picture.

Sometimes, it's more powerful to see something.

I think Jesus had a good grasp of that fact. Not only did He instruct His followers to go proclaim the Gospel throughout the entire world, He also taught us to show the world what God can do in a surrendered life.

"You are the light of the world --- like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father," Matthew 5:14-16.

When people look at your life, what do they see? When others view your life, do they praise our heavenly Father?


Thursday, November 7, 2013

One of America's greatest needs, and how the church can help ...

Over the past few years, there have been several polls and studies revealing that Americans today are feeling more lonely than at any other time in our history.

It's somewhat of an alarming fact in a culture that emphasizes social interaction and has more ways to connect to others than ever before.

Yet, it's not uncommon to see a room full of people all busy "connecting" to people they don't know via technology while not saying a word to the "real" person next to them. That scene is common in our own homes.

The church isn't free of this growing loneliness. It's possible for a person to visit a church service without ever being spoken to by regular attenders. And small groups that have met for years are often made up of acquaintances who talk about "doing life" together, but really only "do" small group together once a week.

Yes, even Christians are reporting they are lonelier now than in the past.

What makes this growing loneliness so profound is that when we feel lonely, we often feel unloved.

What can the church do regarding this sad emptiness so many are experiencing?

Walk into someone's life.

I'm not talking about inviting someone to church, or a small group, or some kind of Bible study. I'm talking about personally walking into someone's life. Befriend someone, and spend personal time with them.

Love them.

Sit in person and talk with them.

Do things together.

At this point the howls of  "I don't have time for this!" is ringing loudly.

Make time, even if the effort costs you something.

If you want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, do what He constantly did --- make it a priority to walk into people's lives and love them with the love of God.

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

Who are you loving with the love of Christ?


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

When worship is pretense ...

It's Sunday morning and you're "in church." The worship leader strums his guitar and launches into the first song ...

If you had to sit and watch others sing through every song you usually sing but don't really live out in your life outside the church sanctuary, would you do much singing on Sunday morning?

We don't gather as the body of Christ on Sundays because we like to sing; we sing as one way of worshiping our heavenly Father. But how is it worship to sing to Him words that have no real truth about our actual relationship with Him?

"For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth," John 4:24.

If you had to make some changes in your life so that your expression of worship matched how you really live, what changes would you make? When?


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

This can make or break any relationship ...

You've loved each other for years. As you wrestle with thoughts of the future, you see that you could continue to love your spouse for years to come.

Then you walk into the living room and tell him or her you've made up your mind, you want a divorce.

"Why?!" your spouse asks incredulously.

"I don't like you anymore," is the response.

I think it's impossible to overstate, or over-rate, the vital role of love in a marriage. But I think we have vastly understated, and under-rated, the significance of the "likeability factor" within a marriage.

The relationship that leads to marriage often starts with a spark of likeability. When you first meet someone, you don't immediately love them with a great passion, simply because you don't know them and haven't had a chance to express love. But early on, you discover things you like about the other person, and that likeability draws you closer to them.

The more time you spend together, you learn to love the other person, so much so you make the decision to get married.

Over the years, genuine selfless love sees you through all the things couples face in life. Even now, you find yourself willing to "love" the other person; you've lived by doing what's in their best interest for a long time, and that hasn't been as hard as some make it out to be.

But ...

... over the years, your spouse has become less likeable. They don't try to put their best self forward like they did when they were courting you. Now, they're sloppier about the person they bring home from work each day. They don't take care of themselves like they used to. They're more careless about how they interact with you; they don't "edit" themselves as they once did. They aren't as positive or optimistic or funny or easy-going as they once were. The basic person you first met is still there, but they're no longer living each day as their best self like they were when they were pursuing you.

As a Christian, you know you could focus your mind and heart to love your spouse "no matter what," but they have made themselves less likeable. Finding you don't "like" them like you once did, you discover your willingness to continue to love them to be challenged.

It's harder to love a less likeable person.

Studies have shown that people who are more likeable have stronger marriages. Common sense alone helps us understand that. The people who are our closest friends, the people we want to spend time with and more easily invest ourselves in relationships with, are the people we find to be easier to like.

We do more for the people we like than those we don't like. We're motivated to try harder with the people we like than with those we don't like. And we "love harder" those we like than those we don't like.

So if you allow yourself to become less likeable to your spouse, you're endangering a key element to motivating the love your spouse has for you. In other words, you're making it harder --- not impossible, but harder --- for your spouse, and others, to continue to love you.

We most often find our failures to love others to be when others are their least likeable selves.

If you want to strengthen your marriage, or other relationships, let me challenge you to work on improving your personal likeability. Here's just one tip: to be likeable, you must be INTENTIONAL about doing the "little things" that will make you a more likeable person.

Has your likeability slipped? What can you --- in an authentic way --- do to become more likeable to your spouse and others?


Monday, November 4, 2013

"Church" starts today ...

It's Monday. Church starts today!

In spite of the significant effort your pastoral staff puts on getting you and anyone else to walk through the church building doors on Sunday morning, the real work of the church begins on Monday.

That's when the children of God get up and walk back into the world as they go to work or school, and do what they do every day of the week. It's the church walking into the world, and that's where the greatest ministry of the church happens.

Your preacher will never preach so dynamically that your entire city will be drawn to come listen to him. You'll never have programs so fantastic the whole community will want to be involved. You'll never be such a perfect church family that everyone will insist on joining. So you'll never win your  city for Christ by trying to squeeze them through the doors of the sanctuary.

However, if every church member were equipped by church leaders to be ambassadors for Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-20), then on Mondays you would have a flood of ambassadors for Christ pouring out the love and Good News of Jesus Christ all across the city as they go about their daily routines.

The results of this happening will be church growth. Not because of members trying to get people to "go to church," but because the church went to the city and revealed Christ to it. Taking Christ to people is the most direct way of seeing more people walk through the doors of your church building.

And for all the right reasons.

It's Monday. Church starts today. Go show someone Jesus!


Sunday, November 3, 2013

When you're the one who's sinned against ...

"Make a decision," I said to the woman who was wiping a tear from her eye.

Sitting next to her husband on the couch in my office, they had been in counseling with me for a few weeks.

"But he cheated on me!" she retorted angrily.

The current problem this couple was facing wasn't the infidelity the husband committed a few months prior, but the fact that the wife had said multiple times that she forgave her husband, but was using his unquestioned guilt to control and hurt him back.

Before possibly forgiving him, she wanted to inflict her own hurt on him for the hurt he had caused her. She really had not forgiven him, she was using her position as the victim to justify vengeance.

It doesn't work that way in God's economy. You either forgive or you don't. Forgiveness does not come with a window of opportunity for retaliation before "real forgiveness" sets in.

Being sinned against does not provide us with justification to strike back, to "settle the score," or to reason "an eye for an eye" behavior. It provides us with an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and truly forgive, or to broaden the problem with sin of our own.

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you," Ephesians 4:31-32.

Are you using your victim status as an excuse to strike back at someone? Have you claimed to forgive someone when you really harbor ill feelings against them? Do you need to make a decision to truly forgive?


Saturday, November 2, 2013

How to keep things from getting combustible ...

A small fire breaks out in your back yard.

Reacting immediately, you run into your garage, grab the can of gasoline stored for your lawn mower, and run back to the yard where you pour the gas on the fire ...

Not a smart way to try to put out a fire, right?

Most people know better ... at least, when it comes to actual fires.

But when those fires are disputes, arguments, or some kind of relational problem with another believer, we're often quick to pour gas on the fire with reactions instead of thoughtful responses, angry words, and vengeful behaviors.

We're quick to forget that scripture gives us step-by-step guidance on how to resolve a problem with a fellow Christian ...

"If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won back that person. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won't accept the church's decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector," Matthew 18:15-18.

How do you resolve your problems with fellow believers? How do you behave when another Christian talks about their problems with another believer around you? Are you pouring gas on a fire, or following scriptural teaching?


Friday, November 1, 2013

That's what we pay the church staff for ... right?

When I visit a church for the first time and want to learn about the faith family I'm about to walk into, sometimes I initially hold back from interacting to see if people in the congregation will welcome me.

It's sad to say that many times I can get in and out of a church without a single church member (other than paid staff) saying a word to me, unless they're instructed to do so.

It happened again this past Sunday. And at a church I like.

I parked my car, and as I walked toward the door of the building,  an assigned greeter took aim at me and had his hand out before he reached me. Okay, it's his "job" to greet people, but at least no visitor was getting by without a warm welcome from him.

I stepped inside the door, and the man who handed me a bulletin didn't say anything to me.

I looked around for a minute, walking by church members talking in circles with each other, then made my way into the sanctuary where, before I could sit down, the worship pastor greeted me. I had a delightful conversation with this guy, and after leading worship, he came out and sat by me.

I sat there for a few minutes just reading the bulletin and updating Twitter (purposely looking "alone"), when I was finally greeted by a friendly lady who walked up, introduced herself, and talked for a minute. I would later learn she sings with the worship team ... and is the pastor's wife.

No one else spoke to me before the service began. A few minutes into the service, at the direction of the Associate Pastor telling everyone to greet someone they didn't know, I finally had a few church members say hello to me.

After service, I again looked around for a few minutes, then made my way upstairs for a cup of coffee, where I would have a time of very enjoyable fellowship with the pastor.

Then I left.

The only time a non-staff person (other than the assigned greeter) spoke to me during my visit was when everyone was encouraged to greet someone. I'm certainly not picking on this church, as this experience plays out in many, many churches every Sunday.

I did this on purpose to get an initial sense of this congregation. I could have changed my visit dramatically if I had been myself and initiated interaction. But here's the greater concern for the church at large: If Christians are reluctant to say a word of greeting to someone visiting with them, what's the likelihood they would engage in conversation for an opportunity to share the Gospel with someone outside of a church service?

It's not likely to happen.

But sometimes it does.

One of the churches I enjoyed fellowship with while living in Hawaii was very different. On my first visit, I was immediately greeted with a lei, and then multiple hugs (whether I wanted them or not!) before I could ever step into the church building. Once inside, several church members came by to introduce themselves and welcome me.

Would you be surprised to know that church is a growing church?

People know when the paid staff are "doing their jobs" and shaking hands with the visitors, and they also know when the members are walking by them --- or sitting all around them --- without saying a word to them.

How could that make them feel anything other than unwelcome or uncomfortable?

Is your congregation welcoming people into their fellowship? Are you? Or is that someone else's job?