Friday, January 31, 2014

This isn't what I signed up for!

Plans can change quickly.

You know how it is, you have a dream, a vision, or just a simple goal of accomplishing something, you put together a rudimentary plan that will get you from the starting line to the finish line, and shortly after you launch out things change.


What seemed like a clear path to success becomes an obstacle course! Kind of like this ...

As the changes to your plans roll in, you think to yourself, "This isn't what I signed up for!"

So what do you do?

Maybe the story of Georgene Johnson of Cleveland, Ohio can help answer that for us.

The Prescott Courier first told the story of how, in 1990, Johnson was a little depressed after turning 42. She decided she wanted to be in better shape for the second half of her life. So she began exercising, then jogging, then running. As she progressed, she decided what she really needed was a goal to focus on, so she signed up for a 10k (six mile) race and began training.

The morning of the race, Johnson was excited and ready to run! She arrived early and was soon distracted by the mass of runners as they prepped and stretched. Before she knew it, the horn sounded for the runners to line up, and Georgene followed the pack to the starting line, and they were off!

Four miles into the race, with no turnaround in sight, Georgene asked a fellow runner when they could expect to start heading back.

"He just kind of looked at me strangely like, 'Are you for real?'" she later explained.

It was then she realized she was not in the 10k race at all. She was in the Cleveland Marathon! Both races shared the same finish line, but the 10k was set to start 15 minutes after the marathon. Because she was early (and distracted), she lined up too soon. So she just kept running, looking for someone to help.

Twenty-six miles later, she crossed the finish line. Her previous longest race was just eight miles. When asked what went through her mind when she realized she was in a marathon, Johnson replied, "This is not the race I trained for. This is not the race I entered. But for better or worse, this is the race I am in."

What do you do when you find your plans changing into an entirely different course than you had prepared for?

Just keep running!

God has a plan for us that is bigger and better than the ones we come up with for ourselves, and He often causes sudden changes to our plotted course in order to put us on an entirely different track than we intended to be on.

"'My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,' says the Lord. 'And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts'," Isaiah 55:8-9.

"This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans, and God's weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength," 1 Corinthians 1:25.

"Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all that he has promised," Hebrews 10:36.

Just keep running!


Thursday, January 30, 2014

You've got the ball ...

Have you ever seen a picture that immediately had a message for you?

I have, on several occasions, including this morning when I saw the image above. It was a humorous item posted on Facebook, but I found the message to be more profoundly applicable than for just a morning laugh.

It reminded me that God has handed ALL TRUE BELIEVERS the ball, and in this case, the ball being the Gospel message ...

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

Did you catch those amazing points that directly pertain to OUR responsibility?

... that God has given US the task of reconciling people to Him ...

... that God has given US a wonderful message of reconciliation to share with the unbelieving world, the message of the Gospel ...

... and that WE (yes, that does include YOU if you are a Christian) are the ambassadors of Christ through whom God is making His appeal to a lost world.

You've got the ball.

It won't throw itself.

What are you doing with it?


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: A new, yet unremarkable study Bible ...

Christians cheer with every report that comes out announcing that the Bible remains the best-selling book ever.

That is a good thing!

But the plethora of Bibles being sold don't all come with altruistic motives; many are just a slight variation to add yet another revenue stream in the selling of Bibles. Now, there is yet another new study Bible published by Thomas Nelson that is unremarkable among those already published.

"The Modern Life Study Bible" immediately doesn't live up to its name in the choice of this new study Bible being published in the New King James Version (NKJV). The NKJV is an improvement over the King James Version, but if you really wanted to be "modern," choosing a reliable but modern English language version would have made much more sense. Nothing else particularly makes this study Bible more "modern life" than other study Bibles; the Bible itself is relevant to modern life, and this new study Bible doesn't do anything above and beyond other Bibles to make it preferred reading for our age.

Other than the title, there is very little in this new study Bible that would give any credence to its title of "modern life," except perhaps the inclusion of 66 biographies on the lives of believers from different places and times. One potential weakness of any study Bible is the temptation for the reader to put more focus on the extra-biblical material provided rather than the scripture itself; given that, I find the inclusion of these biographies to this Bible to be out-of-place and overreaching.

If it is study notes that attract you to a study Bible, then you may appreciate how "The Modern Life Study Bible" is drowning in them. The extra-biblical material in this study Bible includes book introductions, focus articles, insight articles, person and place profiles, the 66 life studies mentioned previously, and more than 220 colorful maps. These materials also include a slant, as described in this study Bible as follows:

"The Modern Life Study Bible examines how to apply God's Word to everyday life, with an emphasis on community and social justice ..."

I don't know about you, but I'm personally not comfortable with a publisher planting their own emphases in a Bible. I'd rather let God share His own emphases by what He reveals to us directly from His written Word.

"The Modern Life Study Bible" might be a good title for marketing a new study Bible in 2014, but it fails to deliver much about it's name, and is unremarkable among other study Bibles currently being sold. In that case, there's no compelling reason to switch to or add this new edition of study Bibles.


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, January 28, 2014

Do you need a spanking?

Your very existence is dependent on God, so you might as well live like a dependent.

Guess what, God wants you to!

Since the days of the first two human beings in the Garden, our fight with God has been over our wanting to be independent by being god of our own lives. Yet, we can no more be independent from God than our bodies can be independent of oxygen.

"For the very life of every living thing is in his hand, and the breath of every human being," Job 12:10.

That dependence isn't a mindless, robotic dependence; rather, it's the kind of living in obedience that is marked by the relationship of a child with his or her father.

We can chose to live in humility and obedience to God, or be taught the hard way, kind of like the story preacher Charles Swindoll tells of a time in his youth when he thought he would exercise a little independence from his father ...

"Having just broken into the sophisticated ranks of the of the teen world, I thought I was something on a stick. My father wasn't nearly as impressed as I was with my great importance and new-found independence.

"I was lying on my bed. He was outside the window on a muggy October afternoon in Houston, Texas, weeding the garden. He said, 'Charles, come out and help me weed the garden.' I said something like, 'NO, IT'S MY BIRTHDAY, REMEMBER?'

"My tone was sassy and my deliberate lack of respect was eloquent. I knew better than to disobey my dad, but after all, I was the ripe old age of thirteen. Dad set a new 100-meter record that autumn afternoon. He was in the house in a flash and all over me like white on rice, spanking me all the way out to the garden. As I recall, I weeded until the moonlight was shining on the pansies.

"That same night he took me out to a surprise dinner. He gave me what I deserved earlier. Later he gave me what I didn't deserve. The birthday dinner was a matter of grace. He showered his favor on this rebellious young man. And I enjoyed grace."

When we start acting a little too big for our britches, God doesn't hesitate to help us recalibrate our thinking ...

"And have you forgotten the encouraging words God spoke to you as his children? He said, 'My child, don't make light of the Lord's discipline, and don't give up when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes each one he accepts as his child'," Hebrews 12:5-6.

Are you living as a humble and obedient child with your heavenly Father? Or do you need a spanking?


Monday, January 27, 2014

Justin Bieber isn't the only one who needs to repent ...

This post is NOT written to point fingers. It is written to stir the church to think. With that said, let's begin ...

As Christians, we're supposed to be the light of the world. We're supposed to directly represent our King to this world. We're supposed to think as Christ thinks, and love as He loves, by the power of the Holy Spirit in us. Just look at social media sites on any given day and you'll find all kinds of posts telling you these things.

And then, from the same people, you'll find stuff like this:

The above picture was posted across social media websites this past week by Christians who thought it good humor to mock and laugh at Justin Bieber for his latest trouble with the law. I know, just saying that and you get an onslaught of politically-infused, warped thinking making excuses that if he's out there making a fool of himself publicly, then his audience can laugh along with everyone else.

But I think all of the excuse-making misses the point. Yes, Bieber, like all human beings, must take responsibility for his actions and face the consequences. But since when is someone else's poor behavior open for mockery and ridicule from Christians?

Bieber is a 19-year-old young man who seems to be imploding morally from all the temptations that fame and wealth heap upon a person. Right now, it looks like he's failing at succeeding. What a tragedy that is!

And folks, it is a tragedy, not an opportunity to kick someone when they've fallen.

The first internship I served was as a chaplain for a substance abuse center. My first call came late one night, saying a family asked for me to come in. I was met by weeping parents who begged me to talk with their son. I entered a room where I was greeted by a 19-year-old young man and his girlfriend. He had finally yielded to his parents pleas to go to rehab.

He was an alcoholic.

And he had been on this planet for just 19 years!

There was nothing funny about that encounter. Nothing funny about a family broken by alcoholism. Nothing funny about parents who were terrified they were losing their son to booze. Nothing to mock about the expression of helplessness on the girlfriend's face. And certainly nothing entertaining about the hopelessness expressed by the 19-year-old young man.

I doubt if there is anything funny that can be found in the reality of Bieber's situation either. There's nothing funny about the odd smile he's sporting in his arrest photo. Yet, some Christians tend to think it hilarious enough to share publicly with others.

And it's not just Bieber we laugh at, ridicule, and mock. We do it with other celebrities, politicians, sports figures, and others. I'm not talking about a little satire or humor regarding situations or events, but pointing at specific people and publicly mocking them.

Jesus knows what it feels like to be mocked. He was laughed at, ridiculed, and mocked in public. Of course, at the time He was hanging on a cross, dying a cruel death so that we could be changed into people who don't think, feel, or behave in such a way.

You can't be the light of the world while laughing and jeering at people. You can only be the light of the world by loving people, just as Christ loved us.

"Don't you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don't fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people --- none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God," 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

"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.


Sunday, January 26, 2014

How trashy are you?

There's a lot of things we do every day, some of which we have to do or should do.

For example, we breathe every day (it's not a good thing not to). We eat every day (often, too much). We bathe every day (at least we should; if you don't, you might want to re-think this one).

But there's also something we do every day that we usually don't pay any attention to.

What is it?

We generate a lot of trash every day.

I'm talking about something that goes into the trash can. Every day, we're throwing something away. Whether it's a food wrapper, an empty can, used paper towels, uneaten food, an empty ink pen, a dull razor, in many ways we're generating trash every day.

A lot of it.

According to estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency, each person in the United States creates a daily average of 4.5 pounds of solid waste. Since there are roughly 300 million people living in America, together we generate approximately 1.35 billion pounds of garbage every day.

We are, indeed, throwing away a lot of trash!

Unfortunately, though, we're holding onto a lot of trash that should be thrown away but isn't. It's not the solid waste sort of trash, but the garbage that clutters our hearts and minds. Junk thinking, garbage desires, and lots of trash talk. All sorts of rubbish scripture implores us to get rid of ...

"So get rid of all evil behavior. Be done with all deceit, hypocrisy, jealousy, and all unkind speech," 1 Peter 2:1.

When we become Christians, we partner with the Holy Spirit to clean out the junk in our lives ...

"Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God --- truly righteous and holy. So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth , for we are all parts of the same body. And ' don't sin by letting anger control you.' Don't let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. Don't use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them ... Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior," Ephesians 4:21-29, 31.

"Let there be no sexual immorality impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God's people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes --- these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God," Ephesians 5:3-4.

There are several other passages of scripture that help us identify the trash we may generate that needs to be thrown out. The Apostle Paul summarizes such exhortations with a clear reason why we need to take out the spiritual trash ...

"Don't participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of the light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true," Ephesians 5:7-8.

What kind of garbage are you hanging onto that needs to go into the trash? Are you living as "people of the light," or still hoarding darkness?


Saturday, January 25, 2014

When encouragement isn't enough ...

Encouraging others is a good start at expressing Christ in us, and we're often quick to encourage others to be encouragers.

That can be a good thing!

"So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing," 1 Thessalonians 5:11.

But encouragement has a limited capacity. At some point, we need to go beyond just encouraging others if we really want to fully exercise our faith and follow in the footsteps of Jesus ...

"What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don't show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, 'Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well' --- but then you don't give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn't enough, Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless," James 2:14-17.

There are times when an encouraging word is quite sufficient, but other times when it's useless and we need to step into the lives of others with much greater actions.

Yes, get out there and encourage others! But also step into lives and fully serve others as there is opportunity and need.


Friday, January 24, 2014

When God interferes with your relationships ...

Whether you want Him to or not, God will interfere with your relationships.

There's a primary reason why: God created you for Him, and He demands to have first place in your life.

"Jesus replied, 'The most important commandment is this: "Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength",'" Mark 12:29-30.

That does mean that all other relationships will never know their fullest possible fruition according to God's design if you have them mis-prioritized with regard to God's place in your life.

Let's look at a couple of examples from scripture ...

Friendship is one of the greatest loves we will experience in life. It's God's plan for us to know the richness of friendships. One of the greatest friendships recorded in the Bible was the friendship between David and Jonathan ...

"After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king's son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn't let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David, because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt," 1 Samuel 18:1-4.

"How I weep for you, my brother Jonathan! Oh, how much I loved you! And your love for me was deep, deeper than the love of women!" 2 Samuel 1:26.

Jonathan was a prince, the son of King Saul, and David was just a young shepherd boy. But from the moment they met, they liked each other and became great friends.

But that friendship would cost Jonathan far more than it would David. As it turned out, God would replace Saul as king ... not with the heir, Jonathan the prince, but with David!

And Jonathan fully supported God's decision!

The very man to whom Jonathan would lose his future as king in Israel was his best friend. David would grow in stature as a great leader directly at Jonathan's expense. But God had a plan for David, and a plan for Jonathan. For David, it was to become king; for Jonathan, it was to step aside. Because these men gave God the right priority in their lives, God was exalted above all others, and because of that their friendship could know the greatest of love among friends.

Let's take a quick peek at a marriage ...

Joseph and Mary were two teens in love. They were engaged to be married. Imagine the dreams they must have had of a life together!

Then God stepped in ...

He was volunteering them to be the earthly mother and step-father to the Son of God. To do so meant the Child they would raise would come to them through a miraculous conception ...

"The angel replied, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God," Luke 1:35.

This divine appointment as parents would result in a scandal Joseph and Mary would never live down. But because they both made God the priority relationship in their individual lives, together they were able to weather the false accusations and condemnation of others and go on to have a marriage that would be blessed with other children after Jesus was born.

Scripture helps us understand a simple lesson: to have the best possible relationships in our lives, our greatest relationship must be with God, and all other relationships must be in subjection to that great relationship.

Is that how your relationships are structured? Is God the single greatest love of your life? Are all other relationships in your life subject to your relationship with God?


Thursday, January 23, 2014

I need your help!

How would you like the opportunity to dramatically change the lives of thousands of people, provide counseling support to pastors, and help multiple churches become more effective disciple-making churches?

Now there's an exciting new way for you to directly be able to help achieve these things! We're announcing the launch of the developmental phase of the Scott Free Clinic. To learn more about this ministry, please watch the video below for the exciting details and explore our website at ...

The Scott Free Clinic is an independent, non-profit parachurch ministry currently in developmental stages. To support the ability for this new parachurch ministry to be able to move beyond its developmental stage, Hope Christian Church in Fairfield, CA is willing to serve temporarily as a Fiscal Sponsor so that this new ministry can receive tax exempt donations from sources who are interested in supporting the vision and mission of Scott Free Clinic.

Ministry vision ...
The Scott Free Clinic will be an independent, non-profit parachurch ministry formed to provide counseling, coaching, and consulting services to persons and churches internationally, without the barrier of cost, so that lives and churches will be changed through Christ, for the glory of God.

Ministry mission ...
Helping people become whole persons in Christ, and churches to become effective disciple-making churches.

Service offerings ... 
  • Comprehensive clinical pastoral counseling.
  • Advanced coaching.
  • Couple Communication Training.
  • Fitness consulting.
  • Pastor Care (counseling for vocational and bi-vocational ministers).
  • Church consulting (especially in providing training in equipping people to share the Gospel).
The need and interest in the services of this ministry have been established to be in strong demand. They can be met by launching these services as soon as possible, but to do that, significant funds need to be raised to launch this new ministry. An ideal office setting has been located, but to lease office space and then furnish, equip, and supply it, and provide the materials and operating budget for this ministry to happen will require substantial resources from sponsors who have the vision to turn this ministry vision into reality.

Those who are interested in giving to help make this ministry vision become reality can do so by sending their checks to:

Hope Christian Church
149 Grobric Court
Fairfield, CA 94534
IMPORTANT: All checks should be made payable to "Hope Christian Church" and please notate on the memo portion of the check either "Scott Free Clinic" or "Counseling" so those funds will be earmarked for Scott Free Clinic. Additionally, you can give online at Hope's website at the following link (click on the "Donations" tab, and make sure to designate any gifts to "Scott Free Clinic" or "Counseling"). All donations will be tax deductible.
Here are some other ways you can help build support for launching this new ministry:
  • Pray for this ministry daily and encourage others to pray for the ministry of Scott Free Clinic.
  • Share this blog post with others.
  • Post the news of this ministry on your own blog site.
  • Connect others to my Twitter and Facebook accounts (see information below).
  • Personally tell others about this ministry and encourage their support.
  • Share this information with your church.
  • Become a "support bundler." We are looking for some who have a strong support of this ministry to help us by "bundling" giving by using their personal and professional connections to help us raise funds to launch this ministry. We especially could benefit from Christian business men and women who contribute significantly to vital Christian ministry.
Contact information ...
Mailing address:
Scott Free Clinic
P.O. Box  99915
San Diego, CA 92169

Telephone: 541-861-0779

Finally ...
Once the funds are available for this ministry to launch services, ANYONE will be welcome to come and get the help they need! That includes you, your family, your friends, your co-workers, your church family, your pastor ... anyone! All without the barrier of cost! I invite YOU to join me in this journey of helping to changes lives and churches, all for the glory of God!

(NOTE: The headquarters won't be in Fairfield, as shown in the video, but since we not only minister locally, but also regionally, nationally, and internationally, the location of the headquarters isn't a limitation!)

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How to be a good shepherd ...

If you want to be a good shepherd of God's flock, just do what He asks of you.

That's a little simplistic, isn't it?

It's been my observation from scripture that God tries to keep it simple, for our sake. It's when we complicate things by doing more than He asks of us that we invite into our lives problems we don't have to experience.

As odd as it may sound, one of the problems we bring onto ourselves is that of trying too hard. Sometimes, we just try too hard! We think we're going to do God a favor by helping him out beyond what He's asked by tossing in some of our own ideas and efforts.

This was a serious mistake experienced by one of the greatest shepherds in the Bible --- Moses. For forty years, Moses shepherded a few million of God's chosen people. From the moment he stepped in front of Pharoah on God's behalf, Moses had his hands full. But regardless of what came his way, he was able to overcome phenomenal obstacles by listening to God and doing as He instructed.

But when Moses stepped beyond that, and took matters into his own hands, he paid a significant price.

At first, he listened to God, and always found answers for the problems he faced. We see an example of that in Exodus 17, when the people camped at Rephidim. The problem at that point was a lack of water. No sweat, Moses just took the problem to God, who, ever so faithfully, had a solution for him.

"The Lord said to Moses, 'Walk out in front of the people. Take your staff, the one you used when you struck the water of the Nile, and call some of the elders of Israel to join you. I will stand before you on the rock at Mount Sinai. Strike the rock, and water will come gushing out. Then the people will be able to drink.' So Moses struck the rock as he was told, and water gushed out as the elders looked on," Exodus 17:5-6.

Moses faced more BIG challenges than most leaders today will ever face in a lifetime, but when he simply listened to God, and did as He instructed, everything worked out.

Then there was that time Moses tried too hard ...

The situation is almost a mirror image of that thirsty moment in Rephidim, only this time the Israelites camped at Kadesh, another place without water.

Still, no problem.

Moses sought help from God, and He provided it: "You and Aaron must take the staff and assemble the entire community. As the people watch, speak to the rock over there, and it will pour out its water. You will provide enough water from the rock to satisfy the whole community and their livestock," Numbers 20:8

Here was a significant problem that could be easily resolved if Moses would do only what God asked of him. But Moses tried too hard by doing more than God asked of him ...

"Then Moses struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill," Numbers 20:11.

The people got the water they needed, so what's the problem? It was the attitude of Moses, which usurped God's role by thinking he could handle this problem in his own way. He'd been in this kind of situation before, and last time it only took a striking of the rock with the staff to fix things. So this time, he dismissed God's instruction to speak to the rock and got a little theatrical --- two strikes of the rock!

By trying too hard, Moses stepped out of his shepherding role and infringed on God's role as provider and sustainer. The people were never blessed by Moses providing for them; blessing and provision had come by Moses being obedient to listen to God and do as he was instructed. When he stepped outside of that narrow obedience, it cost him dearly ...

"But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 'Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!'" Numbers 20:12.

God doesn't need his shepherds to go all free style! There's no need to make shepherding God's people any harder than it already is. Just seek God, listen to Him, and then do as He instructs. Nothing more, nothing less.

The outcome will be God being glorified, and His people (including you) being blessed.


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Forsaking the truth ...

Journalism has changed a lot since the days I was reporting and editing for a chain of newspapers in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

What's the biggest change?

Back then, at the heart of reporting were two key essentials: what you reported had to be true, and you had to have a verified source for that truth. Today, much of what we read, watch, and listen to in in the news media are journalists sharing their own opinions or "observations."

The same kind of change slipped into the church a long time ago, especially behind pulpits. It used to be what was preached and taught had to be the truth, and that truth had to have the Source of the Word of God. Now what we often hear, watch, or listen to are preachers sharing their own opinions or "observations."

Just as journalists have forsaken the search for truth in order to make themselves famous, preachers today are forsaking the Word of God to build their own "brands."

It ought not to be so!

The Apostle Paul shares with us who should be entrusted with the teaching and preaching of God's Word ...

"You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others," 2 Timothy 2:2.

At the heart of church leadership is the "passing on" of the truth of God's Word. If a person cannot be trusted to do that, they should not seek or be in a position of spiritual leadership. We need more leaders who proclaim the Gospel and less who focus on themselves.

Christ must increase, and we must decrease.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Three common lies that can ruin your life ...

Whether ignorantly, or done with selfish intent, there are three common lies preached broadly within the church.

There are more than three, but these three garner a lot of attention. You hear them taught from pulpits, read about them in best sellers, and are expounded on in concise social media tidbits any day of the week. If followed in the way they are often taught, they can ruin your life.

What are they? Chase "success." Chase "destiny." And chase after "blessings."

All three of these teach us to pursue getting that which we desire, and the building of our own kingdom. The often not-so-subtle message behind each of these is, "It's all about you!"

What a hideous lie!

Our reason for existing can be found in a single purpose: to worship, glorify, and enjoy God. Our purpose for being alive is all about HIM!

"So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God," 1 Corinthians 10:31.

"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.

You will never have any greater success than that of being set free from sin by surrendering your life to Jesus Christ. Nor will you ever be able to succeed at anything beyond the will of God for you.

You have achieved your destiny when you surrender your life to Jesus Christ, making Him both Lord and Savior of your life, and live your life for His glory.

You will never be more blessed than you will be for selflessly living for the glory of God.

Any desire for success, destiny, and blessing all converge in our surrender to, and embracing of, Jesus Christ.

Nothing can equal or surpass a life lived for the glory of God, so don't believe the lies.


Sunday, January 19, 2014

What every Fearless Front Man needs ...

This post is Part Two of my last post titled, "Three approaches to living ..." which you can find here . If you haven't read that post, I recommend you do so prior to reading this post.

One faithful, fearless man can accomplish much for the kingdom of God. But imagine what can happen if a Fearless Front Man had a Fabulously Faithful helper!

We see an example of that in the story of Jonathan's fierce two-man attack on the Philistines, accomplished by faith in God and a little help from his armor bearer (pause here and read the record of this in the Bible, starting with 1 Samuel 13:15 and going through 1 Samuel 14) ...

"'Let's go across to the outpost of those pagans,' Jonathan said to his armor bearer. 'Perhaps the Lord will help us, for nothing can hinder the Lord. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!'" 1 Samuel 14:6.

Jonathan's life as a Fearless Front Man was reinforced and amplified by real and vital assistance supplied to him by his Fabulously Faithful armor bearer ...

"'Do what you think is best,' the armor bearer replied, 'I'm with you completely, whatever you decide'," 1 Samuel 14:7.

If we were to quote Jonathan's armor bearer in 21st century language, we would say something like, "You lead the way, I've got your back!"

And have his back he did ...

"So they climbed up using both hands and feet, and the Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor bearer killed those who came behind them," 1 Samuel 14:13.

As Fearless Front Men lead the way in serving our King, they need someone covering their backs and helping them push forward to make aggressive gains for the kingdom. Not everyone is called to be a Front Man, but every Front Man needs the partnership of the Fabulously Faithful who are willing to follow them into battle. Together, relying on God, the enemy will fall in a spectacular fashion!

If you're a Fearless Front Man, are you working in fellowship with the Fabulously Faithful? Or are you trying to take on battles you can't win alone?

If you're a Fabulously Faithful disciple, are you covering the backs and providing support for the Fearless disciples at the forefront of kingdom work?

We're in this together! At least, we're supposed to be.


Saturday, January 18, 2014

Three approaches to living ...

The single greatest responsibility you will have in your lifetime is deciding on what you will do with your life. Your life is something God gives you stewardship of, and what you do with it is something you will also have to give an account of to God.

So, then, what can we do with this life God has given us?

When it comes to living our lives for God, there are three approaches we can choose from:

The TENTATIVE TREKKER - This is the person who approaches life with the attitude of, "It depends ..." If things are safe, easy, cheap, personally rewarding, then we might step out; but if they are difficult, risky, costly, or don't directly benefit us, the Tentative Trekker will likely stay in a comfort zone.

The Tentative Trekker is described by Solomon in the following way ...

"Farmers who wait for perfect weather never plant. If they watch every cloud, they never harvest," Ecclesisastes 11:4.

You can be so tentative that you fail to live as you trek through life.

The FABULOUSLY FAITHFUL - This is the person who takes a full measure of life in Christ and goes all in. Jesus equates living life as a journey on the Way as His disciple, and describes a wise follower as someone who does this ...

"But don't begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, 'There's the person who started that building and couldn't afford to finish it!' Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him. And if he can't, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own," Luke 14:28-33.

When you take a truthful look at life, you'll discover that the things that are important are bigger than you are; they will require Christ in you. And seeing that truth, the Fabulously Faithful goes "all in" on trusting Christ for all they will need to complete building a life that is both fulfilling and God honoring.

The FEARLESS FRONT MAN - The last option is the "Fabulously Faithful" disciple on spiritual steroids. This is the person who pours out his or her life to make opportunities to glorify God. The Fearless Front Man lives life as "the tip of the spear" for advancing the kingdom of God.

This kind of character is represented in the life of Jonathan, the son of King Saul. The king found his immediate forces whittled down to 600 men facing a bigger, meaner foe among the Philistines. While Saul approached things conventionally, Jonathan decided to see what he could accomplish within God's will with no more assistance than that of his armor bearer. The setting begins in 1 Samuel 13:15, and in 1 Samuel 14:1 we read:

"One day Jonathan said to his armor bearer, 'Come on, let's go over to where the Philistines have their outpost.' But Jonathan did not tell his father what he was doing."

Verses 2-10 tell how Jonathan made his way to the enemy outpost, and then we pick up with verse 11 ...

"When the Philistines saw them coming, they shouted, 'Look! The Hebrews are crawling out of their holes!' Then the men from the outpost shouted to Jonathan, 'Come on up here, and we'll teach you a lesson!' 'Come on, climb right behind me,' Jonathan said to his armor bearer, 'for the Lord will help us defeat them!' So they climbed up using both hands and feet, and the Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor bearer killed those who came behind. They killed some twenty men in all, and their bodies were scattered over about half an acre," 1 Samuel 14:11-14.

The rest of the story is told in the verses that follow in the same chapter, but it was Jonathan acting as a Fearless Front Man, through the power of God, that put the enemy on the run.

So how are you choosing to journey through life: as a Tentative Trekker? Or as a Fabulously Faithful disciple? Or are you a Fearless Front Man for Jesus?


Friday, January 17, 2014

Don't be a Napoleon ...

Napoleon Bonaparte continues to make all the lists of the people who have most dramatically impacted human history.

It was this leader who is quoted as saying, "Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake."

To that, a lot of people would say, "Amen!"

But Jesus wouldn't.

Scripture implores us to have a very different response when we see our enemies in error ...

"Don't rejoice when your enemies fall; don't be happy when they stumble," Proverbs 24:17.

"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! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike," Matthew 5:43-45.

"Bless those who persecute you. Don't curse them; pray that God will bless them," Romans 12:14.

For many, these are pretty sounding words from an ancient book. But they're really specific instructions God provides to all who believe in Him, even in our day. It's a lesson that Martha Mullen understood and carried out, even though she would face tremendous ridicule for doing so.

That's because Mullen, a mental health counselor in Virginia, was key to arranging for the burial of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the Boston bomber whose exploits left three dead and 260 others wounded. For more than a week after his death, no cemetery or community wanted to bury the slain terrorist.

Mullen said she was at a Starbucks when she heard a radio news report about the difficulty of finding a burial spot for Tsarnaev.

"My first thought was Jesus said love your enemies," Mullen explained, then she had an epiphany. "I thought someone should do something about this, and I am someone."

Mullen, a member of the United Methodist Church, said she was motivated by her faith and that she had the full support of her pastor.

The Washington Post reports Mullen took the initiative to find a place that would accept Tsarnaev for burial. She was put in touch with Islamic Funeral Services of Virginia, which runs a cemetery in Doswell, VA, and brokered an arrangement to have him buried there.

Many local residents and officials were angered by Mullen's intervention. While Mullen says the backlash has been unpleasant, she has no regrets.

"I can't pretend it's not difficult to be reviled and maligned," she told The Associated Press. "But any time you can reach across the divide and work with people that are not like you, that's what God calls us to do."

In contrast, many of us won't even speak to a neighbor who we consider an "enemy," yet Mullen could treat a real enemy with love that comes with God.

So what should we do when we see an enemy in error?

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

When it comes to your enemies, are you following the example of Christ, or are you just another Napoleon?


Thursday, January 16, 2014

A respectable Idol ...

Chill out, I'm not talking about the man-made idols we worship. The respectable Idol I'm referring to is Savion Wright (as pictured to the right) who got his few minutes of fame on the season premiere of "American Idol" last night.

I haven't seen the show in a long time, but was curious about the new mix of judges, so I tuned in to check out the launch of the new season.

As usual, there was no shortage of people who showed up with an overdose of confidence, vowing to be the "next American Idol." Of course, all of them but one will fail!

Wright, though, caught my attention, as well as that of the judges. He is in his early 20's, and did a great job singing and playing guitar. He did so well, he earned his "golden ticket" to Hollywood.

It wasn't the performance of this young man that captured my attention, it was what he said about himself prior to his performance. The judges would later remark how his comments had impressed them as well.

So what did this performer say that was so noteworthy? Wright said he had wanted to try out for the show for the last eight years; when one of the judges asked him why he hadn't tried out earlier, he said he didn't think he was creative enough eight years ago. Wright said he had realized he needed to improve, and had spent the last eight years working hard to hone his talent.

I found his comments wildly respectable.

Do you realize what kind of character it takes to reign in pride or arrogance and, instead of being like all the others who think they can wow America, to step back and say, "I'm not good enough yet, I need work, I need to improve"?

Even more impressive, once he assessed himself in this way, he actually spent the past eight years building on his God-given talent and improving his skills. And --- get this --- he exercised this kind of self-discipline while struggling with ADHD!

Wright is one respectable "Idol"!

His behavior demonstrates a mix of a little wisdom with humility and self-discipline. The result is the opportunity of a lifetime for a performer. Even if Wright doesn't go on to ultimately win the "American Idol" competition, he has earned his place on one of the biggest stages any hopeful singer could ever dream to find themselves on.

The difference between Wright and many of the other 75,000 people who tried out for the show is that unique willingness to examine himself honestly and humbly, and then take action regarding the assessment.

When was the last time you had the wisdom to sit down and, with honesty and humility, take a good look at yourself, and then do something about what you saw? When was the last time you exercised enough self-discipline to spend years (if necessary) focused on building on the talents God has given you and sharpening your skills to improve yourself? Or do you think you've already arrived and don't have anything to work on?


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How to gut from change its positive potential ...

How is it that many people overcome their fear of change and still fail to realize benefits from what could be growth?

You know this kind of person ...

... professionally, the person who has no zeal for what they do, but they do what they do just good enough to keep progressing even when others fall behind. They do so without any enthusiasm; in fact, they often complain every step they move forward ...

... spiritually, this is the person who comes grudgingly to God, learns the spiritual disciplines and exercises them out of a sense of duty. They talk the talk, and they even walk the walk at the most minimal level ...

... these kind of people have decided they won't battle against change, but they never seem to discover the rich reward of growth that could come with each step forward.

Why does this happen?

It's because as soon as they move forward to the next step, they immediately seek out a new comfort zone at that new place and stay there as long as they can until they have to move forward again. While these people may be moving with change opportunities in their lives, they are not growing with them, they're just bouncing from one comfort zone to another.

The benefits and blessings of change and growth don't come simply from movement (we're all experiencing some level of change at any given time), but from diving into, exploring, and actualizing the opportunities offered for growth through change. That can't be done from a comfort zone, old or new.

Just going with the flow will not help you grow.

What are you doing? Riding the wave of change from one comfort zone to the next? Or using change as an opportunity to grow?


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Fear of change isn't the only thing that kills opportunities ...

The greatest opportunity killer you will likely ever encounter is your own mind.

Many offer as evidence how we kill opportunities in our minds because of fear of change. But that isn't always the case. Sometimes we kill opportunities with our thinking because we're afraid things will stay the same! Sometimes we want change so desperately we become terrified at the idea of things remaining as they are and allow that fear to sabotage our opportunities.

So we do the irrational thing and shoot down the opportunity to try. For example ...

... many marriages have ended in divorce because of this distorted way of thinking. After years of marriage, the husband or wife becomes convinced their spouse will "never change," and it's that prospect of living with them as they are that motivates them to walk out instead of trying to fix their marriage ...

... or, you've had a dream for years that you have played with in your mind for so long you've convinced yourself you would fail and only find yourself where you currently are, so you give up on the dream without even trying ... because you don't want to stay where you are.

No, it doesn't make sense, but that often doesn't stop us from behaving this way. When we complicate our opportunities, or misinterpret them, we're likely to kill them. Before doing that, we might save our opportunities if only we seek a little wise counsel from others.

Kind of like the fellow who had, for years, been the only barber in the small town he lived in. Just about everyone went to him to get their hair cut. Then one day a big hair salon franchise came to town and opened shop directly across the street from the barber. A big sign hung in the window of the salon: "All Haircuts for $3.00"

Slowly, the barber's business began to dwindle. He couldn't compete with $3.00 haircuts. In a last ditch effort to save his business, he hired a business consultant. The consultant spent a day pouring over the barber's books and asking a lot of questions. At the end of the day the barber asked the consultant, "So what do you think, should I close up shop?"

"Not yet, I'll be back tomorrow," was his answer.

The next day the consultant showed up with a huge banner that he hung in front of the barber shop that stated, "We fix $3.00 haircuts!"

Proverbs 15:22 states, "Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success." Before you kill the next opportunity in front of you, seek counsel from a wise Christian who has your best interests at heart. Doing so could help you take a big step forward to success.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Teaching for failure ...

One of the hats I wear includes reviewing books for publishers or public relations firms. This morning I was perusing some of the titles for review. None of them were appealing.

Nearly every book was written by a "rock star" pastor, and nearly every subject was a "felt needs" topic. For example, an internationally-known pastor was writing about how to be more productive with your time.

"We're all such busy people and Pastor X is an expert at getting things done ... here are tips for doing more in 30 minutes ... blah, blah, blah ..."

This is the kind of teaching we're seeing at a time when the church is in serious decline in the West. The same pastors will argue that only the legalistic and mean-spirited want more on theology and doctrine --- something greatly lacking in the church today --- and any kind of teaching or writing that takes people into the deeper things of God are ridiculed as being unwelcome and unrealistic for our culture.

By churning out the fluff that makes for popular reading, we set up learners for failure. That's because such teachers are leading their followers into a life of activity without a firm foundation. When you insist on building something before you have a solid foundation on which to build, at some time what you build will be destroyed. Don't take my word for it; instead, listen to what Jesus has to say about this matter ...

"Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won't collapse because it is built on bedrock. But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn't obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash," Matthew 7:24-27.

With churches filled with members who are biblically illiterate and undiscipled, we don't need sermons or books about how to be more productive with our time. We need teaching that leads believers in the Way of Christ and disciples them to spiritual maturity so that they have a firm foundation on which to build a life transformed by God.

We need to preach and write less about issues and things, and much, much more about Jesus Christ! That is, if we really want to see those we serve grow up to be like Christ.

By the way, one way to discourage the continued writing of fluff books is to not buy them. And if your church leadership team persists on preaching fluff topics, provide them with concise feedback that you would like to see more significant teaching and equipping of disciples in the church you're a part of. Sometimes such feedback is necessary to motivate some leaders to actually provide what is needed rather than what is popular.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

The devil doesn't want you in the octagon ...

I've said many times that Christians have an enemy as dedicated to their destruction as God is committed to their salvation. There is a war being waged, a spiritual one, but it may not be the glorious kind of battle you might imagine.

The devil doesn't want you in the octagon, where he could pound the life out of you quickly. Instead, he often seeks your destruction through death by a thousand cuts ...

... get you in a rush in the morning ...

... stir a little road rage on the way to work ...

... mix in some misery working for an unrelenting boss ...

... expose you to temptation among coworkers ...

... pile on financial burdens ...

... toss in a couple of unruly children ...

... add in an unsatisfied spouse ...

... then do it all again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next ...

... and he gets you.

Death by a thousand cuts.

It's no wonder, then, that the Apostle Paul gives us this concise exhortation: "Never stop praying" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

If we pray as these things pop up, and continue to pray through them, we're cooperating with God to overcome the poison the enemy is trying to place in them. Constancy of prayer allows God to heal as fast as the enemy attempts to hurt.

But bottling up the punches of the enemy only creates a spiritual time bomb that will eventually explode, often with irrational anger and accusation at God, followed by a collapse of faith.

Are you praying your way through your days? Or are you trying to tough it out, all the while loading yourself down with wounds from the enemy?


Friday, January 10, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: This is a terrible book ...

When a book isn't well written, I try to be as gentle as possible in my review. But when it comes to "Ingredients For Success: 10 Best Practices for Business and Life" by Joseph Slawek (self-published by Kickstand Books), I must be concise and straightforwardly say this is a terrible book.

The author is CEO of FONA Inc., an executive who attempts to take a few passages from scripture and mangle them into "secrets for success" in business, and supposedly life as well. He generates from these scriptures 10 "best practices" for life and business, and then you would assume the remainder of the book would be an exegesis of these scriptures.

But it isn't.

Instead, there's plenty of stretching of these scriptures, but even more so, it's a continuous, undeveloped rambling that never gains significance or conciseness in its message. At times, you think the author really wants to tell his own story, and he certainly wants to  promote FONA. But then he'll try to jump back to a point, only to toss in a few others as well.

"Ingredients For Success" is just a mess of content, with poor use of scripture and an unfocused purpose or clarity of message. To be fair, the author sometimes makes some good points, but those are randomly discovered in a hodgepodge of writing.

This book is proof that just because you can afford to publish your own book doesn't mean you should. My recommendation is to not waste your money on this book when there's so many more out there you get much greater benefit and enjoyment from.


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

Thursday, January 9, 2014

If this is true of you, you've got a spiritual problem ...

There's a golden rule among human resource gurus that states, "The best predictor of future performance is past behavior."

That's why HR specialists teach managers to ask in job interviews specific questions about past situations job candidates have found themselves in, and how they handled those situations. The idea is that how they handled people and situations in the past is likely how they will handle people and situations in the future.

There's some truth to that, but it should not be the case for the Christian.

"This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!" 2 Corinthians 5:17.

"My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me," Galatians 2:20.

"Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other's faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony," Colossians 3:12-14.

When you become a follower of Christ, you change! And that includes how you treat people and handle situations.

If you're still treating people the way you did before you were saved, and if you're still handling situations the same way you did before Christ was your Lord, then you probably have a significant spiritual problem. It's nothing you and the Holy Spirit cannot fix. The question is, will you?


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A spiritual warning signal ...

My old car is 15 years old and loaded with miles. Too many miles!

For the past few months, the check engine light continues to come on. It eventually goes off, but it comes on again.

Something is wrong with my engine. Although the car continues to operate (for the moment), something is wrong with it; it needs to be fixed.

Just like that amber light on my car's dashboard, Christians have a warning light that signals something is wrong.

What is it?

It's an "up-and-down" faith. When we're happy with God when things are good, and find our lives rocked when things are the least bit challenging, that's a sign that something is wrong with us spiritually.

Something needs to be fixed.

Authentic discipleship is not dependent on our evaluation of God's daily performance. Yet, you couldn't tell that by the lives of many who call themselves Christian. A simplistic example: just last month, some were wringing their hands and proclaiming "Woe is me!" simply because the entire family couldn't be together on Christmas day. Certainly it would be nice to have family together at such a time, but is this something to wail about and act as if great tragedy has struck?

It doesn't seem to take much to move some from a profession of faith, to them feeling victimized by the world ... and even by God.

NASA has an old saying that describes what was vital among the character of the men and women they trained as astronauts: Maintain an even strain.

Things don't always go right in space, and because of that, those selected to be astronauts had to be able to think clearly when something went awry.

Well, things certainly don't always go right in life, and as disciples of Jesus Christ, we need to be able to think clearly in less-than-perfect situations. Job demonstrated this kind of character for us when he said of his horrendous plight:

"Though he slay me, I will hope in Him ..." Job 13:15a (NASB).

Even an authentic faith will have it's trials, but those trials don't derail its consistency.

If you're finding your faith to be inconsistent, then take that as a warning light that something in your relationship with God needs to be fixed. By the way, I know an awesome spiritual mechanic by the name of the Holy Spirit. He works for free, and He can fix anything in your life that needs fixing.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

When a routine becomes a rut ...

A farmer once observed, "The hardest thing about milking cows is that they never stay milked."

It's an insightful comment that can be applied to life in various ways. There's a lot of our living that doesn't stay done, but requires a persistence from us. These things become some of the routines in our lives.

Routines have their benefits. They help us make sure that we're doing what we should be doing, when we should be doing it.

But routines don't guarantee that what we're doing is being done the way it should be, or with the right motive.

Routines can have their down-side when we allow our familiarity of the important things in life to become little more than routine actions that we've gutted from purpose and relevance, from thoughtfulness and feeling.

I saw this evidenced while visiting with a pastor of a church that wasn't making disciples. The good thing was that the leadership team of this church had been convicted about being a congregation that was not sharing the Gospel with the lost. But when launching into discussion about how to go about changing to become a church of disciples who make disciples, the pastor immediately started pushing back. He reverted to the routines of ministry, and any suggestion of disrupting those long-established routines was met with resistance.

This pastor had made ministry so routine it had become a rut for him.

Do you know the old description of what a rut is? It's just a grave with the ends kicked out.

Jesus spoke directly and powerfully to those who have made living out their faith so routine that they are now in a rut ...

"I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!" Revelation 3:15-16.

Although God is always with us, the presence of God in our lives was never intended to be a routine thing. Although there is nowhere you can go to escape God, interacting with Him requires a persistent desire on our part ...

"If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me," Jeremiah 29:13.

It's like the husband and wife whose marriage has become routine. They go through all the same old motions every day, but their hearts are no longer engaged with each other. They've allowed the routines of life to put them into a rut.

To keep purpose and passion alive in our faith, we need one another. The Apostle Peter demonstrates this by reminding us of the truth ...

"Therefore, I will always remind you about these things --- even though you already know them and are standing firm in the truth you have been taught. And it is only right that I should keep reminding you as long as I live," 2 Peter 1:12-13.

The writer of Hebrews urges us to keep one another stirred up ...

"Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still 'today,' so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God," Hebrews 3:12-13.

"Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near," Hebrews 10:24-25.

By encouraging and "stirring" one another, we can keep good routines in our lives without allowing them to become ruts. We can persevere with purpose, keeping our eyes on the ultimate goal ...

"For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ," Hebrews 3:14.

Has life become so routine for you that you're now in a rut? What are you doing to keep your faith fresh? What are you doing to encourage others in the routines of their faith?


Monday, January 6, 2014

Beware what you tie yourself to ...

Rick Pendleton tells a great story about two hunters who came upon what at first appeared to be an abandoned farm. The barn was sagging, the house was in disrepair, and there were junk cars and parts scattered all around the yard. The only thing that made it an occupied farm were a few chickens pecking away and a goat wandering around.

As the hunters entered the yard, they came across an old well. One said to the other, "I wonder how deep it is."

The other responded, "We'll have to drop something down it and listen for the splash."

They looked around for something to drop down the well, but the only thing close by was an old transmission. The both hauled it over to the well and dropped it in. They counted and waited for the splash --- it was a very deep well!

As the hunters turned from the well to leave, they saw the goat was charging directly at them with head down, horns aimed straight for them. At the last moment they jumped aside, and the goat went right past them and over the side of the well. The hunters looked at each other in amazement.

As they started to leave, the owner of the farmed appeared and approached the hunters. They chatted for a moment and got permission to hunt on the farm. Then the farmer asked, "Have you seen my goat around here?"

One of the hunters answered, "Your goat almost killed us charging at us! You should have had that goat tied up!"

The farmer responded, "I thought I had him tied up to an old transmission ..."

This story has a simple lesson: You follow what you're tied to.

Have you attached yourself to something that could drag you in the wrong direction? Or is God your anchor?

"So God has given both his promise and his oath. These two things are unchangeable because it is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God's inner sanctuary," Hebrews 6:18-19.


Sunday, January 5, 2014

How record-keeping can wreck a marriage ...

Keeping track of all the things you think your spouse does wrong, or that you don't like, will put you on the fast track to destroying your marriage.

Record-keeping is a destructive behavior a spouse can employ when they wander away from focusing on actively, intentionally loving their husband or wife. The irrational thought behind the action is something like this: "He will never learn unless I constantly tell him what he's doing wrong." The fallacy to that kind of thinking is that people often don't learn from someone who is always focusing on what they do wrong.

If you want to influence your spouse toward positive change, love them!

A couple that had been married for 15 years began having more disagreements than usual. They wanted to make their marriage work, so they agreed on an idea the wife had. For one month they planned on dropping slips of paper into "Fault" boxes. The boxes would provide a place to let the other know about daily irritations.

The wife was diligent in her efforts and approach: "Leaving the lid off the jelly jar," "Wet towels on the bathroom floor," "Dirty socks not in the hamper," and on and on throughout the month.

After dinner at the end of the month, they exchanged boxes. The husband reflected on what he had done wrong. Then the wife opened her box and began reading. The message on every slip in her box was the same: "I love you."

Let me repeat: if you want to influence your spouse toward positive change, love them! And that does not include negative record-keeping ...

"Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged," 1 Corinthians 13:4-5.

Are you keeping a record of the things your spouse does that you don't like? Or are you more busy just loving them?


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Four marital malfunctions that lead to relational distress ...

A speaker at a women's club was lecturing on marriage and asked the audience how many wanted to "mother" their husbands. One member in the back row raised her hand.

"You do want to mother your husband?" the speaker asked.

"Mother?" the woman echoed. "I thought you said smother."

There can be any number of reasons why a wife or husband become frustrated with each other. But four reasons are broadly common in marriages. Let's take a look at four marital malfunctions that can quickly lead to relational distress:

1. Miscommunication.
An Austrian anthropologist named Weizl, who lived for a time among the natives of northern Siberia, was frequently accosted by giggling young maidens who showed up at his door and pelted him with freshly killed lice. Eventually Weizl learned that among northern Siberians, lice-throwing was a customary manner for women to declare her interest in a man and indicate she was available for marriage.

Sometimes, how we communicate with our spouses is no more effective than throwing dead lice at them. We may know what we mean to say, but they don't, because we don't communicate in a way they can understand.

If you want your spouse to understand you, communicate in a way they can understand.

2. Misinterpretation (mind reading).
A wife said in frustration to her husband, "I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant!"

That's not very effective communication, but it does point to a major problem in marriages: instead of listening to what our spouse literally says, we tend to try to read their minds instead. That usually leads to misinterpretations. If you want to better understand your spouse, listen to what they actually say.

3. Misperceptions.
A husband thought he had conquered the problem of trying to remember his wife's birthday and their anniversary. He opened an account with a florist, providing him with the dates and instructions to send flowers along with a note signed, "Your loving husband." His wife was thrilled by this new display of attention and all went well until one day when he came home, kissed his wife, and said offhandedly, "Nice flowers, honey. Where'd you get them?"

Giving your spouse a false impression about you only invites misperceptions, which will likely lead to relational distress. This can be avoided by being honest in what you communicate.

4. Mismatch of expectations and reality.
I knew a young couple barely out of high school, both with entry level part-time jobs, who swore while they were dating that they wouldn't get married until they could buy a house and live the way they were used to living at home.

After a little reality hit, they married anyway, and lived in a tiny guest cottage behind her parents home. A few years and a few children later, they divorced, chiefly because the expectations they had for each other and their marriage never fit with reality.

You can expect whatever you want, but if it doesn't work with reality, plus faith, then you will likely be very disappointed. The same goes for your spouse and your marriage. I often ask young people considering marriage, "If your relationship with your significant other never gets any better than what it is today, would you still marry them?" You'd be surprised how many have second thoughts at that point, because they have expectations for something different from their significant other.

Even the best of marriages will occasionally experience a malfunction of some sort. A key to persevering through these malfunctions is commitment.

During his courtship with a young lady named Julia Dent, Ulysses S. Grant once took her out for a buggy ride. Coming to a flooded creek spanned by a flimsy bridge, Grant assured Julia that it was safe to cross.

"Don't be frightened," he said. "I'll look after you."

"Well," Julia replied, "I shall cling to you whatever happens!"

True to her word, she clung tightly to Grant's arm as they drove safely across. Grant drove on in thoughtful silence for a few minutes, then cleared his throat and asked her, "Julia, you said back there that you would cling to me whatever happened. Would you like to cling to me for the rest of our lives?"

She would, and they married in August, 1848.

Are you clinging to your spouse, regardless of the malfunctions you might face?


Thursday, January 2, 2014

How discipleship helps you overcome this negative coping mechanism ...

Jesus commanded and commissioned His church to go into the world and make disciples, knowing that discipleship is the God-created route for human beings to become whole persons and spiritually "grow up" to become like Christ.

You wouldn't guess that from a lot of the preaching happening in churches today.

In fact, preachers who act more like motivational speakers often ignorantly teach behaviors and habits that negatively psychologically inhibit people rather than help them.

Take, for example, the common coping mechanism called "repression." Repression is the act of pushing unhappy or painful thoughts into the unconscious mind. The "rah-rah" cheerleader preacher, who preaches a secular philosophy of positive thinking, tells his audiences to forget about their harrowing experiences and anything that happened yesterday, and just "name and claim" their blessings today.

But you usually cannot grow past real, negative, impacting life experiences without first addressing them directly. Pretending your marriage isn't falling apart when it really is doesn't help fix your marriage, it actually harms it. Pretending you still don't hurt from years (even decades) old abuse doesn't bring healing, it leaves the wounds open and allows them to continue to fester.

Jesus didn't teach a lot of what is taught from pulpits today. Instead, He understood that human beings are fragile, broken, lost, and often hurting. His intent was to heal them, and to make them whole by transforming them, changing their thinking and their hearts, and so their desires and behaviors would also change.

But that first requires seeing the truth of their condition, not repressing it.

King David provides multiple examples of this for us in the Psalms. First, he goes into great detail about the harm his enemies intend --- he first paints a picture of an ugly reality. THEN he describes a greater truth, which is the omnipotence of his God! David first faced reality, and then submitted that to God.

One of the greatest things you can do for someone's mental health is teach them the Word of God so they have the opportunity to learn and embrace genuine truth and be able to think rationally rather than continue to try to navigate life with an irrational mind and deceitful heart. True liberation in life comes from being transformed, not from our own efforts to redirect our thinking. And such transformation requires a loving God who has both the power and desire to heal all that is broken about us.

So stop telling people to just forget the harm that has befallen them, and instead enable them to address (rather than repress) and overcome all life's issues through the truth that is found in Christ.

"Jesus told him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me," John 14:6.

The act of discipleship --- first making a disciple, then discipling them --- is the way to transform a life. Anything less is putting band-aids on a dead person. So if you really want to help someone, stick with teaching the Word rather than preaching platitudes and pop psychology.


Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What Hallmark can teach us about living better in 2014 ...

One nice thing about it being January 1st is that we are finally through with all the holiday advertising!

There was one advertising tag line I really liked, though, because it's profoundly true. It comes from a TV commercial for Hallmark and states the simple message shown below:

We don't tend to think that way.

That's why we keep the nice china put away, and only bring it out for special occasions. But how much more special does it get than having your own family around the table for a meal on any given day?

We hold out that really nice bottle of wine for a special occasion ...

We keep our best suit or dress in the back of the closet for a special occasion ...

We mess up the family room but keep the living room presentable for special occasions ...

We hoard away a chunk of change for years, just in case of a special occasion ...

Guess what ... life is a special occasion!

All God is giving you is today, without a promise of tomorrow. Having today is a special occasion! So set the table with china, pop open the really good bottle of wine, put on your favorite suit if you want to, spend some of that savings, and watch the football game in the living room!


Holding back your best in hope of some better moment to come along is to cheapen the time God has given you now.

Make all of 2014 a special occasion!

Happy New Year!